James Frey: I knew I created a mess
May 16th, 2011
06:20 PM ET

James Frey: I knew I created a mess

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.

Filed under: Oprah Winfrey • television

soundoff (34 Responses)
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    July 8, 2012 at 1:48 am | Report abuse |
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    March 31, 2012 at 10:20 am | Report abuse |
  3. Rose

    Theodora & Callum get inside the head of American writer, James Frey to learn about his life and likes: http://www.theodoraandcallum.com/blog/cat/creative-factory/post/my-faves-james-frey/

    May 17, 2011 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse |
  4. doug

    i have never liked the idea of oprah or anybody else telling people what they should read. i did not watch her and won't miss her. people, she was a talk show host, nothing more and nothing less.

    May 17, 2011 at 11:12 am | Report abuse |
  5. charlie crack

    Oprahs a slob!

    May 17, 2011 at 10:44 am | Report abuse |
  6. charlie crack

    Theyre building another school that abuses kids in another country too! Woo hooo! Losers

    May 17, 2011 at 10:43 am | Report abuse |
  7. charlie crack

    Shes in space w/ tom cruise. They have a show on OWN. Im gona pull a Kanye West: "oprah does not care about white people".

    May 17, 2011 at 10:42 am | Report abuse |
  8. charlie crack

    Shes in space w/ tom cruise. They have a show on OWN. Im gona pull a Kanye West: "oprah does not care about white people". Ha haaa

    May 17, 2011 at 10:41 am | Report abuse |
  9. charlie crack

    Oprah who?

    May 17, 2011 at 10:39 am | Report abuse |
  10. HollywoodSurF

    This is going to be Oprah's biggest problem!


    May 17, 2011 at 7:52 am | Report abuse |
  11. tim

    Yeah. Oprah is fat. Leave her alone.

    May 17, 2011 at 6:16 am | Report abuse |
  12. Jen

    I thought Frey was the A hole in this one, quit hating on Oprah okay .

    May 17, 2011 at 6:09 am | Report abuse |
  13. Mike H.

    I wish we could get Wall Street speculators, financial executives and oil company leaders on Oprah's show so she can give them the tongue lashing they deserve.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:08 am | Report abuse |
  14. 50lb Stool

    One man's shart is another man's treashure... .

    May 17, 2011 at 12:06 am | Report abuse |
  15. Yo!


    May 17, 2011 at 12:06 am | Report abuse |
  16. Sunshine Girl*

    My shart came out looking like oprah.

    May 16, 2011 at 11:30 pm | Report abuse |
  17. Sunshine Girl *

    I think he shouldve been upfront about the marketing process of the book in the 1st place. Wouldve saved alot of people alot of grief. Do you think Oprah wouldve promoted the book in the same way had she known? I highly doubt it. I am an avid reader and this book is good. But I dont think it wouldve went this far or been this popular w/o Oprahs Book Club. Well he did come clean about what he did. But it will always cast doubt on any future books he may write. People will always remember the chaos he made.

    May 16, 2011 at 11:09 pm | Report abuse |
  18. 50lb Stool

    I made a James Frey... .

    May 16, 2011 at 10:41 pm | Report abuse |
  19. Peace

    Wasn't that the book that was supposed to be true, Oprah helped push the book, & then found out later a lot of it was all made up? Not for sure, seems like I heard that somewhere.

    May 16, 2011 at 9:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rexa

      That is correct. He couldn't get a deal having it labeled as a novel so he labeled it as a memoir (true story) instead. The irony is that the book did inspire and move alot of people, hence, it's popularity and then being further boosted by Oprah's so-called book club. He did write a fantastic and moving book. I guess the question is, if you knew what he wrote wasn't true then would you have still felt impacted by what you were reading? In any case, even after the debaucle with Oprah and the book revealed as a fake memoir it then it still sold based on infamy afterwards.

      May 16, 2011 at 10:28 pm | Report abuse |
  20. @N

    i just ate & i need to mak a james frey in the toilet!!!

    May 16, 2011 at 8:52 pm | Report abuse |
  21. Stacy Wood

    I am unclear of what the book Mr Frey wrote. I need to be informed. Maybe I would understand what is wrong. Please excuse my lack of knowledge.

    May 16, 2011 at 8:51 pm | Report abuse |
  22. Superhiro

    No David, YOU'RE a towel.

    May 16, 2011 at 8:46 pm | Report abuse |
  23. tim

    Yes. I quite agree with you Eric and Javier. Towelie is a most magnificent role model and The Chiller Network is quite wonderful. You two gentlemen have most good judgement. Happy Evening from Quebec.

    May 16, 2011 at 8:45 pm | Report abuse |
  24. ERIC


    May 16, 2011 at 8:42 pm | Report abuse |
  25. ERIC

    Hi Superhiro. Do you think he really might be Towelie ? Maybe if he isnt but is a towel he might know our hero ! TOWELIE RULES !

    May 16, 2011 at 8:40 pm | Report abuse |
  26. david

    this is too late. James Frey wanted his 15 minutes of fame and didn't care what he had to do to get there. Now that he's there and has book deals like mad, he can apologize all he wants but it will never make up for what he did to get to where he is today.

    May 16, 2011 at 8:31 pm | Report abuse |
  27. Javier Bartholomew

    IF he is secretly TOWELIE ! JUST WOW ! TOWELIE RULES ! Remember, dont forget to bring a towel !

    May 16, 2011 at 8:17 pm | Report abuse |
  28. Superhiro

    I heard this guy is actually a towel.

    May 16, 2011 at 7:14 pm | Report abuse |
  29. Nancy

    It is Oprahs fault. She is big and giant and accidentally sat on him before the show. This squished him so bad he became addlebrained.

    May 16, 2011 at 6:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • HollywoodSurF

      Oprah new problem is going to be this!


      May 17, 2011 at 7:49 am | Report abuse |
    • p

      I think he is a WONDERFUL writer! Who CARES if A Million Little Pieces was fiction or Non fiction??????? WHO CARES????????????? Movies are made all the time about real events....and embellished and added to and we all accept it.......we have ALL seen the big screen " BASED ON ACTUAL EVENTS"... sooo........WHO CARES????? Guess his ONLY mistake was that he did not use that phrase! Shame on Oprah. She was judgemental and condascending......hang in there James!

      May 24, 2011 at 10:59 pm | Report abuse |

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