The thing about expectations is that more often than not, the opposite happens. Take for example Bestselling author James Frey who is here in Manila for a book signing tour upon the invitation of The National Book Store.
My research online had me expecting a cold man who could stop the interview midpoint if I take a misstep in my questions. Instead what I found…. Or rather who I met… at the Writer’s bar in Raffles today was a cool guy who would converse about anything: from his book ENDGAME, to cockfights and Manny Pacquiao. He didn’t mind that I asked several times for clues about the next books of the ENDGAME and I AM NUMBER FOUR series. He just answered as straight as he could.
Unfortunately, no clues were given (or you could read between the lines). Nonetheless I left the interview thrilled, with my initial opinion of the man corrected, and impressed with his brilliance and sense of self. There is a reason why I read his books, even when I didn’t know that He andPittacus Lore were one and the same. His books speak for themselves.
Indeed a lot has been said and written about this controversial man. But remove that from the equation, you’d still end up with an author who writes great stories. And for book lovers like me, that is what matters.
Meet James Frey.
(WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD)
Lyn: For those who have read the blurb and are just about to pick up ENDGAME: THE CALLING, what is this about?
James: It’s a book about the end of the world. It says the world was created by aliens 12 thousand years ago. When they created us, they created 12 original lines of humanity and they told them all that someday the world would end, and when it did, a game will be played that would determine its future. The book is about that game. It’s a scavenger hunt that takes place all over the world. In the book we wrote a puzzle which is also a scavenger hunt. It also takes place all over the world. If you’re the person to figure out the puzzle, you win (for this book) $500,000.00 worth of gold sitting on the floor of Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas.
L: I can never solve the simplest puzzles
J: Well then you’re not gonna win the gold (laughs)
L: Definitely! I never win anything anyway (laughs). One thing about this book is that it’s very violent. Bloody. It’s very gory. Was there ever a time you thought that you should pull back a bit on the violence, that this might be too much for parents, especially since there are so many stories now about kids harming other kids.
J: The earlier versions were far more violent and the publisher asked us to dial it back.
L: So this is more relaxed
J: Yeah, this is the PG13. It used to be NC17.
L: Would you be posting the edited versions at all?
J: Nah, I can email it to you if you want to read it (laughs)
L: Of the two protagonists, I liked Sarah immediately but Jago, not so much. Why did you make him the other main character?
J: I just thought he was cool you know. No more complicated reason than that, just that I like him.
L: Because when authors write about the main guy, he’s usually gorgeous and perfect. Jago is nothing like that. He has a huge scar on his face and is just so flawed and violent
J: Well we killed the gorgeous guy with the perfect face
L: Exactly! That was my next question. What happened to Christopher just came out of nowhere. You blew him up! He annoyed the hell out of me but I thought he would at least go home to his family but instead he’s dead with half his body gone. Why the very violent end?
J: Because nobody would have expected it. And I’m sick of love triangles so we set it up for you to think that this was gonna be another love triangle and we literally blew that to pieces.
L: I know I never read a book like that because it’s always long drawn out love triangles that end at the very last chapter of the very last book in series.
J: Yeah I didn’t have any interest in doing that. We set you up to be very annoyed by Christopher and then hopefully get shocked with what happens
L: I’m very shocked
L: Since the third of that triangle is gone, will there be another one stepping in?
J: Can’t tell you that. Can’t reveal trade secrets. Can’t tell you what’s gonna happen
L: Darn it! I thought I was gonna have a scoop or something (laughs)
J: The book’s in my computer upstairs though (laughs)
L: What can we expect from Book #2 of ENDGAME which you said is gonna come out in October?
J: Hopefully fun and more of the game. The game continues to be played. More mayhem, more violence, more fun.
L: Is there a title for book #2?
J: We don’t have a title. I had one but the publisher asked me to change it and we haven’t come up with a new title yet. It’s probably gonna be called SKY KEY but I don’t know for sure.
L: We will know? when?
J: A couple of weeks. They sent me a cover this morning with that title on it but we’ll see.
L: Like I told you I didn’t try to solve this puzzle because I’m no good with them. I couldn’t even see any clues on the book
J: You could see some of them for sure (he opens a copy of Endgame between us on the table and points to the artwork)
L: Oh I thought they were just drawings (feeling foolish).
J: You see the things that are footnoted? Then go to the back of the book and see the internet links? Then just type the link in and go somewhere that shows you something
L: So I have to go through all those
J: Or buy a digital version and just click the links
L: Would you have any idea how many people are trying to solve this puzzle right now?
J: A lot. There are about 100,000 people who hit out websites a day. And there have been a lot more than that that have been there at some point or another
L: Do people badger you about giving clues?
J: I don’t know the solution
J: I don’t. For real. I hired 3 MIT PhDs to write the puzzle. I don’t know the solution. Makes it way simpler. Girls can’t flirt with me to gain clues out of me because I don’t know.
L: That’s $500,000.00 in gold coins for the first book and then $1,000,000.00 in the second book and $1,500,000.00 in the third!
J: Yep. I need it to sell because all that money is coming out of my pocket
L: Full Fathom Five (Frey’s company)
J: Yep. Well that’s me.
L: But it’s selling anyway even without the money
J: Yeah, I’ve got no complaints. We are very happy so far
L: The book is supposed to have a tie-in game
J: The game comes out in June when the paperback launches. This game is the most advanced mobile game ever made so we wanted to have it ready for the hardback but it wasn’t ready then so we just decided to hold it for the paperback which is mid June. I played it two weeks ago, it’s pretty badass
L: Did you win?
J: Well they let me win.
L: Do you play as characters? Can I choose to be Jago or sara?
L: So which one did you choose?
J: I played as Jago coz he’s my favorite and I played against Chiyoko and they let me win. But in reality I probably wouldn’t have won because I was playing against the guy who built it. When it comes out, there will be 5 of us who are Keplers. We are like the Keplers in the book. We are all powerful so we can wipe anybody out
L: You’re the gods
J: Yeah we’re the gods
L: Well that’s going to be fun
J: And then when you get good enough in the game you get temporary Kepler power. Or if you find certain clues you get temporary Kepler power. But yeah, next time I’m in manila, hopefully a lot of people are playing the game so I can go over to Greenbelt and wipe everybody out.
L: You mentioned Chiyoko. It surprised me when she died in the end because she was such a kickass girl
J: She was hard to kill. The first couple of versions of the book she did not die
J: Planning out the rest of it (Frey stops……) yeah… planning out the rest of it… I was gonna give you a spoiler but it would spoil (the story) too much
L: Darn it! Okay so the book is also being developed into a film. How is it going so far?
J: It’s good. Hopefully they start shooting it later this year but I’m not in control of that. The producers are all friends of mine. They made all the Twilight movies, Fault in Our Stars….. I’m in good hands there. And (20th Century) Fox is great
L: Did they ask you to rewrite some scenes?
J: Nah, I wrote the first draft of the script and now they’re rewriting me which is just fine. I have a lot of other things to do.
L: Who are the actors chosen to play the players?
J: Don’t know yet
L: If you were one of the players, which one would you be? Is it still Jago?
J: Yeah I’d still be him. He’s the person closest to me. Personality wise we are close. People ask me that a lot and I’m like none of them (the players) ARE me. I like all of them for different reasons. Chiyoko was my favorite for the first book probably. I like Baitsakhan because he’s evil. I like Alice coz she’s cool and mellow. I imagine if I met Sarah I’d wanna date her. They’re all cool for different reasons.
L: She’s the perfect girl, Sarah.
J: You don’t wanna marry a girl who could kill you. You could never get in an argument with her because she would kick your ass.
L: True. And if you throw a knife at her she can stop it in midair
L: I’m a huge fan of the I AM NUMBER FOUR series, I have followed it from the very first book. Of the Gardes, I loved EIGHT the most. He had the sweetest disposition and the best power (teleportation). Why did you kill him off?
J: I get a lot emails and posts on facebook about that. You know you gotta choose. Sometimes people have to die in a book
L: Sacrificial lamb?
J: They don’t have to die but it’s more interesting when people die. There are some good surprises coming up in I AM NUMBER FOUR. We’re doing another book so the series is gonna be longer, so instead of six books, it will be seven. There’s gonna be some good stuff coming
L: Will Eight live again?
J: Can’t give you spoilers
L: So what more can we expect from this series
J: We are finishing book 6 right now and while I’m Pittacus Lore, there are other writers who work on that with me, same way in ENDGAME. Unlike Endgame, there’s not just one other writer who work on FOUR. Different people work on different books or other novellas. I can’t give you any spoilers but we extended the series to seven books because there was a ton of cool shit we wanted to do and we couldn’t squeeze it into just one more. Some people might be coming back, some might not. And we may do another Pittacus Lore series, we may do a whole Lorien series set long ago
L: That would be great. Is there ever gonna be another FOUR movie?
J: I don’t know, I get asked that all the time too (he stands to get some chocolate). Pastry chefs here are awesome. They literally just make it and bring it out.
L: You have a sweet tooth?
J: I do. I love candy and chocolate. (going back to the FOUR movie) I don’t know, I hope so.
L: How about a TV show? Because they’re turning Mortal Instruments (another successful book series turned movie) into a TV show too.
J: We tried doing it as a TV show, it’s impossible. It’s either there are more movies or none at all.
L: You inspire such strong reactions from peopLe, it’s either they love you or they hate you and ask people to boycott your books. How do you handle such diverse reactions? Does it bother you?
J: No. It probably bothered me a long time ago. I deeply appreciate and have an enormous gratitude to my readers and my supporters. And the people who don’t, I don’t care. I’m not gonna waste my time and energy worrying about them. It’s not productive for me or for them or for anybody. Simple as that.
L: Moving on, what have you heard about book signings here?
J: I heard it’s berserk. Philippine readers are awesome. I was showing someone earlier my phone. I’ve been getting literally hundreds of facebook messages, friend requests. The readers here are amazing. I wish everybody in the world was like this.
L: Any expectations for your book signings?
J: I would just try to say thanks to the readers. That’s it. I always say that readings (sessions and book signings) are important because I get to say thank you. That’s really all it is. Say thank you and show readers gratitude and respect for supporting my work.
L: So how are you spending the rest of your stay here outside the tour?
J: I will go to the beach in Cebu. I wanna go to a cockfight and I wanna ride a jeepney. I had three things to do before I came here and they are eat baby pig, ride a jeepney and go to a cockfight. I ate baby pig for dinner last night
L: Lechon? Have you tried sisig and balut?
J: I’m not eating balut. I don’t know what sisig is
L: Sisig is pork face chopped up. Really good.
J: No pig’s face for me (laughs), no baby bird and egg.
L: How about bull’s balls?
J: I can get those in America
L: Soup number 5?
J: Is that what they call it here? They call em rocky mountain oysters in America
L: I have never heard of that
J: They slice them so they look like oysters and they deep fry them
J: I will not have soup number 5 but I’m gonna have a lot more of the baby pig. So last night they had baby pig and baby pig pork belly which was…. (pauses)…I can’t swear on your thing (referring to my recording device) but it’s delicious. I have never been here before but the Philippines is awesome. People are so nice. I travel all over the world all the time, but this is one of the nicest hotels I have ever seen anywhere. The food is awesome, the people are awesome. I have Filipino friends, that’s how I got my list of things. My (Filipino) friend said if you can do the list in one go that’s the best. Take a jeepney to a cockfight and eat baby pig. That’s the best day you’ll have.
J: I bought some chips from a dude on the street today. I was taking pictures of jeepneys everywhere we went
L: From a takatak boy? (I briefly describe takatak boys)
J: Yeah that’s where I bought the chips! We were stuck in traffic and I was super hungry so I like “CHIPS!”
L: Fish chips?
J: Nah I went for the barbecue chips. I wanna have awesome experiences. Eat candy and chocolates. You wanna come to the cockfight with us? We’ll be there on Saturday.
L: The only fight I wanna see is a Manny Pacquiao Mayweather fight
L: You a Manny fan?
L: We’re all just waiting for Mayweather to agree
J: He (Mayweather) is scared of him. Would you wanna fight Manny Pacquiao? I wouldn’t wanna fight Pacquaio.
L: I just want his autograph
J: I hope Manny knocks him out, that would be awesome
L: 1st round?
J: I don’t care what round as long as he puts Floyd to sleep. He needs to be humbled.
‘Endgame: The Calling’ and the ‘Lorien Legacies’ series are available in National Book Store and Powerbooks. Shop online and buy eBooks at nationalbookstore.com and earn reward points for online purchases. Follow National Book Store on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (@nbsalert) for updates on the latest events, promos and contests. Tag #JamesFreyinPHto join the discussion.
A special thanks Mr. Miguel Ramos, Mr. JB Roperos and Mr. Chad Dee of The National Book Store