I am driving to work this morning at the crack of dawn (late, not trying to lie about it ... visits every three hours from small people with demands for more milk, for an escort to the potty, will do that to you), when the phone rings. It's production associate Arwa Gunja informing me that the book we planned to talk about today, Love and Consequences, by Margaret B. Jones, a book she and I both devoured and adored, is a complete lie.
Front page of The New York Times?
I shake off the cobwebs and ask, "did you call her? ... What did she say? ... I know it's early in the morning (before 7 a.m.), but we have her phone number, so let's use it. Ask her what all this is about?"
Margaret does not answer. No surprise.
When I get to the office, my jaw drops even further as I read that Margaret, whom I'd interviewed last week, is a complete liar. She is not half-white, half-Native American, as she claims. She was never in foster care. She never lived in South Central Los Angeles.
Her real name is Margaret Seltzer, and she was raised in the Sherman Oaks area of Los Angeles (where the Jackson Five moved after leaving Gary, Ind.). And while she claimed the book was based on her knowledge of the lives of friends in gangs, it is most certainly not her personal story.
She never even graduated from the University of Oregon.
The book (we received an advanced copy) was just published. It turns out that a lifestyle piece in The New York Times, not the original rave review a week earlier, was her undoing. Her "real" sister saw it and blew the whistle.
I noticed that a lot of people are pursuing interviews with people connected to the publisher, but I am more interested in her. Why did she do it? How did she think she could get away with it? Did she think her biological family would never tell? ... That they would disown her? ... Adopt her lie as their own?
I also want to tell you how utterly convincing she was. How she completely inhabited this character she obviously created, and how she even explained her composite characters to me. For example, a scene in the convenience store she told me about "Niecy."
Is this mental illness? ... Ambition?
I have no idea, but I do know that she is right about one thing. If she had called this the novel it is, I would never have talked to her. I just would not have. In fact, I received a publisher pitch from another woman who wrote a novel "based" on her experiences in an inner-city neighborhood. I passed on it, in part, because I feel there are too many "real" stories that are not being told.
So, you'll note that we brought you our interview with Jimmy Breslin this morning. We'd planned to air it next week, as part of a complement of stories about gang life.
Jimmy is beloved in New York, where I am from. I think his work stands up over time. His book, The Good Rat, is based heavily on court records, so I don't have any fears about this one.
On the Scouts ...
We had different views about Boys Scouts and Girls Scouts expressed this morning. I want to point out a book written by Texas Gov. Rick Perry that defends the Scouts position opposing gay troop leaders. Check out his book and an interview with him a week or so ago in The New York Times.
I need coffee now. My head hurts thinking about all the talented people who have been undone by big lies — James Frey (A Million Little Pieces earned the wrath of Oprah for presenting his fake memoir as true), Jayson Blair (New York Times reporter fired in disgrace for plagiarism), Stephen Glass (formerly of the New Republic, fired for fabrication), David Brock (former conservative attack dog journalist, now dedicated to liberal causes), Janet Cook (the former Washington Post reporter forced the paper to give back a Pulitzer Prize for fabricating a story), Misha Defonseca (her Holocaust Memoir was shown to be a hoax).
There's really only one question: why?
Will we ever know?