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Archives: January 2006

Monday Morning Freywatch: The fun continued after the show

Because it’s relegated to the bowels of cable, the extra edition of Oprah — Oprah After the Show – sometimes gets forgotten about. And it took Hillel Italie’s latest AP article — which led with Frey’s assertion that no, he definitely would not be writing a corrective book in spite of the clamoring to do so — to get me rooting around for a video clip of what happened when the audience stuck around to let James Frey have it (along with healthy doses of the speech equivalent of Michele Lee’s reprise of “I Believe in You” in HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING.)

Other highlights included Frey constantly stroking his beard and apologizing to readers after an angry blonde woman directed her utter fury at him, the Poynter Institute guy saying “losing your mojo” with a straight face, and Frank Rich continuing to be excessively jolly.

Though Nan Talese didn’t figure in the clip I saw, she stayed on for the “After the Show” proceedings, still claiming that she first learned of Frey’s fabrications when everyone else did. But Slate‘s Timothy Noah has good reason to believe that at the very least, Talese was stretching the truth, pointing to a Minneapolis Star-Tribune article from 2003 where Talese said almost the same thing to Deborah Caufield Rybak about A MILLION LITTLE PIECES ans she would to Oprah nearly 3 years later. Even more telling, Talese even brings up the idea of a disclaimer: “It’s a total slip-up that we didn’t have a disclaimer page,” she told the Star Trib. “I’m embarrassed.”

Said embarrassment didn’t just carry over, it was replaced by peer praise in a Friday morning meeting described in today’s WSJ Freygate piece where Talese got a standing ovation, a call of support from CEO Peter Olson and a whole lotta email. But Talese is staying visible; the two key players who have yet to utter a single peep are Frey’s editor Sean McDonald and especially his agent Kassie Evashevski (who remains at “no comment” in this piece, as in every other.) One might start to wonder if either, or both, are pulling a metaphorical Jason Epstein on Frey’s Judy Miller…)

Monday Morning Freywatch: the opinions continue

Not surprisingly, people still have lots to say, whether on blogs, in newspaper articles or by email about L’Affaire Frey.

Alison Pace, author of IF ANDY WARHOL HAD A GIRLFRIEND, got tired of watching after a while: “as I sat watching Frey looking very much like a kicked puppy, I just didn’t want to hear it anymore. I thought Oprah was cruel to him and the fact that later she tied it up in a “now, James, you’ll grow,” bow doesn’t really make that okay. I watched but I thought the whole charade of trotting out a cowed Frey to sit amongst those who had condemned him was less about anything else than it was about benefiting Oprah and aiding her in some face-saving from her earlier faux pas of implying truth didnt matter.”

The paperback edition of John Falk’s HELLO TO ALL THAT is uncomfortably proclaimed to be “in the tradition of A MILLION LITTLE PIECES” and he explores this in an essay at (which, of course, is my co-Galleycatter’s main site): “memoirs are not official history. They are not even official biographies because if a fact or event isn’t relevant to the story structure, it doesn’t belong in a memoir. It is these omissions and the imposition of a literary style that makes memoirs entertaining reading but imperfect records. Who the hell can remember dialogue verbatim from when they were five? However, at the end of the day, if you’re cooking the facts, you’re undermining your story. If you’re not aiming for the truth, you’re undermining the initial reason you first put pen to paper, that initial inspiration that you had something important, compelling to say.”

Deanna Stillman, in a recent entry on the Huffington Post, isn’t buying any of this blase attitude: “Instead of casting Frey as some sort of Abu Ghraib-like loose cannon, his publisher and agent should explain their role in this mischagas. But until that happens, well, to paraphrase the tattoo on Frey’s arm – “Fuck the bullshit, it’s time to throw up.”

And casting an eye around the major newspapers, the LAT’s Tim Rutten, the Boston Globe’s David Mehegan and about half the available space of the NYT’s arts section (what with an interview with “anti-Frey” Martha Sherrill, David Carr’s treatise on truthiness and Sara Ivry’s look at how this benefits Court TV) devoted their energies to Frey-related materials.

Sherman Alexie Speaks Out on Nasdijj

alexie.jpgThis week’s issue of Time includes an essay by Sherman Alexie (left) in which he discusses his early attempts to expose Nasdijj as “a literary thief and a liar,” and possibly, as he worried at the time, “a talented and angry white man who was writing as a Native American in order to mock multicultural literature.” Now that the truth is out there, Alexie writes, “[Nasdijj's] lies matter because he has cynically co-opted as a literary style the very real suffering endured by generations of very real Indians because of very real injustices caused by very real American aggression that destroyed very real tribes.”

I had some questions of my own after reading Alexie’s essay online, so I shot him an email wondering what, if anything, he’d done after his initial efforts to alert Nasdijj’s publisher were rebuffed. “I was aware that Nasdijj had moved to other publishers, and that he was doing a little bit of the college speaking tour,” he replied. “But I’d given up on exposing him because nobody seemed to care. And whenever I try to expose these hoaxsters and exploiters, I’m the one who is accused of racism and imperialism and essentialism.” He adds that the Native artistic community has long been aware of frauds like Nasdijj, “but white folks don’t pay us much attention. A friend of mine emailed me to say that the whole thing made her sad because if an Indian of my success and influence can be ignored and/or dismissed by publishers then what does that say for less powerful Indians?” For that matter, he wonders, “Do you think the publishers might listen to me now?” It’s a legitimate question, and one without an obvious answer. After all, as Alexie points out, Ward Churchill remains a “leftist academic hero” despite the debunking of claims to Cherokee heritage because he’s “exactly the kind of Indian his white leftist academic compatriots want him to be [...] an Uncle Tomahawk with a vocabulary.”

Monday Morning Freywatch: contests and merch!

Even though the link to Sara Ivry’s NYT story is also in the previous post, one can’t help but be tickled by Court TV’s upcoming plans: “At the National Cable Television convention later this year, it plans to distribute do-it-yourself James Frey-inspired narratives, akin to the Mad Libs format, to enable people to plug fake episodes from Mr. Frey’s book into made-up versions of their own lives.”

I mean, that’s just demented. Funny, but demented.

John Warner, author of FONDLING YOUR MUSE, offers up another humor-laden idea: he’ll be posting excerpts of MY FRIEND LEONARD and award $1000 to anyone “who can provide solid corroborating evidence that the incidents as described in the passage are true.” The offer’s sincere, though Warner suspects that the money might be safe…

From dour to cheerful, thanks to an audience

AL Kennedy is primarily known for writing incredibly bleak novels. So what’s she doing on stage, billing herself as “Alison Kennedy” and possibly making a run for next year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival? Her newfound discovery of standup:

A lifelong fan of comedy, Kennedy took up the microphone after the sudden break-up of a close friendship. “I had a pal for a number of years. We used to talk about comedy and enjoy comedy together – then we stopped speaking. So I had a lack of the sort of thing I’d normally used to cheer me up.”

For Kennedy, working on her routine became a weapon in her battle with depression. “If you’re in a very negative place, comedy gives you something to do,” she says. “You think about comedy rather than jumping out of the window.”

Her big influences are Bill Hicks and Lenny Bruce, both of whom espoused her philosophy that “humour is a perfectly legitimate response to the horror of the world”.

Wottakar’s: here, there and everywhere

In what’s seen as a surprising move, HMV — which of course, has been after taking over Ottakar’s so much that the Competition Commission is looking into itis now the subject of a takeover bid. The culprit is Permira, a private-equity firm that has asked advice of Merrill Lynch on how to properly take HMV over (and shell out a reported 800 million pounds in the process.) Though Permira has not yet made its approach, the Times reports that this should happen sometime this week.

As a result, HMV stock prices soared a whopping 18% after a long period of plummeting in the face of Alan Giles’ shocking resignation and financial woes. But what happens to Ottakar’s? Speaking to the Bookseller, Nick Bubb of Evolution Securities said that a takeover of HMV by Permira would make an Ottakar’s bid “less likely”. “We doubt if Permira would be keen to splash more cash around. But if HMV are not going to bid, the field could be opened up for W H Smith to get Ottakar’s at an attractive price.”

All We Are Is Dust in the Wind

  • BoingBoing points out an essay by Teresa Nielsen Hayden, an editor at Tor Books, that reminds us “falling out of print is a book’s natural fate” and that what we consider eternal classics can also be seen as “gross statistical anomalies.”

  • Speaking of the natural half-life of literature, Jeffrey Trachtenberg (WSJ) wonders if there’s still some juice left in The Da Vinci Code: “Can a three-year-old best seller that has already been endlessly milked for profits yield one more windfall for the industry?” The short answer: Everybody certainly seems to think so.
  • Certainly Putnam’s hoping there’s some life left in the “plucky social scientist stumbles onto an ancient conspiracy” genre, having just brought out Kate Mosse’s Labyrinth. Having won a spot on Richard & Judy, the novel’s British future is secured, but will Americans embrace the tale of an archaelogist who gets mixed up in a plot that goes back to the medieval purge of the Cathars? (And for all you people protesting that an archaeologist isn’t a social scientist, you can just shush now, thanks, or I’ll point out that Harvard doesn’t even have a “symbology” department—take that, Dan Brown!) Anyway, the sprawling adventure yarn is quite a change of pace for Mosse, who’s better known as the host of the Readers’ and Writers’ Roadshow radio programme (as they call ‘em on BBC4) and as the co-founder of the Orange Prize, a prominent award for English-language fiction by women writers like Andrea Levy and Lionel Shriver

What, No Dirk Wears White Sox?

Continuum Books late last week announced a whopping 21 new titles in its 33-1/3 series to be published in 2007 and 2008. The series, which offers novella-length examinations of seminal rock albums as seen by music critics (Jim Fusilli on Pet Sounds) and musicians (Franklin Bruno on Armed Forces), will take on a wide range of musical styles over the next two years, with monographs covering everything from Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life to the Guns & Roses double-LP Use Your Illusion, with Tom Waits’ swordfishtrombones and the Magnetic Fields’ 69 Love Songs thrown in for good measure.

Ballantine Throws Nasdijj Overboard

Remember how during the first few weeks of the James Frey scandal, Anchor/Doubleday was loud and proud in its defense of their bestselling author? Well, Ballantine—which is, like Doubleday, part of the Random House conglomerate—isn’t going to make that mistake. Late Friday night, Hillel Italie filed an AP dispatch reporting that Ballantine has stopped shipping Nasdijj’s memoirs (the two they publish, anyway) and will accept returns from any bookstore that wants to send them back. Italie also reports on a new development we’d also heard about Friday, shortly after I revealed that Nasdijj is trying to sell his side of the story. See, in trying to verify that report, I’d spoken to Jim Cypher, who was Tim Barrus’s agent back in ’97, during which time he began using the name “T. Nasdijj Barrus.” The two split up after about a year because Barrus was too high-maintenance a client. “He elevated my blood pressure every time we spoke by phone,” Cypher recalled (though he would later go on to rep Barrus’s wife in her attempt to sell a memoir about her work with autistic children). That’s a recurring theme in the Nasdijj career trajectory: Ballantine’s spokeswoman told Italie that they cut the author loose in 2004 but wouldn’t say why, and Anton Mueller, the Houghton Mifflin editor who bought his first book, conceded to the LA Weekly, “Nasdijj is simply not the most stable person in the world.”*

Confirming that “Tim is his own worst enemy” because of his continued expression of entrenched resentment towards the publishing industry and the raw deal he believes minorities face at its hands, Cypher told me he’d gotten an email for Barrus Friday morning, which was a pointer to a lengthy rant on Nasdijj’s blog which, in essence, blames humanity for caring more about Nasdijj’s birth name than curing AIDS and decriminalizing marijuana. I was going to hold off on reporting about it until Monday, especially since I was still trying to see if I could find out who Nasdijj’s current agent is, but since Italie’s already broken the news…

*Mueller also thinks Nasdijj is “one of the most, if not the most talented writer I have ever worked with,” which some might consider an odd assertion for a man who’s bought books by Mark Slouka, Anchee Min, and Nico Ricci to make.

Weekend Freywatch: Another Take on Oprah


So I just got through watching Thursday’s evisceration of James Frey, and kudos to Oprah for being willing to admit she was wrong. If only all the experts she rounded up to assist in Frey’s pillorization were on as solid footing. Case in point: Roy Peter Clark of the Poynter Institute may claim to know a thing or twenty about the rules for writing snappy prose, but I’m not inclined to trust his judgment about how the publishing industry should negotiate the relationship between memoir and truth. A rating system for accuracy in narrative nonfiction? If he wants to blow Poynter money on creating a Consumer Reports-like division of ace researchers to analyze nonfiction books, fine, but to suggest that James Frey is the pebble which, when tossed in the pond, leads to waves of Holocaust denial crashing upon our shores unless the industry rises up to meet the crisis is not only irresponsible but frankly somewhat hysterical.

Especially considering that Clark is the same guy who urges nonfiction writers to be “storytellers” who “strive for the mythic, symbolic, and poetic” as they “take advantage of narrative opportunities” and “write endings to create closure.” One thing he doesn’t tell them to do is maintain strict adherence to historical materialist reality. Maybe that’s because he’s trying to reach out to both fiction and nonfiction writers, although if that’s the case, the line “you want to write stories, not articles” seems inordinately skewed to one end of the spectrum. Or maybe Clark just assumed that, even as he was urging storytellers to be as creative as possible, they didn’t need reminding not to make stuff up. The key point here, though, is that James Frey followed Clark’s advice as stated perfectly in A Million Little Pieces, so for Clark to rush himself to Oprah’s studio to join in the condemnation of Frey struck me as somewhat opportunistic.

Because who wouldn’t, after all, hasten to be a part of what Frank Rich rightly pegged as “amazing television”? Heck, some of the folks who couldn’t finagle an invite onto Oprah were happy to settle for reading the tea-leaves on Scarborough Country. For example, Sara Nelson of Publishers Weekly (to which, I’ll disclose, I contribute to regularly, which has continued the occasional friendly contact between us) commented, “I don’t think that publishers are going to stop publishing memoirs and I also don’t think that publishers are going to stop changing their idea of a memoir as one person’s history. A memoir is not journalism. However, a memoir cannot hold bald-faced lies in it.” It’s a subtle variation on her original PW editorial, where she made the point that by writing “a compelling portrait of an addict’s life complete with all its deceptions and grandiosity,” Frey “gave the readers what they want…[H]e didn’t write front-page newspaper profiles of people he’d never talked to—and he never claimed that Pieces was supposed to be All the Presidents’ Men.” Which I have to admit resonates, because with every nonfiction writer or journalist that’s come out to attack Frey for lying, I’ve been waiting and waiting for somebody to just come out and say, “Look, you got your $15 worth of story, didn’t you? Quit yer bellyaching.”

Meanwhile, Charlotte Abbott’s (ditto previous disclosure) post-Oprah roundup for PW Daily raises a significant point: Sean McDonald is quite possibly the luckiest editor in publishing right now, as Nan Talese continues to take all the public knocks for signing off on the book McDonald brought to her house. And because all the focus has been on Pieces, McDonald’s role in further enabling Frey’s “coping mechanism” by acquiring My Friend Leonard hasn’t come up for much public rumination, either (especially since the public seems to have pretty much decided that there wasn’t much question about its falseness).

But there’s always room for levity in this story, and here’s the latest amusing blip: Melissa Macron checks out the back cover of Nic Kelman’s Girl and discovers blurbs from both Frey (“a beautiful, beautiful book”) and JT LeRoy (“the craft I crave that comes along at just the right time and takes my breath away”)…and she’s willing to give that book away to some lucky reader.