Thursday, April 1, 2010

Burning Down the House(wives)

I am going to let you in on a little secret. Before I do, allow me to remind you that I have never claimed to be a nice person.

There are days when I really dislike other authors. Not all of them, just the ones who are getting a lot more money and attention than they deserve. You know, the ones who get six and seven figure deals based on no evidence of talent and for books that--to all outward appearances--are ridiculously useless.

Let me clarify. I don't mind authors being paid enormous sums of money. I'm all for it, mostly because as long as publishers keep occasionally tossing heaps of cash at writers I still have a chance of being one of them. What I mind is when this money is tossed at writers whose books have absolutely no chance of earning that money back.

This happens far more often than you might think. Usually with books by celebrities. Some editor decides that everyone will want to know the details of a soap opera diva's failed marriages, for example, or that readers will care deeply about the trials and tribulations of a former child star. Checks are written, a lot of hoo-ha happens when the book is published, and a week later stacks of that book are available for $2.99 in bargain bins everywhere. Meanwhile, those of us who aren't getting the six and seven figure advances have to sell more books to pay for the publisher's losses.

Which brings us to the housewives.

I'm sure you know about the housewives. The ones from Orange County? And Atlanta? And New Jersey? And New York? I'm sure you do. Thanks to Bravo television, gossip columns, and tabloids you can't escape them.

I hate (to love) the housewives. They are (with a few notable exceptions) insipid, deluded, self-involved, and utterly useless. They have nothing to offer except a glimpse into the empty worlds in which they live and which they try--vainly--to make us believe are glamorous and worth visiting. They think we watch them because they're fabulous. We watch them because they're a spectacular train wreck. But don't tell them that. They think we're just jealous.

Not surprisingly, a number of the housewives think they have something to say and have "written" books. I don't know what they were paid for "writing" these books, but I assure you it was too much.

The latest soon-to-be-remaindered offering is from New York housewife Jill Zarin, whose claim to fame is steadfastly clinging to the belief that she has style and taste when her apartment looks as if it was designed by syphilis-ridden French whores decorating for a prom held in a traveling carnival funhouse. Jill--who is currently taking ice skating lessons from Olympic gold medalist Sarah Hughes (please, please, please let there by a Housewives on Ice Spectacular in the works)--is fond of hosting dinners and private shopping "experiences" for her friends at upscale department stores, which apparently has prepared her for writing an advice book called Secrets of a Jewish Mother.

Actually, she "wrote" it with her sister and her mother, all of whom apparently have a lot of advice to dish out. However, if the episode in which the three women pose for the cover of the book is any evidence, the mother needs to take some advice on how not to behave like a rampaging cow before she starts telling other people how to act.

But I wish them all the best. Really, I do. (No I don't.)

I do not wish the best to another New York housewife, the so-called "Countess" LuAnn de Lesseps.

If there is a more annoying woman on the face of the planet, I don't know who she is. De Lesseps believes that she is the epitome of grace and class, yet all she seems to do is stomp around being petulant because people fail to address her by the title she acquired only by virtue of being her now ex-husband's fourth wife. Maybe when she was just little LuAnn Nadeau from Connecticut she was tolerable, but somewhere along the way she morphed into a monster of unbelievable proportion. Watching her swan around, suffocating others with her stench of piety and expressing wide-eyed shock at the perceived social gaffes of others, you can't help but see her as some weird, giant insect whose bizarre growth rate has been caused by consuming too much caviar harvested from radioactive sturgeon caught in Pripyat River outside Chernobyl.

On her own website de Lesseps writes: "The Countess’s decorum on the show, brisk sales of her book Class with the Countess, and appearances on talk and news shows has made her a widely recognized manners and etiquette expert."

Apparently not, however, a grammar expert. And those "brisk sales" must refer to the fact that all of them happened within the first three minutes of the book going on sale. Published in April of 2009, the book has sold a reported 6,000 copies and is now available on Amazon at the Bargain Price of $9.40.

Again, I don't know what the Countess was paid for her book, but if it was any more than about $20,000 it will be a while before she sees any royalties. But I guess she can always sell some of the family jewels.

Actually, the New York housewives as a whole are the most prolific of the lot. In addition to Levin's and de Lessep's books, housewife Alex McCord and househusband Simon van Kempen will soon give birth to Little Kids, Big City, an account of raising children in the Big Apple. I happen to really like this peculiar duo, so I honestly do wish them well with the book.

But the breakout publishing star of the New York edition is Bethenny Frankel, referred to in our house as Skeletora ever since we first saw her as a contestant on The Apprentice: Martha Stewart back in 2005 (where she was runner-up). Frankel has released two bestselling books about being "naturally thin."

I hate diet books almost as much as I hate "inspiring life stories." And even though Bethenny seems like she's not entirely horrid, I can't help but wonder if her sales numbers are about how good her books are or about the fact that she does this at signings.

Really, I shouldn't make assumptions about these things. The woman is just showing off her assets, and I shouldn't make her the butt of a joke. Suggesting that people buy her books for any reason other than that they're fantastically helpful is just asinine. Almost assuredly.

To date the most successful book to flow from the pen of a housewife cast member has come from Real Housewives of Atlanta's NeNe Leakes. (Does anyone else think her name would be perfect for the character of a retired, overworked wet nurse?) NeNe's Never Make the Same Mistake Twice has sold 9,000 copies in hardcover since August of 2009, thoroughly trouncing the Countess in the literary ring. So good for her.

Not that everyone was impressed by NeNe's words of wisdom. To quote from an Amazon reader:

"I would rather have an impacted colon than have to read even a paragraph of this book again."

Ouch. Sorry, NeNe. You can't please everyone.

So what of the Orange County and New Jersey housewives? Well, no one expects much from the residents of Orange County in the way of literary pursuits, so that is perhaps not a surprise. But New Jersey has given us celebrated novelists including Philip Roth, Norman Mailer, and, um, Ethan Hawke. Surely there must be a housewife with literary aspirations.

There is. One Danielle Staub. And oh is she one trouble making little minx. She single handedly made watching RHONJ not only tolerable, but almost mandatory. First she was accused of being a husband stealer. Then it was revealed that she'd once been a stripper and a paid escort and that she'd previously been charged with extortion, cocaine possession, and conspiracy to distribute narcotics. She made one cast mate so mad that the woman flipped over an entire dinner table.

You've got to love a girl like that.

By the way, Danielle is now a born-again virgin. I just thought you would like to know. You know, in case you were getting any ideas.

Her book comes out on May 25. I for one can't wait to read it. I'm particularly looking forward to hearing about (as promised by her publisher) "Her wild hookups with famous celebrities, including an Olympian and a Miami Vice star." What do you think the chances are she's talking about Tanya Harding? We can only dream.

One of the Orange County housewives has sort of written a book. Unfortunately it's Vicki Gunvalson, who ranks just above the Countess de Lesseps and her RHONY pal Kelly Bensimon as one of the most grating housewife personalities. Gunvalson penned More Than a Housewife. But nobody wanted to publish it, so she did it herself. You can buy it on her website for a mere $24.95.

Ironically, rejection by publishers may be Vicki's biggest break. By self-publishing and keeping all of the profits for herself, if she sells around 900 copies of her book she'll earn more than LuAnn has (assuming standard industry royalty rates), and selling around 2200 will allow her to surpass both the Countess and NeNe combined. She claims to have sold 1,500 already, so she's on her way.

I can't be mad at Vicki, I suppose. She took matters into her own hands, and the only people to be annoyed with are the ones silly enough to give her $24.95 for advice like, "Winners of the race don't slow down."

Most of these housewives, though, belong on my naughty list. Or at least the editors who bought their books do. These women don't deserve to be paid for their crap, let alone paid big money. So editors, here's some really good advice for which you don't have to pay me six or seven figures: The next time someone from a reality show pitches you an idea and you're tempted to offer her a big advance, punch yourself in the face really hard. Because that's what I would do if I were in your office.

You're welcome.


vicky said...

I love you.

Daystar said...

I loathe these shows. These women have no grasp of reality. I just don't understand the frothing-at-the-mouth for "reality" shows. They're full of vapid, self-absorbed and not-a-little-bit stupid people. Every time one of them comes on, I swear to you that I pull muscles in my eyes from rolling them so hard.

Peter said...

You didn't even mention Theresa's cookbook coming out soon! She may be able to flip a table, but can she set one? (From what I saw, no. The recipes looked like they came from the back of a Ronzoni box.)

Michael Rivers said...

I am proud to say I wouldn't know one of these bitches if they came up and said hello.

I can't stand these people who become "famous" for no reason other than showing us their boring lives on TV. What has happened to true celebrity in this country?

Advisor said...

Hah hah hah! "you can't help but see her as some weird, giant insect whose bizarre growth rate has been caused by consuming too much caviar harvested from radioactive sturgeon caught in Pripyat River outside Chernobyl" you are the best. Do you think Bethanny fears ... sagging behind ... in sales?