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One highly opinionated feminist YA nerd's twisted, snarky and informative journey through the genre's perils, pitfalls and sparkles.

Dear James Frey...

I have never read your work. I make a point of never paying first hand for books written by noted liars. So when I heard that you were writing YA novels under the pen name of Pittacus Lore, entitled “I Am Number Four” I was intrigued but not enough to put money down for the privilege. When I later discovered that not only had the movie rights already been purchased for the at the time unreleased book, but they were already making the $60million film, my cynicism fell from “glass half empty” to “glass empty and smashed across the floor.” Call me old fashioned but I can’t help but think there’s something incredibly artificial and greedy about churning out a book specifically to make a movie of it so you can see the Benjamins roll in. I disliked it when Thomas Harris did it for Hannibal Lecter and I dislike it in a genre I hold close to my heart.



Maureen Johnson posted this Wall Street Journal article on twitter and it’s safe to say you have not gone up in my estimation. Your business Full Fathom Five, created specifically to be a quick, effective conveyor belt of ideas for books solely to be sold to the film market feels incredibly disingenuous to me, not to mention working specifically in the field of multiple book series to milk the cash cow even further. I guess some people would call you a savvy businessman, especially since you employ many writers, pay them next to nothing, then get them to do the legwork. 28 writers working on 27 series? I can feel the creative integrity drain out of me just thinking about it.

But here’s what really got to me about this article, aside from one of your colleagues pitching a YA series idea and insisting that the heroine’s parents be dead (because parentless children have it so good and nobody’s ever read about that before). Your entire attitude to this venture is that of a man obsessed with nothing but monetary gain. The ideas you pitch are derivative but not without promise, yet you seem concerned only with how commercial you can make them instead of how interesting, intriguing or challenging your ideas can be. Teenagers aren’t stupid, they don’t deserve to be talked down to by businessmen in factories churning out stuff they are told they should like because it’s ‘bad-ass.’ You say that “the book world is less accepting of radical ideas” right after a mention of Dreamworks’ marketing team wanting you to create a saleable logo for your Pittacus Lore books. Here’s the truth – the publishing world has been accepting of radical ideas long before you were ever born. It’s how books like Lolita got published. There is a place in our world for low-brow trash and I happily indulge in it myself from time to time, but is there a place for buillshit? Not so much. Your books will probably sell well and the movies will probably make a lot of money too (I notice that there is interest in another movie of one of your company’s yet to be released books starring Jaden Smith) Literature is not something that can be churned out, packaged and dolled up in explosions, and if you seriously think that teenagers deserve nothing but the same old crap then I feel sorry for you.

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12 comments:

Alex Merges said...

This line stands out to me:

>> Mr. Frey began contemplating the operation that has become Full Fathom Five around the time he finished reading the last installment of the Harry Potter series in 2007. "Someone is going to replace Harry Potter," he recalls thinking. "Maybe it'll be me."

One, that's immensely cocky. Two? He set out to make these derivatives of derivatives, underpaying his staff to ridiculous degrees while doing so, in order to be the next JK Rowling.

Consider my mind boggled.

What really burns me is that his idea for this novel-making machine to churn stuff out like this? Fantastic idea for a dystopian universe. And Frye decides to make it reality. Just... ugh. Where's Oprah when you need her?

Joan said...

What's the deal with James Frey being a plagiarist? I've only heard about the kerfuffle over parts A Million Little Pieces being fiction.

And the idea of him paying his writers "Chinese food money" for their books? $500? Wow. Way to be a giant tool there, James. No thank you.

Ceilidh said...

@Joan:

Ah, that's my mistake. I'll correct that now. He's not a plagiarist - he's just a lying hack.

princessstarr said...

Dear Mr. Frey,

Fuck you. Being a lying hack who knowingly fabricated not one, but TWO "memoirs" and reaped people's money and sympathy should have been enough for ANY publishing house not to touch you. Again.

There is enough mass-marketed crap that talks down to teens in the YA market already. I hope your company flops and you have to actually try to do something that's worthy of merit.

Ta.


On another note, I don't mind tie-in films or marketable book series, when it's done well. (See the 39 Clues series, which pretty much a marketing strategy but y'know DONE WELL.) This on the other hand...*pours out a series of shots*

Joan said...

@Ceilidh

Oh, that's too bad. I was hoping for even more juiciness. :D

irishelflinwe said...

I saw this earlier today. That contract made me almost willing to PAY $500 just to slap the crap out of him. Although, from all the responses I've seen, I'd have to wait in line.

Also, from what I read, the Columbia University MFA program really shares in the blame for this. They're encouraging this jackass in fleecing their students. That'll bring enrollment RIGHT up now that this has gone public. /sarcasm

Arielle Clemence said...

What a dick. I will definitely not see that movie or read the books, and implore everyone I know not to touch them or see it.

princessstarr said...

I just had to add this- I walked into the airport bookstore where I work today, and what do I find on the shelves? 20 copies of I Am Number Four. Apparently, it's one of the best books of 2010.

*headwalls repeatedly*

ambermoon said...

I'm actually going to have to disagree here. I've never read Frey's work, but I don't see that one can call him a "hack": if all those people read and loved his novel/memoir and felt that betrayed that he'd misrepresented it, clearly the man can write. (All right, we can name works of huge popularity and dubious at best literary merit, but still.)

Unlike the "memoir," there isn't anything dishonest in this project. I don't see that he's "exploiting" young authors at all - they're willing to take the minimum contract fee for the chance of a lot of future money (decent share of profits if the work is successful the way he's trying for) and exposure. Nothing saying their work would ever be seen by someone relevant in a publishing house or studio otherwise, so it's really not a bad deal.

The book might be worse for taking the film writers' suggestions, it might be just as good, it might even be better. If nothing else, a more collaborative process will eliminate some of the usual book v. film conflict. Much less getting ticked off at whoever came second (usually the film). I'd have to read the book before drawing a conclusion. I also didn't get the sense that Frey just wants to talk down to teens, in some places he seemed genuinely excited (like the "bad-ass" comment). Again, I'd have to read it.

Sure, the commercialism is kind of crass, but nothing about this project actually offends me.

miritsu said...

Ambermoon, they're not "willing" to do anything, they're being conned by deceptive language. In fact, Frey hid contracts that made it so the author would NEVER GET CREDIT and would only get as much money AS HE WANTED TO GIVE THEM. He deliberately went to universities because the kids there wouldn't have the experience to understand a bad contract and would have the debt to be desperate enough to grab for him.

More here: http://nymag.com/arts/books/features/69474/

and here: http://adistantsoil.com/2010/11/14/very-bad-publishers-james-freys-fiction-factory/

miritsu said...

*sigh* Sorry; meant to say Frey hid clauses in his contracts. He wouldn't get much if he hid the contracts themselves. -_-

Anonymous said...

I hate that this book is being so heavily promoted. It's poorly written, but what do you expect when it was written by a committee? It took me a while to realize why the settings and mythos was so bland and unimaginative - this book was written for a movie script, and the studio didn't want to spend a lot of money on special effects, costumes, sets, makeup, etc.

It just pisses me off that the biggest book retailer in my country is promoting it as one of their "picks". I wonder how much James Frey paid them. At least I was able to return the book and get all my money back.

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