Melissa Jo Peltier

Author of fiction and nonfiction; film and television producer/writer/director

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Reposted from Morgen Bailey's Writing Blog "Author Spotlight"

March 29, 2013

Tags: Morgen Bailey, author spotlight, reality tv, Reality Boulevard, novel, Girl Scouts, exploitation, self-image, Hollywood

I’ve always been a fictional storyteller in my soul, even though I spent many years in the non-fiction world. While the object of non-fiction is to communicate the truth, I believe drama and fiction can create a deeper, broader more universal truth than can cold hard facts. Reality Boulevard is my first publishednovel (I wrote a novel in college but it’s what you might expect from a collegiate first novelist) and I’m very excited about the reactions I’ve been getting, both from new readers who know nothing at all about the behind-the-scenes Hollywood I depict in the novel and find it fascinating to learn about, to colleagues in “the business” who’ve lived first hand some of the things my characters experience.

“You said all the things I’ve been thinking for a long time, but was too afraid to talk about,” said one colleague. Another said, “This novel is so funny and also so disturbing to me because it’s about things that happen every day that we don’t want to look at. “ Yet another bemoaned the fact that he had a mortgage and a college tuition payment and had to take jobs on reality shows that sometimes made him feel ashamed of his work.

There’s a scene in the novel in which Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker, Marty Maltzman, finds himself out of work after sixteen years and must pitch a show to two twenty-something cable television executives. These are the executives (“Ken” and “Kevin”) speaking, telling Marty what sort of shows they are looking for.

“Ken steepled his fingers and gazed thoughtfully up at the ceiling. ‘Dwarves have done very well for us in primetime … of course you can never go wrong with pimps, sluts, hoes and bitches.’ He winked at Kevin. ‘We don’t mean that in any kind of racist or sexist context, of course… Anyway, our best night of the week is our Sunday primetime lineup. We call it – for lack of a better term – our ‘freaks and losers’ block.’”

That scene sounds outrageous, but it’s actually taken nearly word for word from various meetings I’ve attended. It’s that kind of cynical attitude that makes me angry. There’s a saying that “you may be the only Bible someone reads today,” and in my lonely opinion, that’s an adage that more television executives and producers should take into account when they put anything – or any person – on the air. Sure, most people know “it’s only television” – but those images, stereotypes and behaviors seep into our subconscious and subtly affect how we see the world and how we act toward others. In the case of children and teens who watch reality TV, they don’t have the critical faculties to truly understand what is real and what is not. They internalize what they see on the air, and unless someone older and wiser sits down with them and helps them analyze what they’re seeing, they can co-opt those behaviors and attitudes.

The Girl Scouts did a study that looked at the way 1100 different girls were affected by watching a lot of reality television. Some of the results of that survey were positive, but many were sobering. Girls who watched the most reality TV expected a higher level of drama, aggression, and bullying in their own lives, and measured their worth primarily by their physical appearance.

As a novelist and fiction writer, I suppose my very first idol was Charles Dickens, and like him, I think everything I write has some sort of social message in it. What I aim for is Dickens’ ability to bury the social message beneath layers of rollicking entertainment and juicy cliffhangers, as he did in his novels that began as weekly newspaper serials. No one did it quite as well as Dickens did. I’d like people to read Reality Boulevard and my future novels (I’m working on a psychological thriller trilogy) for the entertainment alone, but come away thinking about a certain issue and about the world just a little bit differently.




  1. April 12, 2013 12:41 PM EDT
    Your novel sounds intriguing. The more I think about reality television, the more it bothers me. Basically, I try *not* to think about it! But I know we do need to think about it, especially in terms of kids. I heard about a school that was doing a curriculum on media literacy for older elementary-aged kids, and I think this is crucial. How else are kids going to learn about the unreality of reality television?

    Headed over to Amazon to check out more info on your book...
    - Ellie

Published Works

Reality Boulevard
"...a book in the tradition of great Hollywood novels, from Carroll and Garrett Graham’s Queer People (1930) to Michael Tolkin’s The Player (1988), and reads like Paddy Chayefsky’s 1976 Network screenplay retooled for the 21st century" - Ken Salikoff, Kirkus Indie Magazine
"In this smart, funny, insightful novel, reality TV becomes all too real...Peltier examines the Hollywood world of writers, producers, rich kids, actors, wannabes and con men with a keen and often compassionate eye. " - Kirkus Reviews
"Once I started reading "Reality Boulevard," I could not stop...this is the best satirical look behind-the-scenes of "reality television" ever written." - Arnold Shapiro, Oscar & Emmy-winning Producer of Scared Straight; Rescue 911; Big Brother
“[Millan] arrives amid canine chaos and leaves behind peace.” —Malcolm Gladwell, The New Yorker
Non-Fiction (Co-Author)
“As complete a tome on the subject as one could want…If the answer you’re looking for in this guide cannot be found, the question is not worth asking...this is an impressive piece of work.” - Bookviews, June 2011