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Welcome to Writing Wednesday, my weekly feature where I discuss my works in progress, project ideas, editing struggles, or anything else related to the world of writing. Feel free to grab my button and post your own thoughts on writing! Leave a link to your post in the comments and I’ll stop by.
James Frey and controversy go together hand in hand. In fact, I’m fairly certain he doesn’t know how to publicize himself or his projects unless they are portrayed in a negative light. When I caught wind of the New York Magazine piece on Frey and his “fiction factory” a few months back, I wasn’t exactly surprised to see him roiling in a grave of his own digging.
I fell victim to the A Million Little Pieces fervor, devouring the book and singing its praises to the world. I was convinced Frey was an amazing soul who had endured much and lived to tell us the glorious but disturbing details. When the castle came crumbling down around him, and he was eventually forced to admit to Oprah that the story wasn’t exactly memoir so much as it was fiction, I felt a little angry, but ultimately who did he hurt? I sort of laughed him off, shook my head in judgey judgment, and ignored the sequel, My Friend Leonard.
The Full Fathom Five publishing venture he created is a little different, however. I won’t go so far as to say that people were hurt, because like many have pointed out, Frey signed legal contracts with willing writers. Nobody forced these desperate artists to sign away their lives for the possible opportunity of a lifetime. Should we really feel sorry for them, even if they were stupid and exploited?
Much of the controversy around this issue is derived from the contract the writers sign. Essentially, for a small upfront fee, they agree to write a marketable novel with a plot they may or may not have sole control over, and give Frey the right to use a pseudonym for the book, as well as ownership of the final product. They are able to collect a percentage of the profits related to the project, but it is at Frey’s discretion to use them again for any sequels. Also, they can never disclose that they were the actual author of the material.
It was at this point that I decided I would not read I Am Number Four, which if you hadn’t heard, was one of the first Full Fathom Five projects. I have no desire to read a book derived solely as a gimmick. Yet Alex at Electrifying Reviews makes a good point. Aren’t these stories and ideas just a little bit exciting?
I’ll be the first to admit that the trailer for I Am Number Four made it look great, and I kind of wanted to see it. Until the reviews poured in, at which point, I was doubly okay with my decision to boycott the project.
Lots of people have enjoyed the book, though. I feel torn between my desire to boycott Frey and the equally strong desire to help the author, Jobie Hughes, make as much money as possible. The fact of the matter is that I don’t really care to help Frey expand his ideas. He was too lazy to just write the concept himself, so he preyed on vulnerable debt-ridden students to do the work for him, but ultimately kept all of the prize for himself. That doesn’t sit well with me, so for now I’m sticking to my decision not to read or see I Am Number Four.
What do you think? Did you read the book? See the movie? What do you think of Frey’s publishing company?