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 (theranmommuse.com), Amy (amalah.com), and Lauren (newjanbrady.blogspot.com.) 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 Amazon.com? 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…