But others argue that most writers, even highly respected, prize-winning novelists, pull from their lives in some way. “Storytellers from Jane Austen to Jay McInerney base their work on real life,” says Sykes. “For the reader that is half the fun of it, to me it doesn’t diminish a work of fiction or make it derivative in a negative way. In fact in a social comedy, if the book is to have any value and make any comment on society, it must seem as real as possible.”
But will Mortimer’s Southern Charm be a little too real for social circles? Capote ended up a friendless, drugged up drunk when Answered Prayers turned him from the darling of café society to a social pariah. After Capote died of liver cancer at age 59, author Gore Vidal commented that his death was “a good career move.”
Public scorn is one thing Lebenthal doesn’t worry about, despite the fact that she based two villains in The Recessionistas on people she knows. “The bad people in the story would have no trouble knowing who they are,” she says. “The power of the pen is the ultimate ability for revenge.”
If some write to get even, others for a fast buck and still others for fame, is it worth it in the end? The answer may depend on what you value most in life—friends or riches? Social clout or tabloid notoriety? Those aspiring to red-carpet royalty might be wise to try other avenues. “I think if anyone wrote a novel to attain celebrity, they would be nuts!” says Sykes. “Most novels languish in deep obscurity.”
Which brings us back to Mortimer, already a red-carpet regular, and already familiar with what can happen when you choose the pursuit of celebrity over social mores. With Southern Charm, it may be reasonable to assume Mortimer hopes to regain some of the status she lost after being widely ridiculed for High Society.
And as implausible a novel (presumably) written by Tinsley Mortimer may sound; it does make a measure of sense. After all, her life would make for a juicy read and—as I was recently reminded at an Upper East Side cocktail party—she does look every inch the chick-lit heroine. Which gave me an idea…
The crowd parted and there stood Tinsley. She was dressed in a floaty black frock, her hair as blonde and glossy as ever. I set down my drink—I’ve never been one for apple-flavored vodka—and gave her an air kiss. “Tell me about the book,” I said.
She batted her faux lashes. “It’s not like yours. My character comes from the South.”
“So does mine,” I said.
“Oh.” A tawny hand flicked to a glitter-dusted breastbone. “Oh. I’m sorry.”
The truth is I had never expected her to read my book. She was a busy girl. Photo ops. Designing handbags. And those eyelashes surely didn’t glue themselves on. “That’s okay,” I said.
She flashed an embarrassed grin.“I did host your party!”
I nodded, now wishing I had kept my mouth shut. Tinsley was sweet. And nice. I hadn’t wanted to put her on the defensive. “Really, it’s fine.”
“I would have read your book. But I don’t read. Like, ever.” There was a brief pause. A tiny line appeared between her bright blue eyes. “I mean, I did write my book.” End of chapter.