Do you think that being a gossip writer has helped you on your journey to be an author? If so, how? If not, why? Are they very different?
When I moved to NYC after grad school, I had no money but I had a plan: Get a job at The New Yorker while finishing the great American novel, and then continue on to literary fame and fortune and fancy parties full of smart people eating cheese cubes and discussing books. The New Yorker, it turns out, wasn’t hiring.
Actually almost no one was hiring. I paid ten bucks (a fairly substantial chunk of my net worth) to go to a magazine job fair where lines wrapped around the tables to simply drop your resume into bins already overflowing with resumes. And many of those resumes, I suspected, boasted things a tad more impressive than my work at The Daily Northwestern.
One booth had a bowl of cheap chocolate kisses; I was trying to eat $10 worth when a middle-age dude in a suit asked if I was a reporter.
“You’ve got a look we can use,” he said.
I wondered if he was hitting on me.
He handed me his business card from The National Enquirer. Okay, I thought the same exact thing you’re thinking now, but it turns out no, they don’t just make things up. And No it’s not Bat Boy and Fat Cat; that’s their now-defunct sister publication The Weekly World News.
The look he “could use” was basically just “young.” They wanted stringers to go undercover at bars and clubs and report on any celebrity hijinks.
This was not the life of hob-knobbing with Pulitzer Prize winners at art galleries I had planned. This seemed all kinds of shady, and I envisioned many, many conversations that included me saying the phrase “no, not the one about aliens.” This also paid a heck of a lot more than the temp work I’d been doing that involved a pyramid-y scheme of booking doctors for phone conferences. I took the card.
And you know what, it was awesome! Over the past decade, I’ve worked in some capacity for nearly all the celebrity weeklies—Life & Style, Star, In Touch, and Us Weekly. I learned a ton as a reporter, and I got to see really interesting stuff that I never would have otherwise. Strip clubs in Montreal where an A-list bad boy spent his bachelor party; a 100-person town in South Dakota where an actress was filming a movie; some crazy party in Geneva where a star was shell for a watch company.
More importantly I learned that whether it’s War & Peace or some tale about Kim and Kanye or Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, readers are really looking for a compelling narrative that reflects something about their own experience and the human experience. They just want a good story.
Over the years, I have made it to a few of those literary type soirees I’d originally imagined. And you know what, a lot of times after you eat the cheese cubes and discuss the book, a lot of people want to talk about Brad and Angie.
About the Author
After serious pursuits of literature at Northwestern (BSJ) and Ohio State (MFA), Shari Goldhagen discovered she had a knack for sifting through celebrity trash and worked as a gossip writer for publications including The National Enquirer, Us Weekly, and Life & Style Weekly. And her articles on pop culture, travel and relationships have appeared everywhere from Cosmopolitan to Penthouse. She has received fellowships from Yaddo and MacDowell and currently lives in New York City with her husband and daughter.