The Accidental Terrorist : Memoir : Page 13

Frey in hell

            

Yes, we all seem to be more up in arms today about James Frey and his partially made-up memoir than we are about domestic wiretaps, freedom of information in China, and terrorists taking power in Palestine. And it makes sense to me why.

Countless hordes of people feel like they were lied to by James Frey. The reason this is more upsetting than being lied to by the President and his cronies—which happens and continues to happen on a regular basis—is that we're used to being lied to by politicians. We may be appalled by it, but we take this as expected behavior.

Writers, however, are a breed apart. Yes, their main job is to entertain us, but when they're doing their job well they are saying something true to us about what it means to be human, something that resonates in us, the readers, to our very cores. Thousands upon thousands of people felt that James Frey had told them something very resonant and true about their own lives, only now it's come out that what he said was, in many ways, made up. Of course people are upset. Of course they feel betrayed. On some level it must feel like finding out your spouse has been leading a double life.

I feel betrayed as well, but not because I read and believed A Million Little Pieces. I have not read the book. I feel betrayed as a writer on behalf of my profession. James Frey's responsibility as a writer was to tell the truth, and he failed to live up to that responsibility.

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Via Derryl Murphy:

If you happen to be working on some creative writing project, fanfiction or NaNoWriMo or what have you, post exactly one sentence from each of your current work(s) in progress in your journal. It should probably be your favourite or most intriguing sentence so far, but what you choose is entirely your discretion. Mention the title (and genre) if you like, but don't mention anything else. This is merely to whet the general appetite for your forthcoming work(s).

The Accidental Terrorist [memoir]
I could imagine the flesh parting like paper under my thumbtip, the slow sting and shock as bright blood cascaded from that lipless grin to stain my white clothes crimson.

"Any World Where They Welcome Me" [science fiction]
I work hard to keep my emotions in check when I'm not on a hunt, because hardwired reflexes like mine mean someone can sneeze in my general direction and be dead before the last germ leaves his mouth.

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Curses! Foiled again!

            

So way back in the mists of time I was engaged to a girl I'll call Katrina, because that's how I refer to her in my memoir. Katrina and I have stayed in touch all these years, and she now lives in Connecticut with her second husband, a Dutch chemist nine years her junior (go, Katrina!) whom I'll call Gerrit.

Laura and I had a holiday party back in December, and Katrina and Gerrit drove down from Connecticut for it. It was the first time I'd met Gerrit.

About an hour into the party, Gerrit came sauntering into the group I was chatting with, drunk off his ass, and said, "You know what I just found out that I didn't know before? I found out in the car on the way down here. This guy here"—he indicated me—"he used to be engaged to my wife."

I looked around at the group and said, "Well, this is awkward."

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Draft validation

            

From my agent, a generally positive assessment of the third draft of The Accidental Terrorist:

I've read your revision and I'm pretty darn happy with it. I think you've done a good job synthesizing and compacting huge swaths of material into a much more manageable narrative. I'm also happy with the choices you've made in adding flashback material. All in all, this is a strong piece of revision, and it makes me confident that we'll be able to whip this monster into submission shape sooner rather than later....

I'm very happy with the work you've done thus far, and very impressed. It was a huge haul you just went through, and while this new revision won't be easy, you have gotten over the hump. This book is much, much closer than it ever was. Good work.

In the elided portion, he went into some suggested adjustments of voice in the sections leading up to the subclimax and climax, where the writing might have lost some necessary passion, and I think he's probably right about that. But the fact that he likes what I did with this draft is a huge validation and relief.

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Rev three complete

            

This morning before work I finished up the third draft of The Accidental Terrorist. This draft has taken the book from 240,000 words and 1,078 ms pages down to 135,000 words and 573 ms pages. The manuscript is now in my agent's hands, and I'm waiting on pins and needles to see what he thinks.

I've posted a few excerpts from the book, most of them bits that visitors to the old site wouldn't have seen already.

In a strange bit of synchronicity, my agent is also part of an improv troupe, and he's going to be playing a Mormon missionary in their new production. He wrote me today to enlist my help in finding him a set of temple garments. Anyone have any leads?

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The hour of the wolf approacheth

            

Just a quick reminder that I will be appearing early Saturday morning on Jim Freund's program "Hour of the Wolf" on WBAI 99.5 FM in New York City. While science fiction is the main focus of the show, we'll no doubt discuss my memoir Missionary Man as well.

The show runs from 5:00 am to 7:00 am EDT. If you don't live near enough to tune in, and you're a very early riser, you can catch the RealAudio stream at:

http://www.2600.com/offthehook/hot2.ram

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I'll be making a return appearance as Jim Freund's guest on "Hour of the Wolf" this Saturday, August 9th, on WBAI 99.5 FM, from 5:00 am to 7:00 am, Eastern Daylight Time.

We'll certainly talk about my science fiction, including my recent story in Salon, but it's likely we'll discuss my memoir Missionary Man as well. I may even trot out an excerpt from the book to read on the air. Tune in an see what happens. (It's early, yes, but just think -- I have to be up earlier to get to the station than you do to listen! )

WBAI serves the NYC metro area. If you can't pick up the station, you can still access the live stream on the Internet at:

http://www.2600.com/offthehook/hot2.ram

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Not just empty talk

            

Holy cow. Just got this email from my agent:

I talked to Jim Frenkel yesterday and he said that I should send the first half of Missionary Man [the memoir] to him, and that we should send him Silvertide [the novel] when you're done. Seems like you (or in point of fact, Laura—he kept talking about her!) really charmed him!
That's a rather spectacular vindication of the past weekend, if I do say so! I'm getting straight to work on the revisions to Silvertide, and Shawna is sending Missionary Man straight out to him. Fingers crossed, everybody!

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First, reader mail

            

So, in the wake of my agent's email, I got very depressed. Laura had been telling me for a month and a half, and continued to tell me, that she thought world events only made the public's need for my book more acute. So I decided to poll my readers, the kind folks who had been reading my book chapter by chapter, some of them for two years, for their thoughts on the issues raised by my agent. Here is what I said:

Well, of course my feeling is that the book just cannot exist without the bomb threat, and that they're both wrong about the market right now. I know some of you have expressed opinions that now is exactly the right time for a book like this. I'm just curious to know what you all think—whether you as book buyers would be turned off or turned on by a book about a Mormon bomb threat right now, and why? What can I tell my agent that will convince her—and maybe a skittish editor too—that the problem is not a problem? Or am I wrong? Is it?
And here are some of the replies I got back:

Brian in Virginia:

Unbuyable? Hrm. I don't know about that. I know I'd buy it—but I can see how some may consider it bad taste. (Five minutes has passed—I've been thinking about it.)
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Missionary Man

            

My memoir is finished. Well, the first draft, anyway. Time to go and lift a pint.

Better idea than trying to lift the manuscript. It rolled in at 1,076 pages.

Next step: blue pencil.

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The Accidental Terrorist 30th Anniversary Sale

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About the Book

What happens when an ambivalent young Mormon missionary is pushed to the limit in a challenge to prove his faith? Hint: the outcome is explosive. The Accidental Terrorist is the long-awaited memoir from Hugo and Nebula Award–nominated author William Shunn, based on his popular podcast. Available now from Sinister Regard!