Monday, March 03, 2008

Big enough news to start writing again!

My apologies for the weeks that went by without a peep. I was out of town, and bogged down before and after the trip. I clearly don't leave the office enough: my colleagues acted as if I may never return, nervously requesting things before my first day out, and then work piled up while I was away.

Anyhow, I saw something in Publisher's Lunch I'll try to pull up momentarily, that I didn't get a chance to post about earlier, but this, now THIS is the real news: an author who is an impostor! We all love it a little bit, don't we? Well, not Riverhead so much.

So in this piece in the New York Times by Motoko Rich, one of their book peeps, we hear about Margaret P. Jones, nee Margaret Seltzer, who published an entirely false memoir, which is fast becoming its own genre, entitled Love and Consequences. (The description on Powells, presumably from the publisher, mentions the "unforgettable voice," saying it's "a memoir like no other." That smarts.) Ya see, Seltzer is a wealthy young gal, brought up with all the perks of the modern day debutante:
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.

Of *course* she didn't attend a public university. I say!

She says she felt she could be a mouthpiece, people would listen to her, so she had to do it, but how long would she have stayed quiet if her sister had not seen media about her and exposed her to her shocked and horrified publisher? They pulled the book and canceled the tour just in the nick of time: her first event was to be in Eugene, OR, on Monday.

What I find most fascinating about these cases - J. T. Leroy, and remember James Frey? anyone? - is that it's always publishing folks getting caught out when they want something soooooo bad. They want a gender freak with a hustler past who can also write. They want an ex-addict who recalls all the drug abuse. They want someone who ran money and drugs for gangs. But they want them in the form of nice, malleable, educated, middle class white people!

I love love love this paragraph from Rich's article:
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.”
Publishing people want authors who work in Starbucks.

What don't publishing people want? Uneducated people who need writers ($$), who may flake out because they don't fully understand the publishing process, which they have never experienced and which no one really, ya know, bothers explaining. They don't want someone who is going to have family drama that may disrupt publication, or may have medical problems due to past drug use, or violence they've experienced. They want the experience to only still exist on the page, not in the person. So these actors waltz in and BAM, get a book contract. But really, Seltzer's editor, Sarah McGrath swears she paid "under $100,000" for the book. For the record, $99,000 is under $100,000, so let's not worry that Seltzer got shafted here.

Says McGrath in the article:
“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.

One wonders if the "us" McGrath mentions are people who actually know anyone who struggles this bad, who gets heat cut off, who has worked to get out of gang entanglements. Later McGrath says that over 3 years, the story never changed once, in any way. No cracks were exposed.

I believe her, but one wonders how much attention was paid. How much did publicity and marketing say "let's go, let's go, let's get this out there, let's make her what we need her to be," shutting their eyes and ears to anything suspicious? Once the publishing train gets started, everyone wants the book and the author to be what the market wants, and it takes close attention and serious willpower to control that train. Riverhead, part of Penguin, like most other large commercial presses, had dollar signs in their eyes.

I assume Rich was thinking this kind of thing as she mentioned one point in particular. It seems ol' Riverhead even let this woman *create* a character named Big Mom, a large-hearted African American woman who raised grandkids and at least one foster kid. So.. this white asshole created a Mammy for her memoir? It's just shocking.

A good parlor game could be what might come up next. Mental illness seems ripe for the picking. Any fake writers claiming autism out there? It's a spectrum, so there may be some wiggle room...

1 comment:

Matt said...

A very good post on a topic that seems to come up an awful lot these days. Keep up the good work!