James Frey’s Fiction Factory
November 12, 2010 4:29 PM   Subscribe

James Frey (previously) wants to create the next Harry Potter or Twilight sensation. And he's hiring an army of anonymous starving authors to write it for him under somewhat unusual terms. Veteran publishing attorney Conrad Rippy said he's never seen anything like it:
It’s an agreement that says, “You’re going to write for me. I’m going to own it. I may or may not give you credit. If there is more than one book in the series, you are on the hook to write those too, for the exact same terms, but I don’t have to use you. In exchange for this, I’m going to pay you 40 percent of some amount you can’t verify — there’s no audit provision — and after the deduction of a whole bunch of expenses.”
posted by scalefree (178 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
so, in case there was ever any doubt, James Frey is an asshole
posted by philip-random at 4:33 PM on November 12, 2010 [71 favorites]


Ah. Good luck with that James.
posted by dobie at 4:34 PM on November 12, 2010


Work for hire isn't that unusual is it? Nothing here to suprise anybody whose been in the world of comics or franchise literature.

Of course, with Frey you're guaranteed that he's going to be a dick.
posted by Artw at 4:35 PM on November 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


He hasn't cashed in on his fiction enough yet?
posted by Despondent_Monkey at 4:36 PM on November 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


Hahahahahahahahahahaha.

What a jackass.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 4:36 PM on November 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Actually, Artw, this is an unusually poor contract by the usual work-for-hire standards that currently prevail in the children's and young adults' fiction market (in the US at least).

Especially the thing about having to write future books in the series. I think that Frey is going to find out he can't have it both ways; one of the advantages of work-for-hire is that you never have to be Carolyn Keene again if you didn't enjoy the experience. I also don't relish being Frey's lawyer the first time one of those goes to court; I'm not sure what precedent he would have for it.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:39 PM on November 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


I mean, I've just never heard of a contract where "you have to write another one of these" was enforced in the book business.

In the music business, it has led to such spectacular intended-as-a-fuck-you-but-actually-great compositions as Marvin Gaye's Here, My Dear, but I don't see that happening in this situation.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:41 PM on November 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Also, other famous "writers" for children and young adults are less douchey and offer better advances to their ghostwriting minions. I encourage anyone reading this who contemplates working for Frey to think again.

In addition, work-for-hire isn't helpful as a publishing credit for publishing work under your own name, so there isn't any "it's a foot in the door" factor. If you're going to do work-for-hire writing, you should do it because it makes financial sense for you to take the gig, not for any other reason.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:43 PM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


So Frey is relying on A Million Little Authors?
posted by benzenedream at 4:43 PM on November 12, 2010 [38 favorites]


Wow, you guys are pretty brazen for a bunch of people who all going to get punched in the face someday. Yeah, punched. In the face. By James Frey.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 4:43 PM on November 12, 2010 [10 favorites]


Wow, you guys are pretty brazen for a bunch of people who all going to get punched in the face someday. Yeah, punched. In the face. By James Frey.

Or he won't. But he'll say that he did.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:45 PM on November 12, 2010 [26 favorites]


Or he won't. But he'll say that he did.

YOU JUST WAIT HE'LL FIND OUT WHERE YOU LIVE AND THEN HE'LL PUNCH YOU IN THE FACE.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 4:47 PM on November 12, 2010


Full Fathom Five, the publishing company created by the controversial author James Frey...

Full fathom five
James Frey lies;
Of his words is bullshit made;
Those are turds that he escribes.
Nothing of him stains the page,
But ghostwriters doth derange
Into something cheap and strange.
Critics hourly ring his knell:
Ding-dong —
Hark! I hear them now — Ding-dong —
"Go to Hell."
posted by Iridic at 4:48 PM on November 12, 2010 [33 favorites]


I know a guy that has done pretty much exactly this, successfully, with a business book about the video game industry.

I mean, I've just never heard of a contract where "you have to write another one of these" was enforced in the book business.

I've heard of something similar to this in the commercial fine art world. Essentially, "We'll sell your painting at retail, but only if you give us right-of-first-refusal for your next X number of works to be sold at retail, and oh, by the way, we want all of your next works to be variations on an approved theme, so don't go off and be all experimental and artistic and shit -- if you start out as 'beach scene guy,' you're gonna be 'beach scene guy' for the next 10 years."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:48 PM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


As Neal Pollack put it:
You can't write, Frey. I can write. Check this out. I wrote this five years ago in my book "Addict: A Memoir Of Addiction.":

"I open the cockpit door and I walk out. The Pilot wipes his nose because he's been snorting coke off my Balls. The flight attendant asks me if everything is OK and I fuck her. Outside, it is Night. The wing is straddled by blinking lights. From where I sit I can smell the lights and I want to break them with my fists. So I bust through the emergency exit door and leap onto the wing. Thank god we're still on the ground. I punch out the lights with my forehead and tear at the steel with my claws. I wish my parents had never made me go to College. I wish that my mind were an endless Chasm and that I could crawl inside. My Balls are blue because I fuck so much. The last time I committed suicide, I hung myself from the neck until I couldn't breathe. My brain is black my balls are black my heart is made of stone and I love nothing but the rush of hop into my vein and if I could get away with it, I would kill You now as you sit there in your comfortable chair reading this and I kill myself and anyone who challenges my position as the greatest fucking writer of my generation. The flight attendant asks me if I want some Cheese and Crackers, but I cannot have any, because I have swallowed my tongue. It tasted fucking good. I love the way my tongue tastes when I swallow it, and I don't care if I ever eat again."

You think your appetites are bigger than mine, James Frey? You think you're a bigger rock star and a better writer than I am? Well, motherfucker, I challenge you. I want a drink. I want fifty drinks. I want a tub of acid as deep as the moon. I want a tube of glue that tastes like a dumptruck of peyote. I want a boyfriend. I want a boyfriend. I want all that stupid old shit like letters and sodas, letters and sodas. I want to be the guy with the most cake.

I want your ass, Frey. Served to me piping hot on a platter. Then I will bite it. And then I will send it back. Not because it's tough. But because it's not tough enough.

See You In Hell, Bitch.
posted by benzenedream at 4:49 PM on November 12, 2010 [96 favorites]


This article is like a torrent of arrogance, self-importance, and smugness coming at me through the monitor. I am drowning.
posted by hellojed at 4:50 PM on November 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


I don't understand the vitriol here. Copyright is all about protecting the authors!
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 4:50 PM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


So…apparently the success of this arrangement hinges on A) Frey's unerring sense of what works in fiction and B) his highly bankable name.

Just for the sake of argument, I'll grant the first point. But the second? Isn't this guy a leper in the book world?
posted by adamrice at 4:50 PM on November 12, 2010


CPB, right of first refusal is something that happens in the book world, too.

But this is significantly different, because it's not a publisher saying "Oh, if we publish your spy novel we get first look at your next book whatever it is"; it's someone saying "Oh, if I publish your novel under my name you have to write another to be published under my name about the same thing."
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:52 PM on November 12, 2010


Meh. I think The Hunger Games were the next Twilight/Harry Potter. Maybe not quite that big, but certainly better than anything Frey writes.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 4:53 PM on November 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


He's a leper in the book world, more or less. I think the idea is that the kajillions of people who bought his earlier memoirs fiction at the Walmart and Kmart and other marts will think "OH HOW AWESOME ANOTHER BOOK BY THAT GUY" and buy it for their kids.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:53 PM on November 12, 2010


Isn't this guy a leper in the book world?

He's a transgressive leper, which means he picks up the pieces that fall off the bodies of other lepers and affix them to his body, claiming they've always been there,
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:54 PM on November 12, 2010 [23 favorites]


And the "ghostwriter pays expenses" thing is unbelievable chutzpah. PEOPLE: DO NOT DO THIS. YOU WILL MAKE MORE MONEY SELLING YOUR WORK THROUGH LULU.COM.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:55 PM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Copyright is all about protecting the authors!

No, copyright is about protecting the rights holder. If an author signs over the rights to something then that is no longer them.

Not always the best of deals, but hey, it's money in the bank, and it can often be more money up front than other kinds of deals.

Of course, that they had those rights in the first place is what allowed them to be played for them.
posted by Artw at 4:55 PM on November 12, 2010 [2 favorites]



Work for hire isn't that unusual is it? Nothing here to suprise anybody whose been in the world of comics or franchise literature.


Work for hire is abusive and dishonorable and bad for living things.
posted by The Whelk at 4:56 PM on November 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


That Pollack bit is glorious.
posted by Devils Rancher at 4:57 PM on November 12, 2010


Boy, the book thing was bad enough, but this just proves there's no end to fuckage from some people.
posted by Samizdata at 4:59 PM on November 12, 2010


James Frey is a con artist. Nobody should be surprised by what he does.

The publishing industry is a scam. Nobody should be surprised by what they do.

Why is everyone surprised.
posted by Avenger at 5:00 PM on November 12, 2010 [6 favorites]


Guau, que cojones. They are elephantine.
posted by black rainbows at 5:00 PM on November 12, 2010


Of course, that they had those rights in the first place is what allowed them to be played for them.

Indeed.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 5:01 PM on November 12, 2010


This is fucking brilliant, and I want to shoot him in the face. Preferably not at Robin Hood Airport, but I suppose accommodations could be made. Anyone who falls for this sort of thing should simply kill themselves, preferably by hanging, in a closet, in the throes of autoerotic asphyxiation.
posted by aramaic at 5:03 PM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's been said before, but Frey strikes me as someone who will never, under any circumstances, get it.
posted by The Whelk at 5:03 PM on November 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


This strikes me as the coal mining "arrangement" set up in the British TV series Survivors, where a man who knows nothing about coal mining but is full of big ideas on the rebirth of civilization tries to manage a slave labor camp for mining, under the premise that this is just the ugly start to something great. You can guess how well that goes for him.
posted by filthy light thief at 5:05 PM on November 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


The Whelk: It's been said before, but Frey strikes me as someone who will never, under any circumstances, get it.

But good for him, we're still talking about the twat. That's got to count for something, right?
posted by filthy light thief at 5:06 PM on November 12, 2010


yes, he serves as a wonderful cautionary example.
posted by The Whelk at 5:09 PM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I just logged in to say...

Ew.

That is all.
posted by ohyouknow at 5:10 PM on November 12, 2010


Say what you want about Frey, but we're talking about him. Lots of people will be talking about him. That's all that matters, right?
posted by blucevalo at 5:11 PM on November 12, 2010


Is this some parody of the music business? I mean, most musicians sign stuff that is way worse and end up in debt.
posted by poe at 5:12 PM on November 12, 2010 [6 favorites]


Sounds like the scumbag version of Alloy Entertainment.

However, this is my annual opportunity to link to Mike Daisey's Statement on James Frey.
posted by eugenen at 5:15 PM on November 12, 2010


But good for him, we're still talking about the twat. That's got to count for something, right?

and if he, you know, showed up for a press conference in a Nazi-SS uniform and handed out self-produced kiddy-porn to all in attendance, we'd be talking about that, too. Right?
posted by philip-random at 5:16 PM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't have time to get into it now (getting out of town) but I know James Frey, and trust me he is not as big an asshole as people say, or this indicates.
posted by vrakatar at 5:16 PM on November 12, 2010


Sidhedevil: "Also, other famous "writers" for children and young adults are less douchey and offer better advances to their ghostwriting minions."

Like James Patterson? I'm not sure I see the "less douchey" part exactly, but I sure do see a similar biz plan.

Artw has not dropped back in here again, which is a shame, but he's on the money when he describes the conditions and obligations of Frey's contracts as par for the course in comics, as screwed up as that may be.

The description Mr. Rippey gives of the agreement also applies pretty exactly to work-for-hire copywriting and journalism, in my experience. I think the difference is mostly in the potential word-count. The only thing that sounds a bit off base is the 'on the hook' bit, which, as implied upthread, is clearly a rip on multi-picture or album contracts.

It's like Frey is conducting some sort of performance-art experiment or something. I'm not condoning the terms, but my outrage meter is at zero.
posted by mwhybark at 5:20 PM on November 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


I don't have time to get into it now (getting out of town) but I know James Frey, and trust me he is not as big an asshole as people say, or this indicates.

Isn't that nice, dear. I'm glad he's a decent person in real life. I'm sure that there's no one else who has ever been exposed as a lying douche who is also nice to people face to face.
posted by stoneweaver at 5:23 PM on November 12, 2010 [11 favorites]


Aroma viral
Microscopic teddy bear
Porridge is least thought
posted by Mblue at 5:24 PM on November 12, 2010


I understand Mr. Frey is the new editor of Cooks Source.
posted by mr vino at 5:25 PM on November 12, 2010 [6 favorites]


Wow, you guys are pretty brazen for a bunch of people who all going to get punched in the face someday. Yeah, punched. In the face. By James Frey.

Actually, I'm punching his fists with my face, because I'm just that hardcore. Plus I get to hear his hands shatter that much better since my ears are closer to the action. It sounds positively delicious. This is the part where I pause and quip casually "You think it hurts you to write now? Wait until you try typing with these!" and punch his fists some more.

He thrusts his face against the fists and still insists he writes the post.
posted by loquacious at 5:27 PM on November 12, 2010 [20 favorites]


$250 is shockingly low. Last time I was asked to pitch a novel for a shared world thing, backin 2005, the fee was £4000 - which I didn't go for in the end as it seemed like a lot of effort and I'd end up with no rights to the thing.

I'm pretty much assuming the 40% is something no one is ever going to see any money out of.

The business about being on the hook for future episodes is... worrying.
posted by Artw at 5:27 PM on November 12, 2010


I don't have time to get into it now (getting out of town) but I know James Frey, and trust me he is not as big an asshole as people say, or this indicates.

I don't think anyone could be.
posted by jonmc at 5:34 PM on November 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


That contract sounds more like he's going to write the next Hardy Boys rather than the next Hairy Potter.
posted by GuyZero at 5:34 PM on November 12, 2010


Yeah, it sounds pretty awful. But how is this any different from the way that the Bobbsey Twins books were done? Or Nancy Drew? Or Hardy Boys?

Frey is following a well-trod trail here. He's just being an ass about it.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:35 PM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


This article made me really incredibly angry when it was making the rounds about my writer's group earlier today.

Ironically, I'm somewhat internet acquainted with Jobie Hughes. When I read I Am Number Four last month (which prompted my whiniest book review in a year or so; it was really terrible), I googled Hughes and realized that I knew his website (which hasn't changed at all, and is all about his literary-writing interests). It took me a few hours to figure out we'd both been MFA applicants in the 2006 grad school application season and were both active on the PW Speakeasy MFA sections. He'd gotten into Columbia, and was engaged in a bunch of loud internet arguments with someone accepted into Iowa over the cost/benefit of Columbia--over the question of whether or not Columbia is a scam. The Iowa grad has gone on to sell overpriced consulting services to MFA applicants. And Hughes has gone on to write this stuff.

It's clear that Columbia at least offers the "benefit" of having people like James Frey come and visit your classes. It's kind of sad, though, that this book is under the ridiculous pen name of Pittacus Lore, and filled with schlocky Michael Bay stuff (oh, God, those swords were stupid. Don't even get me started on what they did to evolution in that book). Hughes is an Ohio native, and the only parts of the book that I found at all appealing were the sort of Smallville-esque small town scenes, which I seriously suspect Frey had nothing to do with. God knows what the financial arrangement looks like, since Hughes even shares ghostwriting credits with Frey. He probably would have done at least marginally better writing, and selling (he already has an agent, according to his website) this book himself.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:36 PM on November 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


(Whoops, should have read the links; I assumed this was today's WSJ article on him. This is juicier and goes into more detail.)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:40 PM on November 12, 2010


So I assume that 40% is always going to be of nothing, right? Just like how the movie studios lose money on every blockbuster due to "distribution fees".
posted by meowzilla at 5:41 PM on November 12, 2010


Hairy Potter! I would maybe read that.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 5:42 PM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hairy Potter! I would maybe read that.

or watch it. I think it's the 'bear' porn adaptation.
posted by jonmc at 5:48 PM on November 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


I don't have time to get into it now (getting out of town) but I know James Frey, and trust me he is not as big an asshole as people say, or this indicates.

I'll bite: How big an asshole is he really?
posted by kittens for breakfast at 5:48 PM on November 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


His publishing company is called Full Fathom Five? No, no it isn't. I will not hear that.

Full Fathom Five is one of two things: it's the opening line in a song from Shakespeare's The Tempest or it is the name of a concert DVD from Clutch. Those are the only two things that phrase can refer to.
posted by snwod at 5:49 PM on November 12, 2010


Also, asshole or not, he's not a good writer.
posted by jonmc at 5:50 PM on November 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


So, I mean, I'll freely acknowledge that in this article Frey sounds like a world-class asshole. But I've still never understood the vitriol surrounding the "Million Little Pieces" thing.

I mean, if the story was entertaining, why does anyone care if it's true? It's not a history book, right?
posted by 256 at 5:50 PM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is the way everything will work when the Republicans take over the rest of the government.
posted by tommyD at 5:52 PM on November 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


In case you guys are wondering how bad #4 is, here were my two "favorite" passages:
We protect ourselves because of the charm that was placed upon us when we left, a charm guaranteeing that we can only be killed in the order of our numbers, so long as we stay apart. If we come together, then the charm is broken. When one of us is found and killed, a circular scar wraps around the right ankle of those still alive. And residing on our left ankle, formed when the Loric charm was first cast, is a small scar identical to the amulet each of us wears. The circular scars are another part of the charm. A warning system so that we know where we stand with each other, so that we know when they’ll be coming for us next.
And:
Lorien. I close my eyes and allow myself to remember. An old planet, a hundred times older than Earth. Every problem that Earth now has–pollution, overpopulation, global warming, food shortages–Lorien also had. At one point, twenty-five thousand years ago, the planet began to die. This was long before the ability to travel through the universe, and the people of Lorien had to do something in order to survive. Slowly but surely they made a commitment to ensure that the planet would forever remain self-sustaining by changing their way of life, doing away with everything harmful–guns and bombs, poisonous chemicals, pollutants–and over time the damage began to reverse itself. With the benefit of evolution, over thousands of years, certain citizens–the Garde–developed powers in order to protect the planet, and to help it. It was as though Lorien rewarded my ancestors for their foresight, for their respect.
As someone who reads a hell of a lot of YA, and any YA sci-fi that I can get my hands on, it makes me so so sad that this is what sells big. As opposed to, say, Patrick Ness's Chaos Walking Trilogy. Or Pam Sargent's Earthseed books. Or, I don't know, almost anything but this.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:53 PM on November 12, 2010 [10 favorites]


> It’s an agreement that says

"same terms as when you were writing Harlequin romances."
posted by jfuller at 5:53 PM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


and if he, you know, showed up for a press conference in a Nazi-SS uniform and handed out self-produced kiddy-porn to all in attendance, we'd be talking about that, too. Right?

Well it is Friday.
posted by shakespeherian at 5:54 PM on November 12, 2010


Artw has not dropped back in here again, which is a shame, but he's on the money when he describes the conditions and obligations of Frey's contracts as par for the course in comics, as screwed up as that may be.

Yeah, it's pretty similar to comics contracts I've seen.

Basically for work-for-hire comics I would expect to be paid a flat page rate, and then on top of that there would be some additional language about further publication, trade paperbacks, film rights (ha!), etc... etc... and how I would be paid for each, which tends to be a little more complex and abstract... similar to Frey's 40%. I'd say it would be nice if I got anything out of that, but I'm not realy expecting that much - maybe if something turns out to be a big hit (ha ha!).

Oh, and contracts tip I got from a pro: In ominous sections regarding any legal tie-ups your work may get into, insist that the words"to the bets of my knowlege" get inserted there. So to the best of your knowlege it's not going to cause them any legal hassle, and if for some weird out of the blue reason it does (that lady who wrote Terminator and The Matrix turns up and says she also wrote your story, or something) you're not on the hook.
posted by Artw at 5:55 PM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I mean, if the story was entertaining, why does anyone care if it's true?

Because he paraded around pretending it was true to give his silly ass the cachet of 'authenticity' (the bullshit behind that word is a whole other debate) up to and including going on TV and acting as if it were true.

Plus it was really bad writing.
posted by jonmc at 5:56 PM on November 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


People forget that before any of this ever happened, Frey also wrote the screenplay for the David Schwimmer vehicle "Kissing a Fool."

The forget, because the film was a miserable piece of shit.
posted by Astro Zombie at 5:57 PM on November 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Plus didn't he pull some kind of "aha! My adopted persona was a work of pop art!" bullshit after being called on it?
posted by Artw at 5:57 PM on November 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Frey strikes me like the Sarah Palin of the publishing world... or maybe it's more like Joe the Plumber. In either case I'm mildly surprised he isn't in politics. With chutzpah like that combined with his embrace of fiction-as-fact he would have easily won at least a Representative seat in the last national debacle we call elections.
posted by edgeways at 5:58 PM on November 12, 2010


In case you guys are wondering how bad #4 is, here were my two "favorite" passages:

Wow, that's just unpleasant to read. I can understand what he's saying but the structure & the wording of the sentences just grate on me. Do not want.
posted by scalefree at 6:12 PM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


So, I mean, I'll freely acknowledge that in this article Frey sounds like a world-class asshole. But I've still never understood the vitriol surrounding the "Million Little Pieces" thing.

I mean, if the story was entertaining, why does anyone care if it's true? It's not a history book, right?


Well, it's kind of like that FPP a day or so ago with photos of a bear chasing a bison down the road of Yellowstone. As people pointed out, technically the photos where merely ok. But, what sells the story and makes the photos actually remarkable is not only the subject matter, but the fact the photographer was right there, stood his ground and captured a moment most humans never see. Even if it was a dinky camera, even if lighting and focus and so on and so on where not great, the story of them make them fucking fantastic. Now... if it came out that the photos where actually pieced together, photoshoped as it where, then suddenly they have little to no interest to anyone, despite being the exact same image.

As a writer Frey is mediocre at best, technically skills are meh. BUT, if Pieces had been true, then he'd get a big pass on his writing skills because of the underling true story. There are plenty of examples of this, you might read an account of the moon landing writing by one of the astronauts, not for the writing skills, but because of the first person verisimilitude.
But, Pieces wasn't true, it was fiction, and in some ways fiction is judged differently. It's worth is in it's skill, whereas Non-fiction has some shifting story/truth/skill boundary. And if Pieces is judged solely on it's skill it would have been hard pressed to sell 1/10 of what it did.
posted by edgeways at 6:14 PM on November 12, 2010 [34 favorites]


PhoBWanKenobi: "We protect ourselves because of the charm that was placed upon us when we left, a charm guaranteeing that we can only be killed in the order of our numbers, so long as we stay apart. If we come together, then the charm is broken. When one of us is found and killed, a circular scar wraps around the right ankle of those still alive. And residing on our left ankle, formed when the Loric charm was first cast, is a small scar identical to the amulet each of us wears. The circular scars are another part of the charm. A warning system so that we know where we stand with each other, so that we know when they’ll be coming for us next."

That's.
posted by boo_radley at 6:16 PM on November 12, 2010


I can understand what he's saying

Heh, really? I still have trouble grokking what's going on with the scar thing--you know, actually picturing it--despite the fact that it's mentioned about a dozen times in the book.

Guess I'll have to go see the movie to get it.

Or not.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:18 PM on November 12, 2010


I sort of want to write a novel for this. Not to write the initial novel, of course. I have no desire to write a series of YA novels. But I'm thrilled by the idea of James Frey forcing me to write sequels to the first success, let's call it The Amazing Adventures of Jimmy Awesome.

The second novel would be fairly similar to the first, with a lot more homoerotic subtext. And occasionally, homoerotic text. But otherwise, a hearty YA novel that gives the fans mostly what they want.

The third novel in the series would be the "dark" one; to be precise, it would start more or less like the previous novels, but by the first quarter, it would have an alarming number of subtle continuity and logic errors. By the midway point, it would be made more difficult because a series of mind-control rays (or whatever) had forced Jimmy Awesome's plucky companions to speak entirely in Finnish, Basque and Hakka, left untranslated for the reader. Three quarters of the way through, the book would devolve into about 20% Kafkaesque paranoia, 80% Dadaist provocation. The climactic battle would involve Jimmy Awesome and the bad guy shouting "You are not who you say you are!" at each other, for 47 straight pages.

The fourth novel would be the typical YA series 'gangbang' novel. The first page would begin with Jimmy Awesome sitting in his room when the love interest walks in, begins servicing his hard throbbing sausage, and the fuckathon would not stop for the next 450 pages. It would flow from epic heights of lyric poetry to anatomically incorrect descriptions designed to revolt the most world-weary gynaecologist and embarrass the most fervent slash fiction writer. Jimmy Awesome would blow his wad on page 4 and slink away ashamedly for the rest of the book.

The fifth, and final, novel in the series would be Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows with only the character names changed.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 6:20 PM on November 12, 2010 [77 favorites]


Guess I'll have to go see the movie to get it.

Is the movie Hancock?
posted by Artw at 6:22 PM on November 12, 2010


Veteran publishing attorney Conrad Rippy has never heard of either Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew?
posted by DU at 6:25 PM on November 12, 2010


I mean, if the story was entertaining, why does anyone care if it's true?

This is actually a very interesting point, and one worth dwelling on for a minute. Frey has claimed that the novel is "essentially" the truth of his life. I get that: There's a lot of personal stuff in the comic that I write, which is about a talking gorilla who is a Mexican wrestler. I get you, James! I am right there with you, brah. Fiction is funny like that, as anyone who writes fiction knows well. Frey has said that he submitted the novel as a novel and was rejected. However, his publisher was willing to run with it as nonfiction. This is kind of a scary Faustian bargain kind of moment -- presuming it really happened -- and it might be hard to say no. I mean, that's how Faustian bargains work. There has never been a Faustian bargain that was all like will you get that garlic press and stick your right gonad in it in exchange for this nickel. Faust is offered something rad in exchange for his soul, because the point is is this rad thing more important than being true to yourself. You'd like to think it wouldn't be, but it just might. That's why Faustian bargains hit us where we live, when we hear of them; if we're honest, we know we don't know what we would do.

So James Frey: If this story is true, and well, yeah, he's offered this book contract in exchange for making out like these lies -- which are okay lies when we know they're lies -- are his actual life. Maybe he figures, hey, whatever, who's gonna question it? He doesn't know he's gonna have to go out there and be Milli Vanilli on the Oprah show. He doesn't know that he's gonna be sitting across from God knows how many interviewers. He's even maybe thinking, Holy fuck, I obviously didn't beat the shit out of a priest and confess to it in print, I mean not only is it completely ridiculous but wouldn't I fear consequences? I mean, how gullible are these people? Maybe he's even thinking they're all in on the joke here. I don't know what he was thinking, but I suspect he got in over his head; and it is hard for me to judge that too harshly, because the desire to Make It (if I may employ some Freyish Emphatic Capitalization here) sometimes is That Strong, For True.

But the problem is that his readers felt directly lied to. That is because they were. James Frey was on their TVs telling them that this book was the truth. That's an issue. Because it isn't a matter now of someone writing a book under a pen name and inventing a biography for that pen name. It's closer to the JT LeRoy situation, wherein a person actively pretended to be someone they were not, not just to lend credence to their work, but also to personally exploit the trusting nature of people who felt sorry for him. That's called being a con artist. Being a con artist is like being a writer of fiction, but kinda not really. It's like, I dunno, the dark side of the Force or something. Even if Frey stumbled into being a con artist, the fact remains he was one. People don't like getting conned. It's not illegal, I'm not even 100% sure it's immoral (LeRoy was definitely immoral, however)...but it is kinda icky. All he did was separate his readers from a few bucks, which doesn't exactly make him history's greatest monster, but he did it by lying to them -- to their faces. You could argue he was a showman. A carnival barker, maybe. You could, if you were so inclined.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:27 PM on November 12, 2010 [32 favorites]


El Gorgo... isn't real?
posted by Artw at 6:29 PM on November 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Crap. I thought _I am Number Four_ might have been a savvy retelling of "The Prisoner".

It looks instead like it might be a wordy retelling of "The Lorax".
posted by notyou at 6:29 PM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's sort of Highlander with a countdown, from the sound of things. With the shitey bit of Hancock thrown in.
posted by Artw at 6:31 PM on November 12, 2010


El Gorgo... isn't real?

He's real in our hearts.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:31 PM on November 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


We protect ourselves because of the charm that was placed upon us when we left, a charm guaranteeing that we can only be killed in the order of our numbers...

For crying out loud, Frey! Just begin with the novel with Apparently Ordinary Teen losing his shit, packing his bags, and leaving town when four enigmatic tally marks appear on his ankle. No exposition necessary. The laziest Smallville hack could figure that one out.
posted by Iridic at 6:33 PM on November 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


Who?
posted by R. Mutt at 6:34 PM on November 12, 2010


Why on earth would anyone do this?

If you have such a great idea for The Next Harry Potter (or whatever), why not just write it yourself, under your own name?

If your work really has the potential to become that profitable, agents and publishers will become interested right away, without some C list "author" getting involved.

If your work is subpar on whatever level, no C list "author" is going to be able to change that.

Seriously. This is like me asking people to invent a cure for cancer on my behalf. I'll get all the money and credit, and you just get the joy of knowing you cured cancer. And at least that's a situation where the result might actually bring non-monetary joy to someone. The only reason to create a property like Twilight is to get filthy rich.
posted by Sara C. at 6:34 PM on November 12, 2010


The description Mr. Rippey gives of the agreement also applies pretty exactly to work-for-hire copywriting and journalism, in my experience.

It is far from standard for work-for-hire in fiction, based on the current US market. The points of difference are:

a) an advance low by orders of magnitude (a more standard advance is $2,500 to $5,000; that said, there often isn't any royalty agreement, but none of Frey's ghostwriters are going to see any royalties either, because of c));

b) ghostwriters asked to pay expenses (that is bizarre and ridiculous);

c) profit sharing based on some unauditable net, rather than as a straight percentage of royalty sales;

and

d) the completely out-of-the-blue "and you have to write the next one."

This contract is a fucking ripoff, and anyone who signs it is either naive or an idiot. My hope by posting here is to point out that NOBODY SHOULD SIGN THIS CONTRACT EVER NEVER IN A MILLION YEARS and if there were images here, I'd post an image of Admiral Ackbar saying "It's a trap!".


Writing for hire is a job like any other job, except that it's a contracting job so one has not very much recourse for outrageously exploitative terms. If someone decided that they were going to start a software contracting firm and pay software developers $250 and make them sign a contract that said they would be obligated to write successive apps at the same terms if the first one was a hit, the Blue would explode in outrage. It's kind of pissing me off that somehow it's different because it's writing, or because it feels cool and contrarian to stand up for eternal punching-bag James Frey.

The guy's offering shit work at slave wages. Run away! Run away! If you can write a good children's or YA book, write it yourself and sell it the regular way. You will make way more than $250, I promise you that.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:38 PM on November 12, 2010 [14 favorites]


Veteran publishing attorney Conrad Rippy has never heard of either Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew?

Those contracts were not this shitty. Nor are any of the other teen series' contracts this shitty.

This is like a landmark of shitty contracts. Seriously, you guys, it's like someone created a stuffed animal that was actually a bag of glass and y'all are like "What? Stuffed animals are commonplace."
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:40 PM on November 12, 2010 [7 favorites]


havent anybody considered, what with Frey's propensity to lie and his mediawhorish ways, that this may be just at most sloppy "performance art" at the least a pr stunt?
posted by liza at 6:42 PM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you have such a great idea for The Next Harry Potter (or whatever), why not just write it yourself, under your own name?

That's what I can't figure out about this.

I mean, there's plenty of bad commercial YA out there--stuff that sells a ton, for huge advances (though they're still rare, there's a good number of 6-figure advances for YA floating around these days). And most of it is sold the typical way, not through book packagers, but by the writers writing the books themselves, querying agents, and then the agents selling those books to publishers. No writerly sweatshops involved.

Part of the problem here, I suspect, is the lack of genuine professional education writers get in MFA programs. I was a poet, supposedly, when I was in grad school, but from what I heard from my fiction cohort, they weren't taught a thing about how to get an agent or write a query letter or pitch to publishing houses. I realize it's supposed to be irrelevant to literary fiction writers, in a way--they're supposed to be there to work on "craft"--but it's priming these young, broke writers, many of whom have debt even in funded programs, to be taken advantage of by people like Frey. I mean, these people should really realize that if you have a good, high-concept idea (The Montauk Project one sticks out in my mind here--that's a pretty awesome one), and if you can write it decently, you can sell it yourself. It's like no one ever told these people that the money is supposed to flow to the writer. And they have graduate degrees in writing.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:43 PM on November 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


Quality doesn't matter. Attention matters. James Frey's name is known. People will pass along news that bears his name, and so it's guaranteed to spread and draw more folks closer to the tent to maybe stick their heads in and see what's what. That's why even though his name is mud he can still sell crap like this for more money than decent writers you've never heard of will realize in their lifetimes. Which is why he thinks he can offer them $250 a book plus a share of unaudited profits and no negotiating. —No good and decent person in this world would ever be on the long end of a stick like that. Pretty much by definition.

In the long run this attention-first attitude will of course damage the brand and it doesn't even guarantee sales per se but the person making the decision has to justify who shows up to the signing tomorrow and who doesn't and somebody else can worry about whether it made enough money next quarter by which time we're all on the hook for another of these damn things so could you please just make it work this time? —And anyway in the long run we're all dead.

I always thought the Exile had what should have been the last word but until then it's always fun to go back and dip your toes in the bile once more.
posted by kipmanley at 6:45 PM on November 12, 2010


I think of the writers I know there might be one or two that have writing degrees, so having one doesn't completely rule out your becoming a writer, but I don't think that it actually helps in any way.
posted by Artw at 6:46 PM on November 12, 2010


the prisoner 2009

boy oh boy. who is Frey and why are terms weird. does he have a masterplan, will he create a school of american wizardry. does he feel lost. will he seek legal advice when someone sues his document. will this be a collabartive venture. sodamachines could be deployed, thin checks, tinning for gems. is rube a choice.what about benefits and infringments. who makes the t-shirt.
is he an honest thief.
posted by clavdivs at 6:50 PM on November 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


There are echelons and echelons of his type in the animation industry.
posted by bonobothegreat at 6:50 PM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


When the Comics Industry Outscrewed Motown
posted by Artw at 6:50 PM on November 12, 2010


I think of the writers I know there might be one or two that have writing degrees, so having one doesn't completely rule out your becoming a writer, but I don't think that it actually helps in any way.

I know it's kind of a cliche to say it, but if a person teaching writing had any really good idea of how to make money as a writer, they would probably be doing that and not relying on academia for their living (this is leaving aside people like, uh, Joyce Carol Oates, for instance...though even there, I'm not sure what she could tell you other than, "Hey, be a super prolific genius writer! It also doesn't hurt to be super cute for your author photo well into your fifties! I'm just sayin', you guys!").
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:51 PM on November 12, 2010


"same terms as when you were writing Harlequin romances."

Yeah, no. Harlequin advances start at $2K and go up to $10K. Harlequin authors get royalties. Harlequin authors have audit rights. Harlequin authors don't have any "you have to write another book in this series if I say so" bullshit in their contract.

Folks. Please do not compare this nonsense to actual writing contracts.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:51 PM on November 12, 2010 [13 favorites]


vampire wiazrds twittering in thier lust?
posted by clavdivs at 6:52 PM on November 12, 2010


Folks. Please do not compare this nonsense to actual writing contracts.

Um, it's an actual writing contract. It compares hugely unfavourably with any other contract I've seen, but it is not some other beast. I'm not sure I could even say with confidence that it's the worst writing contract in existance, there could quite plausibly be people out there offering shittier deals.
posted by Artw at 6:57 PM on November 12, 2010


Also: aliens are the next big thing? Did no one tell Mr. Frey about Roswell?
posted by kipmanley at 6:58 PM on November 12, 2010


Also: aliens are the next big thing? Did no one tell Mr. Frey about Roswell?

He's probably working on the theory that it's all cyclic and shit. Remember how vampires went away for a bit after interest in the Anne Rice books burned out?

Some people are pushing angels as the next biog thing, which IIRC was the thing immediately after vampires the last time.
posted by Artw at 7:00 PM on November 12, 2010


Angels have come and gone, according to the buzz on the street.

Artw, yes, you're right. This is a writing contract. It is an incredibly shitty writing contract that nobody should sign, ever. I was being hyperbolic.

But if anyone has a question about how it compares to other work-for-hire contracts in the publishing industry, I will answer them. The answer will almost certainly be "Unfavorably" for the reasons I itemized above.

If someone finds a worse work-for-hire contract, I would love to see it just for the lulz.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:04 PM on November 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Moral Rights are dumb because the French thought of them, so give them up.
posted by Artw at 7:04 PM on November 12, 2010


It's a crappy contract, but work-for-hire, ghostwriting and the like are common practice. It seems to me the only thing unusual here is that people aren't getting paid very much, but it's not all that far off a Hollywood work-for-hire contract with a non-union writer. They'd just get paid more upfront, that's all. Frey's functioning the way a producer does - he comes up with an idea, or someone brings him an idea, and he supervises. He's not the writer, he's the boss.
posted by MythMaker at 7:05 PM on November 12, 2010


Some people are pushing angels as the next biog thing, which IIRC was the thing immediately after vampires the last time.

I wish I wasn't serious, but, in young adult literature: angels were supposed to be the big thing for 2009, mermaids 2010, contemporary for 2011, science fiction for 2012.





(Having tried to chase one of these trends, and having missed the boat by a few months, and as I am now attempting to return to my first love of writing YA sci-fi despite the fact that I will probably be lost under a flood of trend chasers, yes, I am a wee bit sore about the whole stupid trend cycle stuff in YA.)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:06 PM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Quality doesn't matter. Attention matters. James Frey's name is known.

It doesn't really work that way.

For instance, nobody knew who J. K. Rowling was when she published the first Harry Potter book. And yet... It got published! Maybe she didn't make a shit ton of money on it, but she definitely made more than $250.

Also, since his name is not really known as a YA writer, and this book he's pushing doesn't have his name on it, and he's mainly known for being a lying dirtbag, who the fuck cares? I mean, if J.K. Rowling was like, "I'd love to write more for the Potterverse, but honestly I've spent 15 years of my life there. But hell, if somebody wants to ghostwrite something, sure, I'd put my name on it and we'd do a for hire thing, and hey, why not?" Then, yes. That would be one thing. But this? Really?
posted by Sara C. at 7:06 PM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


It seems to me the only thing unusual here is that people aren't getting paid very much

Did you read any of the comments? There are several very unusual, and very sketchy, aspects of this contract. Which is why nobody should sign it.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:08 PM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm just relieved to hear that other people also think that "A Million Little Pieces" was not worth the paper it was printed on.

And Frey thinks that people like me will buy his ghost-written books? Not on your life, sunshine. You can't write to save your life, why on insert-deity-of-choice's green earth would you think we'd pay good money for a ghost-writer to PRETEND to be you?

I don't get it. Perhaps it's time for more fish oil capsules.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 7:19 PM on November 12, 2010


The idea of composite serial fiction is a fascinating one. However, the Dickensian Conditions that Frey insists on enforcing on his indentured literati towards hacking together "The Next Twilight" will come to naught. The horrendous story of Frey's egomaniacal outbursts & ostentatious cruelty in doomed pursuit of this Ahabian goal is going to be AWESOME. The sheer heartlessness of the enterprise is indicative of The New Feudalism that the Well Positioned & Famous are going to be imposing on the Desperate & Hopeful for years to come. Come to think of it, this is just a variation on the old Kostabi Move.
posted by vurnt22 at 7:28 PM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I know it's kind of a cliche to say it, but if a person teaching writing had any really good idea of how to make money as a writer, they would probably be doing that and not relying on academia for their living

Actually, whenever I look up an author on wikipedia, it seems like a lot are teaching writing, you mention Joyce Carol Oates, but also off the top of my head, Michael Cunningham, Gary Shteyngart, Johnathan Safran Foer, and the late David Foster Wallace, are all teaching or had taught creative writing. I'd imagine the pay and hours would be excellent and I'd imagine the routine of a day job might be necessary for some writers.
posted by bobo123 at 7:32 PM on November 12, 2010


Well, part of my hatred for Frey is due to the idea of someone claiming to have shared a common pain with me (addiction) and then revealing "No, not really." all for a buck.

This style of business shows his basic moral bankruptcy and sociopathy. The pictures of "his circle" made me giggle, as they are just folks he hasn't fucked over yet.
posted by Samizdata at 7:34 PM on November 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Well, maybe unusual for publishing, but I was comparing it to Hollywood, where really the only thing unusual was the rate. There are even union rules on whether or not a writer gets a writing credit on a script based on percentages changed from the previous writer, etc. Considering that it's standard operating procedure in the movie biz for huge numbers of people to re-write a script, where the story idea often comes from the producer, and most of those writers won't get an actual on-screen credit, this seems not all that strange to me, that's all.
posted by MythMaker at 7:40 PM on November 12, 2010


In hollywood you make MOUNTAINS more money for that sort of thing, though. Hell, a PA in the writer's room who blurted out a kinda cool idea which was riffed on and later used (uncredited of course) would be making double the quoted figure, per week. And would be griping about it.
posted by Sara C. at 7:42 PM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's a crappy contract, but work-for-hire, ghostwriting and the like are common practice. It seems to me the only thing unusual here is that people aren't getting paid very much, but it's not all that far off a Hollywood work-for-hire contract with a non-union writer.

Do Hollywood people have to sign off on being responsible if the book has any liability? I mean, that is just the poop sprinkles on the shit sundae.

Nthing what others have seen; I've done work for hire, for a tiny niche publisher, that paid 10x this amount and did not place me in any legal jeopardy whatsoever or oblige me to do anything besides make requested edits.

And the stuff has my actual name on it, shows up on Amazon, and I can tell people I wrote it.

Can't speak to Hollywood or comics contracts, but this is NOT the norm for work-for-hire in book publishing.
posted by emjaybee at 7:51 PM on November 12, 2010


'Basic moral bankruptcy and sociopathy'

a working title.
thats worth a soda and twenty bucks which is good about for a minutes work.

Metafilter: F$$$ your contract, we pay more!

.....i cant fit samizdatas soda in the mefi mailbox, is this a bug? and the courts have my pay pal frozen.
who has the vampire angle. we need an angst filled crypt scene and the sub plot of wizard INC. smacks of too much pottering.
posted by clavdivs at 7:56 PM on November 12, 2010


In terms of what makes Frey's past actions so reprehensible, edgeways and kittens for breakfast have already covered a lot of that ground, but I'd like to add the point that it's his specific subject matter that makes his lies especially vile: the distortion of a recovery story. If you've ever had really serious problems with substance abuse or known and cared for someone else who did, if you've read an AskMe that was a cry for help from someone struggling to come to grips with addiction of any sort, then you know that it's the kind of thing that even people with access to the best resources and recovery providers can stumble and fall and lose ground many, many times, e.g. Robert Downey, Jr. Part of the problem that a lot of people have with recovery is that the dominant paradigm for long-term recovery and sobriety, AA's Twelve Steps and its variants, is a tough sell for a lot of people even if they're at the end of their rope, because of the willingness to turn your addiction over to a Higher Power (even if you've never really had one), moral inventory, etc.

And then this guy comes along and says, in effect, hey, screw that twelve-step bullshit! I had the worst addiction of anybody, and I got through it pretty much by sheer force of will, and you can too! Except, of course, he didn't. When The Smoking Gun did their expose of him, they couldn't fact-check any of his claims about his time at Hazelden (which he probably was admitted to), but his claims to have beaten up a cop proved to be bogus, and the people that did have to deal with him pre-treatment painted a picture of someone who drank a lot and smoked some weed, but was not the raging, out of control drunk and crackhead that Frey claimed to be. There's a bit in the book where he contrasts the serious, hardcore alcoholics and addicts--which group he places himself among--with the lightweights, people who, he implies, probably don't need inpatient treatment in the first place, let alone a high-caliber facility like Hazelden. In fact, he was among the latter group in real life, and if any of his stories have any veracity at all, they belong to other people, not to him. He stole their stories to make his recovery story more impressive, just as he claimed to have been the best friend of the girl that was killed when her car was hit by a train, when again TSG found out that he didn't even know her.

And so, here he is, using other people again by exploiting their gullibility. And, as long as other people keep making excuses for him, he'll keep doing it. Just like, you know, a drunk or junkie with codependents.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:59 PM on November 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


on topic. this guy can make the offer and a binding contract would hold IMO. Litigation fees. your 5-25k per say would be gone in the retainer, 4 phone calls and 7 hours of billing.
posted by clavdivs at 8:01 PM on November 12, 2010


I agree that it's not a good contract, the liability issue is weird, certainly. But some people on here are acting like there are no creative works made as work-for-hire, or that work-for-hire writing is the 2nd coming of the antichrist or something like that. I was merely pointing out that while the rates are usuriously low, and many of the details are sketchy, the basic premise doesn't seem that far off Andy Warhol signing his name to pictures others had made or a producer making tens of millions off of a script written by someone making, say, $50,000. These writers are entering into this agreement freely, no one is coercing them. It's a bad deal, sure, but you should see the ways distributors cheat independent filmmakers.
posted by MythMaker at 8:02 PM on November 12, 2010


we need some mountains and lady gaga but eased in, lots of green shaded in mauve then noir it.
posted by clavdivs at 8:04 PM on November 12, 2010


So, James Frey is now the Thomas Kinkade of... whatever the fuck it is he thinks he's doing?
posted by steambadger at 8:08 PM on November 12, 2010 [7 favorites]


a producer making tens of millions off of a script written by someone making, say, $50,000

Actually, this is really, really different than that. In a lot of ways. Not least of which is the fact that most likely said writer would be a member of the WGA, which is a labor union which prevents people from getting screwed over in situations like this.
posted by Sara C. at 8:15 PM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


However terrible Frey's actions have been and continue to be, I am glad for it because this thread, and the Pollack article, have made me laugh harder than I have in a long time.

I don't even mean that I've had a bad time of it lately. This was just that awesome.
posted by Nattie at 8:37 PM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


would it not be cheaper to fly in 20 writers to Humboldt county and tape record them for a week?
posted by clavdivs at 8:44 PM on November 12, 2010


all this righteous indignation makes it sound as if the little guy was actually owed anything. you know, like decent treatment or clean washrooms.

he is not.
posted by krautland at 8:44 PM on November 12, 2010


And then this guy comes along and says, in effect, hey, screw that twelve-step bullshit! I had the worst addiction of anybody, and I got through it pretty much by sheer force of will, and you can too! Except, of course, he didn't.

It was the fact that people with addictions read his story, identified with it, and believed him. And it was a lie. I should be used to lies by now, but I still don't understand that mindset. I know it's not right to feel this way, but I hope his newest project is a huge failure.
posted by wv kay in ga at 8:50 PM on November 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


did i not get the kiosk? is this some sort of roman like WGA
east coast west coast
posted by clavdivs at 8:55 PM on November 12, 2010


James Frey you are no Henry Miller, I know someone whom fended off numerous whiskey fueled amourous advances from him. and you sir are no Henry Miller.

see he gets gets the movie script de facto$
posted by clavdivs at 9:05 PM on November 12, 2010


Robots are next. Flying zeppelins and cracking wise.
posted by notyou at 9:08 PM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sociopathtastic!
posted by ignignokt at 9:10 PM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Dear Mr. Frey,

I write to you as the owner of an infinite number of monkeys, each of whom owns their own typewriter. Together, in an unspecified amount of time, they will be able not only to write The Next Harry Potter for you, but also the actual Harry Potter series along with the entire works of Faulkner, the Bronte sisters, Mark Twain, and Homer (translated.) I figure that since this is what you're expecting out of any poor and naive struggling writer desperate enough to embark upon your fool's errand, we might as well eliminate the middleman here and go straight for the middleape.

Contact me. Let's make this happen.


Yours in exploitation,
Spatch


PS. They will also do a helluva job with Dan Brown, but they may demand more bananas for having to compromise their artistic integrity.
posted by Spatch at 9:15 PM on November 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


Not least of which is the fact that most likely said writer would be a member of the WGA, which is a labor union which prevents people from getting screwed over in situations like this.

That is pretty optimistic, unfortunately.

This Frey contract sounds very similar, in generalities, to a screenwriter's contract. Screenwriting contracts are basically: "Sell us the idea forever, in all forms, and the piece of writing itself. And we'll offer you "net points" but you understand that there will never be a profit, right? PS, you are about to get fired and replaced."

What the WGA tries to prevent is things like late payments, not abiding by the minimum basic agreement, etc. (Not always successfully.)

So I guess what I'm saying is that Frey's plan sounds terrible, but also awfully familiar to me. (I am a working screenwriter.)
posted by thehmsbeagle at 10:52 PM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Frey believed that Harry Potter and the Twilight series had awakened a ravenous market of readers and were leaving a substantial gap in their wake. He wanted to be the one to fill it. There had already been wizards, vampires, and werewolves. Aliens, Frey predicted, would be next.

Aliens? Don't tell me -- Frey already has an exclusive development deal with the SyFy Channel... For a 'reality' show.
posted by vhsiv at 10:54 PM on November 12, 2010


I wish Mark Leyner would publish another book.
posted by showmethecalvino at 10:54 PM on November 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


It sounds like the kind of work for hire that Your Favourite Novelist(tm) does and you don't know about (like Warhammer? Lots of Brit SF guys have done Warhammer novels). The bad parts are in there not being a decent base rate or a worthwhile share of returns.

Those parts are really, really bad, by the way. I've done plenty of work for hire. James Frey can't afford me. He can't afford at least ten of me.

The sad thing is that he has no skills at intellectual property development and because of that, has very little chance of success. He is a cheapskate who isn't competent to complete his own project.

I'd be happy to help Mr. Frey save his enterprise for $25 an hour. I'm not proud. Just expensive.
posted by mobunited at 11:08 PM on November 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


So I guess what I'm saying is that Frey's plan sounds terrible, but also awfully familiar to me.

He is a legal thief IMO. He could not even fictionalize events in his own life. What is he trying to recruit? 3098 community college lit majors?

It is his angle get enough material then cobble something. The result would be painful to read. My uncle went to school with this guy, he wrote the forward to uncles book and the stories about pay are amazing at least back then. My point is that he mentioned the Guilds more do more good for the most then anything for the screenwriter.
i loved 'Johnny Staccato'

posted by clavdivs at 11:24 PM on November 12, 2010


$25/hour is not expensive. You should up your rate.
posted by zoogleplex at 11:28 PM on November 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


His publishing company is called Full Fathom Five? No, no it isn't. I will not hear that.

Full Fathom Five is one of two things: it's the opening line in a song from Shakespeare's The Tempest or it is the name of a concert DVD from Clutch. Those are the only two things that phrase can refer to.


Ooh cheesy self link opportunity!!!

Me on wallowy aquatic cello.
posted by Sebmojo at 11:32 PM on November 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


{preview screwup} blah-blah...."Michael Moore, the Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker, attended the 2 1/2 -hour New York meeting and called the contract offer "a historic moment for labor in this country. To have the writers stand up and not give back a single thing, and in fact, to make [the studios] give things, is a real achievement"."

could or would a guild member take such an offer?
posted by clavdivs at 11:34 PM on November 12, 2010


i noticed that title and thought of my boardgames.
posted by clavdivs at 11:39 PM on November 12, 2010


Sidhedevil: " If someone decided that they were going to start a software contracting firm and pay software developers $250 and make them sign a contract that said they would be obligated to write successive apps at the same terms if the first one was a hit, the Blue would explode in outrage."

But the standard employment contracts in software development work specify this exact shit, remuneration specifics obviously to the side. They are simply not enforced. The specific clauses in the contracts include language which specifies *any idea* you have while employed under the contract belongs to the employer, tow-to-three year noncompete clauses which specify the definition of noncompete to be more or less work in the field, and the like. They are the employment equivalent of click-through licenses, people sign them (or 'forget' to) all the time.

Granted that $250 is absurd. But I'll bet a Gawker employment contract is very, very similar.
posted by mwhybark at 11:51 PM on November 12, 2010


I should note for the record:

While I'm disputing the lovely and talented Sidhedevil whether the contract terms under discussion are exceptional or beyond historic precedent:

I wholly endorse her position that this is a terrible contract and something to be avoided.

My larger point is basically that the world is full of these things, and many beloved creative works were created under similar, outright-bullshit contractural conditions.
posted by mwhybark at 12:00 AM on November 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Any of us debating this as a serious proposal is making Frey feel clever. Please stop.
posted by queensissy at 12:04 AM on November 13, 2010


I sometimes wonder how many people aspiring to be writers chose that undertaking to be validated in the specialness of their consciousness.
But maybe my jaundiced view has been formed by seeing too many Dutch novels about a protagonist writer who can't bring himself to write, about the hardship of his drinking problem and his difficult publisher...

Or maybe this is only natural since writers are the pop stars of the intellectual crowd. And we intellectuals are natural groupies just like other people.
posted by joost de vries at 1:08 AM on November 13, 2010


It was the fact that people with addictions read his story, identified with it, and believed him.

Can I just say, none of the addicts I know who read the book believed it for a moment. (And I'm talking before his exposure now.) Non-addicts appeared to lap it up because it falls into that popular category of addiction porn, in which the lows are the lowest lows possible. But the inconsistencies were ridiculous. What addict doesn't know the difference between cocaine and lidocaine? What fucking *dentist* doesn't know the difference between cocaine and lidocaine?

Maybe alcoholics or pot addicts might have bought it. Possibly sex addicts or compulsive eaters. But I've never met a heroin or cocaine addict who thought it anything other than unmitigated bullshit.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:22 AM on November 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


I want to thank everyone in this thread because I have never laughed this hard sober at 4:30 in the morning.
posted by azarbayejani at 1:38 AM on November 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


So, James Frey is now the Thomas Kinkade of... whatever the fuck it is he thinks he's doing?

Well, to be a Thomas Kinkade, he'd have to be successful in his endeavour. Right now, it seems he's the wannabe Mark Kostabi of the literary world, fashioning himself the next Andy Warhol and trying to prove that his name alone can be valuable, no matter whose work it's attached to. Only time will tell if he can fail like Kostabi.
posted by daniel_charms at 3:04 AM on November 13, 2010


What, and quit show business?
posted by box at 4:27 AM on November 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well, I will muck up Frey's washrooms any time I can.
posted by Samizdata at 4:34 AM on November 13, 2010


Yeah, it sounds pretty awful. But how is this any different from the way that the Bobbsey Twins books were done? Or Nancy Drew? Or Hardy Boys?

The Hardy Boys books — the original ones, anyway — were written on a very straightforward cash-on-the-barrel-head basis. Leslie McFarlane wrote them intermittently whenever he felt like he needed the money, despite apparently not liking them very much. The difference between that and Frey's arrangement is that McFarlane wasn't tied into producing any more of them than he wanted to produce; when he wasn't interested, the publisher found other writers.

That arrangement was fairly common and is the way a lot of juvenile series fiction was produced. I can't really find much fault with it, at least no more than with work-for-hire in general (which honestly I don't have that much of a problem with, as long as everyone knows what they're getting into). It's not complicated: author writes book, author signs over all rights to book, author gets paid. Author can easily figure out whether it's a good idea by doing something like (amount they'll get paid) / (hours it will take to write book). If you can turn out acceptable copy quickly, it's probably not a bad deal.

But Frey's arrangement is a lot worse; first because it mandates additional volumes under the same arrangement — the author can't, if they have a hit, renegotiate for a better deal. Second, the amount of compensation doesn't seem to be obvious, making it nearly impossible for a potential author to decide whether it's going to be worth their time. That's a douchey move on both points, and I hope that nobody is dumb enough to take him up on the offer.

If he wants to offer the same kind of anonymous ghostwriting arrangements that the Stratemeyer Syndicate offered (and its descendants probably still do), that would be something. But he's not.
posted by Kadin2048 at 5:02 AM on November 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


sorry complaining commenters, but writing and publishing is anything you can get away with. He may succeed. He may not. My bet: he makes a bundle of money in the long haul by getting a few goodies published and reaping huge profits.
posted by Postroad at 5:19 AM on November 13, 2010


Thanks to this thread I have just realized that James Frey is most likely the prototype for the character of Bobby Dagen in Saw 3D. We can only hope it will work out for Frey as well as it works out for Dagen in the movie.

And yes, I did pay ten bucks to see a Saw movie in 3D. Why do you ask?
posted by localroger at 6:03 AM on November 13, 2010


I'm not lying that when I say I've spent time with lots of meth addicts and heroin junkies and seen a lot of people at what they'd later describe as their worse. So why is it that James Frey on a normal day (or, I'm sorry, the public perception that James Frey is putting forward) -- he seems like the biggest asshole of an addict I've ever come across?

The writing contract could be worse. He could require an entry fee.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 6:11 AM on November 13, 2010


I've done samples for other YA packagers, including Alloy, which is namechecked in the article. And even THEIR contracts aren't fantastic; my agent grumbled about it because of the rights grab.

But I want to say that the bargain basement bottom advance payment for all of the packagers is $7500. (Some contracts pay up to $10,000.) You aren't bound to write sequels, you don't have to use your real name, but you're welcome to on most projects.

You still get a percentage of royalties on books sold, though it's a percentage favorable to the packager, not to you. You still get credit, if you want it.

Where you get cut out of the process is in subrights sales. The author who wrote The Cheetah Girls for Alloy gets royalties on all the books sold. But she gets 0% of the huge, Disney-driven global market for Cheetah Girls movies and merchandise, because Alloy owned those subrights.

So yes, packagers are common, especially in YA fiction. And a lot of fantastic YA writers started out in packaging. Scott Westerfeld's PEEPS was packaged, Maureen Johnson's 13 LITTLE BLUE ENVELOPES-- two authors who have since gone on to become NYT Bestselling YA authors on entirely standard contracts with other houses.

What Frey is doing is packaging only in the vaguest of senses. What he's really doing is taking advantage of people who don't know better, to bolster his own career and pocket book.

James Patterson does the exact same thing with his 18 books a year, but it's my understanding that Patterson pays well, and contracts on a book-by-book basis. So if you're working in Patterson's Book Factory, you are, at least, getting paid well and not tied to the man for any longer than you wish to be. And he often shares credit!

And unlike Frey, Patterson actually has a sterling reputation in the industry, as both a great businessman and a pretty nice guy. If you want to learn to write bestsellers, I think you could do worse than to work with a guy who has helped produce 56 NYT Bestsellers (he holds the world record.)

Frey can't offer you anything except high concept ideas in a sweatshop environment, banking on the prestige of one book that went bestseller for one week, mostly out of morbid curiosity.
posted by headspace at 6:14 AM on November 13, 2010 [8 favorites]



I'm a little fascinated and mortified by Frey, and it's fair to say that he's one of those cautionary figures that makes me clench up when I suddenly find that I'm standing at the center of a group of people, telling stories. I've had this highly-suspect life, both in terms of my motives and my precision regarding what, when, where, and why, but I've got a decent facility for language, and when the words start to spin, I sometimes wonder—is this a good story because it's a good story that says something about who I am and what I do, or is it a good story because I come off looking adorably idiotic and therefore somehow real?

You can see it in the faces of the people paying attention to this anecdote or that familiar narrative that you've told a hundred thousand times, and it's a little glint of bloodlust in the eyes of the listener, a pornographic backflash like the kaleidoscopic reflections of fuck-film photons bouncing off transfixed corneas.

I am a fucking freak show.

The true showman catches this moment and crashes headlong into the crowd like a neon-encrusted steam locomotive blasting clouds of glitter out its stack.

The lesser showman is cowed, panicked by that moment of focus.

The fraud clutches at the threads of fact, actual fact, and truth.

The thing is, and most writers won't cop to this—everything is fiction.

"Joe, did that really happen?"

Well, of course it really happened. It happened to me, which meant it didn't really happen to the person asking the question, except as they've heard it. I control the horizontal and the vertical, the camera angles and the edits, and, of course, the names have been changed to protect the innocent. It really happened, but it's bullshit, too, the flim-flam of storytelling, and that's okay.

Years and years ago, when I was in the grips of one of my occasional Factory phases, I was reading the then-new book from Ultra Violet, Famous for 15 Minutes. My Years With Andy Warhol, there was a scene where Ultra describes Andy getting silver paint on her shoes that I read with a little twitch, realizing that her recollection was a little too clear and too thought-out.

Wait, she just made that up! Or, at least, it didn't happen just like that!

The fact that I was caught by surprise, at twenty-two, by the possibility that a member of Andy Warhol's explosive cultural circus brigade might be less than completely accurate in retelling her story was a little sad, but there we are. What struck me most, though, is that I noticed it because it wasn't well-crafted. Had it been more natural, more a moment that didn't just seem to drop out of the air like a perfect crystalline chunk of fossilized memory, I'd never have noticed.

Still, I don't doubt that moment. I think it's just as she remembered it.

Nothing is true, everything is permitted.

Writing about the past, you edit, you shape, and you have to take the furry mass of a real reflection that's tangled up in the underbrush of you and turn it into something the reader or listener will understand. Dialogue is the dialogue of the homonculus in conversation with your own semi-reliable inner monologue, unless you're lucky enough to have a tape recorder in your brain. Names change, sweaters go from tan to green, when the poetics make it truer that way, and it's all fine.

You aren't building the truth for people—you're building a story, which is the unit, in physics, by which the energy of the soul is transferred to another person. The bullshit is okay.

It's the craftsmanship that's the issue.

The thing about Frey's big fiasco book, A Million Little Pieces, was that he tried to sell it as fiction, being rejected many times on that front, likely because it just didn't ring true, or feel true, or even have a little plausible self-consistency in the text. With the tenor of the times, he repositioned it as a scandalous tell-all autobiography and suddenly, the problems in the writing went away, because you can't argue with a true story, right?

You wouldn't believe this if it weren't true!

It's that sick marriage of whole cloth and lousy craftsmanship that does it. The literary fad for memoirs in the groove of "oh yeah, you think that's bad? Let me tell you my story!" just enables more and more decay in the essential task of writing, alas, but I'll offer the caveat that that's my feeling as a cranky guy with a huge unpublished manuscript, so your mileage may vary. Still, does the claim that something is a true story make it okay to be a poorly-told tale?

It's all just sort of interesting, a whirl of thoughts I have on the subject. Frey, I think, fails most distinctly because he could be a blowhard, over-the-top showman and just cop to his artifice in a fun, oversized way. Instead, he dodges, and his latter-day attempts to refashion himself in a sort of meta, Bret Easton Ellis, post-post-post-everything smartest kid in the room just come off as more sad than wry.

I have to laugh, too, that when he went for whole cloth, he didn't do his due diligence and actually try out his whole cloth to see if it worked. Our family has a grand tradition of story exchange, and there's something that happened to my brother and his friend once that I'm absolutely desperate to steal, but it makes no sense in my own history, because my sole venture into drug addiction was a month of valium fun when someone gave me a bottle of the stuff.

They were out tripping balls on LSD out in Howard County and decided to cut across a huge empty cow pasture, only to find that they were being chased by a number of large, angry emus. Amusing, hallucinogenic hijinks ensue.

That's storytelling gold, but it'd never work in my own biography, because the LSD is pretty essential to what makes it hilarious, and I've never done the stuff. I can't make it work, even with a lot of finesse, bullshit, and flim-flam, so I have the sense not to try.

Sour grapes on my part, perhaps, but I'm all about bullshit.

I just want it to be glorious bullshit that's about the one really true and amazing thing in the world, which is the world. Art about art about making art about making art about art, caught in an endless recursive toilet spiral, just doesn't do it.
posted by sonascope at 6:20 AM on November 13, 2010 [5 favorites]


wait whut: I’ve already been cast out of ‘proper’ American literary circles. I don’t have to be a good boy anymore.I find that the older I get, the more radical my work becomes.”...Frey said he was interested in conceiving commercial ideas that would sell extremely well.

James Frey also thinks all the greatest writers are men. He should read that article from a while ago about MFA and their good style but bad content. James Frey is obviously the new punk rock
posted by fuq at 6:29 AM on November 13, 2010


James Frey owns pitbulls. James Frey likes boxing. James Frey doesn't give a shit.

James Frey is going to punch you all in your faces that are going to get punched.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 6:35 AM on November 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


Can I just say, none of the addicts I know who read the book believed it for a moment.


Him waking up on the airplane covered in puke raised my first eyebrow -- I think that was the opening paragraph. Airlines don't just take unconscious puke-covered people and throw them in seats. Not. Gonna. Happen. I trudged on for a bit, but he pretty well exposed himself as a charlatan at the dentist's scene.

I got shot up with morphine when I went to the emergency room with kidney stones, and didn't feel a need to re-set my sobriety date. I thought I was going to fucking die and a highly skilled and trained doctor took the pain away. The pain was so bad the only thing I felt after the shot was relief. Root canals are probably worse than kidney stones.

I'm around people working in the treatment community every day of my life. The idea that a doctor would forgo basic pain medication just because someone was in drug treatment is utterly ludicrous. There's an entire universe of difference between doctor-prescribed doses of mediation for a specific medical purpose and swallowing a handfull of pills to got blotto. There are a few extreme outliers in AA or NA who are totally anti-medication, but they're kind of out there with the Scientologists. They're not taken seriously. And I bet that even they would go under for a root canal.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:54 AM on November 13, 2010


It's that sick marriage of whole cloth and lousy craftsmanship that does it. The literary fad for memoirs in the groove of "oh yeah, you think that's bad? Let me tell you my story!"

Sonascope, Fry really about put me off the genre, and Running with Scissors didn't do much to alleviate it, though I think I believe that Augusten Burroughs is credible and talented. Maybe it was too soon? Mary Carr, however, fucking owns this shit. I put off for a long time, then finally last year, went into The Liars Club with typical Oprah Trepidation, but she makes her stuff True.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:10 AM on November 13, 2010


James Frey is going to punch you all in your faces that are going to get punched.

Frey is going to pay fifty cents to 12-year-old to try and punch us in the face, and then brag that he did it and what an awesome job he did besides.
posted by Spatch at 7:19 AM on November 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wise guys get punched twice.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 7:40 AM on November 13, 2010


I'm trying to wrap my head around the question of "Who would be so desperate to call themselves a 'writer' that they'd go for this?"

The minimum wage in the United States now stands at $7.25 per hour. The "$250" offered here is less than 35 hours of work at minimum wage; if we allow for withholding etc., let's call "$250" a five day, 40-hour work week.

To turn out a YA novel.

And if one were so lucky as to get a gig like this every week of the year -- why, an aspiring writer could gross . . . $13,000 a year? Really?

Or, to look at it from the other direction: a typical YA is what? 60-80,000 words? (Say, 100,000 words, tops?)

Frey is proposing to pay roughly a quarter-cent-per-word, maybe a bit more. At 60wpm, it would take a decent typist 1,200 minutes or so just to type the thing out. With breaks, that's roughly three days' work of just typing. Who could you get to type the thing for $250?

I know enough aspiring writers to know that yes, there are people who ARE this desperate to break into print, but: wow.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 9:02 AM on November 13, 2010 [4 favorites]


sonascope: I just want it to be glorious bullshit that's about the one really true and amazing thing in the world, which is the world.

That's as good a reason to read as any, sonascope.

And some of my fury at Frey's crap about being a rule-breaker, about being the guy who will be remembered for daring to challenge old notions about truth and art is that it insults not just us today - but all the great glorious bullshitters of the past three centuries.

Defoe published his true story of Robinson Crusoe in 1719!!

Sure, some readers were pissed off when they found the story was only a tiny bit of truth and a whole lot of fictional bullshit. But Defoe was a glorious, imaginative bullshitter who taught us amazing things about our own world then, now, and forever - and that's all that counts.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 9:03 AM on November 13, 2010


Gross. There is a similar story from TV land about The Blue Collar Comedy Hour. I don't remember how long it ran. But the story was they were having 'auditions'. Auditions went on for over a month. It was mostly an invitation to improvisers and comedians and they would perform for the producers a number of times. In the end noone was hired. After the show aired, there were people who "auditioned" and saw the show and were often quoted as saying, "I did that bit in the 'auditions'"
posted by Israel Tucker at 10:39 AM on November 13, 2010


Yay this is like those shady bars that "train" you for a week and then don't pay you cause it "didn't work out."
posted by The Whelk at 10:43 AM on November 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


So I read that he settled a class action lawsuit in Washington state brought by people who bought his book under the false assumption that it was nonfiction and alleging fraud when it proved to be make believe. It was settled, so I guess the legal value of the allegation is still moot - correct me if I'm wrong - but it made me wonder about another scenario-

Had I bought a copy of a book by Pittacus Lore (or some other book) and found out afterwards that it was not written by Lore but by an author I would not buy from on account of loathing and despising, would I have the makings of a law suit? HC has some deep pockets....

Just idle musing.
posted by IndigoJones at 11:14 AM on November 13, 2010


Screenwriting contracts are basically: "Sell us the idea forever, in all forms, and the piece of writing itself. And we'll offer you "net points" but you understand that there will never be a profit, right? PS, you are about to get fired and replaced."

Yes, but in that situation the amounts of money involved make the arrangement worthwhile. Not to mention that a script != a finished film, anyway. I would love it if screenwriters ran hollywood and the script was considered the really important part, while the producers' role went totally unrecognized. But, no, if a production company wants to buy your script, then, OK, they buy your script. In the least favorable arrangement, you get some money, you level up in terms of professional reputation, AND are free to go work on other projects.

In the most favorable spin on the Frey arrangement, you make $250, nobody can know you did this, and you're on the hook to this jackass forever.
posted by Sara C. at 12:28 PM on November 13, 2010


In the music business, it has led to such spectacular intended-as-a-fuck-you-but-actually-great compositions as Marvin Gaye's Here, My Dear, but I don't see that happening in this situation.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:41 PM on November 12


Or Van Morrison doing The Big Royalty Check
posted by atomicmedia at 12:43 PM on November 13, 2010


BTW, the practice predates even Carolyn Keene. (Well, nothing new under the sun and all that.) Henri Gauthier-Villars had a stable of writers on staff, his "slaves", most memorably his wife, the incomparable Colette.

(How does Frey intend to enforce his you must write another book just like this last book for me? Does he say?)
posted by IndigoJones at 1:08 PM on November 13, 2010


In one of my earliest serious attempts to sell out like a filthy dirty whore, I once took on a pity gig (the pity, for the record, was for me, and not a product of my compassionate nature as much as it was a last ditch venture into being able to feed myself and pay my car insurance).

The pitch was easy:

I've got this idea for a reincarnation romance film about [two starcrossed lovers out of English literature], where they go through a series of unsuccessful incarnations throughout history, stopping in to meet with God, as played by [dreadlocked sassy actress], until finally ending up as a couple of [a type of woman who's sweet on other womenfolk] who complete the uncompleteable pairing in a triumphant triumph of the triumphalist human will.

It'll be screamingly funny, poignantly romantic, and EDUCATIONAL.

It'll be the hit of the year.


You know—how EDUCATIONAL romantic comedies often are.

The details have been massaged to protect the innocent, but the thought of [dreadlocked sassy actress] playing a sassy, wisecracking God just makes me want to call Mary Wickes back from the afterlife so I can ask her to suffocate me in my sleep and make it look like I died of autoerotic asphyxiation. I'm a fucking snob, sometimes, and I'm not proud of it, but I couldn't do a damn thing with the idea until I found out how much I'd get paid to write the treatment.

I am, in fact, a total whore when necessary, and I'd burned my 401K, my $13k in savings, and my debt-free status in a failed attempt to be a freelance gentleman craftsman (it was the business end, not craftsmanship, that I lacked), so I was ready to be total whore.

I rewrote the thing as a sort of Southern Gothic lesbian road movie mystery yarn about amateur sleuths solving a series of family mysteries in the Carolinas and discovering unexpected love along the way, and it wasn't bad, per se. The notes were brutal. My diversions from the framework didn't make my client happy. My gorge was constantly rising, settled only by the sweet, sweet checks that came and chased away the bill collectors that regularly fucked me in the ear until I'd turned it into a sort of opportunity to practice dada theater. I can be a snob, but that commission kept me afloat until I won a state grant for a performance that was about the things I like to write about, and went on to be the fancy janitor at a museum of crazy people art with a decent salary and health insurance.

My contract, as it were, was only restrictive in that I can't resell the piece unless I buy it back (don't worry), and I'd actually get a $25k one-time fee if it's ever produced in exchange for a complete reassignment of rights, which would be okay. I've got a lot more stories to tell left in me, so lesbian Nancy Drew can leave the fold, and I hope they're happy if they do. I just pray, every single morning, that if I ever get a first IMDB credit, it won't be for that thing. My dad's sole IMDB credit is for playing a deranged Santa Claus loose in a Baltimore police station on the hottest day of the year, so I feel like I have a lot to live up to.

Selling out is one thing. Who hasn't occasionally accepted forty dollars from a sweet-natured old priest with a foot fetish in exchange for a sex-free session of toe play to the tune of "this little piggy went" to all sorts of places? Selling your soul, on the other hand, and I think in this case Frey may suitably stand in for the Devil, is something else, unless you really, really don't have another good story left in you.
posted by sonascope at 1:48 PM on November 13, 2010 [4 favorites]


> The specific clauses in the contracts include language which specifies *any idea* you have while employed under the contract belongs to the employer, tow-to-three year noncompete clauses which specify the definition of noncompete to be more or less work in the field, and the like.

Interesting claims, but I'm dubious. (Cred: I've been writing computer programs professionally for over 25 years....)

I've never in my life even heard of a three year non-compete. The longest I ever ran into personally was six months, but I've seen other people's contracts with a year. At least in California and New York State, these contracts are essentially unenforceable anyway, as you can't be prevented from earning a living - they only have the faintest possibility of being relevant if you go right to a direct competitor with trade secrets.

Regarding your claim that "*any idea*" you have during that time belongs to the employer, well, I just reviewed my friend's contract with a pretty draconian place, and they used what appeared to be standard language. It stated that any work, ideas, or anything else that you came up with as part of fulfilling The Contract was theirs, whether done at home or at the office, during office hours or not - and any work at all you did on their facilities was also their property. It very much did not specify that other work you did, on a different topic and on your own time, was theirs.

I should also add that programming jobs pay quite well, whereas $250 for a novel is beyond insulting - that's less than minimum wage, assuming that it takes you more than five seven-hour days to complete the novel.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 2:41 PM on November 13, 2010


> The specific clauses in the contracts include language which specifies *any idea* you have while employed under the contract belongs to the employer, tow-to-three year noncompete clauses which specify the definition of noncompete to be more or less work in the field, and the like.

Disney used to do this on creative personnel employment contracts, and still may try to. IIRC it's unenforceable, I think they tried to go after someone with it and failed.

I'll agree that the longest noncompete I've seen in the software-heavy video game biz is one year, but I'm told that's similarly unenforceable.
posted by zoogleplex at 2:51 PM on November 13, 2010


...The fifth, and final, novel in the series would be Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows with only the character names changed.

That's a hell of an act; what do you call it?
posted by randomkeystrike at 5:09 PM on November 13, 2010 [4 favorites]


Some awesome reactions from Columbia grads Maureen Johnson and Nova Ren Suma.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:25 PM on November 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


I know enough aspiring writers to know that yes, there are people who ARE this desperate to break into print

The thing is that work-for-hire credits published under someone else's name aren't credits. It doesn't give your next novel a leg up if you have published under James Frey's dumbass pseudonym. Pseudonymous work-for-hire brings you nothing but the money.

That's another reason James Patterson's deal is much better--you get a co-credit with him. That is a credit. That does help build your brand.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:04 PM on November 13, 2010


lupus_yonderboy: "Interesting claims, but I'm dubious."

Fair enough. I'll cop to handwaving on length of non-compete, although I have heard said clauses have changed that since they were found unenforceable in Handwavdonia.

Your gloss on the IP clause reflects essentially the same terms I was referring to.

you: "It stated that any work, ideas, or anything else that you came up with as part of fulfilling The Contract was theirs, whether done at home or at the office, during office hours or not - and any work at all you did on their facilities was also their property. It very much did not specify that other work you did, on a different topic and on your own time, was theirs."

The terms I have seen are notably vague as to the definition of contract-fulfillment and have appeared, to me, to be a full-employment clause for litigators in the event you or I invent Google or write the script to Titantic while under contract to the contract-holders. As I noted above, I haven't heard of an attempt to enforce this clause.
posted by mwhybark at 10:54 PM on November 13, 2010


Noted mifian Scalzi (who not posting here as he is writing cool new sf novels) suggests ''here’s what I would do: Have my agent schedule a meeting with him for the clear and specific purpose of kicking him hard and square in the balls."
posted by sammyo at 9:31 AM on November 14, 2010


It occurs to me hopelessly late in the day that this is so patently absurd that it might just be a publicity stunt.

Speaking for self, I had utterly forgotten about Frey. Likewise, it took some prompting ot get the very literate Mrs Jones to remember the scandal. Now we are once more fully Frey aware. Not that this will get him us as readers, but the fellow does just strike one as a possible adherent of the no-such-thing-as-bad-publicity school of PR.

And if someone actually takes him up on his offer, well, that's just gravy.

Meantime, it might be interesting to see if his book sales or speaking fees spike in the next few weeks or months.
posted by IndigoJones at 10:43 AM on November 14, 2010


might be just a publicity stunt. (mind your modifiers!)
posted by IndigoJones at 10:45 AM on November 14, 2010


Indigo Jones, that had occurred to me as well. I had no idea James Frey had written a YA novel under a pseudonym, for instance. Not that I would have bought the book without his connection to it, let alone now that I know he wrote it - but I'm clearly not representative of the typical reading public.

It also occurs to me that this is a great way to attach his name to this I Am Number 4 thing and promote/plug it in a relatively subtle way. Sucks for the MFA students whose time was wasted, but yeah.
posted by Sara C. at 10:54 AM on November 14, 2010


Excellent! Great minds and all that.

(Is there a typical reading public? I like to think not.)
posted by IndigoJones at 4:16 PM on November 14, 2010


Makes me think of Damien Hirst's dot paintings:

Recalling his Spot paintings, for which he first became known in the Nineties, he says: "I only painted the first five and I was like, 'f*** this', I hated it. As soon as I sold one, I used the money to pay people to make them. They were better at it than me. I get bored. I get very impatient."

(Not that there aren't a thousand other examples of contracted labor in art, but that's the first one that came to mind.)
posted by fiercecupcake at 9:17 AM on November 16, 2010


« Older Judd Apatow made a public service announcement for...  |  100 million just doesn't get w... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments