Having decided long ago to give up fighting the style-and spotlight-obsessed during the bi-annual pose-off otherwise known as Fashion Week (everything worth seeing winds up on Vogue.com), we showed up at Michael’s for our weekly Wednesday confab and found the joint no worse for wear without the usual smattering of fashionistas. Today 55th and Fifth was jam-packed with plenty of spinmeisters (Steven Rubenstein, Joannie Danielides, Deb Shriver) and social types (Terry Allen Kramer, Felicia Taylor). The fall power lunch season is in full swing, so get out from behind that desk and network already.
I was joined today by Jesse Kornbluth, who last night was fêted by a gaggle of Upper East Side types to celebrate the publication of his new book and first novel, Married Sex. (Yes, it’s as steamy as it sounds, but more on that later.) I met Jesse years ago in this very dining room (where else?) and have always wanted to talk to him about his amazing career. Today, at long last, I got my chance.
Novelist is just the latest title to appear on Jesse’s staggeringly impressive CV. He wrote many of Vanity Fair’s most memorable celebrity interviews, but left a few months into Graydon Carter‘s tenure after he took over for Tina Brown. Since then, Jesse’s byline has appeared in magazines too numerous to mention, including New York and Architectural Digest. In 1996, he was tapped to turn AOL “from a technology company into a media company” and he stayed until 2003. He’s also taught writing at New York University and has written screenplays for Paul Newman and Robert De Niro.
His fervent love of books led to his role as co-founder of bookreporter.com, which is the internet’s “largest non-commercial book network.” In 2004, he started Headbutler.com, where he serves as “cultural concierge” and a champion of his favorite books, movies and music to the site’s faithful media-obsessed fans. “It’s pure advocacy for new stuff that’s actually exciting and great stuff that’s been overlooked.” To wit: his one-man campaign to get adults to read the YA bestseller The Fault in Our Stars. But lest you think Headbutler.com is a blog, think again. “It’s really a letter from me to you with a daily theme.” Access to the site is free and he lays out his business model to visitors this way: “I have an affiliate relationship with Amazon. I get a special code, I add it to the product link so they know I sent you, and, at the end of the month, they deposit several million dollars into Butler’s bank.” Wink, wink.
We made a date for lunch today to talk about Married Sex, published in print and as an e-book by Jane Friedman’s Open Road last month. Married Sex tells the story of a divorce lawyer and his wife who make an interesting pact to keep their marriage alive: affairs are off-limits, but threesomes aren’t. “I can’t have an affair with you,” the male character tells a seductive stranger. “But I can take you home.” With three people in the bedroom, everything is put to the test. “Why do people get divorced?” posited Jesse between bites of corn ravioli. “I say sex. People get bored, the excitement is gone. How can you not cheat if you’re tempted? You bring the person home.”
The thrice-married Jesse told me, “It’s not ‘Fifty Shades of Jesse.’ I’m only interested in two women—my wife (of fifteen years, Karen Collins) and my daughter. The book is a complete work of fiction.” One that was years in the making. Way back in 1995, Dustin Hoffman tapped Jesse to adapt a book which went nowhere. Instead, Jesse pitched Dustin his Married Sex idea and the actor told him, “I hear subtitles, I see Paris.” Jesse then went home and wrote the book’s first chapter and then took a lot longer than he planned to finish it. In August of last year, on the anniversary of Dominick Dunne‘s death, Jesse sent the then-finished manuscript to his son, director Griffin Dunne, with a note that read: “I thought about Nick as I wrote this. I wish he was here to read it.” After Griffin read Married Sex on a flight to Los Angeles, he wrote back: “If I’d known, I would have worn looser pants.” The book has been optioned by producer Nick Wechsler and his partners; Griffin is attached to direct and Jesse is writing the screenplay. Jesse told me he was lucky enough to get the script into the hands of the agent of his first choice for the lead role, Michael C. Hall (Dexter, Six Feet Under). Things didn’t work out, but he’s undeterred. “That was a sign. Things happen for a reason.”
Jesse’s spare, swiftly paced writing style grabbed me from the very first page. “I wrote above my talent,” he told me. His unembellished dialogue (“Adverbs—never!”) made me feel as if I was eavesdropping on neighbors with a much more interesting life than my own. “A book should read like a movie in your head,” said Jesse, adding, “And I don’t believe in long books. When I see a book that is 400 pages, I open it at the end to see if the writer has left me $100. I don’t want to read something that is ‘beautifully crafted’ where I can’t find the plot.” The compulsively readable Married Sex comes in 41,ooo words. “It’s shorter than Gatsby!” I read it in two nights.
The sex scenes, which Jesse found “very difficult to write” were, in a word, sizzling. Without giving anything away, Jesse told me he found writing the book “extremely painful,” adding, “I learned a lot about myself. It turns out I need a lot more support than I thought. I found out if you ask for help, you get it.”
By the time our coffee arrived, Jesse was waxing philosophically on relationships (but that’s for another column entirely) and revealed himself to be a true lover of women. He talked about his wife who, he said, “is an extremely private person” and shared several charming stories about the wry wit and wisdom of his 13-year-old daughter. “I have a lot more women than men friends,” he said. “Women are just so much more in touch with their feelings.” No argument here.
Jesse told me he’s hard at work on his next book (and swore me to secrecy about the subject) telling me, “I’m the rare writer with no complaints.” Perhaps that’s because he’s cracked the code on how to survive and thrive as a lover of print in a new media world. “I’m just a little Jewish boy from the suburbs that got really, really lucky.”
Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:
1. Jim Smith and pals
2. Pamela Fiori
3. Producer Terry Allen Kramer and Felicia Taylor
4. Steven Rubenstein
5. Author Wednesday Martin and David Blum
6. Euan Rellie with some gents I didn’t get a chance to meet
8. New York Social Diary’s David Patrick Columbia with Alex Hiltz and Brooke Duchin
9. Nancy Cardone
10. PR princesses Deb Shriver and Joannie Danielides
11. Shirley Lord
12. Simone Levinson
14. The early show: Jolie Hunt; the feature presentation: the indefatigable Michael Caine and his stunning wife of 42 years (!?!) Shakira Baksh
15. Quest’s Chris Meigher
16. Cosmetic World’s George Ledes and Christine Schott Ledes with a young gal we didn’t recognize
17. Buxton Midyette
18. Lewis J. Korman
20. Producer Joan Gelman and Joan Hamburg
21. Terry Steiner
22. Ina Stern
23. Author Ed Klein
26. Debrah Kaufman
27. Jesse Kornbluth and yours truly
29. Loretta Ucelli
Faces in the crowd: I was happy to see ‘The Bar-ettes’ Kira Semler and Vi Huse for their first champagne lunch of the fall season. This month, they were joined by the lovely Liz Wood, who just flew in from Washington D.C.
Diane Clehane is a FishbowlNY contributor. Follow her on Twitter @DianeClehane. Send comments and corrections on this column to LUNCH at MEDIABISTRO dot COM.