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Jen Lancaster takes a Book Break

Jen Lancaster has tried Atkins 11 times. She is the kind of girl that would figure out you can drink 12 glasses of wine – not eat anything else – and still stick to Weight Watchers. She still loves Barbie dolls and books that are pink.

And while Jen loves her work as a writer, she admits, “It would be nice to have a water cooler.”

Five years ago, Lancaster was laid off from her job as an associate vice president at an investment research firm. Now she’s a successful writer. How’d that happen? “I got lucky.”

“Getting from having a great corporate job, to being laid off, to being a writer, I mean, there were five years of suck in there. Things only started really getting good about a year ago when I got my first big royalty check. ... That’s one of those things that you don’t think of when people become a writer. Like, oh, suddenly you’re rich… No. Not even a little bit. For the first two to three years that I was writing I still had to temp. It gave me sort of a wealth of stories and a lot of my temp jobs were so boring that I could actually get a lot of writing done. But getting from there to here wasn’t just overnight success. I’m starting to hear rumblings from people like ‘Oh, she’s an overnight success!’ Really? You should have said that to me three years ago when I was getting coffee for people and having high school graduates lecture me on how I was stapling things wrong. It sucked.”

“It is about the worst get rich quick scheme in the entire world.”

“I got laid off and I couldn’t find any work. I think some of it was my own ego or hubris – there was just stuff that I wouldn’t do: I’m not taking anything for less than 6 figures. And I didn’t realize that, hey, the economy’s changed. It’s October of 2001 and people are not hiring and the dot com economy is over. So after a year of not being able to find anything, I just lost it. I couldn’t get retail jobs. I couldn’t get waitressing jobs. … How do I go from being a superstar, having not done anything wrong except being in the wrong place in the wrong economy, to not being able to get a waitressing job? I began to post these frustrations on blogs, people started to read it, and then I thought, ‘Well, maybe I can make money this way.’”

“So I just began to write and write and write. I wrote every single day, and after about 6 months, I thought, ‘I have enough content here to really get people to start reading this,’ and I started sending links places and posting stuff on Craigslist with links back to my site.”

A literary agent discovered Jen’s work online and contacted her. She worked with Jen for a year, putting together a book proposal that sold, “And here I am.”

“I’m a lot happier. When I was a corporate person I never realized that I wasn’t happy. I thought – I’m doing exactly what I should be doing and I’m advancing the career ladder like I’m supposed to. I worked all the time and I never had time to do anything else. So when I would get a few minutes here and there I would buy things for myself. I surrounded myself with stuff, equating that with being happy. And it really wasn’t the case. Now I think that I enjoy my life a lot more. And I’m just overall much happier.”

“Writing a book is kind of the very best celebrity you can get because people know who you are on a bookshelf, but they have no idea who you are in real life.”

Lancaster’s latest book on the shelf, Such a Pretty Fat: One Narcissist’s Quest to Discover If Her Life Makes Her A** Look Big or Why Pie Is Not the Answer, is about her on a diet, but with a sassy spin.

“I’m actually calling things out for saying this is hard. … Every time people go about losing weight, there’s always the ‘why am I f***ing bothering’ mode and all of us give into it and I just don’t think that you see that in other weight loss memoirs people are all steely-eyed, gritty and determined. I gave up like 900 times. People don’t talk about giving up and then manage to find a way to be somewhat successful.”

“And what I think is different, too, is that I don’t come from a place of self loathing. A lot of people lose weight not because they hate themselves, but because they want to feel better. And I don’t think people really address that. I’ve read every weight loss memoir that has come out recently and most of them are really sad. I don’t think a lot of people write upbeat stories about coming to terms with who they are. It’s such a funny subject but so few people tackle it with humor.”

“What was really fun, though, was that by the time I was wrapping up doing the bulk of what I had to do for the book, I found that I would rather work out with Barbie or do something healthy than actually sit down and write, which was kind of cool.” (That’s right, her trainer’s name is Barbie.)

“I can run a mile now … it takes a while and there are some breaks…”

Her trick to staying motivated? “I always find a nemesis. That’s like my big fitness plan – any time that I go to work out, I find someone who I’m going to pit myself against.”

But Lancaster wasn’t always pleasantly plump.

“I grew up really thin. I was always really thin and I was always so body conscious when I was younger, when I was thin, thinking that I wasn’t. And then as soon as I became heavy, I was like, ‘This isn’t so bad. I have to buy bigger pants, but I can also eat cake.’ I think part of it, that I never really minded getting heavy, is when I was younger and much thinner, I got a lot of attention to the point where I didn’t like it.”

The extra weight made Jen feel more protected.

Lancaster’s next book, Pretty in Plaid, was going to be about her childhood, until she realized it would basically be about “me forging Girl Scout badges.”

“Originally it was just going to be a whole collection of childhood stories like very David Sedaris or Dustin Burrows. And then I realized I had a really good childhood. There was no bad touch or anything. And I did not have enough stories to fill it, so now it’s going to be kind of a prequel to the first book. Short stories done with a narrative arc. It should be funny. It should just be a funny book.”

What books does Jen like to read?

“Honest to God, what I normally pick to read is whatever’s on the front table of Barnes and Noble, whether its fiction, nonfiction. I probably read 200 books a year. I have time. I probably buy 300 books a year because I have a problem with that.”

Some of Jen’s favorite authors include Candice Bushnell, Emily Giffin, Tom Robbins, Jennifer Weiner, Stacy Ballis and David Sedaris.

Her secret indulgence? Stories about southern women. “They are such a different species than me.”

If you want to be a writer, you have to be a reader, Jen says. “Get your hands on everything. When I meet someone that says they want to be a writer, and they don’t read – It’s like wanting to be a chef and not liking to eat.”

“And if you, in fact, want to have a writing career, having an established blog is not a necessary step. It’s not something that you need. Don’t put every piece of your life online. Save it. Because what I’ve really seen on the web lately, is people are giving more and more self disclosure because they are so anxious for people to come to their site and read about them that they’re really exposing a lot of parts of them that I think is a little unnecessary – to the point that they’re train wrecking themselves.”

“Do the research and find out what it is that publishers want. Look at the trends. Go to Barnes and Noble and see what’s on the front table and see what people are writing, and then do it. It’s not enough to want it. You have to do it every single day. And it has to be something that compels you.”

“My day doesn’t feel right unless I get something on paper.”

And her new book? Just keep in mind, “It’s not War and Peace.”

Read my review of Jen Lancaster's "Such a Pretty Fat"

“Jen Lancaster takes a Book Break”