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)