James Frey doesn't do things in a quiet way. Since his literary career imploded after questions surfaced about the veracity of his addiction memoir, A Million Little Pieces, Frey has moved on to bigger projects. In 2010 he launched his own company called Full Fathom Five, to package young adult novels and series. While some in the press railed against the outfit as a "fiction factory," it has been productive. FFF was behind the YA series-turned-film I Am Number Four and, yesterday, announced its most ambitious project to date: a multi-platform series called Endgame that will feature a geo-location game (created by Google), a series of books and novellas co-written by Frey (to be published by HarperCollins), and a forthcoming film adaptation (being produced by 20th Century Fox).
Endgame, for which the film rights alone fetched a reported $2 million, is the kind of elaborate project, exploiting IP across a range of media, that many in publishing feel is the future. Frey talked to PW about the series, the intricacies of orchestrating a story that will exist in multiple forms, and whether he's still angry about being ambushed on Oprah.
PW: Can you explain how the project came together? Were you conceiving of the storyline, initially, as just a book? A book and a movie?
JF: It was conceived as a project that would exist across multiple platforms, and that the story would be told in books, novellas, games, film, and TV. [We also knew it] would have a social media presence, and exist in places – such as search results and mapping coordinates and YouTube – that aren't traditionally mediums for storytelling and writing.
PW: When did the gaming element come into play?
JF: My first conversations with Google Niantic were approximately a year ago.
PW: The Google game will be a location-based augmented reality game. Can you elaborate on that? And are you involved, at all, in the creation of the game?
JF: I can't discuss the specifics of the game yet. I am, and have been, involved, though John Hanke and his team at Google Niantic are far smarter than me, and have much better ideas than I do. It's been amazing working with them.
PW: The multi-platform experience of Endgame, with a book series and a game, is being compared to The 39 Clues. Is that a fair comparison?
JF: In some ways. [The] 39 Clues is a cool project, and definitely did some amazing new things with the intersection of games and books. Endgame is for a wider range of audiences, though, and the gaming is more involved. I think the better comparison is Masquerade by Kip Williams.
PW: In terms of how the book aspect is set up, there are three novels and then nine interstitial novellas. How will the novellas be released in relation to the novels? Will you be writing all the novels and the novellas? And will some of these be e-only, or all the books and novellas will be coming out in print?
JF: There are 15 novellas. Harper has nine of them, and Google Niantic has six of them. The novellas will come out in between the novels. [The titles] will initially be e-books, but released later as collections in physical form.
PW: You're writing the books with someone named Nils Johnson-Shelton. Who is he?
JF: Yes, this is a collaboration with Nils. He is the co-author of the international best seller No Angel: My Harrowing Undercover Journey to the Inner Circle of the Hells Angels. He is also the author of the Full Fathom Five series for tweens, The Otherworld Chronicles. We're old, close friends. It's been awesome working with him.
PW: In terms of the story, did you conceive of it as something that would live on multiple platforms, and therefore in a different manner than you've conceived of your prior straight-up books?
JF: Yes, it was conceived as a project that would live on multiple platforms. When we wrote the first novel, though, we didn't approach the writing process any differently. We had to write a cool book. Had to get the story and characters right. If we didn't, none of the rest of it works.
PW: Can you experience the story through just one platform, i.e. the games or the books? Does it make for a richer experience if you do both?
JF: Yes, you can read or play the game independent of each other. We hope, though, that readers will love the game and gamers will love the books. We're trying to bring the mediums, and the audiences, together in some cool new ways.
PW: Are you a gamer? If so, did you build the story, and strike the deal, with a knowledge of location-based augmented reality games?
JF: Yes, I play and dig mobile and video games. I love ARGs, and feel like they are going to be a huge part of the future of storytelling. I love Niantic's current game Ingress, and play Just Dance and Skylanders with my kids.
PW: How long has this project been in the works, from conception to striking the deal?
JF: Three years.
PW: In terms of the movie aspect, film rights to the series have already been bought. For just one film? Is there a planned release date for that film?
JF: We just did the deal with Fox and we're just getting started. I'm really excited to be working with them. They bought the entire series.
PW: Regarding the structure of the deal itself, can you explain how that was handled? Were the print, film and gaming rights sold in a single deal? And did your agency, William Morris Endeavor, handle the whole thing?
JF: Each deal was done separately, and WME handled everything. It was a real demonstration of WME's expertise at making deals across multiple platforms, and working with multiple parnters.
PW: Are you working now on any other projects similar to Endgame? If so, will they all be coming out of Full Fathom Five?
JF: We are, though none is nearly as far along. I think projects like this are going to be a big part of the future of publishing, writing and storytelling. And yes, they will all be coming through Full Fathom Five.
PW: Speaking to Full Fathom Five and Endgame, it seems as if your focus now is on multi-platform projects. Do you have any interest in going back to writing straight-up novels?
JF: I am about to finish another novel, which is a more traditional book for an adult audience. It will be the last one for a while.
PW: I have to ask: do you still harbor resentments about how the controversy around A Million Little Pieces was handled?
JF: No resentments at all.