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Katie Allison Granju is the married mother of five children, ranging in age from toddler to teenager. In addition to blogging for Babble Voices, she also publishes her own blog, Big Good Thing, and she works full time in digital media with a large cable network. When she isn't at work, blogging, or washing someone's socks, Katie enjoys working in her flower garden, riding her bike, and feeding the chickens she keeps in the backyard of her family's large and totally impractical, 113-year-old Victorian house.

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What Mommybloggers Could Learn From Rob Lowe

By Katie Allison Granju |

Rob Lowe Vanity Fair

Rob Lowe's 2011 Vanity Fair cover, published when his well-reviewed memoir was released.

A few weeks ago when I was in Florida for the Mom 2.0 conference – and at the recommendation of my BFF since middle school, who had just finished the book – I downloaded Rob Lowe’s 2011 memoir, “Stories I Only Tell My Friends” to my iPad (I alternately read books these days on either the Kindle app for iPad or the iBooks app). I managed to read about half of Lowe’s autobiography while I was traveling that weekend, and then I got busy and put it down until tonight, when I happily found time to start back in.

Even though I am exactly the right age to have obsessed over the cast and music of St. Elmo’s Fire in the 80s, I have never been a particularly huge Rob Lowe fan. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve never disliked him as an actor, or had any negative feelings toward his celebrity persona. He just never really grabbed me at the theater or on the newsstand (as opposed to, say, any magazine cover ever that so much as mentions my imaginary boyfriends-for-life, Paul Rudd and Colin Firth).

Also, unlike everyone else I know, I somehow missed the whole run of The West Wing. I am not a TV watcher in general anyway, and I so I managed to somehow skip over that particular pop culture phenom – which became Rob Lowe’s big comeback – while it was happening. I am well aware of how well regarded the show is, and I even know who was in the cast, and a bit about the story arc of the show over time, but I’ve never actually seen a single episode of The West Wing. So I didn’t rediscover Mr. Lowe that way, as so many of my same-age pals did.

But when Rob Lowe’s memoir was released last year, I did notice when he scored that  Vanity Fair cover story because, A: I love VF; it’s the only magazine I still always buy on the newsstand instead of reading online, and B: holy MOTHER OF GOD, did he look beautiful in that cover photo. I mean, the whole idea of a buff guy posing shirtless usually strikes me as so cheesy that it obviates whatever charms he might possess, but in this case, I couldn’t stop sneaking peeks at the magazine rack every time I was at any store during the entire month that issue was on the stands. Plus, around the time that I was trying not to stare at Rob Lowe on the cover of Vanity Fair everywhere I went, I also started noticing that the book he’d written was getting solidly positive and serious reviews, which is relatively rare for a celeb bio. So I decided to download the book to my iPad, only I never did get around to doing that until my friend Betsy told me a few weeks back how much she was digging it. So that’s how I ended up reading a personal memoir by an actor to whom I haven’t ever really paid any particular attention.

And as it happens, it’s a really well-written memoir. Obviously, Lowe has a lifetime of swoon worthy material to draw on regarding people like JFK, JR and Andy Warhol, meaning that his book would likely be at least somewhat interesting ever if it weren’t solidly crafted. But it is. Rob Lowe is a pretty darn good writer.

As I am reading “Stories I Only Tell My Friends,” I am noticing that Rob Lowe possessed a particular skill as a writer that I also notice when reading the very best mom bloggers – the women within the blogging genre whose skill as personal essayists I admire the most – and that’s this; as you read, you believe and feel like you are getting a really juicy, detailed, intimate bunch of details, but when you finish the chapter (Lowe) or the blog post (blogger), you realize that in fact, the writer was so adept at telling his/her own story and weaving in the stories of others that a certain sleight of hand took place. You mat THINK you got a great deal of dish, but in reality, you’ve come away with nothing inappropriately intimate or with too many highly specific details.

The best description I’ve ever heard or read of this phenomenon as it relates to bloggers (but it also applies to personal essayists in any medium) came from Jon Armstrong, quoted in Lisa Belkin’s 2011 NYT Magazine profile of his wife and business partner, Heather Armstrong of Jon explained it this way, “This is where Heather has become a master… She has the ability to take a single episode and turn it into an epic, and then, if you go word by word and ask, ‘What did she reveal?’ it’s really not very much. David Sedaris once said that his stories are ‘true enough.’ Blogs, the ones that last, are also ‘true enough.’ ”

As I am reading Lowe’s memoir, I realize that while he drops some names (but not all of them; his tabloid-match-made-in-heaven 80s relationship of several years with actress Melissa Gilbert gets only a line or two, and he doesn’t actually use her name), he’s not giving up anything that any of these people would likely care that he revealed. But again, he’s a good enough writer that he makes you THINK that you’re reading something deliciously gossipy….until you realize you didn’t. Yet, you never end up unsatisfied or feeling ripped off. He never seems insincere or inauthentic. It’s very, very smart the way he pulls this off with such honesty and grace, while retaining enough respect for himself and the other subjects of his writing that what he’s doing never feels trashy or exploitative, and it really is very much like some of the most talented mom bloggers whom fans (and even more so, their critics) may believe are regularly dishing up a great deal of specific personal info, when in fact readers have only been given a small, carefully crafted, and wonderfully written glimpse into the window of that blogger’s life.

The ability to offer up these slice of life, essay-style, first person vignettes in a way that’s appropriately circumspect, yet which also entertains and provokes thought or laughter, and which compels readers to read on to the next book chapter, or to come back to the blog again the next week is rare. It’s something I aspire to do in my own writing, and don’t always pull off. But reading Rob Lowe’s book – yes, ROB LOWE’S BOOK – is inspiring me to keep trying to improve as a personal essayist-slash-blogger. And I know that once I finish it this weekend, I will be recommending the book to other blogger pals as an excellent case study in mom blogging done right….by Rob Lowe.





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About Katie Allison Granju


Katie Allison Granju

Katie Allison Granju is the married mother of five children, ranging in age from toddler to teenager. In addition to blogging for Babble Voices, she also publishes her own blog, Big Good Thing. Katie also enjoys working in her flower garden, riding her bike, and feeding the chickens she keeps in the backyard of her family's large Victorian house. Read bio and latest posts → Read Katie Allison's latest posts →

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19 thoughts on “What Mommybloggers Could Learn From Rob Lowe

  1. QoB says:

    Not to take away from your larger point – which I agree with! The Dooce example is very apt – but I’m sceptical that Rob Lowe actually sat down and typed out that book. At least, the majority of celebrity autobiographies are ghost-written.

  2. geri a says:

    I’m sure you’ve written a fine post here Katie, but I cannot stop staring at this beyond good-looking man. What’s that old saying, pictures are worth 1,000 words? Well this picture is worth 1,000,000 words. thanks for sharing it :) (I’ll come back to read later, but for now, scrolling back up to the top, and gazing at Rob some more). Damn.

  3. Jen (yup, another one) says:

    I’m with QOB. My gut says you are praising a phenomenal ghost writer, not Lowe himself.

  4. c'trix says:

    Yeah, I have to agree with the others. Celebrities rarely write their own work – would be cool if you could investigate for us and find out!

  5. John Dominic Barbarino says:

    Whether ghost or man of popular flesh, why laud a person who is or hired craftspeople that entertain, thrill and dance around well without really telling the truth or zeroing in on what it is really all about? Not naming names is fine, but what’s the point? West Wing was awesome not due to Lowe. It was an ensemble and Allison J was the leader of that pack. She’s an old broad kicking acting butt and still does. Lowe as Proust. Well, that WOULD be acting and worthy of an award. Though, anyone who gets a person to read on any machine or on any page should be given a pass, even if it is a ghost’s past.

  6. KathrynT says:

    Heaven forbid should something ever happen to our husbands, we may be in serious competition for Paul Rudd and/or Colin Firth!

  7. Mary says:

    I think Patti Smith’s memoir Just Kids is another good example a memoir that is both respectful and revealing. I was moved and impressed by the way Smith handled her description of her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe. I’m going to check out the Lowe book, I’ve read a little bit about his live and it seemed quite sad-like many gay and bi men who came of age in the 80s.

  8. Chrissy says:

    Rob Lowe is from my hometown…as is Martin Sheen, and Alison Janney – D8N OH represent…anyway, I just have to add that Rob’s parents were just as hot as he is. They used to come into the little wine and cheese store I worked in, and hubba hubba hubba.

    It might or might not have been a ghostwriter. Patti Smith’s memoir (as someone stated above) is phenomenal. Actors are creative creatures…he very might well have written the bulk of it (and had a good editor, you know?).

  9. Rosstwinmom says:

    It wasn’t a ghost writer. He told Oprah he did it himself, and we know you don’t try and lie to Oprah.

  10. Stacie says:

    Ooooooweeeee, that man just gets better looking the older he gets.

  11. Allison says:

    I know Rob Lowe personally and can attest to the fact that he wrote every word of his autobiography. I was visiting his wife and asked where Rob was. She told me he was working on his book and could probably use a break. We went in his office and there he was, writing his memoir with his very hands.

    No ghost writers involved in this one.

    And yes, he’s just as gorgeous hanging around the house on a Saturday as he is on TV, in the movies, or on magazine covers.

  12. kristen says:

    I actually think that the model Katie aspires to is an unsettling one. I think that what Jon revealed about how Dooce shares can lead to readers feeling manipulated. I would argue that Katie is more successful because of the very real and sometimes raw nature of her writing. In the last year or two, Dooce has felt very artificial and more like the oz behind the curtain than a genuine voice.

  13. Stacey says:

    Well said, Kristen. Katie, I enjoy reading your blog because of your honest and straight forward writing. Please don’t lose your voice! The world needs your strength and courage.

  14. S says:

    I agree with Kristen. When I bother to read Dooce, there’s no ‘there’ there, as the saying goes. I’ll take substance over style, any day.

  15. chiara says:

    I think Dooce is an excellent writer but a terrible story-teller these last few years. She seems to have lost her “voice” and her posts all say nothing. I finish reading and am basically wondering why I bothered. I think a celebrity like Rob Lowe can get away with being discreet/coy/low on details because we can also fill in details ourselves based on the “public record”. Dooce doesn’t have this so a lot of her posts sound hollow to me. What I love about Katie’s posts are how raw and honest they are. And as frequently as Katie posts, I am sure there is a ton of information she chooses to protect. The difference to me between Katie and Heather’s style is that Heather tries to pretend that she is sharing something–when in fact she gives away nothing.

  16. geri a says:

    I’m going to agree with Kristen on this one. I hope you don’t aspire to become a writer who uses sleight of hand, or carefully crafted words to say….well not much. Maybe it’s a function of my age, but I ask “what’s the point in that?” There are so darned many words out there as it is, the few blogs I read all have one thing in common…they are honest, real and upfront in their writing. At least that is what I take away from them. I can appreciate the risk in revealing things; you certainly have had to deal with criticism, etc. in things you have revealed, but I guess I have to ask why bother writing if it is going to be some smoke and mirrors exercise.

  17. Maggie May says:

    I think great writing- if that is what we are talking about here- rarely ever comes without great emotional risk to the writer. And often, the writer’s loved ones. My blog, if it has or will ever have a ‘brand’, is summed up in the tagline ‘one woman, telling the truth about my life’ and I can tell you that my stories of personal grief, mental illness, my marriage, sex, parenthood, childhood- all have come with full force truth. The posts that have resonated with people and sent floods of emails and FB messages are always the ones where I am bringing it LIVE. If you know what I mean :) I think my only ‘sleight of hand’ has been to protect the ones who I choose to ‘protect’, which often, is a very blurry and difficult line to find. Who am I protecting and why? What stories are mine to tell and what are not? If what has happened to ME isn’t mine, then what is?

    My children are the only lines that are clear to me. As soon as they get old enough, I begin to ask them if they are OK with me writing XY or z. When they start saying ‘no’ I respect that. WHen my oldest, Dakota, asked me to pretty much stop writing anything truly personal about him, I did.

    Great thought provoking post Katie!

  18. Meagan H says:

    In this age where everyone is a writer it gets harder to seperate the good from the bad I think you’ve hit one something that makes a difference mainly actually having talent. Writing is definitely something you can improve with practice but having some natural inclination certainly helps and frankly their are a lot of lousy writers out here on the internets. Everyone thinks they can write but few actually make good writers and I wish more would realize this instead of subjecting us to their “skills”. Sometimes I’m not sure who is worse the pretentious over educated blogger who has no actual talent but insist on meticulously crafting bad prose anyway or the blogger who is trying to edgy by breaking all rules and just creating an unreadable mess. I mean we all have those bad posts that sounded funny in our heads but way too many poeple have soapboxes right now and too few have something actually worth reading.

    Discretion is the better part of valour and I think its something that everyone writng about their personal lives should remember. You signed up to be a blogger your family did not there needs to be some sort of a line that you and they are confortable with. Different people will have different comfort levels and where you draw the line is up to you but I think have some discretion is part of being a good blogger. After all they’re are certian things no one wants to hear about(like your kids bowel movements for the most part) and certian things should be private(like your husbands erectile dysfunction). I think the way you handled Henry’s addiction was good example of this, you never posted anything that might harm Henry while he was alive and once he was gone you used your blog to raise awarness and express your grief. There are many on the mommy blogging circuit who seem to sensationlize and expliot their families problems for money or even just to be internet famous and I worry about their kids.Bondaries are a healthy part of any family and they need to be in place even on the internet.

    PS. I was wondering how you felt about the TIme article on Attachment Parenting? Did you post about on another blog or are you just over all the drama?

  19. [...] week in Parenthesis, a dad blogger takes his daughter bra shopping, Katie Allison Granju picks up writing tips from a Hollywood memoir and Ilana Wiles shares the secret spell that makes her toddler daughter [...]

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