Answer: They both make celebrity appearances in my new book.
First off, let me say that the “book” is not technically a book yet, since I’m only on page 56. But it’s the first time I’ve written something that dictates the presence of real celebrities interacting (albeit fleetingly) with my characters. Usher and Matt Lauer are part of the world I’m building, the result of my protagonist’s dad’s sudden fame.
But bringing celebs into my story gave me pause: was it okay to use these famous names, or have I become a literary name-dropper? Even worse, am I using these people? The answer I came up with is no. Just like my book mentions Starbucks or the name of a certain Lady Gaga song, celebrities are part of our cultural landscape, relevant details that ground us in the present. If I were to make up a universally beloved pop singer instead of using Usher, my realistic contemporary world would feel phony and strange.
The fact of the matter is that there is often good reason for famous people to populate our fictional worlds (and no, I’m not talking about my prolonged 1986-88 fantasies of hooking up with Michael J. Fox). Woody Allen did it in MIDNIGHT in PARIS, where the appearance of famous figures from the past (Hemingway, F.Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald, Cole Porter, Gertrude Stein etc.) was the film’s main conceit. Brett Easton Ellis did it in GLAMORAMA. But you knew Brett Easton Ellis would make the list, didn’t you?
And most recently, Tom Perotta did it in THE LEFOTVERS, his amazing new novel about a Rapture-like event which causes millions of people on earth to mysteriously disappear, the following celebrities among them: John Mellencamp and Jennifer Lopez, Shaq and Adam Sandler, Miss Texas and Greta Van Susteren, Vladimir Putin and the Pope.
For some reason, I am in love with this list and I crack up every time I think of Perotta at his computer trying to come up with the perfect combination of famous names to disappear. (I think he succeeded.) Oh, how we would miss you, J-Lo.