James Frey Visits Kitchener

Friday evening, I attended “An Evening with James Frey” at the central branch of the Kitchener Public Library.

This Premiere Series event was well-attended by fans of the best-selling author of A Million Little Pieces, My Friend Leonard, Bright Shiny Morning, and The Final Testament of the Holy Bible.

His latest book, Katerina, was released last week.

Before starting to read, James warned us that parts of Katerina were extremely dirty and the book contained tons of profanity. In an interesting twist, he asked members of the audience, to suggest excerpts.

Afterward, Michael Patterson, Drugs Strategy Specialist for Waterloo Region, engaged James in conversation. It didn’t take too long before the conversation veered toward the controversy that had surrounded (and still surrounds) A Million Little Pieces.

A bit of history…

2003 – Random House released A Million Little Pieces, a memoir of drug abuse and redemption.

2005 – Oprah selected the book for her monthly book club. Over two million copies were sold within months of the announcement.

January 2006The Smoking Gun released a report discrediting James Frey and the book. The investigative website reported that much of the book had been fabricated, including critical details about Frey’s criminal record and rehab experiences.

At first, Frey defended the book, but as the accusations mounted, he was forced to make a televised apology on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Nan Talese of Random House admitted that the company failed to fact-check the manuscript. You can watch the entire show here.

February 2006 – Random House published and included a note from James Frey, apologizing for fabricating portions of the book, in later editions.

September 2006 – James Frey and Random House reached a tentative legal settlement. Readers who felt they had been defrauded by the book would be offered a refund.

Friday evening, James admitted that a brief unpleasant period followed the telecast of the Oprah show. He faced 17 class action suits and five lawsuits. After receiving death threats and dealing with constant harassment from the media, he left the country with his wife and one-year-old daughter.

In spite of the controversy and scandal, James has no regrets and wouldn’t do anything differently. A Million Little Pieces has changed many lives and given hope to addicts. Two audience members publically thanked James for writing the book.

During the Q & A period…

• James was inspired by Henry Miller’s controversial novel, Tropic of Cancer. After reading, James set himself the goal of becoming the most notorious author on the planet.

A Million Little Pieces was not an overnight success story. It took twelve years to write.

• James doesn’t fear failure. If something doesn’t work, he tries a different approach.

• While he finds much of contemporary literature boring, he did enjoy reading Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. He also reads thrillers.

• He believes that authors don’t take enough risks. Too many of them attend writing school (something that didn’t happen thirty years ago) and write what he calls “homogenized literature.”

• James advice to writers (and all creatives): “If you work hard and believe deeply enough, you can pull it off.”

• He gave the following advice to an audience member struggling with her memoir: “Call it a novel or hire a lawyer.”

• While James wasn’t involved in the filming of A Million Little Pieces, he thought it was awesome when he saw it last week at TIFF. The film stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Billy Bob Thornton, and Odessa Young.

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