Saturday, July 4, 2015
Putting “Write What You Know” into Practice
We’ve all heard the adage “write what you know.” In her latest book, the upcoming Young Adult novel, MAP TO THE STARS, which releases on July 14, author and former YAtopia blogger, Jen Malone, does just that.
The book, which I was lucky enough to read early, follows fifteen-year-old Annie as she travels through Europe as part of a teen movie idol’s promotional tour.
Is Jen a movie idol? No (but she could be!). The “write what you know” comes in as Jen not only worked in publicity for 20th Century Fox, but she also traveled around the world after she graduated, hitting a whopping forty-three countries over ten months. Awed yet?
Jen’s here to tell us a bit more about writing what you know…
Q: Does Annie encounter anything you experienced in your role at 20th Century Fox?
A: Soooo much of it!! For example, in one early scene in the book Annie gets roped into helping out at a press junket (which is where a movie studio will fly in reporters from around the country and gather all the stars of a movie in one hotel for a full weekend of interviews). In the book Annie’s in charge of timing Graham’s (the teen movie idol) TV interviews to five minutes each and then ushering one reporter out of the hotel room and the next one in.
When the questions become really repetitive as the day wears on, Graham entertains her by coming up with really offbeat answers that differ wildly from what the previous reporter was told. This actually happened to me, when I had the same job at the press junket for Star Wars: Episode One. I can’t reveal the movie star but let’s just say he could handle himself just fine on a plane full of snakes. Anyway, if he answered one reporter saying he and George Lucas had creative differences during filming, the next was told he and George had spent Christmas together and were arranging the marriages of their children. So hilarious! Also, it should be noted, in the book Graham does this to flirt with Annie. That was NOT the case in the real-life scenario -- he was just trying to crack up those of us stuck in a tiny hotel room with him and all this camera equipment all day. As a fun aside, in the book Annie’s mom (who is a makeup artist) gets cornered in the hallway by an obnoxious publicist wanting to ask her how she should do her makeup for her upcoming wedding. That was a direct dig at me, because I did exactly this to Natalie Portman’s makeup artist (who happens to be the founder of Stila!). I figured if she was getting paid five figures a day to put makeup on the flawless NP, she’d probably be grateful for more of a challenge. J She was pretty awesome with her advice, actually!
Q: What’s the most fun/craziest thing you did as part of your movie job?
A: Craziest: I once met LL Cool J and his entourage at the airport after midnight and he decided he wanted Chinese food before heading to his hotel. Except he wanted it from a specific place in a not-so-great area of Boston and he’s not sure exactly where it is, but his friend will “know it when we see it.” Eventually we roll down the window of the limo at a light and ask a few kids on dirt bikes, who immediately offer to escort us there. So now we’re cruising at 8 mph through housing projects in a limo and people are coming out to point and the kids on the bike are yelling, “Hey, it’s LL in there!!!!” By the time we stop at the restaurant about fifty people are running behind the limo. He got out and signed autographs (on all kinds of body parts) for every last one of them and when one guy told him he couldn’t afford to see the new movie LL was promoting, he handed him $20 and said, “Now go peep it.” I break this story out at every dinner party, by the way!
Q: I was hoping that was the story you were going to tell! Now, as glamorous as it sounds to work in the “biz,” I’m sure there were mundane tasks, just like the ones Annie has to do. What were some of the least fun aspects of your job?
A: I had one actor who insisted on quadruple stuff Oreos (Double Stuff just wasn’t enough “stuff”) so I spent an afternoon picking apart and smooshing together Oreos. Another would only drink bottled water from a particular area of France and it took me hours to find someone there who would ship me some. Before I collected the actors from the airport, I would first have to go check into their hotel rooms for them and make sure all the light bulbs worked in their lamps and the toilets flushed, so they wouldn’t have to endure the hassle of calling the front desk (can you sense my eye roll here?). So I was literally getting paid to flush toilets!
Q: Is there a celebrity you met who stands out? Why?
A: Strange as this might sound, the A-list actors were always, always the sweetest. I think they’d had time in the industry to just “get over themselves” in a way the newer, less secure actors hadn’t yet. The absolute nicest of the nice were Jamie Lee Curtis and Oprah Winfrey (who, for security reasons, had to come in through the hotel’s employee entrance and then spent considerable time chatting genuinely with each third-shift worker she encountered in the kitchen and laundry rooms she passed through on the way to the elevator).
Q: Having visited so many countries, I’m sure it’s hard to pick a favorite place. What are your top three?
A: Hmmm. Yup. Definitely hard, and constantly changing! Top is Nepal, both for having the nicest people and for being so exotic and yet so accommodating to English-speaking travelers (although I always made sure I knew the local words for please and thank you and some other basics so I wouldn’t be the obnoxious American; it’s a huge bonus when you can read an occasional street sign or a menu!). Next up is Prague. I just love all the cobblestone paths and the castle and the architecture -- it’s beyond atmospheric. Rounding it out, I might have to say Australia for combining beautiful surroundings with such a laid-back vibe.
Thank you, Jen!
Get more of Jen's former life via Annie in MAP TO THE STARS!
Jen Malone writes books for tweens and teens. Her debut At Your Service published with Simon & Schuster/Aladdin MIX in 2014 and her new series, You're Invited (Simon & Schuster), co-written with Gail Nall, released on May 19, 2015. Map to the Stars is the first of three young adult titles forthcoming from HarperCollins. Jen lives outside Boston with her husband and three children, teaches at Boston University, loves school visits, and has a "thing" for cute hedgehog pictures. You can learn more about her and her books at www.jenmalonewrites.com.
Lori Goldstein is the author of Becoming Jinn (Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan, now available!!, sequel, Spring 2016). With a degree in journalism and more than 10 years of experience, Lori is a freelance copyeditor and manuscript consultant for all genres. She focuses on the nitty-gritty, letting writers focus on the writing.
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