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Two New Author Hoaxes

In “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 who ran drugs for members of the Bloods, an infamous gang. The author’s biography on the back flap says she graduated from the University of Oregon.

...

Ms. Jones, a pseudonym for Margaret Seltzer, actually is all white and grew up in Sherman Oaks, in the San Fernando Valley of California, with her biological family. She graduated from the Campbell Hall School, a private Episcopal day school in North Hollywood. She has never lived with a foster family, nor did she run drugs for any gang members. She is still a few credits short of a diploma from University of Oregon.

...

Ms. Seltzer added that she wrote the book “sitting at the Starbucks at the corner of Crenshaw and Stockyard. People would come in and say, ‘What are you doing?’ because I would be sitting there all day every day. I would talk to kids who were Black Panthers and kids who were gang members and kids who were not gang members.”


Link one.

THE author of a bestselling autobiography that told the story of a young Jewish girl saved by wolves while hiding from the Nazis in wartime Europe has admitted that most of the story was made up.

Misha Defonseca's book Survivre avec les Loups is known in English as Misha, a Memoir of the Holocaust Years and has just been made into a successful film.

She said she had invented an alternative story to make up for her painful real experiences.

...

Defonseca's book told the story of a 7-year-old Belgian Jewish girl who journeys across Europe after her parents were arrested by the Nazis during World War Two.

For much of the time she sleeps in forests, fed and protected by wolves, like Rudyard Kipling's character Mowgli in The Jungle Book.

...

Her lawyer, Marc Uyttendaele, wrote to Belgium's Le Soir newspaper saying while the book may be improbable in places, it was a "message of hope".

"In other words, it matters little whether the account is real or partly allegorical, it is the product of absolute good faith, a cry of suffering and an act of courage. In that it is the product of absolute good faith, a cry of suffering and an act of courage. In that it deserves only respect," he wrote.


Link two.

What impresses me about both these hoaxes is how obvious it seems to me that they're fake. A seven year old girl is protected by wolves, and a half Native American girl runs drugs for the Bloods, then sits in Starbucks and writes a book about her experiences. Fuck, call me shocked that they turned out fake.

The story for both of them is the same, of course: now that the truth has been revealed, there is a sense of betrayal, of being deceived, and that will alter the way the book is seen, but, in both these cases, you have to wonder what the publishers and editors were thinking when they took these books. Just hearing about them makes me wonder if they're true, and if they need to be verified, and I perhaps wonder if it's not the case of editors and publishers--especially in the case of Love and Consequences--existing within ivory towers that shelter them from a healthy dose of reality in the case of these books and authors. For example, the half Native American, half White girl who runs drugs and lives in foster homes is not, suddenly, at the age of thirty, going to turn around and write a book. Oh, sure, it can happen--I don't mean to dis any ex-drug running, foster raised half Native American and Half White people who are out there reading this blog, but the truth is, someone raised and living in such an environment is not, in my opinion, going to naturally turn to the publishing world to tell their story.

Of course, I might also have blinked when I saw that my Half Native American, Half White author looked like this:

Comments

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highway_west
Mar. 4th, 2008 03:03 am (UTC)
The wolf story is just plan moronic. I can't believe that anyone would fall for that.

The other story is somewhat possible, if unlikely. Literacy these days is at a high because of the internet. I've seen people from all walks of life writing Harry Potter fan fiction and various wacky stuff that I would have never believed before.

I expect more of these types of things as editors and publishers continue to fall for the cult of personality idea that writers have to have suffered to tell great stories. Or that interesting people always make interesting writers.
benpeek
Mar. 4th, 2008 03:18 am (UTC)
the fact is, though, that a lot of fan fic is just plain unpublishable. if i was a publisher and someone fromt hat background showed up writing prose that smelt of an education, i'd be checking them out, you know?

i can't believe the publishing industry has so many of these, really.
(no subject) - highway_west - Mar. 4th, 2008 04:32 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - box_in_the_box - Mar. 4th, 2008 04:33 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - benpeek - Mar. 4th, 2008 04:46 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - box_in_the_box - Mar. 4th, 2008 05:00 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - hollowpoint - Mar. 4th, 2008 02:25 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - benpeek - Mar. 5th, 2008 10:20 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - hollowpoint - Mar. 5th, 2008 06:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
ex_chrisbil
Mar. 4th, 2008 03:05 am (UTC)
Her earings look like they might have been made by a half Native American, half White person, maybe?

Man, as I read the second hoax, I was planning a comment along the lines of what you said. "No shit, Sherlock" is the English phrase that springs to mind (and may or may not have made it out to the colonies English speaking western world). But anyway, you pretty much said what I was going to say.
benpeek
Mar. 4th, 2008 03:19 am (UTC)
yeah, maybe she buys stuff off a half native american girl. that seems more her style ;)
(no subject) - nick_kaufmann - Mar. 4th, 2008 03:26 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - benpeek - Mar. 4th, 2008 03:36 am (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - benpeek - Mar. 4th, 2008 03:42 am (UTC) - Expand
frogworth
Mar. 4th, 2008 03:43 am (UTC)
What I was hoping was that author 1 turned out to be a Jewish girl who was saved by wolves in Nazi Germany, and author 2 was in real life a half-Native American drug-runner.

Then they could get together and claim that they were both writing true stories but their brains had been swapped by evil genius Benjamin Peek MWAHAHAHAHA
benpeek
Mar. 4th, 2008 03:48 am (UTC)
now i'm just sad i can't take peoples brains out.
(no subject) - frogworth - Mar. 4th, 2008 03:49 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - benpeek - Mar. 4th, 2008 03:49 am (UTC) - Expand
lyndarama
Mar. 4th, 2008 04:20 am (UTC)
but the truth is, someone raised and living in such an environment is not, in my opinion, going to naturally turn to the publishing world to tell their story.

No, but in modern America, where people like JT Leroy make it onto Oprah along with 'real' survivors like Dave Pelzer there's a tendency to celebrate survival over adversity.

The reading public loves a good Shitty Life Story book (Running with Scissors is another example) and people like Oprah (or her staff more likely) and publishers are going to be actively looking for those kinds of stories...
box_in_the_box
Mar. 4th, 2008 04:29 am (UTC)
Of course, I might also have blinked when I saw that my Half Native American, Half White author looked like this:

To be fair, her appearance is easily the most plausible part of her story, because speaking as someone who lives in the Pacific Northwest, within half an hour's drive of no less than three tribal reservations, that's actually about as white as a lot of real "half-Indian" Native Americans that I've met look anymore. I interview the tribal officials for newspaper stories all the time, and one of their chairmen is even whiter than me. Blonde hair, blue eyes and last names like "Lundberg" are not uncommon among Native Americans in Western Washington.
benpeek
Mar. 4th, 2008 04:45 am (UTC)
well, fair enough. i stand corrected on the looks part then.
(no subject) - box_in_the_box - Mar. 4th, 2008 04:49 am (UTC) - Expand
ironed_orchid
Mar. 4th, 2008 04:33 am (UTC)
With regard to the first one: the thing that really pisses me off is that she culd have published it as a novel or as pure social commentary stuff... but instead she has to dress it up as a memoir, because they sell because that has the whole authencity thing going for it... which is exactly the problem when it turns out to be made up.

As for the wolves... well, nothing much to say.

benpeek
Mar. 4th, 2008 04:58 am (UTC)
yeah, and i doubt she would have sold it off a hundred pages if it had been fiction, too.
(Deleted comment)
benpeek
Mar. 5th, 2008 10:13 am (UTC)
you are made of stone, you are.

i still shed a tear when all those old male authors turn out to be women. it gets me right in the places where things are meaningful to me.
mevennen
Mar. 4th, 2008 09:58 am (UTC)
Well, I'm a sucker for Shitty Life Story books because they make me feel relatively competent, but whilst I can believe that - say - Elizabeth Wurtzel sat in Starbucks to write her memoir, I do have a slight problem believing that the alleged drug-runner did. I do know people who have made quite remarkable come-backs from disastrous childhoods, but - though highly literate, in fact - they tend to be getting on with the business of living, rather than writing about it.
benpeek
Mar. 5th, 2008 10:14 am (UTC)
yeah, that's my opinion as well. i wonder if publishers of these books consider running background checks? (and if they do, and then decide to ignore it, either way.)
strangedave
Mar. 4th, 2008 10:25 am (UTC)
I find the wolf story implausible, the other one not so much. Its unlikely as a life story for any single person, but there are lot of people in those neighbourhoods. There are always a few who get out of the lifestyle and write books (or make music, or films, or dance professionally, or build custom cars, or work on orchard, or whatever). One of the new friends I made in the last month here in Alice is a doctor who used to live in a Brighton squat, and used to work in a circus - its unlikely, but the unlikely happens. People can turn their lifestyles around pretty quickly. Off the top of my head, I have a friend who studying to be a landscape designer who used to be a dominatrix in Japan and received gifts from yakuza bosses, a friend who used to be a drover who sells doctor who figures on ebay, a friend whose career actually went directly from running a bowling alley to doing a PhD in philosophy (for him, the one led naturally to the other). All unlikely, but unlikely stuff usually happens to someone.

Poor, mostly black neighhourhoods do get the shaft on educational standards and all, but not to the extent that its implausible that a few of them don't learn to read and write competently. Of course most of them don't, but most people from any background don't actually learn to write good fiction.

Of course, you are quite right that she certainly doesn't look like the sort of person that those things happened to. But then, she probably sold her book to people who had no idea what that life is like anyway.

The funniest thing about all these hoaxes to me is I read that J.T. Leroy book before the hoax story broke, knowing nothing of the background. I quite liked it, but put it in the slipstream, sort of fantastical, almost-genre, category, sort of David Lynch territory, and I was quite surprised to find that not only had people thought it was real, but were upset to find out it wasn't. To me, knowing nothing of the supposed background, its somewhat implausible and fantastic nature was both obvious and a virtue of the book.
benpeek
Mar. 5th, 2008 10:18 am (UTC)
yeah, i don't find the first one totally impossible, but these days, with so many authors faking their down and out authentic backgrounds, i reckon i'd make me think twice, you know, if i were a publisher.

my favourite hoax book is still the demidenko one. i kinda wish i had a copy, as i'd like to read it--but i love how it starts off being lauded, and when the truth is revealed, becomes racist.

i never read the leroy book, but i was a touch curious. i tried reading A MILLION LITTLE PIECES, the frey book, a while back, but just couldn't get through it. it's sporting a new intro now, actually, where he admits it isn't true.
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