For Maya Sloan, ghostwriting Jenners’ YA book just part of fiction fun
NEW YORK — One day. That was all the time Maya Sloan allowed herself to Google reviews of the dystopian young adult novel she ghostwrote for Kendall and Kylie Jenner.
Not surprisingly, Internet trolls had it out for the youngest sisters of the Kardashians — lampooning the idea that two teenage models who had yet to graduate from high school wanted to be taken seriously as authors. But Sloan, 37, didn’t escape unscathed, either.
“Maya Sloan must have a serious need for money to submit herself to this kind of public humiliation,” posted one Gawker.com commenter about her role as ghostwriter.
Yeah, so maybe this wasn’t the response she envisioned after five years toiling away on two separate writing MFAs. It certainly wasn’t what her family imagined; relatives regularly email her job openings at places like the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop and suggest she try submitting her fiction to literary journals instead of ghostwriting.
“I’ve learned to check my ego,” Sloan said. “Ego will get you a teaching job in Iowa grading freshman comp papers, or a 9-to-5 editing promotional material where you want to slit your wrists. I’m writing for a living, and it’s a gift to be a working writer.”
A busy one too: After last month’s arrival of the Jenners’ “Rebels: City of Indra,” now comes “Rich Kids of Instagram,” a novel Sloan co-wrote with the anonymous creator of the popular Tumblr site of the same name.
Sloan, a self-proclaimed lover of hypertext, fictionalizes the mysterious figures from the blog’s featured pictures and offers her own take on the novelistic form.
Just as Helen Fielding used a journal to tell the story of “Bridget Jones’s Diary” and Jennifer Egan included a chapter full of PowerPoint slides in her Pulitzer Prize-winning “A Visit From the Goon Squad” — not to mention the many attempts at Twitter novels — Sloan’s use of Tumblr entries and Instagram photos as source material for “Rich Kids of Instagram” is one more example of how popular culture and social media are influencing fiction.
In this case, Sloan, who normally stays in the background, is the public face for a co-author who doesn’t want to be named. The creator of the “RKOI” Tumblr cites legal threats among his reasons for opting to remain anonymous. He did, however, meet with Sloan in person multiple times.
Between the Jenners and her anonymous co-author, she has unintentionally become a youth scholar. To understand the wealthy adolescents behind “Rich Kids,” she crashed their parties in the Hamptons; to inform the characters in the sci-fi-themed “Rebels,” she spent time gossiping about boys with Kendall and Kylie.
“These are teenage girls,” said Sloan, sitting at a bar across the street from Simon & Schuster, whose Gallery Books imprint has published all of her novels. “They’re wealthy and they have a famous name, but I didn’t want to look at them — or their book — as a product.”
If there’s anyone who could withhold judging two statuesque reality stars from Calabasas, it’s Sloan. While teaching a beginning novel writing class at NYU’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies this spring, she seemed wary of discouraging her students with harsh critiques.
“Are you nervous, honey?” she asked one young woman who was about to receive feedback on a short story. “Don’t be. This is so promising. Let’s help make it better.”
Sloan, a native of Oklahoma City, has taught at nine different universities while pursuing her own writing. Her first novel, “High Before Homeroom” — about a teenager seeking popularity through drug use — was published in 2010 and was less read than “Redefining Diva,” the 2012 memoir she ghostwrote for Broadway star Sheryl Lee Ralph. It was the latter book that got her a meeting with the Jenners, who were seeking to write something in the vein of “The Hunger Games” trilogy.
“We just wanted to do something different — not something everyone would have expected from us, like a fashion, high school kind of story,” said 18-year-old Kendall, calling during a break from a fashion shoot in Montauk, N.Y., this week.
Along with their creative director Elizabeth Killmond-Roman, the Jenners created a broad two-page outline describing the futuristic tale about two girls with superpowers who are secretly twins. Sloan was hired to execute that vision, using Kendall and Kylie as inspiration for the book’s protagonists. The sisters took her along with them to New York Fashion Week and let her hang in their hotel room while they texted their friends.
“Maya wanted to understand our lingo,” explained Kylie, 16, who said she is a fan of the “Pretty Little Liars” and “Twilight” book series. “She’s super smart and just kind of adapted to us — remembering what we said and the way we talked.”
While Sloan actually wrote the book, Killmond-Roman took pains to emphasize the girls’ involvement in “Rebels.” They had numerous Skype and Face-Time sessions with Sloan, she said, and the group all marked up drafts with extensive notes.
“People are trying to take this away from the girls,” she said. “But most art is collaborative. It was never, like, ‘Maya — go off and write 10 chapters and send them back to us.’”
In the acknowledgments for “Rebels,” they thank Sloan for her “tenacious and creative spirit.” And in a recent interview with “Good Morning America,” Kendall said she and Kylie received “some help” with their book because “we obviously can’t write a sci-fi novel on our own.” Her admission came shortly after an embarrassing gaffe on the Billboard Music Awards, during which she misread a teleprompter and awkwardly blurted out: “Guys, I’m the worst reader!”
Still, when footage of the sisters promoting their book appears on an upcoming episode of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians,” Sloan’s face won’t pop up.
“They didn’t ask me to be on the show, and that didn’t hurt my feelings,” the writer said. “Besides, I’d have to lose 15 pounds.”
Along with her husband, Danish illustrator Thomas Warming, Sloan is spending her summer in Orlando, Fla., living in Jack Kerouac’s old home as a writer in residence there. By August she hopes to have completed her next novel — this one written without a co-author — which delves into the world of burlesque in 1930s New York.
“People are going to want to say I’m a YA author now, but it’s not like one day I can’t write a literary novel — whatever literary means,” she said. “As if there are these Greek gods dictating what literature is? None of the students I teach read — even the really smart ones. They read magazines and blogs; everything is becoming really visual. So I can talk to you about Tolstoy and I can talk to you about ‘Divergent.’ I refuse the snobbery.”
She’s even proud of the sure-to-be controversial cover of “Rich Kids of Instagram,” which features a realistic textured line of cocaine on a $100 bill.
“You know some of those rich kids are going to be snorting coke off that line, which I think is hysterical,” she said. “I don’t judge.”
Love a good book?
Get the latest news, events and more from the Los Angeles Times Book Club, and help us get L.A. reading and talking.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.