Ben Affleck-Jennifer Garner Split: A Celebrity Ghostwriter Explains Why We Care (Guest Blog)

Author Hilary Liftin explores the appeal of gossipy celebrity accounts: “We simply crave human stories”

Here it is again, yet another Hollywood marriage going down in flames.

As a ghostwriter of celebrity memoirs, I have been reading about the Ben Affleck-Jennifer Garner split with two primary reactions: First, unsurprisingly, I can’t help but harbor the desire to help one of them tell his or her story — not just of the divorce, but (one day, when it’s all settled down) of a whole Hollywood career and life in the spotlight. Secondly, like all of us, I see how carefully planned this news release was. How desperately they must want to control — for themselves and their children — the publicity surrounding what is an incredibly private, difficult time.

This “Hollywood marriage” is a headline construct. Somewhere there are two real people who spent plenty of time behind closed doors, building a family, trying to make it work. Two conflicting responses run side-by-side for me: I want to collaborate on the story! These people deserve their privacy! They are the whole reason I wrote my first novel.

My book, called “Movie Star by Lizzie Pepper,” will be published later this month. I got the idea to write it a couple years ago, when reading about yet another celebrity marriage imploding in People magazine. I had both the insuppressible urge to help tell the story and the knowledge that it wasn’t about to be told, might never be, and why should it? But, I suddenly realized, maybe I could fulfill the weird obsession we have with such stories in another way: through fiction.

If I wrote the story of my dream celebrity client, I could indulge readers’ insatiable thirst for the story behind a tabloid divorce, and I could do it without invading anyone’s privacy. And so Lizzie Pepper was born. A fictional heroine for a fake celebrity memoir, “ghostwritten” by me. I decided to have Lizzie, a young actress, fall in love with a mega-star and find herself part of a couple whose every move is tabloid fodder. Her trials echo the celebrity struggles we see play out in public, and yet, as I like to say, no celebrities were harmed in the writing of this book.

The celebrity memoir, when done well, is more than a quick-and-dirty exploitation of a big name. Brilliant performances on the stage and screen, high-def photos, reality shows, appearances on talk shows, tweets — all these media only get us so far. These are manufactured sound bites and teasers that fuel the quest to know more. To know the real person, the behind-the-scenes, the behind-the-behind-the-scenes. The celebrity memoir is the one space where a star is given the space and freedom to tell the story she wants to tell, in her words (with a little help), in depth. It is where your favorite star enters your home, sits next to you on the sofa, and directly, intimately tells you what it was like.

Why do we want this? Why aren’t we satisfied with an actor’s performance? Why do we need to know what he was thinking when he dumped his wife for his hot co-star? Is it just salaciousness? My theory is that it has little to do with appreciating the star’s accomplishments or talent and wanting to know him or her better because of that respect. Hasn’t reality TV proven that we are interested in anyone? Give us a little of someone’s life, draw us in with enough drama and clever camera angles, and we’re hooked. We simply crave human stories — ones with a beginning, middle and end.

Hollywood fiction seems to be synonymous with satire. To write about movie stars is to make fun of them. But fame is a complex job. Working so closely with my clients on their books has only made me understand and respect them.

And so, though Lizzie Pepper waltzes through the exotic private islands and over-the-top parties of the rich and famous, her story is as sincere and honest as the ones we wish our favorite celebrities would dish. I wanted “Movie Star by Lizzie Pepper” to be as fun and juicy as a real celebrity tell-all, but even more so because Lizzie holds nothing back.

And maybe, if I succeeded, we can give the likes of Ben and Jen a much-needed break.

Author Hilary LiftinAuthor Hilary Liftin has ghostwritten and co-written numerous New York Times best-selling memoirs and is the author of “Candy & Me” and coauthor of “Dear Exile.” Her debut novel, “Movie Star by Lizzie Pepper,” will be published by Viking on July 21. She lives in Los Angeles.