The consequences of the 'Love and Consequences' hoax

Bookslie_lLove 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?

Comments (34 total) Add your comment
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  • Benjh

    Of course a story has more bearing if it’s true, and it will get more women reading it to cry, but art is art. Gernica is not less of a painting because Picasso wasn’t under the bomb in Spain.
    So yes, publish it as fiction, then acclaim the book if it’s worth it, and be done with it. This controversy was already ridiculous in the Frey days, and it’s not getting better.
    These authors aren’t publishing tens of thousands of words-lies, but just one, on the cover. The one that reads “memoir”.
    I’m waiting for the day a group made of all the ex-addicts that saw hope for the first time when reading Frey’s book will gather and meet all the supposedly do-gooders that exposed him as a fraud (which he was). Maybe they’ll understand then that a correction is always nice, but crusades are old.

  • Snarf

    Hardly a surprising turn of events that the publishing industry is also prone to “realityism”. In television “non-scripted” reality shows routinely beat “scripted” ones (Moment of Truth I’m looking at you) and last I checked puplishing was still trying to make money. Th only surprise is that this happened so soon after the whole James Frey incident.
    That being said, I’d pay good money to see what happens the next time the Seltzer sisters are in the same room with each other. Can you imagine? DRAMA

  • actingup

    I heard this story on NPR this morning and they made a good point. Why in the world don’t the agents and publishers DO SOME FACT CHECKING? It isn’t very difficult or time consuming. And it is cheaper and less embarassing to pull a book before it is published. Look at how easy it is to find out the private information on “American Idol” contestants. Do some research before you believe what an author tells you is true!

  • dala

    hahaha annie i love ur shoutout to the oc!

  • dala

    but yeah i agree that they shouldve checked with the agents and other parties involved before

  • Katie

    Great writing, Annie. Interesting subject. Greed, I think, is the problem. Publishers, agents, writers, all guilty. If not for the greed, why lie? I would buy a good book, memoir or not. Like Bengh said, if it’s a good book tell the truth, and market it as a good book. It’s really not that difficult. But it all comes down to money, doesn’t it?

  • Nix

    The sad thing is that these books, had they been sold as what they were — fiction — most probably would have been esteemed as good books, possibly even great literature. It is the sickness of the market in media today that not only do we want the appearance of ‘reality’, but the most sordid or shocking version of it. TV, movies, books, news — always that. I won’t even get into the music wherein all the people do is talk about themselves. Fiction — the great stories — is derided as false, when actually it’s more capable of truth. I’ve decided to stick only to fiction when it comes to serious literature. It’s more trustworthy. The publishing industry, and the all-powerful Oprah, must reinvigorate their commitment to fiction as art.

  • donner

    Next you’re going to tell me Dumbledore isn’t really gay!!! That Alice didn’t really fall thru the Looking Glass!?!?! That Garfield doesn’t eat carbs!!! Stop the insanity!!!

  • Lauren

    As someone who enjoys fiction I’m appalled that a book being ousted as ‘a fake’ is such a big deal. If it’s a good story and it gets you thinking about real issues what the hell’s the problem? Put as asterisk next to it if you must but a recall (and all this moaning over it) is just childish.

  • GingerCat

    I think it is true that these books might not have sold to publishers if presented as straight fiction. Literary fiction seems anathema to most Americans, as the bestseller lists prove–while memoirs often seem to sell well.
    That doesn’t make it right to present fiction as fact, of course. Poor James Frey got raked over the coals, but what he did is nothing compared to what these two authors have done. Come back, James, all is forgiven!

  • dma69

    You’d think in this day and age that agents and publishers would actually fact check before releasing the book. They obviously didn’t learn from the James Frey nor JT Leroy incidents. I think the reason this keeps heppening is because Memoirs sell, and the more unusual the childhood or event, the better. In the end, the reader gets ripped off.But not all memoirs are in this mess. I suggest you try The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll appreciate your parents more. Or try A Piece Of Cake by Cupcake Brown (yes, that’s her name).

  • Eric Friedmann

    I say if they author is clever enough and the publisher is stupid enough to get the book published, then more power to the author!

  • Virginia

    Honestly, if it is a good story, does it matter if it actually happened to someone or not? Not to me.

  • Emma

    I work in publishing (for a mid-size Canadian publishing house) and while it’s nice to hear that people would read these stories regardless of whether they’re marketed as fact or fiction, the truth is that fiction does not sell the way memoirs do. People are much more likely to be interested in a story if it happened to a real person who can go on talk shows or be interviewed in magazines. That is what helps to sell the book. A fictional character who goes through the same situations doesn’t have the luxury of recounting anecdotes for the public. Having said that, I don’t think that means the publishers should misrepresent the books they’re selling to make extra money. I can’t believe that Seltzer’s editor never met her; how can you possibly work so closely with a writer and never have anything more than a phone conversation? It’s not like Penguin is in a situation where they couldn’t afford to fly her out.

  • Ames

    I just saw this story on the Today show and laughed since I would never had heard of the book if not for it being on national news. Hmmm… But to be honest, regarding fake memoirs, I don’t care. How far does the fact checking need to go? People don’t remember their lives as though it was captured on film. I prefer fiction anyway. Some people think their lives are much more interesting than they really are.

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