As I mentioned, I did not take the job at Celeb with the intention of writing a “tell all.” My book is not a tell all, it is a roman a clef—there is a world of difference between Dominick Dunne and Julia Phillips. Dominick can eat lunch wherever he pleases, while Julia is, well, dead. And while she was alive, she found it very hard to eat at The Ivy after her tell all was published. But, just for the record, I took the job at the sleazy Celeb because I needed a job in magazines, bottom line. I actually wanted to work for Penny, as I thought I could learn a thing or two. I didn’t learn much, but I witnessed a lot. Too much, in fact. It would have been one thing if the things I was privy to were on the up and up, par for the course of objective journalism or even “journalism” loosely defined—then I would have just gone on my merry way. But I have this little affectation; brutal honesty. When I see or hear things that I think are wrong, I have this silly moral compunction to bring things to light. While it’s true that I never worked for The Wall Street Journal or the New Yorker, I am no less of a journalist because of that. I have, in fact, never aspired to be anything but a writer and editor. I have devoted my entire life to journalism and magazines. I have two degrees in journalism, and I take the business very seriously. Yes, my areas of expertise may be fashion, travel, jewelry, society, entertainment and the arts, but that did not make me any less serious about the industry I served. As cheesy as it sounds, I did become a writer and a journalist to disseminate the truth, and when I see the truth being obstructed or obscured, I consider it my duty to intervene. I can be one nosy biatch.
For nearly eight months, I did my job at Celeb mostly without incident, though I hated the job from the start. I loathed what I was witness to—lying, deceit, paying, bribing and threatening in order to get stories—but I did nothing about it. But then around month seven I started to get itchy and resentful. I started hating this bitch called Penny for infecting the lives of her staffers. I saw that nobody had the balls to stand up to her, I suppose because they were fearful of losing their dreadful jobs. But I was born with no such fear, did not possess that silly, prosaic Protestant work ethic, knew that there would always be another job and more money to be had. I had no desire to waste 60 hours a week at a job where I made no creative contribution. So one day in late April, 2004, I gave notice to my direct supervisor. But here’s the catch, I gave more than six weeks’ notice, reasoning that in that six weeks I would figure out what my next move would be. And within a week or two, I had my next move figured out—I would write a novel, and this time, I would see it through till the end.
Like any other lifelong writer, I had made several previous attempts at novelizing. I always got off to a promising start, always had a powerful introduction and plot, but never saw a book through to its conclusion. At the same time, I had long believed that my first successful novel would be reflective of my life and my experiences as Stephanie Green. “Write what you know,” is the invisible hand that guides both journalism and literature. From Hemingway to Didion, this rule applies. I would have no better luck at writing about politics than I would in running for city council. I don’t know how to do either, and I have no interest in learning. What had always captivated me was fashion, media, society, jewelry and familial relationships. These were the subjects I had mined since adolescence and these were the subjects I knew I could write on with authority. The problem was that up until I left Celeb, I had never had the thread of a story that I could weave throughout the tapestry of my life. That, and only that, was what Celeb gave me. A brief episode to tie my life story together. Sure, Serena Gold, the main character in my Dishalicious, worked for a fictitious, evil editor at smarmy tabloid for a mere eight months. But for the previous 27 years, the inspiration for her existed and led an interesting, humorous, creative life that provided the main foundation for the novel.
One day shortly after I’d given my notice to Celeb and before I’d begun writing, an old college friend was in town staying with me for a few days. As we were walking up Lexington Avenue past the antique shops and I was telling Hank of my tribulations in the media, he made the offhand comment, “You know, you should really write a book.” And in that one remark, although I’d said the same thing to myself at least 100 times, I found the external validation that I needed to light a fire under my ass. “Yes,” I thought, “I should write a fucking book. What’s stopping me? I finally have a compelling story, one that people might actually be interested in.”
I started writing the next day and didn’t stop for the next three and one-half weeks. I wrote at least ten pages a day, following a rough outline that I composed the day that Hank inspired me. I know that people think I’m exaggerating when I say I wrote a book in three weeks, but it’s the truth. Like I said, I’d always had the skeleton of the story I was telling, all that had been missing was the salacious element, which was quite easy to insert once I’d been at Celeb for seven months. The story literally poured out of me in a cathartic flood of creativity. Dialogue which I never knew I had the creativity to craft erupted from my consciousness, and my photographic memory finally came into good use. I’m the type of person who remembers every conversation I’ve ever had, can recall every snub, every embarrassment, every incident with startling clarity. And though I’d never before had any tangible use for such a talent, apparently this skill comes in handy when writing a book. I was inspired like I’ve never been before, and I finally was able to “write what you know.”
I was able, with very little effort, to gather all of my meaningful life experiences into a compelling narrative. I was able to bring to life long-dead relatives, to put my family’s hysterical history to paper, to express my heretofore unexpressed fears and sentiments—I was able to write freely for the first time in my life. See, after six years of journalism schooling, I’d been bogged down by rules, AP Style, grammar, punctuation, objectivity—so much so that I felt I couldn’t write a creative article to save my life. I had felt that journalism school had murdered whatever talent for creative writing I had once possessed. What a relief and a pleasure it was to discover that I could write unrestrained and unconfined for pages and pages without having to worry about AP Style and objectivity. During those three writing weeks, I had more fun writing than I had since I’d penned short stories in the sixth grade. I felt free and so relieved to know that my talent hadn’t evaporated once I’d enrolled in NYU journalism school. That my professors hadn’t been able to squelch my innate creativity, despite their best efforts.
I finished the first draft of Dishalicious while visiting my parents in Florida over Memorial Day weekend. For the first time in my short life, I felt a true sense of accomplishment. Because I have always been a controlling, wannabe-overachiever, nothing I’d done had ever been good enough for me. It wasn’t enough that I had a master’s degree in journalism from NYU; it should have been Columbia. It wasn’t enough that I was a magazine writer and editor; it should have been Vogue I was writing for. But I actually felt a real sense of accomplishment with this book—I’d written a novel! I’d always wanted to write a book but never actually believed I’d do it, and yet I had. I was happy, for a few brief moments anyway.
I am not necessarily endowed with much self-esteem or pride, so to feel a sense of accomplishment so great was a true achievement. Of course it was a fleeting experience. Happiness, for me, has never been a sustainable emotion without copious amounts of prescribed and/or black market drugs.
After I finished the first draft, I still had two weeks left at Celeb. I was practically jubilant around the office, knowing not only that I was getting the hell out of there, but that I was leaving with this great project, something that I had done all on my own. During those two weeks, I did the bare minimum at the office and devoted all my spare time to revising the first draft. My goal was to find an agent the week after I left Celeb, so as not to waste any time. Although I do come from a privileged background, I do not, have a trust fund or anything like that. So the lack of financial freedom meant that I had to sort of get approval from my parents to go off on this whole novel adventure. I explained to them over and over how I saw this playing out. First, I would get an agent quickly. Then I would plant items in Page Six and Gawker and other places to stimulate interest. Then a six-figure book deal would fall in my lap. Easy peasy. What can I say? I was a young, naïve idiot. At the wizened age of 30, I now know better. This is what I honestly thought, with Plum Sykes, Lauren Weisberger and the nanny girls influencing my beliefs. I thought my book was as good or better than Devil Wears Prada. My parents, though dubious that this money should easily fall into my lap, were supportive. They were, natch, helping with my rent; on the Upper East Side, a $40,000-per-year job just doesn’t cut it. Surprisingly, things went exactly according to plan over the next few weeks.
The week after I left Celeb, I contacted the agents whose names I’d gotten from friends, relatives and acquaintances. The first agent to get back to me loved the manuscript, so I agreed to sign with him, not giving the decision much afterthought. Obviously, that was ill-advised, but I was under the impression that it was usually very difficult to get an agent, so I figured I should jump at such an opportunity. The same day I agreed to sign with my agent, I got a call from Paula Froelich at Page Six inquiring about the book, tipped off by an anonymous source. Naturally, I was the anonymous source—I’d concocted a fake e-mail address and identity and sent her a “tip.” To this day, nobody, not even my agent knows that I was the elusive tipster. Being a media insider does have its advantages in situations like this. My agent advised me not to talk with Paula, but I did send her an e-mail detailing the book’s plot against his advice. On July 4th, the following item appeared in Page Six, the country’s pre-eminent and most widely read gossip column. It is absolutely required reading for those in the media.
Bonnie Seeing Stars
Bonnie Fuller may have thought the worst was over—Star magazine’s numbers are up, the staff upheaval has stemmed and the magazine finally went glossy—but she has one more nightmare to look forward to. Former researcher Stephanie Green left Star two weeks ago and, in that short time, has penned a “scathing and hilarious roman a clef about a sleazy tabloid and an extremely evil and notorious editor who tries to use the researcher as a scapegoat when a cover story involving Hollywood’s ultimate perfect couple goes horribly awry,” a source reports. The world’s favorite gossip column, Page Six, is said to also figure prominently in [the] novel’s plot as “the lead character [the tabloid editor] (sic) considers the gossip column required brain food for anyone in the media.” The character may be evil, but she sure sounds smart to us! Green has just begun shopping the book to editors and agents. She didn’t return calls but a Star rep said: “Stephanie did work here but she is contractually forbidden to write a book—fact or fiction—based on her experiences here.”
Couldn’t have written it better myself. Actually, I did write the majority of it, as the quotes and descriptions were all from me, via the “anonymous source.” However, because this item ran on a Sunday, July 4th nonetheless, it went largely unnoticed. Gawker (a widely read media blog) didn’t pick up on it, and most influential media types do not stay in the city on a holiday weekend. So, while it was gratifying to see my name in boldface in the world’s most famous gossip column, it did little for the book, save for alert my former employer, to the book’s presence. A couple of days after the item ran, I received a letter from the HR department stating that I had signed a confidentiality agreement and that it would be enforced. I largely ignored the letter and wasn’t the least bit worried about my former company; the book was fiction after all. Hello?First Amendment? My father is a litigator and before I began to publicize the book, he and a team of his paralegals researched the confidentiality agreement, deemed it unenforceable, and gave me the go ahead. That was all I needed. Plus, I knew that even the worst-case scenario—getting sued—would result in a cavalcade of publicity for the book.
I spent the next month editing the book, per my agent’s suggestions and according to my own judgment. He advised me to tip off another media outlet and I settled on the fashion industry bible, Women’s Wear Daily, because it had a widely-read media section. I tipped off the section’s editor in the same way I had tipped off Paula Froelich. This time, I consented to an interview. The item ran on August 24.
Women's Wear Daily Tuesday, August 24, 2004
THE DEVIL SHE KNOWS: When it comes to thinly fictionalized magazine memoirs, Stephanie Green is a lot less coy than Lauren Weisberger. Whereas Weisberger, a former assistant to Vogue editor in chief Anna Wintour, doggedly insisted her novel, “The Devil Wears Prada,” was a work of pure fancy, Green describes her new book, “Dishalicious,” as a roman à clef — defined by Merriam-Webster Online as “a novel in which real persons or actual events figure under disguise.” The book’s main character, Serena, is a researcher at a celebrity tabloid run by “this evil editor in chief whom the New York media loves to hate,” said Green, herself a former researcher at Star magazine, which is run by Bonnie Fuller. Citing a confidentiality agreement, Green declined to comment on her eight-month stint under Fuller, which ended earlier this summer. “The best I can say is that it was an interesting experience,” she said. Green dashed off the 300-page manuscript in just three weeks. Her agent, Jim McCarthy of Dystel & Goderich, will shop the book to publishers next month. Green said she’s aware the book could earn her some enemies (although, given Fuller’s reputation, it could earn her some friends, as well). “I know that there will be some backlash, which is fine with me, because my experience at Star taught me that celebrity journalism is not for me,” she said. “I’m not easily intimidated, and I’m not worried about offending people that may have inspired characters in the book, because it’s well deserved. It’s not like I’m picking on angels here.” — Jeff Bercovici
And I wasn’t picking on angels, but demons. This item got considerably more attention, as Gawker did pick it up:
Bonnie Fuller Gets 'Devil' Treatment
Oh, goody: another roman à clef for the media elite is on the way. While the title, Dishalicious, takes the retarded cake, author Stephanie Green's book just might be entertaining in the same way that made The Devil Wears Prada tolerable:
The book’s main character, Serena, is a researcher at a celebrity tabloid run by "this evil editor in chief whom the New York media loves to hate," said Green, herself a former researcher at Star magazine, which is run by Bonnie Fuller. Citing a confidentiality agreement, Green declined to comment on her eight-month stint under Fuller, which ended earlier this summer. "The best I can say is that it was an interesting experience," she said.
Honestly, we can't believe it's taken this long to produce a thinly-veiled account of life in Fuller’s house, but we imagine those standard-issue titanium ball-gags are rather silencing.
Now, while I wasn’t happy with this girl calling my inventive title retarded—what grade is she in, anyway?—the Gawker blurb had the effect I intended. My former agent, who was essentially having his job done for him by me, was flooded with inquiries from publishers, translators and film scouts. I was already making his job incredibly easy by garnering my own interest and coverage. It was my feeling that after all this press, a monkey could sell this fucking book. Now, it should be noted that while all this was going on, the book had yet to be sent out to publishers on my agent’s advice. He seemed to think that it’d have a better chance of selling in September. This agent, on the other hand, also advised me against having an attorney vet the manuscript by doing what is called a libel read. I decided, regretfully, to trust his advice and not my instincts on that one.
I spent the next two weeks readying the manuscript to go to publishers. I was under the impression that having an agent meant that I wouldn’t have to worry about the little things. I was wrong. It was up to me to print out 10 copies of the manuscript and deliver them to the agent’s office on September 7. Nine would go out to editors the following day via a messenger. All did not go according to plan, however. The next day, my agent informed me that one of the manuscripts has gone missing and did not reach the intended editor. I had a brief, paranoid vision of a journalist intercepting that missing copy and my fear was confirmed when I got a phone call the following day from a raspy-voiced reporter named Sara Nelson at the Post. My agent had e-mailed me that morning to say that Nelson would be calling, he did not, however, although I would later find out he already knew, warn me that Nelson had snagged a copy of the manuscript. The one that went missing perhaps? I’m certainly no conspiracy theorist, but it all seemed rather suspicious.
“Stephanie, I’m sitting here looking at your book. It’s so scandalous and nasty and hilarious. I love it,” Nelson said in her pack-a-day, husky voice.
“What do you mean you’re reading it? How did you get it?”
“I have my ways,” she chuckled.
She proceeded to “interview” me, though I suppose that particular journalistic term has a much different meaning at the Post than at a reputable media outlet. She asked me to send her a jpeg of myself, which I happily did. She said she’d run the story in the business section the following day.
I woke at the crack of dawn, literally, the next morning and read the piece online. After the initial sharp intake, I don’t think I breathed for the full time I read it. Why. That. Little. Bitch. It ripped me and the book to shreds in places, and Nelson’s words seethed with bile, shedding journalistic objectivity and accuracy. I was misquoted, the manuscript was summarized inaccurately and the journalist didn’t bother to check her facts. She even went so far as to ask point blank whether publishers would pay six-figures for this.
ROMAN A CLEF CUTS BONNIE TO SHREDS
New York Post - New York, N.Y.
Author: SARA NELSON
Date: Sep 10, 2004
Start Page: 040
Text Word Count: 474
(Copyright 2004, The New York Post. All Rights Reserved) This Devil may wear Prada, but she somehow manages to make it - and her Manolo Blahniks - look "cheap." She also "carries last season's handbags, has adult acne . . . and talks with that hideous working class Canadian accent."So says a new novel called "Dishalicious" that has just gone out to about 10 New York publishers.The 281-plus page manuscript by former Star magazine employee Stephanie Green won't keep the media world guessing about the clefs to this roman - the book is painfully obvious.Editor-in-chief Penny Mother#$@*ing Saxe - PMS to her disgruntled employee - is clearly Bonnie Fuller, former Cosmopolitan, Glamour and Us Weekly editor who now runs the Star.If the Canadian digs, body image insults and descriptions of the editor as "one of the most hated women in Manhattan media" aren't enough, there's the fact that Green was a researcher at the Star until June of this year.She cheerfully admits she was working on the novel during her eight months at the first full-time job she had in New York. And while she signed a confidentiality agreement with Star parent American Media Inc., she's not concerned that her writing a tell- all book breaks that agreement."My dad is a lawyer," she says. "I've done my research. Yes, it was inspired by my life, but I haven't talked about what went on at the Star. The book is obviously a work of fiction."Well, yes - except that the descriptions, and even the names - seem awfully close to reality.David Pecker, Fuller's boss at American Media, is here called Harvey Dick. The magazine that Saxe/Fuller runs is called Celeb (Star), and she came there from "People." (Us Weekly) Like Fuller, the fictional PMS lives - horrors! - in the suburbs, has several children under 16, and is married to a more or less stay-at-home husband. She's also widely dismissed - and secretly envied.Bonnie Fuller was unavailable for comment, but staffers say she is well aware that Green has written a book, although it's unlikely she has seen it.An American Media spokesman says, "We wish [Green] well and hope her book sells as well as Star does every week on the newsstand."Will some publisher pay six figures for this hatchet job, which dresses the dish with a meager chick-lit plot line about a young staffer's romance and her ill-fated quest to get a byline on a cover story, no matter what?---Bad BonnieA new novel by former Star researcher Stephanie Green is supposedly fiction - but some think its boss from hell bears strong resemblance to Star Editorial Director Bonnie Fuller.'One of the most hated women in Manhattan media.'Carries last seasons handbags, has adult acne . . . and talks with that hideous working class Canadian accent.'[Illustration]
-Stephanie Green -Bonnie Fuller [N.Y. Post: David Rentas]
Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.
Abstract (Document Summary)
Editor-in-chief Penny Mother#$@*ing Saxe - PMS to her disgruntled employee - is clearly Bonnie Fuller, former Cosmopolitan, Glamour and Us Weekly editor who now runs the Star.David Pecker, Fuller's boss at American Media, is here called Harvey Dick. The magazine that Saxe/Fuller runs is called Celeb (Star), and she came there from "People." (Us Weekly) Like Fuller, the fictional PMS lives - horrors! - in the suburbs, has several children under 16, and is married to a more or less stay-at-home husband. She's also widely dismissed - and secretly envied.A new novel by former Star researcher [Stephanie Green] is supposedly fiction - but some think its boss from hell bears strong resemblance to Star Editorial Director Bonnie Fuller.
There was a huge, hideously unflattering picture of my former boss and a small picture of me. I was gratified that I looked decent and reasoned that maybe a hot Jewish guy would see it. Hey, I had to find a thread to hang onto. My agent kept insisting that any press was good press, but I knew better. I do believe that the Post story, coupled with the fact that the characters were indeed thinly veiled—hey nobody bothered to tell me to disguise them better—scared off publishers. In the first week after the manuscript went out, the reaction was generally positive. In my former agent’s words, this is how things progressed over the next couple of weeks.
September 13, three days after manuscript went out:
Hope you had a great weekend. Wanted to let you know where a few people are:
Warner brought it to editorial board. They're getting a few more reads. The editorial director read the first 100 pages and liked them. They are "seriously interested."
The editor at Atria was out sick last week and is jumping into the game late. She's planning on reading tonight.
The editor at Broadway really loves the lead character and is very, very positive about the book. She has to get some more reads and is trying to do everything as quickly as possible.
Haven't heard from the other 6 editors yet this morning but will keep you up to speed.
September 16, one week after manuscript went out:
Interest is still high with three publishers. Two I haven't heard from in a few days but know the interest is high. Four have passed. Since a significant portion of the industry is out of the office until Monday for the holiday, I don't think we're going to hear much until then. I'm going to call around today and see if there are other publishers who want to take a look and can get us an answer quickly. We're still in a very good place but (ugh!) have to wait. Don't worry about following up. I'm just as impatient as you are. If I don't talk to you before tomorrow, have a wonderful birthday!
My 29th birthday fell on a Friday that year, Rosh Hashanah Friday actually. Apparently, our people are quite predominant in the publishing industry, but leave it to me to pick a Goyim agent. I was scheduled to fly home to Florida on September 22, as I had not heard from my agent since the e-mail on the 16th, I asked him to give me an update before I left. He called me, and I immediately detected notes of both resignation and detachment. I knew bad news was coming.
“I know you wanted an update before you leave for Florida, and I’m afraid it’s not good news,” he said.
My heart went to my throat and I sat down and braced myself for the worst.
“All but one of the publishers have passed.”
From there, everything else he said was a blur. I remember being almost relieved that my destiny had caught up to me so quickly. It’s simply amazing, isn’t it, how quickly the tides can change in life?
Obviously, this was quite a disappointment. I had counted on a bidding war in the first round and so had my agent. In fact, in retrospect, I feel that my agent didn’t do a hard sell because he felt that the publicity would do his job for him. Bottom line was that my agent didn’t know his head from his ass and that the book had not been ready to go to publishers. I didn’t see the rejection by 9 publishers as a slight bump in the road or an obstacle to overcome—I saw it as the end. I saw it as my public humiliation, the end of my writing career before it had even begun. Because, let’s look at the facts here: I had no job, no money of my own, no plan for the future except one that had just gone up in smoke.
Monday, July 31, 2006
Posted by Stephanie Green at 11:17 AM