Thrillist: Carrie Fisher was the very definition of "cult of personality" -- a charismatic gravitational pull that compels pretty much anyone they ever meet. After speaking with her friends and family, what do you think defined "Carrie Fisher," the role model and icon we all admire?
Sheila Weller: Well, she said from a young age she wanted to light up the sky like firecrackers going off in Hong Kong on the Fourth of July. But wanting that and achieving it are two different things. Carrie just possessed what you can't manufacture -- rapier wit, a dazzling and wacky family background that was glamorous to people and that she played up (all that Hollywood Royalty stuff), great taste in furnishings, a brilliant and slightly mad (in a good way) mind, and the ability (you can't manufacture it) to, as a friend put it, make almost anyone she met into her "sidekick." She had more friends than just about anyone in Hollywood and beyond.
In terms of being a role model, well that's slightly different. I would say that, through her books, one-woman show, and the interviews she gave, her piercing and hilarious honesty about every aspect of her life -- her refusal to shade the truth; her insistence on putting everything out there. Even the worst things she'd done -- was refreshing, healing, and hugely admirable. She battled demons, bipolar disorder and drug addiction, but described the battles with a candor you simply could not not be floored by. People wanted to be as daringly honest, and humorously honest, as she.
Writing about someone you never get to meet is daunting in scope. How did you manage to construct as objective a timeline of Carrie's life using stories, interviews, and testimony that all differed in varying degrees?
Weller: Yes, it can be daunting but, as a writer, I have always relied on what my first book [Marrying the Hangman] editor and tragically recently deceased, Susan Kamil, called a "chorus of voices": people who knew my subject or subjects well, talking candidly about them. If you amass enough of those, you have a good portrait of your subject. There's also what the subject said and did -- reported in the media (for Carrie, a lot) and wrote (for Carrie, eight books, largely about herself) to use. As for a timeline, I go through each interview transcript and mark it up by date and make a whole Word doc of the chronology of a person's life before I start. It's a great way to do it.
In terms of juggling the various perspectives, some of which differed from one another: In Carrie's case, actually, there was less of that than one might expect. People had very consistent views of her. But disagreement and contrast in describing a person is also good. I like it when I have one voice seeing a person one way, another the other. Complex people -- and, boy, was she complex -- deserve close and respectful attention, which can also be complex and contradictory.