Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Matter of Integrity: James Frey and "Full Fathom Five"

Yesterday, I read the article in New York Magazine about James Frey's new fiction 'factory', Full Fathom Five.  To say that I'm dismayed is the understatement of the year.  This feel wrong on so many levels, I'm not even sure where to start.

A short summation of both his business model and the article:

James Frey (of the "A Million Little Pieces" memoir/not/Oprah controversy) has developed a book packaging business.  While work for hire contracts are not new to the publishing business, the terms of Frey's contract are quite poor to the writers he is wooing.  Frey is taking his business pitch to vulnerable, in-debt MFA students and is targeting the YA market for his stories.

My objections boil down to issues of integrity.

1.  By his own admission, Mr. Frey has lied in the past, and in his capacity as a writer. 

2.  Targeting vulnerable MFA students and dangling the promise of huge payoffs in the face of their large school debt feels manipulative.

3. Frey's choice to focus on YA fantasy/science fiction in this way, and choosing to hire inexperienced writers who do not know the genre simply because of market forces feels disrespectful to genre writers, YA readers, and the genre itself.

Yes, you could say this is a case of sour grapes:  I am a YA genre writer.  I have been working hard at my craft, have 6 completed novels, and my agent has been (as yet) unable to sell a story despite initial interest by the publishing houses.  So sure, it's hard not to squelch that pang of envy or feel as if the deck is stacked against the aspiring writer when I read that Frey's agent pitched the manuscript:

"as an anonymous collaboration between a New York Times best-selling author and a young up-and-coming writer. Publishing houses weren’t certain how to respond. Then, in June 2009, a bidding war ignited for the film rights, between J. J. Abrams and a joint proposal from Steven Spielberg and Michael Bay. Spielberg and Bay won, for a reported high-six-figure deal. This, in turn, sparked publishing interest, and HarperCollins won the book rights."
Yes, I can acknowledge my own jealousy as part of my reaction.  But it is not even remotely the largest part of my sadness and anger.  No, that is saved for the disrespect that Frey appears to have for young readers.  YA readers deserve the very best of what the writing world can offer. They deserve artistic integrity and honesty in every page.  They deserve stories that will continue to resonate in their lives through their adulthood.  They deserve more than the books Full Fathom Five will construct in their factory.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this post! We are dealing with this phenomena across many avenues: our music is "main stream" and boring; books are geared toward who will appeal to whatever instinct is prevalent. the greatest artists of our time are often squashed under the tastes of the mindless masses.

    Meanwhile, I'm wondering when I'll ever have a chance to read your books!