Caitlyn Jenner's co-writer talks memoir plans
Caitlyn Jenner’s memoir was never an “if” but a “when,” and now that “when” is official: the world’s most famous transgender woman will pen a memoir slated for the spring of 2017.
She’ll tell her story once more with the help of Buzz Bissinger, who detailed Jenner’s transition from Olympic athlete-cum-reality star to transgender icon in that now-historic Vanity Fair cover story just 18 months ago.
Jenner first sought the involvement of the Friday Night Lights author in early fall, several months after the Vanity Fair piece. Grand Central Publishing landed the book for an undisclosed sum that some publishing insiders are estimating between the high seven figures and low eights.
Bissinger spoke to EW the afternoon of the publication announcement about his very busy year ahead.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: A memoir seemed like the inevitable next step for Caitlyn. When did you get involved?
BUZZ BISSINGER: I would say sometime in the early fall. It was several months after the Vanity Fair piece. Caitlyn had expressed an interest in doing a memoir and wanted to talk to me specifically about it because of the Vanity Fair piece, really because of the bond that we had developed doing the piece. We just got along really well with one another and she felt comfortable with me.
Did you expect the call? Or hope for it?
No. I mean, look, it would not be unusual for the next step for Caitlyn to be a memoir. Was I hoping for the call? No. When I got the call, it was a big deliberation on my part. It’s her book. It’s in her voice, as it should be. And basically the reason I did it was, I met with her the week before we were meeting with publishers and I said, “Look, Caitlyn, if you’re going to do this, in for a dime, in for a dollar. Everything has to be on the table. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be gossipy or salacious, but you cannot leave anything out because otherwise, I don’t want to do it.” And she got that and she agreed and… because I felt this really is a wonderful story to be told, [I said] I’m not just going to talk to you, I’m going to talk to other people and when other people say things, it’s a way of holding you accountable.
Do you anticipate this being strictly first-person?
Yes, it’s going to be first person.
Where do you begin for secondaries?
I can’t really outline it until I’ve finished the reporting, and I don’t know when that’ll be. It’s slated for spring of 2017. If it takes longer, it’s going to take longer. I’m deep in the process of interviewing Caitlyn and will spend hundreds and hundreds of hours with her and then the other people I need to talk to who I think are essential.
What’s the most daunting part ahead?
It’s like any book, to create a compelling narrative that people will find worthy of reading. And I guess the biggest fear is, there’s been a lot written about Caitlyn. I frankly have written most of it. And is there much more to be written about? And I can definitely tell you on the basis of starting to interview her, there’s much, much more to be told: about her life, thinking about making this transition, about the pain you go through, the confusion you go through, and lacing it with anecdotes and trying to make it as specific as possible.
How have you been surprised by the bond you’ve developed with Caitlyn?
I can honestly say that Caitlyn is one of the most honest people that I’ve ever worked with. She was very, very open, but that doesn’t mean that there weren’t some things [in the Vanity Fair piece] she wanted off the record. That was obviously honored. But she’s open about her life, open about this great relationship that she had with the four Jenner kids, and I found that very, very appealing. And she’s also fun to be with. If you’re going to do something like that, the person has to be fun. She’s open, has has a good sense of humor, we laugh a lot, we have a good time, and then we know when to be serious, and I can tell you that she’s extremely focused on this book, and that’s the other thing you look for. One of the big problems with books like this is the subject really is the focus. Caitlyn is a very, very focused human being and we have to remember, she did train every day for eight years to win the decathlon. She’s a very, very focused person, and she’s into this.
We’re doing it in an orderly fashion, because it is about her life, so it starts at the beginning then it goes obviously through her transition. It’s a portrait about difference. That’s what I think makes it universal. People are different. I’m different. I have certain gender issues that I deal with, I have leather fetish issues that I deal with and obviously Caitlyn’s issues are gender dysphoria. But we all have secrets, we all have differences, and my hope is people will read this and understand how difficult they can be and how liberating they can be.
What do you make of the importance of this as a moment in time?
It is a moment in history, and look, I’m proud of the Vanity Fair piece but it’s only 10,000 words. You leave a lot on the table, even when you use anecdotes and specifics—you leave a lot out. This is a great moment in time and it’s not specifically our societal acceptance of trans women and trans men, but our societal acceptance of difference. This should be a celebration but there’s this tendency that everyone has to conform. What does it mean to be a man? What does it mean to be a woman? I don’t really know, and I don’t really know what the differentiation should be. To me, Caitlyn is a very inspirational figure. She’s the first to say she’s not a spokesman for the trans community. She knows that’s not her place. But I can also tell you that she’s been very, very committed to really learning the problems that are in the trans community. I know she gets a rap for caring about the way she looks, but you know what, most people care about the way they look.
Have you been watching I Am Cait, or, because of this, purposely avoiding it?
I have watched it. You make a good point. I tend to avoid it now. What I have seen, and I saw most of the first season, I found really admirable. The sense was, oh this is going to be a Kardashian spinoff and it’s going to be really silly and really foolish, and that’s absolutely not true. Anyone who watches that show, there’s a lot of stuff in it about the issues that are faced by trans women and trans men, and I give her a lot of credit for that.
Are you inspired by any memoirs?
I’ve read memoirs… I’m approaching this as a book. It has to be reported out. And if Caitlyn sort of glosses over something or doesn’t want to talk about something, that’s why you talk to other people, and you also talk to other people because that’s how you flesh it out and that’s how you make it real. But honestly, when you do a book like this, you have to avoid reading other memoirs because it becomes really, really intimidating.
What about the price tag?
It means that it’s a big book, and when it’s a big book, it has to be a great book and you think about it for a minute or two and you feel intimidated and then you have to put it out of your mind and make the best book that you can possibly do. But pressure is a good thing. When I feel nervous, I’m going to give good work. I care a lot. I think there’s a lot on the line, not just because of the price tag but to do something that’s really, really memorable because of what she went through. To me, the common denominator is difference. We all grapple with things. And it may not be sexual things. It may not be gender. But we all grapple.
Portions of this interview have been edited and condensed.