Monday, March 3, 2008

Fake Memoirs

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 who went on to live a gang-banger’s violent life, wielding guns and running drugs for the Bloods.

The problem is that none of it is true.

Margaret P. Jones is a pseudonym for Margaret Seltzer, who is all white and grew up in well-to-do Sherman Oaks, in the San Fernando Valley of California, with her biological family. She graduated from the Campbell Hall School, a private Episcopal day school in North Hollywood. 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 tells 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.

“For whatever reason, I was really torn and I thought it was my opportunity to put a voice to people who people don’t listen to,” Ms. Seltzer said. “I was in a position where at one point people said you should speak for us because nobody else is going to let us in to talk. Maybe it’s an ego thing — I don’t know. I just felt that there was good that I could do and there was no other way that someone would listen to it.”

The revelations of Ms. Seltzer’s mendacity came in the wake of the news last week that a Holocaust memoir, “Misha: A Mémoire of the Holocaust Years” by Misha Defonseca, was a fake, and perhaps more notoriously, two years ago James Frey, the author of a best selling memoir, “A Million Little Pieces,” admitted that he had made up or exaggerated details in his account of his drug addiction and recovery.

-Gang Memoir, Turning Page, Is Pure Fiction


Anonymous said...

so? if it was good writing... she should have stood strong as an artist rather than caving in.. maybe she'll get another book deal about this one.
but her sister is a snitch and should go down as one. shameful snitch.

Triste said...

Fascinating stuff.

What is it, exactly, that motivates people first to write fake memoirs - and then, more importantly, to publish them as reality?

I think that in certain cases, these authors are so delusional and self-deceiving that they actually think of the events in their novels as reality, even if they know on an intellectual level that they are fantasy. They become so deeply involved in their writing that it becomes a sort of reality to them. As for why they go out and actually publish them as real stories, I suspect these people greatly enjoy the attention they garner. To some extent, I think they may lie about the nature of their work because they feel it is easier to get published this way, especially when their writing is shoddy - supposed "realness" will sell even the most dry and clumsy novel.

The problem arises when they take that reality and attempt to portray it as an objective reality to other people. This often leads to the publishing of popular but poorly-written propaganda pieces such as 'Go Ask Alice,' which purports to be the diary of a teenage drug addict but is actually written by the woman who claimed to have found and edited it. Pieces like this, and like the Holocaust memoir mentioned in the article, are not popular because they are well-written (because they are actually atrocious, in most cases) but because they incite the sympathy of bored housewives - and they incite the sympathy of bored housewives because they are true. If they are not true, then the housewives who purchased these literary monstrosities have essentially been duped and cheated out of their money.

Bryan Hutchinson said...

You know this really just ticks me off. With my personal memoir "One Boy's Struggle: A memoir - Surviving Life with Undiagnosed ADD" I had to go self published because traditional publishers were not completely interested and the ones that were wanted to edit it beyond what I was willing to do! It just goes to show that Traditional Publishers do not really seem interested in publishing reality.

Even though I went self published my book is doing very, very well on Amazon, so that just goes to show that readers are interested where traditional publishers are not! Shouldn't they at least do a sanity check on these writers??? I would have been more than happy to provide proof.

Sad! ~ Bryan Hutchinson