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James Frey Admits Memoir's Alterations
In a rare and dramatic author's note, James Frey acknowledges alterations and embellishments throughout "A Million Little Pieces," writing that narrative mattered more than truth in his admittedly fictionalized story of addiction and recovery.
"I wanted the stories in the book to ebb and flow, to have dramatic arcs, to have the tension that all great stories require," writes Frey, whose three-page note will be included in future editions of the book, to be shipped later this month, and was posted Wednesday on the Web site of his publisher, Doubleday, an imprint of Random House, Inc. (http://www.randomhouse.com.)
Memoirs have traditionally included brief disclaimers warning that names and events have been changed, often to protect identities. But Frey's book, which until now carried no note of any kind, is unlike other memoirs: It is a million-selling story enshrined, then eviscerated by Oprah Winfrey, who had initially supported him against reports of alleged fabrications.
Frey's note, itself a story of suffering and redemption, confirms much of what The Smoking Gun published in early January and builds upon his admission to Winfrey last week that he had lied: He invented a three-month jail term, exaggerated other run-ins with law officials and distorted his role in a train crash that killed a high school classmate. He also acknowledges making himself appear "tougher and more daring and more aggressive than in reality I was, or I am."
"People cope with adversity in many different ways, ways that are deeply personal," he writes in his author's note, offering a similar explanation to what he gave Winfrey on her talk show. "My mistake, and it is one I deeply regret, is writing about the person I created in my mind to help me cope, and not the person who went through the experience."
A Winfrey book club pick last fall, "A Million Little Pieces" was released in 2003 and its origins remain unclear. Frey has said the manuscript was offered to publishers as both a novel and as a memoir. His literary agent, Kassie Evashevski, has said there was only brief discussion of shopping the book as fiction, out of respect for his family's privacy.
In his author's note, Frey says that when he began writing the book, he didn't think of it as fiction or nonfiction, but as an inspirational guide for overcoming drug and alcohol addiction. In interviews before The Smoking Gun story came out, Frey often called the book a true story, even recalling how he had read "War and Peace" and other literary classics while in jail.
He describes the past few weeks as "shocking for me, incredibly humbling, and at times terrifying." However, as he told Winfrey, Frey believes that "A Million Little Pieces" remains of value and its "central message" intact. Although he says he made use of "medical records, therapists' notes and personal journals," he defends relying upon "memory," as opposed to documented fact, as his primary resource.
"I believe, and I understand others strongly disagree, that memoir allows the writer to work from memory instead of from a strict journalistic or historical standard," he writes.
"A Million Little Pieces" is "a subjective truth, altered by the mind of a recovering drug addict and alcoholic. Ultimately, it's a story, and one I could not have written without having lived the life I've lived."
One of Frey's toughest critics, author Mary Karr, said Wednesday that Frey's note was self-serving and evasive. "He's sticking to his talking points," said Karr, whose books include the memoirs "The Liars' Club" and "Cherry."
"He keeps saying there's a great debate about fact and fiction in memoirs. But the only debate is in his mind. It's not really that hard; you just don't make stuff up."
Despite Frey's humiliation on Winfrey's TV talk show last week, when she called him a liar and said he betrayed both her and his readers, "A Million Little Pieces" remained Wednesday in the top 10 on Amazon.com. and Barnes & Noble.com.
His future appears less promising. His literary agent has dropped him and his current publisher, Riverhead Books, is reconsidering a recent two-book deal. The first book, about contemporary Los Angeles, is scheduled to come out in 2007.