Love and Con-Artists

Have you read this article in the New York Times about would- be non fiction novelist, Margaret Seltzer? Seltzer is yet another in a string of Autobiographical Authors peddling the hardships and tragedies of their lives who turned out to be completely full of shit.

I get really pissed off with auto biographies. The thing is, I like reading a/bios (auto-biographies) over fictional novels, because the idea that it’s true makes it somehow more interesting. The reality, of course, is that most of the people who have their very own a/bio can barely write their own name, much less publishable memoirs, and most of these stories are entirely fictitious, borne of the deceptively monikered “co-writer”. But that’s to be expected when you buy a celebrity’s book. Take for instance, that literary masterpiece known as “The Rock Says…”, chronicling the rise to super-stardom never before seen in the world of professional wrestling by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. The Rock is a brilliant orator, an excellent wrestler, a comedic talent, a dazzling(ly bad) actor, and a man who really loves pancakes. Did you really think he would be a talented author as well? That would almost be too good to be true. Ah, well. Dare to dream.

But lately, it seems Novelists have been attempting to garner publicity by passing their stories off as true. The problem is, when you label a book non-fiction and create an entire life and background, and then it turns out you made the whole goddamn thing up… you have clearly side stepped lying and committed fraud. It’s been happening left and right lately. One of them was a book called “Misha: A Mémoire of the Holocaust Years, by Misha Defonseca. The book was published slightly over a decade ago. It’s the supposedly true story of an 7 year old girl whose parents are killed in the Holocaust. The girl spends the next 4 years walking from Austria to the Ukraine, while occasionally fighting Nazi’s and a goddamn wolf. Well fuck Little Red Riding Hood! That story would have been a lot cooler if she had managed to kill Hitler while he was trying to pop her little Red Riding Cherry. As it turns out the author, whose real name is Monique de Wael, isn’t even Jewish! You’d think someone would notice that. In all fairness, her Catholic parents were killed while protesting the Holocaust… but on the other hand, she made money by defrauding the stories of actual Holocaust survivors. So you’d have to assume that her Dad would be a little disappointed.

By far the most famous case is that of James Frey, whose book “A Million Little Pieces”, chronicles his life of addiction and road to recovery. People went nuts over that book. And then they found out that most of what he wrote was either exaggerated or an out-right lie. Frey gets points for having the balls to go on The Oprah Winfrey Show and lying. She made “A Million Little Pieces ” a best seller by putting it on her Oprah Book Club list. As far as I’m concerned, anyone who makes that bitch look like a fool is alright by me. *Somewhere, a crack Harpo commando squad deploys intent on killing me.* The best part? After the scandal came out, he published a sequel. James Frey, I nominate you for Biggest Balled Auto Biographical Writer Since OJ Simpson. I salute you, sir.

Seltzer’s book, Love and Consequences is different form the other two.  Seltzer paints a picture of her childhood, lost in the hellacious foster care system until the age of 8, when she placed in the care of a black woman named Big Mom in South Central Los Angeles.  She then goes on to describe her life among her black brothers and sister, and her teenage years in which she became a drug runner for the infamous “Bloods” gang.   She talks about how she was mentored by one of the dealers, and taught the ways of the street.   It is an uplifting tale that at once gives you a feel for the harsh realities of being a poor black kid in the big city and details her rise out of “the life”, going on to college and eventually becoming an erudite, thought provoking author… or at least it would be if it weren’t so glaringly obvious that this woman is completely full of shit.

I will refer you to a section of the NY Times original review of the book (when the world still believed that this woman was Margaret Jones of South Central) wherein they quote the book.  The excerpt is taken form the section where her mentor is teaching her about how to survive on the mean streets.
¶ “Trust no one. Even your own momma will sell you out for the right price or if she gets scared enough.”

¶ “War has no room for diplomacy, war is outright vicious. Never expect mercy and never show it.”

¶ “There is no greater sin in war than ignorance. Never speak or act on anything you aren’t 100 percent sure of, or someone will expose your mistake and take you down for it.”

Okay… I realize hind sight is 20/20…  but…  ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?  Are people really that stupid to believe this load of shit?  You’re telling me no one noticed that a common drug dealer is portrayed here as being less like a disciple of Tupac Shakur and more as the next best thing to Sun Tzu??  I realize that this is the kind of book that is marketed more toward hard core liberals.  You know, the kind of affluent, never had a worry, met one black guy their whole life– person.  They like to tell kids how they listen to rap music.  They love to tell others about shit like this, and hey say things like “It’s so raw and real, you know?” and “I feel like I know what it’s like to be black now.”  Or something.  I get that.  But even if you’ve never met a gang member before, that no excuse.  It isn’t that black people don’t talk like this… it’s that NO ONE DOES.

Of the excerpts I’ve read, they are all written in an educated author’s voice with bits of slang thrown in. “Unlike most of my homies,I made it out of L.A. with my life and without a prison record. Wait, let me reword that, as it is not entirely true as it stands. I made it out of L.A. with what life I had left. I wake up in the morning, and where I live, in a little house on a dead-end street in a small Oregon town, I hear birds singing in a big-leaf maple outside my bedroom window, and I thank God because I know it shouldn’t have been so.” (courtesy NY Times)   That strike you as a girl who grew up in a gang?  The way she tells it, hew world was an equal combination of Frederick Nietzsche and a John Singleton movie.  Half the bangers she knew were apparently unappreciated street philosophers.   Well fuck Ghandi!  You want to learn about peace, ask T-roy out in the Marcy Projects.  He’ll give you the straight dope on wizz-orld pizz-eace.

In the cases of Frey and de Wael, at least you can say they are roughly familiar with the subjects on which they write.  Seltzer was so fucking white bread, its just insane.  She went to boarding school!  I don’t even know anyone who went to boarding school! (Reform school, yes.)  And the only reason anyone found was that her elder sister, in an act that would surely make Linda Tripp proud, ratted her out.   No one did any fact checking.  (You would think they would ask her for her fucking license at some point… or maybe her homies made her a fake.)  Unbelievable.

Maybe I’m being a little harsh.  I only read pieces of solicitations.  But based on those, I think I would have burned the book in effigy.   And sought recompense for the second of my life I wasted on that first page.

But on the other hand, I don’t really feel all that sorry for the people who feel duped by these scams.  The truth is con artists are rarely geniuses.  They rely mostly on the gullibility of the general public.  Because we are all vulnerable to being tricked, no matter how smart we think we are.  Every one of us has a soft spot.  A good grifter just knows how to exploit that.

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