Complementing my interviews, the Author Spotlights are now running every weekday and this week features five authors from publisher Apostrophe Books. Today’s spotlight, the one hundred and eighty-seventh, is of novelist, scriptwriter and non-fiction author and interviewee Melissa Jo Peltier, the second of this week’s Apostrophe Books authors.
Melissa Jo Peltier joins us as today’s spotlighted author because she has just released her first novel, Reality Boulevard, published by London-based Apostrophe Books. Reality Boulevard was inspired by Peltier’s adventures in the backstabbing world of Hollywood and reality television, and though it reads as a satire, she says it is painfully based on the truth.
Melissa has been a writer / producer / director in film and television for over twenty-five years and is a two-time Emmy Award winner, winning her first Emmy for educational program at the age of 23. Since then, she has accumulated over 50 national and international awards and accolades for her work as a producer, writer, director and editor of both documentary and dramatic television and film productions. Those include a Women in Film award, a Humanitas Award, a Peabody Award and three Writer’s Guild of America nominations. Melissa is also the author of seven non-fiction books – five of them (all as co-author for ‘Dog Whisperer’ Cesar Millan) New York Times Best Sellers. She co-founded a television production company, MPH Entertainment, Inc. which is based in Burbank California and has created over 350 hours of original non-fiction and narrative programming, including the long-running series, Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan.
Melissa wrote, directed, and produced dozens of those programs. MPH also “discovered” the script for the most successful independent film of all time, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which she and her partners co-executive produced. Her most recent feature film was White Irish Drinkers, which she produced with her writer-director husband, Ghost Whisperer creator John Gray.
And now from the author herself:
I’ve always been a fictional storyteller in my soul, even though I spent many years in the non-fiction world. While the object of non-fiction is to communicate the truth, I believe drama and fiction can create a deeper, broader more universal truth than can cold hard facts. Reality Boulevard is my first published novel (I wrote a novel in college but it’s what you might expect from a collegiate first novelist) and I’m very excited about the reactions I’ve been getting, both from new readers who know nothing at all about the behind-the-scenes Hollywood I depict in the novel and find it fascinating to learn about, to colleagues in “the business” who’ve lived first hand some of the things my characters experience.
“You said all the things I’ve been thinking for a long time, but was too afraid to talk about,” said one colleague. Another said, “This novel is so funny and also so disturbing to me because it’s about things that happen every day that we don’t want to look at. “ Yet another bemoaned the fact that he had a mortgage and a college tuition payment and had to take jobs on reality shows that sometimes made him feel ashamed of his work.
There’s a scene in the novel in which Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker, Marty Maltzman, finds himself out of work after sixteen years and must pitch a show to two twenty-something cable television executives. These are the executives (“Ken” and “Kevin”) speaking, telling Marty what sort of shows they are looking for.
“Ken steepled his fingers and gazed thoughtfully up at the ceiling. ‘Dwarves have done very well for us in primetime … of course you can never go wrong with pimps, sluts, hoes and bitches.’ He winked at Kevin. ‘We don’t mean that in any kind of racist or sexist context, of course… Anyway, our best night of the week is our Sunday primetime lineup. We call it – for lack of a better term – our ‘freaks and losers’ block.'”
That scene sounds outrageous, but it’s actually taken nearly word for word from various meetings I’ve attended. It’s that kind of cynical attitude that makes me angry. There’s a saying that “you may be the only Bible someone reads today,” and in my lonely opinion, that’s an adage that more television executives and producers should take into account when they put anything – or any person – on the air. Sure, most people know “it’s only television” – but those images, stereotypes and behaviors seep into our subconscious and subtly affect how we see the world and how we act toward others. In the case of children and teens who watch reality TV, they don’t have the critical faculties to truly understand what is real and what is not. They internalize what they see on the air, and unless someone older and wiser sits down with them and helps them analyze what they’re seeing, they can co-opt those behaviors and attitudes.
The Girl Scouts did a study that looked at the way 1100 different girls were affected by watching a lot of reality television. http://blog.girlscouts.org/2011/10/new-girl-scouts-research-exposes-impact.html. Some of the results of that survey were positive, but many were sobering. Girls who watched the most reality TV expected a higher level of drama, aggression, and bullying in their own lives, and measured their worth primarily by their physical appearance.
As a novelist and fiction writer, I suppose my very first idol was Charles Dickens, and like him, I think everything I write has some sort of social message in it. What I aim for is Dickens’ ability to bury the social message beneath layers of rollicking entertainment and juicy cliffhangers, as he did in his novels that began as weekly newspaper serials. No one did it quite as well as Dickens did. I’d like people to read Reality Boulevard and my future novels (I’m working on a psychological thriller trilogy) for the entertainment alone, but come away thinking about a certain issue and about the world just a little bit differently.
Thank you, Melissa. Great to have you back. You can find more about Melissa and her writing via…
- Melissa’s website: www.melissajopeltier.com
- Her publisher, Apostrophe Books: http://apostrophebooks.com/books/realityboulevard
- Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17364636-reality-boulevard
- Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/apostrophebooks/reality-boulevard-by-melissa-jo-peltier
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