James Frey Hasn’t Given Up on Writing
A decade after his controversial memoir, the author blends fiction and reality in a new way
“I want to prove them all wrong,” says James Frey, author of the contentious 2003 book “A Million Little Pieces,” and, more recently, creator of the best-selling series of young-adult science-fiction books “The Lorien Legacies.” “I want to make everybody who hates me give up.”
It has been a remarkable 10 years for Mr. Frey, who came under fire for fabricating parts of “A Million Little Pieces,” initially billed as his memoir. After he admitted that some of the details were fictional, he was excoriated on Oprah Winfrey’s couch, he lost a book contract and his agent left him. “I was toxic,” he says. “I was radioactive.”
But he didn’t give up writing. For his latest project, Mr. Frey, 45, blends fiction and reality in a different way. On Oct. 7 he will release “Endgame,” a novel that will simultaneously launch with a YouTube channel, 50 social-media accounts and a real-life puzzle. (A videogame will come soon after.) The first reader to solve the puzzle in the story gets $500,000 in gold coins, provided by Mr. Frey himself.
It’s the latest major release from his media and entertainment company, Full Fathom Five, which operates, Mr. Frey says, much like an artist’s studio. Just as the artists Takashi Murakami or Jeff Koons develop concepts and have assistants help carry them out, Mr. Frey comes up with most of the books’ ideas and hires others to write the final product. When the story sells to a publishing house, he splits the proceeds. For example, he came up with the plot for the company’s first book, “I Am Number Four,” hired a writer for the text and then published it under the pseudonym Pittacus Lore. It went on to become a No. 1 best-seller, and the film adaptation grossed $150 million world-wide.
Mr. Frey is working with about 25 authors, all of whom are paid anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000 per book, along with a percentage of any profits. (The percentage varies by contract.)
Full Fathom Five has sold about 60 books to publishers, and has released about 30. Mr. Frey smiles when he thinks of those who have doubted him along the way. After the release of his novel “Bright Shiny Morning” in 2008, he says that a critic “just ripped me to shreds, but then he said he might as well be firing paintballs at Godzilla, meaning I was Godzilla.” Mr. Frey remembers thinking, “That’s what I should try to do to everybody—make them feel like they’re firing paintballs at Godzilla.”