Don’t you just want to snap a meta shot of your own? It’s not too late to get in on the action. Tweet me your photo (@CharityShumway) or tag me in instagram (@charityshumway) and you’re in the drawing for a signed copy, sent right to your mailbox. (In addition to the whole “chance to win” thing, you’ll get my outlandish gratitude and goofy cheer).
Archive for August, 2012
Ten Girls to Watch is a novel, as in fiction, as in a book I made up, but it’s also inspired by an experience I had in real life, working on Glamour Magazine’s “Top Ten College Women” contest. Rhonda Adams Medina was one of the winners of that real life, non-fictional contest — Glamour Top Ten, 1987.
She was so smart and funny and warm when I interviewed her back in 2007 that she’s stayed in my head for years (and some of the smart things she said back then just may have seeped into the book). Lucky for me, we were able to talk again a few weeks ago. Nowadays, she’s a mother of four(!) and a Senior Vice President for Business and Legal Affairs at MTV Networks. (She’s also a terrific writer — check out this lovely piece of hers from the Huffington Post this May). Here, a little bit about how she got where she is today (near-firing and Spike Lee were both involved!), and a few words of wonderfully wise advice.
What did you think you wanted to be when you were in college?
I wanted to be the Tokyo Bureau Chief for the Far Eastern Economic Review. I studied Japanese and spent some time there in college and loved the country. I loved to write and had done an internship at the New York Times and at a small newspaper in Texas, and I thought it would be perfect to combine my love of Japan with my love of writing.
I even got an internship with them in Hong Kong, but then I got an offer in investment banking in New York. It seemed very sexy — it was the late 80s! A lot of my friends were doing it, and also, I thought I’d have a more fertile dating scene if I stayed in New York instead of Hong Kong. So I decided I wanted to try my hand at that kind of work.
How did those first years out of school actually go?
I worked like a dog around the clock. I wasn’t good at it at all — I almost got fired — but it ended up being a fabulous experience. I made all my best friends in those years, people I’m still really close to. I did a two-year analyst program, but after that you’re released, and all my friends were going to Harvard Business School. I couldn’t add, but I really wanted to go where they were going, so I thought “I’ll go to HLS.” It was a pretty immature decision, and I’m really lucky it worked out.
When did you figure out you wanted to do entertainment law?
I had been a Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton, studying domestic and international policy, and at Harvard I was on the Law Review. Most people go on to clerk after that, but I had a very frivolous side to me. I read People Magazine! In law school I had a professor whose wife was an entertainment lawyer. I was in Switzerland at the Montrose Jazz Festival, and she was there too, for work. I thought “what kind of job pays you to go to the Montrose Jazz Festival?”
When I was in law school I also had the opportunity to meet Spike Lee. He was teaching an undergraduate class. They had a big meeting in a theater on campus. There were something like 30 spots in the class, and in order to be eligible to apply, you had to be a visual and environmental studies or an Afro-Am major. I was neither, I was a law school student. I was sitting way up in the balcony with a friend, but as soon as Spike Lee was done talking I said “See ya!” and went running downstairs and pushed my way up to him and said “you really want to have me in your class.” He said I didn’t meet the requirements, but I told him all the reasons I should be in the class, and what do you know? He let me in.
He was an incredible mentor to me. Really encouraging. I took full advantage of being in the class. The next year he asked me to be his Teaching Fellow, which was an extraordinary experience. After graduation, he gave me a job in the development office of 40 Acres and a Mule, reading scripts. I was a total gofer. I then went to work in a corporate law firm for a little less than a year before I was tapped by Spike’s law firm, a small boutique entertainment firm.
Did anybody give you any great advice along the way?
When I worked at 40 Acres and a Mule I reported to the head of development. She made me do all these humiliating things. I had just graduated from law school, and she would send me out to get her tea. She was not approachable. She was not even remotely kind, but I asked her to lunch after it was all over, and she said, “If I can’t trust you to get my tea, what can I trust you to do?” I always remembered that. You can’t have any ego. You have to attack every job.
If you could say a few words to your just-graduated self, what would they be?
Keep working out! I do miss my 22-year-old body. Other than that, everything worked out the way it should. I can say “I should have broken up with him a few months earlier,” and things like that, but I’m afraid I would screw everything up if I changed things. One thing I was aware of at an earlier age than most people — especially when you get to college, the people who you’re going to school with are going to be your colleagues in life. I’m really proud of myself and the way I conducted my life and things with people. So that’s something I’d say to other people. Don’t act like an idiot in school! Treat other people with respect. If you don’t do it because it’s the right moral thing to do, at least do it out of self-interest.
Thanks so much, Rhonda!
Ah, the layers. A few dear friends sent me these shots, and I love them SO MUCH. If you’ve picked up the book, indulge me! Snap a photo of yourself with the cover and tweet it to me (@CharityShumway) or tag me in Instagram (@charityshumway). I’m going to post ALL OF THEM. And I’ve got three signed copies up for grabs. Send me a photo, and your name goes in the hat!
I love trade magazines. Most of them sound like fake magazines from 30 Rock — as in Jack Donaghy to Liz Lemon: “Lemon, I am supposed to represent NBC in a negotiation that Rex Belcher, of the American Journal of Meetings, rated ‘Four Chairs.’ Four!” Yeah, there’s actually a magazine called Meetings and Conventions (shout out to my friend Jonathan who used to write for them!) And there are so many more marvelously amusing trade publications. Accountancy Age, Modern Tramway, the Inspectioneering Journal…
Well, publishing’s big trade magazine is called Publisher’s Weekly, and an article by YOURS TRULY ran on the back page of the June 30th issue. I give it four chairs, at least! If you’re a subscriber, here it is on the PW website. If you’re more of a Modern Tramway type, here’s a pdf for your squinting pleasure (sorry about that!) If you don’t have your glasses handy, the summary is: I’m working on another novel. I’m really excited about it and also kind 0f scared.
Ten Girls to Watch is all about the many ways women’s lives and careers can unfold. Sometimes: Boom! Fireworks, right from the start. But much more often, even for the most ambitious of us, we don’t explode onto the scene. Life takes time to figure out. The author Amy Hatvany is a perfect example. She’s now the author of four novels, including the Language of Sisters, re-released last week, but before that, she was a barista and a cake decorator and a receptionist. Here’s her story. I especially love what she has to say about the idea of “making it.”
What did you think you wanted to be when you graduated from college?
Honestly? I had no idea. I originally planned to get a degree in psychology and become a therapist, but then I realized that sociology only had two math requirements while psych had something like six, so ever the avoider of anything having to do with numbers, I switched majors. I loved that field of study – learning how society molds and influences us as individuals – and was truly passionate about it, but certainly didn’t want to become a professor, which is what most soc majors end up doing. When I graduated, I was proud, but also filled with an enormous sense of “Well, great. Now what?!?”
What kind of job did you actually end up getting as your first job out of school?
At the time, I lived in a smaller college town filled with over-qualified, well-educated restaurant workers, so I simply followed suit by waiting tables and pumping out espresso as a barista. I’d done the same things in high school, so I spent some time wallowing around in self-pity, thinking I could have just skipped college all together. Moments of it were great – I really did like interacting with customers and the feel of a big wad of cash in my pocket at the end of a shift, but other moments were filled with pure drudgery and despair, thinking that I’d never make a difference in anyone’s life, which at my core, is what I longed to do. I’d always loved writing, but never really considered following it as a career until I was twenty-four and feeling like if I didn’t at least try to write a book, I’d regret it for the rest of my life.
What was your first real apartment like?
Hmm. It was a small studio right off the college campus, with an ugly, orange, 1970’s shag carpet and one very tiny window. There was basically room for mattress (on the floor – couldn’t afford a frame), and a 13 inch TV. It smelled like mold and stale cigarettes (from a previous tenant). But it was mine!
Is there a job or a moment you think of as “your first big break”?
I would say the first came when I got a call from my agent over ten years ago, after she’d read the query letter that had garnered many other rejections, and wanted to read my first manuscript. And since I took a long sabbatical from writing after my first two novels were published, I think my second big break came the moment Greer Hendricks at Atria Books read BEST KEPT SECRET and wanted to sign me as an author.
How about a moment or experience where you finally felt like you’d “made it”?
For me, as a slightly neurotic writer, that feeling is more a cumulative experience, so picking an actual moment is difficult. Defining what it is to “make it” has shifted for me over the years – at first, it was to just get published. Now, it has more to do with trying to stay present and aware in each moment, fully appreciating kind words from my editor, my peers, and most of all, from the readers who take the time to write and let me know how one of my books affected them personally. Every time I hear from a reader, it cements in my mind that I’m doing the right thing with my life. I’ve made the right choices.
Is there anyone who has been a real role model, mentor, or inspiration for you?
There are two writers who have been huge inspirations for me. First, Elizabeth Berg, whose book TALK BEFORE SLEEP was the one I read almost twelve years ago and made me believe that I could be a writer, too. She wrote about emotions with such aching, beautiful simplicity and I thought, this is the kind of writer I want to be. Not flashy, not hugely commercial, but instead, focused on the characters’ feelings, their normal, everyday lives. I wanted to write to connect with readers’ emotions. Figuring that out was a true revelation for me, and it’s still my goal, every time I put words on the page.
Another woman who has been a huge inspiration for me – and I’m sure many others – is Jennifer Weiner. Her whip-smart, hysterically funny, and inherent understanding of women’s relationships and their lives never ceases to amaze me. On top of that, as a person, she is authentic, kind, and extremely generous in her support of other, lesser known authors. She speaks out against inequities in the publishing world with grace, poise, and intelligence. She’s a true professional, and a gifted writer. Also, she live-Tweets The Bachelor. How could you not love her for that?!?
Thanks so much to Amy for taking the time to answer my questions! Take a look at her books — I have a feeling you’ll thank me if you do!
Thanks to everyone who made it out to Wednesday night’s book launch party at powerHouse Arena. Such a wonderful night! And guess what? I have another reading coming right up! Wednesday, August 8th, 7 p.m. at the Barnes & Noble in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Come on out!