James Frey - Assises Internationales du Roman 2010
About Bright Shiny Morning
Bright Shiny Morning is James Frey's first novel. It is an audacious chronicle of Los Angeles and its inhabitants. Here is a recording of a short speech in which the author explains why he chose Los Angeles as a setting for his novel.
James Frey on storytelling
The following text is a transcript of what James Frey told his readers at Le Bal des Ardents, a bookshop in central Lyon (28/05/2010).
Do I think that a book has to be fragmented. No! I think that it depends on the city. If you live in a city or if you're writing about a city that is fragmented, you probably need to use some kind of a fragmented structure. It entirely depends on the place. I'll use an analogy with painting: you paint what you see. If you are looking at a vast entirely fragmented and broken up place, you're going to create some sort of a vast broken up and fragmented work of art. If you look at a single unified place, you can make a single and unified work of art. When I think about a city like L.A., I think you have to do it that way. Those places are too big and crazy and ridiculous and beautiful and awful to do it any other way.
Writing on L.A.
I always wanted the book to have some kind of propulsity to it. I wanted it to be moving forward. The book in most ways is about this idea of the American dream, about the idea people can come to the United States from anywhere and do anything, become anything and have anything. I think L.A. is the greatest example of that idea in America right now. It's the city with the most foreign immigration to it of any city in the world and the most domestic immigration to it of any city in the United States. You go there for reasons, you don't go there to hang around. If you're going to L.A. it's usually to make some dream come true. Some people go there to find world wide fame and superstardom and great fortune. Many more people go there just to get a green card and a job and a better life for their children. But in order to achieve that dream there's always some sort of action. People always want more than what they have and they are trying to get more than what they have and they are working for more, looking for more. That's also related to the idea of the world we live in. We're living in this 21st century world which is very different, very fast. We're moving from thing to thing to thing to thing... We're getting bombarded with all this information from all different mediums. Life is radically different from what it was twenty years ago in that sense. I tried to put those ideas into the book and I tried to build the book around making the reader feel those things, feel that sort of forward movement, that frenetic energy, that chaos.
(...) One thing I try to write about L.A. is that I believe L.A. is much more like Sao Paulo than it is like New York. I think Los Angeles is this third world city in a first world country. I think that many people move there with the idea that they are going to have these big dreams and that these big dreams are going to come true. For the massive majority of them they end up just trying to survive, just trying to get through the day, just trying to find enough for the next week, the next hour or the next minute. I believe it is interesting that this sort of city of the future in the wealthiest country in the world is much more closely linked to these massive cities in the third world than they are to any European city or any Eastern United States city.
L.A. writers and East Coast writers
I think there is definitely a literature of the East Coast, I think there is a literature of Los Angeles and I think there is a literature of San Francisco. There is a big difference between East Coast writers and West Coast writers. Traditionally, LA writers almost always write about crime and Hollywood. I think that in America the perception is that writers from the East Coast and western writers from San Francisco are more serious writers than writers from L.A.. If you are a writer from Los Angeles you're not a real writer, you're not a serious writer. I think that writers from San Francisco tend to have a very high regard for themselves. I think writers from New York are very involved in being writers, they are very involved with each other and literary events and literary publications. I, for myself, exist outside of all of it. I am definitely not a writer who is accepted by other L.A. writers because I don't write about what they write about. I am definitely not accepted by New York or San Francisco writers. I like being apart from everything. It's easier to take shots at things or to make fun of a club if you're not part of it. But I do think there are definite differences between the literary communities in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York.
Fiction, non-fiction and truth
I think that we are moving into this world in which fiction and non-fiction are becoming increasingly the same thing. I often give the example of newspapers in the United States, all of which claim to be complete non-fiction. This morning I looked at the New York Times website and I looked at the New York Post website. One of those papers writes from the left and the other from the right. They were both writing stories about that emerging scandal in America with the White House offering a senatorial candidate a job if he would drop out of a Senate race. They were radically different stories, written from radically different perspectives so that if you didn't know they were about the same thing you wouldn't necessarily think they were about the same thing. My point is that this distinction that publishers make and that we make between non-fiction and fiction is bullshit.
I often look back at art. I am much more influenced by visual artists and painters than I am by writers. I think that literature in many ways is sort of stagnant: it never moved past certain places. Let's take the example of a self-portrait. When Van Gogh painted a self-portrait, it did not have to be perfectly realistic or perfectly abstract: it could be something in the middle and it was absolutely as valid as if it had been one of the things on either end. I think one of the most interesting areas in writing right now is the destruction of these lines. It is something I very deliberately try to do: obliterate a reader's ability to distinguish in my book what is real and what is fake. For me, the goal of art is not to portray fact or fiction, it is to display truth which is something beyond either of those things. I think it's fun to do it. At least in my country it infuriates people when you fuck with these things, when you say 'well it is non-fiction' and then 'it's fiction too'. We see it in our media, we see it on television with reality TV which isn't real in any way whatsoever. It is true of documentary films. A documentary film isn't really ever a pure document of any kind: it is a filmmaker's thesis and the attempt to prove that thesis, which really has nothing to do with fact or fiction. They are manipulation information to make a point and that is what I do with what I write. I don't really like the idea that my books are called anything other than just books.
Pour citer cette ressource :
James Frey, "James Frey - Assises Internationales du Roman 2010", La Clé des Langues [en ligne], Lyon, ENS de LYON/DGESCO (ISSN 2107-7029), septembre 2010. Consulté le 06/12/2023. URL: https://cle.ens-lyon.fr/anglais/litterature/entretiens-et-textes-inedits/james-frey-assises-internationales-du-roman-2010