Abby Stern has made the transition from La. to L.A. with, well, capital letters.
The New Orleans native is in town this week for a series of book signings for her debut novel, According to a Source, an effervescent tale of an undercover reporter who goes behind the velvet rope to dish the stars. And it comes after a decade of Abby’s own chronicling of the doings of the Hollywood celebrity crowd for blogs and magazines, including People.
“Writing a book was never on my bucket list,” the author said recently over coffee at CCs. “But I fell into a job freelancing for magazines, and then starting writing this story, off and on for 10 years.”
According to a Source hit stores May 23, and the past week, says Abby, “has been overwhelming.” Booklist calls it a “fun, frothy read,” and Kirkus Reviews deems it “fast-paced and charming.” The Zoe Report named it a summer must-read, and PopSugar one of “26 brilliant books you should read this spring.”
For Abby, it’s a culmination of a decade of learning Hollywood from the ground up, as an aspiring actress, sometimes stand-up comic and full-time interviewer of celebrities.
In 2002, she skipped her graduation ceremony at Franklin to head to Los Angeles for a summer internship at Warner Brothers, where she immediately fell in love with all things movies.
“I loved doing errands, like getting a poster of a new film framed, or picking up someone’s dry cleaning,” she says. “Because one day maybe people would be picking up dry cleaning for me.”
After earning a degree in theater at USC, Abby dove back into Hollywood, trying her hand at both acting and writing. Soon she was covering film premieres and red carpet events with the A listers, gathering personal anecdotes along the way.
She made Celine Dion cry (in a good way) at the Beauty and the Beast premiere with a question about where she finds her inner strength. She once got to dance with Mick Jagger (”I mean, who gets to do that?”). Dolly Parton was delightful , she says, “as Dolly as you want her to be. Ryan Gosling was impossible to hear because of all the screaming girls.”
But the encounters that have meant the most to her have been with people she loved growing up. Leonardo di Caprio might not make her heart race, but meeting Dick Van Dyke was a definite high.
So why are her readers – of both non-fiction, and now fiction – so obsessed with celebrities?
“I think it’s a form of escapism,” Abby says. “Hollywood projects fantasy, not reality. It’s like social media. You’re posting ‘oh my god, I’m having so much fun,’ when you’re actually at home curled in a fetal position. In Hollywood, things always look good on the outside – the clothes, the love lives, everything seems perfect.”
And yet fans, like Abby’s heroine in According to a Source, like to peel the skin off the onion.
“We put celebrities on a pedestal, but then we want them to be relatable,” Abby says of Americans’ obsession with celebrity gossip.
Her main character, she says, is a composite — one who does get a few of her personal nuances from her creator.
“Like me, she struggles with choices over the right thing to do. And in the book her mother makes the best French toast, which is absolutely true. But she’s not very self-aware, and I’m the opposite of that.”
Abby’s parents still live in New Orleans, and she makes the trek from West Coast to Gulf Coast regularly. She appreciates the sense of community here, and the can-do attitude.
“There’s a feeling in New Orleans that we’re all in this together. People know one another, and we get through stuff here. L.A. is more competitive. Everyone expects things to happen instantly – one curve in the road throws people off.”
Her core group of friends in both places are essential, she says. “That part of New Orleans I took with me – that need for community.”
So what does she do when she hits the Big Easy?
“The first thing is a chocolate doberge square from Dorignac’s, closely followed by a Bud’s Broiler No. 4.” Not that she’s pledging allegiance to either city. If Bud’s Broiler were in L.A., or In and Out Burger in New Orleans, she says with a laugh, “it would be a real Sophie’s Choice.”
The best part of her upcoming book signings will not be the aura of celebrity, but having family and friends around her.
“It’s so emotional to be here and have them here.”