Fabrication Yet Factual

While it has already made the rounds in much of the mainstream media, I wanted to look back today on the issue of the book by author Susan B. Jones called Love and Consequences. You may have heard about this author, as it was discovered that her book, which she presented as stories of her life growing up as a corner-kid in south central LA, turns out to have been made up. She actually grew up in a nice suburb of LA, according to the account I heard on NPR’s On Point, she later had a job counseling people who were involved in gang violence or shared related stories with her, which she used to make the stories in her book.

As the mainstream media will tell you, before critics and audiences knew the truth, they loved the book and the story; a gang member turned author… a half White/half Native American girl who made it out of the ‘hood.

But once her sister made the call exposing the fact that the story isn’t true, audiences went nuts. NEwspapers ran stories about how Susan Seltzer was her real name and that she had duped everyone. It was as if there was a collective cry of “poor us, we trusted you!” from across the US. The publisher pulled the book, pulled the money, cancelled the tour and chastised her for putting one over them.

As I listened to the episode of On Point Radio I found myself yelling at host Tom Ashbrooke as he went on and on about how sorry he was to his audience and how disappointing it is to hear about authors lying about their experiences in order to sell books. In his mind he seemed to have this noble idea that in the world of books we can trust the author and the publishing industry and the media can also be counted on to verify what is true and what is not. An idea that any student of history, media, and business, could discredit quite easily.

During the radio program there are callers who express their anger at the author, for writing about life in gangs and on the streets, that she never actually experienced. But eventually a few calls came in that support the final point I want to make today; just because it isn’t completely factual doesn’t mean it isn’t worthy of being read or thought about. She may not have lived it, but her stories can still have value to different people for different reasons. For the lover of literature, perhaps because it is well written. For the person interested in examining society and that world which she writes about, there is still plenty within her stories based on reality and an important reminder about the many people in America, especially children, who live and struggle everyday on the streets.

The cries of “foul” remind me of when blogging started almost a decade ago. Critics pointed to anonymous bloggers, like BitchPhD, or bloggers who claimed nothing here is true like Tony Pierce, and said that blogging could never be worth anything if people used false names or told stories that were only half true. All these years later most of those critics have gone quiet and are probably reading blogs, as good bloggers have proven that there can still be plenty of value on a blog regardless of how factual or fictional it is.

Of course I don’t want the whole world inventing stories and publishing them as factual accounts of life. But I won’t expect the type of media and publishing system that we have in this world to garuntee truthiness. Myself I hope that somehow, one day, I end up with a copy of Love and Consequences in my hands. I’ll give it a read and perhaps even enjoy it, without feeling betrayed.


  1. March 15, 2008

    I think there’s a difference between a blog that doesn’t present itself as being necessarily 100% true (Tony’s is of course a great example), and something that does purport to be true, as memoirs like Love and Consequences, or A Million Little Pieces, do.

    I like reading both, but I want to know beforehand what I’m getting myself into, because whenever you’re dealing with The Truth, the reader/viewer/listener is opening themselves up a bit more, making it a shared experience, because it “really” happened.

    It’s the difference between the type of experience you have when you watch When the Levees Broke, and when you watch The Day After Tomorrow. There’s a sense of trust that goes into the Real Story versus the Made Up Story.

    • bicyclemark
      March 15, 2008

      Hey B…. so to continue a little further.. does the responsibility/fault remain with the publisher to properly fact-check and actually do work to checkout the authors story?

      Seems like thats where it should be.. I don’t really have faith in most media for fact checking anything unless someone calls in a “anonymous tip”.

  2. March 15, 2008

    I think the responsibility lies with the author (no pun intended.) There’s nothing wrong with an author mixing up fact and fiction and creating a “story” out of it, but when the author states that their work is a “memoir,” then the expectation is that everything in there is true.

    If blame can be placed on the publishers, it could be for the fact that they seem way too eager to publish memoirs of intense personal struggle, because those sell, especially since this is a hot genre right now. So when a well-written story of someone living in the projects comes along, or a father-son tale of crystal meth abuse appears….ka-ching! Everybody wins. Except the readers, who are being manipulated.

  3. DROCK
    March 17, 2008

    People get so high and mighty on this crap and it’s so self freaking righteous and obnoxious. I’m reading million little pieces right now and I know there are some parts of it that are made up, that doesn’t detract from the story. Because it’s a freaking “story” about some guy or some girl that you never met and has nothing to do with you. I mean if this guy was a fucked up as he says he was in the book do you actually think he remembered the all the freaking details of his detox? It’s a freaking story about a drug addict and people are shocked that some of the fact aren’t correct…wow picture that a drug addict not recalling all the details of week long drug and booze benders and possibly embellishing the story!

    I wish people had the same crusade for facts when it came to their elected officials and nightly news.

    • bicyclemark
      March 18, 2008

      right on.

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