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Michael Wolff Is a …. (and Other Tidbits)

The road to the Betty Ford Clinic is littered with memoirists who want to be novelists. My own novel is 80% fact but I'm selling it as fiction. (Shhhh! Don't say anything.) Writers are basically vain, self-centered, lazy people who couldn't get real jobs in banking or sales or the healthcare industry, and most of them can't be bothered to make stuff up.

Why should we?

Why make up corny scenes that never happened when you can just write down the weird crap that happens to you every day?

Why make up dialogue when you can just copy down what your friends say?

Why make up a love interest when you can just go on a bunch of bad dates? Or write about your neighbor's bad marriage?

Why look for the "emotional truth" when no one even knows what that means?

Writing Is Easy???But It's Easier to Talk about Writing!

So yesterday Larry King Live called...

...And six hours later, Ray pulled up to Sherwood in a black town car and we're off. There was a tense moment when my brother insisted Ray take this shortcut to Portland he knows (Ray didn't take it). I busied myself with all the really smart things I would say and whether I should go with lightly tousled hair or a ponytail. (I went with tousled).

We arrived. We were whisked away. (I love getting whisked.) Into a large room, empty except for a wooden chair and a camera that looked like the Super8 cam my Uncle Freddie had in 1974 (p. 41 in my memoir).

A technician clipped a mic to my shirt, and stuck an IFB in my ear. (Fifteen years in the news business and I still have no idea what that stands for.) We consider whether to go with the "daytime" Mount St. Helens background or the "nighttime" Portland skyline. I'm wearing a light blue shirt so I ask for "daytime." The producer decides to use nighttime.

Two minutes to six I hear Larry's voice in my ear. "Just stare at the camera and talk." I can't see Larry (or anyone) and I can barely hear the other guests but I do it. I stare at the camera and talk. Stare and talk. Stare, nod and talk. It wasn't until I got home and watched the tape that I realized...

Michael Wolff is a Dick.

He called memoir a "new and squishy" genre.

New??? Tell that to this man, who published this guy's memoirs in 1885. Tell that to St. Augustine and Julius Caesar!

Squishy??? Putting pen to paper and writing an honest, often heartbreaking, sometimes hilarious story of one's life is squishy? Gee, I thought squishy was writing for a magazine with naked celebrities on its cover and calling it journalism.

And The Oscar Goes To???

I want to thank all the people who helped make this blog possible. First to all my fans who posted comments. Thanks mom! To my brother Anthony (do you think you sold any of your books?). To Teresa for running a tight and sometimes sinking ship. To Gianna and Anthony (Jr.) who miss me (see comment). To my brother Richard, you spelled hysterical wrong. To everyone who thinks I'm funny, especially, and who read my book and left all of those sweet and touching comments about it. Thank you.

And thank you Dave at Powell's, who promised a shelf-talker blurb and also to put my books in the window if I plugged Powell's on Larry King.

You like me, you really like me...!

Shout Outs to....

  • Steve Martin, who wrote a hilarious essay for the New Yorker titled "Writing is Easy." (I told you Rule #1: I will shamelessly steal ideas.)
  • Kudos to Drew Barrymore for going on SNL to make fun of herself and her "golden globes." Cool.
  • Vince and Owen for making me laugh this week.
  • And especially to Mark who always makes me laugh.

And to all you aspiring writers out there, I'd like to leave you with this???.

"Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon who one can neither resist nor understand."
George Orwell, 1946

Books mentioned in this post

  1. Office Politics: Blue and Red... New Trade Paper $25.50

Carole Radziwill is the author of What Remains: A Memoir of Fate Friendship

35 Responses to "Michael Wolff Is a …. (and Other Tidbits)"

    Janis B. January 27th, 2006 at 1:38 pm

    I loved "What Remains." It was a wonderful book. I read it three times, each time was a little different :-)Michael Wolff is a jerk. I've enjoyed your blogs (is that what you call this?) You'll need to do this again after your next book is out.

    Come back to Oregon.

    A Smart-ass January 27th, 2006 at 1:54 pm

    Maybe Rich would like to help you spell Caesar?

    Ed.'s note: A Smart-ass — Good catch. The editors here at Powells.com have taken a break from our busy Friday afternoon foosball schedule to correct the typo. Which we should have caught in the first place. Thanks.

    E. January 27th, 2006 at 2:12 pm

    Carole, Need more autographed copies of your book. Bought ten at NY booksigning (your hero) How do I get them ? Best.

    jan January 27th, 2006 at 4:04 pm

    I watched you on Larry King last night and you were great! I couldn't wait to read what you had to say today.
    Michael Wolff is even worse then you said. I like VF but can't stand him. Good comments!
    I might buy your book

    Tom January 27th, 2006 at 5:30 pm

    I caught the show and thought you were very good. I have never seen Wolff on TV before- I knew his writing was spotty but he really made no sense on LK. What a weird beard. Great job, though- I am going to read What Remains. Where do you get your hair done?

    Shan January 27th, 2006 at 5:57 pm

    I agree with the squishy comment. I hope when I have my 15 minutes of fame I am able to come up with a better response than that!

    Liked the tousled hair.

    Andy January 27th, 2006 at 6:22 pm

    It's not surprising that someone would embellish a story to get it sold. It's not unreasonable for Oprah to change her mind. And it's understandable that she would want to bring Frey back to discuss it. But I think the real question is: did Frey KNOW she had changed her mind when he walked onto that stage the second time? Or did she ambush him? That's the most important part of this story.

    R. Chip DeGlinkta January 28th, 2006 at 4:05 pm

    Writers lie. That???s what they do. They carefully edit, pear down, turn fuzzy memories magically to crystalline pithy axioms, etc. Memoirists are the worst about this, and Ms. Radziwill is no different. In accentuating, omitting or censoring their more or less flattering moments however minutely, driven by the desire for image, love or money, they show you only what they want to, and in creating this partial image they perpetrate untruth. They lie, and from there lies we glean what we will and piece together our own subjective truth.

    It???s not up to writers to delineate the non-existent ???truth??? to their readers. If a reader needs to qualify a writer beyond their message, the onus is on them. They need to take responsibility for their own immoral behavior. If I decide to misrepresent myself as Robin Hood or turn my trip to the supermarket into an Odyssey, that???s my call.

    What about the NY Times food critic that just posed as a waiter, or the woman who posed as a man, or ???Black Like Me???? People were deliberately misled, reactions were fraudulently elicited, documented and sold.

    So what, to retain your integrity you are only allowed to misrepresent yourself to people up to the point that your book is published, then you have to pull back the curtain. Ay yi yi.

    I thought your Larry King interview was sanctimonious and annoying. The other lady, too. Not to mention naïve and self-serving. Insinuating you couldn???t lie if you tried - what rubbish! Doff the angel wings, honey.

    As far as your list of questions ??? ???Why should we make up corny scenes??????? and so forth. Because some writers like to use their imagination, and some readers enjoy that.

    R.Chip DeGlinkta, Liar

    olympia January 29th, 2006 at 8:34 am

    Hi Carole, even though I had never heard of you before I saw the LK Show on Friday, I thought you came across quite well, and would love to read your book "What Remains". It's true when you say that we don't need to make up things when we write, I mean I could tell you some doozies bout living in Italy. I am Italo-Canadian and have lived here for almost 21 years, unfortunately many things don't come over here except for the hyped publicity stuff, like Dan Brown, J.K. Rowling, Paolini etc., too bad that authors like you don't get known so much in some European countries, I mean if I didn't have a SAT Dish or Internet I would never know what's going on back home, and also never hear about new authors , Oh and the tousled hair? Great Stuff, Very european. Ciao and take care Olympia.

    korg January 29th, 2006 at 5:06 pm

    Let me ask you this. When you tell a story to a friend do you add characters, change the order of events to build suspense, exaggerate a little to make your point more clear or for the reward of a good laugh?

    In my opinion story telling in many ways helps to create culture ??? both fiction and non- fiction. Stories add to the cannon of our experiences to that we can learn about each other ??? a mix of memoir and fiction.

    Why are we all getting so fussy about the truth ??? look into the grey, the ambiguous, that is where we may come close.

    Although I???ve never read his memoir, I believe in the squishy.

    Christine Cancelmo January 30th, 2006 at 12:27 pm

    Carolyn, I just finished your squishy (only kidding, I also thought that guy was "a dick") memoir. Memoirs are my preferred genre to read. I went on to read Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking and am now reading Name All the Animals. Themes of love and loss. What could be more powerful. I also love, love, love Brokeback Mountain - the short story and film. I so loved your memoir, your colorful family, your honesty about your husband's family. And, I was so glad to see you in person on Larry King. Boy, from your description it sounds really isolating and artificial to be on one of those panels. And, didn't Larry King keep calling your Carol? I' m not at all condoning what James Frey did, but feel that the publisher should have taken more responsibility in the whole mess. And, after watching Oprah rake Frey over the coals I started worrying about what he might do to himself - he did say something about he wished there was a gun backstage. I haven't heard anyone else refer to that comment. Sorry to be so wordy. I'm so glad you mentioned Powells, so I could look your blog up.

    marycarolyn February 12th, 2006 at 6:35 pm

    I chose your memoir for my book club [we are in our 25th year. I'm leading the discussion tomorrow night and came across this blog in researching what I'm going to say. I can't say that it's helped me formulate my presentation but it has provided the means to contact you and express my opinion. I thought your book was absolutely compelling. I feel as though I was there throughout, like a really good movie you draw the viewer/reader in. I grew up in Suffern, Kingston, love NY, went to Cambodia, worked at ABC, met married Anthony, loved John and Carolyn, etc, etc, WOW!
    Ever thanks,

    Lori Byrd February 14th, 2006 at 12:30 am

    Loved your book. It moved me. Seriously. You were so brave to put your heart out there. Thank you for giving this to the world. I pray you will have peace, joy and love in abundance throughout your life.

    Michele February 15th, 2006 at 7:10 pm

    Found this blog by accident while doing a search for Carole's next book (which I now know is not yet out). Just wanted to chime in with the others who have said how touching and well written What Remains is. Words can't express how much I loved reading it. I saved it to read again and again--something I rarely do (I usually pass books on to friends to spare myself of clutter). And then I actually wrote Carole a note telling her how much the book moved me--something I have NEVER done. Not sure if she got my note, or will read this post, but if so--thanks again for being brave enough to pour your heart out onto paper for all of us to examine.

    Ann Vassiliou February 18th, 2006 at 12:57 pm

    Just wanted to add my thanks for writing What Remains. Not only are you a top-notch writer, but I was finally able to picture, through your eyes, what Carolyn Bessette Kennedy was really like...something the media had never been able to do.

    Thank you.

    Your courage, bravery, sense of humor and true-blue honesty moved me deeply.

    You're the best.

    Ann Vassiliou

    Marsha Breil February 24th, 2006 at 2:33 pm

    Just now, within the last quarter hour, I finished the book, "What Remains." It has been in the back of my mind since I stumbled upon the author on LKL recently, missing more than I watched to my dismay. I purchased the book on Tuesday and have read it in between a work schedule, the hairdresser and a migraine, which unfortunately "still remains." I could not wait to read the next sentence each time I had to put the book down. Thanks for a story of love despite all odds; for being honest when you would have seemed much more noble at times to have expressed yourself as an emotional hero. I loved the mastery of the words and the placing of them in unordinary ways. On a personal note to a person I do not know, bless your heart as you heal.

    C. Chavez February 27th, 2006 at 5:58 pm

    I just finished your book "what remains" it was a wonderful love story, and I don't know how you were able to survive the untimely deaths of the most important people in your life. But God bless you for telling the story that you did. I truly enjoyed it. I loved the part about your own immediate family, and the dinners that were anything but proper, (this could have been at my house when I was growing up) Italian families are like that aren't they ? smile....Thank you for a wonderful read, and letting the rest of us know what a wonderful set of friends you had with John and Carolyn. ( She was truly a friend)You were very blessed to have found the love that you had with Anthony and with your friends.... I know you miss them dearly.

    Good luck with your next book, I can't wait...

    Lee Norwood February 28th, 2006 at 4:57 pm

    At the end of the day...Carole lost three of the most important people in her life. The loves of her life. I read each and every word in the book and was proud of her for putting it down on paper. It can be cathartic to write and I hope it helped get her to the next level of grieving...whatever that is. I cried through most of the story.... Partially because I am sad about what happened and partially because I have been driving on 495 and shopping in the stores where Carole and Carolyn shopped and I have a best friend who would do for me what Carolyn did for Carole....and if she died, part of me would die too and to have that on top of the tradgedy trifecta is something I would never want to go through. Here's to friendship- it has nothing to do with money or fame. Thanks for sharing your intimate friendship and reminding us that it can all end (quickly and without warning and long and drawn out)- so love it while you have it.

    Frank March 2nd, 2006 at 11:46 pm

    It is sad that the likes of R. Chip has yet to be fortunate enough to meet and know someone like you.
    You are such a good friend,
    how can I ever thank you?

    donna March 24th, 2006 at 2:43 pm

    Just finished "What Remains" yesterday and am still thinking about it. Very powerful. I'd like to see it made into a movie. Congratulations on baring your soul to all of us. I hope life is bringing joy into your life again.

    Debby Q March 27th, 2006 at 10:52 am

    I have read many, many books, and I like to think of myself as a writer, but I have never before felt compelled to attempt contact with an author. Carole, your book is brilliant. I could not put it down. I applaud you for sharing your story honestly. You allow your reader to tiptoe into hallowed ground. May your journey continue with peace and grace. Blessings to you ---

    Maura March 28th, 2006 at 2:56 pm

    I realize that this blog was written several months ago but I literally just finished your book (for book club as well- my choice and everyone is very satisfied!) and I immediately googled your name. I just wanted to say that I could not put the book down and I'm sure like many others was moved to tears. Also, your honesty about not being able to handle the stress at certain parts was fresh and real. I do not wish that sort of pain on anyone and your courage is impressing to say the least. I look forward to more books!

    Marilyn May 12th, 2006 at 5:39 pm

    I have now read "What Remains" three times - each time picking up a different emphasis of your book. The first time through was just a general quick read. The second time through I was concentrating on the different drs, hospitals, drugs, etc. The third time through, it was to just enjoy your story. You are truly a woman to be admired for your courage in such a difficult season of your life.

    Since I am also a cancer care-giver, I appreciated your book most from the caregiver side you wrote about. I can't imagine, as a newly wed, going through fibrosarcoma with your spouse. I can't imagine losing your support system & your closest friends just before your husband's death.

    My husband and I have been married a long time - since 1970. In 2002 he was operated on at Johns Hopkins for a rare cancer (non-curable so far). Your book helped me to relate to how you say that cancer quickly becomes "us" with the 3-month "hold your breath" check-up cycles. We have also been through several "Dr. Best of the best" (our surgeon & oncologist really are the best fortunately). We have also been through the "If you were my brother" meetings and yes, just like you, I'm there taking notes trying to make some since out of what they are saying. Now, we are almost at the "not so much a patient anymore, but a guest who has overstayed his welcome" stage since it has now spread to his bones. Fortunately, my husband is oblivious to this stage (even though he is in health care & well aware of what they are telling him). He is still working and planning for our retirement, his next golf game, and our next vacation together.

    Thank you for pouring your life out on the pages of this book. I cheered you on as you continued your education. You gave me hope in the fact that even if your spouse is in the process of dying, that trips & adventures together are still important & possible. (I had never heard of the International Medevac service).

    Thank you for sharing your story. I hope to read more books from you, and I wish you well in your future endeavors.

    Paula Salvio May 12th, 2006 at 7:55 pm

    Dear Carole, I picked up your memoir in a borders bookstore in the Baton Rouge airport the other day. I had spent a few days working with students and teachers on a writing project in Baton Rouge. The students I worked with were relocated after the storm, and they were using writing to give coherent form to their incomprehensible loss. I'm a Professor at the University of New Hampshire where I teach courses on writing and feminism. I've just finished a book on the teaching life of Anne Sexton, which will be out next year. Somehow, your book escaped me. It may be because I needed to stop reading memoir to finish my own book - a mixed genre of autobiography and biography. I am planning to teach your book this summer - it is moving in ways that continue to elude me. You never once slip into cliche or sentimentality, and you endow Carolyn with genuine warmth, grace and a magnanimous soul.

    My question is this: Why did you elect to place your family in the background after the opening chapters? Was this a conscious decision on your part? I wondered where your parents were (I sensed they were there) during the anguish you lived through - and you recognize your sister-in-law in the acknowledgments, but she is virturally absent from the heart of your narrative. I wonder this, in part, because I imagine that the emotional and intellectual labor you and Anthony and your family took up to create a life together would offer others insights that are important. Ways into negotiating through the difficult terrain of class and love in marriage - themes that so few in our culture dare to engage.
    These are perhaps clumsy questions. I've never written on a blog before, and so I feel a bit like I may be inappropriately dressed.

    Thank you for your exquisite book -
    Best Wishes,
    Paula Salvio

    Camille May 24th, 2006 at 1:45 pm


    I took your workshop at the Wordstock festival and hope that if you are around Portland for any period of time you will consider a writers group for local memoirists like me who admire your work and would wash your windows for an opportunity to get more inspiration and guidance from a pro.

    Thank you for your work, your humor, and your spirit.


    Jaana Garber August 15th, 2006 at 8:53 am

    You are a gifted and a strong woman; you have experienced a lot of sad things early in life, but you have a lot of living left to do - enjoy the journey. I'm sure all your "fans" would like to hear another note from you!
    Jaana from Atlanta

    Jo-Ann Zyla August 21st, 2006 at 1:38 pm


    I have read your book twice and am going for a third reading. I find myself rereading your book in search of the meaning for how moved I am: your description of John K. singing the children's song about the bear to your husband; the excerpts by Arther Miller and Edna St. Vincent Millay; the honest portrayals of your awareness of class boundaries and sutbtleties and the hard-core depiction of the exhaustion and grinding erosion of a long terminal illness and the shock and cruelty of sudden death. You depict growing up in a blue collar family in the 70's with pride and contrast that with your husband's silver spoon childhood in images that speak of a deep, observant sensitivity. Your great capacity for loving people and for appreciating their authenticity gives me hope as I spend my life seeking out deeper human connections/relationships. You MUST be an outstanding human being and I truly hope to read much more of your work. Thanks so much for adding such a rich experience to my summer.

    Jo-Ann Zyla
    Lions Bay, BC, Canada

    Karen August 28th, 2006 at 2:38 pm

    Carole, I finished your memoir recently. I read it not once, but more than 4 times during one week, cover to cover. I was obsessed...the only reason I can think of for this is perhaps because my best friend since age 12 is going thru chemo for breast cancer for the third time in the past five years...IBS, a rare type, highly fatal. It's insidious because it creeps thru the lymph nodes of the skin. You can actually *see* it, but you can't cut it off like a tumor. You can't cut it out. Radiation only goes so far. There is no proven perfect chemo cocktail to use. If you survive long enough, you keep from losing your mind by entering "management mode." Chemo sessions become like trips to the dry cleaners, just another errand to run.

    I don't ask my dear friend for progress reports very often - I don't want to hear that the spot is still there. So we talk about other things...my crazy mother, how her only child is doing at school...we don't talk about holidays in the distant future, just the ones nearest on the calendar, the ones she has to be around for because she has chemo scheduled that week...

    I learned so much from your experience. I can only hope that I never have to put that knowledge to practical use. My friend, her husband, and their only child are holding on, and living their lives. It's just like you said - what else can you do when you're staring cancer in the face and your future is no longer certain?

    Thank you so much for sharing.

    Karen in Atlanta

    Khchristianhna October 6th, 2006 at 1:12 pm

    I bought the book and almost threw it away. Too much "name dropping" for me. I believe Carole was an opportunist who really never loved Anthony as a girlfriend or wife should but loved him as a "stepping stone" to her career and the Kennedy family. Reading the book I just felt he was an annnoyance to her but she needed his family name to validate herself. If she is honest she will admit this. I am sure that is how the Radziwill and Kennedy families feel but they wanted Anthony to be happy at the end of his life and tolerated her for him. Now she will live off this "name" for the rest of her life instead of getting a life of her own. She used him and she will keep using him in my opinion.

    donnalee November 9th, 2006 at 8:29 pm

    I really admire your spirit. I really admire your strength. Don't listen to the negative comments. They have not lived your life. I enjoyed your book, even though it was very painful in parts. I learned something from a woman younger than myself. You had to learn some of life's hardest lessons much sooner than most. You were very young to go through what you did. I love your line that 'Ultimately what remains is a story. In the end it's the only thing any of us really owns." I learned from your story and wish you peace and happiness. Look forward to your novel.


    Caterina January 9th, 2007 at 12:42 am

    What a wonderful book - I finished it 2 weeks ago and keep thinking about it and going back to it...Carole Radziwill is an original, honest and brilliant writer - what a strong lady - come see us in Australia. I can't wait to read your novel - I hope your quirky family from Suffern are in there somewhere!
    Great Stuff -

    How Odd May 14th, 2007 at 7:58 pm

    Carole writes about not making up stuff and just writing what you actually experiance... yet, in her "acknowledgement" page, she thanks her family for letting her "steal" their stories. So, how much of this book is "hers", and how much is her family's memories?? (I loved the book by the way, but found this odd)

    Deb Levy July 15th, 2007 at 10:30 am

    Carole - I just finished your book and I loved it. As another Suffern girl who worked at Caldor (graduated in '82 and played flute with you) it was great to have someone capture a piece of life in an authenitic and rich manner. My dad died last year, so I spend a lot of time coming to terms with grief and memories. You are gifted writer and I am eager to read your next book.
    Best of luck.
    Deb Levy

    Jen F August 4th, 2007 at 11:10 am


    Just finished your book. Prior to reading it, I did not know of you or your husband, other than the name. My stomach felt funny while reading it, and I found myself squirming a lot from your experiences--so very sad and uncomfortable. Talk about having a bad decade! You and Carolyn had a good relationship, albeit corny from my standards, but there was certainly a lot of love there. And Anthony. . .the amount of suffering that man went through is indescribable. I know its been a while now, but I hope you continue to heal.

    garritano October 9th, 2008 at 11:05 am

    I just bought your book. I haven't read it yet. I only read what I found online. Pages 18-21 made me cry. I read it to my husband, Suzanne's little brother. Thank you for speaking of them kindly. I know it will mean alot to Caroline to know you have happy memories of the 2 of them.

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