James Frey Interview, plus links to author biography, book summaries, excerpts and reviews

James Frey
Photo © Michael Foley

James Frey

An interview with James Frey

James Frey describes what it took to write A Million Little Pieces.

I started writing A Million Little Pieces in the Spring of 1996. For two or three years previous, I had been trying to figure out how to write it. I would sit down, start to work, and whatever came out was not what was in my head. The work did not have the strength I felt was going to be needed, it was not as simple as I wanted it to be, it was not able to carry the emotions I needed to express to tell the story. I kept at it, kept working. I wrote in my free time. I spent hours and hours and hours yelling at my computer, pacing across my floor back and forth back and forth, clenching my fists and clenching my jaw, writing and erasing, writing and erasing. It was never right, never even close, never what I thought, never what I felt. I needed to be able to write what I felt in my heart. I kept working. I kept working.

I sat down one morning. I had a cup of coffee strong and hot, I had a pack of cigarettes and ashtray. I read my latest attempts and they made me sick. I dragged them to the trash and sent them away bye-bye and good riddance. I opened a new document, took a deep breath, and without thinking or analyzing or struggling or even trying, I started to write. I wrote for the next couple of hours. Just drank my coffee and smoked my Marlboros and wrote. I stopped, walked my dogs, came back, read my work. It was right. It was right for me, what I wanted, my thoughts and feelings, in words, words, words.

I kept working. Over the course of five or six days I wrote what is now the first forty pages of A Million Little Pieces. I didn't think or analyze or struggle or try it just came from me, just came to the page, came from my mind and came from my heart. When I hit the forty page mark I stopped writing and read the pages. They were simple, spare, honest, true. I had stripped away everything I felt was unnecessary. I had removed most standard punctuation. There were periods denoting sentence breaks but no commas no quotation marks nothing that didn't need to be there. The work moved quickly as I had wanted it to move quickly. It was raw and brutal and uncomfortable and it hurt. It made me feel what I had felt when I lived the experience of it, it took me back and I was there, again, I was there again.

I didn't write the next day or the next or the next. I read the pages again and they scared me. They were what I wanted them to be and I knew that if I kept going I would have to keep writing in the same manner. I knew that what was coming, what I would have to face and write, would hurt me, hurt me almost as much as it had hurt when I had lived it, hurt me shake me scare me make me cry, reduce me to a heap of sorrow and anger, reduce me to that I which I had been before. I wasn't ready to do it. I didn't know if I would ever be ready to do it. I closed the file. I left it alone. I knew it was there it was always there but I did not go back to it. I never opened it.

Years passed one two three four. I thought about the pages they were always there, on my computer, in my head, with my heart. I thought about whether I should, whether I could, why. Reasons came and went I didn't do a thing, just thought and remembered, thought and remembered. I made movies fell in love fell out of love made more movies fell in love again. I thought and remembered. I started to believe that I could do it, should do it, had do it, I thought about why I should do it. I made a list of the reasons why I should, I made a list of the reasons against. The list I should read:

I have never seen about addiction or alcoholism that I felt was true to the experience that I had lived. Books always glamorize it or romanticize or make it seem cool. It is not glamorous. It is not romantic. It is not cool or even close, it is just fucking awful.

My friends are gone, the friends I made, either dead or locked away, they are almost all gone. They were great people. Troubled and difficult and addicted, but full of love and full of life and great despite their problems. I want to remember them, memorialize them, share them with others.

Addicts are misunderstood and Alcoholics are misunderstood. Our families and friends see us and wonder why we are the way we are they do not understand why we fall apart. If I write from my heart, if what I say is true and comes from a place of truth, it may help others understand what lives in the mind of the addicted and alcoholic.

I survived my addictions. I lived through them and past them. I did not do it the way most are told is the only way. I did not use God or a Higher Power or a Twelve Step Group of any kind. I used my will, my heart, my friends, my family. Most people who use God or a Higher Power or a Twelve Step Group fail. There is another way that might work. It worked for me. I want to share it. I hope it works for others.

The experience haunts me. I have never shared it with anyone, I have shared parts of it, but never all. If I share it, it will help me deal with it, help understand it, help me learn from it.

The list which contained the reason against writing the book was short it read:

I am scared.

Fear is only fear and fear is bullshit. I do not shrink from fear and I do not let it affect the way I live my life. In the fall of the year 2000 I opened the file. I read the forty pages and I started writing again. I wrote a page or two pages a day every single day for 310 straight days. I tried to be as honest as I could be, I tried to write the truth, every word came straight from my heart. I have never read it from beginning to end. I can only read small sections of it. It hurts me to even look at it. It is exactly what I wanted it to be, the pain is real, I hope you feel it. I felt it, and I tried to share it, I hope you feel it.

Thank you for reading this, I hope you can feel it.

Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.

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