Monday, May 29, 2006

Running With Scissors

I don't recall where I saw the trailer for this film. I think it must have been a video rental since I venture out to the movies once every six months. The movie looked so good that I had to read the book. I like reading any book before the movie comes out, don't you?

I consumed Running With Scissors in one day. I read it while cooking, I read it while on my exercise bike. I read it on the elliptical. I read it while watching Dr. 90210 and then I read it in bed. Finally, I didn't have to worry about multi-tasking because I finished it.

I do love a good memoir (Angela's Ashes, The Glass Castle, Nasty, Queen of the Oddballs). Add in a splash of dysfunction and heavy dose of humor and I can't put the book down. This was a captivating memoir about Augusten Burroughs, given to his mother's kooky psychiatrist at a young age to be raised by a group of eccentric people. Young Augusten had a desire to run a hair-care empire and enjoyed using the heads of hair around him to practice his techniques. While the hair empire may not have worked out for him, he built a career as a successful writer which proves my theory that writers are a highly unique breed.

Parts of the book are dark, sad and well, plain gross. Other parts are so funny, conjuring up the images in my imagination had me laughing out loud. I suppose truth really is stranger than fiction and this memoir proves it. Now I want to read the sequel to Running With Scissors titled Dry, about grown up Augusten living in New York City, working in advertising.

You can learn more about the movie here and read more about Augusten by going to his website. Be sure to read the book before the movie hits theaters in October.

Alison Pace, Pug Hill

Alison can claim being the first author I've interviewed twice. She wrote If Andy Warhol Had A Girlfriend which was a fun trip into the art world with quotes from Andy sprinkled throughout.

Pug Hill is her newest book, a good beach read- something that will amuse you and entertain you. Plus, how can you not delight in the happy ending? I was excited to read Pug Hill based on the title. I love animals, especially dogs but not really cats. Alison places her novels in the world of art, this time the main character is an art restorer at the Met who has a terrible fear of public speaking, a love of pugs and a crush on her co-worker.

Why a pug? Why not Poodle Hill? Or German Shepard Hill? What's the
deal with pugs?

Well, there is an actual place in Central Park where pugs used to gather to play off leash together. I always greatly enjoyed the sight when I walked by, and thought it was a great place to anchor a novel about someone who loves dogs.

Do you have issues with public speaking like Hope in the novel? Public speaking scares me. Thinking about it makes me break out in a cold sweat and my heart starts to race..cant do it.

I'm not a my most comfortable when public speaking, not at all. I got to thinking about Hope's issues when I was giving readings for my first novel. She's much worse off in that arena than I am though. Luckily for me.

Is Pug Hill a metaphor for something in Hope's life, or maybe yours?

I think it's a metaphor for a perfect world for Hope. Pugs to her, are symbols of love, freedom, unconditional friendship, and so to have them all in one place is quite wonderful for her.

What was your inspiration for the book?

Mostly, my love for dogs and how positively I feel they have affected my life.

Do you own a dog, a cat, a gerbil or guineapig?

I actually do not currently own a dog. I'm a bit like Hope McNeill in that respect. It's in my immediate future.

Are Pugs symbolic or something? Because not only did I receive this book, but was invited to write for the Pug Bus, a satire site run by my friend Phil. Check out my humorous essays here here, and here. You can learn more about Alison Pace here. Happy Pugging!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Crafty Chica, Art de la Soul

I made the mistake in the past of thinking that being artsy also means being crafty. Alas, while I can sketch with charcoal and take a good photo and paint sunflowers this does not translate into creating something with my hands. In fact, my sad attempts at making crafts resulted in lopsided butterflies and glue splattered photo frames and ill looking candles.

Crafty Chica can do it and she wants to teach you how. In her bright and joyful book, Art de la Soul, Crafty Chica shows us how to take those baby steps to becoming a super crafty chick.
My favorite crafts are the Happy Historia Photo charms and the Las Mujeres Empowerment box. Not to mention the Frida inspired necklace. I adore Mexican arts and crafts, there is something so happy about the bright colors and the textures and the soulful paintings. This book is inspiring to page through whether you are crafty or artistic or not. As you turn the glossy pages, simply admire at the beautifully done projects. And Kathy Cano Murillo aka Craft Chica, is a sweetheart. She writes throughout the book and you can't help but want to be her friend and hang out and make crafts and drink wine and chill out on sultry summer nights. Pass me the paints and the glitter, por favor.

To read more about Kathy, go here. To order the book go here. And if you are too lazy or too busy to pick up a paintbrush, you can buy her crafts by going here.

This craft is my favorite. I have an entire wall of crosses in my house. Lovely!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


I love to cook. The problem is, throwing things together is not instinctual for me. I tend to make the same things over and over. And over. And you can only eat so much pasta with sundried tomatoes and salmon with dill before someone starts to complain.

Rachel Ray comes to the rescue with 365:No Repeats, a 30 Minute Meal Cookbook. I love the 30 Minute Meals show on the Food Network. I watch in awe as she works quickly and never stops talking. I don’t know whats more amazing, the fact that she can chatter about roasted duck without taking a breath or the fact that her hair never frizzes over the heat of the stove.

Rachel has created an assortment recipes including (but not limited to) Perfect Pastas, On The Light Side, Burger Bonanza, Good For a Crowd, Pick of the Chix, Vegetarian. There is a big variety of meals to cook and the only thing that’s missing, in my humble opinion, is a dessert section. I want my sweet treat, you know. Once in a while she will throw in a short story about a recipe but for the most part, Rachel is very straightforward and there is not a lot of chit-chat about each entry.

Who doesn’t want to be friends with Ted Allen? I know I do. Especially after meeting him in Palm Springs at the book festival. He was cool and relaxed and funny and I had to resist the urge to invite him over to my house for cheap wine and Ruffles. Ted has written a book called The Food You Want to Eat. This is a step above Rachel’s easy and casual cookbook. Ted features slightly more adult foods along with wine suggestions for each entree.

If you enjoy Ted on Queer Eye, you will like this cookbook, infused with Ted’s wit and personality He includes recipes for vegtables, meat, seafood, cookouts, desserts and breakfasts. I love the book, the photos are gorgeous and the layout is perfect. Paging through the book makes me hungry, especially the creme brulee and apple tart.

Both books are great. Even if you don't particulary enjoy getting dirty in the kitchen, its fun to page through and read the recipes and hope by some kind of osmosis, you become a good cook.

Friday, May 19, 2006


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Emily Giffin, Something Borrowed & Something Blue

A long time ago a friend emailed to tell me about this fabulous new author, Emily Giffin. I read the reviews on Amazon and yes, the books sounded great, my kind of fun novels. So as I always do, I got my pink polished nails (not my nails per se, but my hands) on the novels and read them quickly.

After Something Borrowed, I thought there was no way the sequel, Something Blue could be as good. I was surprised. The books were both really good. So good that you don't want to put them down to do things like cook dinner or give the kids a bath or fold laundry. They were good enough to keep me reading until I finished the final pages in the wee hours.

Then... I loaned the books out. I have reason to believe that the person I loaned them to dipped them in sudsy bathwater and left them to dry on the hood of a car. Don't you hate it when that happens? My beautiful pastel colored novels, crinkled and ruined! But a new novel is coming down the pike and I for one, am jumping for joy in anticipation of Baby Proof.

Emily, who would you say you are most like: kind hearted Rachel or selfish Darcy? And which of those girls would you choose to be friends with?

Hey! I’m going to have to defend my girl Darcy here! I don’t know that I’d characterize her as selfish! She certainly had those tendencies, but I think she redeemed herself a bit in Something Blue. One of the reasons I wanted to write both books is that I wanted to show that there are two sides to every story and no relationship is black-and-white… Overall, I think I’m probably more like Rachel, but I think I have a little bit of both women in me. To write convincingly, I think you must be able to relate, in some way, to what a character is feeling and going through. Like Rachel in Borrowed, I was a lawyer who was unhappy in the big firm culture. Rachel was generally a rule follower and risk averse until the summer after her thirtieth birthday, and upon turning thirty, I, too, reevaluated my life and decided to make a major change. I quit my legal career, moved to London and began writing full time.

As for Darcy in Blue, she and I both moved to London at a crossroads in our life, and we both have identical twin sons (the scene with her doctor in London at her first ultrasound was the most autobiographical scene in any of my books). And like both women (and most women everywhere) I know what it’s like to have a complicated female friendship. As for your question about friends, I have friends who are Rachel-esque and friends who are more like Darcy. Friends like Rachel are the ones you want with you in a crisis. But the Darcys of the world are very fun to hang out with!

How long did it take you to write the books? Did you take a break in between writing them, or did you write in one, long continuous story- telling frenzy? I was pleasantly surprised that both books were excellent, sometimes sequels are disappointing but you made it work very well.

It took me about one year to write each of my three books so far. Something Borrowed was released in June 2004; Something Blue came out in June 2005 and Baby Proof will be released next month, on June 13th. And I’m currently working on my fourth book (about a girl who worries that she married the wrong person) which will be published next year. So I haven’t had time for a break yet!

But to answer your question more specifically, I didn’t write Borrowed and Blue as one continuous book. In early drafts of Borrowed, I thought often about what Darcy would say if she could hear Rachel’s thoughts. How would she defend herself? How would she view events differently? And yet, I never really considered writing the sequel until the completion of Borrowed when I spent some time fine-tuning Darcy. To your point, she was undeniably self-centered, superficial and self-indulgent in my first book, but I never viewed her as evil. I wanted to be sure that she was not coming across as a flat character devoid of any depth or warmth. After all, Dex spent seven years with her and Rachel put up with her for much longer. To make that part of the story realistic, I thought it necessary to soften some of her edges, and so I added in a few scenes to show her good-hearted side. In so doing, I became much more interested in Darcy as a person—which was the genesis for my sequel.

What is a typical day in the life of Emily Giffin? Do you eat pop tarts for breakfast? McDonalds for dinner? Or are you more of a truffles with white wine reduction and caviar on toast points kind of girl?

My husband and I get up around 7 am with our two-year old twins, Edward and George, and we all have breakfast as a family. Then, my nanny comes four days a week, and she takes care of the boys while I write. We’re pretty low maintenance as far as meals go. When my husband and I were in London, we’d chef it up several times a week, but now we mostly stick with mac & cheese and other easy meals. I’m embarrassed to say, we even resort to frozen dinners during American Idol watching! Still, I love scoping out my Zagat’s for occasional fine dining—and I’d never turn my nose up at caviar on toast points!

You live in Atlanta. Ever run into Bobby Brown and Whitney Houston? Do you watch the train-wreck that is their reality show?

Of course! Whitney and I are actually meeting up for a liquid lunch today! Kidding. I’ve lived in Atlanta for two years and have yet to run into Bobby or Whitney—or any other celebrity. Then again, when I lived in New York and London, my celebrity radar was always off. I’d be with friends, walking down a virtually empty street. We’d pass someone walking a dog and my friends would say, “Omigod! Did you see who that was?” And turns out Dustin Hoffman or Gwenyth Paltrow would have just sauntered by me.

Ever have any crazy fans follow you around from signing to signing or send you lots of wacky e-mails? I actually had an internet stalker which was rather creepy.

No stalkers, but I do have a few intense girls whom I hear from fairly often. But I’m not complaining! I love their support. Really makes me happy when readers connect so much with my books that they feel as if I’m a friend—or could be a friend. One sweet girl just wrote me yesterday. She has been in a relationship in which the guy has been two-timing with her and another girl for years. He’s marrying the other girl in June. She’s devastated and feels that she lost “the one.” It made me happy that I could offer her encouraging words and assure her that he is most certainly not “the one” for her.

Do you like to read the kinds of books you write ? I love mystery novels but don’t have the talent to construct a good one. I write chick-lit and read everything from cookbooks to true crime novels. How about you?

I love chick lit (Jennifer Weiner, Sarah Dunn, Sarah Mlynowski), but I don’t limit myself to any one genre. Some of my favorite authors include Elinor Lipman, Alice Sebold, Tom Perrotta, Stephen King (when he’s not writing horror), Kent Haruf, Nick Hornby, and Ann Patchett. I wish I could write like Alice Munro—but then again, if I did, I probably wouldn’t have my pretty pastel covers which I adore! Bottom line, I’ll read most anything with real, interesting characters.

What’s in your purse right now? I carry around three shades of pink lipstick at all times. Do you wear makeup? Your book photo is very pretty.

Thank you! Although I should fess up that my book jacket photos are pretty much the best I can look. I think I even prefer them to my wedding photos! It’s amazing what you can accomplish with professional hair, makeup and photographers.

My purse is typically a mess. Lots of crumpled receipts, gum wrappers, and calendars from last year (yes, even now that it’s nearly June). I always have with me the following: a tin of Rosebud Salve, Aveda hand lotion, Orbit gum, Tic-tacs (mint green or orange), big sunglasses, a mini-journal to record funny things Edward and George say, my phone (that is usually running on one bar) and my orange wallet from Barney’s that is so bright that I can’t lose it.

As for makeup, I’m a total lip gloss junkie. The only feature of mine that I really like is my lips. My current favorite glosses are by Fresh (I have about six) and Chanel (Rose Sand and Spark). Right now I’m also really enjoying a NARS bronzer called Laguna, but most of the time I skip makeup except for bronzer, lip gloss and mascara. And sometimes Paul Dorf under-eye Total Camouflage. At 34, I really need to start kicking it up a notch with foundation and eye shadow and the whole nine yards. Especially here in the South where nobody leaves the house without their face.

If I came over right now, what would I find you wearing and what are you currently doing besides sitting at the computer? I usually have television on while I’m rubbing my dogs belly with my foot, typing away. How about you?

Right now, I have a raging sore throat that I picked up from my two year-olds, so I’m in total comfort mode, sipping green tea and eating an English muffin with tons of butter. My hair is in a ponytail, and I’m wearing layered T-shirts (love Splendid Ts) and a baggy pair of jeans. I’m not into the whole yoga thing, but I do have a cozy pair of Nike yoga pants that I like to wear when I write. I’m all about comfort—it is one of the huge perks of being a writer (that and writing-off books for tax purpose). But I like to dress up sometimes—when I go to lunch with friends or out to dinner with my husband. Nice clothes and great shoes make me feel like my old, pre-children self!

What’s next for you and where do you see yourself in three years?

In three years, I hope my life is pretty much the same as it is now. Writing, spending time with Edward and George and my husband. Maybe we’ll even have another baby. It’d be interesting to see what having one baby at a time is like! …I approach life a bit how I approach writing. I don’t outline. It might be more efficient to plan ahead, but I’d prefer to wait and see how things unfold. I enjoy the surprises in life!

Monday, May 15, 2006

Flashback: The Bell Jar

I should have read The Bell Jar long ago instead of just a handful of years ago. In highschool my friend Julie wrote a report on Sylvia Plath and I thought The Bell Jar had something to do with canning food, like a mason jar. I never took much interest in the book until years later. I was way more interested in John's report on Edith Wharton who was a lesbian and way more intriguing than a mason jar.

The Bell Jar is a story of a young woman living in New York City during the 1950's. Esther is working as an intern at a magazine and is going into a depression. True, the book is a classic but it's modern in the way Plath writes. She doesn't use clunky vocabulary nor is she long winded. As I recall, the book moves quite fast brining the reader into a downward spiral as Esther becomes more and more depressed. Plath writes incredibly well with raw feeling, perhaps because the book is somewhat autobiographical.

The subject is heavy: depression and suicidal thoughts. I make no secret of talking about my own depression so for me it was relatable. I was turning the pages quickly to find out what was going to happen to young Esther.

After reading the book, I was looking forward to seeing the movie starring Gwyneth Paltrow. I still haven't rented it! Alas, Sylvia's life did not end on a high note as Esther's did, this much I know. Go read the book if you haven't already.

Wendy French, After the Rice

Years ago I read about a book called sMothering. It sounded like a novel I would enjoy so I bought it. sMothering is a must-read if you enjoy funny women's fiction which I do. It's hard to make me laugh by the way and this book had me guffawing out loud. Who doesn't like to guffaw?

Author Wendy French then came out with Going Coastal. In her second novel, Wendy mixes lots of quirky characters with humorous situations. Wendy's novels are so entertaining and well written that you can read them a day or two. Which is perfect for busy ladies like myself.

Now Wendy has produced another book, After the Rice. I adore Wendy, I love her writing and I liked the book a lot. However- I wasn't crazy about the way it ended. I'm trying not to spoil it for you here, but I had to ask her what was with that ending?

The ending was not what I expected. You know people aren't going to be thrilled with it. Why did you do it?

I knew some folks won't be thrilled with the ending, but many others have thanked me for it. From my limited experience, I've learned that any book can contain a scene, dialogue fragment or word choice that will annoy/irritate/upset a reader and I decided that I wanted to write the ending I envisioned, rather than worrying about reactions to it. I tried to do it in a tactful way, and that's really all I can do.

Do you ever create a main character who is similiar to yourself? And how much do you take from real life? I still love the boxing idea in Going Coastal. I wondered if that was based on your life?

My narrators tend to be about 60% me. This doesn't mean that I've been in every situation, but I let the character react the way I wish I would in a given situation, or the way I knew I shouldn't have in another to lend a bit of truth to the story. I take bits and pieces from real life and skew them to fit the book or the character. As for the boxing scene in Going Coastal, my uncle used to make my male cousins duke it out in the backyard.

How long does it take you to write the rough draft of a novel? Do you write an outline first or just sit down and write?

I don't outline, plot or plan, which is a terrible thing to say, but it's true. I usually have one image in mind and try to build the novel around it. I like to let the story kind of do it's own thing. I think that if I was a big plotter, I would have missed writing some of my favorite bits. A rough draft generally takes me 6 months or so, then I revise it twice before giving it to my editor. The total time invested for the three drafts is over a year, as I work a day job and can only write during evenings and weekends.

The best/worst things about going on a book tour?

The best thing about going on a book tour is being able to say you're going on a book tour. It sounds so darn tootin' fancypants. The worst part is a low turnout at a reading, as it's a tad awkward all-around.

People always want to know where authors get their ideas. So how do you come up with the premise of a novel?

As I mentioned earlier, my novel ideas usually come from one image that sticks in my mind. In sMothering, it was the mother singing the national anthem (the book was originally set in Canada, my home country - a nation of mumblers when it comes to the anthem and I thought it said a lot about the character belting it out regardless). Going Coastal started with the boxing and After the Rice began with the Pink Tyrant, Megan's niece.

Because Wendy is not only talented, but generous too, she sent along a spare copy for me to give away to one of my lovely readers. Post a comment with your email and I will pick a winner to be announced on Wednesday.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Family And Other Accidents

This book has been receivng fabulous reviews and I was super excited to read it. As soon as it arrived in the mail, I clawed at the packaging like a savage, settling down with a cup of tea and my new book, under a soft blanket on the couch with the dogs at my feet. Heaven on earth! I love getting wrapped up in a novel, being taken away to a different time or family or way of life.

There is no doubt that Shari Goldhagen is a gifted author. She is the kind of writer I aspire to be, weaving subtle nuances and keen observations together to make a very well written story. She details the lives of brothers Jack and Connor and as the novel progresses, their wives and children. The brothers bond, they fight, they have their own issues and troubles and life goes marching by as it always does. Shari is clever and skillful with words and this debut novel has received stellar ratings. But... I couldn't get into it, I didn't love it, I didn't call all my friends and say, "YOU MUST READ IT!" as I've done many times in the past.

My interest waned halfway through and I put the book on the table next to my bed and did not pick it up again. Instead I moved on to something new.

I have to be in a certain mood for a certain type of book. From time to time I want a light chick-lit book for entertainment. Other times, I want a good memoir. In between I might fancy a mystery novel or dig into a family saga. So while Shari's book is loved by every other person who has read it, I simply didn't dig it. Maybe you will begin page one and not be able to put it down until you flip to the very last page. If that's the case, let me know. Tell me what you think.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

DaVinci Code

Is the character in the book described as balding with long, straggly hair?
Because that is not a good look for Tom Hanks.

Go ahead and put me in the minority of people who have not read The DaVinci Code. At first I was quite unwilling to read it because I'm such a rebel. Everyone else was all into it, who wants to be a bandwagon jumper? I swear, every place I went someone was either reading it or talking about it or talking about reading it. It was on par with the bird flu in terms of popular conversation topics. DaVinci Code, Kevin Federline and bird flu. In that order.

My unwillingness turned into a nonchalant attitude of, "I'll read it when I have a chance...maybe, maybe not." Now I have a stacks of books to read and I don't see myself diving into DaVinci anytime soon. Maybe it's the best book ever written, perhaps it will keep me up into the wee hours soaking up the mystery making me shiver under my sheets, or maybe it will inspire me, I guess I will have to find out eventually. The paperback, purchased by my husband at Costco for seven dollars, will sit on a shelf and gather dust until my book well has run dry and I have nothing better to read. No offense to Dan Brown of course.

And I haven't read any of those Harry Potter books either.

So tell me...have you read the book, what do you think and will you be going to the movie, sitting front and center taking in Tom Hanks horrible coif? Hmmm...?

Monday, May 08, 2006

S is for Silence

I'm not going to sugar coat it: this book is long. Usually I can get through a novel within two days but S is for Silence took me a week, perhaps longer. Not because it was boring but because it's full of characters, clues and details, I couldn't let my eyes coast over the words in a half assed attempt to speed read . I had to pay attention. I couldn't watch the E! True Hollywood Story while I had this book in my hands either. Sheesh! Sue Grafton, what are you doing to me?

I began reading Kinsey Millhone books wayyyyyy back when I was living in North Carolina. Being an avid reader, the first thing I did when I moved to Charlotte was get a library card and the second was get a gym membership. Third was eat at a Cracker Barrel.

All through my twenties, during moves to California to Hawaii to New Jersey and back to California, Kinsey has been there year after year comforting me with her Quarter Pounders with cheese and humor. Sue Grafton averages about one mystery a year and I try to get a hold of one as soon as it is hot off the press. S is for Silence has been out for several months so I was very glad to finally sit down and read it.

Because you are so smart, you know that mysteries are the most popular genre of book in the world. More so than any other genre, people like a good who-done-it. And Sue Grafton is sitting pretty on her Kinsey Millhone novels. I'm just waiting for a Kinsey Millhone movie to hit theaters. It's only a matter of time, don't you think? Hmmm, who would make a good Kinsey? Let's think about this.

S is for Silence is a little different than most of Sue's books, flipping back and forth between present day (that would be Kinsey's present day, pre-cell phones and internet) and 1953. The writer tries to fool the reader with a plethora of characters who could have committed the crime in question. At times I was a tad confused keeping the characters straight in my mind but that's probably because my husband was watching ESPN and I couldn't focus over the unremitting drone of sports-casters. I need silence, (like the title) a cup of tea, and a warm blanket for maximum novel reading enjoyment.

As I mentioned before, the book is lengthy and very descriptive so if you are looking for something light and funny that you can tear through in day or two, I suggest a nice Lauren Weisberger or Plum Sykes novel. And how anyone can watch ESPN for hours is really beyond my comprehension.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The tale that is Kaavya Viswanathan

you know the "author" is going to show up on Oprah, tearfully defending herself.

Back in highschool I utilized Cliffs Notes. I know you did too so get off your high horse and just admit it. Those things were invented for busy students who didn't have time to read through novels like the Red Badge of Courage . If only Sweet Valley High was required reading back then...

I never copied passages word for word, I embellished and switched words around. Then I handed in my term papers, turning blue from holding my breath that the teacher wouldn't recognize my reconfigured wording. I thought perhaps the teachers had some master list of key words and phrases lifted from those guides and they were just waiting to charge me with plagiarism. I would be thrown into jail at only sixteen years old and spend eternity wishing I had sucked it up and just read Lord of the Flies. Orange jumpsuits are so not my thing.

So imagine my shock and despair in learning about young Kaavya Viswanathan. Tsk tsk. I guess she is wishing she just sucked it up and wrote from her imagination instead of open copies of popular novels sitting in front of her while Laguna Beach played in the background. Did she highlight passages and take notes or simply retain what she read?
My friend emailed me today to fill me in on the latest:

Apparently there are accusations against three other authors, as well as the first (who is Meagan McCafferty). The new three are Meg Cabot (plagiarized from the Princess Diaries), Salamon Rushdie (huh? She plagiarized the Satanic Verses??? No, I don't know what book it was, but he WAS specifically mentioned as being plagiarized from), and Sophie Kinsella (from Can You Keep A Secret?).

The book is titled How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got A Life : A Novel. Maybe a more gripping title would be How Kaavya Copied, Cheated, Stole and Got a Book Deal: A Tragedy. You can read all about her and the sad tale that is her six figure advance by looking here and here. And here.

Seriously, if you're going to copy someone's novel you should really take from an abstract book no one has ever heard of. Meg Cabot? Hello! Sophie Kinsella? Zoinks! What the hell was Kaavya thinking?


Somewhere in between applications of Bonnie Bell Lip Smackers, pining for Johnny Depp on 21 Jump Street, and listening to John Mellencamp back when he was John Cougar, I inhaled these books as quickly as my eyes could dart over the pages. I wanted to be bad girl Jessica but I wouldn't have minded being smarty pants Elizabeth. I wanted to be a gorgeous Wakefield girl driving an Alfa Romeo convertible in California, not a pre-teen wearing Geranimals and a head-gear in New Jersey.

See why I have always loved to read? I wasn't a dork in a training bra, when I escaped into Sweet Valley I could be anyone else but myself. I went directly from Sweet Valley to reading Danielle Steel novels and by time I was a senior in highschool I had gone though Danielle's entire collection of flaxen haired beauties caught in some kind of love triangle. Didn't you ever notice the parallels between Sweet Valley and the deep, introspective and highly nuanced Danielle Steel books?

North of Sunset

It was a while ago when Henry Baum emailed and asked me to take a look at his novel, North of Sunset. My pile of books is big and my free time is small so there are days when I don't read as much or as fast as I wish I could. I want to read this book especially after viewing this review and the interview posted here. I need another set of eyes or a nanny or maid or an assistant to do all the things I need to accomplish in one day. Then I could sit and read while my pool boy brings me chilly drinks with hunks of fruit dangling on the rim of the cocktail glass.

If murder and intrigue is your cup of tea then click here to buy this novel. You can read Henry's blog (because who doesnt have a blog these days, hmmmm?) right here.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Jen Lancaster, Bitter is the New Black

When I started reading Bitter is the New Black, I was a bit nervous. You see, Jen isn’t a very likeable person in the beginning of the book. How was I going to interview a girl who would probably tear me down with one glance out of her MAC lined eyes? Jen comes across as a snooty ex-sorority girl whose love in life is money…and more money and Prada. She herself admits this early on in the book so it's not just my impression. This is not fiction, it’s a memoir based on Jen’s spiral down the corporate ladder complete with moving into a ghetto apartment and working as a temp. I know! Try going from splurging at Neiman Marcus to penny pinching at Wet Seal and see how you feel. Uh huh.

The cover of the book boasts this description: “confressions of a condescending, egomanical, self centered smart ass or why you should never carry a Prada bag to the unemployment office.”

However. Jen redeems herself towards the middle of this story and she begins to change in subtle ways. By the end of the memoir, I was pretty confident we might have more to discuss than tragically unhip people wearing polyester Jacklyn Smith coordinates. Jen runs a very successful blog called Jennsylvania and is a contributor to the ever popular website, Snarkywood. She is my new best friend and we are totally going to fly to Africa and help the poor.

How has your life changed since the book?

I thought by selling a book I’d instantly become rich and famous, but that’s not really how it works. If there are any changes, it’s that my life is much more surreal now – like I’ve been signed to a giant Hollywood management company, but I can only do conference calls with them Tuesday-Thursday because I’m at my temp job on Monday and Friday. And the day the book made it to #12 on Barnes & Noble’s list, my dog ate an oven mitt and I spent two hours cleaning up that which shot out of her from every direction. Although I do have more opportunities now, really, the bulk of my life is exactly the same. (Which is fine.)

The one weird thing is I’m starting to get recognized. The first time it happened Fletch and I were at a Brother Lowdown show and a fan offered to buy us drinks. Again, wholly surreal, but I’d have to say I advocate any life changes that include free beer.

Does any of that egomaniacal shopaholic still reside in you?

Yes, although for the most part she’s under control. The circumstances described in the book quelled a lot of those tendencies. (You’d be surprised at what an ego-crusher begging your mom for grocery money is, especially when you’re 35.)

However, I did indulge in a bit of retail therapy a couple of days ago. I’d had an interview with Canadian Public Radio and I totally screwed it up. The theme of the show was “Lost” and the lovely ladies of Definitely Not the Opera thought my book would fit said theme nicely. Given the topic, I figured I should be kind of reverential and I addressed all their questions quite seriously. Also, I was trying to make amends for accidentally having a 7.5 hour liquid lunch before doing a different radio interview a few days prior. Anyway, it took me 28 of the 30 minutes we had to realize the Canadians wanted me to be funny, and thus I was the biggest dud. What’s ironic is I was 10,000 times more amusing and articulate when I went on the air with a wine buzz. (Canada, I’m sorry! You deserved better! I promise to be drunk next time!)

Anyway, I was cutting through Norstrom on my way home from the Canada thing and there was the most glorious Coach bag there, all pink-plaid-patchwork, practically radiating with the promise of making me feel better. And you know what? It did.

I worked at a daycare center for one day. It was the worst job experience ever... snotty noses and poopy pants for hours. Where is the most dreadful place you were ever employed?

I worked in a college bar where among other duties, I cleaned the bathrooms. They were so disgusting I had to use a garden hose to make any headway. In terms of the ick factor, I’d say it was the worst, but I made crazy money and spent most shifts dancing, doing shots, and meeting boys, so it was actually one of the best, despite having to pick vomit chunks out of urinals. (I used to turn myself into a human condom for that task, with a garbage bag toga and garbage bags on each arm.) (And why do fraternity boys barf up so damn much pineapple?)

However, I still have stress dreams from a different college waitress job. The owners were functioning alcoholics and fancied themselves local celebrities. The staff wasn’t allowed to look at or speak to them unless we were addressed first. Excuse me, but who died and made you J. Lo? They delighted in screaming us stupid and working there was like having abusive parents. Fletch and I both were employed by said asshats and we’ve made a pact to go back and take a leak on their graves some day. (Please feel free to edit this bit if it makes me sound sociopathic.) (In this vein, I also didn’t include our plans to drink fruity rum punch out of their hollow skulls.)

How did Snarkywood originate?

I can’t take credit for its creation – the ‘Wood was the brainchild of Martha (, Amy (, and Lauren ( I was a huge fan of the site for a couple of years and when Martha asked me to join, I felt like Mark Walhberg’s character in Rock Star. Seriously, how often does anyone get to go from loving the band to being in the band, as it were?

Working on Snarkywood is the most fun I’ve ever had as a writer. Among others, I put together the Kevin Federline: Baby Daddy of the Year and An Open Letter to Sean Combs entries and to this day I think they’re my favorite things I’ve ever written.

Are you reading the comments on Most people are really great and give it fantastic reviews. Do you wash away the infrequent but rude, negative comments with a dirty martini or two?

Fortunately, my skin is FINALLY getting thicker and I no longer want to hunt these people down and beat them with a sockful of quarters. In the beginning I totally obsessed about them and tried to assuage my stupid ego by finding out more about the commenters. For example, one of them thought my book sucked, yet gave People Magazine four stars. For God’s sake, I am ALL ABOUT People Magazine – so how could she not like me? It took a couple of months, but now I finally get that not everyone will connect with the book. And that’s OK.

There are 614,000 links for "Jen Lancaster" on Google. Do you feel like a super popular prom queen right now?

Honestly, I feel like kind of an impostor. How can anyone be interested in me when I still bring someone coffee on Mondays and Fridays?? Next month I’m going to be at Printer’s Row (main stage, no less!) and it astounds me. I mean, real writers will be there, like John Updike and Erica Jong and Dave Eggers. Shoot, I’ll have to physically restrain myself from trying to fetch their coffee.

If given the chance, who would you like to perform a head- to- toe makeover on? The choices are endless...Pete Doherty could use some new teeth and a blood transfusion, or Britney Spears would look lovely with clear skin and a deep conditioning treatment on her split ends...what do you think?

Oh, Britney. You’re breaking your mother’s heart right now. And when Christina Aguilera calls you skanky, you know it’s become a serious problem. At the moment, I’m putting together a Snarkywood entry and had to dig up old Brit photos – I’d forgotten how fantastic she used to look.

As for the makeover, I wouldn’t do anyone famous. The people I want to get my hands on are the overweight women you see at the mall and grocery store. You know, those women who gained weight and have totally given up on themselves, with limp hair and naked faces, draped in shapeless t-shirts and stirrup pants? I want to hug them and dress them in something pretty and make them understand they don’t have to be a size six to have value and worth. I’m living proof that life exists after 140 pounds. I mean, you are what you are – so I wish I could teach those gals to be it, own it, and feel good about it.

Are you going to go back to corporate America or will you continue to churn out books and write your blog? You have an entire group of people anxious to continue reading what you have to say.

Churn, baby, churn. My second book Bright Lights, Big Ass just sold, so I’m on my way to being a “real” writer. And someday soon I may even be able to quit my temp job…