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James Frey: A Note to My Readers

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A note to the reader (translated by T.):

A Million Little Pieces is (not) about my memories of my time in a drug and alcohol treatment center (I passed by one day on my way to Starbucks). As has been accurately revealed by two (bastard) journalists at an Internet Web site, and subsequently acknowledged by me(Oprah made me), during the process of writing the book, I embellished(flat out lied about) many details about my (someone I met at a frat party’s) past experiences, and altered others (I also heard at that party. Man that was a great kegger!) in order to serve what I felt was the greater purpose (my ego) of the book. I sincerely apologize to those readers who have been disappointed by my actions (sorry suckas, no refund for you).

I first sat down to write the book in the spring of 1997 (just after my Mom made me a bitchin’ grilled cheese). I wrote what is now the first forty pages of it (well, what would have been the first forty pages, if that editor didn’t “fix” it). I stopped because I didn’t feel ready to continue to do it (it was nap time), didn’t think I was ready to express some of the trauma I had experienced (My Mom left the crusts on! Can you believe it?). I started again in the fall of 2000. I had been working in the film industry (getting coffees) and was deeply unsatisfied with what I was doing (getting coffees). I had wanted to write books (because some chick said it was cool) and was writing films (because some ex-girlfriend liked Quentin T). I saved enough money (my allowance) to give myself eighteen months (not counting naps) to write the book.

I didn’t initially think of what I was writing as nonfiction or fiction (I didn’t know the difference, and I still don’t), memoir or autobiography (auto…what?). I wanted to use my (well, not mine exactly) experiences to tell my story about addiction (to hot Cocoa with marshmallows) and alcoholism (I drank six beers once, in one night!), about recovery (my tummy hurt from those beers), about family and friends (those kids behind the 7-11 are way cool) and faith and love (for myself), about redemption and hope (I get rich). I wanted to write, in the best-case scenario, a book that would change lives (well, just mine), would help people who were struggling, would inspire them in some way (to pay me). I wanted to write a book that would detail the fight addicts and alcoholics experience in their minds and in their bodies and detail why that fight is difficult to win (or so I heard some drunk complain about when he begged me for some change). I wanted to write a book that would help the friends and family members of addicts and alcoholics understand that fight (because they’re first hand knowledge is not enough).

As I wrote, I worked primarily from (someone else’s) memory. I also used supporting documents (somewhere around here, I can’t find where they are because my Mom keeps cleaning my room), such as medical records, therapists’ notes, and personal journals, when I had them (or made them up), and when they were relevant. I wanted the stories in the book to ebb and flow (cool words I heard some surfer say), to have dramatic arcs (I learned about them in Writing for Dummies”), to have the tension that all great (keg party) stories require. I altered (all) events and details all the way through the book. Some of those include my role in a train accident that killed a girl from my school (I’m a sick bastard). While I was not, in real-life, directly involved in the accident, I was profoundly affected by it (and thought it would be good for sympathy sex). Others involved jail time I (walked through) served, which in the book is three months, but which in reality was only several hours (I had to sit next to a bad man), and certain criminal events (I said a dirty word around a cop. Yeah, he heard it…I think), including an arrest in Ohio, which was embellished (out right lied about). There has been much discussion, and dispute, about a scene in the book involving a root-canal procedure that takes place without anesthesia. I wrote that passage from memory (man, I’m such a badass in print), and have medical records that seem (don’t) to support it. My account has been questioned by the treatment facility, and they believe (know) my memory may (is) be flawed.

In addition, names and identifying characteristics of all the treatment patients in the book and all of the facility’s employees, characteristics including occupations, ages, places of residence, and places and means of death, were changed to protect (make my lame story seem kick ass) the anonymity of those (never) involved in this period in my (okay, not my) life. This was done in the spirit of respecting every individual’s anonymity (because those people would kick my ass), which is something we (they) were urged to do while in treatment, and to continue to do after we (they) left.

I made other alterations in my portrayal of myself (duh!), most of which portrayed me in ways that made me tougher and more daring and more aggressive than in reality I was, or I am (it’s MY story, and I can be tough if I want to). People cope with adversity in many different ways, ways that are deeply personal (or so that addiction website said). I think one way people cope is by developing a skewed perception of themselves that allows them to overcome and do things they thought they couldn’t do before. My mistake, and it is one I deeply regret (now that I’ve been called out on National T.V.), is writing about the person I created in my mind to help me cope (when I had no friends), and not the person who went through the experience (that would be the dork I was before I made millions).

There is much debate now about the respective natures of works of memoir, nonfiction, and fiction (a debate my agent won’t explain to me). That debate will likely continue for some time. I believe, and I understand others (everyone else in the world) strongly disagree, that memoir allows the writer to work from memory instead of from a strict journalistic or historical standard. It is about impression (lies) and feeling, about individual recollection (or lack of it). This memoir is a combination of facts about my (so-called) life and certain embellishments (all lies). It is a subjective truth (is that possible? Subjective truth? Is that like Objective lies…wait I’m confused), altered by the mind of a recovering drug addict and alcoholic (who I saw once on Dateline). Ultimately, it’s a story (like a bedtime story), and one that I could not have written without having lived the life I’ve lived (community service pairs you up with some real criminals you know?).

I never expected the book to become as successful (**cough-lies-cough**) as it has, to sell anywhere close to the number of copies it has sold. The experience has been shocking for me, incredibly humbling (profitable), and at times terrifying (my agent made me talk to real addicts when they asked me to sign their books…ewww). Throughout this process, I have met thousands of readers (suckers), and heard from many thousands more, who were deeply affected by the book (like I care), and whose lives were changed by it. I am deeply sorry to any readers who I have disappointed (no, I will not give you your money back) and I hope these revelations will not alter their faith in the book’s central message—that drug addiction and alcoholism can be overcome (I guess), and there is always a path to redemption if you fight to find one (but don’t ask me ‘cuz I don’t know what you’re crying about). Thirteen years after I left (walked by) treatment, I’m still on the path (to no longer needing an allowance), and I hope, ultimately (with your purchase of my other crap book), I’ll get there.

James Frey (as transcribed by T)
New York
January 2006

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About T Stoddart

  • http://www.thebmrant.com/ matt

    I’m still trying to figure out why this story has people so upset. The guy wrote a BOOK. And apparently he told some fibs. Anyone who truly feels crushed about this needs to take a serious look at themselves in the mirror. I’m more worried about them than I am about James Frey.

    There are roughly 6,000,000 more important things going on in the world.

    The above article was pretty funny. I’m just looking for a place to rant about all of the book snobs and housewives who are devastated that they trusted an author, and suddenly their world is crashing in because it’s not all true.

  • http://bonamassablog.us Joanie

    Beautiful, T! Bravo!

  • T

    Matt, rant away my friend rant away!

    Joanie thanks for commenting, I bow to you.

  • http://patfish.blogspot.com/ Pat Fish

    I think your translation is spot on.

  • Barb

    I just finished the book last night and had not heard the book was fabricated until this morning while watching the news Although having seen the addition crisis first hand in my own family life I knew the guy was full of shit and actually found the book to be boring and fiqure the only people stupid enough to buy to the bullshit are people who have not seen the severity of addition come on if your ten year old was drunk everyday you wouldn’t notice! give me a break and shame on you mister Frey for profiting from a real live american crisis Iam glad I borrowed the book and didn’t pay for it IF you think your helping anyone with your bullshit shame on you PS their is a god and he is judging you.

  • http://musical-guru.blogspot.com Michael J. West

    I’m laughing so hard at this that I’ve got the hiccups.

  • Lyz

    Umm…HILARIOUS!

  • http://asouthernbelle.blogspot.com Susan R-G

    T., I think you captured the (previously) unwritten thoughts behind this letter perfectly.

    Bravo, T., Bravo!

  • zingzing

    barb–wow. our god is a mean old god.

  • http://murasaki.blog-city.com Purple Tigress

    LOL! Please…more translations!

  • Ja ja

    Ha ha ha ha hah ahaa….

    That was hilariuous!!!!

  • Eve

    That was extemely funny, and true! You really captured my sentiments about this whole duplicitous affair.

    When the controversy first surfaced, I had mixed feelings as I was halfway through “Pieces,” was (naively) buying into James’ story (feeling sympathetic toward him) and was hoping he would end up okay. As events unfolded, he seemed lamer and more duplicitous. By time of the Oprah tongue-lashing, he still seemed like a liar, and, sadder he seemed pretty pathetic. As he hunched over on the divan, he actually seemed to recede from the camera (turning away to avoid being beaten about the face by the big “O”).

    Ultimately, the book world is probably due for a discussion of what belongs in a memoir and what is going too far. For those who don’t understand what is so bad about a work of fiction being disguised as a memoir, I can only say I hope they never have to be in a “life and death struggle” in which their only source of inspiration to survive is revealed to them to be a fraud who, after 13 years of sobriety, is entirely unable to comprehend or take responsibility for his fabrications. As a person with 3 years sobriety, I am pretty sure I would not consider this person to be on the road to recovery.

  • Ron

    hilarity aside, and it was funny, can you believe what a shite writer Frey is? why keep using 2 forms of the same word in the same sentence (sell & sold, portrayal & portrayed). and the run-on-sentences are plentiful.

    one of my favorite sections:
    “I had been working in the film industry and was deeply unsatisfied with what I was doing. I had wanted to write books and was writing films.”

    Brevity is certainly not one of his strong suits.

    Thanks for that illuminating background. Maybe that’s why this note is nearly 1000 words (!), instead of the 16 it should have been:

    I am a fraud. Sorry you bought my book. You can return it. I will disappear.

  • T

    Ron:

    i couldn’t agree more. i’m sure his editor had a field day with his original manuscript. But if you read his drival, you see pages of single words repeated over and over.

    the man has no skill as a writer. he can’t even craft an apology letter. in fact, i’ve received more heartfelt confessions from girls i dated in gradeschool.

    Ron-we all know two things now: lying makes you rich, and you don’t have to know how to write to have a best selling book.

  • Ron

    Good stuff, T. I’ve been passing your link around to friends who also read the book and they’re getting a kick out of your approach. Keep it up!

  • T

    Ron you rock (no translation needed) ;-)

  • KYS

    VERY funny!

    The narrator in my head read this like the Subliminal Man character on SNL.

    Thanks!

  • http://www.jocoschenker.typepad.com joanne

    This is hilarious!

    I was so upset when I heard how he fabricated so much of the memoir…Talk about bursting someone’s bubble…

    Maybe you should do one on
    “My Friend Leonard” now!!!

  • http://www.undiepress.com Tim

    High-larious. I’ve been pretty peeved by this, as it gives us honest liars a bad name. Thanks for the laugh.

  • paola

    Ok …. who are we to say that this book was fabricated or not James Frey clearly states that he is a pathological liar…. pathological liars usually believe the stuff they are lying about are true. At the same time whatever he lied about probably made the book what it is I think it is outstanding and i havent even finished it yet. I am already getting ready to read my friend leonard. He is an amazing writer and maybe what he lied about is actually what he felt was happening at the treatment center and at the dentist. As for his criminal record who the hell cares. he over came hi addictions that is inspirational and that is all that matters.

  • T

    Paola:

    Wake up. You are a victim, and a sucker. If you think James is a pathological liar then how do you know he actually was an addict? How do you come to the conclusion that he overcame anything?

    Where do his lies end and begin? If you are going to waste your money on his bullshit, then you need help.

    As for him being an amazing writer…that makes me laugh so hard I want to vomit. James couldn’t even craft an apology letter that made sense.

    My advice to you is to take off your sympathy glasses and get some perspective. You justify his lies for the greater good, that is messed up. Would you give someone in your life the green light to lie to you everyday because they make you feel good about yourself? I got two words for you: Dr. Phil

    And finally, buy a book from a real writer. If you need help with that just let me know.