Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Literary Fraud & Corruption in the American Publishing Industry


This is yet another ugly example of the rampant and largely racist corruption, dishonesty, and rank intellectual bankruptcy that rules much of the publishing industry in this country. The elitist, mercenary, cynical, and greedy coven of white publishers, editors, and agents who run the industry love to publish stupid voyeuristic CRAP about what these cretins think characterizes "black inner city urban life" (i.e. drugs, dire poverty, violence, wanton, reckless sex, more drugs, more violence, more kinky sex etc.). This brand of brutal commercial exploitation has become a viral disease in the (white) publishing, academic, and literary worlds since the late 1980s when every other book billed as "by or about black people" was cynically marketed and promoted as "another lurid expose" of cruel, stupid, and pathological subhumans engaging in criminal and psychopathic behavior for fun and profit (and did I mention more sex and violence)...Percival Everett, Ishmael Reed, Cecil Brown, Al Young, Paul Beatty and a number of other prominent black writers have often written critically scathing books attacking just these sort of racist media and literary stunts over the past 25 years...

Anyway this racial madness continues apace in all media. For example It is and has been duplicated in an endless series of utterly contemptible yet highly successful, award winning programs on HBO, Showtime, and other cable outlets which have produced such hit shows as 'OZ', 'The Corner', and 'The Wire' etc. which depict black people as though we were all predatory urbanized beasts living in horrific anarchic zoos of our own design.


Unfortunately many of these pervasive racist antics and frauds are too often inspired by, are the moronic offspring of, and exploitive fallout from, the most rancid and notorious lies and stupidity perpetuated by the rash of equally bad and backward books "written" by barely literate adolescents and young adults in the now thriving "urban market" of the publishing industry about--what else?--violence, drugs, sex, and crime. Of course the publishers, editors, and agents for these misguided and cynical youth are--you guessed it--more rich white people exactly like the ones depicted in this article.



Now just who does the New York Times think would be STUPID enough to believe the following ridiculous quotation from the article below of the con artist (Ms. Seltzer) who "wrote" this book. Check this nonsense out:

"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.”

Wow. Just how full of it can people be?...These individuals need ENEMAS...

Dig the way the white female "author" (who is 33 years old!) and all her professional white enablers in the publishing world (publishers, editors, and agents alike) try to justify and defend their own roles in this (ongoing) scam by claiming "innocence", "naivete", and a "misguided desire to do good." Along with the casual and mercenary racism in these incidents there's always a trail of still more bullshit lies and delusional self aggrandizing postures by those responsible who then try to retroactively pretend that "they didn't really mean it" and they were "just trying to help the unfortunate and those unable to speak for themselves." Notice all the endless lies that continue even in the interview for this article about "kids who were Black Panthers" (Hey you duplicitous PHONY!--you couldn't possibly have talked to any "kids" who were Panthers because the Panther Party was dissolved in 1980 when you were six years old!). This woman is a certified pathological liar. To make things even worse the transparent lies and delusions continue in this article as well but that's the media for ya...


Gang Memoir, Turning Page, Is Pure Fiction*

Published: March 4, 2008

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.”

Tracking the Fallout of (Another) Literary Fraud

Published: March 5, 2008

One day after the author of “Love and Consequences” confessed that she had made up the memoir about her supposed life as a foster child in gang-infested South-Central Los Angeles, the focus turned to her publisher and the news organizations that helped publicize what appeared to be a searing autobiography.

Susan Seubert for The New York Times
Margaret Seltzer admits fabricating her gang-life memoir.

Related articles:

'Love and Consequences,' by Margaret B. Jones: However Mean the Streets, Have an Exit Strategy (February 26, 2008)

A Refugee From Gangland (February 28, 2008)

The articles above were published before the author admitted the book was largely fabricated.

More on the story: Author Admits Acclaimed Memoir Is Fantasy (March 4, 2008)

Geoffrey Kloske, publisher of Riverhead Books, the unit of Penguin Group USA that released the book, by Margaret Seltzer, under a pseudonym, Margaret B. Jones, said on Tuesday that there was nothing else that he or Sarah McGrath, the book’s editor, could have done to prevent the author from lying.

“In hindsight we can second-guess all day things we could have looked for or found,” Mr. Kloske said. “The fact is that the author went to extraordinary lengths: she provided people who acted as her foster siblings. There was a professor who vouched for her work, and a writer who had written about her that seemed to corroborate her story.” He added that Ms. Seltzer had signed a contract in which she had legally promised to tell the truth. “The one thing we wish,” Mr. Kloske said, “is that the author had told us the truth.”

Riverhead has recalled nearly 19,000 copies of the book and is offering refunds to book buyers.

Ms. Seltzer told her editor and her publisher that she wanted to use the pseudonym because it was the name she was known by in the gang world and because she was trying to reconnect with her birth mother and felt that using her real name would complicate this effort. But she lied to them and in the book about most of the basic elements of her identity, claiming that she was part American Indian and that she had moved from foster home to foster home as a child. In fact, as she admitted on Monday, she grew up with her biological family in the prosperous Sherman Oaks neighborhood of Los Angeles, and graduated from a private Episcopal day school.

Ms. McGrath, who never met Ms. Seltzer during three years spent editing the book, said Ms. Seltzer, who lives in Eugene, Ore., had provided what she said were photographs of her foster siblings, a letter from a gang leader corroborating her story and had introduced her agent, Faye Bender, to a person who claimed to be a foster sister.

Ms. McGrath said she also trusted Ms. Seltzer because she had come through “a respected literary agent” who had in turn been referred to the author by a writer whom Ms. Bender had worked with previously.

Despite editing the book in the aftermath of the scandal surrounding James Frey, author of a best-selling memoir, “A Million Little Pieces,” who admitted making up or exaggerating details in his account of drug addiction and recovery, Ms. McGrath said she did not independently check parts of Ms. Seltzer’s story or perform any kind of background check. She said she relied on Ms. Seltzer to tell the truth.

“In the post-James Frey world, we all are more careful,” Ms. McGrath said. “I had numerous conversations with her about the need to be honest and the need to stick to the facts.”

Ms. Bender, Ms. Seltzer’s agent, said that the author had been using a false persona for years and that friends and colleagues — including Ms. Bender — believed she had grown up in foster care in the gangland of Los Angeles.

“There was no reason to doubt her, ever,” Ms. Bender said. Similarly, reporters who interviewed Ms. Seltzer were also taken in by her story. Tom Ashbrook, the host of “On Point,” a program on public radio, ran an interview with Ms. Seltzer (as Margaret B. Jones) in which she recounted her fake life. Mimi Read, a freelance reporter, wrote a profile of Ms. Seltzer that appeared on Thursday in the House & Home section of The New York Times and did not question the memoirist’s story.

“The way I look at it is that it’s just like when you get in a car and drive to the store — you assume that the other drivers on the road aren’t psychopaths on a suicide mission,” said Ms. Read, who was never told Ms. Seltzer’s real name by the publisher or by Ms. Seltzer. “She seemed to be who she said she was. Nothing in her home or conversation or happenstance led me to believe otherwise.”

Ms. Read said that she did contact Ms. Seltzer’s fiancé and also asked her to provide information about Uncle Madd Ronald, who Ms. Seltzer claimed was her gang leader and was now in prison. Ms. Seltzer provided a prison name and prison identification number, and a copy editor confirmed that the prison existed.

Ms. Read said she wished she had been more skeptical and done further fact-checking. “Of course I wish I could do it differently,” she said. “I think a lot of other people were fooled before me.”

Tom de Kay, editor of the House & Home section, said he asked Ms. Read to track down other people from Ms. Seltzer’s past to corroborate her story. Because Ms. Seltzer told Ms. Read that her foster siblings were dead, in prison or no longer in touch, it was difficult for Ms. Read to find people to interview.

Mr. de Kay said that ultimately, “I was to some degree trusting that the vetting process of a reputable book publisher was going to catch this level of duplicity.” But, he added: “Do I wish in retrospect that we had called L.A. child services and tried to run down the history of this person? I certainly do.”

In a publishing landscape that has been rocked by scandals like Mr. Frey’s fabrications and the hoax perpetrated by Laura Albert, the woman who posed as the novelist J T LeRoy, a supposed addict and son of a West Virginia prostitute, other publishers and agents said their business still operated on trust.

“It is not an industry capable of checking every last detail,” said Ira Silverberg, an agent who represented J T LeRoy (without knowing he was actually Ms. Albert) and Ishmael Beah, author of the best-selling memoir “A Long Way Gone,” who was recently accused by Australian journalists of distorting his service as a child soldier in Sierra Leone’s civil war during the 1990s, a charge that he and his publishers have repeatedly denied. “So to present yourself as something you are not betrays all the trust.”

Nan A. Talese, who published Mr. Frey’s “A Million Little Pieces,” said the combination of these recent episodes could start to change the business’s practices. “I think what editors are going to have to do is point to the things that happened recently and say to their authors, ‘If there is anything in your book that can be discovered to be untrue, you better let us know right now, and we’ll deal with it before we publish it,’ ” Ms. Talese said. But she added: “I don’t think there is any way you can fact-check every single book. It would be very insulting and divisive in the author-editor relationship.”

Sarah Crichton, publisher of her own imprint at Farrar, Straus & Giroux and the editor of “A Long Way Gone,” said she did some background checking on Mr. Beah. “I come out of journalism and so I certainly wanted to make sure the historical record was accurate,” said Ms. Crichton, a former editor at Newsweek. “But I will confess that I did the checking that I did also in part just to protect us, because I knew that we were going to be publishing into a changed landscape.”