You have come a long way in your career these past eleven years. After four novels aimed at adults, what made you try literature for young adults?
I’ve been moving into the YA for a while with my company, Full Fathom Five, in all kinds of sub-genres. We have sports stories, love stories, medieval adventure stories, superhero and supervillain stories, zombie stories, Wizard of Oz stories, straight sci-fi or fantasy stories, stories about regular kids in the real world, and lots of stories that blend two or more of these and other sub-genres. We have a lot more coming up too. As far as why, the list pretty much speaks for itself. Working on these kinds of books is fun, and I wouldn’t be able to do them in the same way if I just stayed in the world of adult literature. I also think that this market is more likely to accept the new directions that publishing are taking. The future of this industry will have books at its center, either as physical books or as e-books, but these books will also leverage digital and multimedia tools to tell and enhance stories. Kids and teens and young adults don’t get hung up on this in the way that some adult readers do. Exploring this new world as a writer and creator with young readers and fans is fun, and that’s another big reason I’m here too.
The Lorien Legacies brought back a genre that wasn't particulary trendy among YA books: science fiction. Why did you choose it?
Science fiction is badass, that’s why! I tell this story a lot, but it kind of all comes back to Star Wars. When I was a kid, that was it. It was the story. It had it all. A limitless universe, great characters, cool settings, epic battles, everything. I know that a lot of writers my age will agree that we’re still living in the long shadow of Star Wars. In some ways I’m trying to replicate that with Lorien Legacies and Endgame. To create a universe that is huge and sprawling and fertile and fascinating and recognizable but also new. Another reason to go into sci-fi is right there in your question—because it wasn’t very trendy. For whatever reason writers weren’t heading in that direction, so I thought I would. I’m glad I did.
A question to satisfy our curiosity as fans of the series:why did you and Jobie Hughes use the pseudonym Pittacus Lore (a real character from the series) to sign the saga?
Pittacus of Mytilene was one of ancient Greece’s most famous military leaders. I liked the name and thought it sounded cool. Lore is because Lorien, the home planet.
The Revenge of Seven, the fifth book in the series, was published in the US last August. With only two books left, how do you feel about the outcome of the project? Are you looking forward to finishing this venture, or are there still too many loose ends to tie to think about that?
Lorien Legacies has been awesome. I hope it will always be awesome. Am I happy to move on? Sure. Am I sad to move on? Absolutely. It’s helped launch Full Fathom Five’s success, and that will never change. As far as loose ends, I can’t say. Saying too much would probably be construed as giving out spoilers. What I can say is that the last two books are going to kick fucking ass. And we may try to find a way to extend it.
Now it’s time to talk about your next series: Endgame. Endgame is more than just a trilogy, it is a multiplatform project in which readers will have a hefty financial incentive that could win if they solvethe riddles of the novels. How did you come up with a project of this magnitude? Did you start with the novel and then develop this original way to promote it, or did you create the novel with this promotion in mind?
When I was a kid my mom gave me a copy of this book called Masquerade by Kit Williams. It was a really simple book, fifteen paintings that told the story of a hare carrying a treasure from the moon to the sun. But Masquerade was more than a beautiful book—it was in fact a treasure hunt. Williams had made an 18-karat gold, jewel-encrusted version of the hare in his story and he buried it somewhere in England. The pictures and the words of the book held clues, and if you could decipher those clues then you would find the hare. It was valued at about £40,000—not a fortune, but a hell of a lot of money for a kid. I was completely taken by the book and the puzzle. I’d spend hours and hours pouring over the pages, looking for clues, convinced that I’d somehow find the hare and then use the money to buy every single Star Wars action figure and a roomful of Legos or something. Of course I didn’t win. But it didn’t matter. The story was great and the challenge was great and the immersion was great and the experience was great.
That’s what Endgame is ultimately designed to be: an experience. Like Masquerade it has a treasure hunt and a book and a story. I always had high ambitions for the project and that’s how it started. I came up with the basic idea and while Nils and I worked on the story we always had the puzzle in the back of our minds. At first I thought we would be able to design it ourselves. Nils and some of my colleagues weren’t so certain, and they told me so. Eventually I found Mat Laibowitz and Adam Susman at Futuruption. Once we hooked up with them I realized I was way out of my element on the puzzle front. Stories, writing, networking—those are my things. Not puzzle design. The puzzle that their team has produced is amazing. It’s gorgeous and elegant and challenging and smart and is so much better than anything we could ever have come up with.
From there things developed organically. We needed a tech partner, so we pitched several companies, Google among them. It took a long time, but they came on board, and added that they would develop a companion video game and alternate reality game (ARG) for Endgame. This was a gift. It was something I hoped for when I set out, and now there it was. Working with John Hanke and Jim Stewartson and everyone at Google has been fantastic. Once Google was on board we went to the publishers and to Hollywood. And now we have thirty-four publishing deals around the globe and a film in development with Fox and Marty Bowen and Wyck Godfrey at Temple Hill. It’s been a wonderful, wonderful collaboration on all fronts, and I’m hopefull it will continue. Now we just have to put it out and captivate and entertain and engage readers and gamers and puzzle solvers and anyone who loves a great story.
Although Endgame can be defined using words as action, power, competition and fear, beyond being a fight for survival, the soul of Endgame is a puzzle. A mysterious jigsaw that both characters and readers are invited to solve. Given the complexity of creating an average plot, how do you plan a story full of riddles? How do you make sure every single piece fits at the end?
This has been pretty challenging, and while I can’t say too much about the puzzle specifically, I will say that it all fits because of the work and passion that Mat and Adam and Futuruption have put into it. We collaborated with them in order to fit the puzzle into the book in some instances, but for the most part this was all done after the story was written. I also think that from a story-telling perspective it’s helpful that the characters are engaged in some puzzle-solving in the story. This helped us write the book and I think it helped Mat and Adam fold their puzzle into the pages.
Those of us who have been lucky enough to read The Calling before its release date have been blown away by the extensive work done with the setting of the story. How was the documentation process of the many landscapes that are described in the book? Have you visited any of the places mentioned in the novel?
Nils and I have been to some of these places, but not nearly all of them. Neither of us have been to Xi’an, China or Gobekli Tepe in Turkey, for instance. For the most part we relied on good old research, conducted almost exclusively on the Internet, but also in magazine and newspaper articles. National Geographic had a cover story devoted to Gobekli Tepe in 2012 I think, and we definitely used that. But basically writing this book simply would not have been possible without the resources freely available on the Internet, especially Google Maps with its satellite and street views. It’s a coincidence that we’re now working with the man who was behind Google Maps—that’s John Hanke—but it’s a pretty appropriate coincidence.
Many authors dream (some even have nightmares) about the idea of seeing his book turned into a movie. As an author who has already gone through that experience, what can you tell us about the adaptation of I Am Number Four? Would you repeat?
I would repeat it again and again and again and again. As many times as I can. Even if the experience isn’t always perfect, it’s always fun and, at the end of the day, there’s nothing like a movie adaptation to help your book reach more people and to make it that much more successful. Any author who’s lucky enough to have his or her book made into a movie or, more and more these days, into a TV series, knows what I’m talking about. It’s a blessing, pure and simple.
Both Lorien Legacies and Endgame are four-handed written sagas, an option that is spreading among writers. What do you highlight of this experience? How did you organise yourselves?
The basic idea underlying Endgame is mine, but Nils and I collaborated on the plot, which cultures to use for the 12 lines of the world of Endgame, and character development. We would have brainstorming sessions where we would outline sections of the book on a big whiteboard, and then Nils would write the first draft and we’d go back and forth and then I’d take it from him to write the intermediary and final drafts. Then it went to the publisher and went through the standard editing process, and Nils and I would either split making revisions or I would do some and he would do others.
As an aside, Nils and I outlined the second book on a whiteboard-painted wall in my current office. It takes up three panels of one corner. I left it there so long that the ink dried completely and now I can’t erase it at all. So unless I paint over it, I’m stuck with it. We’re gonna have to find another place to outline book three, I guess.
Would you recommend our readers some of your favourite YA books?
The Maze Runner, The Lord of the Rings, The Cloak Society.
Our readers already know your work as a writer; however, we would like them to know the other professional side of James Frey: the creation of Full Fathom Five. How did you come up with the idea for this project? What kind of challenges will it face?
I love telling stories. I anted to tell more than what I can write alone. Full Fathom Five allows me to work on many more books and tell many more stories. The biggest challenge is actually getting the books written. They have to be great if we’re going to publish them, and it’s pretty hard.
Once Endgame really comes to an end, what would you like to be your next literary project? Is there another story for young adults already in your mind?
First, Endgame is just starting, and I hope it captivates literally millions of readers and gamers and fanboys and fangirls and becomes a pop culture phenomenon. Most of my energy is devoted now and for the foreseeable future to Endgame and its success. That said, I have a dozen YA stories in mind. That’s the great thing about this model. I can actually pursue if not a majority of my ideas then at least a fair number of them. Far more than I’d be able to pursue if I were just writing these stories on my own. Mainly I want to go full bore into this new world where books intersect and interact with the digital world, with social media, with the actual world we live in, and with alternate ways to expand upon and enhance story experiences. I know there’s a lot of hand-wringing about how this is all going to play out, about the future of books and all that, but honestly I think this is probably the most exciting time to be involved with books and publishing since Gutenberg invented the printing press. That’s no exaggeration. New worlds are opening for books and authors, and I’m super excited to be able to explore them.