Anyone been following the Margaret Seltzer story? The woman who grew up in in Sherman Oaks CA, graduated from a private high school, and managed to pass herself off an LA gang member? Her publisher is shocked, shocked to discover she made it all up. Apparently all they know about gang life in Los Angeles is what they've read in the New York Times and seen in HBO documentaries.
Of course, authors of memoirs have always been allowed to play fast and loose with the truth. Mostly because the truth needs to be condensed, fast forwarded and spiced up. Characters are merged, actions are embellished to make for a better story and all the slow moiving,k boring parts are left out. And since it's the author's point of view, it's supposed to be subjective. No one expects a memoir to be as faithful to actual events as say, a history book or biography would be.
The forbearance that memoir writers have been given as far as accuracy goes has paved the way for the total fabrications now in the news. Ms. Seltzer was lucky enough to have an audience who wasn't savvy enough to realize her story had huge holes in it. Drug dealers and gang members in South LA generally don't by New York Times Best Sellers, so there were no "experts" to vet her story. The people she wrote about were all conveniently dead, in prison or lost.
I was hoping that after the problems presented by James ("A Million Little Lies") Frey, memoirs would come under more scrutiny. But apparently we've learned nothing. Publishers and readers are still gullible enough to believe a few brazen middle class white folks have walked on the wild side and lived to tell about it. When people say "Well, why didn't they write it as a novel?" the answer is, these stories have been done to death in fiction. What makes the story about the young white girl descending into a life of crime interesting is believing that it really happened. We want to read a first hand account of life on the street, not a novel about what someone thinks it might be like.
I've thought about writing a memoir, but for now I'll stick to mystery. It's so much easier. I don't have the stamina to pass myself off as a character in my own books. I've never been a very good liar and I'm sure I'd never be able to keep my stories straight.
Still, every time these fakers are exposed, it always makes me wonder if anyone's gotten away with it. I mean, these are just the ones who got caught. Could there be someone out there living a lie and getting paid for it? Nice work if you can get it.