And I’d go to his shows and there’d be these little girls around Brandon asking, ‘Is that your sister?’ So I went for a Courtney Love thing. I plan on ruining his band, making him kill himself, and selling his diaries … which I have to find.

A really old piece I wrote on Spin’s own “Ultragrrrl,” or Sarah Lewitinn. She had some delightful quotes. Also, aspiring writer-types? This piece was one of the first I sold to an institution that I was dying to get into, and that’s because I had an angle on “what the kids were doing.” Young writers, that is your power.

Wayback Machine: Claire Messud at the Toy Store

[Claire Messud is a genius and this month’s The Woman Upstairs is probably the best book of the year: check the vintage Gawker reference! Also, I have decided that Girls’ Alison Williams is real-life Marina Thwaite. Today that sort of gilded girl would be on a TV show. And if you compare/contrast my piece with the New York piece, clearly Messud is awkward/not media savvy, per se - but it’s the writer’s choice how to present said quotes. For what I was writing, I thought she was hilarious, and charmingly self-conscious and aware of the inanity of our particular interview set-up.]

The acclaimed author sorts through Mad Libs and crayons at Henry Bear’s Place in Cambridge

By Elisabeth Donnelly

“It’s a little baffling,” said Claire Messud, talking with the cashier at the Cambridge toy store Henry Bear’s Place about the success of her fourth book, “The Emperor’s Children.” When the cashier said he had just received the book as a gift, Messud replied, “Oh, it makes a good doorstopper.”

“The Emperor’s Children,” which is being released in paperback next week, is much more than a doorstopper, though. It received ecstatic reviews and ended up on the major best books of the year lists in 2006, even inspiring the normally snarky media gossip website Gawker to sincerely ruminate on who could play Messud’s characters – Jeff Daniels as patriarch Murray Thwaite – for example in a possible film. A friend forwarded the Gawker piece to Messud, and “it made me laugh,” she says. She revealed that she didn’t really know some of the younger actors cited in the piece, such as Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, bandied about as the serpentine Ludovic Seeley. Messud wasn’t sanguine about the possibility of a film on the horizon, although she noted that Ron Howard’s production company had optioned the book.

On a dank and unseasonably cold Wednesday, the chic Messud, clad in an olive marching-band-style jacket with big gold buttons, had a long to-do list. One of her primary tasks was putting together a travel pack for her two young children. That Friday, she and her husband, Harvard professor and literary critic James Wood, were taking the kids to visit family in Scotland. Messud lives in Union Square, and as it turns out, she and I are neighbors. “We could’ve stayed in Somerville, gone to Sherman’s Café, and you could’ve watched me do laundry,” she quipped.

She had other pressing matters, such as a book review for The New York Times that was due, but Messud was looking for gizmos, gadgets, and books to entertain her children on the lengthy plane ride. However, in “a hideous confession,” she admitted that her children would probably be happier with a portable DVD player. Starting over by the books, between the Harry Potter cardboard cutouts and “An Inconvenient Truth” for younger readers, Messud perused the display of Mad Libs on the table. “I hate Dora. I can’t get Dora,” she muttered, kneeling and flipping through the books before deciding on a Pirate Mad Libs.

After asking whether magnetic truck cutouts would amuse a small child more than once, (the consensus was no) she checked out the Shrinky Dinks and the dinosaur eggs that “hatch” in water. As she browsed, Messud talked about the fact that she has always been a fiction writer; she worked as a journalist for a while, but it wasn’t her forte. She spent a year in Syracuse’s MFA program but ended up dropping out and moving to England, where Wood was living. As she searched unsuccessfully for the crayons among the shiny gadgets, Messud gently chided herself: “I’m being a eejit! A ninny!”

It has been a hectic year of promotion for “The Emperor’s Children,” and Messud is close to the end of book readings and signings. (She’s on the market as a professor in the fall.) The success of the book has been gratifying, but Messud noted that “the one thing it hasn’t been good for is writing another book.” And crafting her beautifully composed Henry James-ian sentences takes time – four years per book on average.

The “satire” tag has been applied to “The Emporer’s Children,” but for Messud the label is limited – “It doesn’t involve compassion,” she says. A first draft of the book played more satirically, but she took a different tack after Sept. 11. Compassion is important to Messud, right down to the characters she writes about. Even though they move in a world of privilege, she said, “I have compassion for them.”

Before long, Messud had a pile of books and crayons to amuse her children on the plane. Going to the cashier, she whipped out her frequent-buyer card and joked that this travel pack was integral to having “more resilient children.” Messud has been traveling frequently this year, and under Wood’s watch, the kids have been eating candy for dinner and own 12 new toys, she said. It’s a funny story. Messud is a sly wit, and it’s striking how she’s just as funny as you would expect from the droll humor in her writing. After gracefully acknowledging the compliment, she noted, rhetorically, in a line that could fit into her book, “Don’t you find in life people are a lot more unfunny than you wish?" 

Originally published in The Boston Globe Friday, June 22, 2007

Wayback Machine: Guy Fieri at the Copley Place Mall

[This is, of course, from 2007. And I must say while the guy’s “brand” is annoying, he was very personable like a friendly drunk uncle.]

At the Copley Place mall, the Food Network star proves that his future’s so bright, he has to wear shades

By Elisabeth Donnelly

Trying on Food Network chef Guy Fieri’s red Spy sunglasses makes a girl feel as cool as LeVar Burton playing Lieutenant Commander Geordi La Forge on “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” A slim pair of shades with rectangular mirrored lenses, they give an air of “mac” (as in “mac daddy,” to quote Fieri) to Fieri’s perfectly put-together look: bleached spiky hair, tattoos of grenades and horseshoes, and chunky gold and silver jewelry that he affectionately refers to as his “bling.”

Although Fieri’s biker look is a bit intimidating, in person he’s the same guy you see on TV: warm, friendly, charismatic, and a bit of a goofball. At the Copley Place mall a day before a Simon’s Super Chefs weekend of cooking demonstrations and autograph signing (he would spend more than two hours doing this at the Northshore Mall, and two more at the South Shore Plaza), Fieri’s goal was to check out the Sole Mio Sunglasses store. He’s a collector after all, and owns about 80 pairs.

His red Spy glasses matched his red Tex Wasabi’s T-shirt from the “rock ‘n’ roll sushi BBQ” he owns, with dueling logos of a cowboy riding a koi fish and a geisha riding a bull. Fieri’s tattoo artist did the lively cartoon logos, and Fieri loves them: “He busted it out so fat.” Back to the subject of his many pairs of sunglasses, Fieri noted, “As metro as that is, I sometimes [coordinate].” He then pointed out that his flip-flops come with a bottle opener on the bottom and proceeded to wrap a blue cloth napkin around Super Chefs producer Richard Gore’s head. Gore was wearing a Hawaiian shirt, and the head wrap accentuated his sushi chef look.

Before Sole Mio, Fieri went into the kitchen store Williams-Sonoma. A 30-something California native who owns four restaurants there, Fieri took a particularly modern road to “celebrity chef-dom”: He won the second season of “The Next Food Network Chef” last year. Fieri was initially apprehensive about the reality show process, but “my buddies saw the first year of the show and said, 'Aw dude, you can totally do that.’ ” Fieri sent in a video on the last possible day and beat out 10,000 contestants on his way to hosting “Guy’s Big Bite” and “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives” (the latter of which has featured Kelly’s Diner in Somerville.)

According to Fieri, his cooking career started when his mother got tired of her 10-year-old son’s complaints about her eggplant parmesan. His first attempt at a meal was a steak, some red sauce, and raw pasta that he crumbled up and put in the sauce. After taking a bite of the steak, his dad said, “This might be the best steak I ever had.” Laughing, Fieri admitted his father said something like that at every meal.

At Williams-Sonoma, Fieri chatted up the manager and talked about the three knives every kitchen needs: serrated, boning, and chef’s. He was particularly passionate about “honing down” his knives, a process of redefining and aligning the vertical tip of the knife that he likened to “making a mohawk.” After noticing the pristine 25-year-old aged balsamic vinegar on the shelves, he rhapsodized about the value of the vinegar. “It’s so misunderstood in American culture,” he said, citing the story about an Italian father who leaves a tub of balsamic vinegar to his son, who ends up selling it for two villas and a Ferrari.

“People get too lost in gadgetry,” said Fieri, and he pointed out products that actually are useful – the lemon/lime hand juicer for one: “I’ve been using them like crazy on my show,” he said. The sight of an old-fashioned apple peeler inspired Fieri to think up an instant recipe that uses the machine to peel a potato into a long, curly string, which is then fried with garlic, parsley, and parmesan cheese.

Fieri headed to Sole Mio, talking about his love of sunglasses. “I am the master of all bling,” he joked. In fact, he’s figured out another way to wear sunglasses: on the back of his head. It’s the perfect place for storing sunglasses, and with such a sweet collection, ranging from Oakleys with a Bluetooth and iPod fitting to the aforementioned Spys, losing a pair would be a bummer. Heed his advice: Fieri is evangelical about his sunglasses, and while simple, the back-of-the-head trick is remarkably effective. Just one of the many fun facts you can learn from Fieri. 

Originally published in The Boston Globe Friday, June 8, 2007

Wayback Machine: Brooke Hogan at the Mall

[I found a cache of articles that I had written that don’t exist online anymore, so I need to put them somewhere so they’re going here for now. I feel like a screenwriter with no produced screenplays lately. And yep, I got to go to the mall with Brooke Hogan and it was weird, in an American way.]

As the headlining pop star on a mall tour, deciding to shop around the very mall where you’re due to perform later can be a complicated proposition.

On this Sunday in July, 19-year-old “Hogan Knows Best” star and potential pop princess Brooke Hogan is set to headline the Simon DTour Live! Concert at the Emerald Square Mall in North Attleborough. For most of the day, Hogan eats pizza with her dancers and manages a series of meet ‘n’ greets with her young fanbase and interviewers.

Her mother, Linda, familiar to any fans of VH1’s Hogan-family reality show, stands imperiously in a corner, all blond hair, leopard print, and sky-high clear Lucite heels. The possibility of Hogan’s perusing a store requires negotiation with Linda, Hogan’s handlers, and the mall security guard.

Their decision: While shopping, Hogan can pose for pictures with her fans, but no autographs, please.

Hogan is hoping to cruise either the Forever 21 or Rave shops, but before she gets there, like a magpie, she’s drawn into junior retailer DEB.

“Cute!” she squeals, inspecting the shiny hot-pink heels on display. At 5'11", Hogan cuts an imposing figure, and she has the same cleft chin as her famous father, wrestling legend Hulk Hogan. For the teenager, fame and music has been wrapped together with her TV show. “The show hits all demos,” Hogan says, tapping on her Coke with manicured black nails, Fendi bag on her shoulder. “The show has good role models for kids.”

The store doesn’t have the pink heels in her size, and Hogan makes her way to the jewelry. Many of Hogan’s fashion choices are for the sake of performing, she explains, while fingering handfuls of shiny bangles: “They look like diamond bracelets from afar … Good for show.”

Hopped up on caffeine, Hogan flutters back to the shoes, muttering “10, 10, 10” as she browses the too-small offerings. “I’m a 12 ½,” she says. “My feet are, like, spreading by the minute.”

Hogan loves wearing heels, which she feels look best with “pants that are really long, or skirts that are really short.” She grabs a pair of white heels to give to her mom. “You know how hard it is to be a woman and have shoes that don’t fit?” she laments.

Besides her duties as a pop star, Hogan is beginning work on a clothing line. “We’re in the baby stages,” she says while inspecting a flashy prom dress, paying careful attention to its rhinestone and sequin detail. She adds, “I never wear pink, because I feel like a giant Barbie Doll.” When it comes to fashion, Hogan says, “I don’t exactly stick to one trend. I like to wear stuff that makes an impact.”

Teenage girls and 'tweens interrupt Hogan and ask for a photo; she happily complies. After a talk with her fans, Hogan brings her armful of goods up to the cashier, throwing a large Tweety Bird lollipop on the pile. “I’m going to get this for my dancer, to come onstage with for the song 'Tasty’,” she says. After a sweep through the store, Hogan’s jewelry, shoes, and apparel come to about $150. “I’m in a daze. You ever get in that stage where you’re just staring?” she asks, the shop-girls nodding in agreement. Then they ask for a picture with her.

Going through her purchases, Hogan points out her armfuls of bangles – a gift for her best friend, even though her pal sticks to jewelry by Jacob the Jeweler, nee Jacob Arabo, the famed hip-hop “bling king.” Hogan, on the other hand, likes “the cheap stuff.” She recounts her last visit to Jacob’s, where she did buy something – a watch – and starts to describe the diamonds on the timepiece as she exits DEB, but is distracted by the troop of teenage girls posing as mannequins in the store window. “Do you really do that?” says Hogan to the girls. 'Are you serious?“

The girls are in sparkly dresses, standing like Edgar Degas’s "Little Dancer of Fourteen Years” – one leg pointed forward, hands behind their backs – trying not to break their poses.

“I’ve never seen that before! That’s really crazy, too!” bubbles Hogan, standing outside the window and gesturing at the girls.

She breaks the spell: Flattered by the pop star’s attentions, the “mannequins” are now smiling and giggling as they try to hold their positions, keeping one leg pointed forward.

Originally published in The Boston Globe on Thursday, August 6, 2007.