Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Memoirs and Street Cred

You know this story just burns me up. It seems that Riverhead Books just has a thing for signing memoir writers who, in fact, are just good novel writers and great liars.

You'd think that after the James Frey mess they'd invest in a bit of background and fact checking before going all out on another memoir.

However, no, let's not bother with such attention to detail. Let's just sign the white people with the amazing stories of triumph over adversity in the ghettos and drug dens because those triumph over adversity stories by blacks, Latinos and Asians are just passé.

Here we go again. Good this one got cut off before it could make it to Oprah's Book Club.

...“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.
That made me laugh as soon as I read it because it's NOT TRUE. My thing is who the hell would believe it without some sort of proof?

I heard about this on Facebook when Miles Marshall Lewis posted the NY Times article: Gang Memoir, Turning Page, Is Pure Fiction.

My thing is I grew up in South Central L.A. Who would believe that social services put a white child in the care of black foster mother in the middle of South Central L.A.? "Not I" said the raised-in-the-city fly.
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.
I'm sorry, that to me is just funny and quite insulting. You know what? When I flew home for vacation a few weeks ago, the first place I went after picking up my red Mini Cooper S was to my parents graves at Inglewood Park Cemetery and then I went to visit an aunt of mine who lives in South Central which is smack in the middle of "gang world".

What the hell is it now? An amusement park? They make it sound like that.

I still don't see why lying and saying it was a memoir was the way to go.

Market it as fiction. Yeah, that's less drama when it comes to the book tour circuit, but she could have given a voice to the people she heard these stories from. Market it as non-fiction; not as a memoir but a collection of stories written by someone whose perspective was totally changed when she got to know people who lived in "gang world". That's worth something too. She clearly has a good ear and the ability to translate those experiences into a story that people want to read. It's just unfortunate that Seltzer's ethics don't match the high level of her writing.

I actually don't care so much that she lied. She's not the only person who angles to get street cred. That's a common white singer or musician m.o.

What this points to, however, is something a bit more disturbing. What's more disturbing is what about the real memoirs from people who've had real experiences?

As I said, there are some great triumph over adversity stories. I'm sure there are some great stories by people of all races from white to black. However, editors are so busy looking for a unique angle that they're neglecting the triumph over adversity stories from a white woman who grew up in the Appalachians, the Latina who grew up in East L.A. and the black woman who struggled in Harlem.

No, now you want the white person with street cred. You gotta have Chip or Becky struggling with the gang bangers and crack heads in the ghetto instead of whiling away in the suburbs to make it worth signing. To bring up the music comparison again, it's similar to having a white singer with soulful pipes bust out and become a huge star when you know there are thousands upon thousands of black artists who sound exactly the same if not better. Yet, the appeal of blue-eyed soul gets the white artist hit songs, Grammy nominations and a bunch of black singers in his or her backup section.

Like the blue-eyed soul singers, I'm not saying those stories don't exist or that they shouldn't exist. In the neighborhood that I grew up in there was one white guy who wore colors and ran in that pack. But he probably got shot years ago like most of them did. If he did make it, I'm honestly not sure how literate the guy is. If he did put his story to paper, he'd probably need someone to write it for him. I'm sorry to say there just aren't many that make it out, make it to college or university and then have manuscripts that land on the desk of a literary agent.

Maybe publishers ought to look for real stories instead of sensationalist ones. If they take the sensationalist ones, then just call it what it is, fiction. Most of the time, that's exactly what it is.

More links:

Thanks for the link Fishbowl LA: Margaret B Jones, Margaret Seltzer, Peggy --Aw to Hell With It!

Update 1: March 7, 2008 @ 6:20am

The blogs over at MediaBistro are keeping up with this story very well (and one linked to me, so I like them.)

The GalleyCat blog brought up this point:
"This whole thing underscores the problem with having so few people of color in the industry," emails a Latina author who feels publishing can exhibit "a one-dimensional perception of race." She reports that the manuscript she's trying to sell now is being rejected by white editors who don't think her story is "urban" enough ("number of drive-by shootings: zero," she comments drily) and was actually turned down by another imprint because her then-agent, when asked about her ethnic background, assumed that "a brown-skinned girl with an Anglo name" must be African-American.

(emphasis added because it's beyond ridiculous.)
I wonder. Maybe I'll try for a job as a literary agent or editor and see how far I get when I return home. Honestly, the publishing industry got ganked by this one.

Just looking at a picture of Seltzer is enough to set your "liar" radar off.

Half white, half native American? My ass. Yes, I know, sometimes it's hard to tell by looking at someone that they're half this or half that, but considering the tall tale she was spinning complete with a big black mammy, I'd get suspicious.

I actually think that had they had someone who was from L.A. on this they would have picked up on something too. The publishing industry seems to be a nice derivative of the white shoe East Coast tradition where legacies and nepotism dominate the industry.

Let's just see what the next fake memoir will be. You know there have to be more in the works.

Update 2: March 8, 2008 @ 7:16am

Ahahahahahaha. I got the link to the cache of the Love and Consequences MySpace page from ideefixe. Oh, it's complete with "I Always Knew" a hip hop track by Bishop Lamont and tons of gangsta lookin' black people as friends.

Oh, gangstas on MySpace! Well, damn, her story has got to be real!

Give me a break...check it out before it disappears.

Oh here are some MySpace tidbits:
Love and Consequences's Blurbs

About me:
I'm just a simple girl. I used to think I didn't have a lot to say, until one day I was blessed with an opportunity to share my experiences. The concrete things:I am a mother, an aunty, a godmother, a participant in the gang truce process, a loyal friend to those within my circle, someone's future wife ;)and one of the best cooks you could ever meet. Basically, although I may have seen and experienced things many couldn't ever imagine, I am not to different from anyone else. The less concrete things:I believe in God. I believe that life doesn't always make sense, but that if you just put one foot in front of the other and turn right each time you hit a wall, you will in the end be successful. I believe that Bloods and CRIPS are not each others enemies. We are just in a long standing conflict with one another. We share the same social conditions and problems.

Who I'd like to meet:
When its all said and done, I hope I get to meet God.

Love and Consequences's Interests

General: My family, my homies, my pit bulls, good books, good music..what else is there?


Heroes: Malcolm X, Madd Ronald, Audre Lorde, Sherman Alexie, Jayna Brown, God, my best-friend Steven Moore aka Vinyl Richie, Martin L King, Madd Ronald, my other best-friend Romeo, Marcus Garvey, and anyone out there in this cold world doing their part to make a difference....
She can add "lying mofos" to that list of heros.

I'm saving the HTML code just 'cause it's damn funny. There is no way she's probably accepting friends, but I did try ;) Here is a .pdf file of the now private Love and Consequences MySpace page. Here is a link to it that you can view online rather than download at PDFMeNot. Thanks to Steve from the True Crimes Blog for sending this to me.

Seltzer is clearly a liar of pathological proportions. It's really a shame because she could have channeled that story telling into, well, story telling.

Here is FishbowlLA's latest on this mess: Peggy Seltzer: Foundation a Fake, But What About Her Tattoo?

Another goodie from the True Crime Weblog: Faux Memoirist Margaret "Peggy" Seltzer: So I turned over some rocks.... What an awesome scoop ;)

Here it is on Radar: Seltzer Honed Homegirl Hosejob on AOL.

What a mess of lies.

Sphere: Related Content