Maybe Seltzer belonged to the Galleria 818s?

posted at 3:10 pm on March 4, 2008 by Ed Morrissey

The publishing world has produced another non-fiction fantasist. Margaret Seltzer, Peggy to her Sherman Oak friends, tried passing herself off as Margaret Jones, white-girl gang-banger of South-Central LA in her supposed autobiography, Love and Consequences. Now the publisher has recalled all remaining copies of the book, while Peggy tries to explain how she wound up selling a lie (via Memeorandum):

In “Love and Consequences,” a critically acclaimed memoir published last week, Margaret B. Jones wrote about her life as a half-white, half-Native American girl growing up in South-Central Los Angeles as a foster child among gang-bangers, running drugs for the Bloods.

The problem is that none of it is true.

Margaret B. Jones is a pseudonym for Margaret Seltzer, who is all white and grew up in the well-to-do Sherman Oaks section of Los Angeles, in the San Fernando Valley, with her biological family. She graduated from the Campbell Hall School, a private Episcopal day school in the North Hollywood neighborhood. She has never lived with a foster family, nor did she run drugs for any gang members. Nor did she graduate from the University of Oregon, as she had claimed.

Riverhead Books, the unit of Penguin Group USA that published “Love and Consequences,” is recalling all copies of the book and has canceled Ms. Seltzer’s book tour, which was scheduled to start on Monday in Eugene, Ore., where she currently lives.

In a sometimes tearful, often contrite telephone interview from her home on Monday, Ms. Seltzer, 33, who is known as Peggy, admitted that the personal story she told in the book was entirely fabricated. She insisted, though, that many of the details in the book were based on the experiences of close friends she had met over the years while working to reduce gang violence in Los Angeles.

Is it just me, or is this a trend of late? As a three-time novelist wannabe, I can attest to the difficulties of publishing fiction — although it helps if your novel doesn’t stink, as I also discovered the hard way. It seems that some have found a way around that path by simply changing the genre from fiction to autobiography, and that the politically correct nature of the subject matter gives credulousness a big boost.

Let’s take a look at the examples given by NYT book critic Mokoto Rich. In Love and Consequences, we have a half-white, half-Native American getting sucked into gang life and prevailing over it. In Misha: A Mémoire of the Holocaust Years, the author wanted to sell herself as a Jewish victim, although her real life story might have proved at least somewhat interesting, had she decided to tell the truth. And in the Oprah Winfrey-endorsed A Million Little Pieces, James Frey wanted to amplify his status as a drug addict through exaggeration and outright lies.

All of these tales fit perfectly in the current culture. All of these authors used autobiographical frauds to show themselves as secular martyrs overcoming culturally-approved victimhoods. Both Seltzer and Misha Defonseca even went so far as to appropriate false ethnicities to make their stories more compelling, and in Defonseca’s case, believable at all. In fact, they presented stories that apparently were too good to check.

The professional media and publishing industry insists that they produce quality products because they have layers of editors and fact-checkers. Either those gatekeepers have declined in quality over the last few years, or the emergence of the New Media has shown that they had done poorly all along. Stephen Glass, Scott Beauchamp, Margaret Seltzer — they all told stories people wanted to hear, and the people who claim to ensure veracity were all exposed as well.


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Actually, our complaints ought to be directed not to the editors, but to the accountants:

Hey, y’know all those legions of editors and fact checkers you’re shelling out $$ for? You maybe need to find out just what they do all day, ’cause you ain’t getting your money’s worth.

Regards,
Ric

warlocketx on March 4, 2008 at 3:20 PM

In the age of narcissism and hedonism, fact checkers get in the way.

Barack Obama knows this – and, up until now, there were no fact checkers.

Now, there are – and they are getting in his way.

OhEssYouCowboys on March 4, 2008 at 3:22 PM

P.S. I’m going to write my autobiography:

How The Deal Or No Deal Gals Finally Had Their Way With Me.

OhEssYouCowboys on March 4, 2008 at 3:24 PM

For some reason, this story doesn’t seem to be a story.

THE CHOSEN ONE on March 4, 2008 at 3:27 PM

For some reason, this story doesn’t seem to be a story.

THE CHOSEN ONE on March 4, 2008 at 3:27 PM

That’s because it’s happening more and more often. Journalism is no longer held to a high standard and falsehoods like these are expected.

TooTall on March 4, 2008 at 3:31 PM

Maybe she is applying for a job at NYT

Wade on March 4, 2008 at 3:36 PM

Two thoughts: 1) people just don’t read that much fiction. Memoirs and autobiography sell, just ask BHO. Plain old made up stories, except for some genre fiction and a few branded writers just doesn’t move the units. Fiction sales are flat or down but non-fiction, especially what’s now known as ‘creative non-fiction’ meaning well-written, personal tales (think Into Thin Air and Blackhawk Down) sell by the armloads. Who wants to read a novel about a mixed-race drug-runner? Yuck. But a ‘true’ story has broad appeal. I can see the dollar signs in the publishers eyes as they dreamt of being on required reading lists all over the nation.

2) Publishers don’t spend that much time editing this stuff. Editing is time consuming and expensive, with little measurable payoff. And it’s not just that they let this ‘fake but accurate’ crap get through. It’s that they don’t edit even novels like they used to. Maxwell Perkins used to comb through Thomas Wolfe’s messy manuscripts to polish the diamonds. Now publishers take the manuscripts and send them straight to the presses. The few editors left are spending their time trying to find existing talent, not to develop writers over time.

Vote Sauron 08 on March 4, 2008 at 3:38 PM

As a three-time novelist wannabe, I can attest to the difficulties of publishing fiction — although it helps if your novel doesn’t stink, as I also discovered the hard way. It seems that some have found a way around that path by simply changing the genre from fiction to autobiography, and that the politically correct nature of the subject matter gives credulousness a big boost.

These authors know how to play the system. But Ed, if “all of these tales fit perfectly in the current culture” wouldn’t their tales have a good chance to be published as fiction? Just wondering.

darii on March 4, 2008 at 3:40 PM

Vote Sauron 08 on March 4, 2008 at 3:38 PM

Should have refreshed the comments before posting mine. You seem to have answered my question. Good comment.

darii on March 4, 2008 at 3:41 PM

Not just fake autobiographies. Any lie that supports the left’s agenda. Michael Bellesiles is a good example.

jaime on March 4, 2008 at 3:44 PM

Why not a whole new genre: We Thought It Was Fact, Found Out It Is Fiction and You Can Have It For Seventy-five Cents on the Dollar.

snaggletoothie on March 4, 2008 at 3:44 PM

Reality TV finds its place in Literature….lovely.

ihasurnominashun on March 4, 2008 at 3:51 PM

Maybe editors are just so naive they assumed anyone who has written a book like that is telling the truth…why would they lie? Now that we know people DO lie, and they do it more frequently, perhaps they will start checking manuscripts a little more carefully. hah, talk about naive!

scalleywag on March 4, 2008 at 3:55 PM

I guess Al Gore’s coming biography:

“I Know How to Control the Weather and You Don’t”

…will give those fact-checkers something to chew on. It will be interesting to see whether they reject it outright and send it to the “fiction” section, or whether they hide under their desks or call in sick that day.

landlines on March 4, 2008 at 4:16 PM

Cashing in on the “meta-narrative” worked pretty well for Rigoberta Menchu.

Mike Honcho on March 4, 2008 at 4:18 PM

Postmodern interpretive reality.

Hening on March 4, 2008 at 4:27 PM

For some reason, this story doesn’t seem to be a story.

THE CHOSEN ONE on March 4, 2008 at 3:27 PM

That’s because it’s happening more and more often. Journalism is no longer held to a high standard and falsehoods like these are expected.

TooTall on March 4, 2008 at 3:31 PM

Agreed. Some journalist though at least did some legit research in exposing this faux. That is unless there was a journalistic conspiracy between the writer and the investigative reporter? Hmmmmm. Naaaahh.

THE CHOSEN ONE on March 4, 2008 at 4:28 PM

Curious, isn’t it, that so many people seem to want to portray themselves as some type of victim — and it isn’t always people who need money. The Daily Mail ran an interesting article on Michelle Obama recently, pointing out that the poor, working-class upbringing she “overcame” was really the same type of middle-class lifestyle that millions of other Americans her age have experienced (nice-sized brick house with a shady fenced yard in a well-kept neighborhood, a father with a decent-paying job, a stay-at-home mom who made sure the two kids did their homework, etc.). Not much to “overcome” there — except perhaps Michelle’s own sense of victimization (which she still seems not to have conquered).

AZCoyote on March 4, 2008 at 4:29 PM

In the case of James Frey and Margaret Seltzer the publishers saw what they thought were two “white” individuals who dwelled in the “jungles” and lived to tell about. They knew that liberals will eat that stuff up like tofu.
Tells more about the thinking of those publishers more than anything else.

RMR on March 4, 2008 at 4:41 PM

Maybe the writer is a graduate of Dan Rather University and the Jason Blair School of Journalism.

THE CHOSEN ONE on March 4, 2008 at 4:48 PM

She definitely has all the qualifications to be Editor in Chief for the NYTs, hire her quick!

Alden Pyle on March 4, 2008 at 4:48 PM

Those pajamas feel so good right now…..

wildweasel on March 4, 2008 at 4:49 PM

As the resident expert on Sherman Oaks, their description is only half right. The part I live (the hills south of Ventura Blvd.) is well to do, but it falls off real fast as you go north, and English becomes a second language before you even get to Van Nuys. So, she definitely could have been exposed to the seedier parts of LA’s sub-culture if she had gone to school in the LAUSD, but she went to hoitie toitie Campbell Hall, a private school. The only grit she was likely to see was through the window of her parent’s Mercedes SUV.

This story is just another example of how the superior educational opportunities afforded to the rich kids give them an advantage over the poor kids — even in writing “poor kid victory over victimhood” books. There is just no substitute for that top notch education.

tommylotto on March 4, 2008 at 4:52 PM

Galleria 818s

Welcome aboard Mr. Morrissey. That is some funny ish.

The Race Card on March 4, 2008 at 4:53 PM

…and the point is? This is what happens when one’s value system is one of moral relativism. Fiction/non-fiction–it all really depends on your point of view doesn’t it? Who are we to criticize another human being? She is entitled to her reality as much as we are to ours.

OT–Mr. Morrissey, I also welcome you aboard. While Bryan will be missed, I am a HotAir reader constantly and have been following your posts (as well as having read your Captain’s Quarters). You do an excellent job and are a terrific compliment to AP and MM.

second digit on March 4, 2008 at 5:05 PM

“…Stephen Glass, Scott Beauchamp, Margaret Seltzer — they all told stories people wanted to hear”
Don’t forget the original fantasist, Walter Cronkite. He lied his way through Viet-Nam to the end of the Cold War.

Don Carne on March 4, 2008 at 5:11 PM

Don’t forget the original fantasist, Walter Cronkite. He lied his way through Viet-Nam to the end of the Cold War.

Don Carne on March 4, 2008 at 5:11 PM

I’m 35 and too young to really remember the bulk of his work. Was Cronkite really a cut and run journalist or were you just having fun? Gasp, the Liberal media treats him like an icon, but even some on the right have shown kudos.

THE CHOSEN ONE on March 4, 2008 at 5:19 PM

Don, you hit the nail on the head. There is a special place in Hell for ol’ Walter. Maybe that lil’ stinker Dan Rather can keep him company there. (…and Bill Moyer can rot with them).

second digit on March 4, 2008 at 5:21 PM

CHOSEN, Uncle Walter was a cut and runner even when we had whipped the VC’s tail during Tet. LBJ turned chickenshit, in part, because of Walter. Once the VC was beaten in Tet, that set them back for years and forced the NVA to fight conventionally. The NVA couldn’t even manage that for several years, until the Easter Offensive. No, Walter played a major role in U.S. withdrawal and humiliation. I fart in his general direction.

second digit on March 4, 2008 at 5:26 PM

Don Carne on March 4, 2008 at 5:11 PM

Jack Kelly, Jayson Blair too.

Don’t forget the countless editors who write headlines and cutlines that completely misrepresent their respective articles. Many stories are misconstrued in this way. Some people only read headlines, captions, etc.

The Race Card on March 4, 2008 at 5:32 PM

I have seen footage concerning the Tet offensive. The Embassy being overrun from my understanding shot through America’s television like a bolt of lightning. Meanwhile, every military engagement on the ground resulted in the VC getting housed. I hope to think that that many good soldiers who lost respect due to our withdrawal can take homage in that today’s soldier’s in Iraq learned something from that urban conflict. Maybe they can hold their heads a lil’ higher today, because there always has to be a first.

THE CHOSEN ONE on March 4, 2008 at 5:33 PM

CHOSEN If Cronkite tells you the sky is blue go outside and check.

Don Carne on March 4, 2008 at 5:39 PM

Fake But Accurate
Plausibly True
What’s important is the Message

hadsil on March 4, 2008 at 7:38 PM

THE CHOSEN ONE

Good posts, I like this side of you.

leanright on March 5, 2008 at 5:41 AM