Archive for July, 2012

July 31, 2012 at1:07 PM

Today’s the Day!

Ten Girls to Watch is in bookstores TODAY!!!!! Go get it! Library lovers, check it out! Fancy techno-kids, download away! Want to read the first chapter? Here you go. Want to read a synopsis and some reviews? Sure thing. Want to hear my sweet voice reading it aloud to you? Come to the book party tomorrow! (Or any of the readings in the coming months!)

p.s. In case you’re looking at yesterday’s post and today’s post and wondering how many of those “perspective shots” I have of the book, the answer is INFINITY.

July 30, 2012 at8:07 PM

TEN GIRLS TO WATCH Comes Out Tomorrow!!!

Just in case I’ve failed to mention it, my novel, Ten Girls to Watch, comes out TOMORROW!!!! (Yes, this is an all caps, multiple exclamation point situation!!) Want to read a synopsis and some reviews? Tada! Want to buy it? (Yes, you do!) Pop on in to your local bookstore, or hop on over to any of those fine websites listed there in the right hand bar. Want to read the first chapter for free? Check out the Atria Summer Beach-Read Bag. Want me to read the book aloud to you??? Come to my readings!

Fair warning, there are going to be even more exclamation points tomorrow.

July 27, 2012 at4:07 PM

Molly Wizenberg on Big Leaps and David Byrne

Success isn’t always straightforward. I mean, duh. But sometimes it’s hard to remember that in real life. That’s what my novel Ten Girls to Watch is all about (did I mention that it comes out IN FOUR DAYS!), and Molly Wizenberg is an amazing real-life case in point. She’s the author of the book A Homemade Life and has another book on the way. She’s also the author of the lovely blog Orangette, co-owner of the restaurant Delancey and the craft cocktail bar Essex, both in Seattle, and she’s about to be a mom! Pretty great, right? But flash back a few years and she was dropping out of her PhD program and trying to figure out how on earth she was going to follow her food and cooking dreams. Not exactly a kushy spot to be in, but look at her now! Read on for her whole story. It’s pretty awesome.

What did you think you wanted to be when you graduated from college?
I had no idea. Absolutely no idea. I had a degree in human biology and a minor in French, but I had chosen them because I liked them, not because I had big aspirations in those areas. I loved food and cooking, too, but I’d tried working as a restaurant cook, and it wasn’t a good fit for me, so that sort of went nowhere. I would eventually wind up going to graduate school for cultural anthropology, but it would take me a few months after college graduation to even begin to think about that — and even then, I didn’t have firm plans for what to do with the degree. I just wanted to keep learning.

What kind of job did you actually end up getting as your first job out of school? 
During winter quarter of my senior year of college, I was taking a French literature class, and in it, I met a fellow student who told me about an incredible program offered through the French Ministry of Education. Basically, the program brings in native English speakers (and speakers of other non-French languages) to work for a year as language teaching assistants in French schools. (Here’s a website about it.) You work 12 hours a week and get all the benefits of being a legal resident, and the money you make isn’t bad – really good, actually, for just a dozen hours. I applied and was assigned to teach English conversation classes in a high school just outside of Paris, in a town called Saint-Cloud. It was pretty awesome, because I was 23 and living on my own in Paris(!!!), but it was also awful at times, because I only sort of knew what I was doing with the kids. The program gave us assistants an orientation session and some teacher-training sessions, but it wasn’t really enough for me to feel like I knew how to do my job well. I spent a decent number of class periods playing Hangman with my students. (Sorry, French taxpayers!) And my supervisor in the English department had had a not-so-secret affair with a previous teaching assistant and seemed to be hoping for a similar situation with me, so at times it was… awkward.

What was your first real apartment like? 
My first real apartment was in Paris, and let me tell you, typing that sentence still makes me a little giddy. It was a small studio apartment in the 11th arrondissement, and the kitchen was essentially an alcove — two electric burners, a tiny sink, and a mini bar-sized fridge – in the hallway between the front door and my bed. There was one chair in the corner, but most nights, I sat on the bed to eat dinner. I loved that apartment. I can still hear the sound the door made when it closed behind me. It was heavy and loud, and whenever the weather got hot, it swelled and stuck like crazy.

Are there any particular experiences that capture the essence of your early twenties? 
I think mostly of music. I was listening to a lot of Fugazi then — that’s true of me from age 14 to 24, actually, and still sometimes now — and a lot of Radiohead, too. Radiohead’s album The Bends particularly reminds me of the year that I was doing that teaching gig in France. My boyfriend at the time was back in the States, in Oklahoma (where I’m from), and the whole time I was in Paris, I felt this potent mix of euphoria (I’m in FRANCE!) and longing (I’m in love with someone who’s 5,000 miles away!). For me, that album is those feelings.

Is there a job or a moment you think of as “your first big break”?
Let’s see. After that year in France, I came back to the States to start a doctoral program in Seattle (where I live now), and after my second year of that, I decided to quit. I’d lost my dad to very aggressive cancer during my first year, and I’d struggled all along with a nagging feeling that I just didn’t want the degree the way my peers did. I didn’t want to be an anthropologist or a university professor. At a certain point — when I needed to be applying for big dissertation grants and such — I realized that I had to make a decision. It’s not really a break in the sense of success, but that moment was a biggie. I decided to leave graduate school and instead focus somehow on food and cooking, a hobby that had begun to feel more and more important to me. I wanted to be a food writer. But of course, I had nothing to show for myself! (The only writing I’d ever had published was a poem in a literary magazine in high school.) So the worse case scenario, I figured, was that I would get a job doing something, anything — working in a grocery store sounded pretty good — and work on writing in my free time.

As it happened, though, I wound up staying in school for a third year, because I got an internship that gave me free tuition and part-time income. And from there, after I finished that last year of school, the internship turned into a full-time job, which got me through the next year and half. It sounds cheesy, but the decision to quit my PhD program turned out to be a real “leap, and the net will appear” situation.

How about a moment or experience where you finally felt like you’d “made it”? 
Getting my first book deal, without a doubt. I started my blog Orangette the summer that I decided to leave graduate school, and I worked on it during my last year of school and the year after, when I was working full-time. By that point, it was really starting to take off, and one thing led to another. I was put in touch with an agent and an editor who believed in what I was doing and gave me the opportunity to write full-time, to write my first book. That was five and a half years ago now, and it still feels pretty unreal sometimes.

Is there anyone who has been a real role model, mentor, or inspiration for you?
David Byrne! He’s a singer, songwriter, author, artist, movie director, bicycling advocate, former leader of Talking Heads, and general brilliant weirdo. I love that he’s reinvented himself many times over, and that he’s been successful at doing his own thing according to his own rules. (If you want to see something great, watch this.) This is really going to get cheesy, but he kind of makes me feel like I can do anything.

Thanks so much to Molly for answering all my questions! Now go get her book!

July 17, 2012 at1:07 PM

Jean Hanff Korelitz on Masochism and Movies

Figuring out what you really want to do in life is hard. And then once you figure it out, making it happen is usually even harder. But you know what helps? Knowing that almost everyone who’s ever made it has been in the same boat as you. Commiseration + inspiration — such a winning combination! (P.S. That’s what my novel is all about. Did I mention it comes out in two weeks and that you should read it?)

Today’s real life commiseration + inspiration: Jean Hanff Korelitz, author of four novels, including most recently Admissionwhich is set to be released as a movie starring Tina Fey and Paul Rudd in 2013. (Go Jean!) But, naturally, things didn’t start off quite that rosy. In fact, when Jean was fresh out of school and applying for jobs, among those she failed to get was a position assisting the woman who is now her editor. (Twists and turnabouts — they’re not just for novels!) Read on for that story and Jean’s answers to all my questions about the early years of her career.

What did you think you wanted to be when you graduated from college?
Pathetically, I only ever wanted to be one thing: a writer. Granted, within that definition, I wanted to be all kinds of writer: a poet, a novelist, a magazine writer, a book reviewer. When what you want to do has such a high failure factor, you offset that happy secure feeling of knowing exactly what you want with that terrorized feeling of knowing you’re probably not going to be able to pull it off.

What kind of job did you actually end up getting as your first job out of school?
After two years of further study at Cambridge University I lived for another year in England and Ireland with my husband, Paul Muldoon, during which time I read all of Dickens and obsessed about writing a novel. (I didn’t actually attempt to write a novel until the following year, but I obsessed in preparation!) After we moved back to the States I applied for jobs in publishing (interestingly, one job I failed to get hired for was as an assistant to Deb Futter, the woman who is now my editor) and got one as assistant to Jonathan Galassi at Farrar, Straus & Giroux (who would later be the editor of my second novel, THE SABBATHDAY RIVER, but reject my third, THE WHITE ROSE!). I read manuscripts, wrote assessments, and watched my boss change the publishing landscape that landmark year of Tom Wolfe’s BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES and Scott Turow’s PRESUMED INNOCENT.

What was your first real apartment like? Anything notably atrocious about it?
My mother found the apartment because we were still living overseas. It had once belonged to her exercise instructor, who taught calisthenics classes in what would become our living room. That makes it sound much bigger than it was! It was a small one bedroom on the upper east side. We lived there for two years, and the most atrocious thing about it was the superintendant, who made passes at many of the women who lived there (including me).

Is there a job or a moment you think of as “your first big break”?
I remember the day my first novel was accepted. I definitely felt that everything had changed – the earth was just a tiny bit differently angled. I had waited so long and worked very hard (my first published novel followed two novels that had been rejected by every publisher on the planet). It was a wonderful day.

How about a moment or experience where you finally felt like you’d “made it”?
Not gonna lie, watching fifty super-efficient people scurrying around a movie set on which your novel is being adapted for film, hearing Lily Tomlin and Tina Fey speak lines you made up in your pajamas – that feels pretty good. But it’s also accurate to say that I have never in my life been introduced to someone who recognized my name from one of my novels. None of my novels have been best sellers — most of the time they’re not even present in bookstores! I’m never going to win literary prizes – I just don’t seem to be on that track. In short, the writing world will never fail to find ways of reminding you that you haven’t made it. We are such masochists! If we didn’t love language and stories, we’d never do it.

Is there anyone who has been a real role model, mentor, or inspiration for you?
So many. My early mentor Janice Kaplan showed me that you had to work like a dog. My late cousin Helene Hanff (the author of 84 CHARING CROSS ROAD) showed me that you could work like a dog and still labor in obscurity, though the lightning of success could strike at any time). Some years ago I interviewed Rani Arbo, a musician I truly admire, for REAL SIMPLE magazine. When I asked her who she admired she said: “Anyone attempting to live a creative life, without bitterness.” Could not have said that any better.

Thanks so much to Jean for this interview! And if you’re looking for a great read — literary and page turning, with meat for your mind and your heart and some wonderfully real and surprising characters — check out Admission. I couldn’t put it down!


July 10, 2012 at6:07 PM

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!

July 03, 2012 at6:07 PM

Sheryll Cashin on Serendipity and BS

In Ten Girls to Watch, Dawn gets a job at Charm magazine, tracking down all the women who’ve won the magazine’s “Ten Girls to Watch” contest. In real life, I had a similar job at Glamour, tracking down the past winners of the magazine’s “Top Ten College Women” contest. One of the women I was lucky enough to talk with back then was Sheryll Cashin, 1984 winner, Georgetown Law professor, author of the book The Agitator’s Daughter: A Memoir of Four Generations of One Extraordinary African-American Family, former Clinton White House Director for Community Development, and mother of two.

Lucky for all of us, Sheryll chatted with me again last week, and I’m delighted to report that she’s as amazing and inspiring as ever. Read on for her story and words of wisdom — she’s got some pretty great advice about both work AND love.

What did you think you wanted to be when you graduated from college?
If you’d told me when I graduated from college I was going to end up a law professor, I just wouldn’t have believed you. I thought I wanted to be the first black senator from the state of Alabama, where I’m from. I thought I was going to go to law school, return to my home state, and run. I thought my passion was being an elected official.

What was your actual first job?
I finished law school, clerked for two years at the U.S. Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court, and then I went back to Alabama, like I’d planned. I practiced law in Birmingham, Alabama for a year and got involved in politics, but I realized very quickly that I didn’t like the process of what a politician has to do to get elected. I realized what I was actually passionate about was public policy and issues and helping people, but I didn’t need to be the person who ran. I also realized I was more selfish than I’d thought. My other passions are art and writing and painting. There were different parts of me I wanted to pursue and develop. To run for office, you have to be prepared to give up everything. You have to inhale it. You have to love glad-handing. You have to love the process, and I didn’t.

Clinton’s win in ’92 was really serendipitous for me. I’d worked on the Dukakis campaign when I was in law school, and when Clinton won, I called my old boss and asked if he could get me a job on Clinton’s transition team. I negotiated a leave from my law firm, and I’ve been in Washington ever since.

If the fabulous woman you are today could share some words of wisdom with your 20-something self, what would you say?
It sounds trite, it really does, but I’d just say follow your true passions and see where they lead you. I don’t think I figured out what I was put here to do until I was in my 30s. My passion in my 20s [the idea of running for office] really wasn’t mine, it was my father’s aspiration for me. It took me a while to realize I was living out his dreams, not my own dreams. I couldn’t see that when I was in my 20s.

When I was writing The Agitator’s Daughter, I found diaries I’d kept from age 6 to 26 and I found an entry — I don’t even remember writing it, but there was a line that said, “If I really had the courage I would say I wanted to be a writer.” A lot of people have passions but not the courage to pursue them. I pursued a lot of things in part out of economic fear. It’s tough, but you have to carve out time each day for your passions, even as you’re waiting tables, because you just never know when the opportunity is going to come to pursue them.

I started writing when I was six. I loved to write, and I loved to paint and draw. And now I’m 50, and I’m sitting in my office at home and one side is my writing side and the other side is my art studio.

The other thing is don’t take any BS from the guys you date! I’ll tell you, I married a really, really nice guy. A really wonderful guy. And he’s not the kind of guy I went for in my 20s. The guy you want is the guy who cherishes you. I would have saved myself a lot of headaches.


Thanks so much to Sheryll for taking the time to talk! And if you’re looking for a moving read, The Agitator’s Daughter, her memoir about social justice, activism, and family, is a beautiful book. Take a look!