I moved to California about five months ago and have since become an avid Real Housewives fan. It started out as research for Southern California and now has expanded into something much greater and very unhealthy. This blog isn’t about self-shaming over low-brow entertainment, though—it’s about life lessons, people.
Part of the success of the Real Housewives franchise is it teaches all of us valuable etiquette: don’t gossip, don’t talk down to others, don’t throw wine glasses at people’s faces, and most of all don’t call yourself a writer if you use a ghost writer.
The latter resulted in a feud between two Real Housewives of New York City in this past season, something Bravo! was shipping as #Bookgate.
In case you weren’t up on the drama, Carole Radziwill recently published her latest book, A Widow’s Guide to Sex and Dating. The book received high praise (even from Oprah!) and served as a reminder to viewers that Radziwill actually had a journalism career pre-Housewives. Enter drama from stage right in the form of Aviva Drescher.
Drescher starts the season with a book deal and seeks out fellow reality star, Radziwill for advice on a ghost writer her publisher suggested. Drescher makes the poor (and unconfirmed) assumption that Radziwill must have had a ghost writer because everyone who is pretty and famous and ends up writing a novel / book has a ghost writer (i.e. Snooki and Lauren Conrad). Big mistake.
Radziwill’s proud of being a writer. It’s hard freaking work (as we all know) and it’s her career (she used to work for ABC producing documentaries for Peter Jennings). In essence, it’s like saying to a basketball player, so who’s your stand-in who makes all those shots?
The drama percolates and escalates into a full-blown Real Housewives feud perfect for the reunion episode (it’s all the Bravo producers could have wished for). It escalates because it becomes what makes all great Real Housewives feuds great: jealousy, ego, and “lack of support.”
But the real issue/philosophical conundrum this raises to me is, what categorizes a writer as a writer and who gets to stake claim to our coveted society? Obviously Aviva Drescher wants in (as she puts it in the reunion, “it takes a village” and she wrote the “first draft”) and in the age of reality TV and rise of celebrity culture, she’s not the only one. Many writers take offense to this, even though it is well understood how the book deal world and ghost writing profession work.
In the infamous reunion episode that just aired last night, Carole Radziwill extended an olive branch to all of those who hire ghost writers saying it’s common practice and that, “there’s no shame in it.” But, is that just lip service? Are us writers sympathetic enough to those who just can’t write but have a good story to tell and excuse it when their books fly off the proverbial shelves? Or is it so demoralizing that Lauren Conrad of Laguna Beach fame has “written” bestsellers that we sip our black coffee in the corner and simmer with anger?
I fall somewhere in the middle of this continuum. I don’t think being a writer is a closed society and I have a pretty loose definition on who can call themselves a writer and what qualifies you as a writer. I do have a problem though when I see Lauren Conrad has a book and not just a book but a successful book series. Mainly because I see, know and hear of such talented writers who will never see a book deal in their life. This makes me more upset with the publishing world and socioeconomic divides than with Conrad. It’s articles like this that make upset with Lauren Conrad as an author.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on ghost writers (if Lauren Conrad or Aviva Drescher had one) or even your take on #bookgate. Because after all, we all know Harper Lee had Truman Capote ghost write To Kill a Mockingbird. #duh