A Moment of Jen
THE NEXT BEST THING — In Stores July 3rd!

Monday, November 22, 2004
posted by Jen at 11/22/2004 08:25:00 PM


Somebody stole my friend Andrea’s stroller. “I’ve been leaving it in front of the house for years, and nothing ever happened,” she said. But a few days ago, someone ripped off her Inglecina umbrella stroller and replaced it with this tiny, crappy, non-Inglecina fifteen-bucks-at-the-drugstore piece of falling-apart crap. In other words, somebody strolled by with a crappy stroller, saw Andrea's nice one, and decided to upgrade.

“PLEASE RETURN OUR STROLLER,” says the note Andrea pinned to the cheap little stroller. “THIS WAS NOT A FAIR TRADE.”

Still, she was philosophical. “At least it wasn’t the double stroller,” she said, as I lifted Lu into the house and Andrea locked our stroller to her front step railing with a Kryptonite bicycle lock. “Then I would have really been screwed.”

Back last summer, before LITTLE EARTHQUAKES was published, when I'd wake up in the middle of the night in cold sweat dreading the reviews, stressed out about the book tour, and freaking over the publicity, I'd try to take deep breaths and think about Thanksgiving.

By the time Thanksgiving rolled around, everything would be over. The book would have been published, reviewed and bought (or not), the magazine pieces would have appeared, and gone on to line birdcages or recycling bins, and life would be roasted turkey and pumpkin pie.

So now Thanksgiving's almost here and I'm grateful to have survived the publication, and the tour, and everything this fall has taught me about writing, and parenthood, and not expecting perfection from myself -- or my daughter.

And, on a more prosaic note, I am extremely grateful for the good advice I got from my agent back in the spring of 2000, when we'd just sold GOOD IN BED.

"Start your second book now," Joanna told me.

"Now as in right now?" I asked. I'd written GOOD IN BED while I was working full-time as a reporter. My publisher-to-be had just been give me a not-insignificant chunk of change. There were any number of things I wanted to do immediately, many of which involved a week off at a nice beach and many pina coladas. I figured Book Two could wait -- after all, GIB wasn't going to be published for an entire year, which felt like an eternity.

No, said Joanna. Start now. "Once GOOD IN BED is published, your life is going to change in ways that might make it hard for you to start something new," she said. I grumbled, but I figured she knew what she was talking about. By the time GOOD IN BED came out in the spring of 2001, before anyone else in the world had read a word of what I'd written, I had most of a draft of IN HER SHOES done....and by the time GOOD IN BED really took off in paperback, IHS was on its way to the printers.

Which brings me, in a roundabout way, to CITIZEN GIRL, the follow-up to THE NANNY DIARIES. In the wake of TND's stellar sales, and the authors' rumored bad behavior (they've fired two agents, dumped on publishing house and been dumped by another, and are generally described as carrying on like a pair of prima donnas), CG is getting tons of press, not much of it positive.

Full disclosure: Atria, which published CITIZEN GIRL, also publishes my books. I've got a different editor than Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus, I've never met either of them, and I've only heard the same rumors and read the same stuff as everyone else.

Watching the press and reading the reviews is like the proverbial car wreck -- you know it's going to make you sick, but you can't turn away. I can't remember reading anything worse than USA Today's review of CITIZEN GIRL -- and I don't mean just that it was a bad review, I mean, it was an execrably written bad review that made me wonder whether an editor had so much as glanced at it before slapping it onto the page.

(Full disclosure: the last time USA Today reviewed one of my books, the piece, while largely positive, read as if it had been penned by someone who'd learned English the weekend before, from a workbook, in the back seat of a poorly-driven taxicab, while drunk).

The CITIZEN GIRL review began: "One-hit wonder. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as anyone "who gains only one popular success before returning to relative anonymity." I'm not sure if it's in the O.E.D. yet, but surely someone somewhere other than me defines "lazy writing" as "using a dictionary definition in your lead."

Then there was the sentence which read "Girl is an apt name for a barely one-dimensional character (as are all the other characters in the book)." Which led me to believe that every character in the book was named Girl. Which would have been interesting, in a Samuel Beckett-meets-Candace Bushnell kind of way but, alas, wasn't true.

I was fascinated with Sunday's New York Times interview with the authors. I can't decide whether it's a brilliant exercise in spinning a bad manuscript ("We wrote the book we wanted to, but those money-grubbing bean-counters at Random House only wanted nanny, nanny, and more nanny!") or the God's honest truth.

I wonder what would have happened if I hadn't gone right to work on IN HER SHOES before GOOD IN BED took off. Would my publisher have said, "Sisters? Hmm. Could you make one of them fat, and have her mother be gay, and maybe have a sex scene at a shiva call?" I like to think that that would never happen, but...well, I've never had a marketing manager sitting in on an editorial meeting, the way McLaughlin and Kraus claim they have, but I'm maybe not as horrified by the concept as the average reader.

If the publishing house is paying the advance, they have a right to say "here's the kind of book we'd like to see." And if you let too much time elapse between books, it's less a case of a writer who's taking her time than a non-writing civilian who only has one story to tell, so hey, let's make her tell it to us again! And again! And once more after that! I think this may be especially true if you go around giving interviews saying "we're not novelists, we're nannies." If you take somebody's two million dollar advance, guess what? You're a novelist. Or at least you'd better try as hard as you can to impersonate one.

So I'm thankful that I got the second book out of my system and out of the way. I'm thankful that the tour's over and that the girl and I are still in one piece. I'm thankful that it seems I've only lost one lousy reader in the wake of the election, and I'm thankful to the guy who wrote in saying he'd buy all of my books because she wouldn't.

And I'm especially thankful that nobody's swiped our stroller.

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