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Archives: January 2006

Brooklyn Librarians: Frey’s a Fiction Writer

bpl.jpgGalleyCat has just recieved an anonymous tip, which we’ve been able to independently confirm, that the Brooklyn Public Library has changed its classification for James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces from its original Dewey decimal number, 362.29 (for nonfiction about drug use and abuse), to FIC—which, yes, means they consider it fiction.

The BPL representative I spoke to on the phone just now said an official statement would be forthcoming early next week when asked about the reasoning behind the designation, and we’ll look forward to learning the formal basis for that decision, but I think we all know why, right?

Nasdijj’s “Navahoax” Gets Weirder

As James Frey slinks off with his millions, we can all start to move on to the next amazing fake writer, “Nasdijj”/Timothy Barrus, whose web of deception started unraveling earlier this week. In the aftermath of the LA Weekly feature revealing his past, the News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) is providing confirming details: Nasdijj’s Social Security number is the same as Barrus’s. And it amuses me no end that they add a telling detail to the fake Native American memoirist’s previous literary career as a homoerotic pornographer by reporting that gay men didn’t even find those books convincing and suspected he wasn’t gay (which Barrus would, in fact, come to strenuously deny, particularly after he got married).

Another amusing detail: Hillel Italie’s AP followup was, on at least one website, headlined “Author of Disputed Memoir to Go on Oprah,” presumably because someone at the AP is having trouble keeping track of the fake writers. I know the feeling! And one last clever twist: At least one publisher received an email from somebody claiming to be Nasdijj declaring that he’s written a novel called Year of the Hyena, in which “I tell the story of ‘the scandal of Nasdijj’ and who Nasdijj really is — AND — WHAT IT HAS BEEN LIKE TO BE NASDIJJ. This is my story. No one else has the truth. No one can tell this story like I can.” He adds, “If such a book might interest you, please contact me and I can put you in touch with my agent.”

Battle of the D.C. Sex Scandal Pastiches

anamarie-jessica.jpgEarlier this week, in noting the non-bestselling track record of Dog Days, I observed aloud that I had forgotten to ask about the comparative performance of Jessica Cutler’s The Washingtonienne during its opening weeks last summer. Well, a little bird told me, and now I’m telling you: As noted before, Ana Marie Cox (left) has sold sold roughly 3,800 copies of Dog Days in its first three weeks of publiciation; that turns out to be two weeks faster than it took Cutler to reach the same benchmark. But keep in mind that Cox’s third week in stores also saw a 37.5% dropoff in sales from the week before, while Cutler’s sales nearly doubled (+175%) in the similar timeframe, and continued to rise for the next five weeks.

Publishing Tidbits, or there’s more to life than James Frey

Because there’s more to publishing than one powerful woman’s smackdown of her formerly pet author on live TV…

Remember the “secret summit” between UK agents and publishers? Well, it happened, and the Bookseller has a few choice details about the proceedings.

Hilary Spurling’s Whitbread win has bumped up the print run on her Matisse biography because of availability problems. Penguin pledges 10,000 copies in stores by early next month. Meanwhile, her next project might well be a biography of Anthony Powell, dance critic and author of DANCE TO THE MUSIC OF TIME.

Michael Cairns, the President of Bowker (or what I like to call Planet ISBN) has resigned in a surprise move, effective the end of the month.

A new boss, Gerry Connolly of Blackwell’s, understands the whole e-book craze but still feels optimistic about the printed word.

Peter Straus is the Managing Director of literary agency Rogers, Coleridge and White after a year where he created bidding wars for the upcoming novel LONDONSTANI.

Helen Dunmore doesn’t want to hear any more nonsense about bookstores’ declining fortunes — they are doing just fine, thank you.

And to celebrate Mozart’s birthday, USA Today’s Deirdre Donohue picks the best of the recent crop of Amadeus-related books.

Freywatch: the fallout continues

Keeping track of who’s saying what about yesterday’s Oprah show is an exhausting endeavor so it only seems fair to do so in kind of a kamikaze, haphazard fashion.

The most comprehensive coverage of the whole thing, not surprisingly, is in Chicago, where Oprah tapes her show. The Trib devotes its bloggy time to getting pissed about ABC cutting away 20 minutes in, John Kass gives props to Madame Winfrey for giving us great TV, while Dave Wischnowsky wonders who, exactly, was using whom here. James Jenega and Patrick Reardon anchor the coverage, and there’s lots more from Mary Schmich, Phil Rosenthal and Steven Johnson, who extends the discussion further into what it means for truth in general.

Since TV was involved, that means Virginia Heffernan can offer up her take on the whole thing. Bottom line? “Indeed it was amazing television.”

What’s fun is that it seems like in every piece, some other publishing type is quoted. The Tribune talked to W. Drake McFeely of Norton; the LA Times quotes Morgan Entrenkin of Grove/Atlantic; and the AP’s making Knopf’s Ashbel Green’s name known all across the country.

As for hoaxes in general, who better to talk to than Alan Abel, who’s made it his business for over 40 years? Even though his aim is “to amuse, to provoke, to give people a healthy kick in the intellect and make them laugh a bit,” it’s hard not to draw the conclusion that people will believe in things so desperately that they’ll believe anything. Just like Oprah.

So how hard is it to fact check anyway?

That’s what Newsweek’s Malcolm Jones wants to know:

Fact-checking is a routine part of almost every news operation. Publishers with worries about a manuscript they plan to publish may question an author, and they may run the manuscript by a lawyer, who looks at it for questions of libel. If a book is particularly technical, it may be sent to one or more outside experts for verification. Academic presses routinely subject manuscripts to peer review before publication. But that’s about it. Most publishers insist that they cannot afford to fact-check every manuscript that comes their way. In the case of small- to medium-sized houses, that’s probably true. In the case of Doubleday, Frey’s publisher and a unit of a large multinational corporation, the defense looks a little rickety.

Larry Kirshbaum was asked about this issue by NYT’s Edward Wyatt and had this to say:

“Traditionally, publishers have not done fact-checking and vetting. But I think you are going to see memoirs read not only from a libel point of view but for factual accuracy. And where there are questions of possible exaggeration or distortion, the author is going to need to produce documentation.”

All well and good, of course, but a few other things to consider: first, budget. Is it so difficult to incorporate a fact-checker or two starting at the salary of, say, an editorial assistant (or at least an assistant editor) or does that throw things out of whack? By taking extra time to pore through public records and re-confirm everything, will the publisher be even less likely to make back its share on the memoir they acquire?

Then there’s the fact that even with the spotlight shining so brightly, it’s probably impossible to fact-check absolutely everything — especially in a several-hundred page manuscript. But one issue that might have contributed to this so-called erosion is the rise in outsourced editing, especially copyediting. Because by saving costs, sometimes you really do get what you pay for…

Switching from memoir to novel

When L’Affaire Frey broke big, Martha Sherrill wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post about the whole business because it proved to hit uncomfortably close to home — but for the opposite reasons, as she tells the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

“I originally sold the idea for ‘The Ruins of California’ as a memoir for a nice advance, and it was going to be about my California bachelor father and his incredible parade of girlfriends and what it was like to grow up in his unconventional world. After a year or so, I found I couldn’t write about it if I had to write the truth. It was going to hurt too many people!”

Luckily, the longtime journalist explored another approach, ensuring that her touching story of a quirky father-daughter bond would still see the light of day.

“Finally I decided that the only way to write it was to be free of the non-fiction rules of telling the truth …,” Sherrill sighed good-naturedly. “So I’m still paying back that advance, month by month!”

So by fashioning the book into a novel, she could meld fact and fiction together and not have to worry that Oprah would ever shame her on national television (or some lesser equivalent.)

Freywatch: so *now* the publishers get contrite!

I guess since Nan Talese got totally schooled on Oprah today (and who was the mystery cell phone caller, anyway?) Random House felt they had to do some serious damage control. In a statement released this afternoon, the Book Standard Reports, RH apologized to readers, saying that they “bear a responsibility for what [they] publish.” As a result, the publishing house will do the following in future editions of A MILLION LITTLE PIECES:

Publisher’s note to be included in all future printings of the book.

James Frey to write an author’s note that will appear in all future printings of the book.

Jacket for all future editions to carry the line: “With new notes from the publisher and from the author.”

Reprintings not to happen nor orders fulfilled until the above changes are made.

Publisher’s note and author’s note to be sent promptly to booksellers for inclusion in previously shipped copies of the book.

As well, look for advertisement concerning these developments to appear in national and trade publications in the next few days.

James Frey Gets His, Takes It Like Man(?)

Hoo boy: I’m not going to be able to see Oprah until late tonight, but I hear from Gawker and now from Edward Wyatt that she’s superpissed. Wyatt’s calling today’s episode “an extraordinary reversal of her strident and angry defense of the author whose book she catapulted to the top of the best-seller list,” which surprises me a bit because I didn’t think her phone call to Larry King was the least bit angry, or even particularly strident.

What amuses me the most, though, is that in Chicago, the show got pre-empted by a Bush news conference at which el presidente apparently had little more to say than “we live in historic times.” Yeah, I can hear Chicagoans saying, and we’d be able to learn how they turn out if you’d shut the hell up and let us watch Frey squirm some more. For those viewers, at least there’s the Internet recap…

Sarah adds: Luckily, I made it home just in time to watch almost the entire show, and I must echo Frank Rich’s comment: that was amazing television. For someone like Oprah, who’s usually so quick to be obsequious and embrace her subjects (or at least let them jump up and down on couches) watching her get angry, scornful and be on the verge of tears certainly reminded me that she still knows how to make people squirm if necessary.

But here’s the thing, buried deep in Hillel Italie’s report for AP: why didn’t she engage in “publishing’s equivalent of the death penalty,” revoking the book club endorsement? What’s bad enough for Jonathan Franzen (who merely criticized her) isn’t bad enough for Frey, who supposedly “betrayed and embarassed” her? Or was she so caught up in the moment that it escaped her and something to that effect will happen in the future?

In the end, one Livejournal blogger says it best: “i feel so, so bad for james frey. he’s just a sad man who wanted to be bret easton ellis. and now everyone hates him.”

UPDATE: And the party continues tonight as the Smoking Gun’s Bill Bastone — who told Chicago Tribune reporter Patrick Reardon that he watched the Oprah episode with his jaw hanging open — will appear on Larry King tonight at 9.

Where’s Our Invite, Oprah?

An early-evening email from PW Daily notified us that James Frey’s going to be on today’s episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show to do a more extensive job of licking her boots in person than he did over the phone on Larry King’s show when the scandal first broke. Well, okay, more likely it’ll just be an hour of hand wringing, with guest appearances by Nan Talese and what Oprah’s site calls “some of the country’s leading journalists”…but not, as implied in the headline, either of the GalleyCats. I’m betting it’s because I made that crack to PRWeek about how she saved his ass with that phone call.

But if Sarah or I were to finagle our way onto the set, I’d know some of the questions I’d want to finally get out there. For example, if Frey trotted his mom out to ward off his critics again, I’d ask her what Larry King didn’t: “So, your son says he was ‘dating’ some girl who got killed in a wreck, and that her parents blamed him, and the cops interrogated him about it, and that he got into a ton of fights about it with his classmates. I assume you were around at the time; did you notice any of that?”

And if Judge Alan Green, who’s now outed himself as the “federal judge” Frey befriended in rehab, were somehow on the guest list, I’d ask a question that for whatever reason didn’t get into Edward Wyatt’s NYT article: “According to James Frey, you played a significant role in getting prosecutors in Ohio to reduce his criminal sentence from three years in prison to three months in county lockup. We all know James didn’t spend any three months in jail. Care to tell us exactly what, if anything, you ever did for him?”

Well, one of us will be around Thursday night or Friday morning to comment on what actually transpired, but until then, Gawker has a sneak preview. Definitely not what most of us were expecting…

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