[Note: Cathy Zymet, née Alter, has been a professional writer for many years. She has contributed to a number of periodicals, including many alternative weeklies, and Might, a defunct magazine skewed toward the institutionalized. She now lives in Washington, D.C., and among other projects, writes, for a largely juvenile audience, biographies of popular bands and singing groups. These books are available at Wal-Mart and Walgreens. This is the fourth in a series of indeterminate duration, in which Zymet will be chronicling her experiences. Her story is very real.]
EPISODE FOUR: THE RULES
Before I can compose the first words about LeAnn Rimes’ striking loss on Star Search or Kevin “Train” Richardson’s stint as a Disney World Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, Chelsea House asks that I follow their list of Guidelines for Writers. Some of their dictates like “number text pages continuously throughout the manuscript (not by chapter)” are standard fare. Others are more specific to the youth-market genre:
- Manuscripts should begin with an event that was a high point in the subject’s life (creating a “hook” that draws the reader in), and then proceed chronologically from childhood on.
- Keep prose lively and direct. Remember that your target reader is 10 to 12 years old.
- Assume that your readers have minimal background knowledge of your subject. Define or identify major concepts and technical terms.
- Use as many anecdotes as possible in your narrative. Avoid using fictionalized dialogue.
Implicit in the directives is what I call the Teen Beat Rule of Disclosure. Specifically, the puppy-love hearts of readers are too fragile and expectant and taboo subjects, like silicon bust-ins or Betty Ford bust-outs, have to be handled with cheerful obfuscation. In my previous works, I didn’t dare mention that LeAnn Rimes was a virgin (at publication), or that the Backstreet Boys smoke cigarettes and make fun of their handicapped fans. Which they do, by the way.
Not surprisingly, Chelsea House’s Guidelines for Writers are even more shilly-shally when it comes to outing celebrities. This pickle first arose when I was offered the Jonathan Taylor Thomas biography. At the time, there was an Internet-bred rumor circulating that Taylor Thomas, resident junior heartthrob on Home Improvement, wanted to leave the show because Tim Allen wouldn’t let his character Randy out of the proverbial closet. (Insert a snickering Tool Time joke here.) When I asked my editor if I would be allowed to entertain the scuttlebutt, he suggested I mention it only in passing and then quickly move on to the adorably coifed Taylor Thomas’s performance as the voice of Young Simba.
I got through the Taylor Thomas quandary by choosing to write about LeAnn Rimes instead. But there was no escaping Ricky Martin’s “orientation situation.” Here is what I wrote.
P((. Chapter 7: Life After La Vida
P((. If there’s one thing that Ricky Martin has managed to do throughout his career, it’s been to keep the details of his private life, well, private. But one of the dangers of being a famous celebrity is facing the scrutiny of the public eye. It almost comes with the territory. Ricky, however, still considered his personal territory off limits. When it came to talking about his latest single, his homeland, his penchant for Armani clothing, Ricky could blab until the cows came home. If a reporter asked about his love life, Ricky went from cow to clam, closing up tighter than a pair of his leather pants.
P((. As the twentieth century drew to an end, though, interest in everything Ricky was just beginning. In fact, Barbara Walters had chosen Ricky as one of her ten most fascinating people of 1999. He appeared on her show, along with Susan Lucci, Governor Jesse Ventura, and Monica Lewinsky, on November 30, 1999.
P((. Barbara began by commenting to Ricky that he seemed to be having fun with his new status as superstar, to which Ricky replied, “I’m enjoying the wave. It’s what I’ve been looking for, it’s part of my mission.”
P((. Before long, Barbara did what she is famous for: asking tough, personal questions. She, like the rest of America, wanted to know about Ricky Martin’s sexuality. There were rumors buzzing around, she intimated, that Ricky was homosexual. Now, she told him, was his chance to set the record straight.
P((. But Ricky didn’t fall into her trap. Long ago, he had made up his mind not to discuss the goings on in his bedroom. Despite pleas from Barbara, Ricky would not kiss and tell. Although he has been romantically linked to Rebecca de Alba, a popular television host and model in Mexico City, as well as Lilly Melgar, an actress who played his love interest on General Hospital, Ricky’s love life remains a mystery to all but his closest, most trusted friends.
Upon reading this, my friend Alan, an edgy and so far unpaid humor writer, remarked, "I haven’t seen tap-dancing like this since Fred Astaire hoofed it up in “Holiday Inn.” In my business, pal, the rules are understood. I have to be nice. I have to create heroes.