Before her publisher Penguin Group realized she was a liar and recalled her memoir, Margaret Seltzer gave an interview on Penguin's website and, probably, in press kits distributed to book reviewers. The interview is chock-full of quotes from Seltzer about her life as an impoverished gang banger raised in a Los Angeles ghetto by a foster parent called "Big Mom." The statements of course look absurd and hilarious, since everyone now knows Seltzer was raised by her biological parents in a nice suburb, where she attended private school and was not a member of a gang at all. Go read Seltzer's lies, issued under her pen name "Margaret Jones," while they are still up on Penguin's website, or just take in highlights, after the jump.
One of Seltzer's cheaper tricks is a frequent use of urban black slang, which she probably inserted into her speech to bolster her claim of having grown up in South Central LA instead of, like, the San Fernando Valley:
Q: How did this book originate?
A: During my senior year of college one of my professors told me a friend of hers was working on a book and wanted to interview me. I declined. I wasn't interested in the whole "South-Central-as-petting-zoo" thing. Then my home girl said the teacher might mess around and fail me for rejecting her friend, so I ended up calling the author and doing the interview. She was real nice and asked me if I had ever written anything. I ended up giving her one of a number of short stories I had written for my brothers' kids and for the kids of my homies serving life sentences.
Q: What makes the difference between someone who is able to move up and on and out of the inner city and someone else who follows the trajectory into crime, juvenile detention, prison, and so on?
A: I wish I knew. I've got my homeboy who's doing life who wrote me, "You and OG homie are the only ones who made it out." Well, OG homie is now locked up. And I can't even judge.
Q: What was it like for you going back and digging up all those painful memories of your childhood and teen years?
A: It was heart wrenching. And the amazing thing is that no matter how many rounds of edits I sat down with, it was heart wrenching each time. Sarah McGrath, my editor at Riverhead Books, said, "Every time I hit a certain page I cry." I told her, "If you only knew! I hit that same page and cry every time too."
The more blatant fabrications are also fun:
Q: What was the scene that affected both of you so much?
A: It was the scene in which my little sisters and I were walking home from the Korean grocery store and Nishia dropped a carton of milk. It burst open and the milk streamed into the gutter. She burst into tears, begging me not to be mad as she stooped down trying to scrape it all back into the broken carton. I told her I wasn't mad. But I was. That was a half-gallon of milk wasted and two dollars gone. Even now, as an adult, just thinking about that-thinking about the choices you were given as a child that weren't kid choices-makes me want to cry.
Q: You were 16 when you cooked your first batch of rock cocaine. What led you to do that?
A: Our water had been shut off because Big Mom couldn't pay the bill. If your water is cut off social services is going to come and say it's bad living conditions and take the kids out of there. Where I was was cool. I was with people who loved me. I didn't want us to be split up so I was trying to be part of the solution. That meant bringing in money and getting the water turned back on. Once again that's not a choice kids should have to make. I knew it was not right-cooking up rock. I knew I was contributing negatively to the community. But the water got put back on the same day. The reward was there. To go from wearing third generation hand-me-downs to wearing name brand everything-when you're a kid that stuff matt
Then there are the odd things Seltzer just can't remember. Like the sexual abuse she said she suffered as a child, which in the Q&A she implied was something she "barely remembered." Or the question below, where her repeated shrugs get more than a little suspicious:
Q: Do you think it was a good thing you were removed from your parents' home and put into the foster care system?
A: Who knows? Who can say? What would have happened if I hadn't been put into the system? To answer that you have to enter the realm of speculation and I try not to get caught up in "would have," "should have," and "could have." What I can say is that I'm a strong person and that I'm very proud of the person I am today. I don't have a lot of room for regrets, especially over choices I didn't have.
Seltzer was also tired of her 'hood being stereotyped:
Q: What's the biggest misconception people have about South Central, about gangs, about the ghetto?
A: Where to start? You meet someone and they ask where you're from. If you say South Central they immediately ask if you were in a gang. Of course not everyone was, but then you're embarrassed when you have to say, "Yeah I was." And then they ask if you ever killed anybody. What? Who would ask that of anybody? There's this whole misconception that we're all cold-hearted killers, drinking forties out of paper bags, driving around in low riders-Bloods looking for CRIPs; CRIPs looking for Bloods-trying to shoot each other all night long. At one point I was showing my agent around my old neighborhood. We were shooting a video for the book. She said it was so much nicer than she thought it was going to be and that people were so friendly. We went to a local park and this couple walked up to us. I could see the camera crew suddenly got nervous. In my head I'm thinking, what do you think is going to happen? But then the couple was nice and all I could do was smile.
Sometimes you wonder why anyone believed Seltzer, particularly while listening to her weaker, more simpleminded lies and tricks:
Q: Throughout the book, when presenting dialogue, you write in slang. You also replace the c's in many words with k's. Why?
A: You have to find a balance. You want to make the book understandable to the average reader in the suburbs but you also want it to be realistic. I'm not going to walk into a store and say, "Hi. How are you doing? Nice to meet you!" I felt if I did that in the book something would be lost. And I want people to understand how deep-seated the hatred really is between CRIPs and Bloods. CRIPs celebrate C-days rather than B-days (birthdays) and Bloods smoke bigarettes not cigarettes. The hate is so deep that, as a Blood, you automatically change the spelling in words with a c in them.
Then there are the downright weird lies, where it seems like Seltzer is making it up as she goes along and lets herself go off on a tangent. Like in her story about the cop who buys pit bulls from gangster dog breeders:
Q: My understanding is that you're an "inactive" gang member-that you've been given permission by the gang to step down from activity but are still considered friendly, and thus protected. Is that the case?
A: Am I "inactive?" I don't know. There's really no such thing. I breed pit bulls and just took some down to Los Angeles for this guy. He said, "I saw your photo on My Space. You're a Blood, right?" I told him I was a Blood once upon a time. He said he'd never heard of such a thing as an ex-gang member. I asked where he was from and he told me he was a police officer.