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Why Oprah insists on getting Frey-ed again…

17 May

Lately I’ve been hard at work on a draft of my literally thriller I’m dead set on finishing by the end of summer, yet I feel the need to stop for a moment and comment on James Frey’s assertion on “Oprah” that most memoirists do what he did i.e. LIE.  If you know anything about Frey’s publishing record, his wannabe memoir “A Million Little Pieces” had first been schlepped around the big houses of New York as a novel.  Only after receiving numerous rejections and a pivotal suggestion from a higher-up did he do the lowly thing of defrauding readers by passing his novel off as a memoir.  This was the act of a desperate writer.  The title of his other “memoir” that’s no longer even billed as such with the bright pink cover I’ve thankfully already forgotten.

As the author of a memoir set to come out next spring about my complicated yet loving relationship with my father, a defense lawyer who inevitably was disbarred for embezzlement, I take offense.  While I have done things such as change names, some locales, and physical characteristics, I’ve stuck to the truth as I remember it.  Make no mistake – this is not the “emotional truth” as some memoirists like to hide behind when they feel they’re about to be caught in a corner of their own creation during a panel at a writer’s conference or on “Larry King Live” as Frey did a few years back.  At the time Oprah was naively still on board voicing her influential support behind Frey via a live on-air phone call.  I’m assuming that besides the spike in ratings, this private embarrassment, not the public flogging he endured later, is why she’s brought him back to her show.

I have written a personally accurate narrative about my past derived by memory, photos and literary leg work.  What a novel way of contructing a memoir.  Do memoirists cut time in their narratives, re-imagine people, conversations and scenes?  I would hope so.  These are the techniques of the creative writer, not a lazy one who semantically spews all over the page and calls it artful steam of consciousness. The truth is Frey was never a memoirist.  He was and is a successful enough fiction writer.  Good for him.  But it would be refreshing if for once he could just stick with the facts.

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  1. Lupe G.

    May 17, 2011 at 1:23 pm

    I couldn’t agree more! Just because Frey doesn’t know how to write memoir truthfully doesn’t mean others don’t. Good luck with finishing your novel!

     
  2. Michelle

    May 17, 2011 at 3:11 pm

    I don’t dislike Oprah, but her book club thing does bug me a bit. As if she is some literary genius. The positive though is that people probably have read more because of her picks. So when Frey ended up being a buffoon I had to laugh a little at Oprah who backed his book so heavily. I hope the reading world realizes that one shady “memoir” writer does not mean all memoirs are a farce.

     
    • Paula

      May 17, 2011 at 3:33 pm

      Well put, Michelle. There was another book, “Three Cups of Tea” by Greg Mortenson and David Blah,blah, blah, both of whom have possibly fictionalized their nonfiction. Don’t believe it was an Oprah book? But I don’t keep up on that. There are plenty of good memoirs out there that are honestly written and written quite well.

      As for the buffoon part, at least it appears Frey shaved off the bad perm. Thanks for your comment!

       
  3. E. C.

    May 17, 2011 at 6:10 pm

    Frey said he thinks plenty of people that will compose memoirs change as well as fabricate things and play with the truth to enhanse the very best story they can. But, given his past reputation, he may be exaggerating that simply a bit.

     
  4. Miles Munson

    May 18, 2011 at 2:03 pm

    Very well written, Ms. Priamos. I always enjoy reading your take on things especially when it comes to your own writing. Frey is not a controversial figure. He’s quite simply a hack.

     
  5. Mary Ann

    May 19, 2011 at 9:44 am

    Paula, that teacher we had years ago was trying to pass off novels as memoirs even when the authors were saying the books were not memoirs but novels or short story collections. For some reason there are people out there who don’t understand the line between fact and fiction. Sadly, we met one teaching in college! Great blog entery! And looking forward to your memoir this coming spring!

     
    • Paula

      May 19, 2011 at 9:58 am

      Good god…I forgot about him…the man who told me in his office that he and his bed mate tried to re-enact one of the sexual positions in a scene I’d written for my thesis but he was a little too arthritic to pull it off. Let’s hope that fool has retired by now. Thanks for your comment. You make a good point about readers, academics in particular, who feel the need to draw personal connections to EVERYTHING.

       
      • Ethan

        May 20, 2011 at 3:50 pm

        Sometimes it sounds like I’m listening in on a private chat with your girlfriends, Ms. Priamos. Great touch. As for your take on James Frey, I couldn’t agree more. Thanks for taking the time out from writing your book to post it.

         
  6. Renalda

    May 31, 2011 at 3:31 am

    Great post! Your memoir sounds very interesting. Good luck with your new novel.

     
  7. Sunday Times Book Reader

    June 18, 2011 at 10:38 am

    I couldn’t agree more. Well put and well written as always. Best of luck with your new novel this summer.

     
  8. Fiona

    June 30, 2011 at 7:14 am

    I read this book a few years ago and thought it was fiction at the time, cos things didn’t add up. There is no way an airline would take on board a drugged up/drunk individual in today’s world (I think that is a fair point, because there are signs stating this in airports/bus stations).
    But I do still think writing memoirs must be a double-edged sword, try telling the truth in this hypocritical, politically-correct world. It seems a tricky balance.

     
    • Paula

      July 3, 2011 at 9:38 pm

      Hi, Fiona,

      This time last summer I spent a red eye flight next to a chatty man
      in sunglasses with booze breath. He’d been detained briefly but they
      unfortunately still let him on. Naturally I heard the whole story. I do remember an
      actor was recently thrown off because he was drunk.

      I’m lucky in that the publisher hasn’t asked me to sterilize my words.

       
      • Fiona

        July 8, 2011 at 12:57 am

        well, you’re a writer, you should be promoting the right of freedom to speech and proud of it.

         
  9. Irwin Byone

    October 16, 2011 at 9:37 am

    What the heck is Oprah doing now that she is off the air?