August 7, 2007

3Q with Ellen Meister

BLARG! I hope everyone brought their tiny violins to today’s blog…

So on Friday, after a week at my parent’s house, I flew to Mississippi for their inaugural writer’s conference. It was quite, quite awesome, but now, home again… I feel like I lost the last half of July. Imagine your calendar for the next month, now just take ten or twelve days away and imagine that those things STILL have to be done, so you must distribute them evenly over the next three weeks, and while you are at it, imagine that your husband is out of town for two of those three weeks, and imagine your kids start school in the middle of that, your youngest for the FIRST TIME. That’s my August. Would anyone like to mail me some Percoset?

Ha ha! I kid, I kid! That would be a terrible federal crime, to send Percoset through the mail. You will need to send it by private courier. HA! No, no, I KID. Mostly.

I COULD use a dirty martini, though.

Hopefully by September I will be back on track, as, you know, I’m starting…and restarting…and restarting… a new book and I have to do all my usual mentally ill dances, and these are quite time consuming. This will be the SIXTH novel I have written, and at this point I KNOW the process, know what my mental illness numbers are going to do, can practically GRAPH their looping trajectory, and yesyesyes I KNOW it’s silly HAVE TO BE SO CRAZY, and WHY, I say to myself, WHY should I do the whole OH I CANNOT WRITE A BOOK thing, and yet, if I do not do the I CANNOT DO IT thing, it seems it instantly becomes true, and I actually CANNOT.

It’s like the pink monkey club – to get in, all you have to do is go stand on the corner for a half hour and NOT think about a pink monkey. That club has no members, and I can’t write a book unless I really believe I can’t write a book. If I try to skip the crazy and just write, it feels like I am willfully cutting butter into…nothing, insisting if I do it long enough I WILL SO end up with pie crust, flour be derned.

So. I am giving in and becoming a complete loon. I will be flopping around the floor like a gigged trout, wailing and masticating my carpet should you need me. *martyred sigh*

While I am being HIDEOUSLY self indulgent and throwing myself an ENORMOUS catered sit down dinner of a pity party --- Canapes! Live Music! Cage Dancers! Raffles! Magicians! Pony Rides! ---- Why don’t you talk to a DECENT HUMAN who is funny and nice and not foaming at the mouth? Also, I have to say, this decent human gives good interview.

Ellen Meister is the author of Secret Confessions of the Applewood PTA. What’s it about? You say. GLAD YOU ASKED. When a Hollywood location scout comes to Applewood, Long Island, and announces that the local elementary school might make the perfect backdrop for an upcoming George Clooney movie, the PTA's decorum crumbles like a cookie from last week's bake sale.
Enter Maddie, Ruth, and Lisa, three women who become the glue that holds the project together, forging a bond of friendship stronger than anyone could imagine. And not a moment too soon, as marriage woes, old flames, and scandalously embarrassing family members threaten to tear each of them apart…Library Journal says, in a starred review, “Meister's debut novel is heartbreakingly funny, her characters facing life's dramas and disappointments head on with wit and spunk."

JJ: What do you think of your cover and how does it compare to the cover you imagined when you were writing the book?

EM: I love my new paperback cover! I think my publisher did a brilliant job with it. The apple works on so many levels. First and most obvious, it says "sin," which there is quite a bit of in the book. Also, it reflects the name of my fictional town, Applewood. And finally, since the story revolves around an elementary school, an apple is a great symbol.


JJ: Can you talk a little about the significance of your title and how you came up with it?

EM: There's a story behind the title...

The book was originally called GEORGE CLOONEY IS COMING TO APPLEWOOD. Some folks raised an eyebrow, asking if it was really okay to use his name. But when I pointed out that Al Franken wrote a book called RUSH LIMBAUGH IS A BIG, FAT IDIOT, most agreed that it wouldn't be a problem. My editor and agents were unconcerned.

Alas, the lawyers at HarperCollins weren't quite so mellow, and put the brakes on at the last minute, saying I couldn't use George Clooney's name in the title without his consent. I was given 48 hours to get approval from Hollywood's most sought-after super hunk. Easy, right?

Fortunately, I'm married to a researcher, and he was able to get me the phone number for Clooney's agent in minutes. So I called the office and they barked out his publicist's phone number before hanging up on me. Then I dialed the other number had this conversation:

Hello, my name is Ellen Meister and I got your number from George Clooney's agent. They said you were the people to call to--

Talk faster. I have people holding.


Gimme your phone number and he'll call you back.

I blurted out my phone number and tried to explain the nature of my call, but she hung up before I could get it out. This was bad, because it was likely she got the impression that I was looking for a publicist. So I called again.


Write us a letter.

WAIT! I DON'T HAVE TIME! I'm in a terrible time crunch and--

Here's our email address. Good-bye.

So I wrote his publicist an email and got a quick reply saying it was a long and complicated issue and George Clooney didn't have time for it. I couldn't let it go at that without a bit of groveling, so I wrote back explaining that the book had been my life's work for so many years and that I'd heard that George Clooney was so accessible with a great sense of humor about himself and would he PLEASE pass it by him? The reply was quick. He DID pass it by George Clooney and the answer is no.

So that was it. I had to go back to the drawing board on titles, which was a long, frustrating process, as the one I liked best kept getting rejected. But at long last we settled on one we all liked, SECRET CONFESSIONS OF THE APPLEWOOD PTA.

JJ: Secretly? I do NOT believe he passed it by George Clooney. I think he just SAID he did. I don’t even think he passed it by George Clooney;s actual publicist. I think he was an assistant named Maurice with a supercilious mustache. FURTHERMORE, I bet GEORGE HIMSELF would have TOTALLY let you. Oh well---Tell us about your experiences with upscale Long Island soccer moms---are they as snotty as George Clooney’s Publicist’s Assistant?

I think Long Island women get a bad rap as being full of money and attitude. I can't honestly say that doesn't exist, but it's a distinct minority, and gets blown way out of proportion, even right here at home.

I remember one time a friend of mine was asked to participate as a model in the fashion show fundraiser for our PTA. She's very attractive, but was afraid to do it. "Those women will tear me to shreds," she had said. I replied, "Name three." She stared blankly for a moment before getting the point, which was that the vast majority of women in our PTA had hearts just like ours.

One of the reasons I wanted to write SECRET CONFESSIONS OF THE APPLEWOOD PTA was to blow the myth apart. I wanted to show the honest heart of these suburban women, to explore the very real pain, passion and joy that often gets overlooked. Most of all, I wanted to do it with tenderness and humor, which was why it was so important for me to make the book more of a friendship story than anything else.

Posted by joshilyn at August 7, 2007 6:02 AM

I think GC's publicist's assistant is (was?) probably named Gilbert instead of Maurice, but otherwise - what Joshilyn said. :-)

Also, Joss, totally unfair that you have to cram one month into three weeks while Mr. Husband is out of town! Doesn't the company he works for allow some sort of Family Leave Time for the Husbands of Wives Who Are Starting New Novels and Have Mental Illness Numbers Scewing (scewing?? is that right?? whatevah! you know what I mean) the Mental Illness Number Curve All Over the Place? If they don't, they should.

Posted by: DebR at August 7, 2007 7:51 AM

I'd love to sit in a room with you two--and by room of course I mean bar--and just listen! Y'all are so entertaining!

Ellen's book is great, btw!

Posted by: maryanne stahl at August 7, 2007 10:20 AM

I totally think George would've let you use his name, and that the publicist's assistant, MR. MAURICE GILBERT SUPERCILIOUS THE THIRD, never even passed it by the publicist, let alone George himself.

Anyway, the book sounds fab. Must go order it now.

Posted by: Aimee at August 7, 2007 10:29 AM

"skewing" according to my Webster's New World Desk Dictionary. Still looks wrong, though!

I do need to pick this up. Did you talk with her when it came out in hardback, too? The George Clooney story sounds familiar...

Posted by: Beth at August 7, 2007 4:08 PM

Trust me, if I lived in Georgia, I would bring over some percocet, pinky swear! and some kick-ass sangria too.

My son is starting kindergarten in less than 2 weeks. I have not yet begun to FREAK. OUT.

Posted by: Angel at August 8, 2007 1:49 AM

Publicist address:
George Clooney
c/o Stan Rosenfield & Associates,
2029 Century Park East - Suite 1190,
Los Angeles, CA 90067
tel 310-286-7474 fax. 310-286-2255

Just in case anyone was looking for a pen pal...

Posted by: linda at August 8, 2007 7:50 AM