Love and Consequences (pictured, right), Margaret B. Jones’ memoir about growing up and running drugs in South Central L.A., hit bookshelves on Friday. But all copies have been recalled, because the author — whose real last name is Seltzer — made the story up. She’s not half-Native American. She never lived in foster care under the tutelage of a figure called “Big Mom, which means she never had a foster brother named Terrell who got shot by the Crips. Seltzer’s publisher (Riverhead, an imprint of Penguin), editor, and agent hadn’t a clue about any of this until Seltzer’s sister (her sister!) read this over-the-top Times profile and outed her as a fraud. Margaret Seltzer actually grew up in Sherman Oaks (which O.C. fans may know as The Real Valley. Sorry). In EW’s book review (published Feb. 22), Vanessa Juarez presciently wondered “if Jones embellishes the dialogue.” Indeed!
The news is mind-boggling in a “How did she get away with this?!” sort of way (It’s only now, after the reviews and after a Times profile, that the sister comes forward? No other alarm bells went off for anyone else during the years it took to bring the manuscript to market?), but the fabrication itself simply isn’t that surprising anymore. Just last week, Misha Defonseca’s Misha: A Memoire of the Holocaust Years (left), was exposed as a hoax after 11 years in print. Then there’s the James Frey saga, the JT Leroy hoax, blah blah blah, etc. It’s getting just as easy to believe that some gambler made the whole thing up as it is that an autobiographical account could be entirely honest.
With Seltzer, we can blame the specific parties involved — thefabulist author, her agent, and her editor, Sarah McGrath, who, basedon her quotes in this article,seems to have never met Seltzer in person. But beyond that, there seemsto be a crisis of “How interesting is the subject?” at play — not onlyin publishing, but in all of pop culture. We’re more interested incelebrities when what they do is horrifying. We want our reality TVsubjects to be as f—ed up as possible, and when the jokers on TVtweak their personas accordingly, we think, “Nice move, now you’ll getmore screen time.” We know that after some point — maybe even from thebeginning — these people are not really being themselves. They’replaying extreme characters that producers know will sell stories. Realface, ridiculous background. It seems the same disparity would be atplay with a juicy memoir.
In an attempt to explain herself, Seltzer laments, “Maybe it’s anego thing — I don’t know. I just felt that there was goodthat I could do and there was no other way that someone would listen toit.” A knee-jerk reaction to that comment — and a question constantlybrought up during the Frey scandal — is “Whynot just publish the story as fiction?” Clearly, publishers don’t thinkanyonewould buy it. Would you? Is a writer with a somewhat tragic backgroundthat much more marketable? And is a memoir only noteworthy if it’strue?