Suspend Your Disbelief

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Famous People: Can They Write?

For some reason, I don’t think of celebrity authors as emerging writers. After all, they’ve got well-established careers of their own acting, directing, or being beautiful/audacious/infamous. It’s hard to think of someone like James Franco—who seems to be everywhere this year—as an “emerging” anything.

But Franco recently published his first collection of short stories, Palo Alto, which officially makes him an emerging writer. He seems to be taking it seriously: according to Wikipedia, Franco “simultaneously attend[ed] graduate school at Columbia University’s MFA writing program, New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts for filmmaking, and Brooklyn College for fiction writing, while occasionally commuting to North Carolina’s Warren Wilson College for poetry. Franco is currently a PhD student in English at Yale University and will also attend the Rhode Island School of Design.”

All this raises an obvious question: okay, he can act, and he’s got the degrees, but can he really write? Reviews are mixed. The New York Times praises some of the pieces but notes,

Yet many of these tales have no emotional payoff. They feel vacant, not because the images aren’t vivid — Franco has a talent for viscerally evoking danger — but because throughout, there’s a larger problem: a lack of individual characterization. […] As a writer, Franco needs to harness the skills he’s cultivated as an actor, mainly the ability to inhabit a consciousness independent of his own.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal declares that “Franco may be doing it all creatively, but not doing it very well. The 11 stories in this collection read like an amateur tribute to Denis Johnson or Raymond Carver,” and the LA Times says that the stories read like “the work of an ambitious young man who clearly loves to read, who has a good eye for detain but who has spent way too much time on style and virtually none on substance.” Ouch. Good thing Franco still has his acting career, his directing career, his millions of dollars, and his dashing good looks.

Of course, Franco isn’t the only celebrity “emerging” author out there. Reality TV star Lauren Conrad has published her second novel earlier this year, a follow-up to her debut novel, L.A. Candy. Both follow the adventures of a young woman who moves to L.A. with her best friend and ends up making a reality show. (Wait…) Reviews were also mixed, but both books were bestsellers.

Even everyone’s favorite reality trainwreck, Snooki, has scored a book deal for a novel, titled (no joke) A Shore Thing! Publisher’s Weekly reports that the novel will—wait for it—”trace the plight of ‘a girl looking for love on the boardwalk (one full of big hair, dark tans, and fights galore),’ according to a press release.” I’m guessing Snooki is following the adage “Write what you know,” but just in case she needs help, Gawker recently sponsored a contest to write the first page of Snooki’s novel for her.

And then there are the celebrity emerging writers who stopped early: Wes Anderson, for instance, wrote fiction before turning director, and lit journal Analecta recently (re)published one of his undergraduate short stories. Did he choose the right career path? (Via.)

Have you read any fiction by celebrity “emerging” writers? How does it compare to the writing of non-celeb emerging writers? Are you inclined to judge the celebs more critically, or to cut them some slack?

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