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The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

Author’s memoirs revealed as more fiction than facts

Illustration by The Collegian staff
Illustration by The Collegian staff

By Mary Barrera/reporter   

Illustration by The Collegian staff
Illustration by The Collegian staff

Despite the controversy that surrounds him, embattled author James Frey continues to speak at engagements nationwide, including one for a drug and alcohol addiction treatment facility next month in Dallas.

Frey’s biographical account of drug addiction, alcohol abuse and recovery came under scrutiny recently after an independent probe of his memoir A Million Little Pieces uncovered exaggerations and inaccuracies.

“ A Million Little Pieces is an experience, and when you finally, reluctantly, turn the last page, you want to meet the man who lived to tell this tale,” Oprah Winfrey said in Frey’s introduction to the Oprah Book Club audience on her national talk show.

The Smoking Gun Web site began its examination after Frey’s October appearance on Oprah.

“ We initially set off to just find a mug shot of him,” Smoking Gun editor William Bastone said in a recent CNN interview.

However, when the staff looked for a mug shot in three states where Frey said he ran into trouble, they had difficulty finding one.

“ It basically set off a chain of events … that led to a more prolonged review of various parts of Frey’s book,” Bastone said.

Prior to the Smoking Gun probe, Frey never let on that anything in the memoir had been fabricated. In 2003, he told Today host Matt Lauer he had not invented anything and that everything he wrote about happened. In the author’s own words posted on the book club’s Web site, Frey stated his pages were “simple, spare, honest, true.”

In one instance in the book, Frey says he spent three months in jail after nearly hitting a police officer. Frey says the officer called for backup. Frey dropped f-bombs, called the police pigs and was charged with numerous felonies after a night of drinking and smoking crack.

Bastone said the police officer’s description of the event was quite different.

Frey was on the side of the road with a flat tire after driving over a curb. There was a half-full bottle of beer but no bag of crack. He was arrested on a charge of driving under the influence and released on bond. The arresting officer said Frey was polite and cooperative, and nothing in the police report indicates he was combative, argumentative or anything like that.

“ He [Frey] wrote fiction, or at least a fictionalized account of what may be a core of truth, but he published it as a biography which implies nonfiction,” Yvonne Jocks, instructor of creative writing and published author, said. 
Jocks and many like her are irate that Frey lied about a problem millions of addicts have actually suffered.

What he did was wrong … it is a somewhat dangerous argument that people can live the kind of vomit-covered, crime-ridden life he describes and not only survive it, but survive it to become a best-selling author and literary star, Jocks said.

“ If it were true, it would be uplifting; as a falsehood, not so much,” she said.

Because of the controversy, Random House offered refunds to customers who bought books directly from the company. The publisher normally sells books directly to consumers as nonrefundable.

“ His claim of truth diminishes the very real battle that some people are waging against their addictions or their pasts,” Jocks said. “It did not help his case that he appeared on Oprah and earnestly discussed his story’s truth.”

Winfrey called in to the Larry King Live Show during an interview with Frey.

“ I am disappointed by this controversy surrounding A Million Little Pieces because I rely on the publishers to define the category that a book falls within and also the authenticity of the work,” she said.

Winfrey said the underlying message of redemption still resonated with her and the millions of other people who read the book.

The author is scheduled to speak at an awards ceremony for Turtle Creek Manor, a facility dedicated to providing its clients with sufficient long-term care so they can return to the community with psychiatric stability, sobriety, employment and permanent housing.

“ [Frey] told a vivid and gripping story of the horrors of addiction and the promise of recovery,” John Castaneda, executive director of Turtle Creek Manor, said. “It no doubt touched thousands of readers concerned about the devastating effects of chemical addiction.”

Castaneda said his organization did not select Frey as a speaker based on his description of his arrest record, but rather on his vivid description of the degradation that an addict suffers and the fact that he found a way out of the darkness.

“ Though we are not in total agreement with Frey’s opinions on addiction and recovery, he has established himself as an important voice on the issue, and we are still very anxious to hear what he has to say,” he said.

In off-the-record remarks to the Smoking Gun, Frey admitted fudging some facts.

According to his publisher, future hardcover and paperback editions of the disputed memoir will include a brief author’s note that refers to the content of the book.

Frey will appear at the Vision of Hope Awards Luncheon in Dallas Feb. 3. A book sale and signing are scheduled as well. Tickets are $125 per person and benefit Turtle Creek Manor.

“ We are working hard to sell tickets,” Castaneda said, “but I can’t say for sure whether all the publicity will affect attendance. We depend on events like this to supplement our operating funds.”

Frey’s memoir sold 1.8 million copies last year after being chosen for Winfrey’s book club, which made it the best-selling nonfiction book of 2005. It topped the New York Times nonfiction paperback best-seller list for 15 weeks. Warner recently bought the movie rights.

For more information on Turtle Creek Manor’s Vision of Hope Awards Luncheon, visit the Web site at www. tcmanor.org.

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