James Frey, KATERINA

James Frey, KATERINA

I’m here today with James Frey, who’s the international bestselling author of sensational books A Million Little Pieces, My Friend Leonard, Bright Shiny Morning, The Final Testament of the Holy Bible, and many others. He’s the CEO and founder of Full Fathom Five, a transmedia company specializing in young adult fiction which has produced the Lorien Legacies series and the Endgame books. He’s written and produced multiple movies since his first film Kissing A Fool, produced in 1998. His latest novel and his first adult novel in a decade, Katerina, was just released on September 11th, 2018. James Frey has sold millions of copies of his books and in so doing has helped countless people through his stories of addiction and recovery. He currently lives in Connecticut with his wife and three children.

Welcome, James.

James Frey: Hi. How are you?

Zibby: Good. How are you?

James: I’m good.

Zibby: Thanks for comin’ on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

James: My pleasure. I love moms.

Zibby: Katerina is your first adult novel in ten years. Why this book? Why now?

James Frey, KATERINA

James: First adult book in a long time. I had written four other adult books. When I dreamed of becoming a writer as a twenty-one-year-old, I dreamed of becoming a guy who wrote controversial, polarizing, divisive books. In 2011, I was on a tour for The Final Testament of the Holy Bible in Europe. I woke up in some city. I was tired. I looked up at the ceiling. The books I had written had sold a lot of copies. Three or four had hit number one. Every dream I had about being a writer had come true. I was staring at the ceiling and I thought, “I don’t want to do this anymore.” So I didn’t. I started a company. We publish books. We make movies and television shows and video games. I left New York City and moved out to Connecticut. I changed my life. That was fun for a while.

Despite whatever successes that company had, over time I got depressed. I woke up probably two years ago one morning. It wasn’t an uncommon morning. I woke up and I wanted to die. I wanted to drive my car into a tree. I would go to bed every night and want to take a bottle of Tylenol PM and not wake up. I have this therapist. He’s a friend of mine now. I have a very odd relationship with him where I just call him when I feel like it, which sometimes is once a year and sometimes is twice a month. I told him this. He laughed. He goes, “Where are you right now, man?” I was like, “I’m in Connecticut.” “At your big house?” I was like, “Yeah.” He said, “Are you wearing your earrings?” I said no. I have six earrings. I have three in each of my ears. He said, “What kind of clothes are you wearing?” I said, “I’m wearing khakis and a polo shirt.” He said, “Have you listened to any music real loud lately?” I was like, “Nah.” He said, “Have you gotten in any fights lately?” I said no. He laughed.

James Frey, KATERINA

He goes, “Man, you want to drive into a tree because you’ve become a chump. You’ve become everything you used to hate. The version of you I know, the person I knew for a long time, used to make fun of guys like you, old, soft, washed-up guys. You need to put in some earrings and put on a white t-shirt and go listen to some punk rock and write a book. Whatever you’re doing now isn’t making you happy. It’s not what you’re supposed to be doing. You need to sit down and write a book.”

I hung up the phone. I thought about it. He was right. I had lost myself somehow, not in any terrible way. I was doing things that, while fun and cool, weren’t the things that made me happy. I put in some earrings. I went to Claire’s, that little, cheesy store at the mall, bought some fake diamond earrings and put on a white t-shirt and went to this little barn I have where I work and started writing a book just honestly to see how it felt. It felt good, so I kept going. Katerina is the book I wrote.

Zibby: On that theme, you wrote in your book, in one of the opening scenes in LA, how you were describing this whole lovely existence that you were having, the housekeeper, the gardeners, the pool, the cars, how you write all day.

You say, “They give me stupid amounts of money. I do what they want and give them what they pay me for and I hate myself, and when I stop long enough to think about what I’m doing and how I got where I am and how much I have and how much I’ve wasted, when I think about how lost I feel every second of every day, how completely fucking lost I am and feel, I want to buy a gun and blow my fucking brains out. But I’m not brave enough for that, so I walk through my grass and I stare at my trees and I listen to the birds and I look at the ocean and the skyscrapers and I smile for my children and I sleep next to my wife and I pay my bills and I do my work and I hate myself. Every single minute of every single day, I hate myself.”

James: That’s pretty depressing, right?

Zibby: So depressing. Oh, my gosh.

James: That’s how I felt. A version of that is how I felt. I guess that’s how the character in the book feels.

Zibby: How can you make sure now that you’ve gotten yourself out of that place not to return to it?

James: To make sure that I don’t just do things for money or I don’t just do things because I get hired to do a job, to make sure that I keep doing things that I love to do. I wrote most of this book at night. I kept doing the company. The company’s still growing and thriving and publishing books and making movies and television shows and video games. It’s not my sole focus anymore. I take time to make sure that I’m doing things that make me happy, that I’m working on simply for the love of doing them, not because it’s a job or because somebody’s hired me or the company to do it. A lot of this book I would go to work and work at the company during the day. Then I would come home and have dinner with my wife and kids. Then they all go to bed. I would write from nine thirty to twelve thirty. Even just having those three hours to myself to do something for the pure love of it made me really happy.

Zibby: You say you don’t edit or anything. You just keep going. You have one draft and that’s it?

James: Yeah. I write books kind of weird. I don’t use outlines. I write from beginning to end in a liner fashion. I don’t read the books. I only write one draft. When I’m done, we send it to the publisher. We copy edit it. It comes out. I try to be as clean and precise and deliberate as possible the first time through.

Zibby: That’s awesome. You also have a different take on even the language that you choose and how you use traditional punctuation and grammar in your books, which is obvious from anybody who’s ever picked up a book of yours.

You say, “Instead of trying to write the right way, I started trying to write the wrong way, grammar how I felt like using it, punctuation how I felt like using it, words in whatever way I pleased, putting them on the page however I fucking pleased. I have never lived my life according to rules and expectations. Why should I write according to them? Fuck them all.”

James: When I was twenty-one, I decided I wanted to be a writer. It took me to thirty-two to publish a book. There were a lot of years when I was writing and I didn’t like what I was writing. It didn’t feel right. It’s one of these things where during those years I said, “I don’t know how I’m trying to learn how to write, but I’ll know it when I see it. I’ll know it when I feel it.” For a long time I was trying to write using traditional systems, traditional systems of punctuation and grammar, traditional systems of page layout, following the rules. I started not using them, trying to get to someplace where the words were set down in a way that they made me feel things.

That’s ultimately the goal, to string words together to make a reader feel something. When I was doing it, I found that if I just ignored rules, if I put things down in way that did make me feel the way I wanted to make a reader feel, it was more effective. I just rejected all of it. I’ve always been more influenced by art than other books. In art there is a tradition of breaking rules. It’s almost part of it. The progression of art is due to artists rejecting what has come before them and finding new ways to express themselves whether it’s through paint or some sculptural material or now video, whereas in writing you’re taught you need to do all of these certain things. I said fuck that. I wrote the way it felt right to me. Once I started doing that, I realized this is what you’re trying to do. You don’t have to do what people tell you to do just because they tell you to do it. Why do I have to use commas the way some guy tells me I have to? Fuck that. That is consistent in all the adult books I’ve written. They are what they are. They feel right. They felt right when I was writing them.

Zibby: It’s almost more like looking at a book of poetry in Katerina, not all the chapters, but some of them, even the Facebook exchanges. I can’t read it, but if you could see it, it’s very poetic the way you lay the words out on the page.

James: I can’t say I’m even trying to make poetry. The way I lay it out makes sense to me. It makes sense the way the story’s being told. What you’re referring to is there are long exchanges between two characters in the book via Facebook. They haven’t seen each other in twenty-five years. They live on the other side of the world from each other. They have these long conversations via Facebook. How do you express that in a book in as efficient and clean and simple a way as possible? Those things all mean things to me as writer, being clean, being efficient, being simple, making sure the book moves, making sure a reader doesn’t get bogged down in grammar and punctuation or structures. I want a reader, once they start reading my book, to be compulsively driven forward, to not want to stop. I want to keep them up. I want them turning pages as fast as they can go. A lot of that is the books that I love the most had me turning pages as fast as I could go.

Zibby: Which ones?

James: Tropic of Cancer, On the Road. I love old, French books, Les Misérables and The Count of Monte Cristo. Bret Easton Ellis. I can’t say they do any of the things I do in terms of grammar, punctuation, and page layout, but the books move fast. Once you start reading them, you just keep going, or at least I did.

Zibby: It’s great how in Katerina, at the beginning, reading Tropic of Cancer is really what propelled you to move to Paris. The rest of the story moved on from there. Then when you’re there, when you look at Manet’s Olympia for instance, and you have all these art references throughout the book — did you do that on purpose? Is it your way of saying “This is my art?”

James: Katerina’s a book about becoming a writer. It has two timelines. One is 1992, France. The other is 2017, Los Angeles. It jumps back and forth. The 1992 Paris part is a character moves to France to become a famous writer and falls in love. A lot of it is about the process of becoming a writer, and what his dreams are, and how he wants to make them come true. The character in 2017 Los Angeles has had all those dreams come true and is looking back and trying to figure out whether any of it was worth it or not. What did it cost? How much did it hurt? How great was it? You’re jumping back and forth between somebody who wants to do something and the person who did it. Part of it was I like books about art and books about writing. There used to be a whole, I don’t know if I’d call it a genre, but there were a lot of books about that. Hemingway did it. Kerouac did it. Charles Bukowski did it.

Zibby: You’ve said you enjoy writing in the grey area between memoir and fiction. When I picked up this book and it said “A novel,” — this is probably my fault — at first it didn’t even occur to me that it was about you. This is totally a novel this time. I’m not asking for percentages. You’ve said that your obligation more is to tell the truth as a writer, to be truthful to the art you’re producing, not necessarily truthful to history of what came before it. Katerina’s labelled as a novel, but I wouldn’t have known necessarily, except for the book talk you gave last night at Book Soup.

What went into deciding whether or not you labelled this fiction or memoir?

James: When I sit down to write a book, I don’t think about that. I don’t sit down and say it’s memoir time or it’s novel time. I just don’t. I just sit down to write the book. I have books inside me. My job is to get them out. The process of writing is figuring out how to get what I feel is inside me onto pages. When I do that, I don’t think about fiction versus nonfiction versus memoir versus whatever. I just write the book. I do work in a grey area that’s not really fiction. It’s not really nonfiction. Again, it’s an area plenty of people have worked in from Rimbaud and Baudelaire to Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Henry Miller to Jack Kerouac and Charles Bukowski. As I wrote this book, I didn’t think about either. I just wanted to tell the story. Given the history I have with memoir, I didn’t want to do that again. I liked the idea that with A Million Little Pieces, people read it. All anybody wanted to try to do is figure what in it wasn’t true. With this, it’s clearly the same character. It’s clearly the same story. It’s clearly part of the same character’s life. Publishing it as fiction, everyone would read it and try to figure out what was true. The point is that it doesn’t really make a difference.

I don’t feel that I have any obligation or responsibility to fact when I’m making art. As pretentious as it may sound, I try to make art with words. In that, my obligation is to the book, to making the book the best experience possible for the reader, to move them, to tell them a story, to entertain them, to make them feel love and pain and sorrow and elation. In the process of that, those things, those feelings, that experience, that’s truth to me in a book. That truth is what I can make you feel. Fact is something else. My obligation is to truth. In the process of trying to achieve it, I will manipulate, alter, change, enhance, diminish, do whatever I need to do without guilt, remorse, and apology.

Zibby: In Katerina, I found it so interesting that you tell through the character about what happened with the Million Little Pieces controversy, and your side of the story, and how it ended up that you submitted it as fiction, they had you change it to memoir, all this self-hatred you had surrounding that period of time. Can you listeners who might not have read that part of Katerina yet about your side of the story for what happened back then?

James: I don’t even know if it’s my side of the story. A Million Little Pieces was a book I wrote the same I wrote this. I didn’t really think about whether it should be memoir or fiction. The goal was to write the best book I could, to write a book that moved you and changed you and made you feel things deeply. When I was done and we were submitting it to publishers, we submitted it to publishers as a novel. I thought of it in this same tradition of all the people I just mentioned who wrote similar books or books that were similarly based upon their own lives. When we sold it, there was a discussion about whether it should be a memoir or a novel. We decided to release it as a memoir. When it came out, it was, “How do we publicize it?” It was, “Just say it’s all true. Everybody does that.”

The book sold millions and millions of copies. It got investigated and picked apart. It wasn’t all true. I got hammered for that. That’s fine. I made the mistake of going out into the public and saying it was true. That was wrong. I did it. In many ways, it was a great gift and a great joy because it did make the dream come true. I became the most controversial, most notorious writer in the world. In other ways, it hurt. It’s not fun to have five hundred news articles a day calling you nasty names. When you were asking about Katerina looking back on it, that’s what you don’t think about when you have this dream. I’ve dreamed of being the most controversial writer in the world. As I had the dream, I just imagined it would be fun. You don’t imagine the cost of it and that it does hurt and that it is hard and that if you want to keep doing it, you have to be willing to pay that price. I decided I was, so I did keep doing it.

I kept working in that grey area between fact and fiction. Every book I’ve written is in that area, whether it was A Million Little Pieces, My Friend Leonard, and Katerina, which are all part of a greater narrative that are tied together, or Bright Shiny Morning or The Final Testament of the Holy Bible, they all sit in that world. For me, the only goal is to change a reader’s life. With any book I write, I want them to open it and read it and be different when they’re done with it, be irrevocably different.

Zibby: You say in the book that your character, or you when you were in Paris that starts with that and goes throughout, that you wanted to write books that burn the world down, which is what you’re basically saying right now.

You want to “write books that change people, how they think and feel and live, how they view they world, how they view themselves, book that confront them, books that scare them, that make them either love the book or hate it, books that force people to take a position, that inspire people to either burn them or ban them or love them and defend them, books that divide, books that make the world irrevocably different than it was before they were written, books that make history because they change the world.”

Do you feel that you’ve accomplished this?

James: I don’t know. Do you feel I accomplished it?

Zibby: I think you did a great job. I love your books.

James: But you do think I’ve accomplished that?

Zibby: I think you woke the world up for sure. You caused the entire world to talk about you and your work. You changed parts about the genre of fiction and nonfiction and the way you can tell a story, the way it looks, the way it sounds.

James: History will decide if I did it. I did it in the moment. I did it multiple times when books came out. I forced people to take positions on them. I do think I changed how books are written and published. History will decide if what I did was good or bad. For me, what matters is in fifty years, are the books still read? I don’t know what bookstores or reading culture will look like in fifty years, but are they still read? It was fun. It was cool. It’s still fun and cool. I don’t want to write boring books. I don’t want to write books that people can read and say, “Eh, that was okay.” I want them to love it or I want them to hate it. I’m happy with either reaction. I’ve had a fun career. It’s been cool. I’m on the back end of it. It’s been fun and cool and all my dreams came true, which has been amazing in all the best and all the worst ways.

Zibby: You’ve also really reached a lot of people with all of your writing about addiction and recovery. You told this beautiful story last night at the book reading about a couple that came up to you and named their child Lily James after the characters, or you and your girlfriend. In this book, you talk a lot about alcohol addiction with really vivid, amazing detail. In many points you were talking about during the drinking and also the conflicting desire to stop but not be able to.

You said, “Every drink I take will move me closer to blackout, to loss, to the hell or walking unconsciousness, to the bliss of it. Every drink will further blur the edges until everything blurs, will make the world spin more and more and more, make every sound explode. Every drink I take will hasten the darkness, the loss of memory and control, the loss of humanity. Every drink will further reduce me to a grunting, screaming madman. Every drink I take will hasten, hasten, hasten the loss. I reach this point every night, have this choice every night. I am aware that I make this choice every night. I am aware and I know and every single fucking night I go there, oblivion, desolation, rage, violence, idiocy, the unknown darkness, the darkest darkness, black. I know and I’m aware and I choose and I go. Oblivion and desolation and blackness, I go.” That’s pretty powerful.

James: That’s the life of an active alcoholic. Every night you go to that place. You decide, do I want to go all the way or not? Not for a long time, but certainly for a period of time in my life, I went there every night. That’s how it felt to me. Different days I would start drinking at different times, but certainly always when the sun was up. Sometimes I would get to that place quickly. Sometimes I would get there a little less so. Every night it was, “I know what I’m doing. I know what’s going to happen if I keep doing it. Am I going to?” I consistently said yeah. Part of addiction to anything is you’re conscious of it. You’re conscious of the damage it’s doing to yourself. You are compelled to go there. Even though it’s awful and even though you hate yourself, there’s part of you that needs it to be awful. You need to hate yourself, or you can’t stop it. I’ve never read what you wrote. It’s pretty good, I think.

Zibby: What you wrote.

James: I’ve never read what you just read, but I think it’s pretty good. It feels true to me. It feels true to what addiction was like to me. I was a fuckin’ drunk.

Zibby: Later you say, “I try to stop drinking. I’m tired and my body hurts and I’m throwing up constantly, sometimes with blood. I know I need a break. After eighteen hours, I’m sweating and shaking and seeing shit I know isn’t there and hearing shit I know isn’t there and my heart feels like it’s exploding.”

How did you eventually tame your alcoholism, if you feel like it has been tamed or if it can ever truly be tamed?

James: I went to treatment. I got sent away to rehab in Minnesota probably a year or so after the events of Katerina. I was confronted with the fact that if I kept drinking, I would die. I decided I didn’t want to die.

Zibby: Who sent you away?

James: My parents. I had come back to America. I was smoking crack and drinkin’ every day. I had an accident. I busted up my face. I don’t remember any of it. My parents took me to Hazelden and dropped me off. I’m lucky that I had parents who loved me enough and had the means to be able to do that. I stayed at Hazelden for a while. When I got out, it was, “You can go back. If you go back, you’ll probably die, or you can try to have a life.” I decided to try to have a life.

How did I stay sober? I don’t know. I just didn’t drink. I would reach out to friends. I would find way to just not drink. You’re compelled to drink. You can find ways to arrest that compulsion. I did. Sometimes I would go for a walk. Sometimes I would read a book. Sometimes I would go sit in a church. Sometimes I would call a friend. There was no single method that was consistently effective. Whenever something stopped being effective, I would try to find something else. I’ve been sober for twenty-five years. I haven’t had a drink in twenty-five years. I haven’t done cocaine in twenty-five years.

Zibby: Good for you. That’s amazing. My husband’s friend Murphy Jensen has this thing called WEconnect where you have people all recovering from any addictions can have a support system similar to an AA model. Did you find any organizations like that that were particularly helpful for you that might help listeners who might be going through something like that?

James: AA’s a beautiful thing. It wasn’t effective method for me. It has saved millions of lives. I was never part of an organization. I’m a solitary guy. We were talking earlier about breaking rules and not living or writing or existing within traditional structures. I don’t do that as a sober guy either. I don’t function well within a system of rules that I’m supposed to follow. I function best when I’m just figuring out shit myself. Certainly, I think AA’s great. Churches can provide great comfort to people’s souls, which is great, organizations like the one you just mentioned.

I always say to people it doesn’t fuckin’ matter how you do it. I don’t give a fuck how you get sober or stay sober. It doesn’t matter. All that matters is that you figure out a way. All that matters is that you get through the day without drinking or consuming whatever chemicals you’re addicted to. It doesn’t matter how you do it. It just matters that you figure out some way to do it. I’ve changed things over the years. Like I said a minute ago, when one thing proved to not comfort my soul in a way, I would seek out others. Suicide hotlines are a good thing. Therapists are a good thing. It doesn’t matter. Whatever works. Just find a fuckin’ way.

Zibby: Your kids are growing up now. You said your daughter’s about fourteen.

James: My oldest child is fourteen.

Zibby: I’m sure your kids are going to have to confront all sorts of substances and parties with alcohol. Have you shared your whole story with them? How are you going to counsel them on how to approach all these things?

James: I haven’t shared the exact details. My children certainly just from observation can see that at parties most of the other adults consume alcohol and I don’t. That’s definitely been brought up. “Why don’t you drink, Daddy?” I say, “Drinking isn’t good for me. It doesn’t make me feel good. I don’t handle it well.” As our oldest kid has gotten older, the questions have become more specific. I just say, “I had a problem where once I start drinking, I can’t stop so I don’t do it anymore. I had to go to a hospital for a while to learn how to stop.” She’s old enough where I said, “You will start to have people offer you things. If you have questions about it, I’ll always talk to you about it. I won’t get mad at you. You won’t be in trouble. We should talk about it.” I’m not somebody who thinks drugs and alcohol are all bad, that they’re terrible. Plenty of people find fun in reasonable and responsible use of chemicals. Plenty of people don’t. I tell my daughter and I’ll tell my other children when they’re old enough, “If you have questions, please come talk to me. You won’t be in trouble.” We’ll see. I don’t have any great answer or plan. Like everything, you figure it out as you go.

Zibby: This book had a lot of very graphically sexual scenes. I was reading this on the airplane. I’m blushing. I hope people aren’t looking over my shoulder looking at all these words.

Was this part of your “I want to shock the reader. I want to keep them turning the pages,” that whole theory of this intensity like Fifty Shades of Grey on steroids?

James: Graphic sex in the book, no. I was just trying to tell the story. When I moved to Paris at twenty-one — I love sex. I sought it out a lot. The particular relationship I write about happened to be very sexual. The two characters fuck. They enjoy it, so I wrote about it. I write about it, again, in a way that felt like it was direct and efficient and effective in telling the story of what was happening between these two people. I’m glad it made you blush. It’s been interesting. Some people think I did a terrible job at it. Some people think it’s great. Again, that’s what I want. I want you to either be glued to the page or I want you to have to look away. Sex is part of life, especially in youth when you’re young. Certainly, maybe not everybody’s this way. When I was young, I moved to Paris to have every experience I could, every feeling I could. Sex was a big part of that experience.

Zibby: Last night at your reading, you seemed so openly, honestly grateful to all the readers for coming out, supporting you, enabling you to live your lifestyle, reading your books. I go to a lot of readings. I love listening to authors talk. I haven’t heard that openness and gratitude that felt very heartfelt to me. Do you always tell people that? Tell me more about how you feel about your relationship with readers?

James: I’m old now. I’m forty-eight years old.

Zibby: You’re not old. Stop it.

James: I feel old. I’ve had a long, full life. Touring, it’s hard. This is the eleventh city in the last twelve days I’ve been in. It’s hard. It’s grueling. It’s exhausting. Being on a plane as a old guy makes your body hurt. I thank readers at readings and I thank readers all the time on social media or in the world because readers have given me this great gift. Having people read and buy my books was always my dream. It has come true because of readers. The lifestyle I live, yes. I always say to readers, “You literally pay my bills.” I get paid to be a writer because people buy my books. It’s real gratitude for sure. I feel like I have to tour because there are people who show up. We had a big crowd at Book Soup last night. Those people come because they spend their time and money with the work I produce. I feel a responsibility to go into the world and say thank you for that. It’s not bullshit. It’s very real. I love the readers. I write for readers. After myself, all that really matter to me is how readers react to what I do. The people who love it, I want to say thank you to them. I want them to really, truly know that it does mean something to me. I do deeply appreciate it. I am grateful for it.

I do understand it’s a gift. I get to sit in a room alone and write stuff because of them. It is the responsibility of an author to make sure the fans and readers know that. I remember when I was a young writer, not published, I would go to readings. When the writers didn’t understand that, it made me not like them. It’s not even about making people like me. I was like, “I’m never going to read a book by that dude again.” He was a dick. Does he not understand that I scheduled my whole day around coming here to see him? If people are going to schedule their whole day around coming to see me, I’m going to try to make sure that it was worth it for them, that they have a fun experience, that they have a cool experience, and that they know how deeply I appreciate the fact that they showed up and that they read my shit and that they pay money for it and that I have a cool life because they’re willing to do that.

Zibby: You did a great job last night. Check that off the list. My last question is do you have any advice to aspiring writers? I even want to say aspiring artists because I feel you’re both at this point.

James: I always say to young writers or artists, don’t be afraid to fail. I failed so much. I failed so much in my life. People don’t know that and don’t think about it. I always use the example of A Million Little Pieces. It came out when I was thirty-two. It sold a lot of copies. People are like, “Oh, my god. You’re an overnight success. What’s that like? It must be amazing.” I wrote six books that I threw away. It took me eleven years to get here. It was not overnight. You don’t know how many times I failed. You don’t know how many days I had where I did not get anything done, where I sat in front of the machine frozen, where I sat in front of the machines and wrote stuff that was bad. I knew it was bad.

Don’t be afraid of failing. Don’t let failure stop you. Don’t be afraid of taking risks. I remember when I sent about a hundred pages of A Million Little Pieces to a friend of mine who had a MFA in creative writing from NYU. I was just curious what he thought of it. He read it. He called me. He was like, “Dude, what is this?” I was like, “It’s my book.” He said, “No grammar? No punctuation? This would get shredded in a workshop.” I was like, “Good. Then I’m doing it right.” Don’t be afraid to take those risks. Don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t be afraid to have people not like you. Especially in today’s world, even more so than the old world, people care deeply about the opinions of people they don’t know on social media and in the media. It doesn’t matter.

First, be true to yourself and whatever it is you’re trying to achieve and do, whether it’s write a book or make a painting or do a podcast or whatever your medium is. Be true to what you’re trying to do. Two, don’t give a fuck if people don’t like it or understand it or don’t believe in it. Just keep going. If I have one thing I’ve learned in my life, it’s just keep going, whether it’s in the process of trying to stay sober, whether it’s in the process of trying to make art or books, whether it’s in the process of dealing with difficult situations, public or private, just keep going. Keep going. Keep going. Keep going.

Zibby: I love that. Thank you. That was amazing. Thanks for being on the show.

James: My pleasure. I love that you love books. I love that you’re keeping the culture of books alive. I love that you read books and you’re interested in books. Thank you very much for having me. As corny as it sounds, like I said to readers, thank you. You pay my bills. That means something to me. Thank you.

Zibby: Thank you.

James Frey, KATERINA