In full disclosure, I wasn’t even aware that I first heard of New York Times bestselling author James Frey several years back, when a friend who was migrating to the US gave me two books, and one of them is Frey’s controversial A Million Little Pieces (I will not dwell on this book on this blog, but feel free to look it up on Google—Frey’s favorite resource, as you have probably noticed in Endgame: The Calling and as you will find out in the interview below.)
When a National Book Store representative first told me about Frey’s visit to the Philippines to promote Endgame, I probably gave him a blank stare because he hurried to add that Frey’s the author of A Million Little Pieces, and then of course that’s when I remembered. But, thanks to Google and National Book Store, I also found out that he’s actually even more popular now for his YA (young adult) novels, not just Endgame, but also I Am Number Four and the rest of the books in the series. His publisher only recently unveiled that he is actually the creator of the best-selling Lorien Legacies series that includes the books below. (In full disclosure, I haven’t read any of the books, but I have seen—and loved—the movie version of I Am Number Four released in 2011. Hello, Alex Pettyfer.) Aside from A Million Little Pieces, the Cleveland native’s two other adult books My Friend Leonard, and Bright Shiny Morning were all No. 1 bestsellers in the United States and internationally. His work has been published in 42 languages!
So, unlike for so many James Frey fans out there, getting to chat with him yesterday afternoon at Writers Bar in Raffles Makati, while he signed “Pittacus Lore” in cards to be given out to fans, was similar to getting to know somebody for the first time. But of course, since I’ve started reading Endgame, I couldn’t help but ask all my annoying fangirl questions, too. If you have any of those, I may have asked some of them for you. Read on for excerpts from my laid-back chat with Frey and find out if he was able to answer some of your own nagging questions, as well as a few more cool facts about this author who wrote Endgame just because he “wanted to write a cool book…with puzzles.”
But, first, the plot of Endgame:
James Frey’s new book Endgame: The Calling is the first book in a planned trilogy co-authored by Nils Johnson-Shelton (the second book is due for release in October this year, and the last intended for October 2016). It revolves around Endgame, a global game that will decide the fate of humankind. Twelve players from 12 ancient cultures were chosen millennia ago to represent humanity in Endgame, to play and try to solve the Great Puzzle of Salvation. The players have trained generation after generation in weapons, languages, history, tactics, disguise, and assassination. They are good and evil. Like you. Like all. When the game starts, the players will have to find three keys somewhere on earth. There are no rules. Whoever finds the keys first wins the game. At stake for the Players are their bloodline and the fate of the world. And only one can win.
What was the inspiration for Endgame?
I just wanted to write a cool book! When I was 10 years old I read a book that had a puzzle in it called Masquerade (Kit Williams, 1979) and I thought it was awesome. I’ve always wanted to do something like it, so I did. And this is it.
Speaking of the puzzles, do I have to solve what’s in the book? Do I miss details if I don’t solve the puzzles?
No. Hopefully you just read the book and it’s awesome. If you wanna try to solve the puzzles, you can. But if you don’t want to, you don’t have to. And nothing is taken away, you don’t miss anything. You just don’t win money. And there’s a different prize for each book: US $500,000 just for the first book!
Has anyone gotten close to solving it?
I’m not allowed to tell. But a lot of people are trying.
Why this story?
I just tried to think up something that I thought was cool. I like things that mess around with conspiracy theories and aliens. Then I had to figure out something that was about a scavenger hunt that we could build a scavenger hunt into. I really just thought it was cool. We wrote the book before we did anything. The book was done two years before…[the actual codes were built into it]. I built a version of the codes into the original drafts of the book, but mine weren’t good enough to withstand pressure—you know, if we had published the puzzle I wrote, someone would have solved it in two days! So I hired three [people with] PhDs from MIT, and they wrote the real puzzle. And the real puzzle is hard—it’s a lot harder than anything I could have ever done!
Why have kids killing each other in the story (like so many YA novels these days)?
Because kids are reckless in a way that an adult isn’t. And they have energy that adults—you’re still young, I’m old! I don’t have the energy I used to have.
What was the inspiration for the characters, specifically the 12 Players?
First it was figuring out what the 12 civilizations would be. Those are all real. And then it was making some of them good and some of them not, some of them may be a little of both. We tried to find ancient civilizations that are well-known but we also don’t know that much about; that way, we get to invent or use the ones that are the most mysterious or have the most sort of mysterious ruins. Like the Japanese player, the Mu: [People] didn’t even know that the Mu existed until about 10 years ago. And then they found this city on the Southernmost island of Japan a quarter mile underwater in the ocean, and it’s the Mu capital. So we now know they exist, but it was only myth: There’s no written records, there’s nothing. There are written myths of them, myths of the Mu, until they found that city.
Or the Olmec, Jago’s line. There’s very little of them. There’s one small city with this weird door temple thing, but they pre-dated the Maya or the Aztec, and nobody knows anything about them except that they left these unbelievably mysterious, very odd alien-like structures. So we were looking for things like that—cool civilizations that were real but we do not know a lot about and that are truly ancient.
And then with the characters, it’s like, make them cool. What would these people be like if they actually existed? Imagine if you were born into this line and you were a player, and you were trained basically from birth.
Wow. Just how exactly was the research process for all of this?
Honestly, it’s all Google.
How long did the writing process take you for the three books?
The first two are done. [The third] getting close. It takes about a year to do a book. The research is easy. The Internet and Google make research so simple. You just [write the facts into it] as you go along, literally. You need a cool location? All right, let’s look around and find some place. We keep these lists of cool places and weird alien conspiracy theories. You look at the list, you pick a place, buh-bam!
Endgame: The Calling (P499, hardcover)
Any scoops you can share with me about The Calling or the other two books?
I can’t share any scoops. Go look at the website thebrotherhoodofthesnake.com. Can’t tell you anything more than that. That’s a scoop, though.
When did you decide that you wanted to write books?
I decided I really wanna be a writer after I read a book called Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller when I was 21. I read a lot of books, but I never really thought I could be a writer ’til I read that book. It was simple, it was direct, it was written in a way that it sounded like somebody was talking instead of writing. It wasn’t fancy. Henry Miller didn’t go to fancy schools, he just wrote. And I sort of read that book and I was like, “I could do that.” And so I did.
Did any other books/authors influence your writing?
Not really. I mean, I try to say I don’t want anybody to influence my writing. There are lots of books I love—[by] J.R.R. Tolkien, Alexandre Dumas, Jack Kerouac, Charles Bukowski, Neal Stephenson, Philip K. Dick—there are a million writers I love. I love to read all those books, but I don’t wanna write like that.
Any tips for those who want to write and publish their own books, too?
Just do it. The beauty of writing is…you don’t need anything, except a computer or a pen and a paper. You don’t have to have a fancy education, you don’t have to write with perfect grammar, you just have to want to, or have a story to tell or something to say. My only advice is literally just sit down and work.
What’s next for you after the trilogy?
I have no idea. Probably more adult books. I have written more adult books than I have YA books, so I’ll probably go back to that.
Can we already look forward to seeing the trilogy on the big screen soon?
Hopefully they get shot soon. 20th Century Fox owns the movie rights. Temple Hill Entertainment, who produced the Twilight saga, The Fault In Our Stars, and The Maze Runner, is producing the movie.
Aw, no target release date yet?
No. I wish there was. You wanna be in the movie?
Sure! (I answered enthusiastically, but I have yet to receive the script. LOL.)
You can have your copy of Endgame: The Calling signed by James Frey, too! Catch him in book signing events on January 31, 2PM, in National Book Store, Ayala Center Cebu, and on February 1, 2PM, in National Book Store, Glorietta 1. Registration starts at 10AM for both events.
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.