Monday, November 15, 2010

James Frey and manufacturing YA consent

With the success of the Harry Potter -series and Twilight-franchise, Young Adult (YA)- books as a genre are all the rage these days. Books dealing with the paranormal and fantasy have hit the nerve among the young readers, but surprisingly, it is not just them reading: adults of all ages have discovered YA as well.( This article by the Los Angeles Times discusses this phenomenon quite well). Even +40-year-old stockbrokers can be seen at the subway stop holding a copy of "Twilight". Some of the best of of lot is Suzanne Collins´ "Hunger Games" -trilogy, which has  already been scheduled for movie release in 2013 by Lionsgate.

If Harry Potter and Twilight have showed us anything, it is that these books can be easily turned into successful movies. And this is The niche that the infamous writer James Frey has decided to hit on and strike it rich. Frey is more widely known from his "autobiography" Million little pieces(2003), which to date has sold around 8 million copies in more than 30 languages. The man fooled even Oprah with his tragic tale of drugs and overcoming the beast of an addiction. Now he has dreamed up a YA-novel sweatshop, called Full Fathom Five. Simply, because he does not have the time to write these grandeous, money-grapping YA-cookings himself. The deal is to comb through MFA-programs across the US, offer little or next to nothing money, and ask for entire books on fantasy, paranormal subject matter or teen romance. Frey keeps the rights to possibly published works to himself along with 60-70 % of all proceeds. He does help with editing, in so far as it helps to "commercialize" the finished product. Because the main idea is to produce serializable, film adaptable, entertaining novels, that are filled with product placement.

The biggest success of Full Fathom Five has so far been "I am number Four", a tale about young aliens in exile on Earth. The book is supposedly authored by a mystical figure named Pittacus Lore, but in reality it is a collaboration between Frey and a young writer on his "team", Jobie Hughes. Tales of Hughes being bitter over the contract he signed are circling around the internet, as are claims of him being the actual sole writer of the book. Interestingly, "I am number Four" was not accepted by any publishing house until Frey (along with powerful agents) managed to sell the movierights to DreamWorks. The first movie of a planned series is already in the works with big names behind it (Steven Spielberg, Michael Bay). In fact, the movie production began so fast that the actual book had to be finished and published in haste.

Is the first release of the sweatshop of hopeful writers any good? No, it is not. Not Twilight-good, not even close to Harry Potter-good. The attitude of "anything can be packaged in this shape for YA and it sells with a movie" shines though. The editing is horrific, the plot a worn out cliche with not even an ounce of trying. Truth be told, Jobie Hughes probably had a great idea to start with, but it got lost somewhere between 250 dollars (Frey´s given paycheck of a book) and commercialism.

Frey is not showing any signs of slowing down. His supreme idea is somewhat of a factory, along the lines of Andy Warhol or Damien Hirst. A group of people working to create pieces to sell, with his (brand) name slapped on them. The ethics or morality of this scenario are seemingly of no interest to him. In this New York Magazine article he is cited as saying "truth does not exist". He defends his cutthroat terms of contract as the usual Hollywood-style "work for hire"-practice. Except Hollywood writers are usually paid more than 250 dollars.
So far at least 30 young hopefuls have joined his factory with big dreams on their minds. For Jobie Hughes, the dream ended with lawyers. He signed off from writing the sequel to "I am number Four" and is trying to get more proceeds from the first one. Frey´s company recently sold another first book of a planned series to Will Smith´s production company, which plans to make the King Arthur -adaption into a movie vehicle for Jaden Smith. The actual author is not named, and maybe never will.

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