The Latest Publishing Scandals

By Communications Office RSS Fri, March 7, 2008

It was recently revealed that Love and Consequences, an acclaimed memoir of gang life in Los Angeles, ostensibly written by Margaret B. Jones--a woman of mixed Caucasian and Native American ancestry who was raised in the care of an African-American foster mother, and whose foster brothers joined a street gang at ages 11 and 13, and who describes her own experiences as a drug courier, including how she received her first gun at the age of 14 as a birthday present--is in fact a work of fiction written by Margaret Seltzer, a 33-year-old white woman who grew up in Sherman Oaks and attended an exclusive private Episcopal school in the San Fernando Valley.

This comes just days after Misha Defonseca, author of Misha: A Memoire of the Holocaust Years, confessed that her bestselling book was also fabricated. "Why all this fraud now?" asks the Los Angeles Times' Tim Rutten in a recent piece titled "The lure of made-up memoirs."

"One reason has to do with public taste," Rutten writes. "In the United States...the only unchallenged moral authority has become that of victims. This should not be read as an expression of sympathy toward the injured; instead, it's really an extension of the culture of narcissism's influence into the world of letters. It's a view that asserts that only those who have experienced pain or torment have a right speak of it…. Hence our insatiable desire for tell-all memoirs of every savage and degrading form of abuse--as long as the account comes directly from those who suffered it. Publishers are only too glad to serve that appetite, but they do so at a time when their own economics make them particularly vulnerable to fraud. No nonfiction publisher can afford serious fact-checking anymore; most do none at all. At the same time, they know that the TV and radio promotion critical to creating bestsellers demands authors ‘with a story to tell.’ How many talk shows would have booked Seltzer/Jones if she had forthrightly admitted she was a white writer of imaginative fiction with a social conscience that impelled her to write about gang life in South Los Angeles?”

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