Thursday, February 02, 2006

Latest News on Frey



Thanks to those of you who left comments for yesterday's post. I agree that controversy is a sobering topic in light of making us all look at ourselves and make sure we're following biblical principles in addressing issues we disagree with.

This will probably be my last post on Frey. I've continued to follow the news not so much for the man himself, but to see how the issue of lying in a "memoir"--and getting caught at it--is affecting the writing world at large. The following are two articles from Publisher's Weekly.

Doubleday posted James Frey's Author Note at the
www.randomhouse.com Web site this morning, and said that it is now going back to press for 100,000 copies of a new A Million Little Pieces edition that will include Frey's note and Doubleday's own note, which it released last week. The company is also taking out ads in several publications, including Monday's PW, with a letter explaining its position on the matter.

In his note, Frey acknowledges embellishing many details about his past, admitting that he "altered events and details all the way through the book" to help create a better story. He said he didn't set out to write a fiction or nonfiction books, but to tell his story about addition, recovery, faith, love and hope. Frey said he made alterations in the portrayal of himself in the book, partially as a way to help him cope with his past. "My mistake, and it is one I deeply regret, is writing about the person I created in my mind to help me cope, and not the person who went through the experience."

Frey said he "never expected" that the book would sell as many copies as it did, calling the experience "shocking," "humbling," and "terrifying." And Frey defended characterizing Pieces as a memoir. "I believe, and I understand others strongly disagree, that memoir allows the writer to work from memory instead of from a strict journalistic or historical standard. It is about impression and feeling, about individual recollection. This memoir is a combination of facts about my life and certain embellishments. It is subjective truth, altered by the mind of a recovering drug addict and alcoholic. Ultimately it's a story, and one that I could not have written without have lived the life I've lived."

This second article is PW’s interview with James Frey’s agent.

Brillstein-Grey literary manager Kassie Evashevski has represented James Frey for the last four and a half years, and has remained mum of the debate swirling around the publication of A Million Little Pieces. "I have purposefully chosen not to comment on the controversy until now because I felt it was important to let James speak for himself," Evashevski told PW editor-in-chief Sara Nelson in an exclusive interview. "I also needed to sort out for myself what was happening." While she declined to quote from private conversations in which she questioned Frey about the controversial events in the book, she says that she spoke to him many times about specific incidents in A Million Little Pieces. She also said she learned about Frey's deceptions in the papers and on TV "along with the rest of the world."

In light of recent questions about the roles of agent, editor and publisher, Evashevski said, "I now feel compelled to address the matter."

SN: HOW DO YOU RESPOND TO ALLEGATIONS THAT YOU SUBMITTED THE BOOK DIFFERENTLY (Fiction vs. Nonfiction) TO DIFFERENT PUBLISHERS?

KE: I told all the publishers that it was the true story of James's addiction and recovery, which is what he had told me. He did say he had changed the names and identifying characteristics of his fellow rehab patients, but, until recently, always maintained the veracity of his account.

I think the confusion over fiction vs. nonfiction may stem from the fact that early in the submission process, James raised the issue of whether he could publish it as an autobiographical novel--ONLY, he said, to spare his family undue embarrassment, NOT because it wasn't true. I told him I would bring it up with a few publishers, which I did, and the response was unanimous: if the book is true, it should be published as a memoir.
James personally explained to his editor that the events depicted in the book took place as described. Based on the information given us by the author, [editor] Sean McDonald and [publisher] Nan Talese believed in good faith they were buying a memoir, just as I believed I was selling them one.

SN: HOW DID FREY'S MANUSCRIPT GET TO YOU IN THE FIRST PLACE?

KE: It was sent to me by a mutual friend of James and mine who works in the film business.
SN: WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO REP IT?

KE: I thought the book was the most visceral and vivid description of drug addiction I had ever read.

SN: DO YOU BELIEVE FREY SET OUT TO "CON" YOU, NAN, ETC?

KE: No, I really don't, but I'm not going to speculate about what went on his mind.

SN: WHEN DID YOU FIRST LEARN ABOUT THE 'SMOKING GUN'S' FINDINGS?

KE: James called me a few days before the piece ran to say he had learned they were doing a negative story on him, but I didn't learn of the specifics until I read it on 'TSG' Web site along with everyone else.

SN: ARE YOU CONTINUING TO REP HIM?

KE: No, I am not. In the last week, it became impossible for me to maintain a relationship once the trust had been broken. He eventually did apologize, but I felt for many reasons I had to let him go as a client.

SN: WHAT DO YOU THINK HIS FUTURE IS AS A WRITER/SCREENWRITER?

KE: I still believe he's a very talented writer and suspect we haven't heard the last of James Frey.

SN: WHOSE RESPONSIBILITY IS IT TO VERIFY BOOKS?DO YOU THINK PUBLISHERS SHOULD HAVE FACT-CHECKERS?

KE: Certainly after this experience, I have to wonder if there is such a thing as a "nonfiction memoir." One can fact-check facts, but how do you fact-check memory and perception? I'm less clear on whether or not I think publishers have a responsibility to carefully check nonfiction works of a journalistic nature. Ultimately, I feel an author should be responsible for his or her own work, but I leave that to the legal minds.

SN: THERE ARE OFTEN QUESTIONS ABOUT EVENTS DEPICTED IN MEMOIRS. WHAT IS IT ABOUT THIS BOOK THAT SEEMS TO HAVE SET OFF SO MANY PEOPLE?

KE: I think the book's success and the tremendous interest in its subsequent controversy are because of its subject matter. Nearly everyone in this country seems to have been touched by addiction or knows someone who has. Still, I've never personally seen a media frenzy like this regarding a book before. It's been surreal.

SN: DO YOU THINK THIS SITUATION HAS CHANGED THE WAY YOU WILL DEAL WITH CLIENTS AND MANUSCRIPTS IN THE FUTURE?

KE: This experience will definitely make me more cautious. But, at the end of the day, I guess I hope I'll still be able to take people at their word--even while I'm checking out their stories.

7 comments:

Ron Estrada said...

This has been an interesting story. I wonder, though, if the book has changed some lives for the good, despite the bad press. By the way, BC, thanks for the interview on Dineen's blog. She and I make up half of the "fearsome foursome," and we've had some good news lately, which has also doubled our workload and stress levels. Great mentors like you have been a inspiration to us.

Gina Holmes said...

The trust but verify adage is a wise rule to follow in this fallen world. Can't wait for Heaven when we can just trust.

Karen Wevick said...

I had never heard of James Frey, before the book fray, but I'm still greatly disappointed. Having known many people in recovery, it is quite possible that people will have read the book, feel inspired to change, and then finding out that much of it is lies and perhaps parts that they related to because those things actually happened to them, will justify slipping back because he really doesn't tell their story. I know people can find any reason to go back out again, but there are points of vulnerability where it is easier than others.
I also find it interesting that Random House did not offer to refund those readers who feel ripped off.
Just my thoughts.

Becky said...

I wondered the same thing as Karen. I saw a snippet of the original show of Frey with Oprah--a clip where he met with a woman who was planning to commit suicide until she read his book, wrote to him and he answered with a message similar to: hold on, just keep holding on. That was thin as it was, but what does she have now?

But my thoughts as I read your post, Brandilyn: fiction writers need to capitalize on this, maybe ban together and take out ads in pubs like PW that say something like, Buy fiction. You'll be reading it anyway." Hahah.

Becky

Jason said...

This is off topic, but here is a really good review for Web of Lies from Infuze. http://www.infuzemag.com/reviews/books/archives/2006/01/web_of_lies.html

ulic said...

In James Frey’s “A Million Little Pieces” James Frey conquers his demons and becomes a better person for it. He comes to accept himself for who he is and makes a connection with himself, a connection that is shared with his audience. As a memoir his story captivated millions. It moved and touched many for whatever reason and changed their lives. It even helped some conquer their own demons. After the reveal that part of the memoir was fabricated, not by life experience, but by imagination the public was turned off. Why? Because they were no longer enthralled. Reality sells, especially when it involves personal demons. The revelation left people with a feeling of being cheated. The time and effort spent on reading Frey’s “memoirs” and listening to Frey’s deepest thoughts and emotions became a waste of time. The invisible deal between the writer and audience was broken. Frey came out, told us here is my life’s story, I hope you get something out of it and the public reacted. As soon as Frey lied to the audience the deal was broken. Although, this story happened a few months ago, it’s still relevant for the reason that it has sparked the reveal of several other non-fiction works as works of fiction.

ulic said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.