His Own Best Critic

From Weekly Dig: It’s Story Time
Meet Provincetown’s very own James Frey?
By Thomas Kilduff

n2u_billcrossedpathslg-200.jpgProvincetown tourism is an industry where a little bit of magic and rumor (romance! sand dunes! art!) translates into big bucks for loads of shopkeepers along the village’s main strip. Which may be why Bill Schneider, director of the Provincetown Tourism Office, still has his job.

Schneider, a gay middling writer, came to Provincetown five years ago to escape Los Angeles. He became the head of the town’s tourist office in 2004, when Provincetown was being swarmed with marriage license requests from same-sex couples.

“At the time, the town clerk was begging for help as people came into town,” said Schneider. “I said that I can help with PR, so they kept calling me back, to help with volunteer efforts. One thing led to another, and I started working in the tourism office. I am also a liaison to the Visitor Services Board — that’s a seven-member volunteer board, charged with overseeing tourism funds, to help invest, promote and beautify the town.”

In March of this year, Schneider released his third book through self-publishers iUniverse. The book, a novelette called Crossed Paths, is described as a gay love story that takes place during “America’s Identity Crisis” of 1976. Schneider’s book has not necessarily been panned or praised by literary critics. They’ve barely touched it — which is odd, considering the book’s supposed fame.

On his website, the author writes, “I am very honored that my new novelette, Crossed Paths, has been selected as an edition [sic] to Oprah’s Book Club. This prestigious recognition paved the way to my appearance on ‘Oprah’ in May 2007. Click here to view a copy of the transcript from the show.”

In the five-page transcript, Oprah and Schneider pal it up:

    Oprah: Bill, I must tell you that I immediately fell in love with this book when I first read it.
    Schneider: Thank you. Thanks very much.
    Oprah: Crossed Paths is truly a gem of story. Tell me how you came to write this very poignant book …
    Oprah: I was very impressed with how well you developed the characters in Crossed Paths.
    Schneider: Thanks.
    Oprah: How did you do that?
    Schneider: Well, when you strip away all of the layers of stuff that make us appear to be who we want others to believe we are, there is, ah, a pretty basic element that remains.
    Oprah: Now tell us what happened to Will and –
    Schneider: — Adam —
    Oprah: – I almost said Will and Grace –
    Schneider: — That was a TV show – Crossed Paths is a novelette –

It seemed Oprah-ish enough: the wink toward Will and Grace, the heartfelt examination of the “stuff that makes us appear to be who we want others to believe we are.” Unfortunately, Oprah’s representatives say the conversation never took place.

If Schneider’s is an Oprah book, why has no one heard of it? Jeffrey Eugenides’s Middlesex, Oprah’s Book Club’s pick for both June and July of 2007, is currently ranked 37th by Amazon.com’s sales tracker. Oprah’s two other 2007 Book Club picks, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and Sidney Poitier’s The Measure of a Man, are ranked 25th and 491th, respectively. Even disgraced memoirist James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces is holding relatively steady, at 873. At last check, Crossed Paths by Bill Schneider was sitting at number 172,595.

On Oprah.com, no online episode descriptions in May make mention of Schneider or his novel. His transcript (which is adorned with a fuzzy, Photoshopped-looking Oprah Winfrey Show insignia but doesn’t match letterhead provided by Harpo Productions) listed a date of May 11. That’s when Oprah’s Mother’s Day special aired, but perhaps Schneider had the date incorrect?

We called him and asked when exactly he went before a live studio audience on the Oprah Winfrey Show.

“June 18, I believe,” Schneider said, “but you’ll have to check with my publicist.”

Schneider’s publicist didn’t return calls for comment, nor did the author respond to requests to elaborate on his story. A Harpo spokeswoman did call back, though, disputing the June 18 date, along with the rest of Schneider’s claims.

“Since June 7, we have been in ‘blackout,’ a television term for summer hiatus. We have only been showing reruns and have taped no live shows,” the show’s spokeswoman said. “Mr. Schneider did not appear on the Oprah Winfrey Show in May or June of 2007. His book Crossed Paths has not been chosen as an Oprah’s Book Club selection. My records do not indicate that Bill Schneider or his book have ever been on the Oprah Winfrey Show.”

When we talked, Schneider gushed to me about how “your whole life changes after Oprah.” James Frey would certainly agree with that sentiment. And even Frey wasn’t a public official- having make-believe conversations with a television billionaire.

via Dear Author