Saturday, September 09, 2006

Paying Out the Pieces

How many of you bought James Frey’s book, A Million Little Pieces? I didn’t, but the hoopla about the book caught my attention. There’s always been lingering questions about the lines between nonfiction, creative nonfiction and memoir. How exact is a memory? If an author researches extensively and then writes dialogue based on his/her best determination of what most likely was said (or done) is that nonfiction or is it creative nonfiction? And if nonfiction stands for the truth, then how can it be creative?

I think the trouble for Frey came from two places. One, he marketed the book to agents and editors as fiction. When multiple publishers refused it, he began calling it a nonfiction memoir. Not only did Frey obviously know he’d written it as fiction, the publisher who bought it knew. The second problem for Frey was that Oprah liked the book and put him on her show and he sold millions of copies because of that. If he’d remained a nobody and sold only a few hundred copies, the situation wouldn’t have caused such a stir. Now, I’m not saying that’s Oprah’s fault. In my opinion, it’s more of society’s fault or problem. If a writer fools me, but makes only a little bit of money, give him a slap on the wrist. If a writer fools me and makes millions, burn him. And it’s of course Frey’s fault. He knew, he knew, he knew, deep in his heart and soul that he had fictionalized too much of the book for it to be a true memoir.

But he wasn’t taken to task for plagiarism or slander, he was pursued for consumer fraud. They said he defrauded the book buyer. There now appears to be a pending agreement in the case. People who bought the book and thought it was a memoir can get their money back. They have to meet certain conditions, though.

This is the first time a case like this has been settled. And it has publishers a little concerned.

You can find out more about the settlement in yesterday’s The Deadbolt, Thursday’s MSN Money and on the pop culture website RadarOnline.

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