James Frey describes 2006 as "a really, really bad year at work."
Extra Audio: James Frey reads a passage from Bright Shiny Morning
Fabricator, fraud and fake — author James Frey tends to inspire F-words with ferocity. All because of what he describes as a "a really, really bad year at work."
"Frankly at this point, I don't think it matters," Frey shrugs two years later in an interview with NPR's Madeleine Brand. "A Million Little Pieces is a book and people are either going to read it and enjoy it, or not. I feel like I've acknowledged the mistakes I've made and I've learned from them and I've moved on."
As he's moved on, he's parted ways with his troublesome friend, "fact." His new book, Bright Shiny Morning, a work of fiction, begins with the inscription, "Nothing in this book should be considered accurate or reliable."
Problems with Accuracy and Reliability
Frey's well-documented "bad year" began when entertainment Web site The Smoking Gun went searching for his mug shot and stumbled on a number of inaccuracies in his memoir, A Million Little Pieces.
Less than a month later, Oprah — the woman who had helped turn him into a best-selling author — was confronting him on national television about specific details in his book. In it, Frey vividly recounts his drug and alcohol addiction, including 87 days in jail. Under Oprah's public scrutiny, however, he sheepishly clarified that it was actually just a few hours. The live audience punctuated the grillfest with hisses and boos. And that was just Chapter One.
Frey has attempted to rebuild himself against a backdrop of Los Angeles. He calls his new novel "a love letter that acknowledges the city has its faults and has things that aren't great, but it's still a love letter."
Frey follows four main narratives and jumps in and out of the lives of dozens of characters. He calls his main characters "Los Angeles archetypes." Critics call them stereotypes: a Mexican American maid, a homeless beach bum, a handsome movie star and a newly arrived couple from small-town America. All are trying to live out their Los Angeles dreams amid gridlock, gangs, poverty and racism.
Frey sold the idea for Bright Shiny Morning before the memoir controversy, but his contract was canceled. He decided to follow through with the book idea, but he says what happened in 2006 influenced the way it was written.
"It did make me value hope more, the idea of dreams more. I've had dreams come true; I've had dreams explode ... and I think L.A. is a symbol of it around the world," he says. "When people think of L.A., they think, that's where you go! And that's whether your dream is international superstardom or your dream is a green card and a job."
Frey could not entirely resist the allure of fact. Between chapters, he employs little doses of L.A. history as a palate cleanser. According to Frey, his publisher "freaked out," making him write a 38-page report sourcing every fact. Frey calls it "the most heavily vetted novel, maybe, in history."
Right now, however, Bright Shiny Morning is in the top 40 on Amazon, making "fiction" an F-word that Frey can feel good about.