In early 2007, I was a bit out of sorts. Between careers, temping, not really sure about my purpose in life. Pretty typical quarterlife crisis. I wasn't unhappy--Bob and I were sharing a spacious apartment, and I was living back in Chicago after being away for four years. Just unfocused.
Then I went to a book signing for author Stacey Ballis (who I recommend you check out immediately--her writing is both funny and sensual, and her heroines are sassy and empowered). I was one of the first people there, and totally geeked out when I met Stacey before the reading. (I think she might have been a little afraid of me--sorry Stacey! I was just really excited to meet you, and pleased you were so gracious. :)
It was then that I overheard a bookseller conversing with a woman seated behind me. She (the woman, not the bookseller) had great hair, extremely well-applied makeup and if my eavesdropping was correct, a book of her own. I wanted to introduce myself, but was unsure how. Until I saw those familiar C's that make my heart leap.
I turned around. "Hi, I love your Coach bag!"
"Thanks! I love it too, even though I'll probably be paying for it for five years."
We jumped into a conversation that led her to introduce me to ANOTHER author I loved who just happened to be sitting there: Laura Caldwell. (Must-read suspense novels, I tell ya. And I don't even normally like that genre.) It was then that I asked this lovely loud lady with the great bag, what she had written. She told me--Bitter is the New Black--with a smiling command: "Go buy it!" I did, dove in later over an omelet and fries (I'd read Stacey's new book prior to the signing), laughed my ass off, and dug this friendly broad even more.
This is how I met Jen Lancaster.
A couple of months later, Jen's second book, Bright Lights, Big Ass, was released and she had a signing at the Michigan Avenue Borders. After reading a selection, Jen started talking about the book and answering questions. Mid-sentence, she spotted me and said, "Hi, Unpro!" She then talked about temping (which I had told her I was doing), and said she never realized how many temps had master's degrees. She then looked straight at me and said, "Or law degrees." Aw.
After the signing, Jen invited the audience out for drinks. This is how I ended up at Gibson's with Jen, her husband Fletch, and one other woman, blathering about my career woes over martinis and burgers and slurring how I was going to be a MESS answering phones in the morning at my latest temp assignment.
Since then, Jen has published two more books, Such a Pretty Fat and Pretty in Plaid. Her events and signings are now PACKED, and I tell everyone who will listen that I got drunk with her. That said, I'm fully aware she has a bazillion fans and I was but a martini-swilling blip on her radar.
I never told her that she inspired me to write. That meeting her, Stacey and Laura in the same night--three funny, friendly and creative ladies who lived in Chicago just like me!--had spurred me to start scribbling down stuff of my own. Of course, I'm nowhere near their levels of success, but I like to think that someday I could join their ranks. On that March night in 2007, something inside me woke up and I started writing. I haven't stopped since, and I partly have Jen to thank for that.
So last month, I'm at the Book Cellar (a Chicago TREASURE for the sheer fact that it has both books and wine! Nerd-vana!) for a signing/Q&A with the hilarious Caprice Crane (again, read her stuff like yesterday). Jen is a friend of Caprice's--in fact, we'd bonded over her books while throwing back drinks almost three years ago. After the signing, I debated with my friend Nina whether to approach Jen. I mean, it had been three years, right? Granted, I did say hello at Jen's signing in 2008, but her 2009 event was mobbed and I had to go to work the next day so I'd headed home after the Q&A.
Nina convinced me to go for it, and I waited patiently for Jen to finish the conversation she was having with the woman standing in front of me.
Finally, the woman stepped away and I took a deep breath. "Jen? Hey, I'm--"
"UNPRO!" she screamed, hugging me and poking her husband. "Fletch! Fletch! FLETCH! It's Unpro! Unpro from Gibson's in 2007!" She then proceeded to grill me about what I was doing now, recounting details that I'd spilled after ingesting at least two whiskey and Cokes and one extra-strong dirty martini. In other words, a New York Times-bestelling author remembered stuff I'd told her three years ago in a loud bar when we were both a bit tipsy.
We ended up talking for 20 minutes.
If anyone out there is or becomes a well-known writer, keep my story in mind.
Because THIS is how you get and keep your fans.
Anyway, when I asked about advance review copies for Jen's new book, My Fair Lazy, she told me to email her publicist. Which I did, and that's what I'll be reviewing for this, the first Monday of Awesome Authors Month.
Let's do this!
My Fair Lazy chronicles the attemps of Jen, an admitted reality-TV and junk-food addict, to become cultured. With the help of her friend Stacey Ballis, and with husband Fletch along for the ride, Jen seeks out the most highbrow in theatre, literature, food, and much more. But she's still Jen, with a writing style heavy on hilarious footnotes and a propensity for John Hughes movies: one particularly hilarious scene has her betting a guy at a fancy party that all of the women in the room will know who Jake Ryan is. As someone whose entire family can recite Sixteen Candles word for word (I'm totally not joking), I really appreciated this anecdote.
What I like best about Jen's writing is its relatability--she's REAL, and not in the publicist-staged "Stars, They're Just Like Us!" way. At one point, Jen lists all the reality shows she watches. In fact, she thanks reality show contestants in her acknowledgments. And oh, does she embarrass herself. In the course of the book, Jen freaks out over Carla Gugino's wig at a cast party for the Goodman Theatre's Desire Under the Elms, drinks way too much wine at a business dinner and ends up ranting about Adam Lambert's squealy version of "Ring of Fire" (I don't even watch Idol, and even I have to say: Word, Jen. WOOOOOOORD), and mistakenly buys hundreds of dollars' worth of tea because she doesn't know the Chinese word for "no." Not to mention the Jake Ryan incident.
All of this is related in a style so conversational, the reader feels like they're chatting with Jen over white wine and the fancy cheese she's just learned to like. As someone who's hung out with her (oh, you better BELIEVE this comes up in conversation more than I'd like to admit), I can attest that Jen writes the way she talks. And I'm fully aware that not everyone appreciates this voice: Jen's got the kind of personality you either love or hate, and she knows it. I've never come across a lukewarm reaction to her books--it's one extreme or the other. I'm in the "fangirl" extreme, in case you couldn't already tell.
So she may not be your cup of tea. But if you haven't already, give Jen Lancaster's writing a try. Anyone who peppers stories of Hamptons parties and five-course molecular gastronomy meals with wisecracks about Survivor and Twitter can't be all bad, right? Oh, and did I mention that she is devoted to her pets (cats she's had since college, two pit bulls she adopted in the throes of unemployment, and new to this book, a trio of crazy kittens)? As a woman who's way too obsessed with her cat, Jen's stupid pet tricks give her a few more points in my book. And when it comes to books, My Fair Lazy is a damn fun one. Anyone who tries to reconcile their love of ballet with their affinity for RuPaul's Drag Race (*cough* me *cough*) will both relate and appreciate.
My Fair Lazy will be released May 4. Click here to pre-order, here to read a fun recent announcement from Jen, and here to win an advance copy all your own!
Next week on the 'pro: Awesome Authors Month continues with an interview with an up-and-coming author who likes to visit this blog. Stay tuned!