Nancy Jo Sales first wanted to write novels, but The Bling Ring—her true tale of celeb-crazed young criminals—proves reality can beat the wildest fictions.
Zola: How did you initially come across the saga of Alexis Neiers and her friends? What so attracted you to the story that you had to write about it?
Nancy Jo Sales: I saw it online as soon as it broke, when the kids were arrested in October of 2009, and was on a plane to LA within a few days. It seemed like a combination of so many themes I had been covering for years all wrapped up in one crazy package: kids, crime, the Internet, celebrity obsession, fashion obsession, materialism and conspicuous consumption—it was all there.
Zola: Some lines in the film are taken directly from your article. How involved were you with the film? What do you think of it?
NJS: Sofia and I met several times while she was writing the script. I gave her access to my transcripts, from which she took many lines for the film. I think she recognized how perfect the dialogue was, and didn’t see a need to change a lot of it; we kept saying, “You can’t make this stuff up.” I think she made a brilliant film about the time we live in.
Zola: You’ve said that Nick—the only boy in the group—“seemed to be the only one with a real sense of consequences.” Are girls more susceptible to celebrity obsession?
NJS: I don’t think there is any gender difference when it comes to girls and boys and celebrity obsession, males and females both are equally consumers of celebrity media; but I do think a lot of celebrity media involves images of women and judgments of women (their bodies, their behavior, etc.), which has a huge impact on the self-esteem and well-being of girls.
Zola: You’ve worked as a journalist for more than two decades, yet this is your first book. What are the challenges and/or benefits of writing a book versus writing articles?
NJS: When I got out of graduate school, I wanted to write novels; but I also had to make a living. I fell into journalism as a way to pay the bills and then I started to really like it. I got on to this beat of kids and youth culture which I find really fascinating; kids provide such great raw material and have such a fresh view of things because to them everything is new. I’ve always approached the stories I write as pieces of writing that could stand alone as stories; of course sometimes you get rewritten by someone or you have to do something less ambitious to pay some bills, but my goal has always been to write great stories. I don’t know if I always succeed, but I try.
Zola: You’ve become a bit of a celebrity yourself between the success of the article, the book, Alexis’s MTV reality show (in which you make a brief appearance), and now the film. How’s that experience been? Do you have a better appreciation of what stars go through?
NJS: I’m very grateful people are reading my book; but I don’t feel like I’m a celebrity.
Zola: In this era of TMZ and Gawker, how necessary is longform journalism when it comes to reporting on celebrity and entertainment?
NJS: They are simply different animals. TMZ and Gawker are gossip sites; Gawker sometimes has some really great writing and commentary, but they don’t do a lot of reporting. Longform journalism, whether it’s about celebrities or anything else, is necessary and shouldn’t disappear. If it does, our culture will be greatly diminished. If you look at the longform celebrity journalism of, say, Truman Capote—his piece for the New Yorker on Marlon Brando comes to mind—these are among the greatest pieces of journalism written. Just because it’s about celebrities doesn’t mean it has to be superficial. In fact, in an age when we are so obsessed with fame, all the more reason to do longform journalism evaluating the impact of celebrity and celebrities on our culture.
Zola: What are you working on now?
NJS: Another story about kids.
This article originally appeared on Zola Books.