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James Frey’s Fiction Factory

Frey's Social Circle: Bill Powers and Andy Spade  

In late July, Hughes filed his first draft of the second book. He and Frey had an hour-long screaming match over the phone, Hughes told a friend. Frey complained the draft was too rough. Hughes threatened to walk from the project. Frey said he would rewrite the second draft himself if he had to.

I Am Number Four was published on August 3. It made it onto the Times best-seller list for children’s chapter books, but it failed to make a larger cultural impression. By this time, Hughes was aware that I was writing about my experience with Full Fathom Five, and so he declined to comment. But according to friends of Hughes, he felt muzzled—and exceedingly frustrated. He couldn’t publicize the book without authorization from Frey, or defend it when others dismissed it as a mediocre young-adult book.

In mid-September, Hughes was invited to be the featured reader at the Freerange Nonfiction series, a small monthly reading at the Cornelia Street Café. Hughes included in his bio that he “is the New York Times best-selling author of I Am Number Four.” His authorship was an open secret—HarperCollins had named him in a press release last year announcing its acquisition of the series. But after the Freerange listing was posted online, Hughes told friends, he received distressed calls from HarperCollins and Full Fathom Five. Another argument with Frey ensued.

By the end of the month, Hughes had walked away from the project. He hired a lawyer, and they prepared documents requesting 20 percent of all future proceeds related to “The Lorien Legacies.” Hughes and Frey’s legal dispute has reportedly been settled, but the terms are unknown.

“You could see it coming,” said one of Hughes’s friends. He didn’t understand why, after all his work and the news items about I Am Number Four, he still couldn’t come out as the book’s co-writer. None of his work with Frey had helped him sell Agony at Dawn—it had been rejected by dozens of publishing houses—and the stress that came with being invisible wasn’t worth it anymore. He refuses, he tells friends, to go back “to nothing.”

Full Fathom Five has shrouded itself in a degree of secrecy unusual in the publishing world, and Frey declined to participate in this story. But the company continues to sign up more writers—there are now 28, not only students from M.F.A. programs but also magazine editors on both coasts and established novelists. On September 30, an e-mail went out to students of the New School about available jobs. “Full Fathom Five, the New York–based best-selling book-packaging-, film-, and TV-production company, is currently seeking young writers to take on book assignments, in particular, creative-writing M.F.A. students or graduates in the New York City area.”

Full Fathom Five has yet to announce a sale as successful as “The Lorien Legacies”—the film version of I Am Number Four, scheduled to open in February, is being hyped as the first film to be released by the reconstituted DreamWorks. But the company recently sold the King Arthur adaptation, and Will Smith’s production company is reportedly preparing a film version starring his son Jaden. And on November 2, Publishers Marketplace ran a notice that Full Fathom Five had sold to HarperCollins something called The Montauk Project, “in which a Long Island teenager inadvertently travels back in time to 1944 and must struggle to write her own future while trapped in the past.” No author was named.