Interview: Elise Costa, pop culture expert

Élise Costa has the coolest job ever. She is a pop culture expert.

“Awesome! And how does that pay the bills?”, you may ask.

Well, Élise  works as freelance writer, enabling several French media (mainly websites) to take advantage of her expertise when it comes to pop culture. She likes to analyze frivolous subjects with a serious method – she could probably write a thesis about Lindsay Lohan’s meltdowns or Britney Spears’s mishaps (instead, she studied law at university). She has encyclopedic knowledge of American culture, whether it be TV shows, books, films, and of course, music. Sometimes, she publishes glimpses of her talented pieces of writing on her blog.

In May 2010, she published a book about Britney Spears, entitled Comment je n’ai pas rencontre Britney Spears, which you could translate by How I did not meet Britney Spears. She wrote it after she took a road trip following Britney Spears’s footsteps, from Louisiana – where Britney grew up – to Los Angeles, where Élise saw her live for the first time.

You said in your interview for French Glamour that you like to make people feel less guilty by treating superficial subjects in a serious manner. Has anyone ever nitpicked because you care about celebrity news, such as Lindsay Lohan’s troubles?

Oh well, “nitpicking”, that may be a strong word, but there is no doubt that some people must have snickered. Which is not very serious.

When you traveled to the United States to follow Britney Spears’s trail, did you already know you were going to write a book about it? How did you document your journey?

Yes, I already knew. I would find out about places that were memorable for her, I would go over there, I would eat a few pancakes while taking some notes, then I would visit a little bit more. At night, I would do some research (videos and press) and I would read.

Out of all current pop stars, who could become an icone like Britney Spears?

In fact, it is still too early to tell. For example, when Madonna was 30 years old, Lady Gaga & co did not exist yet.

I am currently fascinated by the New York Times series “Writers on writing”. Could you tell me about what helps you to write, like Joyce Carol Oates or James Salter did for them?

I read. I don’t think it is possible to write well without getting nurtured by books daily. Night. Music (classic or punk-rock). My bed (I work in my bed a lot, it is like a great desk where you can scatter your stuff). The road (driving help structuring one’s thoughts). A tidy environment, which never happens. Anecdotes of all kinds. Diet Coke.

You read impressive quantities of books. When you don’t find the beginning of a book very exciting, what is your emergency protocol? Do you hang on and try to finish it, or do you switch to something else?

There are two types of readers: those who try desperately to read a book until the end even if they can’t stand it anymore, or they hate its style or whatever; and those who – in a more epicurean logic – decide to give up if the reading becomes too arduous. I am part of the second category. Usually, I read at least a hundred or a hundred and twenty pages, and if I still don’t get hooked, I read a few excerpts a few chapters later, and if it still doesn’t work, I give up.

Does having a blog influence your life as a writer? Did it help you getting know, or developping you writing style?

Yes, in a good sense. I use it as a laboratory, and to collect my souvenirs. It is a selection from the notebooks that I take everywhere with me. It changes over time – it will be nine years next summer since I started running it, which is saying something. Then again, it hasn’t really helped me getting known, I don’t think I got any job thanks to my blog, but more thanks to my articles.

Most of your articles are published on the Internet. What do you think about ACTA and its cousins, SOPA and PIPA?

I think it’s terrible, of course, but in France, the worst has passed.

Book cover from Élise’s blog:


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