I Am Number Four is the story of a 15-year-old with special powers, one of nine children who fled a planet called Lorien and landed on Earth ten years earlier along with their adult teachers. As they mature, each child develops powers called Legacies, which help them fight the evil Mogadarians. The Nine can only be killed in order. The Mogadorians have killed One, Two, and Three, and Four is on the run with his guardian, Henri. The movie, starring “Glee’s” Diana Agron, “Deadwood’s” Timothy Olyphant as Henri, and “Alex Ryder’s” Alex Pettyfer as Number Four.
According to the book’s cover, its author is Pittacus Lore, described inside as a 10,000 year old from the planet Lorien. That may be easier to believe than the real-life story of the book’s author, or, I should say, authors.
A remarkable story in New York Magazine explains that the book is a product of James Frey’s “fiction factory.” Frey will forever be known as the best-selling author who got a major on-air take-down from Oprah after it was revealed that he had made up some of the lurid details of his purportedly non-fiction story of his struggles with drug addiction, A Million Little Pieces. Now he is inviting students in graduate writing programs to work with him on developing books designed to be best-sellers.
Frey said he was interested in conceiving commercial ideas that would sell extremely well. He was in the process of hiring writers–he said he’d already been to Princeton and was planning on recruiting from the other New York M.F.A. programs as well. We had probably heard of Jobie Hughes? Hughes was a former Columbia M.F.A. student who had graduated the previous spring. Frey told us that he and Hughes had sold the rights to an alien book they had co-written to Steven Spielberg and Michael Bay.
That book is I Am Number Four, written by Hughes under the direction of Frey. The contract Frey asks his young writers to sign gives them as little as $250 plus a percentage of any revenue — and a $50,000 penalty for revealing the arrangement without permission.
On one hand, this is an established and successful (if discredited) author giving opportunities to aspiring writers. On the other hand, it asks them to give up a great deal in return. I wonder if the relationship with Frey inspired in part the description of the hounded Number Four.