New York Magazine recently ran an article on James Frey (he of A Million Little Pieces fame, or I should say infamy) and his scheme to exploit MFA writers for Hollywood big bucks. He’s created an outfit called Full Fathom Five, which basically scours young writers at MFA programs for ideas on YA novels that are Hollywood ready (see Harry Potter and Twilight) and signs those writers under contracts in which the young scribes are paid a $250 advance to write the books. That’s not all---as per contract, Frey is under no obligation to give the writers any credit for their work, can use pseudonyms or reserve the right to change the names on the book jacket to a pseudonym, threaten the writers with lawsuits if they talk in public about the book, and only offers 40 percent of the proceeds from any sell from publishing and movie rights. In other words, it’s a deal that benefits Frey more than it does the young writers.
When Frey’s memoir A Million Little Pieces was outed as a work of fiction, I personally had no dog in that fight. After all, the incident showed if anything that Americans are hypocrites when it comes to the truth, too easily led by the nose with lies that appeal to some false sense of ourselves (this did occur after all when we were bamboozled into Iraq under the pretense of WMDs). This latest Frey scandal though is just nasty. I’ve never been in an MFA program (came close, but had to drop out because of health and financial reasons), but I share those young students’ dreams of writing and wanting to be published. Frey exploits those dreams (and the fact that, as the writer of this article points out, at a $45,000 tuition at Columbia, MFAs ain’t cheap) for his own gratification. He literally rewrites one book in his stable, I Am Number Four, to add more Steven Spielberg-dazzling merchandising tie-ins for the movie.
Full Fathom Five is a scam, plain and simple. That so many people, from young writers to MFA programs to major publishing houses, have fallen for it, doesn’t bode well for the world of literature.
James Frey's Fiction Factory by Suzanne Mozes