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Grandmother, tell me again about the year you fooled your editor, your publisher, and the New York Times

“There is no greater sin in war than ignorance. Never speak or act on anything you aren’t 100 percent sure of, or someone will expose your mistake and take you down for it.”

— ‘Margaret B. Jones’ [Margaret Seltzer], quoted in Michiko Kakutani’s review of Love or Consequences.

I’ve been frantic with post-travel recovery and a huge writing deadline, so I’m going to swoosh in on the whole Jones/Seltzer latest-lying-memoirist with some fractured pensees…The tizzy has been well-blogged many places, notably by writer/teacher Tayari Jones and writer/kibitzer Ron Hogan at Galleycat (n.b. Galleycat is a blog every self-respecting book-loving librarian should read and share with readers, because if there’s anything better than books, it’s gossip about books).

Following standard practice, the Times put its “editorial note” at the END of Mimi Reed’s paen to horse manure.”Oh, by the way, that stuff you just wasted a couple minutes of your life reading? Our bad, all lies!”

A few folks have commented on how easy it was to fool the largely-white, New-York-centric publishing industry keening to show “authentic” experiences (as in, whatever cultural stereotypes they believe are “authentic”).

I’d really like to read the book and see how fooled I am. Sure, it’s 50-50 hindsight, but are there flags a busy editor should watch out for? The professor who “vouched” for Jones/Seltzer doesn’t surprise me — it sounds as if Jones/Seltzer had her story pretty well in place by then, and professors aren’t fact-checkers, either. Imagine a strong writer with a heart-tugging story about her life among the homies… kind of blows away the competition.

Though as Galleycat pointed out, Seltzer’s home paper was “less credulous,” even canceling a piece it was going to run on March 2 after a key fact (Seltzer’s education) didn’t pan out.

Think about teaching an entire class in fake lit. Or better, teach half a class in fake lit, and half a class in real lit. Compare and discuss.

Did Jones/Seltzer not once consider she would be unearthed? I can see Frey thinking he’d get away with it — stretch a story here, stretch a description there, sort of like unwittingly eating your way through a box of chocolates — but Jones/Seltzer wholeheartedly confected the entire thing. Did she want to be discovered? Did she fear it? Both?

I’m fascinated by the sister who dropped a dime on Jones/Seltzer. I am curious about that relationship.

You know, this fact thingy isn’t just for nonfiction folks. If you’re going to write fiction and tell me that Easter comes three weeks after Christmas, I’m calling you on it. So here’s why every writing group needs a librarian: whether you write nonfiction or fiction, if we share work I’m-a gonna fact-check yo’ ass.

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