Author Crush Friday with Jen Lancaster
Glitter girls, you have pressing questions for your favorite authors and we have their answers. Welcome to our weekly segment, Author Crush Fridays.
We love asking questions and we love the answers from some of our favorite authors. Today we’re talking to the New York Times bestselling author, Jen Lancaster, who is the author of the poignant YA, The Gatekeepers (October 10, 2017; Harlequin Teen). Thank you for talking to us today, Jen! We’re honored!
GLITTER: Tell us 5 random facts about yourself.
JEN: One of my memoirs was the subject of a question on Jeopardy!
Said book was about living a year of my life by Martha Stewart’s dictates. Martha blew off our joint Today show appearance and I’m still salty about it.
I never ordered anything but a cheeseburger, fries, and an orange soda in restaurants (no matter how fancy) until I was sixteen.
I’m now a fearless foodie. I’ll taste anything. I particularly love gross-sounding things like snails, caviar, and fois gras. However, I’m not a fan of beef heart, sea urchin, or raw quail egg. Eating them once was enough.
I’m obsessed with K-beauty products. I use two different Korean moisturizers made from snail mucus. I figure this is okay because I’ll put snails in my mouth, so on my face is no big deal.
GLITTER: Describe The Gatekeepers in 140 characters or less.
JEN: After a suicide cluster, a group of disparate teens band together to save their peers.
GLITTER: What one question sparked the plot for The Gatekeepers?
JEN: The question was, “How lucky are the kids who grow up in this town?” I live in Lake Forest, Illinois, a city I’d been crushing on since I read The Preppy Handbook back in the 1980s, then amplified once John Hughes started basing his films here. This place is nothing but hedge fund managers and CEOs and pro athletes. Sometimes I even see the astronaut from Apollo 13 tooling around town. I knew this place was everything the Indiana farming community where I grew up was not. No one had expectations on us back in Huntington, IN, as maybe 25% of my graduating class went on to college.
I didn’t get to Lake Forest until I’d “made it” as an author. After we moved here, I’d see thirteen-year-olds working out with my same personal trainer so that kid could excel at his or her team sports. I’d spot sixteen-year-olds driving the kind of cars I’d worked my whole life to buy. My assumption was these were the most fortunate teens in the whole world, growing up with every single advantage. But in 2012, after three consecutive high school students’ suicides, I finally realized that these advantages (and the resulting expectations) came with a price.
GLITTER: In The Gatekeepers, what was your favorite chapter/scene to write and why?
JEN: I’m a humor writer by trade, so tackling the heavy subject of suicide prevention was a real departure for me. I’m a firm believer in allowing the reader/viewer a moment to catch his or her breath in the characters’ darkest moments, so my favorite chapter is where Mallory and Kent are in Mallory’s car, out searching for their friends whose lives may be in danger. The scene fraught with tension, but I made sure to give everyone a break with a couple of seconds of levity.
GLITTER: How much of your book is immersed in real-life experiences?
JEN: Depends on how you measure real-life. Did I live through these specific situations? No. Do I absolutely understand what it’s like to yearn for acceptance, to be afraid, to feel unsure, to be hyperconscious about everyone’s opinion? Absolutely. Spoiler alert? While it does get easier as you age, these feelings never quite go away. Ultimately, we’re all reliving some version of high school, no matter where we are in life.
GLITTER: How different is this book from your other books currently out there?
JEN: This book could not be more different than my previous work, which is nothing but humorous memoir and light women’s contemporary fiction. I’ve always been about punchlines and happy endings, so this is so off-script for me. And yet, it’s still me who wrote this book, so there are so many common threads with previous works. For example, there will always be a John Hughes reference in my books, always be a joke at Kanye’s expense (sorry Yeezy, I love you but you’re freaking hilarious), and there will always be an anti-heroine. My current fans will see bits of me on every page. The biggest difference here is this is the first time I feel like I’ve written something important, that which truly matters.
GLITTER: Do you have any crazy writing rituals?
JEN: I’ve written fourteen other books, so I’m kind of a pro at this point. The reason I’ve been so prolific has nothing to do with weird rituals (again, sorry I’m not weirder here) and everything to do with discipline. When I’m on deadline, writing is my full-time job. Do I need a hot beverage next to me? Sure. Do I make sure my desk is tidy and floors are clean before I begin? Of course. Still, I’m up early every day, at my desk, working in what I call the “word factory”, and I don’t get to quit for the day until I satisfy my page-count goals. The only thing vaguely ritualistic is that I’m not allowed to shower until I hit my requisite number of words. And yes, there have been occasions where I’ve cooked dinner in my pajamas.
GLITTER: What is the one piece of advice you can offer new authors?
JEN: Stop talking about writing and write. Period. The more you flex this muscle, the more you’ll hone your skills. What’s exciting is the world of publishing has changed diametrically since I began my career a decade ago. So many new avenues exist for an author not only to have his or her work read, but also to be compensated. But don’t fret about the business aspects now, as none of the cool stuff can happen if you don’t get your words down on the page.
GLITTER: What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?
JEN: Honestly? The toughest moment is hearing the word “pass.” I’ve worked with so many editors and have done boatloads of rewrites; critique/criticism is a natural part of the process. Every piece of advice a professional editor gives is of value (even if I don’t always take it), so authors learn to roll with revisions. That’s why it’s devastating for someone to read my work and just say, “No. No, thanks. Pass.” There’s nowhere to go from there, nothing to learn, no place to improve, which is why it’s the worst.
I always feel like the best compliment is when readers tell me, “You wrote what I think.” Hearing that my words resonate never gets old.
GLITTER: What are you working on now?
JEN: I spent most of the spring working on a screenplay that went really far in the whole Hollywood system and put me in front of people I never imagined I’d meet. Ultimately, the script didn’t make it to the air, but I loved the characters so much that I’m turning that pilot into a novel. (Imagine something vaguely soapy and Desperate Housewives-like, only about sorority housemoms.) I also started a podcast called Stories We’d Tell in Bars as a vehicle to promote The Gatekeepers. However, it’s since taken on a life of its own. Never saw that coming. What I learned from this experience is that it’s fine to not be perfect; what’s important is to be authentic.
Jen Lancaster is the New York Times bestselling author of nine memoirs, five adult novels and one novel for young adults. She has sold well over a million books. Jen has appeared on The Today Show, CBS this Morning, The Joy Behar Show, and Fox News Live.
After a corporate layoff in 2001, down on her luck, and stuck selling off cars, jewelry, and designer purses, Jen launched a website to air her frustrations about unemployment. She began detailing her descent from designer clothing and spa visits to the unemployment line on her blog jennsylvania.com.
Her acerbic wit quickly won the blog a massive following. Jen’s first memoir, Bitter is the New Black, was published by the Penguin Random House imprint NAL in 2006. Since then, she has published one book a year and her memoir The Tao of Martha was optioned for a sitcom by FOX. Her YA fiction debut, The Gatekeepers, was inspired by tragic events in her hometown.