I remember my mom, an avid reader, telling me when I was little that first novels were almost always autobiographical. At that stage, I was reading lots of S.E. Hinton books and had just discovered that S.E. was, in fact, a woman. So there was a lot of time spent plenty trying to figure out where she was in the midst of all those Ponyboy’s and Sodapop’s.
It’s not so difficult with my book to find the parallels between my protagonist and I. When I first moved to L.A. about ten years ago, I worked at People magazine, where I made a general mess of things before being unceremoniously fired. I always say that I was fired for my alcoholism, even though I didn’t drink or do drugs on the job (at least not in the day anyway — the job included going to nightly Hollywood events, and I don’t think I need to tell you that there wasn’t a lot of sobriety going on there). Today, I see alcoholism as being less about how much someone drinks and more about living in constant self-obsession and fear — some call it feeling like “the piece of shit in the center of the universe” — and needing to drink in order to escape those feelings.
The truth was, I was terrified to be working at People. This, I felt, was the big time — and, scared that people were going to find out how under-qualified I was, I acted as self-entitled and overly confident as I could. If I didn’t get a story I wanted, I’d go marching into the Bureau Editor’s office and explain that he had to give it to me. Looking back, it’s actually amazing I wasn’t fired earlier.
Anyway, my protagonist works at a celebrity weekly magazine as well and, while I did up the stakes a bit by having her do drugs on the job, I also took many of the dramas I brought on myself back then and gave them to her. In real life, my first job when I got sober was writing a column called “Party Girl” for Premiere. My protagonist gets a column of the same name, but while mine was filled with banal celebrity quotes culled from premiere press lines and events, hers is filled with all her racy, scandalous adventures (culled from her life pre-sobriety — seeing as the racy, scandalous acts are, by then, a part of her past). Oh, also, she becomes world famous for her column, while I only got fired for mine (although this time, it wasn’t for any attitudinal issues — turns out my column was alienating the core readers who were film fans that didn’t give a shit how Julia Roberts felt right after winning her Oscar).
So imagine my surprise when I finished writing my book and showed it to the guy I was dating at the time*, who said that he felt my protagonist wasn’t terribly likable. Wasn’t terribly likable? She was me! And while yes, she was self-absorbed and bratty, she was also self effacing, funny and oddly charming. And she goes through a major transformation (something he wasn’t aware of, seeing as he only read the first three chapters**)!
As it turned out, others who held more sway in the publishing world than this guy agreed with me, so the adventures of Amelia Stone (I gave her an “A” name, just in case anyone was having trouble connecting the dots) will soon be witnessed and judged by the masses. When the book sold, by the way, the guy — who I still hadn’t managed to break up with by then — mentioned that plenty of books, like The Kite Runner, also have unlikable protagonists.***
*He was an asshole
**A real asshole
***A real asshole who fancied himself an expert on writers.