A Million Little Pieces of Malarkey

(Skip to the end of this rant of a post for two happy thoughts — gotta keep a balance.) 

Remember the furor over James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces a couple of years ago? Namely, that he fabricated most of his memoir? And Oprah blew a gasket?

Memoirist — I take that back — novelist Margaret Seltzer one-upped Frey big time when she wrote a tale that did not remotely resemble her nice-white-girl life. A few nuggets of truth burbled below the surface of Frey’s fabrication while Seltzer’s book was 100% hoax. Here’s a link to the International Herald Tribune write-up.

In Love and Consequences, Seltzer depicted herself as a half-Native American foster child in South-Central Los Angeles, which led to a gang-banger life of violence and drugs. In reality, Seltzer comes from stable, well-educated, upper-middle-class family.

Apparently, she knows people from that area of Los Angeles, and she wanted to tell their stories. What a wondrous reason to fabricate “proof” of her fake identity! She snowed both her agent and publisher over a number of years. Congratulations to her for excellence in long-term subterfuge — a true talent, that.

Here’s the pity: The South-Central stories do deserve to be told, and Seltzer blew a marvelous opportunity. If she were truly altruistic she would have written the stories as theirs, not hers. I don’t buy her good intentions as quoted in the International Herald Tribune article. Anyone can generate positive spin after the fact. Besides, she’s already proven herself an expert liar.

We live in a 15-minutes-of-fame, reality-impaired era. I can’t help but wonder if this is the heart of it for Seltzer and never mind that in the process she diminished the true plight of many South-Central teenagers.

I don’t know why I’m surprised by a fake memoir. The blur between reality and fiction on all media fronts gets ever blurrier.

I salute the following wonderfully legitimate memoirs:

   Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs
   Shutterbabe by Deborah Copaken Kogan
   The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls
   Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt
   The Liars’ Club by Mary Karrmallards.jpg

Last but not least, here are my happy bits:

1. The last early-warning sign of spring and the best of all: The yearly return of a mallard pair to the stream next to my building!

2. I passed the 300-page mark of my first draft!

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4 thoughts on “A Million Little Pieces of Malarkey

  1. Hmmm. The fictional aspect of Running with Scissors has been questioned by the author’s siblings.

    While I abhor what these supposedly “naive” memoir writers have done, in the real world fiction must be mixed with memoir in order to tell a tale. The question is, what is an acceptable mix?

  2. Oh man, I didn’t know that about Running with Scissors. Yeesh…

    You make a good point: a little fiction goes into every memoir. Yet, to that end there are writers trying to be true to the truth versus those simply making stuff up…Seltzer turned herself into a different person all together — egregious memoirist misconduct.

  3. Congrats on the 300 pages!

    A friend of mine in Eugene read “Love and Consequences” for her book club. When asked why Seltzer didn’t write the book as fiction or at least acknowledge that she was telling some one else’s story, she said “because, as a writer, she is crap.”

    I think if publishers held memoirists (is that a word?) to a higher standard as writers, these issues might work themselves out. If these talentless non-writers are no longer able to get book deals, maybe con artists would stop trying to get book deals. And then more good writers could get their books–fiction and memoir alike–published more easily. Who cares if a story is true or not? Just don’t annoy us with clumsy writing.

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