A Betty Book Must Read!
Jen Lancaster’s Latest – Pretty in Plaid
Best-selling author dishes on her new memoir and growing up in the ‘80s
Enter to win one of THREE copies of Pretty in Plaid!
From the very opening chapters of Pretty in Plaid, I became infatuated with the sash-wearing, Girl-Scout cookie totin’ 8-year-old Jen Lancaster whose snark and smarts had me laughing out loud through every chapter thereafter. But then I had a quiet observation, thinking back to my own 8-year-old insecure self, wondering, “Would she have wanted to be my friend?”
Fortunately, for my now 40-year-old self, that doesn’t matter now, because I do have the pleasure of being friends with the person behind the words! And Jen’s as real in life as you find her in her books – charming, witty, and so personable, it won’t matter if you pick up a truffle from the floor and eat it in front of her. I know this, because that’s exactly what I did the first night we met.
Pretty in Plaid, Jen’s latest memoir, takes the reader through three decades of clothes and controversy. From early days of knee highs and Girl Scout attire, through her teen years pining for a pair of Jordache jeans and Gucci gear, to her love of Lacoste, and a navy suit and crocodile shoes that rocked her into her career, this memoir conjures so much humor and nostalgia, every girl who ever wanted a pair of designer jeans will commiserate. While cracking up of course, because Jen is just that funny.
Jen and I chatted about her new book, the Girl Scouts of America, clothing choices, sorority life and the ‘80s. She’s also very generously offering THREE COPIES of Pretty in Plaid to some lucky Betty readers, so make sure to head over to the BettyTalk section to enter! Also, be sure to check to see if Jen will be in your town during her Pretty in Plaid book tour!
SE: So, how many “alligator” shirts do you own, and is it OK that I call ‘em alligator shirts?
JL: I just counted and I have 20 clean alligator shirts. I’m not sure how many are in the dirty clothes pile, so I may own somewhere in the neighborhood of 25-30. I realize this sounds excessive, but these are the only summer shirts I ever buy. Plus, they last forever, so this total represents every top I’ve purchased in the last nine years.
Seriously, it’s not excessive.
I don’t have a problem, I swear.
(My husband would tell you I don’t have an “alligator shirt” problem so much as I have a “need-to-address-the-mountain-of-laundry-threatening-to-take-over-the-upstairs” problem.)
I call them alligator shirts, too. Although purists know the Lacoste emblem is actually a crocodile, I figure after buying 30 of them, I can call them whatever the hell I want. Besides, what am I? A herpetologist? The way I see it, both alligators and crocodiles have bloodlust, big bitey jaws, and are best suited to be shoes and handbags. They’re interchangeable as far as I’m concerned. (FYI, these purists are the same folks who send me e-mails saying the socks on my book cover are technically argyle and not plaid. Argh.)
Pretty in Plaid has such an ‘80s theme that is sure to resonate with tons of readers. That era just brings back such cool, fun times. What are some of the things that pop right into your mind when you think of your ‘80s upbringing?
The music is what resonates most. Some of the songs from that era bring back such vivid memories that I subconsciously feel the need to cut all the necks out of my sweatshirts.
I particularly love how ‘80s music reflected our hope of fixing a chaotic and frightening world. Think of what we did with music back then – Live Aid! Farm Aid! We Are The World! Musicians weren’t just musicians back then; their songs were agents of social change. Remember how many of the amazing songs back then referenced the Cold War? 99 Luftballons by Nena and REM’s Radio Free Europe and Martika’s Toy Soldiers and Russians by Sting? You couldn’t turn on the radio and not hear someone singing about the conflict. I mean, yes, we were all afraid of a nuclear war, but the fact that bands like U2 could sing so earnestly about it made everything less scary. (Side note? I suspect after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Bono was walking around all, “Bullet the blue sky this, bitches. I brought that wall down. By being AWESOME.”)
If you had to choose your one-time favorite ‘80s song, what would you say it is?
Currently? The David Bowie/Queen collaboration of Under Pressure. Back then it was Cyndi Lauper’s Girls Just Want to Have Fun.
Was this book the hardest to write, seeing as it’s the memoir you had to delve the furthest into your past to write? Most fun?
Ironically, delving into my past was the easy part. All I had to do was pop in a few John Hughes movies, listen to old CDs, and dig out photo albums and all the memories came rushing back.
However, while I was writing this book, a minor bathroom repair morphed into a two-month major construction project, which rendered half my house and all two-thirds of my bathrooms unusable. The writing – always my favorite part of the whole book lifecycle – became a lot less fun when the slowest contractor on earth traipsed through my office every 30 seconds to cut tile.
Within weeks of construction finally ending, we got the rainstorm of the century. The water caused the back half of my house to sink and the walls filled with mold. Banging out childhood stories is easy; doing it while hazmat-suited gentlemen tear out drywall five feet away from my desk ups the challenge a bit.
And yes, we’ve since moved.
How do you think the Girl Scouts of America will feel when they discover you kind of cheated your way through? Do YOU think you cheated your way through Girl Scouts?
I absolutely scammed my way through Girl Scouts, and I still feel badly about it. I didn’t cheat them; I cheated myself. However, I like to think I made it up to them with my stellar cookie-selling skills.
Although I’m sure the statute of limitations is up on badge forgery, I suspect I’ll feel better about the whole situation if I write them a nice check.
What’s the fascination with plaid?
You’re looking for a grand narrative here, aren’t you? The simple truth is when I look back at everything I’ve ever worn, almost all my favorite pieces were plaid. You could even say plaid makes me feel … pretty.
You write very candidly and VERY funny about some awful experiences you have gone through, particularly in Pretty in Plaid, the rush events to join a sorority. When you wrote the book, did you make it so no one girl will be able to say, “Hey, she’s writing about ME!” or, do you think ALL the sorority girls you knew might say, “Hey, she’s writing about ME!” It sounded like some people were pretty horrible to you?
Since my sorority experiences run the gamut from the sublime to the ridiculous, I’d wager that anyone who ever rushed will find something/someone familiar. I’ve had advance feedback on the book and everyone says either, “THAT’S why I didn’t join a sorority,” or “That’s why I DID join a sorority.” My guess is the sorority chapters are going to spur more than few a Facebook requests – either to reconnect or to apologize.
I LOVED the ‘tween Jen Lancaster, but I fear she might have shunned me because I was just not cool enough. Did you have a handle on all the friends? Did everyone want to be your friend?
Wait, wait, ‘tween Jen was a New Jersey-accented outcast who had bad glasses and chipped teeth and got beat up on the bus. ‘Tween Jen only had friends because she had a pool.
Now, TEEN Jen on the other hand … she was the true pain in the ass, a perfect storm of narcissism and cluelessness. Teen Jen watched too many nighttime soaps (e.g. Dynasty and Falcon Crest) and was obsessed with the idea of classmates “trying to destroy” her by flirting with her boyfriends and not assigning her the front page story in her high school newspaper. Teen Jen is a textbook example of “overcompensation” from first being ‘tween Jen. Teen Jen scares the shit out of me now.
When you moved from N.J. to Indiana, was it the most horrible time in your life prior to Bitter is the New Black? I can’t imagine being uprooted at that age and having to fit in with everyone.
I don’t look back on this time terribly fondly as I couldn’t understand how I went from being popular and well-liked to a complete social pariah just because of a change in zip code.
However, the experience wasn’t without value – I learned the kind of coping skills I’d never have experienced if I’d stayed in my happy little New Jersey bubble. I came to realize that everyone has issues, and sometimes the way they treat me has nothing to do with my own shortcomings … and vice versa.
The thing I love about you, Jen – and your blog – is that you really KNOW how to connect with your readers, which must be a hard thing to do, with so many fans. But it just seems like you make every one of your readers feel like they are important to you. Why do you think THIS is so important?
I have a career as an author because my readers make it possible. If I make them feel like they’re important to me, it’s because they are.
I work really hard to stay connected, and I do my best to read every e-mail, check out their Web sites, respond on Twitter, etc. It’s not always possible, but I continue to try, not because I have to, but because I want to. Seriously, have you ever read their comments on my site? These people are funny and insightful and smart.
I feel incredibly lucky that my work has put these readers in my life.