Keli Goff on Mentors, Movies, and Magic Johnson
My novel Ten Girls to Watch is all about getting started in this world of ours. (Summary: it’s hard!) How do you know what you want to do when you’re 23? And even if you think you know, how do you get there? In today’s interview, Keli Goff, blogger, political analyst, and the author of three books, including most recently the novel the GQ Candidate, has some pretty great answers to those and other life questions. Movies and cookies are involved. Read on for the whole scoop!
What did you think you wanted to be when you graduated from college?
I thought I’d probably wind up being a political speechwriter or something like that. I grew up watching my parents volunteer on political campaigns, but I never wanted to run for office. Then I saw the movie “The American President” as a teenager, and it made those behind the scenes jobs seem just as important to the political process as the politicians themselves, and to a kid they looked kind of glamorous (I know better now!) So I interned on a number of campaigns in my quest to end up like one of the characters in “The American President.”
What kind of job did you actually end up getting as your first job out of school?
My first job was as a Congressional Aide to Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney. While she became a mentor and a friend (she actually hosted one of my book parties recently) I discovered in that job that I did not want to spend my life working in politics or government, even though I gained tremendous respect for those who do. Shortly after I started working for her 9/11 happened, and since her congressional district is in Manhattan, I spent much of my first year out of college working with people struggling with unimaginable loss. There were times when I wasn’t sure I would be able to make it through the year, emotionally speaking, but then I remembered as tough as my job was for me, it was nothing compared to what so many people I was surrounded by were coping with at the time.
Is there a job or a moment you think of as “your first big break”?
Absolutely! For years I had been saying I was interested in writing about the political evolution of young, black Americans of my generation, who are much more racially integrated than our parents’ and grandparents’ generation. My best friend David had a party and when I arrived he said, “there is a literary agent here. Tell him about your book.” Only the book was just an idea at the time. During the party I finally worked up the courage to corner his friend, the agent, and tell him my book idea. Unfortunately, he only handled fiction books so I had cornered him for nothing, or so I thought. He then asked me whom I had sent my book proposal to and I asked him “What’s a book proposal?” He then ended our conversation by telling me to buy the book “How to write a Book Proposal” and that was that. I was so embarrassed but a week later the book arrived in the mail with a note that said, “Keli, I hope this helps you get started.” It was from the literary agent from the party. I sent him a box of cookies to thank him and he in turn introduced me to my agent Michele, who remains my agent to this day. Moral of the story? Always be prepared and ALWAYS say thank you.
How about a moment or experience where you finally felt like you’d “made it”?
I’ve had a couple of times where people I admire have recognized me from television and I am always caught off guard by that. I told my mother that Magic Johnson once said hello to me by name when we ran into each other, and she thought I was joking or perhaps I was confusing him with someone else—which pretty much sums up how much she thinks I’ve made it. : ) HA! But Julian Bond the civil rights legend is one of my personal heroes and was one of the first major interviews I landed for my first book. Unbeknownst to him, I actually have a famous photo of him and other civil rights activists as my screensaver (something friends told me not to mention when I interviewed him because it sounds slightly creepy : ) A couple of years after I interviewed him, I discovered he quoted something I wrote, at an event and then the next time I ran into him he introduced me as “A talented writer.” To this day I think he has no idea what that meant to me. It felt as great as winning a Pulitzer as far as I was concerned.
Is there anyone who has been a real role model, mentor, or inspiration for you?
I’ve been fortunate to have a number of wonderful mentors. Congresswoman Maloney is one of them. Arianna Huffington is another. She is such a champion of young women writers and has helped my career tremendously. She blurbed my first book after receiving a copy from my publicist even though she had no idea who I was and since then has lent support in so many other ways too. But my mom has been my biggest inspiration of all, mainly because she has never pressured me to pursue her dreams like a lot of parents do. Instead she has given me the freedom, confidence, and constant encouragement to pursue the college, jobs, boyfriends etc. that make me happy, not ones that fit some life plan she has mapped out for me. I realize now what a gift that is. They say the biggest regret before dying is living a life others expected of you. I can honestly say I haven’t done that, so NO regrets so far!
Thanks so much, Keli!
And back to the GQ Candidate for a minute — here’s a snippet about it:
Michigan governor Luke Cooper, one of the few black and—by virtue of adoption—Jewish elected officials, stuns his tight-knit friends with his decision to run for president. But could their efforts to help ultimately be his political downfall? Scandal and gossip surrounding his supporters rock his campaign, and even Luke’s wife grows wary of the spotlight when a surprise from their past inconveniently resurfaces. . . .
Sounds good, right? The paperback is on sale now!