Writing Wednesday (8) – I Am Number Four

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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?

11 thoughts on “Writing Wednesday (8) – I Am Number Four

  1. Fantastic blog post Logan! I haven't read the books or seen the movie. The one thing I did hear people say was that if they were going to read the book they would check it out of the library. I think good points can be made on either side, but like you I can't get past the idea that he makes me feel bad.

  2. Thanks Kim! He does give me an icky feeling. It makes me want to take a shower.Also, my apologies for anyone who tried to access the site earlier today. My DNS host servers were down due to a DDoS attack. Major bummer, but everything seems to be working now. Enjoy!

  3. Wowie, wow, wow!!! I'm shocked that #4 was a result of a deal like that, and written under a pretext. I bought the book, and read about 25 pages, and felt that:1. It was formulaic in the sense that it involved lots of action and mad dashing around for the sake of dashing around.2. I wasn't hooked emotionally, so the sensationalism of it left me cold3. I felt horribly guilty that I didn't give it a real chance.4. I was sure there would be a movie. Seemed like the type of book that translated to a Hollywoodism.What I'd like to know is, who actually wrote it?Frey's whole setup reminds me of a notorious art world character from the 80s: Mark Kostabi, and his art factory. He had a number of hired artists who slaved away for him, and then he'd put his name on their work. Could it be that Frey ripped off the Kostabi approach itself? Wow, gotta say wow, wow, wow al over again. Thanks for bringing this to light!

  4. I didn't know I Am Number Four was one of Frey's publications. How didn't I know this? I thought the movie looked interesting and I even considered going to see it, but well, now I think I'll save my money.

  5. Have to go along with your boycott decision. I've never been a fan of Frey–wow, say that a few times fast–glad others agree.

  6. I bought the book before I knew of the circumstances. I have never wanted to kick myself more. Still haven't read it. I agree, when it was first revealed that Frey lied about his book, who did he hurt but himself? I also understand that hey, he needs a way to make a living, and if he is lucky enough to do that through writing, if there are people still willing to read his work, fine. But I really take issue with the fact that he is now openly deceiving not only writers, but readers as well. It is disturbing. As a reader, I rather spend my hard earned dollar, and no, I don't have others doing my job, on writers who can credit their own work.I consider writers to be the smartest people on the planet, so it is hard for me to grasp why anyone would willing take part in his factory for producing best sellers knowing how little they gain in return.The world is already too full of ill conceived gimmicks, do we really need more, especially in affecting literature? P.S. Still gonna see the movie…. I blame ALEX! 😛

  7. It's a shame, because I thought it sounded like a cool hook and I love the title, but since it was written for money alone nobody bothered to do anything more than lazy writing and lazy plotting. Boo! What a waste of shelf space!

  8. I feel the same conflict. I want to support the author who wrote the book but not Frey. I did see the movie though and enjoyed which makes me want to read the book even more.

  9. @Catherine – Yes, I think most of Frey's motivation with these projects is to build a franchise out of them with movies, games, merchandise, etc. It really leaves me cold. The true author is a man named Jobie Hughes, who Frey pitched a synopsis to and had him write the full. You are right that even his "factory" concept is stolen. I think he mentioned somewhere that he took it from Warhol.@Kelly – I think Frey's publicity team must be working overtime to keep him out of it, because most people don't know about his involvement.@C. Lee – Tongue-twister fans and Frey frowners unite! :)@Missie – I know! It's hard to stay away from the Pettyfer. So pretty. I feel bad for people that bought the book and then found out later what was going on. That's part of why this is so upsetting. It's misleading to the consumer and I'm sorry it happened to you.@Rachel – That's what is so frustrating! It could have been a really cool book if they had only taken the time to make it good.@Patricia – I'm glad you liked the movie! I say if you want to read it, do so. Maybe pick it up from the library?

  10. I'm not sure where I fall on this issue. I guess I should say off the bat that I don't like James Frey. I don't like being lied to, and I feel like that's what he's always doing. I get a strong impression that he doesn't care at all about his readers and that he has very little respect for them. Why would I want to reward that attitude by buying his books?I don't begrudge him paying other people to write what he pitches (it's a job and everyone involved knows the terms and agree to them, however bad they may be), but please, please don't try to deceive me! I would be just fine with this if he had put his name on the book officially (though I still don't like him). As much as I like to think authors are all writing books purely from their hearts, I know that's not always the case. I don't mind and won't boycott books like Gossip Girl or Pretty Little Liars simply because they were ideas created by the publisher and not the author. One of my favorite book series, L. J. Smith's The Secret Circle, was an idea created by a publisher and then Smith was hired on to write the books. Then again, I won't read the upcoming ghostwritten Vampire Diaries books because L. J. Smith was fired from them. Again though, I'm largely ticked off because they're still using her name and so it's a level of deception. I feel very badly for the author, really, my heart breaks for her, but unfortunately she signed a bad contract. I guess what my long ramble is saying is that I can see all sides here and I'm not really sure where my own conscience lies.

  11. I know that series books often have multiple writers, but somehow Frey's scheme seems more disingenuous. And actually, having ghostwritten series books myself, I have lately come to the conclusion that the authors of books for hire should have their names on the books as having written book #4 or book #7 or whatever book it is, especially if they wrote the PLOT like I had.

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