Me, Myself, I and Neil Strauss


Me, Myself, I and Neil Strauss

When I heard that Sarah Palin wrote her upcoming 400-page autobiography, Going Rogue: An American Life, in four months, I thought, What took her so long? To prove that introspection doesn’t need to be time-consuming, I decided to try to write my memoir in one day. Since Palin had a ghostwriter, I figured it was only fair that I have help too, so I called Neil Strauss, who co-wrote the best-selling memoirs of Marilyn Manson, Mötley Crüe, Dave Navarro and Jenna Jameson. Strauss and fellow ghostwriter Anthony Bozza run an imprint called Igniter, which — after training people to write other people’s autobiographies — is cranking out the stories of model Amber Smith, gangster Johnny Fratto and Bozo the Clown. This was clearly my guy.

As soon as I got to his house in the Hollywood Hills, Strauss told me his first rule of ghostwritten autobiographies was that I would have to be completely honest, revealing things I wouldn’t even tell my wife. I nodded as if I had that kind of secret inner turmoil. Then he said I should think of a turning point in my life. I offered the day I got my mullet cut off. He paused. “Did you ever almost die” he asked. It turns out your expectations get raised after you’ve been hanging out with Mötley Crüe. “Have you ever had a moment where you thought about giving it all up” When I didn’t answer for a while, he said, “I’ll just go with the mullet.” Strauss believes a good memoir starts with the most interesting point that’s not obvious. “If I were doing the Palin book, you know it’s going to have the nomination and the campaign, so I’d just start somewhere else entirely, like if she beat up a girl who talked dirt about her in school,” he said. After choosing the shocking mullet beginning, we decided that our book, Rogue Journalist: An Even More American Life, would have the following chapters: 1> “Childhood Trauma,” 2> “Turning Point That Changed My Life,” 3> “Rise Against the Odds,” 4> “Celebrity Name-Dropping,” 5> “Hitting Rock Bottom” and 6> “Redemption and Recovery.” We both figured it was going to take a lot of searching to find anything interesting about my life, but within half an hour I was unabashedly thrilled by my own adventures. Far stranger, Strauss was too. In addition to superfast writing and the ability to mimic other people’s voices, his artistic gift is that he finds everything interesting. Even my sex stories. Although it’s possible his gift is pretending to find everything interesting. After I told him about first hooking up with my college girlfriend, Strauss said something similar had happened to Navarro at the Playboy mansion. “Except Navarro was also shooting up and spraying his blood on the walls,” he said. It turns out that I’m really comfortable with revealing personal information, even compared with rock stars and porn actresses. Several times Strauss pressed for more details and guessed what had happened at key moments in my life. It was like going to therapy if therapists acted excited about what you were saying. Within two hours, he’d nailed my personality: “You have this neurotic ambivalence about going far enough to challenge things but not enough to ruin things. You do things halfway, and being confused about them is who you are.” In all his fevered typing, Strauss got annoyed only once. “It’s really frustrating that I haven’t been able to string the pity sex in. It’s a really good theme,” he said. As Strauss typed and edited what I was saying into complete sentences, strumming my pain with his fingers, I lay on a couch by his pool watching chickens walk in and out of the house — a result of Strauss’s survivalist training, which he also wrote a book about. And he wrote the definitive pickup book, The Game, so his very hot young girlfriend Ghita walked around in tiny white boy shorts, acting as our proofreader. It was like working at a publishing company on the Boogie Nights set. Just seven hours after we started, I wrote a dedication — “To my son, Laszlo. Don’t do most of this. Especially marrying your mom” — and we sent the book to Strauss’s amazing designer, Todd Gallopo, who laid it out in two hours. Finished, Strauss looked at me, excited but worried. Every time he’s finished an autobiography, the author has freaked out and tried to stop it from coming out. One of them actually told the publisher he’d commit suicide if it was published. I, however, was already wondering how to get mine translated into more languages. The completed work is 49 pages, which you can download as a PDF at time.com/joelbio While it doesn’t tell my entire life story, Strauss was convinced that maybe hanging out with his subjects for months, reading through their e-mails and taping them for 20 hours is overkill. “I should have done all my books like this,” he said. I get the weird feeling that Strauss is hoping a publisher will ask us to finish my memoir. Though I don’t know, with our schedules, if we can find the seven hours. See pictures of Sarah Palin’s style evolution.
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