Friday, November 09, 2007

James Frey

Every so often I listen to an old show of mine and yesterday I listened to the James Frey show when he was for My Friend Leonard. (He shared the hour with Roxana Robinson, one of my favorite essayists who also writes short stories and novels.)

Frey talked about how he was doing what Kerouac and Kesey and others had done before him--taking their life and embellishing a bit. He talked about how he had come to his own voice. As I was listening I was thinking how I liked him and liked what he had to say, and how no one would have ever lanced him over A Million Little Pieces had it not become such a mega-seller.

I wondered then--and I wonder now--how his publisher might have saved him (and themselves) a ton of tears had they simply classified his book as a novel. But of course the fever for true stories was festering, and he went along with whatever they wanted. A big mistake. When I listen to him on this recording, I think: He was an innocent guy who was grateful for a publishing deal and would have said it was a cookbook if that's what they had wanted.

What's wrong with a novel based on truth? Often that's how you have to do it, and for me, I enjoy these types of novels--sometimes even more than memoirs. And how many authors make it all up, anyway?


Dwight's Writing Manifesto said...

Yes, yes, yes.

His next memoir should be titled Thrown Under the Bus.

I have a feeling that every fiction piece I've written contains a higher percentage of memoir than the percentage of fiction Frey called memoir.

See also Augusten Burroughs.

We love to set people up. We love to knock them down.

We outgrow our G.I. Joes, but we never outgrow the thrill of manipulating others.


Demian Farnworth said...

You are right when you say that he was lambasted because he sold a bestseller. Then again, he did go on Oprah and lead every body to believe this was legit. You are right to say that it was handled incorrectly by his publisher, my Frey himself. The public is easily duped and writer's are loose with the truth, and have no problem with it. It's a bad mix. But it's also a lack of responsibiliy on the readers part. It's not like an Enron where he took everyone's money. They just lied to them. Like JT leroy did. The magnitude is missing.

Amy S. said...

As I'm writing my first novel and much of it is based on personal experience and my own life, I hope nothing is wrong with a novel based on truth. I think when you write what you know--your truth--it gives the book authenticity. It makes the reader sit back and say, "I've felt that way," or "I completely understand this". That's what I want people to say when they read my stuff, anyway. I want it to touch them the way "A Million Little Pieces" touched me.

Anonymous said...

So many novelists use their lives in their fiction. I just had an author on my show--Emily Listfield, who wrote Waiting to Surface--who says, point blank, that she based the novel on her husband's disappearance nine years before. She fictionalized so she could embellish.

I love novels based on something from the authors' lives.

writermama said...

I agree with you, Frey was the scapegoat for so many jackals. Thousands of talented writers will likely now never dare to try and publish their memoirs even if every word is true.