Pretty much the entire planet has weighed in on the trials and tribulations of fake-memoirist and not-ex-gang-member Margaret Seltzer, whose book Love and Consequences had received rave reviews for her portrayal of growing up in South Central L.A. before her true identity as a product of placid middle-class suburbia was discovered. (Her sister spotted a story about her in the New York Times and made a call. Hurray for truth and all that, but her sister? A little cold, right? On the other hand, did Seltzer really think her own family wasn’t going to see her in the Times and realize that something seemed a little off in the profile, like her entire life story?) So obviously this was an awful choice on Seltzer’s part, not only because she lied about everything and claimed a history that wasn’t hers to own, but also because a book about the realities of urban life in low-income communities–particularly one that was getting as much attention as Seltzer’s–could have actually done some good, and she fucked it up by inventing the suffering that so many other people actually live.
So why did Seltzer write a fraudmoir, particularly when there’s this really neat other genre where you’re allowed to say whatever you want and make up all kinds of crazy new dialogue and characters? My guess: because her book never would have found its way to the media spotlight (and perhaps never would have been published at all) if she hadn’t packaged herself to accompany it. There’s a lot of talk these days about the publishing demand for author-brands, driven by the necessity of marketing books in the contemporary celebrity-saturated landscape. If a book’s going to sell, it’s got to have a pusher, and the only way the media’s going to want to talk to the author is if he or she is a good story, in and of themselves. Unfortunately, while some writers have compelling stories of addiction or hardship or leaving their cushy white-collar jobs to become a Buddhist monk/lobster fisherman/Olympic pole-vaulter, there are lots of other writers whose lives are boring–the wallflowers of the literary dance.
However: Besides assuming false identities and changing names (Seltzer –> Jones), ethnicities (white –> half-white, half-Native American), neighborhoods (Sherman Oaks –> South Central) etc., I think there are probably at least a few good options for writers. One, do something interesting and then write about it. Two, keep working hard and accept the fact that maybe Fresh Air is never going to come a-knocking for an interview, but it doesn’t matter because obscurity is totally chic and disappointment feeds creativity and at least boxed mac-and-cheese still only costs like two dollars. Also maybe the Dangerous Liaisons route: seducing a high-powered (preferably married) editor at a major publishing house and then getting entangled in some kind of complicated blackmailing scheme that results in a plush book contract, and everyone’s speaking French and on drugs and Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Phillippe are there for some reason? Hmm, what else, No Recorders?