Non-Fiction NOT

A few days ago, I read this amazing, compelling story in the New York Times about a young woman named "Margaret B. Jones" who grew up in a gang in South LA, lost most of her loved ones to violent death and her youth to drug-dealing, but made good, graduating from the University of Oregon, and impressing her creative writing teacher there enough to get a connect to an agent, and a contract from a major publisher to tell her true life story.

I was so moved I actually told Brian about it -- in this rambling multi-avenued narrative -- while we rode in the car. I went on and on about how interesting it was, giving him all the details, even describing the photographs the Times published. I didn't have a point. There was no "objective" in telling it: it was just a damn good story of a true life person.

Only it wasn't.

Much like the unabomber, whose manifesto caught the eye of his brother, this fraud was turned in by her sister, who recognized "Margaret B. Jones" as "Margaret Seltzer," her sister -- her sister who was not a mixed-race foster child who grew up in the mean streets, but a white girl who went to a private episcopal high school in North Hollywood -- pictured in the paper with her daughter and friends and pit bulls.

Once again, the public is suckered. And I, like so many others, got FREYED in my vulnerable mental orifice by another despicable freaking liar.

The editor for Riverside books, Sarah McGrath, who worked with Seltzer, is quoted by the Times:

Ms. McGrath said that she had numerous conversations with Ms. Seltzer about being truthful. “I can’t tell you how many conversations she and I had about the need to stick with the facts,” Ms. McGrath said. She added: “She seems to be very, very na├»ve. There was a way to do this book honestly and have it be just as compelling.”
Which is of course the only truly naive thing that was said: of course the book got more attention because it was framed as a "true life confessional." No, it wouldn't have garnered as much money or attention if it had been sold as a fictional novel, or as a social commentary on life in the poorer quarters of LA. It's precisely because of the 1st-person NON-fiction billing that people were sucked in.

That phrase, "non-fiction," is powerful, and I'm getting tired of unscrupulous people using it willy-nilly to mean anything even tangentally related to reality. It's just out-and-out lying. There is a grand and revered category of literature for people who like to maybe base things on real-life but basically make up the details: it's called FICTION. And the great thing about fiction is that no matter how much you make it up, people will still secretly think it's true. But you didn't lie and SAY it was true. In fact you say it's false: you say you're just telling a story.

Non-fiction on the other hand implies a contract of truthfulness on the part of the teller. The audience doesn't just think that you're telling a story that (wink-wink) has its basis in truth; oh no: the audience is holding you liable for their emotional investment in the accuracy of everything you say. And when you turn out to be a stinking, dirty liar, those readers HATE you.

I didn't even read her stupid book (I might have, but I suppose I won't now, since it's being recalled like a faulty car-part), and I still feel betrayed. I feel betrayed just for reading about her stupid lying life in the news, by being so moved by it I wasted Brian's time telling him about it. I hope Margaret Seltzer does a blog search for her name, and finds this, and adds this voice to the large chorus who are absolutely disgusted by her and her stupid stinking lies.

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