When a writer dies young—and Jim Frederick, who died Thursday in Oakland at 42, was very young—we mourn the work that will never be. As a writer and editor at Money and TIME magazine, Jim produced penetrating stories about whatever caught his attention. While TIME’s Tokyo bureau chief in 2005, he co-wrote the autobiography of Charles Jenkins, an American soldier who wandered across the de-militarized zone during the Korean War, and who was held captive for half a century. It was the story every reporter in Japan wanted to get—filling in for him in Tokyo while he wrote the book, I used to field calls from Japanese TV networks desperate to interview him—and Jim had it. He always did.
As a writer he’ll be remembered for his masterpiece, the Iraq war book Black Hearts. The Guardian called it the best book to come out of the conflict, no small feat as bookshelves groan from volumes of memoir, reportage and fiction gleaned from those years and that place. Black Hearts stands apart, and as time passes its stature will only grow—particularly, I think, among those who fought in Iraq. My younger brother, an Army officer and Ranger who served in Iraq in 2007 and 2008, called Black Hearts the truest thing to come out of that war. Despite the fact that the book detailed some of the blackest deeds done by American soldiers in Iraq, veterans thought highly of Black Hearts, a fact that I know Jim was rightly proud of.
Black Hearts Excerpt: Crimes in Iraq’s “Triangle of Death”
But for those who knew Jim, the loss of the work is secondary. Even more than his prodigious abilities as a reporter, a writer and an editor, Jim had an enormous talent for friendship, which is why so many people, in so many places, are bereft today. It was hard enough—impossible, really—to replace Jim as a journalist when I succeeded him as TIME’s Tokyo bureau chief in 2006, when he moved to London to work as an editor for the magazine. But as a person—forget it. Jim was a born connector, the life of the party in all the best ways. If any friend or colleague passed through the city Jim was living in—London, Tokyo, New York—it was an occasion to be celebrated. He made sure it was big, and he made sure it was fun.
Black Hearts Excerpt: The Downward Spiral of Private Steven Green
For younger colleagues, like myself, Jim was a big brother. Not long after he moved to Hong Kong to work as a writer for TIME in 2002, Jim took me out to lunch, something that at the time utterly baffled me. I was an awkwardly introverted 24-year-old reporter who’d been at the magazine for less than a year; I knew next to nothing about anything. But Jim asked me about what I thought, why I’d gotten into journalism, what I wanted to do with my career—things, looking back, that no one in my life had ever really asked me. In Tokyo, in London, and in New York, where Jim would return after writing Black Hearts, he would do the same for countless others journalists, serving as a mentor and as a role model. When Jim took over as the international editor of TIME in 2011, I asked for a transfer to that side of the magazine, almost solely for the chance to work with Jim. I’m glad I did.
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It wasn’t easy being a journalist of Jim’s generation, coming at a time when staffs were far and large, and then seeing it all change. But he was never daunted. I remember being in Austin with Jim in 2013, shortly after he had decided to leave TIME. He talked about his desire to try something new, to take advantage of the changes happening to our profession. He and his wife Charlotte, whom he met in London when both were TIME editors, were putting that plan into action when they settled in San Francisco, where they launched Hybrid Vigor Media. I regret that I won’t get to see the next phase of Jim’s amazing career, to see his next step. But I’ll miss him more.
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