Former EW editor-at-large Benjamin Svetkey has spent years writing about some of the world's biggest movie stars. For his latest assignment -- the debut novel Leading Man -- he creates one

By Keith Staskiewicz
Updated September 25, 2013 at 04:00 AM EDT

Like you, your protagonist is an entertainment reporter.
Basically, the book’s about Max, a guy whose childhood sweetheart leaves him for an action star. And not just any action star, but his childhood hero. He goes on a mission to follow her to Hollywood as an entertainment writer to win her back and to figure out this whole fame thing.

Did you ever date anyone who married a movie star? Keep in mind we know the answer because we worked with you.
Sure, and that happens to more guys in L.A. than you might think. But the book is really Max’s story, not mine. Luckily for readers, because my story is much duller.

How much did you draw from your own experiences?
Bits and pieces. Some of the lines the movie stars speak, they’re pulled out of interviews that I’ve had with everybody from Sonny Bono to Jack Nicholson. The idea was that the fake movie stars should be familiar but not recognizable, so people could try to figure out who they were.

Was it strange to write your first novel after spending so much time in journalism?
Totally. I used to joke that my expense reports were the most creative writing I had done.

So it’s harder pulling things out of your brain than out of your notepad.
It’s an upside-down world. In journalism, you’re given the story, the characters, even the dialogue. In novel writing, you’re given nothing. When I was making stuff up, I kept thinking the fact-checkers were going to come barging in and break my keyboard. Every time I’d invent as much as a character’s hairdo, I’d be sweating bullets. But that goes away, and you come in, crack your knuckles, and say, ”What kind of movie star am I going to invent today?”