When did you first consider yourself a writer?
The first summer of the year I began the writing class I had applied to Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference, one of the most prestigious writer’s conferences in the country. I found out (on my birthday, no less) that I had not been accepted. It was no big surprise – I didn’t expect to be accepted. But a few days later I got a call from Noreen Cargill. She said that someone had dropped out and there was one space available – did I want it? Did I want it? Hello!? I was the very last person who’d been accepted into the conference, the bottom of the totem pole, but on that day I felt like a writer.
What inspired you to write your first book?
Perfume. Namely, Vetiver Parfum by Annick Goutal. I imagined a girl who might wear that perfume: what she might be like, what she might think, what her dark secrets might be. Three years (and a lot of pots of coffee) later, I had a novel.
Do you have a specific writing style?
I think other people might be better at answering this question than I am. Here’s what I know: my mother read a lot of Dr. Suess to me as a child. The rhythm of those sentences stuck with me. So I think I have a very specific rhythm style – Dr. Suessian, if there is such a thing. I also think I have a sense of dark humor and that realistic dialogue is a part of me. I went to art school and have a background as a visual artist so my settings are vivid and detailed. I like happy endings, or at least satisfying endings and I’m an extremely impatient reader so I like to get someone hooked into a story within just a few pages. Is that style? I dunno.
How did you come up with the title?
Like all good ideas, The Aristobrats, popped out of nowhere and had nothing to do with my own conscious thought. I had a list a really comatastic ideas for a title (example, “The Inner Circle” ….zzzzzzz) but I felt like there was something great out there somewhere and that I had to let it come to me. I think I was picking up my daughter from school when it kind of landed at me. It was an “aha” moment.
How did you come up with the names of your characters? Do they carry any significance?
I spent a lot of time studying my favorite fictional group of friends: the Sex and the City girls. “Parker” is named after Sarah Jessica Parker so I’d always remember what I was trying to aspire to. I’d named a character “Ikea” in an earlier work that was never published. I just thought it was really funny and wouldn’t quite let it go. Plum gets some of her cues from a character I adore: Violet in The Incredibles. Kiki is just “Kiki”. She already had her name when she walked through my door.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Mostly I wanted a book that I would be proud to have my own daughter read. There are lots of messages layered into the book about not being afraid to make mistakes, about living life to the fullest because our time here is short. But I think the most important message is that is doesn’t matter how many Facebook Friends you have – it’s the real friends who count. These are lessons for me more than anyone – the important things I need to remember.
How much of the book is realistic?
Wallingford Academy has a lot of similarities to my alma mater, Winchester-Thurston. I also have lifelong friends, not unlike the four friends in the Aristobrats. My mother is the headmistress of a private school, but she’s nothing like Miss Hotchkiss, “The Terminator.” Hmm…at least not that I’m aware.
Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Ikea is based on an amalgamation of a few of the African American girls I went to school with. I always imagined how hard it must have been to go to a school where 95% of the students were white. Ikea is an homage to those old friends. There are a number of scenes nearly lifted from my time in eighth grade. It was fun to relive them without actually having to be there. Or blow dry my hair.
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
I would choose the two people who have been my writing mentors: 1. Alison Lurie. She changed my life over a bagel and coffee and a few wise words. She admired my work when I felt like a nobody – she’s the fairy godmother of my writing career. 2. Screenwriter, Greg Blatman. Remember these words: when you need help with a story, call on a screenwriter. They understand story structure inside and out. Greg would be like, “Isn’t it obvious, Jennifer? She lost her wallet at the drugstore so she doesn’t have her ID and that’s why she lands in jail.” And I would be like, “Ohhhhh. Yeahhhh. Right! Thanks!”
What book are you reading now?
I’m reading Color Blind by my friend, Precious Williams. Precious and I met when I was researching an entirely different Precious Williams, an eccentric collector of Haute Couture, for a short story I was writing. I Googled my Precious and got a new Precious, who is now a friend. I also do most of my writing at a table by the cookbooks in my library. So I read a dozen cookbooks at a time.
If you had to choose one book to read the rest of your life, and nothing else, what book would it be and why?
It’s actually a play, but I’d read Hamlet. I think there are so many ways of reading that story so that it’s completely different every time. I’d never get bored – I’d just imagine new settings, new actors, and new interpretations each time I read it.
Do you have something you are working on at the moment that you’d like to share with us?
I’m working on the follow-up to The Aristobrats.
Who designed the covers?
The cover design in my experience is an intense collaboration between the design team and me. In the case of The Aristobrats, I sent over dozens of images that represented the über-preppy world I had in my mind. They took the bits of inspiration I sent and created their own vision for it.
What was the hardest part of writing your book?
The hardest part of writing is writing. It takes an immense amount of stamina to get to “The End.” I’m constantly fighting with this little evil dude who sits on my should all day saying, “You can’t do this! You’re not a writer! Who do you think you are?” I have to flick that evil dude off my shoulder ten to twenty times a day.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
I have too much advice for other writers. You can read two of my most popular blog entries: “How to Write a Surefire Query Letter” and “The Surefire Way to Get a Literary Agent.” This have some very practical how-to tips. But before that, you have to write a great book – I define what I mean by that in those entries as well.
If you could mirror the career of any other author, who would it be and why?
This doesn’t answer your question in the slightest, but I have a painting that hangs over my writing desk. It says, “Sometimes I just have to ask myself, what would Cher do?” This is my little reminder to have fun, be outrageous, don’t be afraid to be ridiculous, and always get dressed up for the party.
(If writing is your main occupation) If you had to choose something besides writing, what career would you choose and why?
Okay---it may sound shocking but I’d be a farmer. I have a summerhouse that’s set up to be a farm someday. I have a tractor and I grow my own vegetables, bake bread, make goat cheese, have an apple orchard. I’d like to have ducks, horses and maybe a pig or two. I’d like to chop wood, have a windmill and live off the grid.
Do you have a muse? (a person, type of music, location you love)
Starbucks, my local library, my son, Griffin, and my daughter, Tallulah, my husband, Tommy, the butcher at Mill Valley Market, Madonna, Taylor Swift, Soho, Paris, perfume stores, Christian Laboutin, Jacob’s Pillow, pick-up/drop-off zone at Mill Valley Middle School, Winchester-Thurston, my friend, Sharon, my friend, Juditta, my mother, Nan, her mother Adelaide.
What is the most interesting thing about you?
I’m not sure if this is interesting, but I own about 50 wigs and they all have names and personalities. My family won’t let me wear “Foxy” anymore. Also, I have no middle name. I don’t own a television – I’ve never seen a reality show.
Aristobrats Book Trailer
Congrats Jennifer and good luck with all your future works!