Interview with Sharon Krum Kiersten Marek One on One

portrait Interview with Sharon Krum

interviewed by Kiersten Marek

Published in Issue No. 60 ~ May, 2002

Sharon Krum, originally from Australia, is a freelance journalist living
in New York City. She has written on topics as diverse as women on death
row, cigar-smoking, and the life of budding starlet Natalie Portman. Walk
of Fame
is her first book.

Kiersten Marek: I read that you had trouble getting Walk of
published in the U.S., even after you published it in England
and Australia and sold it as a screenplay. What do you make of this?

Sharon Krum: The experience of trying to get Walk of Fame
published in the U.S. was almost comical and actually realised many of
the themes in the book. My agent had no trouble selling it in England,
Australia, Germany and Japan, but when it came to U.S. publishers, we heard
the same thing over and over. This book is hilarious, we love this book,
but we can’t publish this book. Why? Because, they said, nobody has heard
of Sharon Krum, and publishing comic novels is so dicey (unlike mysteries
or straight fiction) that unless you have a brand name like Dave Barry
or Carl Hiassen or “Anonymous,” nobody will buy it. One editor said to
my agent, if Jay Leno had written this, I would have it on the shelves
yesterday. Guess what, my name is Jay Leno. I was screwed.

So we couldn’t find a publisher because I wasn’t famous, and that is
exactly what I was saying in the book. Fame sells things, and often they
are junk. Monica Lewinsky’s handbags, anyone? But there are really talented
people who make great handbags out there who can’t find a store to carry
them. Why? They didn’t have an affair with the President. That’s the world
we live in today. Fame is the currency, and I didn’t have enough of it
to move my book.

Thankfully there is a happy ending to this story. A brilliant young
editor at St. Martin’s championed the book all the way to Barnes and Noble.
He restored my faith in the publishing industry.

KM: Your main character in Walk of Fame, Tom Webster,
is a would-be historian toiling his life away as a financial writer. Is
this a comment on the fate of the modern intellectual under the pressures
of capitalism?

SK: It was interesting to me how many people picked up on the
history versus celebrity element. I love history, I read a lot of it, so
to make my protagonist an amateur historian was a labor of love. What I
wanted to do was create a safe haven for Tom when his fame careened out
of control (with his books) and for him to have historical figures to relate
to, and maybe draw solace from.

But the point was that as Tom retreated into historical biography it
only made him feel worse about his own situation, because his historical
heroes earned their fame, while he did nothing but work the system to create

I wanted to say that celebrity today is meaningless, and Tom knew it
better than anyone, because he was an avid student of historical celebrities,
who while famous, made serious contributions to their time.

KM: Could you comment on the experience of being born in Australia
and later residing in the U.S.? Do you think you could write about Australian
life as satirically as you write about American life in Walk of Fame?

SK: I have lived in New York City 12 years, so my allegiances
to both America and Australia are very strong. When I was in Australia
recently if anybody said anything anti-American I flew off the handle.
The U.S. is home for me now, and I love it, although when you are born
overseas you always have a piece of you there. I think being an outsider
gave me a longer lens through which to view the American obsession with
celebrity, and I grew up in a place where there was no celebrity industry
(though there is now, it is small) so coming here and being thrust into
it as a celebrity journalist was such a thrilling and amazing ride.

Certainly being an outsider gives you a different perspective and maybe
because you are not as attached you feel license to satirize the culture.
I know Bill Bryson wrote a hilarious book about Australia (he is American).
Being a fish out of water has tremendous advantages as a writer, particularly
of comedies. You pick up on every little nuance that a local may miss because
it’s too close.

KM: What compelled you to become a writer? Who would you name
as some of your favorite writers?

SK: That’s a great question and yet hard to answer. I was always
writing stories, going back as far as fourth grade when I entered a playwriting
competition in school and saw my play performed and thought, I like doing
this and it seems that maybe I can. My first pull was to journalism. I
wanted to tell stories and loved the process of assembling them fact by
fact. It was only later after a two or three years of journalism under
my belt that I even dared to allow myself to think I might write fiction.

Favorite writers? I loved The Corrections. Franzen’s facility
with language was so overwhelming I had many jealous moments. I love Kaye
Gibbons for the voice she infuses into her storytelling, Nick Hornby for
his off- the-wall humor, and I am quite obsessed by the Bronte sisters.
And I thought Rick Bragg’s two memoirs about his Alabama and that of his
grandmother were about as good as it gets in that genre.

KM: Your main character in Walk of Fame, Tom Webster,
says about the workings of our current economic system: “One person with
a good idea eventually gets clobbered by ten people whose only idea has
been to plagiarize yours. For the uninitiated among you, this we call capitalism.”

I love how Tom seems both insightful about the problems of capitalism,
and yet, as a financial writer for Wall Street, largely compliant with
the system. He’s a great modern-day tragicomic hero. Can you say anything
more about Tom?

SK: I feel like the world is full of Tom Websters. People who
are trapped in their own lives, cogs in a wheel, and one mode of escape
is to disappear into history books, movies, celebrity worship. Norman Mailer
once said celebrity is the new religion, and I think he is right. We worship
because it makes us feel connected to something bigger than ourselves.
Trouble is, is Madonna worth so much attention?

I wanted to create a hero who would look with a jaundiced eye at the
process yet ultimately become a convert. As a journalist I can’t tell you
how many people tell me they want my job, and then follow up with questions
about celebrity and how much they think about fame for themselves, no matter
how remote the possibility. And even those who say they never think about
it, like Tom, once handed it on a platter, do seem to soak it up. And that
is the saddest truth: that even those who never think about fame, once
they get a taste, get addicted.

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Kiersten Marek is an associate editor at Pif. She also edits, a quarterly of literature, politics, and finance.