1.09.2006

I Knew It!

I've always had doubts about the veracity of James Frey, A MILLION LITTLE PIECES.
I mentioned them in one of the very first posts on this blog, about vetting non fiction.
Well, look what The Smoking Gun found out.

Currently, there's no formal fact checking on non fiction. Unlike magazines, book publishers can do as much or as little as the editorial department demands.

What this has taught me? I'm doing my own fact checking. This is the LAST kind of publicity I'd want for a client.

44 comments:

SAND STORM said...

I wonder if Oprah has a queasy feeling today.

Anonymous said...

What a big, fat, manipulative, shameless liar.

I am sickened that this loser exploited the tragedy of those girls killed in the train crash to make himself money.

Can one dare to hope that Oprah might get a clue and expose this cheat?

Sadly, I think not.

lady t said...

This makes the Jonathan Franzen feud seem like a tea party(and I'm one of the few folks who actually sided with Franzen)-Oprah,Oprah,Oprah,you've got
to be careful with your seal of approval there.

Anonymous said...

Whew! That's quite something.

What I can't help wondering, Miss Snark, is if it took TSG weeks of digging to uncover all this, would an agent or publisher have the time to do so?

M. G. Tarquini said...

Man, great title, too. When this one ended up on Oprah, I regretted all the years I didn't spend as a 'vomit-caked years as an alcoholic, drug addict, and criminal,' so I could gt published too.

Miss Snark remember the big scandal some years ago with the series in the Washington Post, I think, about the young heroin addict and his life on the street that won a Pulitzer Prize? The reporter finally had to 'fess up to fabricating the whole thing when child welfare and police wanted her to name the kid so they could help him.

Anonymous said...

If the guy's a fraud, it'll only increase his popularity, probably. He'll write a third book about how he fooled Oprah and all the other self-help and recovery mavens, and will appear on Letterman and Leno. Just take a look around you. Fraud, lies, and cheating are rewarded everywhere, usually with book deals.

Anonymous said...

Cynthia writes:

Ouch. I did not know this about publishers of non-fiction (the fact-checking bit). I always thought they'd at least be as serious about that as editors in journalism and magazines ...

Live and learn, I guess, and caveat emptor, or however you spell it.

Folklore Fanatic said...

The thing that irks me the most is that people will read it anyway and not care if it's all a lie. He apparently tried to have AMLP published as fiction, but no one would accept the manuscript.

What does this tell us about fiction versus non-fiction as a whole?

Putting aside Frey's reprehensible actions, this leaves authors who (think they) actually have lead exciting enough lives to write autobiographies in a hellish quagmire. Do they write their lives as memoirs and hope that the factual story speaks for itself, or do they write novels that are half-real, half-not, like The Piano Teacher or The Nanny Diaries?

archer said...

You mean I didn't have to quit my job and start mainlining smack?!

M. G. Tarquini said...

Do they write their lives as memoirs and hope that the factual story speaks for itself, or do they write novels that are half-real, half-not, like The Piano Teacher or The Nanny Diaries?

Writing the real as fiction saves lawsuits.

Anonymous said...

My theory on why 3.5 million people would read this garbage, whether it be true or false, is to assuage their guilt about their own moral breakdowns, however trivial. TSG is right to go after this shyster, but I'm afraid the end result will be further promotion of the book.

Anonymous said...

I hope Oprah brings him back on the show to ream his ass.

Miss Snark said...

Regarding time: first thing I'd ask for would be copies of the arrest record, or the court case docket number. If an author can't produce those, it's worth a couple hours or days of research on your own to follow up.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

I don't know anonymous (LOL) Letterman just made up with Oprah, I don't think he'd mess with her quite this soon.

But beware the wrath of Oprah...ROFLOL!!!

harridan said...

At least the man fessed up off the record that he may have embellished things.

It would have been creepier if he still stuck by his memories wholeheartedly while faced with uncovered facts.

I think his attorneys are going to have a rough time with this slander-type lawsuit.

I can only hope the suit will drain all this dork's monies. Of course that will never happen. Bad guys win too often of late.

I'm waiting for him to write his Hells Angels screenplay. If he takes the same libirties of claiming his encounters as fact, well, let the good times roll.

(Wink)

David Isaak said...

I haven't read this book, and nothing I have seen here encourages me to do so.

My question for those who have is--would it have stood up as a novel? Or was it the gee-whiz-I-can-hardly-believe-this non-fiction factor that made it so successful?

Everybody makes fun (and rightfully so) of writers who announce that they have written a "fiction novel." But it looks as if Frey may make us adopt some redundant term on the other side of the court, such as "true non-fiction."

David Isaak said...

I wonder what this flap has done to novelist and teacher James N. Frey (http://www.jamesnfrey.com/)?

Must be odd to have a writer with an almost identical name at the center of such a crapstorm...

Kelsey said...

My DH was given that book as a gift. I thought it WAS a work of fiction--I didn't look at it closely, so I never knew it was intended to be someone's life story. Ha! Go figure!

Maxwell said...

For me, Oprah's seal just means I should avoid it, whatever it is. Deep down inside I'm just too jealous of anyone who's home, in front of the tube at Oprah time. At any rate, I haven't read it, don't plan on reading it.

What's the deal? Is this story only good if it was true. Can otherwise poor fiction be good non-fiction? Call me a jerk, but my time is too valuable to read boring non-fiction in the exact same way it is too valuable to read boring fiction. If my enjoyment of book hinges on having to say to myself, "I can't believe this really happened!" over and over again, that's a pretty sad way for me to spend my time.

Am I shallow for wanting non-fiction to be as engaging as fiction? I'll go one more step. I don't care what you call it, what you sell it as, I just want to read a ripping yarn.

Justin R. Buchbinder said...

I don't know, maybe I'm weird... but when I read nonfiction, I don't read it because it's true. In fact, I was once schooled in the understanding that Fiction is often more honest and true than NonFiction.

Augusten Burroughs, David Sedaris... the whole lot of 'em. I'm sure they've fabricated events, retimed them, stuck themselves in places they weren't, saying things they never said to people they didn't know (or who never existed).

If it's an enjoyable read, that's why I'm there. I wrote a memoir, and I found myself re-ordering things for dramatic purposes. Granted I didn't actually re-invent history... but there's no way you can remember a conversation with someone from ten years ago...

That being said, I feel this may only be a bigger draw, especially to the thousands of Freyers out there already. World loves a scandal... (all the more reason I hope Delay releases something sometime soon).

dink said...

Oy and Yarg! This is disgusting. Even more than the temptation to do it is the weaseling and attempting not to own up once caught ...but my head keeps circling around to that photo of his seemingly proud parents in the Oprah audience ...I can't even fully grasp WTF they think they're doing?
This is DISTURBING on so many levels.

That Girl Who Writes Stuff said...

First JT Leroy now this.

How do we fix this?

Why can't authors just write and publishers buy good stories because they are good stories (true or not).

Are the marketing departments running out of ideas? There has to be a way to sell these books without all the BS.

Feemus said...

Oh, dear. Who cares?

This isn't the same as journalistic fraud at all. News media mustn't fabricate stories because their function is to inform the citizenry. They are further obligated to be truthful by the fact of writing about other people, whom they must not slander or traduce for both legal and ethical reasons.

A "memoir" has no such obligations. The playing with the line between fact and fiction, author and text is an old tradition--read the preface to Moll Flanders--which continues in works such as Operation Shylock and Lunar Park and City of Glass.

The difference is, of course, that Ellis and Roth are novelists and billed their works as such (not the case for Defoe, though). But so what? One still spends much of the time wondering, "Is this bit true?"

What Frey did was to simply take this convention and use it in a different genre. This is what is sometimes known as art.

Not in this case, of course. AMLP manages to teeter between the banal and the ridiculous, limping along in risibly bad prose.

But fraud?

Bestselling Author, Pontif. said...

It really is a shame. I had read many reviews on Amazon that questioned the plausibility of a lot of Frey's accounts, and when I read the book myself, I wondered how someone in the state of mind he would've been in could remember things in such minute detail.....I wonder if Oprah will address this.

Lynn Raye Harris said...

Man, this just pisses me off. I wouldn't have read the book anyway (descriptions of vomit-blood-snot encrusted people don't scream, OH READ ME to me; I read the first page in the bookstore around Nov or so and put it back down again--ick.)

I guess it's the idea that he wrote all this bull and got rewarded for it in a big way. And, he gave people hope when he had no right to claim he understood how they got where they were or to say he was sure they could get out again if he could. That is the most reprehensible part of all--that people's lives are affected by a lie.

It's okay if it's fiction and it affects people to change their lives, if they know it's fiction and they still get hope from it. But to read it and cry and think, "Oh, I'm a drug-addicted mess but James Frey beat it and look at him, so if I just do what he says I can beat it too." That's beyond slimy, especially if some of those same people now lose hope because they've been lied to.

Susanne said...

According to Smoking Gun, this story began as fiction, but Frey couldn't sell it. An editor said..."Gee, if only it were true..." Frey then rewrote it. If this is a fact, his publisher deserves as much bad press as he does. WTF were they thinking?

Personally, reading the histories of people from solid middle-class backgrounds who screw up but then are "redeemed" holds no allure for me. Giving them so much credit for overcoming their self-induced disgusting behavior calls for more empathy and understanding than I have. If you're born into a crack-addicted ghetto existence and persevere, that deserves some recognition ... but this guy ... PLEASE.

kathie said...

I'm not an expert in narrative non-fiction, so if you could enlighten me regarding the amount of leeway, artistically speaking, an author can take. And, is there room for the writing being a reflection of the writer's memory of events? Is this guy in trouble because of black and white facts that are now grey, or is it more subtle than that? Thanks Miss Snark.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Well, I hate this. But I'm used to it. In my non-pixie life I sell books and do historical research. (Yes, I know. It's an odd combination. I also raise children and goats, and they're odd too.)

In the field I research much of what one reads is not reliable. Some of it is plainly a lie. I specialize in premillennial movement history. You'd think a bunch of religious blokes would tell the truth, at least as they saw it. Often they don't. The claim originality where it doesn't exist. They lie about their opponents.

Shameless liar is right. Shame. Shame. Shame. A publisher owes themselves, their other authors, and their readers a certain amount of due care. They are the last barricade to a shameless liar reaching print. A lie usually reads like a lie. One gets a feel for it. Putting a lie into print seems so blatant; so, well, nasty.

Anonymous said...

The Piece Of Crap is currently #1 in books on Amazon. A not so far fall from his #1 position yesterday. Moral: Liars prosper.

Jaye said...

I bought and read the book back in 2003. Loved it, and placed it on my keeper shelf. None of this 'breaking' story, changes those facts. It was an engrossing book, fiction or not.

JA Konrath said...

"This is the LAST kind of publicity I'd want for a client."

Really? Even if your client sold 1.5 million books? So Frey made over four million bucks. That would have netted your agency over 600k.

I could handle the slings and arrows of the media and the outrage of fans for four mil. Or for 600k.

Frey didn't write a textbook which showed that 2 + 2 = 7. He wrote some narrative non-fiction, which people bought to be entertained.

And they were entertained. Mission accomplished.

What I find amusing is that Frey admitted to many awful crimes and was embraced for his candor, but now everyone is outraged that he was caught lying.

Enjoying the blog, by the way.

Dana Y. T. Lin said...

Now I don't feel so bad about having lived a non-criminal, drug-free, mostly sober life.

Sal said...

On the subject of the truth or fiction of memoirs, I loved Haven Kimmel's A Girl Named Zippy: Growing Up Small in Mooreland Indiana.

The memoir was a funny, funny book with a disclaimer up front that her family and friends might not quite remember the events and circumstances as she does, but this book is about her (probably embellished) memories of growing up.

What a voice Kimmel has.

Frey's problem is that the hype over his story was predicated on how absolutely rotten his lying, boozing, druggy, criminal life was.

... and he seems to have um. fibbed a little.

I'm interested to see what the consequences will be.

Harry Connolly said...

Whoa. Wait a minute.

Are you saying that a junkie and thief did something dishonest?

No way.

Stacy said...

Still not clear what the fuss is about. If he made stuff up about himself, how is he different from all the other people who have done so before him?

And why is the reporter from Smoking Gun so pleased with himself? He didn't uncover a child prostitution ring. It was just some guy telling lies about himself - not about other people, which would be worse, in my book.

I'd be mad at the publisher, for letting him get away with it; writers are a devious bunch, always claiming they wrote things they didn't or did things they never did. You have to watch them every minute!

Peter L. Winkler said...

"Still not clear what the fuss is about."

I'm amazed at this reaction and several others who say, "Gee, what did he do that was so bad?"

It's called fraud, people. A misrepresentation of material facts that induce someone to make a purchase they would not otherwise make if the facts were disclosed.

Like you buy a used car the dealer tells you is in great shape, when he knows that the transmission is ready to fail, which it does a week after you buy the car.

Would you be just a little bit peeved if that happened? I bet you would.

I hope some clever attorneys launch a class action suit against Frey and his publisher. Now that would bring them to account.

Just Me said...

I'd barely heard of this book (I'm not in the US) but one of the things that startles me is that fact that, judging by the excerpts in that article, it sounds to me like it's truly, spectacularly, galactically lousy.

This may be twisted...but that bothers me almost as much as the fact that it appears to be a steaming pile of lies.

Lynn Raye Harris said...

It's refreshing to read other opinions on this. I don't have a problem with a writer embellishing a bit. Heck, I do it myself in letters, blog entries, etc. My truth is always a bit different than, say, my husband's take on the same event. I also compress events for clarity, or readability.

I know what bothers me most about this is the idea that people were moved because they thought it was real. Not people to whom it doesn't matter, but people who thought his life story was like their own, people who looked up to him as an example, a hero and mentor.

I think that's wrong, though I guess in all fairness he couldn't KNOW that would happen. It's just my trigger and I know not everyone agrees with me. (And it does appear that the publisher had a part to play.)

Thanks for giving me other viewpoints to consider. :) I did think, while reading TSG, that if he had done all those things he'd claimed, how could TSG possibly be surprised that he would lie about something...

That Girl Who Writes Stuff said...

Stacy said...
“. . . why is the reporter from Smoking Gun so pleased with himself? He didn't uncover a child prostitution ring. It was just some guy telling lies about himself - not about other people, which would be worse, in my book.”

If it says non-fiction on the spine it really should be non-fiction between the covers. When I buy grape juice I expect the purple container with all the grapes on it to have grape juice in it. And if there is artificial sweeteners and colors in there that should be disclosed. If publishers/book sellers are going to treat books like a commodity then they shouldn’t be surprised when consumers want truth in advertising.

And from what I’ve been reading it sounds to me like the product that was being sold was Mr. Frey (a living breathing character), not his story.

This is a dangerous thing for fiction writers. It means our stories aren’t good enough any more. We have to be the sexy beast readers are buying into.

I’m dangerously cute so don’t worry about me. But there are some talented writers out there who fell out of the fugly tree and are going to have a rough time under these conditions.

So how do we stop this?

Not buying the book NOW won’t make a difference. And how many people are actually going to try and return the book they bought? Do we complain to Oprah? Write a snarkalicious letter to Frey’s publisher? What? I’m serious. What do we do? Miss Snark do you have any ideas?

Ric said...

Frey wrote a book, got it published and then suddenly started believing everything he wrote - in interviews, at signings, etc. And even Oprah got on board - what's he going to do at this point? Say, sorry, I was just kidding?

The dangerous thing here is people believe Oprah - and if Oprah has a guy on who says AA's 12 steps are a bunch of hooey - THIS IS NOT A GOOD THING.

This guy didn't beat alcoholism - or drugs - doesn't even sound like he had a big problem with it. That's the real danger.

Like Miss SNark said, "WHY DIDN"T SOMEBODY CATCH IT?"

Bernita said...

Oh dear.
Take the money and run, some have implied, positioning themselves as "honest" whores.
Hope these same people don't burble about integrity or responsibility in the industry - or anywhere else.

Beth said...

Ja Konrath said:

What I find amusing is that Frey admitted to many awful crimes and was embraced for his candor, but now everyone is outraged that he was caught lying.

Oh, indeed. Irony with a capital I. Why should anyone be either or surprised or outraged that a crook would lie?

Anonymous said...

>>I could handle the slings and arrows of the media and the outrage of fans for four mil. Or for 600k.>>

You would defraud your readers for that amount? What happens when you've run through all the money and your credibility is shot? (You can run through even the author's portion of that pretty fast if you have a health crisis, for instance.)Hope you've got a pretty fresh plan.

Mark said...

"You would defraud your readers for that amount?"

Nah. Joe wouldn't but he used the initials JA because readers think he's a she like his protagonist. It's brilliant really, but surely not fraululent in fiction. I'm saddened he finds so little to criticise here. Frey is a liar and a fraud who makes all writers look bad because he's at the so-called top of the heap. Yes. And we know what that heap consists of in his case.