It’s not a secret – I LOVE Jen Lancaster. Even before I ever read one of her books, I could tell from reading her blog she was my kind of person. Funny in a snarky way, isn’t afraid to call out the elephant in the room, and painfully direct. But what I didn’t get from her blog that you immediately find out once you meet her in real life, is that she is one of the nicest people ever. So nice you don’t know why the hell you ever thought you thought she was one of those “mean girls” you did everything possible to avoid in the halls in high school – maybe it has something to do with the snarky and direct nature of her writing.
Since I’ve interviewed Jen before, I wasn’t sure what the hell I was going to ask her this time around. So I did something I never thought I would do...I asked her what interview questions I should ask her. Yep, that’s right. In an interviewing first, I asked my interviewee what I should ask them. It happened at a recent book event of hers that I attended and figured since we were chatting maybe she could give me a clue, or two, since I had none of my own. Note: The questions below are not a result of that direct question. But it was fun channeling my “inner direct Jen” for just a brief moment, nonetheless.
If you'd like to connect with Jen or just need a good laugh, visit her at her website, Facebook, and Twitter.
**Thanks to Penguin Random House, we have TWO copies of Jen's latest book, I Regret Nothing, for some lucky US readers!**
It's been nine years since your first book, Bitter is the New Black was published. How has your writing process evolved since that first book? How has it stayed the same?
Nine years seems like a lifetime ago, doesn’t it?
In terms of process and change, I’ve definitely improved my technical skills. When I look back at parts of "Bitter," I cringe. There’s so much I’d fix if I could, e.g. I’d stop using the same words over and over again. (BUY A THESAURUS, 2005 SELF.)
Looking back, I realize exaggerated my bad behavior at the beginning of the book, inadvertently turning myself into a caricature. So, people read "Bitter" and came away with an impression of me that wasn’t 100% genuine. Really, it’s like 80 - 85%, as I’ve always been more empathetic/nicer than I portray. (I AM NICE, DAMN IT, WHY DON’T YOU BELIEVE ME?)
Subsequently, now when I paint an accurate picture, I get a lot of snarky Facebook comments saying, “You’ve changed,” and that kind of makes me want to kick a lung out of someone.
Okay, fine. I am mostly nice.
Anyway, my work is much more personal in later books, more introspective, and I definitely enjoy the writing process to a greater extent, having done it so many times. In terms of professional skills, I definitely have a better grasp on time management and deadlines, while paying closer attention to showing and not telling. Though I can likely never recapture the whole let’s-throw-everything-against-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks parts of "Bitter" (coincidentally what makes me now cringe), I understand these imperfections are what people appreciated.
tl;dr: I’m a work in progress.
What is the most valuable lesson you've learned about the publishing industry?
Publishing is a business and profits and losses are as important as the art. Yes, many writers strive to pen legitimate literature, crafting the kind of prose that high school kids will complain about reading one hundred years from now, not caring if a single copy sells, as having created is its own reward.
For me? I kind of like to buy things, so I hope my work sells.
I’m happy to write light, entertaining stories, even if that means I’ll never be reviewed by the NYT. (At least in a flattering manner.) And hey, that’s cool, because I believe there’s nothing thing wrong with aiming for commercial success. In fact, publishers quite like that. For example, while I’m personally not a fan of the "50 Shades" series, I have such an appreciation what that book did for Random House. Every single employee received a "50 Shades"-based $5000 holiday bonus the year the books came out, from the publisher down to the guys in the mailroom. The success of "50 Shades" allowed Random House to gamble on a lot of unknown authors, which may introduce us to the next Faulkner or Hemingway or Steinbeck, or whomever else high school kids will bitch about reading in the next century. And if my silly stories help pave the way for the kind of authors who’ll create a legacy? All the better.
You’d think "Bitter," but actually it’s If You Were Here. This love letter to John Hughes was my first novel. I figured the easiest way to bridge the gap between memoir and novel was to create doppelgangers for Fletch and me, particularly since he and I had just moved to the suburbs, exactly like the characters Mac and Mia. The thing is, after those two got to the suburbs, their story diverged greatly from our own as ours was drama-free. (Which is a nice way to live, but lousy in terms of creating conflict.)
Because we bore such a striking resemblance, the memoir-readers were confused. I was unaware of how frustrating this blurred line could be until I read Bethenny Frankel’s novel and I couldn’t figure out what was fact and what was fantasy. Since then, I’ve worked hard to separate my life and my characters’ lives.
Still, sometimes my characters still sound like me, largely because I’ve created them. And I think that’s okay.
If you were to interview yourself, what is the first question you'd ask yourself? What is the answer to that question?
I’d ask what people don’t know about me, and the answer is that I have an almost pathological need to please others. (See? No one got this impression from "Bitter," yet it’s always been true.) I have a hard time not being everyone’s dancing monkey. I struggle with saying no because I don’t want to let folks down, even when it’s to my own detriment. I’m getting a lot better at saying, “Sorry, that doesn’t work for me,” but it’s so against my kiss-ass-cheesedog-suck-up nature.
I want to say I’m not terribly superstitious, but that’s likely untrue. I don’t fret about black cats or Friday the 13th, but sometimes I have trouble celebrating what’s going well because I’m always afraid that by doing so, I’ll jinx it.
Which is essentially crazy.
I learned that this is a symptom of anxiety and the way to combat it is to keep a running list of things for which I’m grateful. Easier said than done, but I do try.
My all time favorite TV show is:
Really, this depends on my mood, but I desperately and consistently love Arrested Development, Veronica Mars, and Mad Men. I have such an appreciation for shows that reward viewers for paying attention; good writing conquers all.
Thanks to Jen for chatting with us and to Penguin Random House for sharing her book with our readers.
~Introduction and interview by Tracey Meyers
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