Feminist Scholar, Duped by Margaret Jones, Hopes You’ll Still Take Her Seriously

By Neal Comment

peggyseltzer-ingamuscio.jpgBecause most of the scorn/blame for the ease with which Peggy Seltzer was able to game the system and get her fantasy memoir, Love and Consequences, sold and published has fallen on Riverhead‘s Sarah McGrath, there’s been less attention paid, overall, to the role Inga Muscio played in setting Seltzer up with Faye Bender. That’s not to say Muscio’s been completely ignored—she’s come up in the mainstream media coverage, and the blogosphere hasn’t been shy about discussing her part in “Margaret B. Jones‘s” almost-successful attempt at mainstream literary success—not only did Muscio set Seltzer up with her own agent, Faye Bender, but two Seltzer anecdotes about ghetto life ended up as source material in Muscio’s Autobiography of a Blue-Eyed Devil. Understandably, Muscio’s pissed off at the “yellow-bellied blog bitches” knocking her, and she’s itching to set the record straight.

“You know, it is really easy for people to sit in front of their computers and say whatever they want,” Muscio complains. “There is absolutely no accountability because these folks are, largely, anonymous. Generally also having no experience writing books, their critiques of the publishing process is completely retarded… People have no call to judge me, my work or anyone else involved with Love and Consequences.” She wants you to know that you, too, probably would have fallen for Seltzer’s ‘half-breed from South Central’ jive if you’d met her because, as she told an Entertainment Weekly interviewer, “every detail of [Seltzer’s] existence was authentic.” (As far as she knew, that is, and was apparently unwilling to question.)

Muscio also has harsh words for those who criticized Nan Talese‘s statement to the New York Times that fact-checking memoirs would be “very insulting and divisive in the author-editor relationship,” and argues that it’s not the editor’s job to question the authenticity of the memoirist’s self-presentation. “If I found out my editor was checking into my background, I would be horrified and very distrustful during all future interactions,” she asserts. “This does not make for a good book.” As somebody who has publicly (and non-anonymously) disagreed with that position, I can only fall back on my previous comments: “If you’re insulted that somebody’s holding your nonfiction writing up to a simple standard of truth, you’re probably not ready to share that writing with anybody, let alone an editor.”

Anyone reading this blog who has gone looking for a job has undoubtedly had propsective employers check into your references—were you insulted by that process? (And, fine, maybe it doesn’t have to be the editor’s job to round up those details—but it’s certainly legitimate for an editor to come back to a prospective author and say, you know what, we’re not convinced you’re authentic enough for us to risk our money and reputation on. Frankly, from what authors have been telling me for the last week, that already happens.)

“I feel very beat up and attacked by all of the mean things people have written, so this is certainly another form of predatory and abusive behavior,” Muscio concludes. No doubt some of the criticism Muscio faces, along with Sarah McGrath, Faye Bender, and every reporter and book reviewer Seltzer conned, is mean-spirited; the blogosphere can be an ugly place. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for legitimate questions about how Seltzer was able to pass herself off as a foster child from the hood for as long as she was—or how any one of us might have fallen for the same schtick, particulary if our contact with Seltzer was as limited as that of everybody who greased her path to publication.

photos: Seltzer: NY Times; Muscio: PlanetWaves.net