Note: Nothing in this interview should be considered accurate or reliable.
Precis som Jessica, träffar jag James på hotell Clarion. America’s most notorious author kommer gående mot mig i chinos, skjorta och slipover. En riktig bad boy-outfit. Vi sätter oss i lobbyn med ett porlande vattenfall bredvid som irriterar mig eftersom jag inte vet om man kommer att höra min inspelning. James tar av sig skorna och kryper upp i en fåtölj. Där sitter han alltså, rakt framför mig – mannen vars böcker jag alltid tipsar folk om. Mannen som skriver så att hjärtat gör volter till skarpa formuleringar och känslomässiga medryckningar. Mannen som skriver som ingen annan. Precis som han vill.
Jag får en hög med James böcker, översatta till svenska. Vi pratar lite om att Bright Shiny Morning inte har översatts till svenska och James nämner att det är hans favoritbok av dem han har skrivit. Jag tänker på det som jag själv har skrivit om den tidigare här på bokcirkus! och inleder intervjun.
That book reminds me of Moby-Dick. In Moby-Dick you hardly every meet the great white whale but he is still the main character in a way. Everything builds up around it, with different kinds of texts. It’s a bit like the main character LA in Bright Shiny Morning. Can you see the similarities between the two books?
Yeah a little bit. I hadn’t thought about it in that way, just in the way that I wanted to write a big American novel and Moby-Dick is sort of the standard for that. Moby-Dick is a lot harder to read though, than my book is. I only read it for school, man. I would never ever read it for pleasure.
I have heard that when you write you just write until you’re done and then you don’t read it again?
I have no interest in reading it again, I don’t want to rewrite it. The first book got edited but the latest book is pretty close to exactly what I wrote.
How did you find your writing style?
I wanted to be a writer when I was like 21 or 22. I didn’t want to write like anybody else, I wanted to write in a way that nobody had ever done before. I didn’t know how to do that and I certainly didn’t have any idea of what it would look like. I sat in front of the computer or with a notebook and I just tried shit. I tried to write a book to see if it was any good or tried to write a story and it took years and years and years of trying. Until I got it. And then I was in LA and one day I wrote the first 15 pages or so of A Million Little Pieces in one sitting. Like really fast, much faster than I had ever done anything. And I read it and it was like ‘there you go’.
When did you start writing it?
I wrote the first 50 pages of it when I was 28 and then I stopped for a year or two and continued when I was about 30, 31. And then it came out when I was 33. It didn’t happen easily. It took a long long time. That’s the thing with writing books. People say ‘I can’t write the way I wanna write’. You have to try for a long time. It took me 11 years. When you’ve tried for 10 years, give me a holler.
What’s it like working with the publishing company Full Fathom Five?
It’s fun and I get to work with a whole bunch of people. We have like 30 or 50 writers who work for us. There is a system to it, in a broad sense, but everything we do sort of functions differently depending on what it is, who the writer is and what we want to do with it. The general idea is that the same way Damien Hirst can do paintings with people working for him I can do the same thing with books. The books are not about me and what I do with them, I don’t put my name on them. The idea is to make books and make a lot of them. They are all different. And it’s kind of fun, instead of sitting and thinking of the same thing for a year or two I get to think about 30 or 50 different things at the same time. It doesn’t get boring.
Do you think it’s boring to write books?
Yeah, writing a book is boring. It is. You sit in your room by yourself for 8 or 10 hours a day. When I do that I try to get like one page a day written. I mean, it’s boring. At the same time it’s not at all – I love to do it. The boredom is just a part of it. Writing is a lonely thing.
Do you always sit at home or do you sit in the office?
I have never written a book in an office, I always write my own books at home. Sometimes I sit on the couch, a lot of the times I listen to music and sometimes I watch TV.
I have seen the updates on your Facebook page, about TV shows. Are you joking or do you actually watch Bachelorette and all those shows?
A little bit of both. I mean, I watch those shows. I think a lot of them are dumb. Some people get mad at me on Facebook, like ‘you shouldn’t be watching that show, you’re supposed to be a writer’ or ‘you’ve changed what I thought of you because you watch bad TV’. I don’t give a fuck, yeah I watch bad TV.
What kind of relationship do you have with your fans?
I think it’s good, I write back to people and I think I’m cool to people. I’m responsive. I appreciate people who read my books – people who read my books pay my bills. It’s important to remember that. It’s important to show those people respect and appreciation. Different writers have different ways of thinking about it. I sometimes put other writers’ names on Facebook to see if they have a page or something and most of them don’t. Especially literary writers, they just don’t. My belief is that you should show respect and appreciation to people who spend their time and money on your work. It’s important to say thanks, you know. I think my relationship with my fans are good, I stay in touch with them. Whenever I’m in a new city I say where I am. Sometimes I’ll meet a person. People think it’s glamorous, and in many ways it is, it’s a position of privilege. I get to sit in a nice hotel in Stockholm and it’s all paid for, but it also gets kind of boring and kind of lonely. So I’ll write ‘I’m in Stockholm’ and somebody will write me and perhaps we’ll grab a coffee or whatever. I don’t know what the fuck to do in Stockholm so I can either sit in my hotel room and watch TV or I can meet a person who lives here, who can show me the city.
How many half finished books do you have at home? Or do you finish them all?
I have a book that I tried to write when I was young and some that are just fragments of shit but I’ll never to anything with them. When I sit down to write a book I just keep writing until I’m done.
James: You mind if I drink that water?
(Pekar på mitt vattenglas som jag inte har rört.)
What is the best compliment you’ve gotten from a fan?
I don’t know, people are really nice. ‘Your book changed my life’, ‘You made me wanna be a writer’. It’s cool hearing from people who wouldn’t normally read books, you know like, you get a letter from some punk ass kid who’s like ‘I always hated reading books, I thought they were dumb and then somebody gave me yours’.
What do you think James Frey, aged 20, would say if somebody told him that you’re going to be a famous author one day?
I don’t know. I read Tropic of Cancer when I was like 21 and I thought that’s what I want to do. The first page of Tropic of Cancer spoke to me in a way that very few things ever have. And I read that and I thought ‘I can do that. I can do that and I’m gonna do that.’ I mean, it’s weird having your dreams come true. It’s a very cool experience and it’s a very surreal experience and sometimes not at all what you thought it would be. I think it’s important to remember that in many ways I’m still a fucking punk, a 20 year old kid who’s not perfect. The fame is not that important. I don’t walk up and go to my room and think ‘you’re James Frey, you’re famous’. If somebody would have told me at age 20 that I would be a famous author one day I would probably be like ‘yeah, of course’. On some level you have to believe that you can do what you want, that it’s going to happen. If you don’t, you have no chance. As soon as I started doing it I always believed that something like this would happen.
Did you send your book to a lot of publishers?
17 said no before one said yes and then we had two different publishers that said yes. That was an awesome day. It sucked hearing no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no and then when you hear yes it’s a pretty awesome day. Even that was a dream come true. I lived in LA, I had just gotten married and that was awesome.
Your latest novel The Final Testament of the Holy Bible is just about to be released in Sweden. Did you have a political motive when you wrote it?
Sure! I try to say things in the book without sounding political. There are things in that book that I wanted to say, that I believe. For example, the gay marriage issue in America. Gay people should be allowed to get married. And like issues of religion, the separation of church and state. And how has it been received? What do people think about it? We released it in a very unconventional way in America. I didn’t publish it with a book publisher, I published it with an art gallery. And we only published ten thousand copies of it, and those are the only ten thousand copies that will ever exist in the United States. I didn’t do any press, I didn’t do a single interview, I didn’t send the book to any reviewers at all, the reviewers requested it. We said ‘go buy it when it comes out’. People read it and wrote nasty things about it and sent me hate mail and all that shit. I didn’t want the book itself to get over shadowed by all of that kind of garbage which is why I didn’t release it with a traditional publisher. The reviews are either really great or really terrible, which is kind of how I like it. In continental Europe the reviews are generally really good.
Do you read the reviews?
The publishers always send you everything. I read it if I can. I’m always curious. I use Google Translate. Mostly I’ll just ask about the good ones and the bad ones, I want to look at the most extreme ones.
I heard that the Final Testament was translated by different translators for the different narrators in the book.
Only in Germany they did that. They used 13 different translators for that, which I thought was cool. I have no idea if it worked or not, I can’t read a word of German.
How did you get into character when you wrote it as 13 different narrators?
I would just sit there and figure it out. The hardest part was that at the end of each chapter I had to re-invent how I write. Usually I would talk. I would start talking like the character would talk until it sounded right and then I would try to write it that way. A part of writing the book like that was that it was so hard to do. Writers talk about how they have to ‘find their voice’ so I tried to abandon the voice I normally write in and wrote in 13 different voices. Just because it was hard – to show that I could do it.
How do you invent the characters?
People like to ask questions about my writing and I can talk about my routines and habits and all that shit but when I am actually just sitting there, I don’t really know. I mean, the only thing I can say is that it’s shit in my head and I sit there until the shit in my head is on the page on the computer in front of me. I just sit there and type with my two fingers.
So the next thing is the HBO porn thing, what is that?
It’s a show about porn for HBO. I’m the only person writing it. It was Mark Wahlberg’s idea. It’s about people who work in the porn business.
What I think of when it comes to porn is that a lot of women get exploited.
I met a ton of porn stars and they’re all different. Some of them do it because they want to do it, they didn’t have a fucked up childhood, they just like to fuck and get paid to fuck hot guys. There are other women who have been abused and do it almost because they don’t have a choice. The show looks at all of them. Hopefully, it takes an objective position.
How tired are you of the questions about the amount of truth in your book A Million Little Pieces?
It gets kind of old, but I am pretty good at answering them at this point. It’s all true. The fact is that you and I sat here and had this conversation. The truth is that you and I probably have different views of it. And that’s cool, that’s the way it should be. Even if I change the fact of it, if I say that this happened two months ago or we were actually sitting here at six o’clock, it doesn’t matter. Not to me it doesn’t.
What are you reading right now?
I'm reading Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel. It's the sequel to Wolfe Hall, which was great.
When will you give us another novel?