Author Interview: Jen Lancaster
Best-selling author Jen Lancaster is a firm believer in not taking herself too seriously. She finds humor in the everyday conflicts and absurdities of life and turns them into memoirs that are at once satirical and self-reflective. Lately she’s turned to fiction, like her eighth novel, “Here I Go Again,” due out on Jan. 29. It’s about a girl named Lissy Ryder who ruled her high school back in the day, but now, at 37, has lost her job, her husband and her condo. Having hit rock bottom, struggling to operate a business out of her parents’ garage and sleeping in her old room, she realizes that her present is miserable because of her past. Trust us, it’s funnier than it sounds. Lancaster is in St. Louis the day before the launch for a book signing with Left Bank Books on Jan. 28, giving fans the chance to get the book before it is officially released. ALIVE caught up with Lancaster to chat with her about the new book, her comedic inspirations and the therapeutic genius of turning tragedy into comedy.
ALIVE: Growing up, did you consider yourself a comedienne?
Jen Lancaster: I didn’t know that I was funny. Growing up, I thought I had a big mouth. It wasn’t until I got to college that I began to see I was funny. Earlier on, I thought I was just disrespectful since I was always in trouble.
ALIVE: Who were your heroes growing up?
JL: I loved essayists. At nine, I was reading about a writer’s problems with her septic tank. I liked Art Buchwald and Andy Rooney; the way they wrote was just very conversational and easy to read. I also love Jean Shepherd. He is so gifted at making epic stories from small occurrences.
ALIVE: What’s the silliest thing you’ve ever done as an adult?
JL: Well, I spent a good 20 years as an adult not being an adult. And since I write memoirs, I have this bad habit of allowing myself to stay in ridiculous situations that other normal people would probably get out of way sooner, just to have material to write about.
ALIVE: And as a teen?
JL: I was always trying to push the envelope, trying to get stuff into the high school paper I was on. I remember writing a review on James Bond, and talking about how it was a wonder things hadn’t shriveled up and fallen off him. People started reading the paper just to see what I could get past the editor.
ALIVE: You’ve said that your original writing material came from when you got laid off after 9/11. What made you want to write about that event? What made you think that being laid off could end up being funny?
JL: Humor is how I deal with things. I came up during the Dot-Com Era, working in a time period when things weren’t real, in an economy based on things that didn’t exist. And everyone was doing well, so I really gained an inflated sense of self. I was the VP of a technology company at the time. I thought I had Christy Turlington status. When I lost my job, reality only hit after I’d been out of work for two years. I took a big bite of the reality sandwich. I was so frustrated that–and I hadn’t even really entertained the idea of these smaller jobs)–I couldn’t even get hired at Barnes and Noble. I was so frustrated, and I needed an outlet. So, I started writing. I didn’t know I had a blog for the first six months—I didn’t know that’s what it was called. But the more I did it, the more I felt like this is what I should be doing. I thought, “Maybe someone will give me a check for this.” I knew Karyn Bosnak, who was living in New York and in $20,000 of credit card debt. Essentially, she had the American public help her get out of debt; she said she’d tell a funny story to anyone who gave her a dollar. And she then made it into a book. I thought, “If this idiot can do it, so can I.” It also helped that I had my Dot-Com arrogance of, “of course I can make this work.”
ALIVE: Tell me a little bit about “Here I Go Again.”
JL: I started out by writing memoirs. However, when I write them, they really give me a chance to figure out the things I can fix in my life, and since I really don’t have a lot of that hilarious conflict going on in my life right now, I’ve started writing novels. I wrote my first novel, “If You Were Here,” a couple of years ago and the characters were based on my husband and me. But it ended up that my longtime fans (not people who picked up the book—they loved it) were mad. They said they couldn’t figure what was true and what wasn’t. I had done it wrong. So in this new book, I tried to really go as far away from myself as I could. I’m a fan of the ’80s, so it takes place in the 90s, and so on.
ALIVE: Was there a particular person you were thinking of when you wrote the character Lissy?
JL: Yes, I wanted to take all the qualities of myself and go in the complete opposite direction. If anyone now can’t tell what’s true and what’s not, I’m not sure what else I can do.
ALIVE: Without any spoilers, does it have a happy ending?
JL: Absolutely. It has a happy ending and a big twist that you won’t expect. All I’m saying is that karma is absolutely real.
ALIVE: The first book you wrote is entitled “Bitter is the New Black: Confessions of a Condescending, Egomaniacal, Self-Centered Smartass, or, Why You Should Never Carry a Prada Bag to the Unemployment Office.” I’m interested in finding out about the inspiration for that title. Is there a specific story behind taking a Prada bag to the unemployment office?
JL: Yeah, don’t do that. They remember you. I was so arrogant and so annoyed that I had to apply for unemployment. I thought, “This is beneath me, not what I do.” And people there weren’t nice to me. No one thought I was cute.
ALIVE: Who are the funny people in your life right now?
JL: The funniest person I know is my husband. I take all of his best lines and accredit them to myself. He doesn’t read anything I write, but I read everything I write out loud to him and he will listen to my stuff and his eyebrows just go higher and higher.
ALIVE: If you had to pick three famous comediennes to have lunch with, who would they be and why?
JL: Lisa Lampanelli, because she’s actually the nicest person and still uses the c-word; probably Janeane Garofalo in the ’90s; and Joan Rivers, because she’s amazing and doesn’t get enough credit.
ALIVE: Your blog, jennsylvania, is hilarious. Where do you find inspiration for that kind of humor?
JL: I pay attention. Hilarious things happen all around you, you just have to notice it. I was at Target and the guy in front of me was buying an enormous bottle of vodka, a box of laxatives and a Valentine’s Day card. I couldn’t help thinking, what does he have planned? What’s he gonna do for his special lady?
ALIVE: Finally, I have to know, do you really love “Twilight” as much as your blog depicts?
JL: It is shameful for me to say, but yes. I have a great admiration for Stephenie Meyer and she has super shiny, bouncy hair. There’s nothing to not like. And “Twilight” makes me feel good.
ALIVE: Team Jacob or Team Edward?
JL: Team Jacob—how could you not be??
Meet Lancaster and pick up a copy of “Here I Go Again” at Left Bank Books’ signing on Jan. 28 at Mad Art Gallery. More info at left-bank.com.