Brooke Shields. Jennifer Aniston. Lindsay Lohan. Eminem. Tori Spelling. Miranda Kerr. Drew Barrymore. Ariel Winter. What they all have in common with Welsey Shaw is mother issues. Severe mother issues. Despite making it in an incredibly difficult business where managing people is a key skill, they can’t manage their mothers. Most won’t talk about it, as in the above where Ellen DeGenerous tries awkwardly to get some “good TV” out Modern Family’s Ariel Winter. The young actress won’t bite. Moms can have a devastating effect on us.
Welsey Shaw’s mother is a conglomerate of stage moms (just as Welsey is a conglomerate of actresses) plus some original stuff (just as Welsey is some original stuff). Like many real celebrity moms, Lynne lives Welsey’s fame vicariously, enjoying the spotlight—the parties, the perks, the money—in many ways more than her daughter. It causes a rift between them, as daughter grows up faster than mother. When the novel begins, Lynne has access to Welsey solely though a phone number she’s allowed to call no more than once a day.
Some relationships are tricky. Lindsay Lohan seems both close to and antagonistic with her mom. Jennifer Aniston supposedly “made good” with her mom a couple years ago, after decades of estrangement. For Tori Spelling, mom Candy is still not a bestie, especially since withholding money because, claims the latter, “[Tori] would close a store and drop $50,000 to $60,000.” Tori doesn’t deny it: “‘It’s not my fault I’m an uptown girl stuck in a midtown life. I was raised in opulence. My standards are ridiculously high. We can’t afford that lifestyle, but when you grow up silver spoon it’s hard to go plastic…I grew up rich beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. I never knew anything else. Even when I try to embrace a simpler lifestyle, I can’t seem to let go of my expensive tastes.” This is sort of the inverse situation of Welsey and her mom.
More often than not, we don’t have the transparency into the mom-daughter dynamic that we do in Tori Spelling’s case. Ariel Winter has not talked about her rocky relationship with her mom, but back in 2012, when Winter was only fourteen, her older sister filed to become her guardian. She was officially emancipated from her mom at age seventeen, meaning she became an adult in the eyes of the law. While her mother has released a statement saying “the family has moved beyond the conflict,” Ariel doesn’t seem to agree.
I must say I really admire and respect these celebrities. Their professional lives are already uber-stressful, but to have parents on top of that who are non-supportive (with the exception, it seems, of Candy Spelling, who seems to be doing what’s good for her daughter) must make it all that much harder. Family support is key to success in every endeavor, and my heart goes out to those who, for whatever reason, do not have it.
Welsey Shaw’s relationship with her mother is rocky, and gets worse. But there will be a reconciliation—and a sad one—if I ever get around to write the sequel, which I’ve tentatively titled Ravishing Welsey Shaw. As for the release date of Entertaining Welsey Shaw, well…stay tuned.
David Hasselhoff requires a life-sized cutout of himself in his dressing room if you want to hire him.
Kanye West wants an all-white room and an eight-thousand dollar bed and personal chef for his daughter North. And don’t forget to iron the carpets.
Katy Perry requires that none of the staff speak with her. I don’t know how they communicate. Maybe text messages.
Nicki Minaj demands friend chicken, and just the wings please.
Diddy, former known by too many names to list here, reportedly asks for 204 towels, 20 bars of soap, Sweet Tarts and lots of booze. What he does with 204 towels I don’t know, but I can’t imagine what David Hasselhoff does with all the cardboard cutouts of himself, either.
Prince wants a doctor on call at all times. (Well, he is getting older.) Madonna reportedly requires no one look her in the eye, and 20 international phone lines. Plus her own furniture must follow her wherever she goes. George Clooney had a beach hut and hot tub installed on the set of his film Gravity. If he needs this kind of pampering, I doubt he’d cut it in outer space.
Britney Spears demands a bucket of KFC before each performance. What is it with stars and fried chicken?!
I had a scene in a very early draft of Entertaining Welsey Shaw where the star demanded, among other things, bendy straws be available to her on location at all times. I cut the scene, for whatever reason, I think because I feared it was a little ridiculous. Turns out this is exactly something Mariah Carey requires before she can perform.
What makes stars act this way? Well, there’s the old story about the bowl of M&Ms sans brown ones for Van Halen, but supposedly the demand wasn’t just one of high maintenance. They did this to ensure the entire contract was read by the venue putting on the show. If they saw brown M&Ms in the bowl, they assumed the very specific requirements about lighting and stage size and strength and so forth also hadn’t been complied with, meaning the show couldn’t go on.
But for most of these others, it just seems like we have some weight-tossing here. And Welsey Shaw doesn’t seem very demanding after all. (She’s just misunderstood.)
What do you think? Is Christina Aguilera worth a personal masseur and a supply of Flintstone’s vitamins? And if you were a famous celebrity, what would be your “crazy demands”? I’d want a 24/7 sushi chef and a supply of Peet’s New Guinea Highlands coffee to follow me everywhere. How about you?
And read more about the crazy demands of celebrities here.
It’s astonishing, when you think about it, how many of our classic places for randomly meeting people, of having unpredictable and perhaps romantic experiences, have disappeared in the last five years. If they aren’t gone completely, they are in the process of becoming so rarified that they are not part of our everyday radar. This struck me the last time I was sitting in my favorite coffee shop when I had this sudden urge to wander over to the Borders bookstore that used to be nearby and browse and maybe buy something if it stimulated me. Then I realized I could no longer do this. People used to do this all the time—buy a book or magazine, wander over to Peet’s, and drink and read, think and discuss, but now, in this age of technological miracles (ie, the Internet), it was no longer possible. The fastest I can hope for is 2-day Amazon delivery for a premium, and they wouldn’t bring it to the coffee shop anyway.
Think of how many romantic scenes from Woody Allen movies are set in bookstores, where the co-stars fall in love while talking about Kierkegaard or Proust or something appropriately Woodyesque. While some town still feature off-beat used shops with shelves of dusty titles from the far and recent past, bookstores in general are about three steps removed from the Dodo bird. The only chain left is Barnes and Noble, and it’s on oxygen. Where will nerds go after a date, to lap up cappuccinos and talk about their favorite writers or the Focus Features flick they just saw?
Same with record stores. Music nerds male and female used to love debating about their favorite bands over piles of vinyl or even clattery plastic CDs cases. Now music exists as bits that flow through wires—you don’t even get cover art anymore. College kids have likely never been in a music store, never had the pleasure of asking a clerk his thoughts or arguing on behalf of their favorite music. More than that, though, as with books there’s something about leafing through the covers, reading the liner notes, or unexpectedly bumping into something that becomes your favorite, or reminds you that it used to be your favorite and you haven’t given it the time of day in a while and maybe you should. How many book or album titles did you discover just because you impulsively reached out your hand to something on a shelf. It could have been the art work, it could have been anything, but whatever it was, a thumbnail on a tiny screen isn’t as compelling.
I remember one day I went to a bookstore in my last year of high school looking for something—I have no idea what—and for some reason, was drawn to a title on the same shelf that had nothing to do with my quest. It was called Prejudices: A Philosophical Dictionary by Robert Nisbet. I had never heard of him and didn’t even really understand the point of the book at first…being young and indoctrinated with a public school “civics” education, I felt the word prejudices reflected only racial bigotry and intolerance, and was surprised that someone would name a book with that word, framing it in a positive light (A Philosophical Dictionary) at that.
On sheer impulse I bought the book, and discovered it was a collection of alphabetical essays of the author’s view on all sorts of subjects: abortion, envy, love, religion, wit, genius, intimacy. “Much in the spirit of Voltaire’s Philosophical Dictionary,” the forward told me—there was another title and another man I knew nothing about. Today I know a lot about both of them, and both have effected my view of life, thanks to that random encounter in a bookstore when I wasn’t even looking for it. While it’s not impossible to have something similar happen while browsing titles from a virtual bookstore on an iPad (“If you like this you’ll probably also like…”), it’s far less likely to happen with the narrowly-targeted titles borne of algorithms that just don’t reflect the wandering curiosity of, well, at least me. (No, I won’t want to buy all the Twilight books because I once googled an unrelated Kristen Stewart movie, thank you.)
Wandering down aisles in book and record stores and checking out the newest titles, these were things I did as a kid the way a generation before me rode the roller coaster at Coney Island or drank from soda fountains at drugstores. Today we turn on our screens, heads down, tuning out the real world for our synthetic one of bits and bytes.
And that’s why I think writing engaging novels is going to get harder. We’re encased in our private universes more, universes designed to feed us exactly what we ask. That’s not good for the random experiences that shake us up, which is how every story has to begin. We can still be shaken up by dinosaurs and superheroes, aliens and werewolves, but I wonder what the Woody Allens of the future will do with no bookstores, old movie houses, and coffee shops for a rainy day of contemplating, arguing, romancing. How else can Welsey and Daniel even meet?
Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I buy lots of CDs online, use the net as much as anybody to find what I want, and profit from it, at least in the budgetary sense. And to some extent I’m just dragged along, kicking and screaming. I ignore the silly automated recommendations, and am a curiosity seeker. I do wander through virtual stores (as well as actual—I’m lucky that where I live there are still a relatively large number—although shrinking every day—of indie shops). I try to go out of my usual areas of exploration. I’m glad I do this even if the result is disappointing. Last night I watched a movie that was off the beaten path for me and I disliked it. But I’m still glad I watched.
We need spaces for random experiences. Environments tailored exclusively for us sound like a great idea, but they make our world smaller, because they only know as much about us as we know about ourselves—and that’s not nearly as much as most of us think. Sure we are able to skim faster and easier than ever before, but that’s not the same. There’s something about bumping right up against something new and challenging and, dare I say it, even confrontational and annoying, that’s exhilarating. We need to be randomly shaken and stirred every now and then, reminded of things we’d forgotten or gotten away from, something outside the scope of your recent past purchasing patterns and “like” clicks. When the late Roger Ebert learned that movie-watching was switching from the large-screen experience to home VCRs, he said in his book A Kiss Is Still A Kiss, “Count me in with the marauding bands.” Me too.
Entertaining Welsey Shaw is about a guy who gets to talk to a famous celebrity unbuttoned and unguarded (relatively-speaking) in a casual environment. They have the kinds of conversations one never hears from famous people when they’re interviewed by the media. If you could spend a lunch or two with some famous person, who would it be? I’m going to limit the options to living people. If I included everyone in history, the list could get ridiculously long. These are people you realistically could actually sit across the table from. My own list would be fairly short, actually. (Dead people would change that.) Not that there aren’t a lot of people I like and admire, and would like to meet, but I wouldn’t have enough to talk about with them to make it a profitable conversation, I don’t think. Maybe I would—I wouldn’t know until I sat down with them—but I wouldn’t want to waste their time.
And there are people who would have been on my list some years ago but who I now feel I know enough about to feel content.
Stephen Sondheim would be one of those people. At one time I would have loved to hear him discuss the meaning of his magnificent lyrics, but although the lyrics are still magnificent, I think I have penetrated some of his mysteries just through growing older and experiencing some pain and disappointment, which is where his songs live. Plus, with the publication of some writings of his he has become, in recent years, somewhat more of an open book. And I will always treasure the time I got to hear him speak at a rare appearance in Santa Rosa. So while I’m still a huge admirer, Stephen Sondheim is off my list.
It should be no surprise, however, to read that Deborah Eisenberg would occupy a very high spot. Easily my favorite contemporary writer, until recently she hasn’t been in the spotlight, so she’s still somewhat of a mystery, presumably filled with surprises, just like her stories. Her early life inparticular isn’t well-documented, yet so many of her pieces deal with young women emerging from controlling situations and finding their legs, so I often find myself wondering what in her own experiences inspired these stories. Her writing is unique and yet she doesn’t seem to try—a most amazing combination. Other authors may be better-known now, but I think her works will stand the test of time better than most.
Tilda Swinton would make my list. Why? She’s unusual, to say the least—in looks, acting style, and lifestyle. Tilda’s current partner and her former partner are friends and she manages to have a close relationship with both without the expected jealousy. Tilda manages to eat her cake and have it too, making unusual films while remaining fairly anonymous to the world at large. And she has a very strange and very special beauty—not conventional (it borders on androgynous) but nothing is conventional about Tilda Swinton.
Claire Danes would be another actress I would love to talk to. (Actually I did once, briefly, but it scarcely counts.) Claire is brainer than most actresses, and throughout writing Welsey Shaw, when I wonder if I’ve made Ms. Shaw a little too articulate and cerebral, I remind myself of some of the things Danes has said over the years. (In fact, one key quote in the novel is lifted pretty literally from a comment she made.) She’s delightfully grounded even as she goes to fashion shows and Oscar parties. Check out this introspective interview with her on Charlie Rose, made when she was only 19 or 20, starting around the 28:00 mark. How many 19-year-olds are this thoughtful?
Most people, if given the chance to nosh about movies with a famous critic, would pick Roger Ebert. I’d choose Stephanie Zacharek. Ms. Zacharek used to write for Salon before moving to Movieline, and she’s one of the few critics I take seriously. She is more perceptive and sure of her opinions than Ebert, whom I often view as going with the flow, especially when action and special effects movies are concerned, so as not to seem like a wet blanket. Zacharek tells it as she sees it, and fills her reviews with small, poignant observations that are nonetheless lacking that “aren’t-I-observant-for-noticing-this” quality many others’ reviews have. It doesn’t hurt that her favorite film is Holiday, which I think is both Cary Grant’s and Katharine Hepburn’s most underrated film. (Not sure I’d want to meet either Mr. Grant or Ms. Hepburn, however, as I hear neither of them managed to live up to their personas.)
There’s Ingmar Bergman, whose intellectual depth and wide range of films is pretty unique. (I think we’d need a translator, though.) Though controversial to say the least, sitting across from Gore Vidal would surely be unforgettable. And Simon Schama would be another choice, because of his wide-ranging mind. Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman and New York Magazine columnist Frank Rich—definitely. There’s travel writer and philosopher Alain de Botton. Travel writer and pot smoker Rick Steves. Novelist and philosopher Milan Kundera, whose meditations on the politics of existence still blow me away. Oh, and I may enjoy meeting Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek, even though I doubt I’d understand much of what he talks about.
Of course, most of these people would probably find me boring, as I probably am. And I’m sure I’ve missed many people as well. But that’s enough. How about you? Who would you like to have lunch with, if you could? Who have you always wanted to meet?