James Frey Makes Me Feel Dirty

Spamming the news feed lately with all these blog posts, but I had to get my word out on this because it really has put me in a dilemma. I was too young at the time when A MILLION LITTLE PIECES came out so I never read it, but I was quite aware of the controversy around it. It made sense why people made such a big deal about it. They felt betrayed that something they believed to be true was just completely fiction.

My twitter feed has been going crazy about this new controversy behind James Frey. Up until today, I had no idea that he had any involvement with I AM NUMBER FOUR. I had no idea that it was Frey’s idea and that he had contracted a young author to work on the novel. I was honestly such a huge fan of the book and now I feel like I have been tricked horribly.

At first, I was truly intrigued behind the whole pseudonym deal behind I AM NUMBER FOUR. I was truly fascinated and I wondered why the author would choose to write under a pen name. I thought that it was cool that the pen name just so happened to be an alien in the book. But now that I know it was chosen just because James Frey thought it would be cool and partially because he wanted to hide the true author of the series, Jobie Hughes, and his involvement with Full Fathom Five.

“The book would be published under a pseudonym, and the contract stipulated that Hughes would not be allowed to speak publicly about the project or confirm his attachment to it. There was a $250,000 penalty Frey could invoke if Hughes violated his confidentiality terms.” – NYMag

I feel really dirty. Honestly, a lot of work has been put into this book and I absolutely hate how all these articles about James Frey has make me think otherwise. James Frey does reserve recognition because the idea behind I AM NUMBER FOUR is brilliant. But I feel like he’s doing all of this for money. Not because he thinks the genre of Young Adult literature is great and because he loves writing for children and teens. He thinks that is the market’s biggest audience is at in the moment just like they used to be focused on memoirs.

From a college student’s perspective, he is giving Hughes and these kids a great deal. Not only are they given a chance to be published, it also means a way to get out of these ridiculous debts that college leaves us with. Getting published is hard. After my internship at Scholastic, I just got rid of it from my agenda because chances are that slim. If you are a young wannabe writer, your manuscript next to James Frey can make it possible for you. But the contract for these book deals aren’t even sure deals that you’ll be able to pay your college debts. From the sound of it, James Frey can easily screw you over:

“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.'” – NYMag

And from my understanding of the NY Mag article, Hughes has pulled out from the project? Is he no longer writing the future books? Clarify me on this if I understood it wrong, but clearly this is evidence that working with Frey is a bad idea to start with. But taking a risk vs. paying off your college debts for the next half of your life? I guess it is an easy choice to make.

I am not arguing that the young adult book industry isn’t over-commercialized. I am fully aware that there are a ton of paranormal romance novels out there that are being published just because of the Twilight hype. I try to avoid these genres, or if I do read it, I try to read it objectively. I want to pick up books because they are well-written. It’s hard to find something original and fresh out there when its all about the vampires or some sort of mythical creature.

Should I boycott I AM NUMBER FOUR because of James Frey? Just as lit agent Kassie Evashevski says of her former client, “it became impossible for me to maintain a relationship once the trust had been broken” (NYMag). I am encompassed by a feeling of being betrayed by a close friend.

This should not change the way I feel about the book. I thought it was fun and enjoyable and I was looking forward for more. But do I really want to support Frey’s idea of the YA market? I hate the idea of YA literature as a corporate factory where authors are working on an assembly line and novels are just being chugged out for the sake of selling them to a large market. I want my YA authors to be passionate about what they are writing, publishing their dream novel. Seriously, James Frey… “Think happy meals”?!?

I get so mad to think about how children’s publishing industry is turning out because of Frey. I know that not all editors and publishing houses will go for these books, but this is the industry I want to work in! And I swear that once I am in the industry and I make a name for myself, I won’t publish books just because of the commercial profit it will make. I am still determined to find the next best thing – even if it isn’t a New York Times best seller. I have hope for the future of YA literature. I have hope for the struggling writers who are writing beautiful prose but are not getting the attention because it can’t sell. It’s not about the money.

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