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Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Bullshit Artists

posted by on March 4 at 8:42 AM

The New York Times on Margaret B. Jones, February 28

Her memoir is an intimate, visceral portrait of the gangland drug trade of Los Angeles as seen through the life of one household: a stern but loving black grandmother working two jobs; her two grandsons who quit school and became Bloods at ages 12 and 13; her two granddaughters, both born addicted to crack cocaine; and the author, a mixed-race white and Native American foster child who at age 8 came to live with them in their mostly black community. She ended up following her foster brothers into the gang, and it was only when a high school teacher urged her to apply to college that Ms. Jones even began to consider her future.

“Why take out loans? I figured I’d be dead,” she said. “One of the first things I did once I started making drug money was to buy a burial plot.”

The New York Times on Margaret B. Jones, today

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 among gang-bangers, running drugs for the Bloods.

The problem is that none of it is true.

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.

Who busted Margaret B. Jones/Seltzer? Her own sister, after reading last week’s piece in the New York Times (which appeared in the House & Homes section, and concerns itself mostly with Ms. Jones’ home in Eugene, Oregon).

Ms. Seltzer’s older sister, Cyndi Hoffman, saw the article and called Riverhead to tell editors that Ms. Seltzer’s story was untrue…. In a telephone interview, Ms. Seltzer’s sister, Ms. Hoffman, 47, said: “It could have and should have been stopped before now.” Referring to the publisher, she added: “I don’t know how they do business, but I would think that protocol would have them doing fact-checking.”

Yeah, Cyndi, you might think memoirs would come in for a little more scrutiny in this post-James-Frey era. (Or puff pieces in the New York Times about memoirists for that matter.) Guess not.

Finally, guess who helped Ms. Seltzer/Jones get her book deal? A Stranger alum…

Ms. Seltzer said she had been writing about her friends’ experiences for years in creative-writing classes and on her own before a professor asked her to speak with Inga Muscio, an author who was then working on a book about racism. Ms. Seltzer talked about what she portrayed as her experiences and Ms. Muscio used some of those accounts in her book. Ms. Muscio then referred Ms. Seltzer to her agent, Faye Bender, who read some pages that Ms. Seltzer had written and encouraged the young author to write more.

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I have a hard time getting worked up over stuff like this, maybe because I just assume all memoirs are 99% fictional...

Posted by PeterF | March 4, 2008 8:57 AM

I've never read a decent memoir. It's all mememe. Memoirs are written by attention whores who live to want to be respected. It's never about being understood. I understand them. They are retarded. Even Anderson Cooper's memoir made my skin crawl.

Posted by Mr. Poe | March 4, 2008 9:05 AM

SO funny! esp. for those of us who remember ms. muscio's incoherent self-regard. the goddess kring of journalists.

please, more delusional authors!

Posted by max solomon | March 4, 2008 9:09 AM

Why can't these writers stand behind their fiction as such? What makes the story so much better if it really happened? A well writen book is just that. To falsify your back story just cheapens your work. Nobody admires a liar.

Posted by muggims | March 4, 2008 9:10 AM

That's gonna be a fun Thanksgiving... lol

Posted by Sirkowski | March 4, 2008 9:12 AM

This is to typical of the goyium not being able to craft historical narrative. It all turns out to be lies.

The only True history is Torah. The Jewish people have been crafting powerful, righteous narrative for thousands of years. But ever since Pharaoh drove us from Egypt we have been oppressed. This is a true story from Torah.

I guess my point is idiot Christians are to dumb to write. That why I prefer Jewish authors like Jonathan Safran Foyer who only write the truth - the history of Jewish oppression.

Posted by Issur | March 4, 2008 9:16 AM

Wow, "a Stranger alum"? Such a pedigree.

Posted by Dr. Bombay | March 4, 2008 9:17 AM

Issur! Long time no see, you crazy fucker! Welcome back. Now if ecce and Gomez will comment in this thread, we can have a troll convention.

Posted by Judah | March 4, 2008 9:18 AM

@6 We may be dumb but we know the difference between "to", "too", and "two."

Posted by mikeblanco | March 4, 2008 9:23 AM

Ah yes, the same Inga Musscio who once wrote a review in The Stranger of a play I directed, complaining that I had only cast two female actors in the production.

The show was titled: "A Couple Of White Chicks Sitting Around Talking".

Posted by COMTE | March 4, 2008 9:24 AM

How plausible was the book? The storyline doesn't seem that likely to me, but then I haven't read the book. And before anyone jumps all over me, I'm not denying that kids get involved in gangs. I just find it odd that a foster child would be placed in a home where the responsible adult has to work two jobs and take care of 4 grandchildren or adolescents, two of whom were born addicted to crack.

Posted by Johnny | March 4, 2008 9:26 AM

Dan, did you catch this part of the story? Pit bulls can be great pets! Except, uh, when you sell them to gang members.

Until two and a half years ago, she said, she bred pit bulls and sold them locally and in Los Angeles, where red-nosed pit bulls are the favorite dog of Bloods, largely because of their reputedly aggressive nature. (Ms. Jones hotly defends the breed, maintaining that they are friendly unless abusively trained.) Pit bulls function as a Bloods symbol, as Rottweilers do for the Crips. Ms. Jones said she sold puppies to gang members and others for $200 apiece.

Posted by Julie | March 4, 2008 9:33 AM

I fondly remember the slapdown Inga got from the female gynecologist, after Inga went on one of her little rants about the patriarchy, detailing how tampons are the oppressor, and you should use sea sponges instead, and wash them out in the sink while your friends are eating dinner, and never ever ever go near doctors, who just want to oppress you.

Mr. Poe, you should read Speak, Memory.

Posted by Fnarf | March 4, 2008 9:35 AM

Inga sounds entertaining, I wish she were still around! I wonder if she uses sea sponges herself. And how that's working out for her.

Posted by Katelyn | March 4, 2008 9:43 AM


Another wannabe bites the dust! She just wanted to give a voice to those who had none but it all had to be true or somehow it wouldn't be real.
Best part :“She seems to be very, very naïve,”
Maybe she can still cash in on Oprah, like Frey did.

Posted by ex-angelino | March 4, 2008 9:46 AM


Posted by Mr. Poe | March 4, 2008 9:46 AM

I second the Speak, Memory recommendation.

Regarding why she couldn't just publish it as fiction: it doesn't sound like that good of a book. With the "look what she's overcome!" angle it's potentially heartwarming (if you're one of the easily-warmed), but without it, well... who would read that?

How did this lady do her research? Did she Google "bloods" and just work some of that stuff in? If this subject matter really interested her so much, she could have done it justice by interviewing real people, and perhaps fictionalizing real anecdotes from different people into one coherent character. Instead, she took the lazy way out, the journalistic equivalent of making up quotes and attributing them to unnamed sources. Now the scandal involved will probably garner her much more attention than her "talent" would otherwise warrant.

Posted by Aislinn | March 4, 2008 9:48 AM

@2: "It's all mememe. Memoirs are written by attention whores who live to want to be respected. It's never about being understood. I understand them. They are retarded."

Oh, Mr. Poe, you are the master of self-deprecating irony

Posted by so funny | March 4, 2008 9:49 AM

I like to remember Inga flying around town on her over-decorated bicycle, pigtails in the wind.

That said, she was a fairly incoherent voice...

Posted by It's Mark Mitchell | March 4, 2008 9:49 AM

Somehow two of the most disgusting things I can think of were mentioned in the same comment thread: Goddess Kring and soppy bloody sea sponges.

Thank you Slog, for reminding me of the things I hated most about the late 90's: Fucking Seattle hippies... And fucking Seattle hippies washing out their sea sponges in public sinks.

Posted by Queen_of_Sleaze | March 4, 2008 10:07 AM

A bloody sea sponge would certainly attract angry pit bulls, right?

Posted by Katelyn | March 4, 2008 10:14 AM

Never trust fiction writers.

Posted by Bub | March 4, 2008 10:16 AM

The whole memoir phenomenon really needs to die. While there are certainly valuable exceptions, I generally feel that about 90-95% of them are absolutely self-indulgent exercises. It seems like these folks are too afraid to write either true non-fiction or fiction, for fear that whatever they feel they have to say (or perspective they are trying to represent) won't be taken credibly. Instead they go this third way -- a genre I'm choosing to call uncreative fiction (since it plays with a lot of cliches in the name of doing something "ground-breaking"). Ugh. I guess publishers are simply going to have to keep getting burned and maybe they will eventually learn their lesson.

Posted by bookworm | March 4, 2008 10:18 AM

Points for anyone who can remember Inga's column name. It was something like "HerStory of TheRapist."

Posted by Lisa Gin | March 4, 2008 10:34 AM

Sea sponge!? People really did that? That is so gross.

Posted by Aislinn | March 4, 2008 10:35 AM


I once read a Time article about a Native American woman with a similar life history, and, judging from the photos, she actually was Native American.

Posted by keshmeshi | March 4, 2008 10:39 AM

@24, no, it was G-Spot Inkwell!

(Which, now that I think about it, OUCH!, especially if you're using a metal nib.)

Posted by Eric F | March 4, 2008 10:52 AM

@19 - I remember Inga always riding her bicycle down Broadway with her propeller beanie and her headphones on, singing and clapping her hands and weaving in and out of traffic, then bitching in her column the next week about how Seattle drivers don't yield to bicyclists. I thought, maybe they're trying to hit her.

Posted by Hooty Sapperticker | March 4, 2008 11:30 AM

Ah, Inga Muscio, one of the most overly precious and self-congratulatory of the Stranger crew.

I remember seeing her do some sort of performance piece in some dive in pioneer square. it was kind of spoken word with simple Casio accompanyment. it went:

Thank you for the computer
(something something something)
Thank you for the computer
(something something something)

..repeated for about 7 minutes. Cringe-worthy.

Posted by genevieve | March 4, 2008 11:57 AM

As I recall, Inga had her own problems with journalistic integrity. She was apt to lift passages from other authors. I remember her defending herself by claiming that she became so immersed in her research that she could no longer distinguish her own work from the source material. She calls it research others call it plagiarism. She was also prone to mis-applying words and once claimed that dictionaries were tools of oppression and that words should mean anything the writer chose for them to mean. She was, (and sounds as if she still is) a slapdash, incoherent mess.

Posted by inkweary | March 4, 2008 12:00 PM

@25: People still do that. Sea sponges, that is. Or at least women do. They also "do" reusable cloth pads and menstrual cups. Washing them out in public sinks is pretty gross, but the otherwise the use of them is not gross at all. Saves landfill space, saves money, and saves nice vaginas from nasty bleaching chemicals.

@6: Aww, man, now if I say I'm a Jew girl whose favorite contemporary author is Jonathan Safran Foer, I'm just going to look like Issur-poser. Why'd you have to pick him?

There are decent memoirs, but in order to be written well they almost have to break the expectations of the genre. Like science fiction and romance, it's rare for a memoir writer to escape the negative connotations of the genre to create something with literary merit. It's damn hard to write well about yourself. Not enough distance.

That said, I really don't understand the fascination with memoirs and "Based on a true story!" tags right now. If it's a good story, if it carries emotional power, what does it matter if it's true?

Posted by lymerae | March 4, 2008 1:58 PM

Sherman Oaks isn't well-to-do, it's just not poor. It's a suburb, full of one-story bungalows and 2.5 kids, but there is a gang problem in neighboring Van Nuys.

Posted by Kat | March 4, 2008 2:09 PM

@31 I know people do that! Believe me, I'm fully versed in alternative feminine hygiene. I'm just wondering if it's working out for her, and if she's practicing what she preaches.

I could make the argument for Inga that words themselves are an instrument of oppression! TOP THAT, JOURNALIST/HIPPIE INGA.

Posted by Katelyn | March 4, 2008 2:17 PM

Jonathan Safran Foer is a genius who writes the truth of Jewish oppression in his book. I especially enjoyed the film with the Borat style idiot who went along on the road trip. Eastern Europeans are all idiots Christians and Safran Foer has the guts to print the truth about these pathetic subhumans.

Even if Jonathan Safran Foer lied or made up parts of his book and misrepresented the history of that little village Klubochin. I personally don't care that eyewitness accounts and memoirs of Jewish, Ukrainian and Russian partisans is very different from the one depicted in the Safran Foer's book.

I guess my point is when a Jew like Johnathan Safran Foer lies in his memoire that's just constructing Jewish narrative.

But when a goyium Christian lies, they must be denounced.

My point is read Johnathan Safran Foer and ignore the criticism about the lies in Everything's Illuminated. It's a beautiful book by a great Jewish author who keeps kosher.

Posted by Issur | March 4, 2008 2:28 PM

The overwhelming majority of people that think they're "half native American" are lying, or mistaken. Should'a been a red flag to begin with.

Posted by Dougsf | March 4, 2008 2:30 PM

I think this whole 'well-to-do caucasian authors writing as survivors from the sticks under a fake name' craze is a byproduct of the fact that literature today sucks, and it sucks because so little of it is derived from genuine experience. Many writers are well-to-do, have never faced any serious hardship, and they feel they have to manufacture experience from thin air, then try to pass it off as real.

Books aren't what they used to be, and outside of Harry Potter-like crazes, they will remain on the fringe to where they have fallen as long as the industry continues to drown in trust-fund kids and taken-care-of wives.

Posted by Gomez | March 4, 2008 4:39 PM

this is why i don't read anything that isn't a reference book or the back of a shampoo bottle. waste of time. fiction is recycled garbage and none of it has been worth a fart in a hurricane since the last century. most nonfiction isn't much better, and memoirs or biographies are all trash. yes, all of them.

art is dead.

Posted by solidox | March 4, 2008 7:51 PM

Read the writing on the wall; She slept with, and did drugs with, numerous black men throughout her life and concluded that she was an authority on the phenomenon of institutional racism. A professional victim writ large in her own mind.

Posted by Kevin Fitzroy | March 4, 2008 9:35 PM

Hey, if you folks are looking for an EXCELLENT memoir, check out "The Center Cannot Hold" by Elyn Saks. It is about her life with schizophrenia. She is an amazing woman and her memoir is enthralling. is a very good read and ALL TRUE. For some good fiction, because not all of it in the last century is crap, try Philip Roth's "Sabbath's Theater" or "The End of Alice" (temporarily forgot the author...). Anyway, there are lots of good books out there, but never enough time to read them. Oh, another good memoir is "Autobiography of a Face" I can't remember the author's name right now.

Posted by Kristin | March 5, 2008 4:50 AM

Kristin...I'm sure all those memoirs are worthy of consideration. Right now I'd rather bask in the knowledge that some dumb-fuck whigger is dying on the inside because her zoological experiment went tits-up.

So please, if you don't have anything incredibly demeaning to say, you might want to sit this one out.

Posted by Kevin Fitzroy | March 5, 2008 7:07 AM

I have to agree with Gomez about the decline of the literary world. So many shockingly bad books praised to the high heavens; the Seltzer fiasco should come as no surprise given that idiots run the zoo.

Also, word to 34 - I f***ing HATED "Everything is Illuminated". What a sorry state when idiotic dreck like that is given the four-star treatment.

Posted by strawmenflying | March 7, 2008 2:02 PM

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