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Contriving Characters From Celebrity Culture For 'Lizzie Pepper'


Lizzie Pepper is a household name we haven't heard until this summer. A celeb identified by her nickname, formerly married to the world-famous Rob Morris - gorgeous, wealthy and relentlessly famous - living life that's both removed for most of us but ceaselessly exposed. Now facelessness is not an option. So why not finally write her own tell-all about her all in her own life? "Movie Star By Lizzie Pepper" is a novel, her first, from Hilary Liftin, who has written best-selling memoirs with Tori Spelling, Miley Cyrus ad other A-listers. Hilary Liftin now us from NPR West. Thanks so much for being with us.

HILARY LIFTIN: Hi, Scott. Thanks for having me.

SIMON: Let's get this out of the way first. Who are these characters really?

LIFTIN: These are fictional characters, but they're pulled from the tabloids. I'm as obsessed with tabloid culture as everybody else, if not more so, because of my job as a ghostwriter. And I'm always fantasizing about which celebrities might eventually want me to write their stories. But not every celebrity with a good story wants to write it, or sometimes they want to wait longer than I want to wait. So then it occurred to me that I could actually write my dream celebrity tell-all, the juiciest one imaginable.

SIMON: Yeah.

LIFTIN: And I wouldn't have to do it on someone else's timeline.

SIMON: You wouldn't have to bother about there being actual real people involved.

LIFTIN: Exactly.

SIMON: When Liz and Rob meet, they're in different positions in the celebrity wheel, aren't they?

LIFTIN: They are. He's an A-list megastar, and she's much younger and was a child actress on a "Mad Men"-like show and is now trying to find her way in movies, has done a bunch of indies but really hasn't had a bunch of success.

SIMON: One thing you realize when reading this book, I think, is that at some level, celebrity marriages are mergers.

LIFTIN: Yes, and this one, in particular, ends up being more of a merger that Lizzie Pepper realizes going into it. She goes into it quite naively and thinks it's - she's being swept away by her Prince Charming. And the further she gets into it, the more she realizes that this was far more calculated then she knew and continues to be orchestrated in ways that she's not aware of.

SIMON: As absolutely buying her - because I had the advantage of reading press material before I open a book - you're researching that these are not two people in particular but the people that maybe I'd like to encounter some time, and I'm not going to wait. I'm going to write the novel. I was absolutely buying that until I began to read about One Cell.

LIFTIN: The cult in the book, yes.

SIMON: The cult in the book. And a reader could be accused for thinking that's scientology, which is just a step from jumping there to thinking this is Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes.

LIFTIN: There is a cult in this book that I invented. It's a mind-body cult that's based in LA. And I would be surprised if it truly resembles any other cults since I made it up. But the role that the cult plays in the book is what is important to me because I wanted Lizzie's husband, Rob, to be involved in an organization that intrigued her, drew her in. And we had to believe that she would marry him in spite of, or because of, her involvement and then learn more about the organization that started to give her the creeps.

SIMON: But when your children begin to talk that way.

LIFTIN: Her children, she has twin boys, and she starts becoming very uncomfortable with what their role will be in the church, and she decides she has to flee eventually.

SIMON: What - when we're going over possible stories in an editorial meeting, somebody at the table will often ask, well, who can really relate to this before we decide to do a story? Because we don't want to do stories that just touch on an elite to listeners. So why are the lives of celebrities so fascinating to millions of people? I mean, people living on the margin of life can be fascinated by the Kardashians.

LIFTIN: I think there are two answers to that question. The first is why write or why cover these elite people and their story. And the answer to that is that I wanted to show them as regular people. They are regular people to whom this happened. You know, Lizzie Pepper wants to feel like a regular person. And inside, she's always been a regular person. And when we read this book, it's ultimately not a book about celebrities. It's a book about marriage and what can come between two people. The second part of the question is why are we so fascinated with celebrity lives. Why do the Kardashians matter? And one of the answers that I've come up with is that maybe we just like stories, and these are the people that some good storytellers have chosen to put in front of us. So literally, you shoot a TV show with anyone, give it good lighting, egg people on, get some drama out of them, give them a few drinks, and then put their pictures in every stage of undress in tabloids. And our curiosity is cultivated rather than innate.

SIMON: Is there anyone who's name we'd recognize now who's story you would really like to write?

LIFTIN: I think as a ghostwriter, I always think about who are the big, famous people who just haven't done it. And Stevie Nicks has not written a book. Bruce Springsteen has not written a book. I mean, how can we not dream of these people? I think that Caitlyn Jenner is ripe. And, you know, what I dream about is somebody who's led a rich life and appears to have made interesting decisions along the way and as an artist of some sort and can tell a story where people already know the greatest hits of it but want to know what happened in between.

SIMON: Hilary Liftin, her new novel "Movie Star By Lizzie Pepper." Thanks so much for being with us.

LIFTIN: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.