Robert Raves new novel, Spin, is a glimpse into the racy, sexually charged, dog-eat-dog world of public relations. The storyline -- inspired by Raves real-life former job working for the notorious PR queen Lizzie Grubman -- may sound reminiscent of The Devil Wears Prada, but Rave promises the book offers its own, one-of-a-kind wild ride. Out recently caught up with Rave to chat about creating a straight protagonist, embarrassing PR faux pas, and what his famous former boss thinks about his Spin.
Out: How similar is your main character Taylors story to your own?
Its close in the sense that were both from the Midwest and we both worked in PR, but thats kind of where the similarities end. Taylor is straight and Taylor comes from a single mother household. Im openly and proudly gay, and I come from a two-parent household. So those are some big differences. A lot of the people he works with are not like the people I worked with, so thats where it ends.
As a gay author, why did you decide to make your protagonist straight?
I wanted to kind of play with the roles, simply because having worked in publicity and having met so many other gay publicists, I thought having Taylor be gay was such an obvious choice. I wanted to try something different and see how the dynamic between Jennie [Taylors boss] and Taylor would work if he were straight. Because she completely emasculates him in so many ways and in so many areas, and he continues to come back and take it, and is not willing to say screw you, Im out of here. I wanted to play with that and really take it to something new, maybe to something the readers havent seen before.
Taylor seems to take a lot of slack for being straight in the PR world. Is that based in reality?
Well, in entertainment PR theres a huge gay population of publicists. Im not sure about corporate PR because I can only speak from the places that I worked at. I met more gay male publicists than I met straight male publicists.
How did you come up with the concept of this straight publicist finding his way in this gay world?
There were a couple of straight publicists I knew that would get a lot of ribbing. [Theyd] get a lot of friends saying things like, Oh come on, what straight guys know about what Jessica Simpson was doing last week? Or her hair salon? I mean, what straight guy knows that? So there was a lot of teasing and ribbing in that sense. But then I was like, why does someone thats interested in the entertainment industry have to be gay? I kind of liked playing with that dynamic of gay people liking to tease straight people for the same things we often get teased about.
Why did you decide to write a novel instead of a tell-all memoir?
Because my life is so not that interesting. [Laughs] And actually, I wrote a memoir about two years with my mom called Conversations and Cosmopolitans. That was really much more personal and had to deal with my coming out and bringing my mom kind of into the gay world. I feel like I did a memoir, and again, I feel like my life is so much more boring in comparison to Taylors.
Gawker called your book The Devil Reps Prada. Do the comparisons bother you?
I definitely see where they came up with that -- its kind of a boss from hell story. But what bothers me is that they just assumed that I took a formula that was The Devil Wears Prada and made it PR. I enjoyed The Devil Wears Prada very much, and I would love to have that success that it did. But its a very different story, and The Devil Wears Prada has this neat and tidy happy ending, whereas Ive said in the past, with this character its not so much that way. Its kind of his descent into the dark side, so to speak. You know, he doesnt come out unscathed, and he kind of turns into his worst nightmare -- which is Jennie. So that bothered me. I cant really control what Gawker writes, and I know its a fun New York website, so I just had to shrug it off, and say it is what it is.
Can you just describe the notion of "spin?"
I like to say that there are three sides to the truth -- your side, their side, and the truth. And I think spin lies somewhere in between. Spin is often what publicists put out there to put a positive light on their clients or the company that theyre working for. [Its] how you generate buzz. So "spin" for me was that catch all phrase -- thats why I titled the book as such.
What is your absolute worst memory of working in PR?
I dont have really awful ones. I have embarrassing faux pas -- Ive called actors by their character names. I once worked the door for one of our launch events and I didnt recognize celebrities and I turned them away. I mean, those kinds of things were really embarrassing. But nothing like catastrophic, thank God. But I also got out of PR after a certain amount of years, so who knows. If I had stayed in longer maybe I would have embarrassed myself even more. Fortunately I got into writing.
So your exit from public relations was more about wanting to write and less about needing to get out of the business?
I had been writing short stories for years and I was an English major in college. I wanted to write, but moving from the Midwest and wanting to write wasnt exactly a cash windfall. It wasnt a way for me to pay rent. So I kind of just took a job in PR and then I kept falling into different PR jobs. But all the while, I was missing writing. Finally, it was one of those moments where I just woke up and I was like, Why am I publicizing or pushing everybody elses passions when Im not even remotely focusing on my own passion? It just became kind of empty for me. So then I finally made the leap and decided to write. And I have to say, it was very scary because obviously when you give up any kind of financial security, you know its a big like, oh God, what am I doing? But in a personal sense, it was much more rewarding because youre doing something you actually love and you feel more authentic about yourself.
Without giving away too much, the end of the novel felt highly familiar to Lizzie Grubmans own undoing. Is this a nod to her or are you planning a sequel?
[Laughs] No, it was not a nod. I really wanted Taylor to get his comeuppance, so to speak. And I wanted it to be this really big, over-the-top moment for him because I think by the end hes definitely not the same person that we meet at the beginning of the novel. The last paragraph, you kind of really dont know what happens. I left it open for a sequel. Not everything is so neat and tidy in life, so I didnt want to end it with a bow on top, as much as we love to see those. I didnt want it to be that way because I wanted to keep it a little messy -- like life sometimes is.
Is Lizzie Grubman furious with you?
I really dont know. I have no contact with her. No one in my life does either. And I think were in such different points in our lives. From what Ive heard, shes not. She released a statement to USWeekly.com or something, saying she wished me luck with the book. I havent heard of any backlash.
What are your plans for the future?
I have a second book out with St. Martins that I believe is being released next summer. Its called Waxed. Im really excited about that. In Waxed, I also included gay and lesbian characters, which to me was really important because thats the landscape of New York. And the stories I like to tell are based in New York. I have a transgender child in the book, a gay man, a closeted gay man -- a lot of different things are happening in that book.
Are you working on a sequel to Spin?
Actually Im writing a book proposal now for a third book. So Im deciding if I want the sequel to be the third book or if I want to wait a little bit. I love these characters, Im kind of debating if I just want to give it a minute before I go back to them. So well see.
Spin is available in bookstores now.