The ''Margaret B. Jones'' memoir scandal
What did she lie about?
In Love and Consequences, Jones claimed to be a half-white, half?Native American girl who grew up in South Central L.A., running drugs for the Bloods. Her real name is Margaret Seltzer, and she went to an elite private school in North Hollywood.
So she’s as deceitful as James Frey?
She might be worse. Frey embellished his life story in 2003’s A Million Little Pieces (and was lambasted by Oprah), but there was a core of truth to his memoir: He really had been a drug addict treated at Hazelden. Seltzer wholly invented her life story.
Don’t publishers fact-check?
Riverhead, which declined to comment, noted in a press release that it ”relies on authors to tell us the truth.” As a rule, all nonfiction authors sign contracts vouching that their books are accurate, and books flagged as potentially libelous get legal vetting. But that’s it. As Little, Brown editor in chief Geoff Shandler says, ”No publisher has the financial resources to mount a massive investigation of every single book before publication.” But another top industry executive says of Seltzer, ”I would have been very uncomfortable allowing the pseudonym to be used.”
What was Seltzer thinking?
Seltzer told The New York Times that she considered the memoir ”my opportunity to put a voice to people who people don’t listen to.” Psychiatrist Dr. Gail Saltz says the subterfuge seems self-destructive and narcissistic: ”It’s quite grandiose.” Seltzer’s case resembles that of Laura Albert, who passed herself off as male hustler-turned-novelist JT LeRoy.
Riverhead recalled all copies of Love and Consequences. Is that typical?
There’s no standard MO. Random House paid aggrieved Pieces readers a nominal settlement. The Education of Little Tree, Forrest Carter’s 1976 book about growing up with Cherokee grandparents, was relabeled a novel after Carter was exposed as a segregationist with dubious Cherokee roots.
Is our appetite for memoirs partly to blame?
According to Jennifer Enderlin, an editor at St. Martin’s, ”Our cultural fascination with memoirs dovetails with our fascination with reality TV. Both allow us to peek into other people’s lives while being entertained.” Industry pressure to produce something provocative may have led Frey, for instance, to pitch Pieces as a memoir, and not as a novel, as he initially intended.