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My Own Private Palo Alto, or Why I Hate James Franco

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Dear James:

When my little sister and her friends bumped into you at the Stanford Shopping Center a few years ago I thought it was really cool that you enthusiastically posed for a picture with them. They were freshmen at Palo Alto High School (Paly), your alma mater, and you just were starting your ascent to stardom. This was right after Spiderman, before you'd earned the title of "talented actor," before we knew you'd be a kick-ass host of SNL, before you were a famous writer of literary fiction.

That was five years ago. Now I hate you. I suspect I'm not alone. Another writer or two who posts articles on the Huffington Post probably knows where I'm coming from. It's an envy thing. Don't take it personally, but for me, it's personal.

I hate you because I also wrote a novel that takes place in and around Palo Alto. Like your recently released oeuvre, mine features local youth and has some dark undertones, but without the Brett Easton Ellis overtones. However, I made the tragic mistake of not titling my book Palo Alto, so no one seems to have noticed it's about Palo Alto. Your title is brilliant. I guess I should have been more literal.

No one reviewed my book about Palo Alto, not even local papers like the San Jose Mercury or San Francisco Chronicle--and I even put those publications in my book. Your book is being reviewed, well, everywhere, even in publications that don't normally acknowledge the existence of books, much less review them. I know what you're going to tell me. Your publicist is just more persistent than mine.

I hate you because your day job is cooler than mine, and I have a pretty cool day job. I'm an editor at CNET. I get to play with gadgets and hang out with tech bloggers. Sometimes I even get to be in the same room with Engadget's Joshua Topolsky. He's no Sean Penn or anything, but he is the resident tech-expert (real-title) at Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.

And I guess I'm a teeny tiny bit envious of the fact that Gary Shteyngart blurbed your book. Harlan Coben blurbed mine. Coben sells a gabillion more books than Shteyngart does, but Shteyngart wasn't teaching at Columbia when I got my MFA there back in the 90's. Neither was Sam Lipsyte. (Of course, my tuition was about a quarter of what it is now, so I guess you get what you pay for, if indeed you paid anything for yours).

And I'm super sad that I didn't get to be in Shteyngart's book trailer for Super Sad True Love Story. In hindsight I can see that I was pretty naïve to think his publisher had hired you to play an MFA student. But then someone told me you actually were an MFA student and I realized you'd taken method acting to a whole new level.


I read somewhere that Mona Simpson was one of your creative writing professors when you were an undergrad at UCLA. Ms. Simpson is a fine writer, but dude, she's Steve Jobs' sister!

The other thing I can't get over is how you're like the Zelig of graduate arts programs. Your Wikipedia entry says you moved to New York, "To attend simultaneously graduate school at Columbia University's MFA writing program, New York University's Tisch School of the Arts for filmmaking, and Brooklyn College for fiction writing, while occasionally commuting to North Carolina's Warren Wilson College for poetry. Franco has been accepted to Yale University's Ph.D. program in English, and will most likely begin the program in fall 2010, and will also attend the Rhode Island School of Design."

Damn, I didn't know you could double and triple dip like that. Here's a challenge: Attend every Ivy League school at the same time. You're James Franco. You can do it.

And another thing. You get to price your ebook at full price. As someone who covers the e-book/e-reader market, I can say that most new authors can't sell a lot of e-books at $11.99. Only established authors--or James Franco--can do that. My e-book is selling for 3.99 and has spent almost a month in the Kindle top 100.

Alas, none of that seems to impress my sister. She refuses to read my book unless I get her a signed copy of your book. Any chance you can help me out, bro, even though I went to Gunn?

David Carnoy is an executive editor at CNET and the author of Knife Music. He grew up in the Palo Alto area and attended Gunn High School, the rival of Paly High, James Franco's alma mater. His favorite movie is Pineapple Express.

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