15-year-old Tasmanian author Kanako Okiron writes with honesty and humour about her fresh and entertaining debut novel, Not Like in the Movies for PaperbarkWords.
Over the course of my childhood, like anyone, I have had my fair share of obsessions. Like anything temporarily interesting for a child, they come and go quickly as soon as something else catches their attention. My obsessions ranged from Spain, rapping, getting my ears pierced, the new café on my street which I was so desperate to go to. But no obsession made such a greater impact on my life than fame. By “impact”, I mean writing a whole book about it!
I was around ten and eleven years old when I began to desire the idea of fame. Being known. I did not even know what I wanted to be famous for, it just sounded fun and exciting. It became something that kept me up at night (no cliché) and gave me a purpose for living life. It was not like I loathed my life – but I was quickly losing enthusiasm. A few years before, an incident that hit too close to home caused immense trauma for my family and I. Something big needed to happen. There could be many reasons behind these urges – I felt lonely and isolated at school, with underlying anxiety. What felt like the only way out for me was finally being seen and heard. And loved. I was among a few whose main priorities were feeling validated and admired, and yet to discover the difficult truth about the price of fame.
I truly believed that fame would solve all my problems, constantly fantasizing myself appearing as a guest on American late night talk shows. I would constantly rewatch my favourite celebrities on YouTube being interviewed on Jimmy Fallon, and I’d think, If only I was just like them, my life will be complete! (Ironically, I am quite an introvert, thus not in a million years would I be able to appear as a guest on a talk show, but it was fun to consider!) Every so often this theme would appear in my dreams at night, a sense of elation and a tingle in my toes as I stood up on the stage next to Jimmy Fallon’s desk and waved to hundreds of audience members who were chanting my name. Even now, fantasy and reality are relatively distorted for me, I do not know when to draw the line, so in some ways it benefits my writing!
Now to when it all began. One Sunday in 2019 BC (Before Covid) my slightly matured twelve-year-old self was laying on my bed in my stuffy room, bored. Who knows what I was thinking about, perhaps preteen anxiety like Is my period coming or Am I ready to be a teen? I was sick of those thoughts racing in my head, trying so desperately to cancel them out.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, I had an epiphany. About fame. It was not like I had been thinking about it for a long time – since evolving from my Late-Night-Show-Guest-Fantasy. Instead, I was thinking about a story idea.
I wonder how kids of celebrities deal with the pressures of fame and fortune.
A basic thought. However, until this point, I’d never considered the idea about unwanted fame, believing it to be nothing but a positive thing, which is laughable now.
I thought about people who have been exposed to the public at birth, like celebrity children and kids in the royal family. Not to mention everyday people, who are suddenly thrust into the spotlight due to surviving a traumatic event or being in a scandal, who become accidental celebrities (this is also used as one of the core themes in NLITM).
At first, those ideas were pushed aside, my stubborn self refusing to look truth in the face. I instead wrote the beginning of a story idea that I’d titled Fame Us, about a group of friends who go to Hollywood in their hopes of making it, but the story plot went around in circles and I gave up soon enough. (In hindsight, the only reason why I wrote the story was because I thought Fame Us was a great title, a pun on famous). Also, being impatient, I wasn’t as good at finishing writing stories as I am now. Very rarely would I commit to finishing a book, it was only a matter of time before I had an issue with the plot that would distract or infuriate me.
I eventually returned to the topic of being a famous child, and boy, I wrote many exaggerated ideas that gladly did not make it into the final draft! Extreme storylines about the protagonist, Zelda Mulette, being held hostage by a paparazzo. I tried my very best to keep a firm distance between fantasy and reality, but it proved difficult!
I wrote the beginning of the first draft by hand which was a common practice for me as a kid, folding a sheet of A4 paper in half, scribbling profusely on each page before sticky taping the pages together like a real chapter book like I was my own publishing house. I didn’t care much for using Microsoft Word back then – I’d rather give out handwritten copies if I ever chose to share my work. And I did.
However, as expected, the writing process didn’t last long. I slowly drifted off to work on something else. (I tend to do that a lot when writing stories, going on a story hiatus when I have writer’s block).
Little did I know how much potential this story had compared with my other work, and I would return to the same project which would be titled Not Like in the Movies.
After the world turned upside down.
July 2020, to be exact. The country and entire globe was amid a global pandemic, something that I had never expected to exist in my lifetime. (I knew very little about how infectious diseases worked back then). There it was, unfolding before my eyes. Hazmat suits and masks replaced the usual front pages of tabloid newspapers. Apparently, now fighting over toilet paper in the supermarket and empty shopping aisles of meat and pasta would be the new normal. The future felt bleaker than usual.
Like every other schoolkid, I was bunkered down at home. For introverts and folks like me who loathed school, I couldn’t be happier. There was a lot to feel stressed and fearful about but sitting down at my study desk with my laptop in front of me, I felt my most creative. Who knows how long this lockdown/pandemic will go for, so there’s no time to waste! Whilst cleaning my room, I found the handwritten copy of NLITM under my bed, forgotten and gathering dust. It was like finding lunch money. Within reading the first few pages, I became hooked instantly, and knew that this would be my next project that could bring me out of my misery. I did not use most of the original plot from the handwritten copy, letting my imagination take over instead, maybe too much. Since fame is nothing but a distant cousin, this was pure fun for me to write (not so much for people who have been there, done that, of course).
I was finally beginning to see potential in my story and decided to get my family involved.
My dad, or as I call him Dod, came up with the main protagonist’s surname: Mullet, which I tweaked into Mulette. I unintentionally created Zelda Mulette to share the similar traits as me! Like a case of Stockholm syndrome, but instead of falling in love with my captor, I was swept into the characters and the storyline. I am nowhere near being within fame’s reach, but the writing process felt therapeutic soon enough and if you know me well (wink), you will soon uncover how much Zelda and I are alike! Both my parents were the first readers of my book and gave a lot of feedback that was very much necessary.
The title originated after I wrote the sentence, “Not Like in the Movies”, from a line that I misheard in a Sigrid song, titled “Strangers”, “Not” being “Just”. I mishear lyrics as much as the next person, but I’m glad I left it that. I knew mid-writing about how much I wanted to incorporate the title in the plot, something that would stand out and ring clear to the reader. As you already know/will soon find out, “Not like in the movies” is a common phrase that is expressed by the protagonist and the different people she encounters throughout the book. It is a satirical response to fame, likewise the documentary-style format, which I would come to know as a mockumentary. Watching classic mockumentary shows like The Office and Little Lunch helped tremendously to get an idea of the interviews – except the one subtle difference with NLITM is its focus on one subject, Zelda Mulette.
Writing a book as a mockumentary proved tricky when writing a synopsis and sending it over to literary agents! New to the publishing world and all it entails, hours that could have been spent sleeping were me under the covers, wide awake, scrolling through websites of available agents and publishing houses that I could find to send through a submission. Like any debut writer, my hopes were way too high!
Weeks and months passed before I heard back with automated rejections, or confused emails from agents about not understanding the book format. I was crushed, but in the end, I decided the best thing was to follow my mum’s motto, Just keep on writing. So I did. Dod suggested I opt for self-publishing, and I could not be more grateful to be on the indie author route!
Unlike any other character in a TV mockumentary that you’ve seen (or maybe have), I purposely created Zelda Mulette’s attitude to be reluctant towards the interviewer by CNN (Celebrity News Network, respectively), but by being written in the second person, it is almost as if readers can picture themselves there, with a pen and tape recorder, sitting across from Zelda as she candidly spews out the juicy details that you have been wanting to hear for ever! Chapters are referred to as takes, to fulfill the documentary-interview vibe. An exclusive written edition, tapes of the interviews are very raw and unedited, thus Zelda will sometimes curse (disclaimer to parents) but will be fun for all ages! Overall, Not Like in the Movies is a refreshing, entertaining, sometimes shallow perspective on fame by someone (me) who was gladly not involved in any of it!
Praise for Not Like in the Movies:
“I really enjoyed the pop culture references … adoption of US mores, themes and vernacular for the most part, very accurate and clever!” -Kate Gordon, author of The Ballad of Melodie Rose
“Funny, bizarre, and relatable! I couldn’t put it down the moment I purchased it.” -Five star Amazon Review
Not Like in the Movies at Booktopia (e-book)
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