James Frey

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This article is about the author of A Million Little Pieces. For other uses, see James Frey (disambiguation).
James Frey
Born James Christopher Frey
(1969-09-12) September 12, 1969 (age 45)
Cleveland, Ohio, United States
  • Writer
  • Media producer
Nationality American
Notable works

James Christopher Frey (born September 12, 1969) is an American writer and the founder and CEO of Full Fathom Five, a transmedia production company responsible for the New York Timesbestselling young adult series "The Lorien Legacies", the first book of which I Am Number Four (2010) was made into a feature film by DreamWorks Studios.

His two first books A Million Little Pieces (2003) and My Friend Leonard (2005), were marketed as memoirs and very successful, but large parts of the stories were later found to be exaggerated or fabricated.[1] His 2008 novel Bright Shiny Morning was also a bestseller.[2]


Frey graduated from Denison University in Granville, Ohio, in 1992. Before Frey began his writing career, he held several jobs in the Chicago area while studying at the Art Institute of Chicago. Frey then moved to Los Angeles and found work as a screenwriter, director, and producer. In the spring of 1996, Frey started writing A Million Little Pieces, originally presented as a memoir of his experiences during his treatment for alcohol and drug addiction at a rehabilitation center in Minnesota.

Frey also wrote the screenplays to the films Kissing a Fool and Sugar: The Fall of the West.[3] Both were produced in 1998, the latter of which he directed as well.

Doubleday published A Million Little Pieces in April 2003, and Amazon.com editors selected it as their favorite book of that year. In The New Yorker, Laura Miller called the book a "frenzied, electrifying description of the experience".[4]

In 2004, Frey wrote My Friend Leonard, which continued where A Million Little Pieces left off, and centered on the father-son relationship which Frey and his friend Leonard, from Hazelden, shared. My Friend Leonard was published in June 2005 by Riverhead, and became a bestseller. Amazon.com editors selected My Friend Leonard as their No.5 favorite book of 2005.

In 2007, Frey wrote Bright Shiny Morning, which was published in May 2008 by HarperCollins.

Frey's books have been published in thirty-one languages worldwide.

A self-professed atheist, Frey has stated that he does not believe in an afterlife and that his work has reflected his attempt to write about a god that he "might actually believe in."[5]


Media skepticism[edit]

On January 8, 2006, The Smoking Gun website published an article called "A Million Little Lies: Exposing James Frey's Fiction Addiction", alleging that Frey fabricated large parts of his memoirs, including details about his criminal record.[6] One incident in the book that came under particular scrutiny was a 1986 train-automobile collision in St. Joseph Township, Michigan.[7]

The website alleged that Frey had never been incarcerated and that he greatly exaggerated the circumstances of a key arrest detailed in the memoir: hitting a police officer with his car, while high on crack, which led to a violent melee with multiple officers and an 87-day jail sentence. In the police report that TSG uncovered, Frey was held at a police station for no more than five hours before posting a bond of a few hundred dollars for some minor offenses. The arresting officer, according to TSG, recalled Frey as having been polite and cooperative.

The book's hardcover (Doubleday) and paperback (Anchor Books) publishers initially stood by Frey, but examination of the evidence caused the publishers to alter their stances. They released a statement noting, "When the Smoking Gun report appeared, our first response, given that we were still learning the facts of the matter, was to support our author. Since then, we have questioned him about the allegations and have sadly come to the realization that a number of facts have been altered and incidents embellished."[8] As a consequence, the publishers decided to include a publisher's note and an author's note from Frey as disclaimers to be included in future publications.[9]

The Minneapolis Star Tribune had questioned Frey's claims as early as 2003. Frey responded by saying, "I've never denied I've altered small details."[10] In a May 2003 interview, Frey claimed that his publisher had fact-checked his first book. He stated, "The only things I changed were aspects of people that might reveal their identity. Otherwise, it's all true."[6]

On January 11, 2006, Frey appeared with his mother on Larry King Live on CNN. He defended his work while claiming that all memoirs alter minor details for literary effect. Frey consistently referred to the reality of his addiction, which he said was the principal point of his work. Winfrey called in at the end of the show defending the essence of Frey's book and the inspiration it provided to her viewers, but said she relied on the publisher to assess the book's authenticity.[11]

Live confrontation with Winfrey[edit]

As more accusations against the book continued to surface, Winfrey invited Frey on her show. She wanted to hear from him directly whether he had lied to her (and her viewers) or "simply" embellished minor details, as he had told Larry King. Frey admitted to several of the allegations against him. He acknowledged that The Smoking Gun had been accurate when the website reported that Frey had only spent a few hours in jail rather than the 87 days Frey claimed in his memoirs.[12]

Winfrey then brought out Frey's publisher Nan Talese to defend her decision to classify the book as a memoir. Talese admitted that she had done nothing to check the book's veracity, despite the fact that her representatives had assured Winfrey's staff that the book was indeed non-fiction and described it as "brutally honest" in a press release.

David Carr of the New York Times wrote, "Both Mr. Frey and Ms. Talese were snapped in two like dry winter twigs".[13] "Oprah annihilated Frey", proclaimed Larry King.[14] New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote, "It was a huge relief, after our long national slide into untruth and no consequences, into Swift boating and swift bucks, to see the Empress of Empathy icily hold someone accountable for lying",[15] and the Washington Post's Richard Cohen was so impressed by the confrontation that he crowned Winfrey "Mensch of the Year".[16]


On January 31, 2006, it was announced that Frey had been dropped by his literary manager, Kassie Evashevski of Brillstein-Grey Entertainment, over matters of trust. In an interview with Publishers Weekly, Evashevski said that she had "never personally seen a media frenzy like this regarding a book before". Though she will no longer be representing him, when asked to reflect on Frey's future as a writer, she stated, "I still believe he's a very talented writer and suspect we haven't heard the last of James Frey."

On February 1, 2006, Random House published Frey's note to the reader which was subsequently included in later editions of the book. In the note, Frey apologized for fabricating portions of his book and for having made himself seem "tougher and more daring and more aggressive than in reality I was, or I am." He added, "People cope with adversity in many different ways, ways that are deeply personal...My mistake...is writing about the person I created in my mind to help me cope, and not the person who went through the experience". Frey admitted that he had literary reasons for his fabrications as well: "I wanted the stories in the book to ebb and flow, to have dramatic arcs, to have the tension that all great stories require". He also said memoirists had a right to draw upon their memories, in addition to documents, in creating their written works.[17]

On February 24, 2006, Frey's publicist revealed that Penguin imprint Riverhead had dropped out of a two-book, seven-figure deal with Frey. Riverhead had previously published Frey's bestselling 2005 book, My Friend Leonard.

On September 12, 2006, Frey and publisher Random House, Inc. reached a tentative legal settlement, whereby readers who felt that they had been defrauded by Frey's A Million Little Pieces would be offered a refund. In order to receive the refund, customers had to submit a proof of purchase, pieces of the book itself (page 163 from the hardcover or the front cover from the paperback), and complete a sworn statement indicating that they had purchased the book under the assumption that it was a memoir.[18]

On July 28, 2007, at a literary convention in Texas, Nan Talese blasted Winfrey for being "mean and self-serving", having a "holier-than-thou" attitude as well as having "fiercely bad manners" during Winfrey's debate against Talese and Frey on January 26, 2006. Talese said she and Frey had been led to believe the show was going to be a panel discussion on "Truth in America". Just before air time, both Talese and Frey were told the topic of the show had been changed to "The James Frey Controversy". According to Talese, at the end of the show, Winfrey pulled Frey aside and said "I know it was rough, but it's just business". Talese stated that Winfrey needed to apologize for her behavior on the show. However, Joyce Carol Oates said, "This is an ethical issue which can be debated passionately and with convincing arguments on both sides. In the end, Oprah Winfrey had to defend her own ethical standards of truth on her television program, which was courageous of her". Talese was unapologetic about publishing Frey's A Million Little Pieces and commented that the book had great value for anyone who must deal with a loved one who is an addict.[19]

On November 2, 2007, the Associated Press published a story about a judgment in favor of readers who felt deceived by Frey's claims of A Million Little Pieces being a memoir. Although the publisher, Random House, had set aside $2.35 million for lawsuits, only 1,729 readers came forward to receive a refund for the book. The refund offer was extended to anyone who had purchased the book prior to Frey's disclosing the falsehoods therein. Chicago lawyer Larry D. Drury, defending the plaintiff, received approximately $1.3 million for legal fees, distribution of the legal notice, and charitable donations to three charities, while total claimants' refunds issued to readers only came to $27,348. The publisher also agreed to provide a disclosure at the beginning of the book, citing the somewhat fictitious nature of the text.[20]

In May 2009, Vanity Fair reported that Winfrey had called Frey and made a formal apology for blasting him on her show for this scandal,[21] and she made a televised apology in 2011.[22]

Winfrey conducted a two-part interview with Frey, which aired on Monday and Tuesday, May 16 and 17, 2011.[23]

Following the events of Frey's Oprah appearance, South Park created a parody of the events with their character Towelie, entitled "A Million Little Fibers".

Full Fathom Five[edit]

In 2009, Frey formed Full Fathom Five, a young adult novel publishing company that aimed to create highly commercial novels like Twilight. In November 2010, controversy arose when an MFA student who had been in talks to create content for the company released her extremely limiting contract online. The contract allows Frey license to remove an author from a project at any time, does not require him to give the author credit for their work, and only pays a standard advance of $250. A New York magazine article entitled "James Frey's Fiction Factory" gave more details about the company, including information about the highly successful "Lorien Legacies" series, a collaboration between MFA student Jobie Hughes and Frey. The article details how Frey removed Hughes from the project, allegedly during a screaming match between the two authors. In the article, Frey is accused of abusing and using MFA students as cheap labor to churn out commercial young adult books.[24][25]

Current work[edit]

In late 2007, Frey signed a new three-book, seven-figure deal with Harper Collins to release his novel, Bright Shiny Morning, which was published May 13, 2008.[26][27] Bright Shiny Morning appeared on the New York Times bestseller list, and has received mixed reviews. The New York Times's Janet Maslin, who had previously been one of Frey's detractors, gave the book a rave review.[28] Michelle Green of People magazine gave the novel an extremely positive review, calling Frey a "wildly talented storyteller", commenting that the novel is "so powerful it makes one wonder why he ever detoured into nonfiction".[29] In contrast, David L. Ulin of the Los Angeles Times called the novel "One of the worst I've ever read".[30] The New Yorker review described the novel as "banal".[31] On August 2, 2008, the Guardian UK says "Irvine Welsh is entranced by James Frey's tale of redemption – 'the literary comeback of the decade'. James Frey is probably one of the finest and most important writers to have emerged in recent years."[32] The first epigraph states: "Nothing in this book should be considered accurate or reliable."

In December 2008, Frey said he is working on an outline for a new novel, which he would depict as "the last book of the Bible", titled Illumination. He would show Jesus resurrected in New York City, living among prostitutes and the flotsam of the city.[33] It is called The Final Testament of the Holy Bible and the Gagosian Gallery announced the book would have a limited U.S. print run of 10,000 slipcased leatherette copies, as well as 1,000 collector's editions signed and numbered by the author. In the end, it is being published in the UK and was released on Good Friday, April 22, 2011. He is self-publishing e-editions of the book.[34]

On August 19, 2010, the New York Post's Page Six reported that Frey has teamed up with executive producers Mark Wahlberg and Steve Levinson to write the pilot for a one-hour drama for HBO that will focus on a behind-the-scenes look into the porn industry in Los Angeles. Frey described the show as "a sprawling epic about the porn business in LA. We're going to tell the type of stories no one else has told before, and go places no one has gone before."[35] In August 2012, Frey published "A Moving Story", chronicling the workplace organizing of a New York moving company, on the website Libcom.[36]

In January 2014, Niantic Labs announced Endgame: The Calling, an upcoming trilogy written by Frey and Nils Johnson-Shelton and published by HarperCollins, would be turned into an augmented reality game, as well as a movie.[37] The first book will launch on October 7, 2014.[38][needs update] The premise of the novel is that aliens created human life on Earth and 12 ancient lines are destined to train a player to fight to the death for the survival of their line once Endgame begins. The book series will also have clues which will lead one lucky winner to a cash prize.


References and footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ "The man who rewrote his life", Laura Barton, September 15, 2006, The Guardian
  2. ^ "Bright Shiny Morning-NY Times Bestseller". The New York Times. June 1, 2008. Retrieved May 12, 2012. 
  3. ^ Sugar: The Fall of the West at the Internet Movie Database
  4. ^ Barnes & Noble.com – Books: A Million Little Pieces, by James Frey, Paperback A Million Little Pieces became a bestseller, ultimately residing on The New York Times Best Seller List for 44 weeks, selling in excess of 4.5 million copies. In September 2005, Oprah Winfrey chose A Million Little Pieces for her monthly book club.
  5. ^ "James Frey on Religion, God and Death". YouTube. Retrieved October 24, 2014. 
  6. ^ a b Time Waster. "A Million Little Lies – January 8, 2006". Thesmokinggun.com. Retrieved May 12, 2012. 
  7. ^ A Million Little Lies – January 8, 2006
  8. ^ Burroughs, Augusten. "A Million Little Pieces (9780385507752): James Frey: Books". Amazon.com. Retrieved June 18, 2011. 
  9. ^ Kolhatkar, Sheelah (January 23, 2006). "The Awful Untruth". New York Observer. Archived from the original on February 2, 2006. 
  10. ^ "Is Minnesota memoir a million fabrications?". Minneapolis Star Tribune. January 11, 2006. Archived from the original on January 13, 2006. 
  11. ^ "Oprah Winfrey's Official Website – Live Your Best Life". Oprah.com. Retrieved June 18, 2011. 
  12. ^ "Oprah Winfrey's Official Website – Live Your Best Life". Oprah.com. Retrieved June 18, 2011. 
  13. ^ Carr, David (January 30, 2006). "How Oprahness trumped truthiness". The New York Times. Retrieved October 5, 2007. 
  14. ^ "Interview With Oprah Winfrey". Larry King Live (CNN). Retrieved May 5, 2010. 
  15. ^ Dowd, Maureen (January 8, 2006). "Oprah's Bunk Club". The New York Times. Retrieved October 5, 2007. 
  16. ^ Poniewozik, James (January 26, 2006). "Oprah Clarifies Her Position: Truth, Good. Embarrassing Oprah, Very Bad". Time. Retrieved October 5, 2007. 
  17. ^ "James Frey Admits Memoir's Alterations". Breitbart.com. Associated Press. February 1, 2006. Archived from the original on February 3, 2006. 
  18. ^ "Frey, Publisher Settle Suits Over 'Pieces'". MSNBC. September 12, 2006. Retrieved September 14, 2006. 
  19. ^ "Oprah vs. James Frey: The Sequel". Time. July 30, 2007. Retrieved July 30, 2007. 
  20. ^ "Judge Approves 'A Million Little Pieces' Refund Settlement for Disgruntled Readers". Fox News Channel. November 2, 2007. Retrieved November 3, 2007. 
  21. ^ "Oprah apologizes for slamming author James Frey". Yahoo!. Reuters. May 13, 2009. Archived from the original on May 21, 2009. 
  22. ^ Oprah Apologizes to James Frey, Oprah.com, May 17, 2011. Retrieved May 2013.
  23. ^ http://twitter.com/#!/Oprah
  24. ^ Mozes, Suzanne (November 12, 2010). "Inside Full Fathom Five, James Frey's Young-Adult-Novel Assembly Line". New York. Retrieved June 18, 2011. 
  25. ^ "Read the Brutal Contract from James Frey's Fiction Factory – Daily Intel". New York. Retrieved June 18, 2011. 
  26. ^ "'Million Little Pieces' author writing a novel". MSNBC. Associated Press. September 12, 2007. 
  27. ^ Motoko, Rich (September 13, 2007). "Book Deal for Writer Who Fabricated Parts of Memoir". The New York Times. 
  28. ^ Maslin, Janet; "Little Pieces of Los Angeles, Done His Way "; nytimes.com; May 12, 2008.
  29. ^ People; May 26, 2008; Page 60.
  30. ^ Ulin, David L. (May 13, 2008). "Bright Shiny Morning by James Frey". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved May 12, 2012. 
  31. ^ "listing for Bright Shiny Morning". Amazon.com. Retrieved May 12, 2012. 
  32. ^ "Saved by the City of Angels", Guardian UK Review, August 2008
  33. ^ "James Frey to write 'third book of the bible'", Guardian UK Review, December 2008
  34. ^ Oldenburg, Ann (March 14, 2011). "James Frey pens modern-day 'Holy Bible'". USA Today. 
  35. ^ "HBO working on a show about porn business". New York Post. August 19, 2010. 
  36. ^ "A Moving Story". Libcom. August 28, 2012. 
  37. ^ "New Project from Niantic Labs revealed: James Frey’s ENDGAME". Niantic Labs. January 15, 2014. Retrieved October 24, 2014. 
  38. ^ "Google and James Frey will turn 'Endgame' novels into an augmented reality world". The Verge. January 15, 2014. Retrieved October 24, 2014. 

External links[edit]