Remember that scene in the movie Boogie Nights when Dirk and Reed think that because they've been successful porn stars, they should have no trouble recording hit pop songs as well? The result, of course, is disastrously hilarious: "Feel, feel, feel, feel my heat."
A similar delusion of grandeur seems to have overtaken (or been planted in) a small but growing contingent of real-life celebrities. Because a person can act, host a reality show, or generally make a fool of oneself on television, apparently writing fiction is the next logical step? And publishers are disgorging these celebrity-penned novels to the shelves faster than Tiger Woods can issue insincere apologies. The reason why publishers see these novels as good investments is simple: They sell well. And the reasons they sell well are also simple. One: People buy things when there is a famous name attached, whether novels or nose hair clippers. Two: People are obsessed with celebrity, and many of these novels are thinly veiled memoirs.
announced this week that she'd be publishing a novel titled Modelland (pronounced "Model Land," as Tyra helpfully explains) that will "touch the dreamer in all of us." Uh huh. Lauren Conrad of TV's Laguna Beach and The Hills fame has published not one, but two novels, titled L.A. Candy and Sweet Little Lies. Great titles. Brooding actor Ethan Hawke, famous for playing a spectacular wuss in just about every role he's ever taken, published a novel several years ago titled Ash Wednesday. Reviews were mixed. Singer/songwriter Jimmy Buffett and cornerstone-of-the-right Newt Gingrich have also published fiction. Hell, even Pamela Anderson of sex tape and Barb Wire fame, has unleashed two novels on the world! Frightening, isn't it?
How these novels actually get published is probably more of an interesting story than the stories in the novels themselves. Does a grubby agent whisper in a celeb's ear about a new money-making "scheme"? Does a publisher give a book deal to a celeb whose name is hot, secure a ghost writer, and then publish the novel without the celeb so much as glancing at the manuscript? (Does anyone really think Pam Anderson wrote two books?) Or does the celeb sincerely believe s/he has a story to tell that the world can't live without and dutifully pounds it out between takes or rehab stints?
Perhaps I'm being too cynical. Publishers argue that profits and sure sales from these puff pieces allow them to take chances on other less-marketable, much-more-literary books. But is that really the case? From where I'm sitting, firmly in the camp of "literary snob," it's hard to see any redeeming value whatsoever to these novels. I realize I'm not exactly going out on an idealistic limb here, and even though I understand the allure for some folks, trading on celebrity to publish crappy fiction will always boil my blood.
James Franco. Franco, who has made a career out of being exceptional, choosing widely varying roles in everything from blockbusters (Spider-Man) to little-know indies (Sonny), is publishing a book of short stories in the fall titled Palo Alto. But here's the twist: Franco has an English degree from UCLA, an MFA in creative writing from Columbia University, and was recently accepted into an English Ph.D program at Yale. And here's the further twist: He's actually good! Check out this story he recently published in Esquire. It's a bit messy, but I liked it!
So, what do you think about the rash of celebrities posing as novelists? Have you read a celebrity novel that's any good?