NEW YORK — Two years after the fall of James Frey, a publisher has again been conned by a memoirist with a life that proved too bad to be true.
But as with Frey's A Million Little Pieces, the debunking of Margaret B. Jones' Love and Consequences is unlikely to change an industry where the handshake and the heartfelt vow have long been good enough to commit a story to print.
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”It's a business where honesty prevails 99 percent of the time,“ says literary agent Laurence J. Kirshbaum, the former head of Warner Books. ”We have to rely on the close, good-faith relationship between author, agent and publisher. The fact that there's a glitch once in every 150,000 titles doesn't mean you change the whole system.“
In Love and Consequences, Jones writes about growing up as a half-white, half-Native American girl in South-Central Los Angeles in the foster home of Big Mom. One of her foster brothers, she writes, was gunned down by Crips gang members outside their home. Jones also claimed that she carried illegal guns and sold drugs for the Bloods gang
Less than a week after the book was published, Jones' story came apart after her older sister, Cyndi Hoffman, saw an article about the author in The New York Times and contacted Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA). Margaret B. Jones, in fact, is a pseudonym for Margaret Seltzer, who is white and grew up in a well-off area of the San Fernando Valley in California with her biological family. She never sold drugs for a gang.
The publisher has recalled all copies of the book and canceled Jones' tour, which was to begin Monday. Penguin's senior vice president of publicity, Marilyn Ducksworth, said that anyone who bought Love and Consequences would receive a full refund by returning it to the retailer.
Praised as ”humane and deeply affecting“ by The New York Times' Michiko Kakutani, the memoir had a first printing of 24,000, and about 19,000 had been shipped.
Riverhead also published Frey's My Friend Leonard, a best-selling sequel to A Million Little Pieces that itself included numerous fabrications. Riverhead eventually dropped Frey, who is scheduled to publish a novel, Bright Shiny Morning, this spring with HarperCollins.
Riverhead vice president and publisher Geoffrey Kloske said no one asked Seltzer for official paperwork such as school records, which might have discredited her story, but he noted that the author submitted letters and photographs and a recommendation from a former professor.
Fake memoirs inevitably lead to calls for more fact-checking, but Steve Ross, president and publisher of the Collins division of HarperCollins, said that ”for a variety of economic and infrastructural pipeline reasons, it will probably never be feasible for book publishers to hire in-depth fact-checkers for our non-fiction titles.“