by Jerry Waxler
Celebrity memoirs, sometimes limited to name-dropping, can still offer lessons, especially if the author became famous because of his successful writing. After all, as memoir writers, this is close to our own goals. We want to write, and have other people read our writing. So reading a celebrity memoir of a writer might have particular value for aspiring memoir writers.
In fact, one famous writer actually did write a memoir that is a great teaching tool. Stephen King’s “On Writing” maintains his stunning connection with his audience, and gives a great read while telling about his life. Another celebrity memoir that I read recently, is more problematic: writer Sydney Sheldon’s “The Other Side of Me.” The first part of the book is a page turner, (actually I listened to the audio book), because he struggles against insurmountable odds, using his creative talent to escape the poverty of the Great Depression. And then, when he actually becomes a successful screen and stage writer, he settles into a rhythm, telling about his productions, what famous stars he meets, what famous producers and directors he works with. His milestones seem to keep coming in such a predictable, steady manner there is no more conflict, and as a reader, I wonder why I’m bothering. It’s yet another proof of that adage that a story needs to be going somewhere, gaining ground against some kind of odds.
The beginning of the book is a GREAT rags to riches coming of age story, and the last half is a sort of gossip column celebrity name dropping fest. By the end of the book, I was feeling cheated. Then afterword bailed it out. The professional book reader stopped narrating the audio book, and Sheldon himself explained the conclusion in his own voice. One of the most compelling lines in the book was “I kept striving so hard to ‘get there’ but every time I reached a new milestone, I couldn’t find ‘there.'”
I think he added the afterword precisely because he or someone sensed there was no closure. In the afterword, Sheldon said he had no more need to keep writing best sellers. And I felt that in a sense, he was finally able to put down the sword and relax. Thank God! After all the pressure, and all the drive, I felt a sense of relief that he had found a ‘there.’ I don’t know if this was the intended Character Arc, but I found this summation gave me the sense of closure I was seeking.