Open Thread: A Million Little (Would-Be) Madoffs

Tales from the Days of a Dying empire, part 1,426,000: Tom Scocca at Slate explained that “James Frey Is A Jedi Knight of Bullshit”, pointing to an article in New York Magazine. Frey, whose eventual obituary will be headlined with some variant on “Writer Who Was Legally Required to Apologize to Oprah On-Air for Lying”, is said to be shilling promoting his version of an atelier:

… looking for young writers to join him on a new publishing endeavor—a company that would produce mostly young-adult novels. Frey believed that Harry Potter and the Twilight series had awakened a ravenous market of readers and were leaving a substantial gap in their wake. He wanted to be the one to fill it. There had already been wizards, vampires, and werewolves. Aliens, Frey predicted, would be next.
Frey said he was interested in conceiving commercial ideas that would sell extremely well. He was in the process of hiring writers—he said he’d already been to Princeton and was planning on recruiting from the other New York M.F.A. programs as well…

Okay, anyone who’s ever enjoyed any variety of what the classifiers call “genre fiction” is already calling bullshit, because (a) this particular hustle goes back to Gutenberg; and (b) whatever one considers the literary talents of J.K. Rowling or Stephenie Meyer, neither one of them can be accused of cranking out boilerplate to fill a marketing niche — even those who dismiss their work as meretricious crap admit that it’s heartfelt meretricious crap produced (sans MFA credentials) for the love of it. But the writer of the article and her classmates… well…

… But many of us felt an adrenaline rush: Against all odds, Frey was still at it. He was thrilling, condescending, rude, empowering, and haughty. “He didn’t show an ounce of self-doubt,” says Philip Eil, then a first-year nonfiction student. “Not a second of wavering. He was 110 percent that there was no truth, that he would live forever through his books.”
Mostly, though, we talked about his invitation. We were desperate to be published, any way we could. We were spending $45,000 on tuition, some of us without financial aid, and many taking out loans that were lining us up to graduate six figures in debt. A deal like the one Frey was offering could potentially pay off our loans and provide an income for the next decade. Do a little commercial work under a pseudonym, sell the movie rights, and never have to suffer as a writer in New York. We wouldn’t even need day jobs…

Spoiler alert: It turns out to be… not that simple. The rest of the story is part Edith Wharton, part Tom Wolfe, with a considerable admixture of Sammy Glick. There are glamorous photographs of Frey in proximity to upmarket celebrities, and an introduction to “book packagers“, traditional and otherwise. A happy ending, of sorts, is implied — the author, presumably, has been paid by New York Magazine, a far more reliable outcome than signing up for Frey’s movie-concept factory.

But I am left with one overriding conviction: If I were fortunate enough to be in a demographic capable of assuming a six-figure debt to acquire an MFA in creative writing… and someone notorious for being on the wrong end of “a class-action lawsuit that settled for $2.35 million” were to offer me a chance to help him scam a great many unspecified book-readers and potentially Hollywood studios, in return for nothing but six months of my hard work… I would not take him up on the offer.

In fact, I would put one hand on my wallet and resolve to discretely check my valuables and the change jar on the mantelpiece in Mr. Generosity’s wake, but perhaps I have just read too many spam emails from Nigerian princes.

114 replies
  1. 1
    Ruckus says:

    Maybe PT Barnum was wrong, there’s a grifter born every minute.

  2. 2
    morzer says:

    whatever one considers the literary talents of J.K. Rowling or Stephenie Meyer, neither one of them can be accused of cranking out boilerplate to fill a marketing niche

    Given how their writing grew steadily worse (and in Rowling’s case much longer) as their work progressed, I’d say they did indeed crank out quite a bit of boilerplate. As for marketing niches… well, your tastes and views may vary.

  3. 3
    BGinCHI says:

    Read about this on a snark-filled post from Publishers Lunch. Couldn’t believe how Frey has ratcheted up the inauthentic in his life; it seems he’s gone from stretching the truth (into a million little pieces) into trying to fuck up fantasy.

    Now that’s range.

    This is a shining example of how fucked up the publishing world, the MFA world, Hollywoodworld, and what remains of our artistic culture is.

    (with apologies to honest folk getting and having MFAs for very good reasons)

  4. 4
    BGinCHI says:

    And oh yeah, ten bucks Tom Cruise plays Frey in the movie version of this fiasco. Which may be his motive for running the con all along.

  5. 5
    Jrod the Cookie Thief says:

    I’m with you, AL. Such an offer would reek of scam to me, and I’d expect that any solid gold ideas I came up with would be rewarded with a swift boot to the ass while Frey collected the money.

    But then, I’m a cynic.

    Advice to writers: ideas are a dime a dozen. I can come up with a half-dozen story ideas while sitting on the crapper. That doesn’t mean I have a half-dozen novels ready to roll off the presses, it just means I took a dump.

  6. 6
    debbie says:

    Frey the fraud.

  7. 7
    Maude says:

    I couldn’t get through the later books of the JK Rowlings series.
    She hasn’t published anything since. She had said she would do a fairy tale for adults and then she said she’d write a crime novel.

    James Frey is a liar.
    Anyone who goes for this will be sorry later.

  8. 8
    Steeplejack says:

    The idea of someone being so deluded about the realities of being a writer in America that they go into six-figure debt for an M.F.A. boggles my mind. For $100,000 you could live a monastic but comfortable life for 3-5 years, depending on location, and have enough left over to buy 50 or 100 books on writing. And, oh, yeah, spend the time actually writing. Even if you had the worst possible luck and bought the 100 worst books on writing available, you’d still be ahead of the game.

    I think what is at work is that these poor saps think an M.F.A. program will get them some sort of insider access whereby they magically meet the right person and end up as a highly paid writer on some (dismal) TV sitcom. Remember, the American dream is no longer about doing stuff, it’s about being famous and getting paid.

    Reminds me of my all-time favorite joke about writing. (Can’t remember the source; it may even be me.) “I love being a writer; it’s the paperwork I can’t stand.”

  9. 9
    Brick Oven Bill says:

    The world, if you take the time to truly contemplate it, makes sense. This Jim Frey is described as a Jedi Knight, who is proposing to write a book about Aliens for teenagers. Now, turn the wheel ninety degrees.

    Barack Obama is a likely illegal Alien who is contractually obligated to write a book for children (Barry only got $300,000 for the book deal as an elected President-to-be indicating his Alien status). Contrast Barry’s $300,000 with Dave’s $3 million (for the ‘astroturf’ word) and $16 million (for Rahm’s deal with the guy who he recently appointed as head of GM).

    Therefore: Barry = likely Alien. Simply follow the cash.

    Proceeding in our analysis, using Logic and my powers of prediction, I suspect that Barry’s children’s book will be about Knights, completing the circle.

  10. 10
    Phyllis says:

    @Steeplejack: I attended a panel of southern women mystery writers at the SC Book Festival several years ago, and remember a lady getting up during the Q&A to say: ‘I’ve written my book, now how do I go about selecting which publisher I want to handle it?’

    I remember the authors looking at one another and then one attempting to gently explain to her that’s not how it works. I don’t think she believed them-more like she was sure they knew the real secret and didn’t want any competition.

    I run into that when folks learn I’m a grantwriter. They want the ‘secret’. When I tell them its ‘follow the directions’, I get that same response.

  11. 11
    Jrod the Cookie Thief says:

    @Brick Oven Bill: Or maybe Obama got a great deal on royalties, and didn’t want a cut to those in exchange for a advance that he didn’t need?

    Using my logic and powers of prediction, though, I’ve discovered that I don’t give a flying fuck about Obama’s book deal.

  12. 12
    edmund dantes says:

    Notre Dame tailgate party broken up.

    My favorite response so far from the original blog post? It’s the fine citizen’s fault for entering the officer’s space by having the officer follow him and walk up to get into his face.

    Ok LEO stand point. The individuals both entered the Sergeant’s reactionary gap a distance LEO’s are trained to keep open. The individual was pushed out of the Sergeants reactionary gap by an open handed push something that is less then the tactic officers could have used. The individuals were likely then placed under arrest for disorerly conduct (I’d like to know what occured to cause the officers to arrive on scene. As for the camera opperators reaction to the individual being pulled. Officers must maintain control of suspects that have been detained/ arrested. To me the reactions are a sound use of force on an idividual who was posing a possible threat.

  13. 13
    BGinCHI says:

    @Phyllis: My guess is that some other petite gray-haired lady said, nicely, “Well, bless her heart.”

    Which is how women in my family have, for generations, expressed their opinion that someone was a fucking idiot.

  14. 14
    Phyllis says:

    @BGinCHI: There is an art to the well-placed ‘bless your/her heart’.

    “That’s your baby? Bless your heart.”

  15. 15
    Davis X. Machina says:

    @BGinCHI: “Why bless her heart — it’s sure she has no brain” is what I used to hear from a Richmond grande dame.

  16. 16
    Mark S. says:

    There have been a lot of imitation BoBs lately, but that was incoherent enough to make me think this was the real McCoy.

    I have never heard of James Frey. Did all of this take place during my cave dwelling years?

  17. 17
    bago says:

    I am playing with my Kinect. It is awesome. I am now annoyed by UI’s that don’t listen to me, or recognize that I ‘mean something’ when waving my hands about. This must be what it felt like to use a mouse for the first time.

  18. 18
    Libby says:

    Lord, I do love internet synchronicity. I was just thinking about the hazards of trying to write for a living these days, my cursor magnetically landed here, and I stumble upon what may be the most gorgeous and tragically sad because it’s true post ever.

    I clearly don’t delurk for you often enough Anne Laurie.

  19. 19
    BGinCHI says:


    I am playing with my Kinect.

    You’re gonna go blind.

  20. 20
    Yutsano says:

    @BGinCHI: And Uncle Bill laughs manically.

  21. 21
    Phyllis says:

    @Mark S.: He wrote a memoir that turned out to be, for lack of better words, utter bullsh*t. Then he made Oprah look bad. The bigger sin of the two, of course.

  22. 22
    Kristine says:

    This has been chewed over on all the writers lists for the last few days. Frey is taking advantage of fledgling writers who have had little or no training in the business side of publishing. The contract is horrendous, and the fact that Frey is preying on his own tribe makes it even more reprehensible.

  23. 23
    Emma says:

    Every few years, Making Light publishes a piece on the many scam artists that feed on the hopes of would-be writers. They are the sort of people I reserve my hatred for. They feed on those poor dreamers…

    On the other hand, this sounds a little strange. How much for an MFA????

  24. 24
    Phyllis says:

    @Kristine: I’d argue that James Frey meets the definition of a ‘reasonable facsimile’ of a writer. Otherwise known as a cheap copy.

  25. 25
    ruemara says:

    What can I say. “A Million Little Pieces” is still a damn good read; the author’s a liar. Who trusts someone who’s a proven fraud? Not me, but then again, I am a noted paranoiac. And who the fuck blows $45k on an MFA in writing? With a fraud? Hell, I write, I can teach you stuff about writing. Sit down, turn off the tv and the internets, fart out stuff onto a page, edit it when it’s done. There, writing course. Gimme $25k and you can keep the rest.

  26. 26

    perhaps you and asiangrrlMN should set up shop.

  27. 27
    BGinCHI says:

    @Libby: Read the whole NY magazine article and be even more disgusted.

    AL’s post is great, but tip of the iceberg (not in Hemingway’s sense).

  28. 28
    MikeJ says:

    @bago: Plugged it into a linux box yet? I was thrilled that people got it up and running so fast.

  29. 29
    BGinCHI says:

    @Kristine: And that’s the key (the contract) that’s left out so far.

    The writers in question get screwed and he makes out like a bandit.

    It’s utterly and completely indefensible, unless Satan is your lord and master.

  30. 30
    Fax Paladin says:

    The first I heard of this was from some writer acquaintances who were aghast at the contract — here’s John Scalzi’s reaction. The scam isn’t against readers so much as desperately debt-ridden and inexperienced writers (“we like them bright but clueless,” explained the Pointy-Haired Boss…)

  31. 31
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  34. 34

    Has anyone on this thread heard about the latest movie by the “Napoleon Dynamite” Crew: Gentlemen Broncos. Sounds a lot like this story in some ways – and it has the awesome Edgar Oliver in it.

  35. 35
    Brick Oven Bill says:

    Behold the Evil Eye.

    Now, Yoda teaches us:

    Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will.

    Therefore, Barry should not be exposing himself to children in the form of a book, even if ghost-written. The Force is very powerful and should be channeled only by those passing strict codes of performance and stamina, Values and Principles. See the Teabaggers. Now we close with one last thought from Yoda:

    Powerful you have become, the dark side I sense in you.

  36. 36
    Steeplejack says:


    True. Also, I think, fledgling writers flock to seminars, workshops, programs, etc., run by “famous” or “successful” writers because they think they are going to get that double-secret insider information that makes all the difference. Ignoring the fact that (as with anything else) a really good writer may be a really dismal teacher of writing.

    The sad fact is that there are a tremendous number of talented writers who don’t make nearly as much money as they deserve. Financial success is at least partially a roll of the dice.

  37. 37
  38. 38
    BGinCHI says:

    @arguingwithsignposts: Oh, god, thanks for that trailer.

    I had to stop it due to the awesome that came out of it.

    Can’t wait to see it. Love Mike White, too.

    Assume once it’s out Cole will change the blog name to Balloonanous Juiceanous.

  39. 39
    PurpleGirl says:

    @jeffreyw: Mmmmm, that looks so good.

  40. 40
    Lancelot Link says:

    James Frey is easily the worst published writer I have ever read, and I like Ed Wood’s books.

  41. 41
    Ash Can says:

    James Frey is giving Jim Frey a bad name.

  42. 42
    debbie says:

    @ Phyllis:

    His novel, Bright Shiny Morning, which was supposed to mark his comeback, sucked totally.

  43. 43
    debit says:

    The man is a liar and a scumbag. What would make anyone trust him to do anything but lie to them?

    @ open thread: Chloe continues her training to become a proper cat. Step 2: steal the cat bed. Just in case it isn’t clear, we put a cat bed on one of the low, wide radiators for Max. He’s old and creaky and likes the heat. I guess Chloe does as well.

  44. 44
    Cacti says:

    Given that the she already has more money than Yahweh, and they’re still splitting the last book into two films…

    Yeah, I’d say Jo Rowling’s just in it for the money at this point.

  45. 45
    MikeJ says:

    @BGinCHI: I think it came out a few years ago, so I’d guess you could see it any time you want.

  46. 46
    Belvoir says:

    I always loved Glenn Close’s line in The World According to Garp:

    “He looks like a nice man. I think I’ll let him publish my book.”

  47. 47
    debit says:

    @Belvoir: I loved that part, and Garp’s sort of eye roll, then sheer rage and disbelief when it happened.

  48. 48
  49. 49
    Steeplejack says:


    If you’re referring to Natalie Goldberg and her book Wild Mind, jeez, you hit a nerve there. I read that and her previous one, Writing Down the Bones, when they came out. I thought they were pretty good, and they were calibrated to press a lot of buttons, e.g., writing as Zen practice, the coolness of sitting in a café in Santa Fe and writing your deep thoughts in your nice notebook with the perfect pen, etc. Long Quiet Highway was not as good and seemed repetitive, and then her first fiction work (I think), Banana Rose, was, uh, not good. So I ended up having a negative impression of a person who wrote a lot about being a writer but didn’t produce much good writing, except some stuff about being a writer. It ended up feeling too recursive and self-involved.

    Sometimes I think I would like to go back and reread all the books on writing I have read over the years, especially the ones from the little boom of the late ’80s and early ’90s, to see which ones hold up. Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way is another one that I don’t think ages well.

  50. 50
    amorphous says:

    Fine, you fix the budget. (I did.)


  51. 51
    morzer says:

    I wonder if we could just re-market James Frey as Games Prey Inc?

  52. 52

    Tom Levenson mentioned this earlier today, and while I applaud the Times’ effort, I’d also say that I’ve seen other interactive graphics that do the same thing for several years now. It’s not new, and it’s not particularly unique. It’s just the Times is doing it so people are getting all hepped up about it (not you specifically, amorphous). It’s like when the Times reports something that’s been reported previously by TPM, for instance.

    Where have these people been?

    ETA: I should also note that the other interactive games that made the same point were much more visually appealing.

  53. 53
    jeffreyw says:

    @PurpleGirl: Thanks, I thought it a fine lunch.

  54. 54
    priscianus jr says:

    One of the most peculiar things about our country today, and one of its truly biggest problems, is that it is practically impossible for anyone to be discredited. Have you noticed that? Just in the last few years, there are scores of examples. Think about it — it’s really weird. We lack the social mechanisms to truly shut people down, and the sociopaths are well aware of that and developing new and ever more brazen techniques to ignore their own absurdity The Roves the Palins, the David Irvings, the Swiftboaters, the Limbaughs, the Becks, the Orly Taitzes, and on and on … you get the idea. Freedom of speech is one thing, but these people make their living by being full of shit, and no one seems to be able to do anything about it. For one thing, the media dote on such people, because they create “news.” America has become a playground for sociopaths and I’m not sure the problem has even been defined as such, or if it has, I don’t know that any ameliorations have been proposed let alone established.

  55. 55

    @priscianus jr:
    What a magical, mysterious nym you have.

  56. 56
    BGinCHI says:

    @MikeJ: Thanks for that. Now in my Netflix queue.

  57. 57
    quaint irene says:

    “He didn’t show an ounce of self-doubt,”

    I think most of us would term that as a complete lack of self-awareness.

    I couldn’t get through the later books of the JK Rowlings series

    To be a bit fair on Rowlings, she’s not the only popular author to suffer from ‘door-stop-itis.’ Once Stephen King reached his monster status, what editor in existance could reign him in?

  58. 58
  59. 59
    morzer says:

    @quaint irene:

    Indeed. Borders stores now have special fork-lifts to help patrons get their copy of the latest Kingosity to the parking garage.

  60. 60
    WereBear says:

    @priscianus jr: You have hit the solid gold nail right on the head.

    We’re getting to the point that “raised by wolves” will be used as a compliment; they are orderly, clean, work together for a common goal and look out for each other.

    And a big Thank You to those reccing The Walking Dead; it is awesome, and if I’d known it was Frank Darabont involved, I would have signed on earlier.

  61. 61
    BGinCHI says:

    @Steeplejack: Bird By Bird.

  62. 62
    WereBear says:

    On the actual topic:

    Frey is not a writer so much as he’s a proven con artist. Caveat emptor.

  63. 63
    BGinCHI says:

    @arguingwithsignposts: Agreed.

    Reminds me of a line from Love’s Labour’s Lost, “Priscian, a little scratched….”

  64. 64
    lamh32 says:

    So I’m watching Law & Order UK, and damn it Law & Order UK. Eww, OBGYN hitting on his patients!!!! Ewww!!!!!

    The OBGYN drugged the water in the Exam Room!!! Bastard!!!/

    And yet so many women still rather have a male OBGYN. If ya’ll got a male OBGYN he should always ask you if you want a Nurse in the room during the exam! Ya’ll better say yes, or ask for a nurse to be there if they don’t!!!

    The ep was good, but one thing, the DA chick was assaulted by here GYN, but the could not prosecute because there was no evidence or other women coming forward. so Ms DA decides to go back and “catch him in the act”, but that’s when he drugged the water in the exam room with GHB, and proceeded to rape her.

    She filmed it, but it was close to entrapment except for the evidence of GHB that was found in her system. Dude was found not guilty of raping her, but when he was arrested on TV, 14 more women came forward.

    Still, dude was sick.

  65. 65
    amorphous says:

    @arguingwithsignposts: @Steeplejack: Dammit! Boo, Tom! Now I appear as guilty as John for not reading the front page.

    And only because I was so pleased that all I would need to solve the budget deficit was a mouse and to be appointed dictator.

  66. 66
    debit says:

    @quaint irene:

    Once Stephen King reached his monster status, what editor in existance could reign him in?

    When I hit the phrase “shit weasels” in Dreamcatcher I knew my days of buying his books in hardcover were over. Okay, I made an exception for the Dark Tower books, but, dude, I’d been hanging on that series of cliffhangers for 20 freaking years. I also think that some of his recent stuff that enjoyed but also felt off (ike Lisey’s Story) were trunk novels.

  67. 67
    Steeplejack says:


    Okay, now you’re piling on.

  68. 68
    morzer says:


    Trunk novels?

    As in: it takes the stamina of an elephant to get through one? Or as in: they fit snugly inside the trunk of your car?

  69. 69
    quaint irene says:


    Rita Mae Brown’s “Starting from Scratch: A Different Kind of Writer’s Manual” gives some good solid information. And a great reading list.

  70. 70
    lamh32 says:

    So now I’m watching a Law & Order: SVU marathon. A woman was raped, and the perp was found, but then he was linked to previous rapes from 12 years before, and come to find out, another man was arrested, tried and convicted of one of the rape the other dude had done. Man was in jail for 10 years and would be in for an additional 15 cause the “real” rapist died before testifying so dude had to serve out his whole term unless he was pardoned by the governor (disclaimer, I’m no law whiz, so I don’t know if any of this is true, but still…)

    Lesson learned, from now on, I’m gonna keep a detailed diary/journal of all my whereabouts. So if I’m ever just in the wrong place at the wrong time and the police arrests me I’ll have a detailed account of everything. I’m talking dates, receipts, cleared checks, descriptions of people EVERYTHING.

    I’ll be damn if I’m gonna go down for a crime I din’t admit without a fight!!!

  71. 71
    WereBear says:

    @morzer: They were written years ago and filed away in a trunk as Not Good Enough.

    I dunno, Dreamcatcher had such an outrageous premise and a piled on plot that the pulp fiction side of me was pleased. Man never was a stylist; he’s said so many times. What he is, is, a Mad Plotter, so he’s suited to genre, and has written some enduring classics.

    But I grokked Lovecraft, back in the day. My love of Russian novelists notwithstanding.

  72. 72
    stuckinred says:

    @Steeplejack: I liked the Long Quiet Highway as well as the Bones and Wild Mind. What blew me away was when I heard her on tape. I don’t know what I expected from Natalie Goldberg from Joisey but her manner of speaking was quite a shock.

  73. 73
    debit says:

    @morzer: Trunk novel as written and then put away in a trunk. Not worth publishing or deemed publishable, but you don’t throw away an entire book. He actually admitted to publishing a trunk novel recently (can’t remember the name of it…Blaze?) something he’d written under his pen name, but just wasn’t happy with at the time. He rewrote parts, polished up the rest and sent it off to the publisher, who I’m sure was happy to ring the cash register again.

  74. 74
    WereBear says:

    When it comes to books on writing, Sol Stein is my goto guru. AND he writes some kickass stuff.

  75. 75
    stuckinred says:

    @debit: Was “The Roots of Heaven” a trunk novel?

  76. 76
    debit says:

    @stuckinred: I am unfamiliar with that work.

  77. 77
    stuckinred says:

    I’m reading “Acid Christ” about Ken Kesey right now. It’s interesting to read about how he just bagged writing in favor of making a film and what a disaster that was.

  78. 78
    stuckinred says:

    @debit:Set in French Equatorial Africa, the film tells the story of Morel (Trevor Howard), a crusading environmentalist who sets out to preserve the elephants from extinction as a lasting symbol of freedom for all humanity. He is helped by Minna (Juliette Gréco), a nightclub hostess, and Forsythe (Errol Flynn), a disgraced British military officer hoping to redeem himself.

    (Obviously this is the film) it was written by Romain Gary

    It was a joke, a book about elephants, a trunk novel. Get it?

  79. 79
    debit says:

    @stuckinred: Ah, elephant humor, I get it now.

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    Brachiator says:

    @quaint irene:

    To be a bit fair on Rowlings, she’s not the only popular author to suffer from ‘door-stop-itis.’ Once Stephen King reached his monster status, what editor in existance could reign him in?

    Yeah, it’s always sad when an author falls into the delusion that “I don’t need no editor!” I recall that James Clavell’s first novel, King Rat, was a compact, taut read. Shogun was long, but still an engrossing read. But that book’s success went to Clavell’s head and his next book, Nobel House, was a gargantuan, ungainly mess.

    And didn’t Stephen King do a re-issue of The Stand, with a lot of the prior editing reinstated?

  82. 82
    Steeplejack says:


    For some reason I always get Sol Stein confused with Syd Field in my mind. I will check him (Stein) out.

    Somewhere around here I have a trunk box with two books that I thought were really good on writing. For the big picture, A Story Is a Promise, by Bill Johnson. I think it’s out of print but readily available on Amazon. For the micro view, Scene and Structure, by Jack M. Bickham. Those are almost the only two I have saved over the years.

    Might make it a weekend project to dig them out and look through them again.

    Note: Both are about (fiction) writing, not about being a writer.

  83. 83
    asiangrrlMN says:

    You know, I am with AL on this one. James Frey. Seriously? Why trust the man? I know the desperation of wanting to be published, but James mofo Frey?

    If someone can spend that much on an MFA program, that person should go buy an agent.

    JK Rowling: None of her books are very good. The earlier ones were just pleasant time-passers (couldn’t remember a damn thing about any of them after I read them), and the latter ones were wrecks. Then again, the only reason I read them is because I have a mad Alan Rickman crush, and I imagine him as Snape as I read.

    Speaking of, saw him in the trailer for the first last movie, and I actually gasped when he spelled someone. Yummy.

    @debit: I could not comment on your Flickr page. Both Chloe and Max are cute in their bed.

    @arguingwithsignposts: Yeah. I can teach like this: “This is what I like. Don’t write this way or you will never sell. Poke poke.” (With the rusty pitchfork).

    @Steeplejack: Hi. How you be?

  84. 84
    morzer says:


    How’s the search for the Clay Matthews jersey and bottle of scotch going?

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    asiangrrlMN says:

    @morzer: Gooooo, Stillers! What? The Vikings? They are dead to me.

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    stuckinred says:

    @asiangrrlMN: the cold shoulder huh? Don’t like hippies I guess

  87. 87
    debit says:

    @asiangrrlMN: Gotta agree about Rowling. I remember resisting until book 4, then broke down one weekend when I was bored and kept waiting to be stunned. It never happened. It’s good that the books encouraged kids to read, but if one wanted a good series written for children/YA by a British author, I would suggest the Green Knowe series by L.M. Boston or any book by Diana Wynne Jones.

    And thanks! I, of course, find my animals adorable but it’s nice to hear others say nice things about them too.

  88. 88
    BethanyAnne says:

    x-posting my response from Whatever:

    One of the things that I keep wondering about was how few of the folk signing these contracts bothered to even read them. I’m a web geek, so I have to sign a contract at every job I take. 9 times out of 10, the person on the other side of the desk is amazed that I’m taking the time to read what I’m signing. And if you are dazzled by the presence of someone who’s actually *been published* and *made money in Hollywood*, I think it’s even less likely that you’d read the contract in the first place.

    Vaguely related thought: I wonder if just clicking “accept” at computer license agreements is effectively teaching lots of people to just agree and not read what they “sign”?

  89. 89
    WereBear says:

    @Steeplejack: Sounds like books I’d like to check out. Thanks!

    My brother is into screen writing and my husband has embarked on a fantasy trilogy. I’m back to novels after a hiatus caused by too many editors saying “Love your work, but we don’t know how to market it.”

    We’ve reached the point where no civilians will watch movies with us.

  90. 90
    Steeplejack says:


    “Love your work, but we don’t know how to market it.”

    Self-publishing may become viable in the near future, when the various e-readers–Kindle, Nook, etc.–reach critical mass. I was reading the other day about a program that B&N apparently has available on the Nook now. You can upload your book to some Web repository, set the retail price yourself, and then B&N gives you a pretty good royalty (40 or 60 percent, depending on the retail price) when someone buys it. They don’t do any marketing, but I could see someone having success with a Web presence and word of mouth–assuming the e-book being promoted is good. Sort of a Blair Witch Project phenomenon.

  91. 91
    Steeplejack says:


    Enjoying the middle of my weekend. Had pizza this afternoon and sort of half-watched football and surfed the ‘Net. Nice long nap in the late afternoon.

    Felt unusually good this morning–not super good, but noticeably better than my usual end-of-the-workweek Sunday morning–and wonder if it’s because I started taking IP-6/inositol about a week ago. I think someone here (Svensker?) recommended it. Supposed to be good for depression and low mood. I read up on it and decided to give it a try. Been having a lot of stress and angst about work.

    This morning I actually felt like doing stuff, and I got a few big things accomplished with not much effort.

  92. 92
    JAHILL10 says:

    Hey, quit hatin’ on J.K. Rowling. She has suffered the fate of all super successful popular fiction authors: people stop editing her because they know that the bigger the book the bigger the price tag and the bigger the sales. (See Stephen King)

    But Twilight? C’mon, nonsensical dreck that glorifies teen marriage, pregnancy and female co-dependency. At least HP works through his issues instead of celebrating them as “twue wuve.”

    Edit: Ooops! I see someone beat me to the Stephen King comparison up thread. Sorry!

  93. 93
    Corner Stone says:

    @Steeplejack: You’re taking sugar pills?

  94. 94
    bago says:

    Dammit, the Kinect API is not exposed to XNA yet. Seriously, you could open up whole new worlds with this tech. Taking 90 seconds to describe an enterprise topology would be amazing. Then just dropping it to onenote on the cloud would be fan-fucking-tabulous.

  95. 95
    WereBear says:

    @Steeplejack: You might want to look into Vitamin D supplementation, too. The latest info, (which influenced me to seriously supplement,) is that:

    *As we age, our ability to produce it with sunlight dwindles, especially after forty.

    *To produce it from sunlight, we need near naked exposure for 10 to 20 minutes. Don’t know about you, but I just don’t get that. Especially in a North Country winter.

    *It has a huge effect on mood, being a hormone, not a vitamin.

    *The worries about toxicity are greatly overblown; the RDA prevents rickets and that’s about it. Figure on 6 to 8 thousand units a day to start; you can get a blood test to see where you are at, if you wish. I was 35; I should be 70.

    Be sure to get the D3 in oil!

  96. 96
    Steeplejack says:

    @Corner Stone:


  97. 97
    asiangrrlMN says:

    @stuckinred: Huh? What? I know, inelegant of me, but I’m lost. Hiya.

    @debit: Yeah. I agree that anything that gets kids to write is a good thing–but her books just aren’t that great. And, I read a review that said the only interesting character is Snape because you never know if he is good or bad (I did, but that’s just me). HP cannot change because he is the hero. Voldemort can’t change because he’s the villain.

    @Steeplejack: Glad things are looking up somewhat.

  98. 98
    Cerberus says:


    Someone may have already made this point, but the value of an MFA is not in the ability to write or some sort of belief in an insider access to publishing stuff.

    Rather it’s value is from the aspects of it that are its academic aspects.

    I.e. the value is that with an MFA you have (albeit a hard road, but a) chance to be employed as a creative writing professor, a teacher in some English classes at some community colleges, and some ability to teach creative writing classes and seminars for the high school and younger years.

    It’s a chance to be employed somewhere where you can teach creative writing and which has a workplace understanding that you are a professional writer and ideally being open to giving paid time to write publishable works without having to worry about starving in the street.

    An MFA is also a necessary component to many jobs in the publishing industry itself, at least any that pay any semblance of money and also serves as equivalent to an M.A. for the sake of employability in corporate jobs such as marketing, tech writing, and so-on.

    So it’s not a waste of money, but this is still a stupid scam to fall for. One of the first thing new writers become aware of is how to avoid the “hey, I can get you published real easy” type scammers because they prey on young and inexperienced writers.

  99. 99
    Steeplejack says:


    I don’t think that an M.F.A. degree has no value; I realize its academic value. I do think that paying six figures for one is not a good bargain.

  100. 100
    Cerberus says:

    Okay, read all the way down the thread.

    It’s important to remind people that an MFA isn’t a seminar that “teaches you how to write and get published”.

    An MFA is the PhD of the creative writing field.

    You want the top jobs in creative fields? You want a chance to be employed by universities as a teacher in said creative fields? You better fucking have an MFA.

    So “sinking the mad dollars” into it is:

    A) Not a dumb idea.
    B) Something that happens a lot because all of our higher education financing system is fundamentally broken.
    C) Someone actually trying to be financially prudent and improve themselves, something that didn’t use to be a sin until the system got so broken that any attempt to at least try and have the option to escape your class and improve yourself was “poor financial planning”.

    Basically, read this as “trying to get her PhD in English Literature”.

    Because that’s the equivalent options an MFA opens up.

    And also, sad to say, a lot of places are unfairly impressed by MFA credentials and coming from the “right” school can get you guaranteed publishing options, people lining up to give you money for projects, and so on.

  101. 101
    Cerberus says:


    I don’t think my partner is going 6 figures deep for hers, but it’s probably at least 5 figures deep all total for MFA.

    She wants to teach and since we don’t have a GB program where poets and artists can earn some living wage for engaging in their craft, having a job that supports those ambitions and rewards them as part of the job is important to her.

    The system is broken, none of the higher education aspirations make “financial sense”. A sane country would fix that.

    But apparently, that would make Real America TM mad.

  102. 102
    Steeplejack says:


    I don’t think anyone on this thread was arguing against the M.F.A. per se. I certainly wasn’t. But it came up in the context of a grifter (Frey) calling on M.F.A. programs to drum up material that he could “package” to sell to publishers or studios–definitely the context of “getting published.”

    Having an academic career is one thing, creating art and getting it published another. I see the value of an M.F.A. for the former, not so much for the latter.

  103. 103
    Cerberus says:


    That’s fair, but a lot of the comments seemed to be of the topic that an MFA was in and of itself useless, which was pretty stupid.

    I will also note that many MFAs are looking for work in publishing, creative industry, or teaching but also would like to get published because they are also artists. And that’s what a lot of scam artists like to prey on, the dreams of young artists or wannabe artists to be appreciated for their art rather than their potentially tangential relationship with the creative industry.

  104. 104
    Origuy says:

    One of the topics on the thread at Scazi’s blog was that MFA programs don’t tell you anything about the publishing industry. I’m not a writer, but as an engineer that sounds like learning everything about computers except how they’re used.

    A friend of mine got a degree in fashion. She learned how to turn her designs into patterns that she could take to a factory that would churn out product in quantity. Shouldn’t writers learn the process of turning a manuscript into a book on Borders’ shelves?

  105. 105
    BGinCHI says:

    @Cerberus: Um, no. MFA is not equivalent to a PhD. In lots of ways. But long story short, it’s not any sort of research degree and is apples/oranges.

    You can get a PhD in creative writing at a few places and this is more of an equivalent, as it gets you qualified for lit jobs and not just creative writing. Having an MFA, even though it’s a terminal degree, is a very minimal qual for getting a job.

    And, it’s getting seriously watered down by the sheer numbers of MFAs given each year. Check out the ads in Poets & Writers if you want to see proliferation.

  106. 106
    LanceThruster says:

    A “money-lender” story of a different sort…my dear friend Bernie the Attorney (secular anti-Zionist “Jew” – by way of his mum) is moving to New Zealand. Why, my friends ask? Because Bernie (a master at seeing trends and the writing on the wall) sees the US political scene as getting meaner and stupider (with help from propaganda memes of a group with a particularly toxic agenda – bomb Iran, demonize Muslims, excuse any atrocity this bully state commits, buy politicians and distort any possible debate/discussion, etc…).

    His step-son is fourteen and he sees that previous dowturns and jobless recoveries involved the military as an option for youth (with even a possible draft in the works) and he loves his son too much to allow him to be anyone’s cannon fodder. NZ, from his perspective is without a ZOG. The US (and other countries he researched) is and may never break free.

    Thanks to these “troublemakers”, I’m getting a palatial estate (idyllic acre horse property that is as green and maintenance free as one could want – as if architects Greene & Greene laid out the residence) for at least $100,000 under market value, at a time when it is already pretty much rock-bottom. It almost closed at half-a-mil 3 years ago and realtors are dying to list it for $160,000 more than I’m paying for right now. He said someone is going to get a steal and he’d rather it be a friend than a complete stranger. I happen to be that friend. I’m blown away.

    This is the probably the smartest person I know. I gave him the nickname “Nostradamus” because of his remarkable ability to “divine” the future (by rationally connecting dots).

    I wish he wouldn’t go, but I’ll still be connected the way I have always been – online. His visa window is narrow and he’s got to hustle to get his kid started in his new school in Feb. We’re left rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

    Bar owner: “Shouldn’t we lie down and put paper bags over our head or something?”
    Ford: “If you’d like.”
    Bar owner: “Would it help?”
    Ford: “Not at all.”

    ~ “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”

    Godspeed, Bernie the Attorney.

  107. 107
    Platonicspoof says:


    Lesson learned, from now on, I’m gonna keep a detailed diary/journal of all my whereabouts. So if I’m ever just in the wrong place at the wrong time and the police arrests me I’ll have a detailed account of everything.

    Even having witnesses, e.g. at your birthday party, may not be sufficient.

    Apparently some police / judges / politicians won’t accept being wrong, and/or getting sued, and/or being delusional, etc.

    Transcript here.

    The plasticity of human minds is often a bug, not a feature.

    Thread relevance? Nonfiction/fiction cover a spectrum? Teabaggers? BOB?

  108. 108
    debbie says:


    Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way is another one that I don’t think ages well.

    Actually, I’m about half-way through this now. There are specifics that are definitely dated (like 20-year-old technology), but the basic principles still apply.

  109. 109
    jinxtigr says:

    “Self-publishing may become viable in the near future, when the various e-readers—Kindle, Nook, etc.—reach critical mass.”

    Could be. I’m seeing people involved in this, and they’re acting like they’re making a few sales- not near enough to make a living but enough to get them really pumped. It’s certainly got my attention because the trick to internet day-job seems to be ‘do something with epic distinctiveness in such a way that people can conveniently buy it through third party distribution’, and e-writing seems to fit that description. I’m already doing that with audio software and it pays for all my writing/cartooning/what have you.

    My approach to my writing (have written one 140K-word novel since February and am into another) is currently: write publically on my own website, about whatever the hell I want, with no concern whatsoever for whether it could be marketed or indeed should be. The previous novel got into sorta xeno-erotica and I experimented heavily with how much I could define and draw characters through their intimate experiences, especially when those went wrong somehow. The current one’s depicting one particularly insane character from my earlier comic and showing how she got the way she was- and it’s taking the previous direction and running with it, it’s not only relentlessly NSFW but also really DARK and disturbing, because you don’t make a sociopath serial-killer pirate girl through innocuous experiences or simple victimization :)

    There’s really something to be said about getting your life into a situation where your mortgage is paid for by some other sort of work that doesn’t take too much time, your budget is modest enough that you can clear out a lot of writing/thinking time in your schedule, and you can just put up a WordPress site (mine’s WordPress/Comicpress with a batch of plugins) and start doing your thing in the public eye. One thing I noticed is, people will say ‘oh that’s cool, but there’s no way I can read large amounts of text online’. Seems like if you get them reading anyway, selling them a book or ebook is a very obvious move :)

    I’m going to be looking into dead-tree selfpublishing, assuming a publisher I’m talking with doesn’t move aggressively to pick up my work. Once you accept that public attention isn’t essentially manufactured by the publisher for you, it opens up many other avenues :)

  110. 110
    Blue Jean says:

    Funnily enough, Full Fathom Five was the name of the first “Hawaii 5-O” episode, about a con man who makes marriage proposals to lonely rich widows so he can steal their money, then murder them and bury them at sea. Funny how life imitates art.

  111. 111
    Steeplejack says:


    Good points.

    I think the iPad, and probably B&N’s new color Nook, will be a tremendous platform for graphics-based work.

  112. 112
    Steeplejack says:


    I wasn’t talking about the technology. I enjoyed it when I read it, but it was like the old joke about Chinese food: I was hungry again an hour later.

    Get back to me three or six months after you finish it.

  113. 113
  114. 114
    priscianus jr says:

    Why, thank you.

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