Novel experience: Hit the jackpot by tracking down clues in James Frey's new book
Updated 1:57 pm, Thursday, January 8, 2015
Authors of the latest entry into the literary dystopian adventure take readers beyond the pages of their book and into a ground-breaking multi-platform reading experience and worldwide search for the key to a cash jackpot.
James Frey, a New Canaan resident and bestselling author of "A Million Little Pieces" and other works, partnered with Nils Johnson-Shelton to write "Endgame: The Calling," the first of a trilogy, which was published in October.
During an informal presentation and casual conversation Wednesday with about 100 people at the New Canaan Library, Frey talked about his creative process, the inspiration for his latest books, and revealed that even he does not know the answer to its puzzles. The authors' invite readers to follow the adventures of 12 teens as catastrophic events lead them on a global quest in search of three ancient keys that will save not only their bloodlines but the world. Readers must find the clues hidden within the stories to solve the puzzles.
The first person to find the key for the first book will win $500,000 in American eagle gold coins, currently held at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. The monetary worth of the prize increases with each book in the series to $1 million with the second novel and finally to $1.5 million with the third.
"It's definitely not a normal book," Frey said.
"It's breaking from the rest of the pack and incorporating the reader," said Shafer Jones, 15, of New Canaan, who sat in the front row with his family. Frey apologized to Jones and his family for his use of the "F" word in his remarks -- and then continued to use it.
Frey borrowed Jones' copy of "Endgame" when the audience asked him to read from it.
"I got it for Christmas and just started reading it. I'm looking forward to trying to solve it," Jones said of the puzzle
Ben Wells, 16, of New Canaan, said he is about 150 pages into the book. "It's really good. I like the way it's written ... really descriptive," Wells said.
Inspiration for "Endgame" began in Frey's childhood when his mother gave him the book "Masquerade." Embedded into the text and illustrations were clues to the location of a jewel-encrusted gold hare worth $50,000. The 10-year-old Frey, now 45, envisioned solving the puzzle, finding the gold rabbit, melting it down, selling it, "and buying the biggest pile of Legos and Star Wars action figures and Atari cartridges in the history of the world."
Instead, he and Johnson-Shelton aim to revolutionize the publishing industry by incorporating pulp fiction, mobile devices, Internet search engine, maps, social media, video games and other technologies to create a unique reading experience. He and his co-author wondered "How can we turn the world into a game?"
"The story is still told within the pages of a book in the traditional sense but also the story morphs out into the digital world and the real world," he said. "Usually books are a static experience. You get a book, whether it's a physical, traditional book or a digital book, and you sit somewhere and you read it, and it exists in your own mind and it exists on the pages and that's it," Frey said.
It took three PhDs from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to write and devise the puzzle and then make sure it is legal, according to Frey. One of the most logistically challenging things was to ensure that it is legal in 165 countries, Frey said. That took 16 sets of lawyers around the world researching laws on games. In many nations, games of chance are illegal but "Endgame" is categorized as a game of skill.
A film also is planned as is a video game component that has been delayed a few times but is now expected to be released in March.
Frey said readers engaged in the search are tracked to monitor their progress. He anticipated it would take about a year to solve, but said it may be on pace to be solved within a ten and a half-month period.
In his appearance, Frey did not shy away from the controversy that surrounded his first book, "A Million Little Pieces." The book was marketed as a memoir but later it was revealed that elements were fictionalized, leading to what Patricia Hedlund of Darien called "a public flogging." from Oprah Winfrey, among others, who had chosen it as a selection for her book club.
"I'm so pleased he dismissed all of them. It was the most extraordinary book on addiction. The man is an exceptional writer," Hedlund said.
Frey said "A Million Little Pieces" was meant to be "a gob of spit in the face of American culture, victimization culture, AA culture."
The work has been published in 42 languages.