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Archives: January 2006

Freywatch: The Agent Speaks!

Brillstein-Grey literary agent Kassie Evashevski breaks her silence in an exclusive interivew with Publishers Weekly e-i-c Sara Nelson. Until now, Evashevski had not commented about her role in James Frey’s rise to literary stardom, but now that she’s “sort[ed] out for myself what was happening,” she’s ready to address those reports of how A Million Little Pieces (“the most visceral and vivid description of drug addiction I had ever read”) was being shopped as both novel and memoir:

“Early in the submission process, James raised the issue of whether he could publish it as an autobiographical novel—ONLY, he said, to spare his family undue embarrassment, NOT because it wasn’t true. I told him I would bring it up with a few publishers, which I did, and the response was unanimous: if the book is true, it should be published as a memoir. James personally explained to his editor that the events depicted in the book took place as described. Based on the information given us by the author, [editor] Sean McDonald and [publisher] Nan Talese believed in good faith they were buying a memoir, just as I believed I was selling them one.”

After all the revelations, Evashevski no longer trusts her former client enough to feel like she can continue repping his work, but she still thinks he’s talented: “[I] suspect we haven’t heard the last of James Frey,” she says.

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Freywatch: UK publisher pulls head out of sand

So remember last week when we essentially laughed in the face of Frey’s UK publisher John Murray for insisting that the controversy didn’t extend across the Atlantic? Well evidently they realized how stupid they sounded and now they, too, will be issuing further editions of A MILLION LITTLE PIECES with an author’s note “prominently included.”

In a statement released by the publisher and picked up by the Bookseller, m.d. Roland Philipps said: “The controversy over James Frey’s memoir has been followed closely at John Murray and Hodder Headline. It is not the policy or stance of the company to publish non-fiction books where the accuracy of the facts as the author knows them is in doubt.”

The author’s note — and you know, for all that everyone’s making statements about the fact that one will be written, has anyone actually seen a draft of the damn thing? — will eventually be prominently displayed at Hodder Headline’s website. Assuming, of course, Frey actually writes it…

Class Action Suit against Scholastic

Is there any child who hasn’t been a part of Scholastic’s in-school book club, where you get their flyers order books and enjoy them? Well, it looks like it’s gotten bit out of hand as the children’s book publishing company has been slapped with a class-action lawsuit on the grounds that they “use its marketing presence within elementary schools to convince parents to purchase educational products, and then bombards parents with unsolicited goods, demanding payment in violation of state and federal law.” It’s hardly the first time Scholastic has been in trouble, having recently settled another lawsuit for $710,000.

The crux of the problem has to do with negative billing — you get a free item, they the company sends more stuff and a bill to follow while hiding opt-out clauses deep in the fine print. And when clients tried to cancel their membershipt, according to the suit, “they were harassed, deceived, intimidated, and threatened.”

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court in Seattle by Nick Styant-Browne of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro and Sim Osborn, managing partner of Osborn Machler, seeks to represent and to recover money lost for all those who received and were charged for unsolicited goods from Scholastic in the United States. More information is available, and a way to join in on the lawsuit, at Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro’s website.

Freywatch: Ladies Love Cool James

keller.jpgOprah may be supermegapissed at James Frey these days, which probably harshed her birthday buzz Sunday, but a few other women in her general age bracket have taken a more sympathetic view. Pulitzer-winning Chicago Tribune culture critic Julia Keller (left) still believes after all that’s been said and done that “the guy can write,” describing A Million Little Pieces as “a whopping good book, a book that snatches you up and deposits you summarily in hell, a book that rocks and sings and repulses and enchants.”

“Maybe so, say Frey’s fiercest critics [Keller adds]. But people didn’t buy the book for its literary delights; they bought it because they thought it was the gospel truth, plain and simple. Really? The bookstores are full of books just bursting with firm, indisputable, unassailable, irrefutable truths. Those books don’t sell the millions of copies that Frey’s did.”

pattidavis.jpgMeanwhile, Patti Davis (right) tells Newsweek web readers she knows what Frey’s going through, sort of, because she wrote a novel everybody was sure had to be real. “Very few writers hit it out of the ballpark the first time,” she says. “James Frey did. I was in awe of the book as a writer, and grateful for it as a recovered drug addict…No one could have made up what he wrote.” She’s still not convinced all this hoopla over the distortions is necessary: “I don’t care how many days Frey did or did not spend in jail. I care that he keeps writing with a heart that doesn’t hold back.”

It’s Miller Time

Back in the early days of litblogging, it seemed that a day could hardly pass before someone was getting upset, indignant or just plain cranky about what Laura Miller had written in the New York Times. The ire has lessened a lot in the intervening years but one has good reason to suspect the critical level will rise again in the face of yesterday’s Publishers Marketplace Deal Lunch.

Miller (who’s also Salon’s Books Editor) has decided to extend her critical forays into book format. In a pre-empt, Little, Brown’s Michael Pietsch bought her “autobiographical literary criticism” of THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE, appropriately called THE MAGICIAN’S BOOK. The pitch goes on to call it “the elusive power of story and magic that makes you fall in love with any book,” which sounds fun but seems a rather flimsy construct at first glance.

Then again, I’m more amused in the face of anonymous literary agent Miss Snark’s recent rant about book reviewers/editors doubling as authors, even going so far as to create a mock conversation:

Ring! Ring!

Editor: Hello

Miss Snark: I have a delicous new novel from a fresh voice. You’ll love it, I know cause you love novels about pigs that fly and live on Park Avenue and perambulate through the park.

Editor: Well…

Miss Snark: oh, and I should also mention, he’s the chief book reviewer for Time Magazine.

Editor: We’ll take world rights for six figures, Alex.

Not that she was actually talking about Lev Grossman, of course…

The Publisher as Plagiarist

It all started when Kirkus children’s book editor Karen Breen got a copy of Harriet Ziefert’s A Snake Is Totally Tail for review and realized that the book seemed awfully similar to an out-of-print children’s book by Judi Barrett — with the exact same title. And as the Book Standard’s Kimberly Maul reveals, “12 of the 23 lines in Barrett’s version are repeated in Ziefert’s, including identical concluding lines: “A dinosaur is entirely extinct. This book is finally finished.” Furthermore, “in 11 of the 12 instances in which an animal is mentioned in both books, the language is duplicated word for word, for instance: “A crab is conspicuously claws,” “a duck is quantities of quack” and “a porcupine is piles of prickles.”

As a result, Blue Apple Books won’t publish Ziefert’s book, set for release in April, after all. Which would be all noble and altruistic but for the fact that Ziefert, a longtime children’s book writer whose books have been published by HarperCollins Random House, Simon & Schuster and Houghton Mifflin, runs Blue Apple Books.

The book was taken off the publishing schedule in enough time so that only advance copies were made available to reviewers, but don’t expect Kirkus to review the book anytime soon. “…[T]here’s no point now,” Breen said. “I don’t know whether to be outraged, mystified or what. Part of me is insulted because those of us in this business know our books. It was because I knew the book that I noticed something was wrong.”

Authors With Brimfuls of Celeb Sexcapades

There’s nothing much we can add to Gawker’s video footage of Samantha Knoop pretending to be “JT LeRoy” at the Sundance film festival (confirmed by the Observer), so we’ll just have to make do with comparing LeRoy’s fabricated tale of a fling with a closeted celebrity to yesterday’s Page Six revelations about New York restaurant critic Gael Greene’s stories concerning her carnal exploits with Clint Eastwood, Elvis Presley, and porn star Jamie Gillis. Not that we don’t believe Greene—far from it; we just wanted to give Knoop a visual pointer on how to age gracefully if she’s bound and determined to keep this up.


Wackiest Fake Writer Yet: “Nazi Like Me”

Jacques Pluss got himself dropped from the history department of Fairleigh Dickinson University last year when campus officials discovered he was a high-ranking member of the National Socialist Movement (or, as they maintained, around that time, because they officially banned him from teaching due to excessive absences, not for his political beliefs). Now Pluss has come forward with his side of the story, in which he cites French deconstructionists and Romantic poets for helping him realize “any attempt to understand a group, a movement, or an individual psyche, would have to include becoming, as much as an individual can, the subject under study.”

So when he sent in that application to join the neo-Nazi organization, and when he became a featured broadcaster on their online radio show, he was just doing research. And then he claimed to have outed himself to Fairleigh Dickinson’s administration as a “literary experiment,” after which he dropped out of the little Hitler club. Except that almost everybody, from the academics to the white supremacists, wants to go on record as being convinced that Pluss is a self-published nutcase rather than a scholar with a radical methodology. Miriam Burstein, an English professor at SUNY-Brockport, offers one of the more measured responses, suggesting merely that Pluss’ rationalizations for his behavior demonstrate “a lower-division undergraduate’s understanding of Romantic authorship.” Pluss recently did an interview with Inside Higher Ed where he claimed his activities were worthwhile because “his findings were significant.” So what were they?

“There is nothing romantic about putting on a Nazi uniform and playing Third Reich. That ended in 1945. There are connections between white power groups that reach far and wide, and include a sort of spider web across America—skinhead groups, National Socialist groups that don’t use uniforms, and so forth.”

Well, thanks for clearing that up, Jacques; some of us might have been a bit confused.

Why Brooklyn Says Frey’s Fiction

As promised last Friday, the Brooklyn Public Library has issued an official statement regarding the decision to reclassify A Million Little Pieces as a work of fiction. Here’s the word from BPL chief of staff Dionne Mack-Harvin:

“It is important that the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) classifies books in its collection in a way that reflects the community’s expectations. When BPL learned of public and publishing industry concerns of the discrepancies in James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces, we felt it necessary to react in a way that would assure Brooklyn’s library users that the information they want and need is easily available and accessible within a clear and truthful classification system.”

Ahhhh, but what’re they going to do about Nasdijj?

Wendy Wasserstein, 1950-2006

Pulitzer-winning playwright Wendy Wasserstein died earlier today “after a bout with lymphoma,” according to her NYT obituary. Wasserstein was best known as the author of plays such as The Heidi Chronicles, but was also about to make her debut as an novelist with Elements of Style, a comedy of Upper East Side manners scheduled for April 2006 release by Knopf. Despite what it referred to as “a disconcerting number of false notes,” Publishers Weekly was largely enthusiastic about her fiction-writing debut, dubbing it “witty and entertaining.” Obviously, Wasserstein’s ten-city reading tour has been scrapped, but Knopf’s publicity department had no comment about what would become of the other promotional efforts for what was sure to have been and may well remain a major spring release.