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The first fruit of James Frey's fiction factory

James Frey achieved a strange fame with his bestselling memoir that proved not entirely true, "A Million Little Pieces." After going on "Oprah" to promote his book, he was brought back to face her displeasure about its exaggerations.

He moved to New York and wrote a big book set in Los Angeles. "Bright Shiny Morning" came out in 2008;  David L. Ulin, who was then L.A. Times books editor, wrote it was "a terrible book. One of the worst I've ever read."

But a little literary criticism wasn't going to slow Frey down. As New York magazine reported in November, Frey has created Full Fathom Five, a company that recruits young MFA students to co-write novels with him -- for as little as $500, $250 or even nothing -- in hopes of sharing in the profits of their eventual blockbuster sale. The writing duties fell almost completely to the young writers: Frey would provide story ideas, writing guidance or polishing, and the connections to get the work published and in the right hands.

If it sounds suspiciously like a scam, Frey can show it's not. "I Am Number Four," co-written by Frey and recent Columbia MFA grad Jobie Hughes, under the pseudonym Pittacus Lore, was published in the fall of 2010. And that's not all: It was subject to a film-rights bidding war, and the movie is being produced by Michael Bay and Steven Spielberg's DreamWorks Studios.

The film version of "I Am Number Four" is due in theaters Feb. 18. Its latest trailer is above.

Honestly, I don't get it. But Michael Bay brought us "Transformers," and I didn't get that either. Take a look -- is James Frey's fiction factory farm working? What do you think?

-- Carolyn Kellogg


Comments () | Archives (7)

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Never been much of a Frey Fan. Not too keen on the term "fiction factory" either.
Most of what comes out of the movie theatres is drivel. Franzen's fiction factory has a whiff of it. Sound more like a scam, than anything, really, even if it's not.

As long as he actually pays his stooges and lets them have some credit on the copyright pages I can see this as a learning experience and if the stooges outgrow him and aren't locked into contracts giving Frey the rights to whatever characters the stooges create.

" if the stooges outgrow him and aren't locked into contracts giving Frey the rights to whatever characters the stooges create."

But that's exactly the case. The "stooges", as you call them, are locked into some pretty nasty contracts.


So an artful liar makes it big in Hollywood and takes advantage of people? Nothing new there.

But I wonder what happens to his business model when someone like Oprah Winfrey or Steven Spielberg offers the same deal? Any publisher with a catalog of fair authors should do the same thing. Heck, why don't the schools who take tens of thousands for these MFAs do it?

I remember reading in the times about the guy who created the list of best unsigned screenplays each year. Maybe the Times could recruit some literary agents and do the same thing for book manuscripts?

And, by the way, I never got the Transformer thing either.

I love your columns but you are being very selective with the truth here.

1. James Frey wanted to sell "A Million Little Pieces" as fiction but it was his agent who pitched it as a memoir.
2. Oprah apologized for how she handled the whole scandal.
3. The NY Times raved over "Bright Shiny Morning."
4. No comment on Michael Bay, but Steven Spielberg is no dummy.
5. Nobody forces you to sign a contract. Anyone who has worked for a packaging agency knows it sucks. But for a first-timer to work with James Frey, that's worth something too. And some of those writers are making a lot more than $500 bucks.

Just saying.

James Patterson does the same thing, and it's not a huge news story. And his "books" are horrible. But he can just read terrible reviews and cry in his big piles of money. Greedy.

This sounds like a scam and...this is. For the writers and for the viewers. This is a manufactured product with no other goal but to copy what's hot now. Garbage Factory or Cocktail Mixer would be good names for Frey's little project too.


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