I much prefer watching the Red Carpet coverage to watching the Oscars, which to me, are comprised of a bunch of self-congratulatory, long-winded speeches about “craft” and “the work” intermingled with some songs, some dancing, and a few movie clips. All of the talk about how hard acting is makes it seem like going to a far-off land and pretending to be someone else is really taxing. (In case I didn’t make it clear, I don’t think it is.) But I do love the red carpet and watching bone-thin actresses step from giant, gas-guzzling limousines and try to navigate their way down a carpet in shoes that are too high for any human to walk successfully in. Watching this year, however, I was struck by how much parading the red carpet is like writing.
I can imagine a young actress spending months before the show meeting with stylists, thinking about how her hair should look, dealing with the age-old debate of smoky eye versus dewy glow, and finally arriving at the big day where dress, hair, and make-up come together in a flawless combination of sophistication and age appropriateness. Then, she walks the red carpet, not knowing that behind the scenes, away from the place where someone asks her “who are you wearing?” there are a gaggle of D-listers sitting high atop the venue watching her every move and critiquing every decision she and her stylist have made. “Really, Vera Wang? She’s far too young for that!” or “I would have gone with the smoky eye” or “Her hair is flawless but much more appropriate for someone like Helen Mirren or Cate Blanchett.” It is something that happens to all of us at some point: we think we look great, but come to find out that maybe…not so much.
Fortunately for those of us outside of the business of show, we don’t have perennial harpy Joan Rivers (love her comedy, hate her fashion commentary) or cotton-candy-haired Kelly Osbourne dedicating an entire hour to our fashion missteps on a cable television show. Many times, they love an actress’ dress, proclaiming it a “red carpet favorite” but other times, they hate it, pointing out where she zigged when she should have zagged. I find myself either nodding along, agreeing with what they have to say, or disagreeing vociferously. After all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It is subjective. My “red carpet favorite” is someone else’s giant dud.
We don’t have Joan Rivers and Kelly Osbourne. What we do have as writers, however, are online reviews and the like, the ones that make us feel like an ingénue walking our first red carpet every time a book comes out, pointing out our flaws, writing missteps, and plot holes that we didn’t know even existed.
It got me thinking about the writing process--getting ready for the "read carpet" perhaps?--something not dissimilar to getting ready for the red carpet. Writers spend months, sometimes years, perfecting their novel, putting a stopper in plot holes that they see, developing characters with an eye to detail and verisimilitude. Our books are read by agents, then editors, then a production person, a copyeditor, and probably a proofreader just to make sure no one missed anything along the way, confirming that our prose hemline is the right length and that our double-stick tape is holding us in where we are supposed to be held in, and let out where we need to add more depth and volume. Yet there are still a niggling problem or two that might show up, despite everyone’s best efforts. Reviewers, like Joan Rivers, will point to those problems and expose them for all the world to see. Sometimes, someone just don’t like your book, the one you spent months working on and thinking about, losing sleep when you couldn’t resolve something in your head. Other times, someone will love it. It all depends.
Thinking about this made me reflect on my own thin-skinned nature and how reading one bad review can ruin my whole day. My venue is much smaller—no red carpet here when a book comes out—but I relate to the young woman getting out of a limo, putting herself and her fashion choices on display and getting a verbal knock out from someone high up in the stands, someone who has a little familiarity with the process but who is not subjected to the same kind of scrutiny. Thinking about it reminded me that I need to remember that the whole “subjectivity” rule in that one person’s favorite dress is another’s fashion mishap. We can’t all like the same things or share the same opinion. What fun would that be? But we all must remember that most of us take to a task wholeheartedly and with all good intentions so that if you don’t like something, save the snark. Who knows? Maybe it will be you up there on the red carpet one day—literally or figuratively—and wondering if the smoky eye (or the dead body in chapter 2) was really the right choice.