More Little Pieces and Blurred Lines

Earlier this month I wrote about how controversy sells and I used the example of the James Frey book, A Million Little Pieces. Today on the Oprah Winfrey Show, Oprah reversed her previous defense of Frey’s stretching the facts.  She had the author on her show and reversed her position. As the New York Times article reports, “I gave the impression that the truth does not matter,” Ms. Winfrey said. “I made a mistake.” To all of the viewers who called and wrote to her telling her she was wrong to allow Mr. Frey to maintain that his book reflected the “essential truth” of his life even though substantial details were falsified, Ms. Winfrey said, “You are absolutely right.”

I’ve read in other articles that Frey has decided not to write any more nonfiction but only to write fiction for his future books.  It’s probably a wise decision on his part. By it’s nature, memoir and nonfiction are true stories—not created like fiction.  The line between fiction and nonfiction blur at times—and to me that’s a problem and concern. It pops up in publishing from time to time. The controversy over the Frey book is only the most recent example. Over fifteen years ago, Questar Publishers released a full-color hardback book called Bible Animal Storybook by Mack Thomas.  At that time Questar Publishers was a separate company from Multnomah Publishers and this book was a major release for this company. A variety of key Bible stories were told from the viewpoint of talking animals. These stories were well-told and fun for kids. I had a key problem with this book because 1) animals don’t talk and 2) I believe the events of the Bible aren’t fiction but are historical events.  With this book, the lines between fiction and nonfiction or make-believe and truth were totally confused.  Small children can’t distinguish between reality and fiction.  That skill comes later in our development. Now this book is long out of print. If you work at it, you can still track down a copy.

My hope is the distinction between nonfiction and fiction will continue to be made—even if every now and then a book comes along which blurs the lines.

7 Responses to “More Little Pieces and Blurred Lines”

  1. Bonnie Calhoun Says:

    I finally feel relieved. For several weeks I have been livid with indignation because over the last three years, debunking the DaVinci Code has become an industry of its own…irregardless of the fact that their debunking fiction.

    And then for the Frey fiasco to come along and Oprah and everyone connected with it to go “O well!” It was driving me up the wall. ~sigh~ of relief.

  2. eileen Says:

    Will be interesting to see what Frey’s fiction genre will become. I saw part of O today, and she was quite indignant. Sad to say, the industry will focus on the truth issue for about 15 min.

  3. R. K. Mortenson Says:

    I too was relieved that Oprah reversed her position to support the truth over Frey’s fabrications. Her influence is powerful, and that was heart-wrenching when she was defending Frey.

    Regarding talking animals…in essence vegetables tell Bible stories in VeggieTales (and roaches in The Roach Approach, et al). I don’t have a problem with that; I write children’s fantasies that incorporate scriptural themes and stories. And one character is a talking horse. I think children do know the difference. My 2-year-old loves Pooh Bear and even “met” him at DisneyWorld. Yet he’s not real to her in the same way her parents or other people are. He is basically entertainment.

    The greatest fictional tales ever told are the parables given by our Lord. So even the greatest nonfiction, our Bible, contains purposeful fiction (including also the prophet Nathan’s story that struck David’s heart toward repentance.)

    So too I think some of the greatest, and certainly most powerful fiction contains nonfiction. This can be dangerous, I agree, if the whole fiction is purported or believed to be true. Some of the mania behind Left Behind bordered on this (I heard so many people saying “But it really could happen this way!”). Likewise The Da Vinci Code.

    Great discussion. Good stuff to think about…

  4. Terry Whalin Says:

    Publisher’s Weekly said Random House has announced that notes of clarification from the author and the publisher will be added to future printings of A Million Little Pieces. Also these notes will be available to download at the Random House website to insert into previous editions. You can see from this move that the public outcry about these inaccuracies drove the publisher to take this clarification step.

  5. Ken G Says:

    As I tried to bring across the first time Frey had been brought up, I don’t think he intentionally lied. It’s like a fish story that gets told where the fish gets larger every time the story is told. To me there is an insecurity in people that look for attention, which is needed for their self-worth.
    My opinion is that they just don’t realize the damage they do to others with deception. What will this do to Oprah’s future endorsements of books? What will this do to future submissions to the publisher? Question that now will have to be addressed are many but Frey’s behavior is pretty common in our society.

  6. Terry Whalin Says:

    You can watch Oprah interact with James Frey on her television show yesterday at this link.

  7. Katy Says:

    The concept of downloading the clarifications and sticking them in our copies of the book brings back a memory for me. In senior class high school yearbook, a photo appeared of an Honors Assembly. The valedictorian and salutatorian sat in the front row in the auditorium and smiled for the camera. The book went to print and was distributed before the powers-that-be noticed that both girls were making obscene identical inappropriate hand gestures.

    The school issued replacement photos, instructing us to paste them over the offensive shot. How many students do you think took them up on it?

    As many as will slip a download of truths into a book of lies!

    Katy Raymond

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