Thursday, May 14, 2009

Oprah OK's Frey's Way

or, Why Tell the Truth When Fiction is So Much More Interesting?

In a move that makes one go "Hmmmm..." Oprah has brought author James Frey (St. Joseph, MI native) back into the news. You remember Frey and his bestselling memoir "A Million Little Pieces" that languished in mid-list purgatory until Oprah featured it in her book club, launching it to instant best-seller-dom?

(I've heard it said that the 6 most important words in a writer's career are: "Thanks for inviting me back, Oprah.")

Then, those who had actually lived through the events described in the book noticed that the author had taken certain, erm, liberties with the facts. Most of the memoir was more-or-less true. (And one must always make certain allowances for the vagaries of memory in autobiographies and memoirs...) But many of the so-called "facts" had been manipulated to make them more interesting. After all, sales numbers don't lie...

(Regular readers may remember a rant on this topic early in 2006 when it was all happening.)

When the proverbial poo hit the media's fan blades, someone uncovered the fact that Frey's agent had originally shopped the manuscript around as a novel. Then Oprah called Larry King to apologize to her readers and say how betrayed she felt. Then she had Frey himself on her show and lambasted him for lying. At that moment, I was Oprah's biggest fan.

Frey lost much more than professional credibility and oozed from the public eye.

All was well with the world. Truth won out over fiction. Justice had been done, and Good prevailed over Evil.

Now, it seems, Ms. O. has changed her mind. Instead of calling Larry King to apologize for leading her fans astray, she has called Mr. Frey (who has a new novel out) to apologize to him for calling him on his fabrications.

Why would she do that?

It's been over 3 years since this little hiccup of credibility. Is it possible that Ms. O. has a memoir in the works and is realizing the merits of creative license? Or has the "Truth Scale" been discontinued for lack of interest -- to be replaced by an "Entertainment Meter?"

Time will tell...

I'm gearing up to begin work on a biographical project. At this point, I hold as an indisputable tenet that the story's Truth is king. I don't think it needs to be massaged to appease the masses' appetite for more. But if that all changes, it's good to know that Oprah will be on my side.