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When I first started freelancing, I endured months of ignored and rejected submissions before I made my first sale. When I finally published something, you'd better believe I took a long, hard look at that article. What had I done right this time? The only difference I could see was that dispersed throughout the piece were an assortment of creative devices I had never used before. Had they brought me this good fortune? Could they work their magic for me again?
They did—again and again. Now, two-and-a-half years, nearly a hundred published articles, and thousands of queries from an admiring public later, I'm ready to share my secrets. But here's the twist: They're not secrets! They're household names. That's right. I peppered that prose with the names of common celebrities, and my editors bit. In this Q&A, I'll explain how you can start using them, too.
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Q: How can I start using them, too?
A: You may already know how. Have you ever added foibles to flesh out a character, atmosphere to imbue a setting with a sense of place, or zing to perk up a draggy stretch of dialogue? Think back to the last time you added oomph to a sex scene to bring it to life—a squirt here, a dollop there, a slathering round the bottom. Just do the same thing—only this time, with celebrities!
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Q: How many celebs, ideally, would I want to add to my DIY guide to pet sterilization or to my screenplay about young project managers searching for love in the euphoric and cynical telepathy playzones of Morjazma Realm Six?
A: For the beginning writer, two words: All-Star Pile-On. Publication eluded me until I sent out an article so hot with A-listers that it throbbed and seethed and begged to be taken into print. Within four months, I was a man of letters. Three months later, a paid professional writer. Today, I'm pitching book proposals on everything from weight-loss strategies for investors to wealth-building strategies for dieters with nothing more than a cheery nod to Eminem and an uplifting salute to Oprah.
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Q: I need hands-on examples. Can you show me how to cram some celebrity jam into this passage I'm wrestling with from my memoir?
I had found a lucrative opportunity in the adult entertainment industry that allowed me to preserve my anonymity and my ability to show my face in public.
A: That's tantalizing. Now make it irresistible:
You may have heard that Catherine Zeta-Jones used a tummy double for some of her scenes in Ocean's 12. Sounds like malicious, envious, and utterly spurious gossip to me. Having said that, I am contractually bound not to comment further.
Q: What a difference!
* * *
Q: If I am writing for a local market—let me see, have I got this right? Would I add local celebrities?
A: Very intuitive. Remember, though: Many global talents are also huge in small markets. Try mingling superstars and members of your local celebretariat, like this:
"Well. Hello there," Cragg purred. His grin, a frank homage to Jack Nicholson, slunk straight to Judith's toes and began kitty-licking nimbly.
"Hey there yourself!" Judith enthused, fighting to appear as chipper and unflappable as D'Anna Montclair, Channel 9's inspirational meteorologist.
* * *
Q: I'm a poet, not a journalist. What advice do you have for me?
A: A true star goes anywhere, from corral to saloon, cubicle to nightclub, humble origins to humbling triumphs. Check out what poetry legend William Wordsworth might have done with one of today's legendary showbiz ex-couples:
Britney Spears dwelt among the untrodden ways,
Sportive as the fawn,
Wild with glee across the lawn:
A thing that had not felt the touch of earthly years,
According to her publicist, anyways.
Then she broke up with Justin Timberlake.
He had no human fears!
And told the media of strange fits of passion he had known:
How she he cherished turned her wheel,
And leaned her ear in many a secret place.
A couple of workshops and that's ready for anything, from jubilat to Teen People.
* * *
Q: As a Writer of Identity, must I give a nod to Celebrities of My Identifiable Group, such as Madonna, Tom Cruise, Martha Stewart, and P. Diddy? Also, how do I keep Other Writers from poaching them?
A: You can't. Top stars transcend Identity. Take Donald Trump and Pamela Anderson—icons so pervasive, so resonant, so essential to the fabric of our culture as to be implicit in much of today's better fiction, self-help, and how-to. Many established writers, regardless of Authenticity or Affiliation, would have a hard time not writing about Donald and Pamela, on some level. Hello! I'm writing about them now.
* * *
Q: What if I don't know any celebrities?
A: What are you calling your autobiography, Under My Rock? Mary-Kate Olsen, Mel Gibson, Osama Bin Laden, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Star 'Swagzilla' Jones—there is the richly allusive tapestry of your next chapter right there. Stop looking for excuses and start writing!
* * *
Q: With whom are you working now?
A: All right. Just this morning, in a blurb about fragrant perennials, here is how I described my encounter with a ravishing bed of candelabra primulas:
...like snorting champagne chiffon off the romping opulence of Shania Twain or mocha truffle mousse off Vin Diesel's thrashing Mustang abs.
* * *
Q: I'm so inspired. Any final words for a young writer raring to give it a go?
A: For a big and easy impact, you can't beat the versatile duo of Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt—the most stunning juxtaposition of literary terms in showbiz history. Stay away from them. They're mine.
Kidding! Brad and Jen belong in the tool-kits of every professional wordsmith. Our vast endowment of celebrities is a resource all writers can share.
Kevin Baker is a writer in Edmonton—Canada's undiscovered celebrity playground.