Thursday, May 15, 2008

Why I won’t be reading James Frey’s Latest

Many of you know that James Frey, the fellow who parlayed a fake memoir into fame and wealth, has a new book out. It's ranked at 33 on Amazon as of this morning, but I won’t be buying or reading it, even though Frey admits up front this time that it’s fiction. (Of course, once he gained fame under false pretenses he didn’t need to lie to sell another book.)

I won’t be buying this new one, or his older ones, or any that he might write in the future. And I’ll tell you why. It’s not because I know him to be a bad writer, although the sample of his new book that I found on Amazon was written, deliberately perhaps, in an illiterate style. (Here’s a sample sentence: “As he grew up he didn’t fit in with any of the other Cuban boys in his neighborhood they idolized boxers and baseball players he couldn’t have cared less”). It’s not that I feel any personal animosity against the fellow. No, the reason is because I have a limited book buying budget, and I’m just not going to put a penny in the pocket of someone who—-in my opinion—-has shown a lack of respect for readers and other writers across the board. This would be true even if his story was magnificent, which, from the sample, it certainly is not.

There are too many other talented writers with great stories who have labored long and honorably in the world of publishing only to receive pittances for their efforts, or even to be passed over time and time again for the celebrity author or the latest big thing (scandal). And there are plenty of already famous writers who have earned every accolade they’ve garnered. These are writers who have always told us the truth, who have never deliberately compromised their morals. Every nickel that I spend on books will go to such writers. Every penny.

Honor and integrity are not dead words, not outmoded concepts. I will support those who understand this.


ivan said...

Ah well.

There's always a neat litle roman 'a clef to expose those who have jerked you around.

This satisfies the ego, but then when you go to send again, they have read your blog--and scuttle you one more time.

...No ego satisfaction, I guess.
But no compromise of self.

laughingwolf said...

i'm with you on that, charles

i've not read a word of his, other than in your post just now, but have no tolerance for liars, thieves or cheaters

Jennifer Macaire said...

Anyway, I hear he writes like crap.


Sphinx Ink said...

I agree. Once I know a writer either plagiarized, or misrepresented his/her work as nonfiction when it was fiction, I will never spend a penny on their work or even borrow them from a library.

Steve Malley said...

I liked South Park's parody, "One Million Tiny Fibres"...

X. Dell said...

Interesting. I really didn't have any emotion when I learned about this guy, and his con. My reaction? I burst out laughing.

Part of it comes from being a writer trying (unsucessfully) to nvigate through the preaudiences and commodification of writing. I suppose there are other Milli Vanillis that Oprah hasn't discovered yet. But it would seem that given the system, it would become ineveitable that someone would try this.

So I wouldn't necessarily boycott any book Frey writes in the future. But in this case, I think I'll wait until he discovers punctuation.

Shauna Roberts said...

Ditto what Sphinx Ink said.

I've been thinking about your comic book post and how I said reading comic books didn't influence my writing. Well, I change my mind. Comic books are about the best humans can be and the worst. Honesty, integrity, and other virtues were portrayed as good things.

Not only will I not be reading James Frey, I won't be acting like him either, even if it were the only way I could get my stuff published. I want to be a hero, not a villain.

Miladysa said...

"Honor and integrity are not dead words, not outmoded concepts. I will support those who understand this."

Hear! Hear!

Well said Charles.

Josephine Damian said...

Charles: He first submitted MILLION as fiction, cause it was.

When the industry beat him down, and he saw the bigger market was non-fiction, so he decided to pitch it as that - he changed nothing, just put a new label on it thinking his odds were only slightly better.

He never believed it would get published, and when it did he figured he'd only sell a few copies and most likely not to anybody who would question the truth about what he wrote.

But then it took off - it was hugely popular and much lauded before Oprah even called - by then he said he was stuck on a roller coaster ride and could not get off.

He's getting stellar reviews now in spite of the fact the industry hates him. Which makes me want to give SHINY a try - not a buy! I don't buy anyone's books any more, but a try.

JR's Thumbprints said...

I agree. He had his fifteen minutes ... made some money off it too. Plus, if I read his new work the media might expose it as NONFICTION. Nope. Don't wanna get ripped off twice by the same dude. Uh, that is -- unless he makes the Oprah bookclub.

Sidney said...

There's a good piece on Slate about how to write a fake memoir. One point is devoted to Frey who was nabbed in part for suggesting he was jailed longer than he really was. Be vague, they said, don't say 3 months. Say a "a while."

I've read only headlines about the new book but I'm picking up generally that reviewers are finding it clinched.

I'm like you, I have other books I'd rather be reading.

Lisa said...

I'd much rather support promising debut novelists (or writers I already love) than put more cash in the pockets of writers who've already made a ton of money, not because they're talented, but because they're famous for something else -- usually a scandal.

As a matter of principle, I totally agree with you.

In reality, do I really care whether James Frey exaggerated or twisted the truth in his memoir? Not really, to be honest. Certainly lying is dishonorable, but in the grand scheme of things, his lies didn't hurt anyone. Although his publisher offered to refund money to anyone who'd purchased the memoir, I don't believe many people actually took them up on it I continue to see the book on store shelves -- selling -- still. Despite all the scandal, his lies were certainly pretty insignificant when you compare them with other lies -- like the kind that put us in a war and have gotten thousands of people killed.

But no, I don't plan to buy his book.

Greg said...

amen, Charles! i'm not buying his book either. seems most of what i buy lately is small press anyway (which isn't a bad thing at all).

Charles Gramlich said...

Ivan, I once thought I might make a living from writing. I know now I never will. But at least I won't sell out, although no one is offering to buy anyway.

Laughingwolf, judging from his sales a lot of folks have a very high tolerance indeed.

Jennifer, judging from the excerpt I'd have to agree. :)

Sphinx Ink, I think it is incredibly important to keep in mind that by faking non-fiction you do a tremendous disservice to the whole human race.

Steve Malley, you know, I think that may be one episode I missed. I bet they did it well, though.

X-Dell, oh I'm sure it's been done before and will be done again. Some of it hasn't been discovered yet. It's just such a disservice to humanity, in my opinion. Loved your last line about the punctuation. Lol.

Shauna, you know, you're right, and that is a good thing, and one reason I tend to appreciate SF and fantasy fiction so much because such books too know how to portray right from wrong.

Miladysa, thank you. :)

Josephine, I think you're mistaken that the industry hates him. He has a major agent representing him and he's published by Harper. He's on a tour and some serious money is being spent, although perhaps some of it is the money he made out of his fake memoir. Perhaps he did try to publish it as fiction but when given a chance to lie he leaped at it. Even if he thought it was only going to be a small lie, it was still a lie and he knew it going in. How many or few books he sold is irrelevant to the issue.

J.R. and his success at making money will be tempting others. The damage that this kind of thing does.

Sidney, yes, even some of the positive reviews on the book on AMazon agreed it was cliche, which was kind of weird to me.

Lisa, in some cases he exaggerated the truth, in others twisted the truth. In other cases he flat out lied. It bothers me immensely, I'm afraid. He claimed to be telling the truth and was not. Not the first time it has happened, certainly not the worst lie that's ever been told, but it seems to me that it diminishes writers everywhere.

Charles Gramlich said...

Greg, I'd say 90 percent of what I've bought in the last year has been the same, small press or relatively unknown writers.

SzélsőFa said...

You are right n your decision, Charles.
I also, choose not to support those who do wrong 'in my book', in any way.

the walking man said...

Wait a sec, Frey only followed the new millennium model of fame at any price. This model has been up and coming since the decade before and will continue long after this decade. Why intensively labor at anything if you can lie your way to it, and hell, if caught, just take the money.

I am following another millennium model; ambivalence, even if he discovers punctuation.


Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Hi, Charles:

Saw your suggestion of Dylan Thomas at Greg Schwartz's blog. If you'd like two current issues of Lilliput Review free, just let me know and I will add Thomas to the list I'm compiling. Email is

lilliput review at google dot com.

Don @ Lilliput Review
The blog is Issa's Untidy Hut

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Hi, Charles:

Saw your suggestion of Dylan Thomas at Greg Schwartz's blog. If you'd like two current issues of Lilliput Review free, just let me know and I will add Thomas to the list I'm compiling. Email is

lilliput review at google dot com.

Don @ Lilliput Review
The blog is Issa's Untidy Hut

Josephine Damian said...

Charles: I was thinking more about how Augusten Burroughs was accused of basically the same thing, and lots of other "memoirists" like the white girl who passed herself off as ther member of a Latino gang and her sister ratted her out, and the press has slammed them, especially Burrough's latest memoir.

I guess I see a distinction between people who sit down to actively deceive when they start to write - what they write is deliberately fabricated in order to get a book deal - I always saw it as Frey doing what pretty much every other first time writer does - write a thinly veiled autobiographical novel and send it out and get a million little rejections. I see in Frey a desperate act after the fact, while I see more fraudulent intent from the get-go in these other writers.

I gotta give Frey credit for moving onward and upward in the face of all that bad press over a bad career decision when he first decided to keep his mouth shut about his book not being 100% true.

Bernita said...

"Honor and integrity are not dead words, not outmoded concepts."
I agree,absolutely, and am with Sphinx about plagiarists too.

laughingwolf said...

no accounting for 'taste', is there?

Erik Donald France said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Erik Donald France said...

Frey is a clown. What surprises me is how little editing or fact-finding goes on anymore, coupled with corporate-publisher duplicity.

Remember the one about a Holocaust survivor being raised by wolves? Or a woman raised by kindly L.A. gang members? Or J.T. Leroy's elaborate marketing scams? Must still be a sucker born every minute and besides, History is Bunk ;->

Heff said...

Integrity, indeed. Wasn't he the dude that pissed off Oprah ? I kind of give him props for that, lol.

Charles Gramlich said...

Szelsofa, at least one thing we at least still have some freedom over is how to "not" spend some of our money.

Mark, you've hit the millenium model on the ehad. And so few seem to care.

Don, I'll check it out. I take it in Issa you are referring to Cup of Tea? I very much enjoy his haiku. I'll be over to the blog later today. Thanks for visiting.

Josephine, there certainly has been a number of such frauds exposed lately. I think since Frey was exposed folks have perhaps been looking closer. I won't be buying the books of any of those other folks either, and I could have done my blog of yesterday on pretty much any of them. The point is still the same. Have some acted in worse ways than Frey? Absolutely. Does this forgive Frey? Absolutely not. I'm afraid we're going to have to diagree on this one. I don't see Frey in any way as a victim. And of course he's going to try to continue a career that has proven extremely lucrative for him. I'm afraid I can't find any bravery in that.

Bernita, I knew you would be on board that ship.

Laughinwolf, very little about folks' "taste" surprises me anymore. Sometimes it makes me rather indignent but not surprised.

Erik, you've hit on exactly one of the points I'd like to make. Every act of deception in non-fiction, and there have been many, of course, diminishes our knowledge of the real world and the accurate world. It diminishes the human race's ability to adapt to that world. When nonfiction is written as propoganda it becomes incredibly dangerous. Think of how the USSR's entire genetic sciences lagged far behind the US because of the work of one man who lied, Lysenko.

Heff, hey, even bad guys do good sometime eh?

Mary Witzl said...

I too believe in integrity and honor and it pains me that people who don't can become so popular. All of us who write fiction have the potential to weave great lies, but we channel that in a positive way (I like to believe) by calling it fiction. Anyone who tries to pass their tall tales off as true life events strikes me as pathetic. I wouldn't buy any of his books. There are real memoirs out there to read, some of them by people who haven't even appeared on Oprah.

Monique said...

I'm afraid that publishers are always on the look out for big bucks, not quality writing.

Charles Gramlich said...

Mary Witzl, we can learn something from fiction and nonfiction but I do believe we need to know which is which to get the full benifit of that learning.

Monique, yes indeed. I suppose that's the way corporations have always been but I remember even myself a time when there was more integrity in the publishing biz. Or maybe I'm just fooling myself.

AvDB said...

"I’m just not going to put a penny in the pocket of someone who—-in my opinion—-has shown a lack of respect for readers and other writers across the board."

Well said. I agree one hundred percent.

AvDB said...

"He has a major agent representing him and he's published by Harper. He's on a tour and some serious money is being spent..."

That's what pisses me off. He lied, acted contrite for two seconds and got a fabulous deal for his reward. And the worst thing is, it was clear that was exactly what was going to happen. The Walking Man said, "...fame at any price." And that's what the problem is with this country--pretty much all across the board.

Sarai said...

Well said. I completely agree with everything you said. There are authors out there that work hard and put their whole heart and soul in their writing that deserve my money and then there is James Frey...

Nanny Goats In Panties said...

I still have yet to mail in my page 133 for the credit or refund, is it too late for that? You're right, he's not a good writer. He and J.T. Leroy both fall under that "If it's too bad to be true..."

Hey, I see you are a published author. That's great!

Charles Gramlich said...

Avery, yeah, the way he's landed on his feet with a major agent and a major deal does sort of chap my ass.

Sarai, yes, so many deserving authors who have worked so hard.

Nanny goats, thanks for dropping in to visit. I don't know whether it's too late for a refund or not. They say not many took advantage of it, but a lot of that was probably just lethargy. Yes, I've had a few books published, none by as major a press as James Frey, of course.

Donnetta said...

Have to agree with you, Charles. And I don't like his writing. I'll come and read you instead!

steve on the slow train said...

I did a post on James Frey after the controversy over "A Million Little Pieces." I listened to it on tape and thought it was pretty good. It ought to have been labeled as something between a memoir and a novel. Kenneth Rexroth's publishers made him call his autobiography "An Autobiographical Novel" to ward off lawsuits. If Frey had published his "memoir" as an autobiographical novel, he wouldn't have had that problem. Of course, he didn't.

If I do read or listen to Frey's latest work, I'll check it out from the library (as I did his first).

Issa's Untidy Hut said...


Got your note. I goofed on the email address: it's

lilliput review at gmail dot com

Not google dot com as I originally put. I must have been nodding off. Send me your snail mail address and I'll get the two current issues of Lilliput out to you right away.

Thanks again very much for your contribution to the List of Near Perfect Books of Poems. I've added it on this morning.

Noticed from your profile that you are a Robert E. Howard fan - I, too, am a huge fan, have been since the comics and paperback reissues of the 60's and 70's.

Don @ Lilliput Review

Charles Gramlich said...

Donnetta, thy name is "good person." :)

Steve, labeling Frey's book an "autobiographical novel" would have done just fine. Of course, many books would fall sort of under that label.

Don, ah. That explains it. Yes, I've been an REH fan for a very long time now, and am a member of REHupa, the Robert E. Howard United Press Organization, sort of an amateur zining group. We have a lot of fun, though. I'll send an email this morning.

Ello - Ellen Oh said...

Completely agree. And in fact, I'll go one further. I won't even borrow his book for free from the library because I have limited time and too many good books I still have to read!

LoveRundle said...

I think I'll stick to my normal interest, Sci-Fi, fantasy, dark fantasy, odd literature works, some horror. I've never been all that interested in memoriors or autobiographies.

I was asked to write someone's autobiography, but I'm going to wait till I know he's serious about it before I give it a second thought.

Anonymous said...

Sounds about right to me Charles, I concur!

JR's Thumbprints said...

Charles, Erik,
I enjoyed your discussion. This is why I've turned to Creative Nonfiction. Unfortunately, your average reader doesn't know anything about the genre. They think Frey had something to do with it.

Michelle's Spell said...

Hey Charles,

I do get this stance completely. All writers are prone to a little fiction no matter what the genre, but to be lied to by some ass who thinks it's okay to fudge things that can be looked up by any dimwit with google is not someone I want to support. In addition, I did read his first book which was some of the most wretched prose ever so I can understand why his agent basically told him that he wouldn't sell it without saying it wasn't a memoir.

Chris Eldin said...

Well said.

PennysMom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
PennysMom said...

It's more than just bad etiquette; it's disgusting to me how he hid behind the veil of AA's anonymity creed to better his falsified life.
Better yet, imagine the broken out there, picking up his book; identifying with him, hurting for him, aching to feel the same redemption as he does only to find it was all ficion. That can be soul-crushing.
Foul. Foul little man!