Books Writing
Charlotte Rains Dixon  

Fabricated Memoir Redux

It has happened again, this time in my own backyard. 

You’d think after the brouhaha that surrounded the James Frey case a couple years ago that both authors and publishers would be extra careful about what they put into a book called a memoir.  I mean, c’mon people, when you call it a memoir we expect it to be true.  That’s true, as in, it really happened.

But apparently such is not the case, because yesterday the news broke that yet another sensational "memoir" had been proven to be fabricated. 

The book is was called Love and Consequences, and the author’s name is Margaret B. Jones, who in reality is Margaret Seltzer (I’m a little vague on the details of that name shift).  Jones was supposedly a half-white, half-Native American girl who grew up in a not-so-great part of LA and ran with the gangs.

But in reality, Jones grew up in Sherman Oaks, attended a private school, and later attended the University of Oregon (where I got my undergrad degree).  She claimed to have actually graduated from U of O, but that was made up too.  She now lives in Eugene, which is a couple hours south of Portland, the city which is home to U of O.  And let’s just put it this way–Eugene sits at the foot of the Willamette Valley which is far more famous for growing grass seed than either ethnic diversity or anything having to do with gangs.   Next door to Eugene lies Springfield, which is the inspiration for the  Springfield in The Simpsons (despite that interloper which one the  movie contest last summer), and one of Eugene’s biggest claims to fame is that Matt Groening spent a few years there attending the U of O.  (But I can top that–I actually went to the same church as he did, the First Unitarian Church in downtown Portland, which is why he is always making jokes about Unitarians.)

Anyway, the brief aside about Eugene is over and back to the story of Margaret B. Jones.  Here’s the sad part: she actually did work in gang prevention in LA and she  apparently really did know an awful lot of folks who  ran in gangs.  And if she had just told that story–the story of how she got into that, what the work entailed, some of the tales from people she had met–she could have had  a book which was just as successful.

The upshot of all this is that the publisher has yanked the book and offered anyone who bought it their money back.  Guess this means that ole Margaret won’t be making her scheduled reading at Powell’s tonight, huh?

Here’s the take-away quote from the story.  "The business of publishing is so difficult, so challenging, and so elusive at times that people will do anything," said Lee Gutkind, author of Keep it Real: Everything You Need to Know About Researching and Writing Creative Non-fiction.

Hear, hear.  My wise friend Sue recently told me that she had come to realize that writing in and of itself is a useful activity.  Yes, she still desperately wanted to be published, but she also was coming to see how very valuable the act of sitting down and putting words on the page is–it contributes to our own mental health and that of the world.  So perhaps all of us should remember that and proceed from that notion.  Process, not product. 

In other words, don’t be so desperate to get published that you’ll lie.  Or if you feel compelled to lie, that call it a novel, for God’s sake.

Here’s a link to the Reuters story:  Gangland Memoir is Fabricated: Publisher.   

And here is a story in the New York Times: Tracking the Fallout of (Another) Literary Fraud.

2 thoughts on “Fabricated Memoir Redux

  1. Lori

    I was so glad to read your comments regarding the situations with Frey and Jones/Seltzer. I actually enjoyed and was quite touched by Frey’s book (before it became Oprah’s fixation) because of my experience with people with substance abuse issues. (It was actually recommended to me by an addict – hoping I could understand his perspective better.)
    I haven’t read Jones/Seltzer’s book but when the news broke about her book I was struck by the same thought you expressed above.
    Why in Heaven’s name didn’t they just use that good ole’ label the movie industry likes to use … “based on a true story?” It would have given them so much more credibility for their own part of the story and yet still given them the flexibility to “bend” the truth, or expound on it.
    I’ve been writing since I was elementary school and although I would dearly love to be published – I can’t imagine being recognized for a lie.
    Great post – I just had to chime in!

  2. Charlotte

    Thanks, Lori, for your great comments. The sad thing is that, by all accounts, Margaret Jones/Seltzer was a good writer and her own true story–raised well-to-do in LA but drawn to work with gangs–would have made a great tale in and of itself. Or she could have written a novel, and, as you said, called it “based on a true story.” Now the sad fact is she is finished, since all copies of her book have been recalled.

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