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Note to Memoirists: DON’T LIE!

4 March 2008

Did you all hear about this? Gang Memoir is Pure Fiction. I read the article last night. I had some outbursts of indignation as I read it, so I’ll reproduce them here with you. (You can open the article and go along with me. It’ll be like we’re at the breakfast table together and I keep interrupting your reading with another snippet from my reading.)

In “Love and Consequences,” a critically acclaimed memoir published last week— Critically acclaimed? It’s only been published one week! Let’s wait a bit before labeling a book critically acclaimed, OK?

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.—A book tour? Didn’t the author ever consider the issue that her persona was a half-Native American woman, and she’s 100% white?

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.—Publishers’ take home message: Don’t publish memoirs any more. Or at least, do a little background checking, eh?

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.—Oooh. She must have done some pretty nasty stuff to her older sister when she was a kid. Three of Four, Split Sister, and Cowgirl: take note! (Although I wouldn’t call the publisher, I would have called my sister and we would have had a little chat about the importance of literary honesty.)

[The editor in charge of the project said,] “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.—See comment above. Also: Maybe visit this person at least once during the three-year writing process, huh? (Three years!!)

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.—Ummm, color me naive; and even, color me steeped with stereotypes, but, Starbucks? Really? That’s where “the Back Panthers” (are they still active nowadays?) hang out? So, like, a Mr. T-style boss goes around saying, “Don’t give me no jive talk. When I want a coffee, I want a five-dollar venti half-caf caramel macchiato, skinny, no whip, from Starbucks! Don’t you go to the MickeyD’s drive thru, boy! Get your ass over to the Starbucks!”

RANDOM SEGUE: I don’t think I have mentioned these here before, but World of Warcraft recently created two commercials. One of them features Mr. T. I love Mr. T! This is a great commercial. Check it out if you haven’t seen it yet. (The other one has William Shatner. Good, too. Just not as good as the Mr. T one.)

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