Thursday, October 27, 2011

When is Someone from College Going to Give me a Bit Part in Their Book? It Won't be Mindy Kaling, Because She's Young Enough to be My Daughter (If I Did That Young Fatherhood Thing).

As I had mentioned in a previous post, several books we had events for at Boswell took place at college. And while I wasn't thinking about whether Chad Harbach had been influenced by his own college expereriences in writing The Art of Fielding, it did cross my mind while reading The Marriage Plot that there might be someone reading this book who'd get to an incident and think, "I think that was me."

I think that Eugenides'a novel hit home with me on that level because I was the age of the kids in the novel (they were Brown '82s, I believe) and I always had the sense that at the last minute, I was traded from Brown to Dartmouth, giving me some sort of imaginary affinity to Brown. The story is (and sadly, I also told this to Eugenides, and what a good sport he is by not looking away and rolling his eyes) that after filing applications, I had a solid interview with Brown. In addition, I was contacted by the math department and the radio station and a few other student organizations. So it was a particular disappointment when I was rejected.

But oddly enough, I was accepted into Dartmouth. I had not had an interview, which the application said was de facto. I had never received a mailing, never had a phone conversation with anyone. I hadn't visited. Very odd. Later on, the government asked the Ivy League schools to stop colluding on financial aid; isn't it just a short step to trading applicants?

Feel free to make that story you're own. After all, we're all fodder for someone else's novel. I've heard more than one writer complain that another writer stole (air quotes) their anecdote for his or her own magnum opus. And while many writers at events will claim everything was made up, just as many will note that there are real life observations that make their way into written work.

Over the years, a number of my classmates have written books. As I would go through the catalogs in the days of buying for Schwartz, I'd come to some crazy listing and realize the author was a classmate; I remember in particular some glitzy-meets-Bret-Easton-Ellis novel from Warner. Many were not even acquaintances, but one of my good friends wound up writing a really lovely memoir about her family, particularly her complicated life with her alcoholic father. Much of this was coming to a head when I was first getting to know her--she was dating my roommate. And the sad thing was, I knew absolutely nothing about the whole thing. I loved the book, but it also made me feel sheepish.

Another friend of mine published two novels. The first was a childhood book, but the second had some college scenes, and I knew they were based on her Dartmouth years. After the book was published, she told me that I had a bit part in one of the drafts, but that whole part was taken out.  I could have been a contender.  Yet another fellow student who worked at the radio station with me and has written several novels was contacted by a mutual friend--it turned out she had no clue who I was, alas.

Now here's a true college anecdote that seems almost too fictional to be true. According to a website I visited, the guy who was the student representative to one of the local banks and showed up in all their ads is the head of a very major coporation, and was the highest paid executive of an American business in 2009, according to some random website who was in turn referencing The Wall Street Journal. How's that for a driven character? Please use it in your next story; it will work as flawed hero or villain, but if he's the hero, he'll probably need some minor comeuppance.

But there's another way to go with that story. Another very low-key guy I worked with at the radio station turned out to be the head of another major corporation. It's a different kind of company that valued more creativity and playfulness; I had to say I didn't beleive it at first and had to watch a video where he was CEO of the year or something. But it was him. 

So anyway, you could have both characters in college, very different guys who become friends and then have a falling out, and thirty years later, they are these dueling CEOs and one company attempts a hostile takeover of the other.

Honestly, have I moved too far from my bookish and bookselling roots with this post? No, because I've just finished reading Mindy Kaling's comic memoir/bits, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns). I've seen a lot of comparisons to Bossypants, but there's also definitely a sense of I Was Told There'd be Cake (and someone else must have thought so too; there is a bit of similarity about the covers). Unlike my vague Sloane Crosley connection through publshing, however, the Mindy Kaling one is that she also went to Dartmouth, only she was born when I was a student. Pardon me, I think my age-related arthritis just flared.

Kaling tells her story, detouring to lists of good concepts to reboot (an all-girl version of "Ghostbusters") and learning in a meeting that what's hot are movies based on board games (though ads are also popular--Kaling has a treatment for the film version of "Crest Whitestrips."). There's a little wondering about the sexes ("Why do men take so long to put on their shoes?"  I didn't know they did. Maybe it's only the ones who use Bumble and Bumble. But I am mixing up two essays here.)

There's a lot about her childhood, growing up in Massachusetts (her birth name is Vera Chokalingam, if you were wondering), some nice thoughts about her parents, being the pudgy bookish girl (yes, there are about twenty names for fat here too, and the intricacies of using each one--pudgy is acceptable apparently). There's a sweet story of being torn between her approrpiate BFFs (they have shorts with all their initials on them) and another girl who is not quite as popular but whom Mindy just likes better.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me is on sale next Tuesday, November 1. I'm glad to know that gift bags are not all they're cracked up to be, and I also don't see the point of celebrity roasts.

But it's her college friends Brenda and Jocelyn whom I'm thinking about now. After intense college bonding, they moved to Brooklyn.  Eventually Mindy and Brenda wrote, directed, and starred in the play "Matt and Ben", which pretty much jump started Kaling's career. So yes, there are stories and photos of Brenda and Jocelyn throughout the book.  It's really rather sweet, but it brought me back to the Eugenides, where I thought, nobody is putting me in their novels.

But on the other hand, I think it's probably a blessing.  My first thought would be, "That's what you think I was like? Ick."

*And while I was poking around, another classmate who I only knew by sight turned out to be head of yet another corporation. But I can't figure out how to get his plotline into the novel that I'm letting someone else write.

1 comment:

Mike said...

If and when I write a book, I'll try to include you as a character.