My Talk with Author James Frey

Happy Friday! Here’s a little TGIF treat! James is my publisher (FFF Digital), and I have known him for over ten years. Today he’s been kind enough to give us a little peek into his writing process, tell us about books he loved as a teen, share some thoughts on his latest best seller, Endgame and more. Hope you enjoy! I found this interview very inspiring. It made me want to get up and write! Hope you feel the same.

James, you genre hop. I once had a conversation with an agent where he adamantly told me to pick a genre and stick with it. To do other wise was to kill your commercial career. You have obviously chosen to not follow this advice and have achieved great success. Can you speak to this (possibly outdated) adage?

I’ve heard that as well. And in many cases it works, and is good advice. But I would get bored writing in one genre. Writing a book is a challenge to me. Something I always challenge myself to do. If I was writing in one genre, it would be less challenging for me.  It would become something I do for a job instead of something I do because I love it. I always admired Stanley Kubrick, the film director. Nobody genre-jumped more than him. And nobody was better than him. When I was young and getting started I wanted to do what he did, but with books. Tell the story I love, regardless of genre. Tell the story that gets you excited, and you’ve never seen anyone tell before. Stay fresh, stay hungry.

How is your process different when you write for adults and when you write for children/teens?

It’s not at all. I have a story I want to tell. I figure out the best way to tell it. I sit down and work until I believe I’ve gotten it right. I don’t write with demographics and markets in mind. I write because I want to do something and have a story I think is worth telling. The only real difference in the writing is that Endgame has fas less profanity in it than my other books.

Why did you choose to engage with the young adult space? What intrigued you about it?

It wasn’t a choice about specifically engaging YA. I dig YA, and I read it, but it was about the book. And after discussions with my agent and publisher, we decided the best market for it was a younger market. I want everyone to read my books, from teenagers to people in their 90’s. The best books find wide wide audiences, reach readers of all ages, and that is always what I want to do.

You love art. What is it about art that gets your juices flowing?  Do you imagine the creative process for a painter is similar to yours as a writer?  What artists are on your radar currently?

Art makes me think and feel. Makes me smile. Awes me. Art, books, music, film, they can all do it. Art is just another form of expression. I think I approach writing in the way many artists do in that I have little or no respect for rules or convention. I do what I want to do, I do it how I want to do it. I don’t believe I have to follow all of the supposed rules of grammar and punctuation, or fiction and non-fiction, genre, or formatting on the page. The goal is to express myself in a way that feels right to me. How someone else thinks I should do it is irrelevant. And that spirit is much stronger in art than it is in writing.

Does the business of selling books inhibit your creative process at this point in your career or have you overcome that? If you have overcome – share share!

I’ve been very very lucky. I’ve always written whatever I wanted to write, and somehow it’s worked out. So I still do it. I create things I wish existed in the world, things I wish I had gotten to read or see, things I wish someone else had done. Nobody has, so I do them. Selling books and having commercial success is a weird combination of hard work, luck, doing the right thing at the right time. If I knew the secret formula I would share it with you, but I don’t. Just keep working and have faith in yourself and what you do.

Taco Bell. Please comment.

The greatest fast-food restaurant in the history of existence. No further comment required.  


Your latest young adult novel, Endgame, calls for engagement from readers. How is this going?  Is it sparking the sort of response you had hoped for? Is this something you would have gone mad for as a teen? Were you a big reader as a teen? Favorites of yore that stick out?

It’s been great. We hit bestsellers lists in 12 countries and readers seem to be digging it. I always want to do better and sell more, so I’m hoping it continues to grow and find readers. Yes, like I said earlier, I write books I wish existed in the world. I def would have gone berserk for Endgame, and it’s amazing when I hear from readers who love it. I did read a ton when I was a teen. I loved Tolkien, Stephen King and Alexandre Dumas as a young teen, and got into Kerouac and Bukowski and Herman Hesse and Baudelaire when I was a little older. I’ve always loved books and reading, and always will.

What is the role of reading and writing in your house? Does everyone – kids and parents – love to read? Do you read together? What’s knocking the socks off the Frey’s right now?

We’re all readers, me, my wife, our kids. Reading is def a big part of our home and family life. I read every night for about an hour before I go to sleep. We have the kids read before bed as well. My wife reads all the time, and probably more than all of us combined. We all have a love for it. For books, for stories, for finding writers and burning through their work.

How do you carve out creative space with your busy life as publisher, dad, etc. 

I have mad ADD. So I jump from one thing to another throughout the day. I always go back to work. Make a call, work. Write an email, work. Watch some dumb video on the internet, work. Run around with the kids for a little while, work. Work is always in the back of my mind, and I always go back to it.

Meditation. Yes or no?

I have at times in my life. I did zen, which is hard and painful and rewarding, and Taoist walking/living meditation, which is simple and beautiful and incredibly serene. Currently no. I probably should, though, would mellow me the fuck out.


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