Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Another Frankenstein's Monster dies on the ice floes. Now may we PLEASE kill Dr. Frankenstein?!

Allegory alert. I felt compelled to reprint this piece from the New York Times in it's entirety, no link, before the election news takes over. Of course, the Times reviewed the book. Of course, the book was feted by Missy Ann whitegirl editors and agents and phony-ass literatti. That makes the bosses happy, for they must answer to the hedge funds that own the stock and control the bonuses. But hey, whatever sells, right? An check out the cover. Screams in a Lil'Kim coarse cry: "I am the white voice of the ghetto, of the hood." Ha! Edgy, gritty--those words white people just love. You see it these reviews of black books in Kirkus and PW, right? Often written by...certainly published by...the same white people who were super liberals before Barack Obama turned the tables. The same white people who promo sex novels and thug lit and spoon them like crack and mental junk food to our all-too-passive folk. Yes...edgy, gritty. The true story of a mixed white/native American chick raised by black folk n South-Central...stirring suburban blood as if she was Mowgli raised by the wolfpack. Imagine the editorial committee meeting during the pitch session! Imagine the glee of the literary agent! And now imagine so much of what's wrong with book publishing, with journalism and media corporations and the very philosophy of our marketing, not market, economy. All wrapped up in one m-fing fiasco. A true story? Hmmm...good thing it didn't make it to Oprah. Lessons will not be learned. Minds will not open. This will happen again. Oh, that's the author, her daughter and her pit. Big yucks. Big, big yucks.
Gang Memoir, Turning Page, Is Pure Fiction
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.
“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.
Ms. Seltzer’s story started unraveling last Thursday after she was profiled in the House & Home section of The New York Times. The article appeared alongside a photograph of Ms. Seltzer and her 8-year-old daughter, Rya. Ms. Seltzer’s older sister, Cyndi Hoffman, saw the article and called Riverhead to tell editors that Ms. Seltzer’s story was untrue.
“Love and Consequences” immediately hit a note with many reviewers. Writing in The Times, Michiko Kakutani praised the “humane and deeply affecting memoir,” but noted that some of the scenes “can feel self-consciously novelistic at times.” In Entertainment Weekly, Vanessa Juarez wrote that “readers may wonder if Jones embellishes the dialogue” but went on to extol the “powerful story of resilience and unconditional love.”
In the vividly told book, Ms. Seltzer wrote about her African-American foster brothers, Terrell and Taye, who joined the Bloods gang when they were 11 and 13. She chronicled her experiences making drug deliveries for gang leaders at age 13 and how she was given her first gun as a birthday present when she was 14. Ms. Seltzer told The Times last week, “One of the first things I did once I started making drug money was to buy a burial plot.”
Sarah McGrath, the editor at Riverhead who worked with Ms. Seltzer for three years on the book, said she was stunned to discover that the author had lied.
“It’s very upsetting to us because we spent so much time with this person and we felt such sympathy for her and she would talk about how she didn’t have any money or any heat and we completely bought into that and thought we were doing something good by bringing her story to light,” Ms. McGrath said.
“There’s a huge personal betrayal here as well as a professional one,” she said.
Ms. Seltzer said she had been writing about her friends’ experiences for years in creative-writing classes and on her own before a professor asked her to speak with Inga Muscio, an author who was then working on a book about racism. Ms. Seltzer talked about what she portrayed as her experiences and Ms. Muscio used some of those accounts in her book. Ms. Muscio then referred Ms. Seltzer to her agent, Faye Bender, who read some pages that Ms. Seltzer had written and encouraged the young author to write more.
In April 2005, Ms. Bender submitted about 100 pages to four publishers. Ms. McGrath, then at Scribner, a unit of Simon & Schuster, agreed to a deal for what she said was less than $100,000. When Ms. McGrath moved to Riverhead in 2006, she moved Ms. Seltzer’s contract.
Over the course of three years, Ms. McGrath, who is the daughter of Charles McGrath, a writer at large at The Times, worked closely with Ms. Seltzer on the book. “I’ve been talking to her on the phone and getting e-mails from her for three years and her story never has changed,” Ms. McGrath said. “All the details have been the same. There never have been any cracks.”
In a telephone interview, Ms. Seltzer’s sister, Ms. Hoffman, 47, said: “It could have and should have been stopped before now.” Referring to the publisher, she added: “I don’t know how they do business, but I would think that protocol would have them doing fact-checking.”
Ms. Seltzer said she had met some gang members during a short stint she said she spent at “Grant” high school “in the Valley.” (A Google search identifies
Ulysses S. Grant High School, a school on 34 acres in the Valley Glen neighborhood in the east-central San Fernando Valley.) “It opened my mind to the fact that not everybody is as they are portrayed on the news,” she said. “Everything’s not that black and white or gray or brown.”
She said that although she returned to Campbell Hall, she remained in touch with people she met at Grant and then began working with groups that were trying to stop gang violence. She said that even after she moved to Oregon, she would often venture to South-Central Los Angeles to spend time with friends in the gang world.
In the book, she describes her foster mother, Big Mom, an African-American woman who raised four grandchildren and a foster brother, Terrell, who was gunned down by Crips right outside her foster mother’s home.
Ms. Seltzer, who writes in an author’s note to the book that she “combined characters and changed names, dates, and places,” said in an interview that these characters and incidents were in part based on friends’ experiences. “I had a couple of friends who had moms who were like my mom and that’s where Big Mom comes from — from being in the house all the time and watching what goes on. One of my best friend’s little brother was killed two years ago, shot,” she said.
Ms. Seltzer added that she wrote the book “sitting at the Starbucks” in South-Central, where “I would talk to kids who were Black Panthers and kids who were gang members and kids who were not.”
“I’m not saying like I did it right,” Ms. Seltzer said. “I did not do it right. I thought I had an opportunity to make people understand the conditions that people live in and the reasons people make the choices from the choices they don’t have.” Ms. McGrath said that she had numerous conversations with Ms. Seltzer about being truthful. “She seems to be very, very naïve,” Ms. McGrath said. “There was a way to do this book honestly and have it be just as compelling.”

"It's alive...alive!"--Dr. Frankenstein


Anonymous said...

Yeah--but notice how they bury it as soon as it happens. "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain." That one line from Oz is "allegory" for so much going on in politics, culture, the media these days!

LeLe Hill said...

First of all, what kind of relationship does she have with her sister? I'm not close to my sister but I would call a publisher to "rat her out."

Second, I'm amazed by the public's (or is it editors?) fascination with memoirs by people under the age of 50.

Lisa said...

I was about to say the same thing. The older sister must have a chip on her shoulder or knows chica is crazy. Then again, she might be the only normal person in Sherman Oaks.

This is appalling.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to write a book about my life....being raised in rural Alabama by a KKK family that fostered me. See if I can con anyone into buying that.

Allison Miranda said...

Yes, this story is appalling. I've always said that other cultures are fascinated by us. Now this woman is lying to be among us, sympathized among us. Stupid! Except, she'll get the sympathy that we never get.

LeLe Hill said...

typo: wouldn't call to rat her out.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

So the editor McGrath feels "betrayed?" These people at these publishing betray and lie all the time, and sacrifice real work from real people every day. I have no sympathy for her. I hope they fire her, but that would mean they should all fire themselves.

michael a. gonzales said...

most magazines i've wriiten for, even the source, had some kind of fact checking department--so why can't major publishing houses do the same thing.

one other thang--if the book had been sold as a novel, would the nyt called her "the new susan straight." just wondering

michael a. gonzales said...


nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

I was talking to a film executive today at a production company who was trying to find out about the rights (before the truth came out). She went off saying if a black person wrote this book would they even get an agent? I agree with you that everyone was probably thinking "oh this is so edgy!!).

After the Frey debacle why wouldn't you fact check? Why didn't Seltzer write this as fiction? I too wonder about the sister who called the publisher. Something is going on there. Her sister is much older, are they half sisters? What is that family dynamic about?

MartiniCocoa said...

Guess Sarah McGrath and Faye Bender don't know anyone they could call to ask about the Bloods?

Or maybe even bothered to read another book about the Bloods and the Crips to cross reference the tales Ms. Seltzer told?

Is it truly that easy to game these publishing people? Because if it is maybe I should start working on my memoir
My Real Name is Hillary Hussein Clinton?

I want to buy the sister a drink. Snitching is not a crime!

Anonymous said...

I'm going to write a book about my life....being raised in rural Alabama by a KKK family that fostered me. See if I can con anyone into buying that.

At this rate, I'm sure Random House would buy it. They don't know the different between an autobiography and an automobile.

Can't these people come up with something that wasn't stolen from Dangerous Minds?

Christopher Chambers said...

To Mike G: "...even The Source?" Mike you are a traitor to your people when you even play off the stereotype that such an august magazine, the Vanity Fair, The Nation, the New Yorker of thug worship might be slack when it comes to fact checking. hahahahaha

I couldn't resist, sorry bruh.

michael a. gonzales said...

...don't get me started.

Lola Gets said...

I first found out about this on the Undercover Black Mans blog. Crazy! But, unfortunately, I think that people are right: Would this woman have recieved an agent (or gotten this book published) if she werent white?

Oh and Chris, I have a follow-up question per your question...you can see it back on my blog.


Anonymous said...

I also seen this first on Undercover Black Mans blog, and I must say, it gives me hopes about writing my biography on me fighting in the Civil War, to protect white Christian males right to slavery. ( I'm Black)

baatin. said...

i read about this woman. there is honestly no way that this story would have gone through to publication without basic fact checking. the interviews she gave are all over the web, and are utter bullshit. this is obviously something that was planned from the very beginning. the publishing house her and her agent had to all have been in on it. frey continued to sell astronomically even after the oprah snagged his sack on her couch. the know the sheeple out there will still buy this crap. like everyone else here, my bet is that a black person would NEVER have made it thisclose to publishing that tripe.

Christopher Chambers said...

I've had comments from white folks on my princeton writers liserv astonishingly admitting the same: a black female wouldn't have even gotten an agent--unless it had some cartoonish sex and violence and hip hop and a church/Tyler Perry/grandmama cursin' and praisin' Jesus. Then we'd see an Essence Bestseller...

Anonymous said...

The older sister probably viewed the image of her younger sibling after reading the article, and knew immediately she had to interrupt this deception in order that neither she nor her concrete suburban family have their image tarnish or affliated with gang or black culture.

Unknown said...

The question is, all of the money she would have made stealing the stories of these "children from the hood", would she have kept it or donated it to these people whose "lives she wanted the public to know about and understand". Also are we so brain dead from hours of reality television that this sort of ghetto lifestyle fascinates us? I can just imagine how the suits at the publishinghouse were salivating when her story came across their desks, fact check please, all they saw were dollar signs.