The James Frey Interview

April 11, 2003

Today is the day to get a new drug.

Ask Dr. Hot Pants a question. It'll be her job one day, after all.

Here's a review of interviewee Dan Savage's book Skipping Towards Gomorrah.

Matt Tobey and I smack Craig up the head once again in Lindsay Robertson's absence.

I first heard of today's interviewee through my uusal nerdy literary outlets. "He's like the next Dave Eggers, only rougher and with a lot more swear words." I forwarded this information to a certain editor of mine at, who graciously passsed on his book A Million Little Pieces, for me to review. Even if you're not a hypemeister, this book is a moving, dare I say heartbreaking (unless that word has been copyrighted) work of the struggles of addictions to drugs and alcohol . It will be released next week by the Nan A. Talese division of Random House, and great things will shortly be coming his way. He most graciously granted me an interview, so please read about addictions, boxing and who exactly rocks the house.

The James Frey Interview: Twenty Questions or So

Your book leaves off with the end of your stay at the Hazelden clinic . Is there any particular reason why it stopped there, as opposed to continuing on to the days and months and years ahead?
The book was about rehab. The book when I got out because that is where the story of being in rehab ended. It was the natural stopping point.

Are you hoping to avoid being any kind of poster boy, such as "inspiration to alcoholics/drug addicts/criminals everywhere," "The New Dave Eggers," or "The Lesson of the Tao for the New Millenium"?
I don't want to be a poster boy, the new anyone or anything, or any sort of teacher. I am a writer. I wrote a book. Nothing more.

The story takes place when you were 23; you're 33 now. Have you changed significantly since then, other than career success, sobriety and personal life changes, or are you more or less the same person that we read in A Million Little Pieces?
I think I am different in a few important ways. I am far less angry. I am much calmer. I don't drink or get high, which is the most obvious difference. I am much less reckless. I am much more aware of how my behavior affects other people, which makes me more considerate. I feel much, much
better about myself. I am much, much happier.

Can you tell us anything about the upcoming movie deal you've got for A Million Little Pieces?
There is no official deal at the moment. Gus Van Sant read the book and expressed an interest in directing it as a film. I have spoken with him about it a number of times. I have a lot of respect for him as a director and a person and would be open to the idea of him turning the book into a film. He's finishing another film at the moment, and I'm writing another
book. We're both busy. I hope we move forward at some point, though I'm not in a rush.

Speaking of movies, you're a screenwriter as well as an author. I think a lot of people out there think they can write scripts. What are some of the biggest misconceptions and/or unexpected obstacles in writing a screenplay?
Writing scripts can be difficult. It takes two or three to learn to do it well. Most people write their first script and believe they are ready to be professional writers. It almost never the case, first scripts are almost always a disaster. People need to manage their expectations and be more patient.

The largest obstacle to screenwriters is breaking into Hollywood. If you don't know someone who works in the film business, or know someone who knows someone, it is incredibly difficult to get anyone pay attention to your work, no matter how good it is. For every fifty calls you make, expect one or two to be returned.

You said in an interview with the New York Observer, that "I'm going to try to write the best book of my generation and I'm going to try to be the best writer." Does this mean that you have any thoughts on what you'll be producing after A Million Little Pieces?
I'm writing a book about my friendship with Leonard, who was one of the main characters in "Pieces." It covers a period of about five years after we left rehab. I'll let you be the judge of whether it helps me move towards my goal, or whether it hurts me.

Are you getting a lot of shit for the salty language in the book?
Not getting much shit at this point. I tried to write an honest book. Doing so required the repeated use of words like fuck, shit and goddamnit. Most people seem to understand that idea.

You were interviewed for an ABC-TV special addiction by John Stossel. What was that like? A lot of sympathetic brow-furrowing and whatnot, or did it feel pretty authentic and sincere? Did you coin any trademark phrases, a la Whitney Houston's "Crack is wack"?
Stossel and the folks at ABC were very cool. I have nothing but positive things to say about them. The interview was very authentic and they asked me very good questions. I didn't try to coin any phrases, I certainly didn't use Whitney's, and if any come out of what I said, it was entirely an accident.

This is probably silly, but the cover of your book is really cool. How did the idea come about? Is that your hand? Also, are those your scribbles in between the chapters of the book?
Doubleday hired a designer to do the cover. I spoke to him after I saw it and I asked him why? He said he thought the book was beautiful and difficult and arresting, and he tried to create an image that matched that tone. The hand is the hand of one of his friends. The scribbles are not mine either,
they were created by the page designer. For whatever it is worth, I love both the cover and the scribbles.

You're a boxing fan. I've only seen a few fights but I watched the Mike Tyson fight versus Clifford Etienne. And do you think that fight was arranged, or was Tyson's punch really that powerful?
It wasn't fixed, but there was no doubt as to what the outcome would be. Tyson hits hard and Etienne has a weak chin. It was a joke fight.

What would happen if you were to get punched in the tattoo, as we all were sort of curious to see Tyson get hit in his new facial tattoo?
Nothing would happen. That whole thing was ridiculous.

Speaking of tattoos, you're generously inked. How many tattoos do you have, and which are your favorites?
I have ten or twelve tattoos. My wife's initials are tattooed above my heart, that is my favorite.

After your release from Hazeldon, you spend three months in jail in Ohio. How did that compare to rehab?
Jail is really fucking boring, and occasionally, really fucking scary. It is about doing time and getting it over with and staying out of trouble. Rehab is about fixing and changing your life. It, however, can also be boring and scary.

It says on your website that you've worked as a camp counselor, a picture framer, a hotel security guard, a busboy, a skateboard salesman, and as a department store Santa Claus and Easter Bunny. Of the small and odd jobs before your career began taking off, which were the best and the worst?
I like kids, so being a counselor was a very cool job. Just ran around and played all day.

Worst job was stockboy in a large clothing store. Got yelled at all fucking day, and when it wasn't busy, spent hours and hours folding and refolding clothing. It sucked.

You say that you don't want A Million Little Pieces to be known as a recovery memoir, and you're hoping that publishing the book with Nan Talese and Co. will help eschew that generalization. What about Ms. Talese and
Co. will help achieve that, do you think, and what (other than 'recovery memoir') are you hoping the book will be known as?

Nan is the premiere literary editor in our country. She works with some of the best writers in the world: Ian McEwan, Margaret Atwood, Pat Conroy, Jennifer Egan. She doesn't publish crap, and she doesn't publish sappy, bullshit memoirs. Having her name on my book gives it instant legitimacy.

If it were my choice, it would be listed as literature. It doesn't really matter though. What matters is how many people read it and how it affects them.

Speaking of memoirs, are there any autobiographies or memoirs that you're particularly fond of?
I love Charles Baudelaire. I love Celine and Henry Miller. I love Charles Bukowski and Pat Conroy and Tim O'Brien and Brett Easton Ellis. None of these guys actually wrote memoirs, but they all wrote about themselves. Though I used my real name, I consider my work in the same tradition.

Tell us about your art collection. Which pieces are your favorites and why? Anything else that you're hoping to acquire in the future?
I was pissed when my art written about in an article. I don't want to talk about it.

What's your beverage of choice these days?
Coca-Cola. The classic Coca-Cola. Sometimes coffee. Sometime Buckler non-alcoholic beer. Always drink a lot of water. Water is good.

How does it feel to be the 52nd person interviewed for ?
I love Claire Zulkey rocks the fucking house. I am honored to be the 52nd interviewee.