May 16th, 2011
06:20 PM ET
The dramatic 2006 showdown between Oprah Winfrey and controversial writer James Frey on her talk show is probably etched into some of our brains, but Frey’s never seen it.
Still, the author of the fictionalized memoir “A Million Little Pieces” says he can vividly recall the experience before, during and after that episode, when Winfrey publicly took him to task for being misleading about some of the events in the book.
That episode "is sort of a personal car crash for me,” he told Winfrey on her show Monday. “I just don’t want to watch it. It definitely wasn’t my finest day, and it wasn’t a day I was proud of whatsoever.”
That’s not to say, however, that Frey thinks Winfrey should’ve eased up a bit.
Although he refers to the incident as a public stoning – and has a painting to reflect as much – and feels like he was “steamrolled” by Winfrey, he doesn’t think he was a victim.
“I knew that what happened was my fault, I created that mess, I created that situation and if I had to come bear the responsibility of what I’d done," he said. "Whatever happened on that show happened because of me...I can’t believe I did that and I lived through it."
Frey said that he did originally shop his book around as a novel, but noted that he didn’t think about genre while he was writing it.
“When I sat down to write the book, I didn’t think of it as a memoir or a novel, even. I thought of it as, in some ways, a statement of defiance. I wrote the book without any respect for grammar or punctuation or how books are laid out on pages. I wrote the book without any respect for what is fact or fiction, or what category it should be placed in,” he told Winfrey. “I wrote it in defiance of those things, thinking it was something that existed in a place beyond them. I come at a lot of what I do from the art world; I’m more influenced by artists than writers. Let’s say you look at a cubist self-portrait by Picasso…it doesn’t actually look anything like Picasso, or if it does, it does in ways that might only make sense to him.”
But when it came time to publish the work, no one was interested in it as a novel. “At a certain point I had the opportunity to publish it as a memoir,” Frey says, and “there came a day when the decision was made. There came a lot of days where it was, ‘It’s time for you to go promote it,’ and it was [promoted as] a memoir.”
If he could do it again, he would be “very clear when that book came out what it was. I would’ve been very clear about what I was trying to do when I wrote it,” he told Winfrey. “When I wrote the book I was trying to create a work of literature or a work of art,” he explained.
Frey doesn’t recall being told by producers for “The Oprah Winfrey Show” what was really about to go down when he was brought on the program in 2006 – “I was told that it was going to be about a flexible definition of truth,” he says, and that "I would have the chance to tell my side of it" without other guests like Frank Rich being involved.
So, he told Winfrey on Monday, he felt “ambushed.”
“Absolutely, I felt like I got ambushed,” Frey said. But he maintains that “even if I’d known what I was walking into, I still would’ve walked into it. In a lot of ways it didn’t matter what happened on that show because in some ways I deserved it. It came time to pay for it, and I paid for it.”
“We can swing back to what a memoir is or isn’t, what rules there are or aren’t, what advice I got or didn’t get,” he told Winfrey, “but at the end of this the responsibility all has to come back to me.”
The second part of Winfrey's interview with James Frey airs tomorrow.
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