Conscious Asshat, Not Misguided Jerk

For the first time in my life, I need slippers. I’ve been wandering around barefoot most of my life. But I’ve lost a lot of insulation in the last year, and with the recent drop in temperatures…well, I’m always cold. I’m wearing four layers right now. Admittedly one of the layers is a tank top, because I’m heading out to the climbing wall later today, but still.

Good morning. There’s an interesting article on the lost women scientists of the Royal Society (well, not lost, just unacknowledged by their male peers, OH THE SURPRISE) and an article about James Frey that has “literary ethics” in the title. Here’s a clue: He doesn’t have any. I was willing to believe he got swept away and did a douchebag maneuver once with that whole “look it’s a memoir, oh wait, I’m LYING!” thing. People make mistakes, and if you don’t f!ck up huge at least once in life, you’re either incredibly lucky or not trying hard enough.

But this whole Full Fathom Five thing is not a mistake, and it moves him firmly into the category of conscious asshat instead of simply-misguided jerk. At bottom, Full Fathom Five is simply a scam. Frey feeding off aspiring writers is no different than the jerkwad vanity presses and nonagents often exposed by Writer Beware. He’s taking advantage of the persistent and seductive notion that there’s a secret handshake or something involved in getting published, that all you have to do is Know The Right Someone and your opus shall be published and Make You Rich. (Look, this is NOT TRUE. I can’t be any clearer: hard work and some luck; the harder you work the luckier you are, no guarantees, learn your craft, it takes WORK to do this. There is no magic pill, mmkay?) Instead of draining the aspiring writer’s bank account up front, he drains it on the back end by setting things up so he’s simply a packager, offering a contract no reputable packager would even dream of–a contract real agents or halfway-sensible business-savvy writers would look and and laugh at before unceremoniously tossing in the rubbish bin and rolling their eyes.

Sure, nobody forces these aspiring writers to sign the terrible contract Frey’s offering. Nobody forces people to hand over thousands to vanity presses or fake “agents” on the hope that they’ll be the next Shack. Nobody forces people to send cash to those companies running infomercials that promise you real estate riches, flatter abs, better pheromones, or what-have-you, either. It’s all legal, but that doesn’t mean it’s ethical, and it doesn’t mean it’s something I as a professional can just let wander by without pointing out it’s wrong. Incidentally, shame on the Hollywood people paying him, but that’s their right. I can vote with my pocketbook and not go to see the movies. I don’t think I’ll be missing much.

Also, Frey’s “I’m the bad boy of literature” refrain just rubs me the wrong way. If you have to say that out loud, dude, you’re NOT. Hemingway was a bad boy of literature. Oscar Wilde was a bad boy of literature. Charles Bukowski was a bad boy of literature. You, sir, are no Hemingway, Wilde, or Bukowski. You’re just a garden-variety grifter. Which, you know, go with what you’re good at, and as someone pointed out to me recently, that’s actually a lonely, high-stakes career that requires a lot of effort. So…yeah. Go you. But be prepared for me to point and laugh.

I also find it very interesting that Frey’s “defense” doesn’t contain specifics or documents (suitably blacked-out in certain bits for the privacy of the writers he’s “contracted” with, of course). If Frey really wants to prove his company’s not a huge scam, he should start offering some specifics. Transparency is his friend right now. Looking at his pattern of behavior, though, transparency is one thing we’re not going to get. The air of injured innocence he’s trying to float is pretty laughable. Once you’ve been caught in some whoppers, you need to work twice as hard and be twice as open to remain above reproach.

Anyway. The whole thing is just so…tacky. It must be terrible, living in a place so insecure you feel stealing other people’s work and scamming them is a viable strategy. It seems a lonely, stressful way to live, not to mention incredibly draining. One wonders why Frey bothers, when he could just stop the constant attention-seeking and misdirection and possibly use all that wasted energy to finish a few novels of his own–and maybe learn enough that he can get them published on their own merits, without lies.

‘Nuff said.

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