Sunday, June 24, 2007

Be Nice or I'll Put You in My Next Book

According to the New York Daily News, Oprah Winfrey’s father is writing a tell-all book about her—and she’s not happy!


Was there ever an animal as insatiable, as greedy, as all-seeing and heartless as a writer on the prowl for material?


Really, why was she surprised?

Every author in the world spins the straw of their lives into gold. What else do we have to work with? We can’t be expected to make everything up.

Example #1: Tess Gerritsen writes in her blog about being walked to her car by a fan. The fan was able to correctly point out which car in the lot belonged to Tess, because it’s the same car her character drives.

Example #2: Elaine Viets failed a friend’s challenge to write about a short character. At six feet tall, Elaine doesn’t need to drag around chairs to get stuff from the top shelf of kitchen cabinets. A short character would.

(Personal disclosure: They say that on drivers’ licenses guys lie about their height, and women lie about their weight. I lie about EVERYTHING—and why the cops believe it, I sure as heck don’t know. According to the state of Missouri, I’m 5’ 3”, weigh 118, have blonde hair and blue eyes. HA! I know all about not being able to reach stuff. But I refuse to haul furniture. Instead, I use a ladle to hook the object and then duck before it hits me. Uh…usually before it hits me.)

So much of who we are shows up in what we write. In Over Exposed, my protagonist Kiki Lowenstein is a woman who’s only ever been good at two things: scrapbooking and getting pregnant.

While I have taken great care NOT to be proficient at getting pregnant, I do scrapbook and I’ve written seven non-fiction books on the subject. And like Kiki, people tend to underestimate me. We’ve already established I’m a liar. I suffer from bouts of low self-esteem, and yeah, okay, I’ve got a temper, wanna make something of it? Like Kiki, I own a very, very old BMW convertible that’s hardly worth insuring, I love animals and once owned thirteen Great Danes, none of which were housebroken. (The guy who owned the carpet cleaning service sent me a heartfelt “thank you” card and a big box of chocolates at Christmas. I had his number on speed dial.)

Even the themes we explore in our books come from the lives we live. Kiki struggles with issues of class, and in every book, there’s tension between the “have’s” and the “have-nots.” That’s another portion of my life, my personal world. I’m working it out on paper as I go. (You can guess how that’s coming along. NOT.)

So, what Vernon Winfrey’s doing makes sense to me. At the same time, I do feel a little sorry for Oprah, because this is an uncomfortable situation, and probably feels like a betrayal. All I can say is, “Oprah, dear, just count your lucky stars your daddy isn’t a scrapbooker. Because then he’d be sharing photos as well as those embarrassing personal moments you’d rather forget.”

Want to capture your family history? (Maybe you have a budding Oprah in your family?) Send me your name and postal address at I’ll select one person to win a copy of Scrapbook Storytelling, one of the seven non-fiction books I’ve written on scrapbooking. Deadline: July 15, 2007. Be sure to put OPRAH in the subject line so I can find you among all the offers to, well, lengthen body parts I don't have.


Julia Buckley said...

I'm not sure Vernon has noble motives in writing about his daughter. Has he ever claimed to be a writer before?

Then again, I guess it's his prerogative to trade on his daughter's fame.

Joe Moore said...

"I lie about EVERYTHING—and why the cops believe it, I sure as heck don’t know."

Joanna, how often does this come up between you and the police? :-)

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Very fun posting, Joanna! Loved it!

Once a reporter asked me what inspired me to write a mystery novel about an overweight, middle-age, paralegal. I told her my inspiration came from my day-to-day life as a tall, thin, young woman who works as an extra on Baywatch (true story, by the way!).

Like you, I also lie on my driver's license and consider it my right as a woman. And I also subscribe to the ladel and duck method of retrieving items from high shelves. :)

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

You know, I was just studying that photo of Ophra... with just a smidgen of photo shopping, she could be giving dear old dad the bird.

jbstanley said...


Love the Baywatch comment! The truth is, I'd rather have you rescue me than Pamela Andersen. I'm sure you're much stronger though parts of her are certain to float VERY well.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

JB, while Pamela may have "parts of her" that float very well, my whole body is a natural flotation device. :)

And if that doesn't work, I'm a pretty good swimmer.

Felicia Donovan said...

A hearty welcome to all and thanks for making me part of this great blog! If you read my bio on the MI forum or visit my website at, you'll note that I (gulp) actually am in Law Enforcement. You mean to tell me people aren't telling the truth when the guy with the hot engine and crumpled bumper with paint flecks still dripping off says, "It couldn't have been me, Officer, I've been sitting home waching the Red Sox game all day?" Shocking!

Sue, loved your comment about morphing the photo. Now that's what I call "digital" enhancement.

I guess there's one book that isn't going to make it into Oprah's Book Club...

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Joe wrote:

Joanna, how often does this come up between you and the police? :-)

I've never had a ticket. Whenever I've been pulled over, I (1.) thanks the officer for saving my life "I know the speed limits are there for a reason and I was soooooo preoccupied, and you probably saved my life, so thanks! (2.) Smile and be very, very helpful. I'd serve them coffee if I could and (3.) Say, "What a BIG gun you have. That is sooooo cool. How BIG is it? WOW.

Works for me!


PS I would have responded to you'all earlier but my AOL went down and then I got stuck in LaGuardia Airport. Just got home from Manhattan.