Talent and modesty are often mutually exclusive.
Most people who’ve written books tell you about it, even if they’re self-published novels off the vanity press.
So when I learned that there was a published author in my midst, I was intrigued. A woman who occasionally plays Pickleball with us had written a novel based on her experiences as an assistant to Hunter S. Thompson. Yea, that Hunter S. Thompson.
My friends Pam and Lesley raved about Cheryl Della Pietra’s book, and asked if I had read Gonzo Girl. Gonzo who? No, I hadn’t read it, nor had I heard of it. But I was familiar with Gonzo journalism, a style in which the writer becomes part of the story. Thompson is considered founder of the Gonzo journalism movement.
Thompson, whose penchant for booze, drugs and guns was legendary, was one of the most famous literary figures of his day. How had Cheryl, her famous boss, and her book escaped my notice?
I bought the book on my Kindle and began reading it. Within a few days, I was telling my friends about it and encouraging them to read it too. Within about a week, we were organizing a book party at my house with Cheryl as the guest of honor.
This was my first shot hosting an author meet and greet. I’ve been to several at RJ Julia in Madison. CT., a nearby bookstore, and I love them. I’m most fascinated hearing authors discuss their writing process. Wally Lamb said that he writes every day from dawn to about 2 p.m. When he’s stuck, he goes to a running steam or river. Somehow, the rushing water gets his juices flowing again.
What’s most striking about Cheryl is her modesty and grace. She’s one of the most unassuming people I’ve ever met. She’s the kind of person you want to succeed because she’s so normal and nice. There’s nothing about her that screams I wrote a fantastic book that’s being made into a movie. Yes, she’s sold the movie rights. Filming begins in December.
But what I appreciate most about Cheryl is she’s one of us, giving us all hope that something amazing could happen if we just keep plugging away. She began writing the book when her son was 2, and she was driving around to try to get him to fall asleep (sound familiar)? Like many moms with young children, she feared motherhood was taking a toll on her career.
One day, she pulled into the town beach, parked her car and began scribbling down memories from her time working as Thompson’s assistant in the early ’90s. She was just 22 years old and a new graduate of the University of Pennsylvania when she landed the job. Prior to that, she had been mixing drinks in New York City, trying to land a publishing job.
She was hired to get Thompson to produce pages for a book. Sometimes, that involved dressing up in outrageous outfits and accompanying him on his wild escapades in the Colorado mountains. Sometimes, it involved partying with him and his famous friends. Sometimes, it involved dodging flying objects thrown in her direction.
Cheryl chipped away at the book, deciding to write a novel rather than a memoir because she was 20 years removed from the experience when she began writing. Slowly, steadily, she wrote the book, which took five years to finish.
Gathered around my dining room table, we peppered Cheryl with questions. Did she really have a romance with a famous star who dropped by Thompson’s house? If so, it was time for her to start naming names.
But in true Cheryl form, she deftly deflected some questions, noting that she’s prohibited from discussing some aspects of the book and movie under strict confidentiality agreements. Yea, yea, we know, but couldn’t she just tell us anyway, just between friends?
No, she couldn’t dish on that, nor the star who’s been cast to portray Thompson in the movie. We understand, we really do. But let’s make one thing clear: if she’s got extra tickets to the movie premiere, we’re available. We’d love to cheer her on the red carpet because honestly, it couldn’t happen to a nicer girl.