After viewing today's Oprah [January 26, 2006], I have come away with the following thoughts:
- The memoirist is responsible for presenting a manuscript that is truthful and honest. It was interesting that Frey always referred to the people in his book as "characters," which, of course, is a fictional term.
- The publisher is responsible for requiring documentation of the essential facts (e.g., police reports and other concrete records) and checking them out. Nan Talese, Frey's editor, also appeared on Oprah. Talk about waffly, and it's clear that she is beginning the process of distancing herself from the book. Oprah asked Ms. Talese why her firm doesn't hire ($20,000-30,000 a year) a researcher/fact checker to check out the facts of their memoirs. Talese said that the book "felt" authentic and that it didn't even occur to her and her staff that it wasn't true. (No one had a lawyer with them, which surprised me).
- Regarding memoirs, the publishing industry is probably going to change in that publishers will publish fewer memoirs, but the ones that they do publish will be thoroughly researched and vetted--at least in the short term.
- One cannot document a PERCEPTION of an author--how an author views an event cannot really be proved or disproved; that will ALWAYS remain a controversial aspect of the memoir genre. However, the event itself must be true and not created out of the memoirist's head.
- My opinion: Frey fessed up because he was caught, not because it was the right thing to do. I don't get a sense that he really learned from this situation. Everyone talks about his "bravery," but he wasn't brave at all. He had no choice but to face the wrath of Oprah. AND IT WAS UGLY. The nice, supportive Oprah was gone. She went for Frey's juggler. She knew she had been conned, and she didn't like it one bit.
- Ironically, A Million Little Pieces will continue to sell and will probably sit at top of the bestseller list for a long time, but readers will look at it differently. It will be read as the fiction it is. Also, readers will read the book out of curiosity, but I doubt that it will have much impact in terms of alcoholism and drug addiction.
- If I were Frey, I'd go into hiding for a while and stop writing memoirs. If he sticks to fiction, billed as fiction, then, after an appropriate "rehab," he will still have his lucrative writing career. After all, this event happened in the United States of America, and we're a very forgiving culture.
I include this because #7 is coming to fruition; Frey now has a book deal with HarperCollins to publish Bright Shiny Morning (a novel). Part of me is thoroughly p'od, the other part simply resigned.
Also, note the sentence in red; I meant to say "jugular," but I was in a hurry and didn't proofread. I took a friendly and gentle ribbing from fellow posters at Writer's Weekly.
Jennifer, I agree with what you've said, but I'm both surprised and disappointed that Oprah "went for Frey's juggler."
- How does a newbie writer afford to have his own juggler?
- What would he use a juggler for? (Is hiring a juggler something all aspiring writers should do?)
- Why attack him?
- Why not go for Frey's jugular and leave the poor juggler alone?
I decided not to be too embarrassed about my gaff.
Instead, I wrote a poem, something I don't do too often:
James Frey's Juggler
flees from a mob
of cuckolded clubbers–
through WritersWeekly dot com,
rehabbing his much-wanted jugular.
A performer too poorly paid
to finagle any longer,
he cooks up
his own memoir:
Mr. Frey’s Trickster
and One Million Manipulated Characters
Who Tumbled to Spill All--
back on her lexicon diet,
devours Crispy Nan,
The poem was relevant for about a week--that's the difficulty with topical poems about subjects that fizzle quickly from the popular culture.