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March 24, 2009

Therese Fowler: "A Glamorous Life?"

Posted by carol
The main character in Reunion, Therese Fowler reveals, is modeled a bit on herself and a bit on a famous talk show personality --- and like her debut novel, Souvenir, it's in part a tale of choices and consequences. Click here to read Therese's previous guest blog post.

There is something about celebrity life that has always fascinated me. It isn't only the money celebrities earn and the lifestyles they afford --- though I did once yearn for such a life. It's also a fascination with who these seemingly perfect, glamorous, fortunate people were before we all knew their names, and their faces, and in some cases their bodies, so well. How did they come to be famous? How much of that fame is accidental or unwanted? How are they different now? And what must it be like to be so scrutinized that your cellulite or bad haircut or weight gain becomes international news?

As a teen, though, all I saw was the exotic thrill of that life. I grew up reading novels that were populated by celebrity characters and written, in many cases, by celebrity authors. When I wasn't reading, I was going to movies, watching television, or flipping through the pages of popular magazines. Surrounded by stories and images of beauty and wealth, I dreamed of becoming a model or an actress --- or possibly, I once told a friend, the next Danielle Steel. I didn't know how I would get there, I just knew I wanted out of my life and into one where I wouldn't have to shoplift to get a new pair of jeans.

But I was too short and too curvy to be a model. I was too sensible to run away to Hollywood and try to become an actress. My writing skills were developing, but I was too insecure to believe that they could take me anywhere. I was considered a "gifted" student, but there was no money for college, and when I told my high school guidance counselor that I'd decided to get married after graduation, she did nothing except wish me the best of luck. So I got married and I went to work. A few years later, I had children. I outgrew or outlasted my longing for a glamorous life. However, my interest in that life --- and one small piece of the dream --- remained, and twenty-two years after high school ended, I launched my career as a novelist.

Reunion was begun while my first novel, Souvenir, was "in production," as they call it (getting a jacket design, a marketing and publicity plan, and being printed and bound). There was a lot of pre-publication excitement about Souvenir both in the States and abroad, and I was getting far more attention, and income, than I'd ever gotten in the past. Now, I could still see the big picture; one book did not make me a celebrity author, and Ms. Steel was not going to turn her typewriter over to me and retire. Even so, the experience was like getting a small taste of what it must be like. It was exciting, and it was intriguing.

Reunion's main character in my early draft was an entertainment reporter, like you might see doing a segment on E! or Entertainment Tonight. She wasn't based on anyone in particular, and although she was on television, she wasn't a star. I worked with the story for maybe eighty pages before it petered out; something wasn't right. So I started over, and when I was far enough into it again, I sent what I'd written to my editor. To my relief, she loved the changes. To my surprise, she asked if my new character was modeled on Oprah Winfrey. "No," I said. "That is, not deliberately." In fact, in a lot of ways she was modeled more on me.

I could see it, though: the Chicago setting (chosen because I'd grown up nearby), the character now a popular talk-show host whose life behind the scenes was not all sunshine and roses (as is true for so many celebs). Without realizing it, I was exploring not exactly Oprah herself, but rather Oprah's world. The story that resulted is the story of Blue Reynolds, the Oprah we might have if we didn't have the real one. As with Meg's in Souvenir, Blue's tale is one of choices and consequences. What Blue did as a young woman that haunts her today, what she wants to do now, what she should do now, and how those choices affect everyone involved --- all of this gets magnified for a person who lives in the media's hungry spotlight. It becomes even more complicated when that person is someone who shines a spotlight herself.

What must it be like?

---Therese Fowler