The James Frey Issue

Cross-posted to LiveJournal.

The [info]bookfails community I’m a part of on LiveJournal actually had an entry about James Frey and his new book/movie I Am Number Four. The entry linked back to this article on the subject as well as a blog post on what seems to be the prevailing opinion of most readers on the subject.  The comments lead back to this blog post on the subject, along with a blog post by another author, and that led to the expose done by the New York Magazine.

So, I now have a full-fledged opinion of my own on this after reading all of this info.

One, I see no real problem with people who at least know they’re making books for movies and vice-versa.  It said nowhere in that article that they didn’t want to sell any of their work.  In fact, that is their aim.  So I’m not expecting much more than I would from novelizations of movies and TV shows anyway.  Even if I’m a fan of the movie or show, I do not expect the novelization to be anything besides mediocre and it doesn’t surprise me if the work turns out to be a fail.

Two, The author’s who work with him have the option of NOT working with him.  They could deny him the contract but they don’t.  Let’s be real here: this contract does suck.  Frey is not a lawyer, however.  So what he probably did was ask a lawyer to write up a contract that gave the company as much as it could.  He himself probably doesn’t know all the legal mumbo-jumbo in it.  His moral compass doesn’t exactly point due north, as we all know, so whatever the lawyers put in there that gives him the biggest cut is all right by him.

A couple of points on this subject.  These kids are taking this crappy contract because it means one thing to them: exposure.  In some ways, they may not care that they’re mostly anonymous here because they’re not giving out their best ideas and this gives them the inside look of how a publishing company works.  They figure that the crappy work their doing now will lead to something bigger and better in the long run.  It may lead to more ghostwriting on a different series and then to publishing their own series.  Baby steps.  Thing like this happen all the time in the movie industry and in the music industry as well.  He’s not putting a gun to their heads to take this contract, they are doing so willingly.  They figure it’s their big break.  Next, I severely dislike the way the articles (all of them) are painting Frey to be the big bad villain and these kids to be victims of some sort of crime.  Oh, we have to protect these young, impressionable, naive kids!  Bullshit.  First of all, these are not “kids.”  They are legal adults.  So they have to make decisions the way adults do, and if it’s a crappy decision then they have to learn from their mistakes.  We can’t coddle them forever from the harsh realities of life.  He’s not evil or exploiting anyone.  He’s doing what people in other industries have been doing for decades.  He just gets more exposure.

Now, it’s not like these kids can’t fix their situation.  They are well aware of how prominent the use of lawyers is in this country (See: the woman suing a mall because she walked into the fountain because she was too busy texting.)  One of the kids got the bright idea to hire a lawyer and renegotiate his contract.  Within a few days, he had his name on the series, making it known he was the writer, an probably a hefty pay increase.  They didn’t drag a fight for this on and on and on.  The writers can take things into their own hands.  With all these articles out there in easy reach to these writers themselves (because they most certainly have access to the internet and newspapers) it’s not like they don’t know what’s going on, what people’s opinions are, and can’t find it out on their own.

Main point here is, not that these kids are young and naive and need to be protected, but that they NEED TO GET A LAWYER.  That’s all there is too it.  That whole problem would be fixed by finding a lawyer.  I have no sympathy for someone who doesn’t help themselves.

Three, while I’m not thrilled with the fact that he marketed A Million Little Pieces as a memoir and not a work of fiction, it probably wouldn’t have been as big a deal if Oprah hadn’t thrown him up on her show to begin with.  For instance, when Memoirs of a Geisha came out, there was a lot of people who thought it was real, and people who were more skeptical.  And for a while, nobody said anything to confirm it one way or another.  The real one didn’t come out until Mineko Iwasaki published her memoirs, Geisha, A Life.  She was the basis for the Memoirs of a Geisha story.  My feeling is that A Million Little Pieces would’ve been like that if it wasn’t for Oprah parading him around.  That’s not the first story she’s put up that’s been a load of bull either (the “greatest love story ever told” comes to mind, about the boy in a concentration camp and the girl who tossed him apples to keep him alive and they eventually married.  That one was proven bull as well. She apparently doesn’t do enough research.)

Four, so what if he’s doing it for the money?  I could name you several other actors, writers, and various other kinds of artists that are more than likely doing it for the money and are not nearly as up front about it.  Hell, at least in that respect, he’s somewhat honest.  Also, the work he’s doing, while it may not be of the highest quality to those of us that like to read and know good from bad, may actually be helpful to the book community.  Think about it.  The fact that they’ve made movies of some book series increases said series exposure and potential for people to pick up the book and read it.  So the fact that he’s doing both books and movies at the same time may possible encourage youngsters who wouldn’t otherwise care to pick up a book and read a little.  Which is what people are sorely lacking in this country.  The publishing world is accepting of radical ideas, but know it will only reach a select few.  Reading is not vogue in this country.  That’s why when something like Twilight actually gets people interested in reading again, they copy the formula, hoping that more series and books will get read.  And I can’t fault them for trying to get people interested in reading again.  It’s almost a lost art nowadays.  If you market something with a movie to be “bad-ass” then more young children will pick it up, when otherwise they’d stay stuck in front of their X-Boxs and PS3s playing Halo and Modern Warefare 2 until mom yelled at them to finally get something productive done.  Most adults I know aren’t as much of an avid reader as I am, so how else are you going to get kids into reading if their parent’s aren’t pushing them toward it?

I have a huge issue with parenting in this country nowadays, but that’s a rant for another day.  Let’s just say that the reading situation is one of my issues and rants.

Also, the fact that they’re doing both books and movies at the same time means 1) they probably won’t have the various consistancy issues you usually have with translating a book to a movie (or the total rewrites and bombs.  I’m looking at you “I Am Legend.”) 2) The content is slightly more original.  Let’s face it, there’s not a lot of originality to be had anymore.  There are a limited number of conflicts you can have and an increasingly smaller field of stuff that hasn’t at least been tried to play out these conflicts.  But this way, it’s not Hollywood being unoriginal and just ripping off books, and it’s not a novelization of a movie either.  They can work together (as the article mentioned) to add or subtract things from both mediums to make the idea a little more well-rounded.

None of these seem to me like reasons to boycott anything.  Nothing in here is all that reprehensible and offensive enough to just write it off.  If you don’t go see it, do so because you’re simply not interested, not because you take offense to some mild percieved slight on your sensibilities.  I, for one, may take a gander at the series because I don’t know if I’ll like it till I try, will I?  It might be something I’ll actually enjoy.

Part of it is that I HATE the fact that people feel they must get all into a tizzy over controversies.  You are not hurting them with this, you are helping.  Same thing with hating on Twilight.  I wasn’t going to read it, ever.  It didn’t seem interesting, so I wasn’t going to take a gander.  Then the fanboys/fangirls popped up and along with it, the flamers.  Then I thought “well if it’s made this many people feel so passionate about it, there must be something in it worth reading.”  That’s what controversy does.  It inspires people to find out what all the fuss is about and stokes the fires of curiosity.  That’s why he creates this controversy in the first place.  Think about it.  Nobody wants to be preached at.  So when you start up about the evil of this to someone who’s only mildly curious, their desire to see it increases because they want to know what all the fuss was about.  So more people go see it/read it and BAM, the person makes more money than they ever should on a piece of garbage.

By simply saying “Oh, I’m not going to see it until it comes on HBO.  It just doesn’t look all that interesting/intriguing/thrilling/whatever” you actually dissuade people more from seeing something because they take a moment to think about how interesting it actually seems and whether or not it’d be worth paying for.  Quit giving a cause to something that doesn’t deserve a cause.

EDIT: After reading the “expose” and seeing that Frey’s readers of A Million Little Pieces actually sued him, I can only sit here dumbfounded by the stupidity of that.  Really?  You, the reader, sued him for what??  That’s what I can’t get.  What sort of “pain and suffering” can you claim simply because you were told what you read was fake and not real?  That’s so much bullshit I can’t stand it!


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