Saturday, January 28, 2006

I'm A-Frey-d So! -- Jay

Sex. Politics. Religion. The Holy Trinity of what not to speak with friends about if you’d like to remain friends. Eve, we've discussed all three and never disagreed. Actually, we've never disagreed about anything...until now. So why did it have to be about writing? Why writing? (If you have no idea what I’m talking about, please read yesterday’s post by Eve before continuing.)

To keep us on track, I promise to wrap up this post with a comment on the frustrating world of publishing. But until then, let's get into it. Lying and exaggerating in a non-fiction memoir bothers me for two reasons.

One, I feel sorry for memoirists whose books will now be questioned no matter how hard they try to keep the ‘non’ in ‘non-fiction.’ There is a very simple remedy if you plan on making things up...just let us know. Let your readers decide how much to invest emotionally in your words. I loved Rocket Boys, later made into the movie October Sky, but the disclaimer stating that the author sometimes combined several characters into one character and sometimes altered the sequence of events constantly bugged me. Fiction and non-fiction stories are about cause-and-effect. If you change the sequence of events, then I can’t really understand why something happened (which, I assume, is why most people write memoirs). But thanks for letting me know.

Two, a lot of people are claiming, "His memoir has helped a lot of people. Who has it hurt?" True, it has helped a lot of people. I know people who have quit drinking cold turkey because his novoir (get it? novel+memoir=novoir...cute, ain’t it?) scared them silly. But according to a counselor at the addiction-recovery center Mr. Frey went to, he totally lied about his experiences there. So what if someone can’t quit cold turkey and needs the help of a recovery center, yet they’re too afraid to go to one based on this book?

Okay, time to get to the frustrating world of publishing. I don’t blame Mr. Frey...much. I see him more as a victim of circumstances. He tried selling the book as a novel, even though most of it was true. Gotta give him credit for that. But when a dozen publishers rejected it, his agent suggested that they market it as a memoir because memoirs were hot. With how frustrated I’ve become trying to sell my books, I can see the temptation. And then his book sold. To take out the lies and exaggerations at that point would have meant admitting to the publisher that they bought a book with lies and exaggerations...and apparently that’s only okay if you host a top-rated cable news talk show. [NEWSFLASH: I just learned that the above novel-turned-memoir story appearing in Time, Newsweek, and other publications to win the author sympathy were a lie. This guy can’t stop lying...even now! Dude, you're gonna get caught. What a great person to write a non-fiction book, right? So I won’t defend him anymore. The guy’s a jerk.]

Eve, this wasn’t personal, so go easy on me in your memoirs. And if you need to exaggerate, can I at least have approval on the ones about me?

- Jay


Anonymous said...

I'm with Jay on this one. While I understand Eve's point about it not mattering in the grand scheme of things that some of the incidents in James Frey's book (or should I say, novoir?) were embellished or skewed for dramatic effect. Heck, I'm the Public Defender sister who ALWAYS says that memory is fallible and rarely plays back like a video recording of any particular event. BUT (there's always a big but, so let's talk about my big but), this book was marketed and sold as a true story. If James Frey truly believed what he wrote was true and the publisher did its due diligence and the facts by and large checked out, then o.k., call it a memoir. That's not what happened here, so far as I can tell. James Frey called his book a work of fiction and only changed it to non-fiction when he couldn't sell it as a novel. In his heart of hearts, he knew what he wrote wasn't all true (so he can't use the "my memory is just different from all the other people who experienced these events). The publisher, I can't explain. Alls I'm saying is if Frey can call his book non-fiction, but fill it with lies/embellishments/made-up shit, then why have the label of fiction and non-fiction at all? He knowingly lied and I don't like it. OF course, it doesn't mean I won't read any of his books ("My Friend Leonard," anyone?). Bye for now,


Anonymous said...

I have to say I'm also with Jay on this. In fact, I cannot understand how this is even a conversation worth having at this point. It's not "creative non-fiction"or embellishing. In this case, it's making things up wholesale. There's already a word for that, and it's called fiction.

But what do I know. I'm only a freep.

the freep

Anonymous said...

Thanks for "defending" me, Public Defender Sister. And Freep-Guy, I thought you'd be with me on this one, seeing reading as entertainment and all. Here's a secret...I actually see both sides of the issue...totally understand why people are mad. I just felt bad for the little addict-guy being verbally f@#ked on Oprah. By the way, I really DID have a full route canal with NO NOVOCAINE at the dentist four years ago. No, for real. I swear. It's true. Really. It can be done.

Read on, peeps. And thank you for your comments.

kim said...

I can understand why purists might prefer their nonfiction served straight up, but in Frey's (and Eve's) defense ...

1. This isn't journalistic nonfiction; it is creative nonfiction. A certain amount of embellishment is not only allowed, it's expected. Ask Tom Wolfe.

2. Fact-checking doesn't really exist in nonfiction book publishing (heck, it hardly even exists in newspaper publishing). If the lawyers okay it, the story goes.

3. Oprah's initial reaction (made public on Larry King Live) was to defend her book choice and the author. It wasn't until she was told it was bad for "the Oprah brand" that she changed her tune.

4. C'mon people, lighten up. If it's a good read, who cares?

Disco Mermaids said...

Eve and I hung out tonight and, once again, we agreed on every issue that came up...some controversial ones, too. Maybe at this year’s SCBWI conference the theme of the after-hours party will be A Scandalous Evening. Eve’ll go as Mr. Frey and I’ll go as Miss Winfrey (because cross-dressing is always fun!). And Robin can go as Larry King because she looks really good in suspenders...whatever that's supposed to mean.

- Jay

Disco Mermaids said...

Thanks, Kim! I agree. The world needs to "lighten up". You're my new best friend...sorry Jay. And p.s...I lied about having the "route canal" with no novocaine. It's "ROOT Canal". That, I did have. Sorry for the mix up.


Disco Mermaids said...

I feel a need to defend myself here. First of all, I do NOT look good in suspenders, and second of all...well, that's it.
But as far as this topic goes, the guy made a bad decision and got caught.
As far as having a root canal without novocaine, now that's a REALLY bad decision.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry. I'm never light. I'm always SUPER serious. I think you all know that. Not a funny bone in my body. No. Not one.

Anyway, the thing is, the topic of conversation wasn't "is it a good read?" That's never been up for debate here, has it? But Moby Dick's a good read too, and the point is that Ahab and Ishmael in Moby and "Mr. Frey" in his book are both the same level of "real."

I don't happen to have Tom Wolfe right here, but I suspect he'd tell you that Mr. Frey gives "new journalism" a bad name, regardless of whether he wrote something entertaining.

just a freep

kim said...

Point taken, freep. Apologies to Mr. Wolfe.