Author of Hoax Book Created Elaborate Backstory

Publishers of fake memoir say they checked the story out but were still duped.

ByABC News
February 10, 2009, 8:51 AM

March 4, 2008— -- The publishers of a critically acclaimed memoir about a girl raised by a black foster family who ran drugs for a notorious Los Angeles street gang pulled the book after revelations that the story was an elaborate fabrication.

The book, "Love and Consequences," was recalled just a week after it hit stores, when it emerged that the author, Margaret B. Jones, had lied about her name and every detail of her life.

Jones was a pseudonym used by Margaret Seltzer, 33, of Eugene, Ore., who lied about being half-Native American and having been raised in south-central Los Angeles by a black foster mother she called "Big Mom." She also claimed to have run drugs for the Bloods street gang and that one of her foster brothers was killed by rival Crips gang members.

Seltzer's true identity was revealed after her sister, Cyndi Hoffman, read a New York Times article profiling the author and called the book's publisher, Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin Group, the paper reported.

In reality, Seltzer grew up in the San Fernando Valley in California with both her white biological parents, according to the Times. She attended a private Episcopal day school and never lived with a foster family or sold drugs for a gang.

Seltzer's memoir is the second book of non-fiction in as many weeks to be revealed as a hoax and the latest in an increasingly lengthy list of biographies found to be false.

Since 2006, when it was discovered that best-selling memoirs by J.T. Leroy and James Frey were in fact works of fiction, little has been done been done in the publishing world to improve fact-checking, industry insiders told ABC

"I think it's unfortunately another black eye for publishing. The publishing industry, and media in general, need to determine what the requirements for memoir are," said Sara Nelson, editor-in-chief of trade magazine Publishers Weekly.

"Non-fiction was traditionally vetted just for libel. My understanding is that most publishing houses say they are going to look at things more closely, but it is unclear whether they really are," she said.