James Frey is originally from Ohio. His books A Million Little Pieces, My Friend Leonard, Bright Shiny Morning and The Final Testament of the Holy Bible have all been bestsellers around the world. He is married and lives in New York.
Q. What was your first engagement with literature and what inspired you to pursue a career in writing?
I mean I always loved reading books, as a kid I loved reading. I read The Hardy Boys, Tolkien, CS Lewis and as I got older I loved Jack Kerouac, Charles Bukowski, Ken Kesey and a million other books. Like, until I was twenty-one I read a tonne of books and I loved reading, but I never actually imagined I could be a writer. To me it was like writers were these mystical people that were smarter than me, better educated than me or led more interesting lives than me, braver than me. When I was twenty-one I read Tropic of Cancer and I couldn’t fucking believe it existed and after I read it I was like wow. I describe it in Katerina as someone had turned a light bulb on in my soul…and from that point forward it was like, well if he can do it, I can do it. And I just kept trying until I actually wrote a book that got published. That took eleven years and I just kept reading books. I still keep reading. I’ve got a tonne of books, I still love getting books, looking at books, holding books, I still like bookstores, I just love losing myself in a book.
Q. Are you more a book kind of guy? Do you like a physical copy or do you read in other formats?
I do both. Kinda depends on where I am. If I finish a book at night, I’ll go to the bookstore the next day…if I’m on a plane I’ll just get a book online. I don’t care how I read them, digital or physical, I actually like mixing it up a little bit. Because I like to support the different places that sell books. So, sometimes I’ll go to Barnes and Noble or somewhere near my house. I don’t give a fuck how I read them, I just like reading.
Q. So you’re a fan of reading, are there any particular writers that are currently exciting you or that you are enjoying?
I love Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. I just read Cherry by Nico Walker which I liked, I also read Less by Andrew Sean Greer – which I thought was awesome. There is always a cool book to discover – I met Walter Mosley a couple months ago, and then went on a mission reading his books, he’s a great writer and a cool guy. What are you reading these days that you like?
You name it I read it, with STORGY I’m the book guy, so I get sent everything. I am currently reading Melmoth by Sarah Perry which is a very dark Gothic tale. I’m also reading quite a lot of indie publishing at the moment. I don’t know what it’s like in the States but here in the UK there is a huge resurgence in independent publishing and they are producing some fabulous books, some of these are also going on to win awards and get some high recognition, facing off against the big publishers – there is a change in the air. Some of these amazing indie publishers I’d recommend are Comma Press, Unsung Stories and one in particular Dead Ink Books which is doing a fabulous job – I’ve read a brilliant book by Naomi Booth called Sealed…
(James Frey) – I’m looking at their website right now – this looks cool.
…we reviewed it on our site recently and she’s judging our short story competition this year. Harry Gallon is another indie writer who did a book called Every Fox Is A Rabid Fox. He’s someone to keep an eye out for. We’ve got so many independent presses that are popping up all over the place, it’s just a very exciting time at the moment. Last year we also published our own anthology called Exit Earth which has themes about the apocalypse and the end of the world. But yeah I read everything…I also just finished reading Chuck Palahniuk’s Adjustment Day which was brilliant and I’d recommend that too. In Katerina you talked about some of the writers that inspired you, there were so many that run parallel with my own tastes…such as Bukowski, Hunter S Thompson, Knut Hamsun, all of which are kind of our staple here at STORGY, we’re a bit of a deranged bunch of people.
(James Frey) – Sounds like we’re of the same tribe!
I’d highly recommend looking up Dead Ink and seeing what they are up to. There was a new Kickstarter that went live recently from Unsung Stories called This Dreaming Isle which is an anthology that focuses on this little island we live on, dealing with the post Brexit era, whilst also looking back at folklores and looking forward to what might happen. It’s got a crazy list of authors on there. One of the guys I like reading who’s also in the anthology is James Miller – he just wrote a book called UnAmerican Activities – it’s kinda like a collection of short stories but has a running theme and interwoven narrative so it can also be read like a novel. But, there just a few, there are so many more…I guess I could talk for hours about books!
Q. But let’s get back to you, that’s why you’re here. How have things changed for you since being labelled the ‘Bad Boy of American Literature’? Do you still think you’ve got this target on your back, that people are waiting to shoot you down?
Yeah…(chuckles heartily). It was funny Emma sent me a review this morning that ran in the Observer yesterday where I just got slaughtered right?
(James Frey) – Did you see it?
Yeah I did.
(James Frey cont…) I mean, I read it and I was bummed out for about 20 seconds, but then I was like, the fact I can still make people feel that way was a good thing. The goal always has been and always will be to make people either love what I do or hate what I do. To make them react to it in some way or have an opinion about it. I can’t say it always feels good to read terrible things about yourself, because it doesn’t. I’m not going to pretend that I’m invulnerable to it, but at the same time, it’s my job to do this. I love my job and the book is what it is, all that really matters to me, is if someone reads it and loves it and if some kid reads it and it does to them what Henry Miller did to me – if someone reads it and it moves them, or makes them laugh or smile or changes them in some way…it’s a gift to get to do this. And I’m lucky to get to do it, and it makes me happy to do it, and when the books come out they do what they do. I don’t mind if people hate it. There is a passage in the book where I say I want to write books that are art. I’m not going to follow anyone’s rules, or anyone’s expectations, I’m going to do the best I can to make art with words, I did that this time and hopefully some people dig it and if others don’t that’s cool too.
Q. You said Katerina that your aim is to ‘burn the fucking world down’ and ‘bear your soul’, and with Katerina I believe you did just that. You’re going to have those that love it and those that hate it…I don’t know if you have Marmite in America?
(James Frey) No, we have something else…
Well in the UK we’ve got this thing called Marmite, you either love it or you hate it and your work is kinda split into two tribes too. So, I think as you said people are going to either dig it or there not. I think what you said about creating art is true, you only have to see from your structure and how you position things, which we will get onto later, but for me it’s making art, you make the words sing when you write and I love it.
(James Frey cont..) Thank you. But to finish it, I don’t mind being the bad boy. In my day to day life, I’m just a man who goes to his office by himself for long periods of time, but if my work still stirs enough emotion to warrant that label…fucking good.
Q. For those reading this could you give them a little idea of what they can expect from Katerina?
I mean love and sex and youth and ambition and art and the act of creation, of pain and love and loss and regret. It’s about shit that we all feel, it’s about dreams, it’s about heartbreak, it’s about basic universal emotions. It’s about love and at the core it’s a love story about two people who fall in love and lose each other and then find each other again. One thing I try to do with all the books I write is to write about universal stuff, stuff that I feel, stuff that I have experienced in some way. It’s a book about following your life’s path, whatever that may be. It’s a book about burning the fucking world down. About the idea that we don’t have to be who everyone else wants us to be. We can be ourselves, even if it hurts, even if we suffer for it, it’s worth it.
Q. I couldn’t put it better myself…Katerina is very autobiographical, a field that we believe you’re at home in, whether your work is loosely based on fact, embellished or not, we personally couldn’t care less, it’s brilliant and we can’t get enough of it…
…what made you head back to this type of writing, turning the lens back on yourself after Bright Shiny Morning and The Final Testament?
You know, I hadn’t written a book in a while and I wanted to write a book. It’s the one that I felt inside me right? I can sit down and write a book when I know I have one in me – I have four or five different ideas for books…which is probably what I have right now. As I let them sort of sit there and float around, one of them usually comes out and tells me that I should write it. And this book told me I had to write it. You know, however autobiographical it is, it is relevant to me, right? I’m a forty-eight year old novelist, writer, whatever, who had a lot of his dreams come true and who still struggles, who still feels pain, and still feels loss and regret and love and hope and a lot of human things. It was just the book I wanted to write. I think I’m probably done writing about, however loosely or not, my own life. I think this will be the last time. It’s just the book I wanted to write. A year and a half or so ago, I sat down at my desk and put a sign up on the wall that said ‘Bare your soul’ and I put pictures up of Henry Miller, Auguste Rodin, Baudelaire and the Gates of Hell, and I was like fuck it, let’s see if you can still do it – let it fucking rip.
Q. So Katerina is like the final piece of your trilogy what with A Million Little Pieces and My Friend Leonard do you feel?
Yeah I think so. I know I have another couple of books in me. I have a pretty good idea of what I am going to write next, but I guess I’ve never called it a trilogy before but I like that you do, and I like the idea that they are. And I like the idea that it’s a confusing trilogy, it’s all a little bit messy.
What I particularly liked about Katerina, were these timelines between the books – so as I was reading I was acutely aware of the timeline of A Million Little Pieces and I was wondering at some point if Katerina was going to end where A Million Little Pieces started. I thought it was a brilliant way you got it across in the writing. I can quite clearly see that it’s a trilogy.
(James Frey cont.) It was interesting after the publisher in America read it, they had someone in there office do a timeline of events across all three books. I knew as I was writing it, that in some ways that timeline was matching up and in other ways it was not matching up, and I think that’s cool right? Clearly you can see the connections and the threads but it’s definitely not all perfect, I think it’s a nice button to those books, and in a way I feel that those books needed a button. I did a book that comes before them and comes after them.
Yeah definitely – at one point I went back and started reading the opening chapters of A Million Little Pieces because I wanted to refresh my mind of who put you on the plane and if it was one of these characters that I was reading about…
(James Frey cont.) Yeah the thing in Katerina is that I say I go to South Carolina and in a A Million Little Pieces I was wigging out in North Carolina – I knew they were different. I made them deliberately different. But they’re kinda not that different.
Q. The stylistic techniques you use in all of your books – are all similar in a unique and distinct style – In Katerina you say.
‘And so instead of trying to write the right way, I started writing the wrong way. Grammar how I felt like using it punctuation how I felt like using it words in whatever way I pleased putting them on the page However I fucking Pleased.’
And in another section you say.
‘I don’t give a fuck about genre or classification, I didn’t give a fuck about fact or fiction, I didn’t give a fuck how it would be read or received it was words on a page a story being told it was the clearest purest most direct statement of expression I could make all that mattered was the next word, the next sentence, was it right, was it fucking right.’
How long did it take you to be comfortable writing in your style, it is very different to anyone else out there? Have you had to battle with editors asking you to change it?
No, I mean it took a long time to find it and to learn it and to figure it out. I moved to Paris when I was twenty-one and had my first book published when I was thirty-two. It took a long time. It took a long time to figure out how to be myself and how I wanted to write; how to learn to disregard what I didn’t feel was relevant and to also figure out what I thought was. Once I found it, it was easy. I very much write by instinct. I don’t use outlines, I just start writing and I trust myself. I believe I’ll find the right word, the next right word and the next right sentence and find the next right paragraph and page, I believe that I always will. But it took a long time to get there. And it’s made me very comfortable taking risks and doing whatever I feel like. With regards to editors the only book I wrote that has been edited was A Million Little Pieces. The other books aren’t. I send them a draft, I don’t let them edit it, we copy edit it to make sure to fix missing words or typos and bullshit like that, but I don’t let them do anything to the books…
Q. Have you had to fight for that or has it come quite easy having that kind of hold on your creative works?
I mean it was a great gift, the success of A Million Little Pieces gave that to me, and part of that came because A Million Little Pieces was edited – some of the stuff that got me into trouble was added by request. And so, after that, I was like fuck that! I’m never going to listen to anyone every again, I write what I wanna write, we publish it as we publish it and that’s how it goes. I do the covers of my books, I control every aspect of it: the typeface, how it’s laid out, the covers, the colours, everything.
Q. When you write do you go straight to the computer and write or do you scribble in note books and sketch out your ideas?
No…I go beginning to end, on an Apple computer. I type with two fingers I listen to music the whole time, I work on a couch. So, I’m either sitting or lying down on a couch, the music is usually on loud and I just start. This book was quick, it took five months to write probably. It was so quick. It felt great.
Q. Your first book, as you said, took a long time to write. Has it gradually got easier with each book or does it depend on the subject matter or the type of book you’re writing?
It hasn’t got easier, The Final Testament was the hardest book I wrote, it took like a year and a half – which is one of the longest it’s taken me. Yeah, this book just came out, it just fucking came out and it felt so good to do it. I just didn’t want to stop, I was putting in really long days and I wanted to finish it, I wanted to get to the end, not because it was arduous, but I wanted the joy of having done it. If that makes sense?
Q. You’ve faced quite a lot of backlash, heat in the press, lawsuits, banning’s and a whole plethora of other very unsavoury stuff – in Katerina you say –
‘One book two books three books four. Hatred and love, banning’s and burnings and lawsuits, headlines and talk shows and readings with thousands of people, book tours around the globe enraged journalists and devoted fans terrified editors and canceled contracts best-seller lists and movie deals the world it fucking burned. It was magnificent and terrifying and surreal and thrilling and terrible and heartbreaking and inspiring and exhausting.’
How difficult has it been for you to keep going, keep producing and to keep burning the fucking world down – when people still want to see you fail?
Yeah, I was talking to someone earlier today about this, a friend of mine, a buddy of mine who I talk to a lot – and I was like fuck it man, what the fucking else am I going to do? Sometimes it’s hard and sometimes it’s scary and it creates a lot of anxiety, but it’s still what I do. It’s still what I fucking love to do and it’s still fun. You know, he called me because he saw that Observer thing and he was like ‘how did it make you feel man?’ And I said more or less the same thing I said to you, it hurt for about 30 seconds but I was like fuck it. Fuck it, I guess I’m still James Frey right? I guess I can still piss mother fuckers off. Part of the reason I wrote this book was because I missed it. When I wrote The Final Testament I thought that would be my last real book right? I’d written four, I was happy with them, proud of them, they had done what I had dreamed of and I thought I could walk away from it. But, I guess I couldn’t, because I love it, I love the process of writing deeply, it brings me great joy to be in a room with a machine and a blank page, it truly does. All the rest of it, we will see, at the end of the day who gives a fuck right? I get to travel around and talk about a book I wrote, people will show up because they loved the book and some people will show up because they fucking hate it. Either way it’s a great gig to get to do it. I hope the book burns the fucking world down…I guess we’ll see, if it doesn’t, I’ll just do it again.
Q. In Katerina, at certain points you point the finger at yourself. It’s a very personal book and you get that from reading it; you give yourself a pretty hard time and it’s quite humbling to see you recognise these short comings. In the book you eloquently put it as ‘baring your soul’. Has working on this book been a bit of a cathartic release for you? To be able to come out and say ‘I’ve done that wrong and I’ve done this wrong’ – enabling people to take it away and read some deeply personal thoughts?
I mean some of the stuff I write about in the book I’ve never talked about. So, yeah in some ways it’s been cathartic, and some ways it felt good to write it. I always say that when I am deeply uncomfortable writing something, I know I’m doing it right. If it makes me uncomfortable to write it then I know I should be. Whether because it’s potentially offensive or very vulnerable or because it’s opening a door to a place most people won’t open – there were a lot of uncomfortable bits in the book, for a variety of reasons. But it felt good and it is what it is, I had so much fun doing it and I feel it will be so much fun having it come out.
Q. In the 2017 part of the book, you are having a conversation with Katerina that you’ve had some bad press you say.
I don’t count those books under a fake name, or the books about aliens, or any of that Hollywood nonsense.
Then they shouldn’t have your name on them? (Katerina)
It’s more complicated than that.
Because your name means more money? (Katerina)
More or less.
I never imagined you’d sell out? (Katerina)
Neither did I.’
Do you think that honestly, that you sold out at some point?
I don’t know right? I actually had a tonne of fun doing Pittacus Lore and doing End Game. In some ways I don’t think it’s a sell out because it’s the least likely thing anyone ever expected me to do, if that makes sense? I kinda like that I took it somewhere else. I didn’t give a fuck, like I could have kept doing what I was doing but I didn’t want to. I just wanted to do something else, so I went away and did it. It was fun and now I’m done with it. Was I a sell out? Maybe not. I know I don’t generally do anything for money right? I certainly didn’t sit down and write Katerina and think holy shit, I’m going to make so much money if I write this book. I sat down to write this book because it was inside me and I wanted it out, and I was compelled for whatever reason to do it. I wanted it to exist in the world and that is mostly what I do, I do things that I wish existed in the world, because they don’t exist, if that makes any sense? I certainly have lots of regrets in life, I don’t have any in my career, it’s been a crazy dream come true.
Q. When I first read A Million Little Pieces it completely blew me away, it’s one of my favourite books and the opening chapter is probably one of the best bits of writing I’ve ever read. It just drew me in and punched me in the face, it’s brilliant. Do you have any advice, we here at STORGY publish short fiction, we ourselves are writers and we have a large readership of writers – is there any advice you would give to writers out there about leaving your mark and baring your soul?
Thank you. My advice would be don’t be fucking scared. I know that sounds ridiculous but what I think stops people from being their best is fear. Fear of failure, fear that people won’t like it, fear that it’s not right, fear that you’re going to offend somebody…fuck all that shit. You know, take your biggest swing every time. If you’re scared while you’re working that’s good, if you think you’re taking too big a risk, that’s good. If you’re worried you’re being too bold, that’s good. Take the biggest swing you can every time. You know we’ve only got one shot at this.
Q. Do you think sometimes writers are a bit scared of offending people? You’ve kind of transcended the need for an editor to tell you how to do it, or for a publisher to tell you we’d like you to do it this way – do you think writers that are up and coming are scared of being censored as it were? If they release something it wouldn’t sell because it doesn’t fit a particular mould?
For sure, more and more and more right? I think England is divided in a way similar to America but probably not as extreme. Whatever you do now you’re going to fucking offend somebody. And so why not just be yourself and let it rip. Like I said the review I got earlier that we mentioned, clearly the dude was offended as fuck (cackles of laughter) so be it!
Q. So, the film of A Million Little Pieces is in production, directed by Sam Taylor-Wood and staring a plethora of fabulous actors. Have you had much involvement in the project and are you excited about seeing it come to life on screen?
I’ve known Sam a long long time. I knew her when she was an artist before she was directing films, she’s someone I really like, really love, really respect and really admire. Her and Aaron came to me two years ago probably, and said ‘we wanted to make A Million Little Pieces into a movie’. And I said great. They said ‘what do you want?’ I said I don’t want anything, I want you to make the best movie you can, and I want you to be true to the vision that you have. I don’t need to write it, I don’t need to be involved, if you want my help, I’ll give it, but if you don’t then that’s cool too. They are super close friends of mine, I really do love them and they made their movie – and I feel honoured that they spent a year of their life on my book. And I hope people dig it when they see it…I’ve seen it and I think it’s awesome.
Q. Do you know when it comes out?
The premier in North America at the Toronto Film Festival – but I don’t think they have a release date yet.
Q. Is there any reason why you didn’t want to make it?
Not really. I’ve worked enough in the movie business to know that A) I’m not very good at it and B) it doesn’t make me all that happy – I write books because that’s the way I want to present my work, and if other people want to turn them into films or TV shows then cool – but I don’t need to do it. Writing books makes me happy, being alone makes me happy. I don’t need any of the rest of it – I’m stoked and honoured that they wanna make it, but they are better at it than me.
Q. Was Bright Shiny Morning freeing after A Million Little Pieces and My Friend Leonard to focus on fiction where you didn’t have to get facts straight – with the particular style it’s written in, it brings to mind authors like Hubert Selby Jnr and Bret Easton Ellis – did Bright Shiny Morning give you a freedom to create?
It was my favourite book to write, it was the most fun. It was after all the A Million Little Pieces controversy. I had planned to do this book before that all blew up. And it was great. Yeah, it’s fiction, but there is all sorts of information in it that may or may not be fiction. You know I certainly fuck around a lot in that book with what is fact and what is not. There are long sections in the book that are called ‘Fun Facts About LA‘ and you know, half those facts are made up. In a way with Bright Shiny Morning I was giving my finger to everybody. I’d just got into a whole lot of trouble mixing fact and fiction and you know I assumed people would think I would just disappear for good or come back with a very safe book, a book that was very easy to classify and figure out, and I wanted to do the opposite. I wanted to write a big bold book that was entertaining as fuck but also it moved you and made you think, and it also fucked around with a lot of the usual shit, what in this book is real and what isn’t? It doesn’t fucking matter right? And I think I did that again with Katerina what in the book is real and what isn’t and does it matter? And to me it doesn’t matter…all that matters is how it makes you feel when you’re done with it.
Q. The Final Testament. Obviously you mentioned nobody edits your stuff, when you wrote it…we obviously have also gleaned that you don’t really care…were you concerned with the censorship around it? It’s obviously called The Final Testament of the Holy Bible which is about the second coming of Jesus – who’s completely not what you’d expect. Were you concerned with another backlash and also did you release it in America with a publisher or did you self-publish it?
No we released it with Gagosian Gallery it’s like the fanciest art gallery in the world – I released it with them. In America we published 10,000 copies, very expensive, beautiful books that looked like bibles, they were slipcase, leather bound, silver gilded, the Messiah’s words were all red lettered. We released 10,000 copies and then released 1000 more that were white leather and had real lambs blood sprayed on the edges. And then we released it digitally. I liked it that in America, at least, that I was making these beautiful books that were expensive and that wouldn’t be available after the initial run of them were sold. We had offers from traditional publishers to publish it, I didn’t not do it that way because I was scared or worried about the reaction, I published it the way I published it with Gagosian because they were willing to make these beautiful rare books and I also liked the idea that I was publishing a novel with an art gallery. We are saying that this book should be considered a work of art just like anything else. It was fun and it was cool, but even then we got a tonne of shit with it. We were going to have an opening for it and some Catholics called and said if you have this party for this book we will have a thousand protesters outside your door and I just laughed, I was like fuck yeah. It’s ok to be dangerous, it’s OK to provoke.
Q. You released it in the UK with John Murray, they’ve released all your books – what’s it like working with a publisher that really gets you?
Yeah every book. I love John Murray man. Like for a long time at John Murray there was a guy called Roland Philipps who ran the joint. Roland is someone that I deeply, deeply love and admire and who has been a huge part of my career. Not just as my UK publisher but as my friend and as someone that I trust and whose taste I trust and whose advice I value, and who has been unflinching in his support. It’s a new regime there now, but they have been equally awesome. I think the UK is braver than the US in terms of dealing with difficult works of art. Especially in today’s world – it’s one of the reasons I released The Final Testament in the traditional way in the UK with John Murray, and I knew they wouldn’t be freaked out by people’s reactions to it. I knew they wouldn’t bend, I knew they wouldn’t shy away from whatever happened with it. I’d been through A Million Little Pieces with them and they were fucking awesome. I love John Murray. As long as they’ll have me, I’ll publish every book with them for the rest of my life. And I love releasing books in the UK – I love the audience there, I love that books still matter, so much more there than they do here. I love that literature is still part of the national conversation, which it rarely ever is in the US at this point. I love the history of literature in the UK which is obviously much longer and deeper than ours. I remember the first time I ever came over there, John Murray used to have the office in an old mansion off Piccadilly. It had been the company’s office for like 200 years right? I walked in to meet them and as we were walking around they were like ‘That’s Byron’s couch’, I said what do you mean Byron’s couch? ‘That’s the couch that Byron died on’ and I was like you got the fucking couch in your office? The fucking couch he died on in your office? And they were like ‘Yeah, well we were his publisher and he spent a lot of time here!’ I was like holy fuck that is the coolest fucking thing ever!
Q. I hope they washed it?
(heartily laughing) I didn’t ask that! I just thought it was fucking cool that they had it – they also had a box of love letters that women wrote to Byron down in the basement, it was like fucking awesome.
Q. Are you thinking of coming to the UK anytime soon for the book tour?
I’m coming at the end of September – you should come to London. We can hang out.
Q. Moving on to Full Fathom Five now, how did you create or conceive the idea for Full Fathom Five – was it a personal aspiration to create a content company or was it a collaboration with like minded individuals?
It was all because of a dude in fucking England! I was writing text for a book for Damien Hirst right? And I came over to see him, we hung out for a couple of days in London and then he took me up to his production facility in Gloucestershire; and we were walking around this facility and he had a couple of hundred people making art for him. It was sort of the old fashioned renaissance art studio model but in a 21st Century way and I just thought it was awesome, it was brilliant. I think Damien is a great artist and a great dude. I was on the plane home from that trip and I was like if he can do that with art, I can do that with stories right? I’ll just come up with ideas for stories and have other people write them. So, I tried it and it worked and off I went and I just kept on doing it. But it literally all came out of my time with Damien. Entirely.
Q. How does the relationship between you and the writer work, would you just give them an idea and that team would go away…do you give them plot points or the rough structure and they go away and fill in the gaps and connect the dots?
I mean sometimes I write outlines, sometimes it would be a one line idea, sometimes it would be something in between that. I would always be part of it. I’d read it, give my input – but I have editors that work for me and writers that work for me, in a way it was never about me. I could have released every book as me. We’ve released something like 225 books, three of them had my name on them – it was just about making cool shit, it was about the fact that we were doing it – that’s all that mattered. And we did it, it was fun and cool and it is still fun and cool.
Q. Do people submit work to you? Are you like a publisher now…do you take novel submissions?
No, we don’t take submissions. We create it all ourselves. We tend to not take submissions because we want the ownership of it to be clean, we don’t want someone sending us something and then say that I stole it. It’s just a lot easier and simpler to come up with the ideas ourselves, if we have the writers that we think can produce it, we just use them, and if we don’t we just go out and try and find somebody else. I wouldn’t do it any more if I didn’t dig it.
Q. Aside from Literature where do you draw your inspiration from?
I mean still visual art. I love painters and visual artists – I love visual art from the renaissance up. You know the way I said Damian Hirst inspired Full Fathom Five. The effect of visual art on what I do is immense. You know I write with music always, I have music playing when I write and I usually listen to music that matches the emotional tone of what I am writing. So, when I write something angry or crazy I listen to Led Zeppelin or old punk…when I am writing lovey dovey stuff I listen to cheesy love songs from the 80’s, but I constantly have music on. I love movies and television, I think The Handmaids Tale is this great radical work of art, it’s fucking incredible. It’s astonishing. There is a TV show I love called Fleabag – do you know it?
I thought Fleabag was fucking great.
Q. How on earth did you discover that?
My wife. One day I came home from work and she was like ‘have you ever head of the show Fleabag?’ and I was like no and she said ‘I watched the first episode and it was fucking awesome, do you wanna watch it?’And so we sat and watched the few episodes in probably like two nights. I just thought it was fucking awesome. You can find beauty in so much in the world right? I find beauty sitting out in my yard, looking at the fucking sky, I find beauty in watching my children play, I find beauty in a song in another book, in a painting, a television show, there is plenty there if you wanna feel it and wanna look for it.
Q. At STORGY we publish short stories weekly – what are your thoughts on the short story genre?
You know I love a great short story. I’ve written a lot of them for artists. When I write art books, which I’ve done a lot of, I’ve done like thirty of them now. I don’t write essays on art, but write short stories that work with the art. That’s the only time I’ve ever written a short story – but I love reading them. It’s a different form of art than a novel right? Sometimes it’s harder to tell a complete moving story in a limited number of pages. There can be paintings that are 10 feet by 25 feet or there can be paintings that are 10 inches by 12 inches and if the artist can render whatever it is they are painting effectively…then great. I think it’s the same with writing right?
Q. I know you mentioned that you are working on something, I don’t know if you can talk about it or not, so what’s next for you?
I already started the next one. It’s based on a thirty-five page short story that I wrote probably about a decade ago, that I am going to blow out into a novel. It’s a contemporary version of the Divine Comedy. In the Divine Comedy the poet Virgil takes Dante on a tour of hell, purgatory and heaven, in my version the poet Virgil takes me on a tour of hell, purgatory and heaven. It’s certainly not going to be written like Dante did it. It’s going to be my own version of that story. It will be ridiculous and funny and hopefully it will break your fucking heart. I’m going to do that next – I already started. And then I am going to write a book about Timothy McVeigh.
Q. Wow, they both sound awesome! I know in Katerina you say you have about three or four books going around in your head. When do you decide to pull the trigger on an idea?
When if I don’t do it, I hate myself too much. It probably sounds weird, but at a certain point I can’t look myself in the mirror because I know I should be sitting down and working. Then I sit down and work.
Q. What book if you can narrow it down to one – and you can’t pick Tropic of Cancer – which book do you wish you could have written and why?
Have you ever read Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse?
No not yet?
(James Frey cont.) I wish I had written Siddhartha it’s 105 pages. It’s perfect. There is not a fucking word in it that’s not perfect. It’s short, it’s efficient, it breaks your heart, it changes your life…if you’re open to it changing your life. It’s fucking beautiful – it’s a masterpiece I wish I had written it.
Thank you for spending time chatting to us James and good luck with the book, lets hope it burns the fucking world down!
Katerina is published by John Murray and is available to purchase here.
You can also read our review of Katerina here.
‘Probably one of the finest and most important writers to have emerged in recent years.’
‘A furiously good storyteller.’
New York Times
‘America’s most notorious author.’
‘Frey can really write. Brilliantly. And if you don’t think so, f*** you.’
Interviewed by Ross Jeffery
Twenty-four short stories, exclusive afterwords, interviews, artwork, and more.
From Trumpocalypse to Brexit Britain, brick by brick the walls are closing in. But don’t despair. Bulldoze the borders. Conquer freedom, not fear. EXIT EARTH explores all life – past, present, or future – on, or off – this beautiful, yet fragile, world of ours. Final embraces beneath a sky of flames. Tears of joy aboard a sinking ship. Laughter in a lonely land. Dystopian or utopian, realist or fantasy, horror or sci-fi, EXIT EARTH is yours to conquer.
EXIT EARTH includes the short stories of all fourteen finalists of the STORGY EXIT EARTH Short Story Competition, as judged by critically acclaimed author Diane Cook (Man vs. Nature) and additional stories by award winning authors M R Cary (The Girl With All The Gifts), Toby Litt (Corpsing), James Miller (Lost Boys), Courttia Newland (A Book of Blues), and David James Poissant (The Heaven of Animals), and exclusive artwork by Amie Dearlove, HarlotVonCharlotte, CrapPanther, and cover design by Rob Pearce.
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