“How to Write Like Ms. Curtis Sittenfeld,” A Three-Step Manual for Freelancers
1. Mention past enrollment in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, no matter how irrelevent. The Iowa Writers’ Workshop is always relevant.
Nell Freudenberger was, as one of my Iowa classmates announced at a party that night, completely hot. A bunch of us were sitting on someone’s back porch, drinking beer, and the other males present concurred. A debate about the story’s merits ensued; most people had, apparently, been less impressed by Freudenberger’s writing than by her appearance.” [“Too young, too pretty, too successful,” Lucky Girls reviewed, Salon, Sep. 4, 2003]
During my first year at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, a few of us were sitting around one afternoon when several of my male classmates announced — with far less irony than you’d imagine — that they had become writers in order to attract women. I believe the word they used was ”babes,” as in, I’m in it for the babes. [“You Can’t Get a Man With a Pen,” NYTBR, Dec. 18, 2004]
2. Break it down. Think categories. Think factors.
Based on conversations with editors, booksellers and fellow writers, I’ve come to believe women can have groupies, or at least there are plenty of female writers who strike the fancy of male readers. The catch is that typically these women fall into one — or both — of two categories: either the woman is very attractive or she writes a lot about sex. In the first category are, from the 70’s, Jayne Anne Phillips; from the 80’s, Susan Minot; from the 90’s, Donna Tartt; and, most recently, Jhumpa Lahiri, Zadie Smith and Nell Freudenberger. The more sexed-up category includes writers from Erica Jong to Amy Sohn. [“You Can’t Get a Man With a Pen“]
Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that four factors could lead to one young writer’s becoming the object of other young writers’ loathing. Let’s say these factors are that the writer in question is thought to be attractive, thought not to have paid her dues, known to have gone to Harvard (horrors!), and believed to be without talent. The bad news for Freudenberger is that she represents the overlap of all these factors, thereby becoming emblematic to other 20-something aspiring literati of all that’s unfair and demoralizing about publishing. [“Too young, too pretty, too successful” ]
3. Befriend someone too desperate to know shame. Quote her/him constantly.
A few years later, my friend Jeremy told me he was waiting until his first novel was published to try finding a girlfriend; it would be, he felt confident, a lot easier then. [“You Can’t Get a Man With a Pen“]
The most extreme example of organic extravagance I ever witnessed occurred when I accompanied my friend Jeremy (also a struggling writer) to the co-op to pick up grapes before a party. Jeremy carried them to the checkout line without looking at the price. When the total came to $12, Jeremy was too stunned to do anything except hand over the money. [“An organic obsession,” Shape, Feb. 2003]
A more serious customer service crush reared up for Jeremy at an Indian restaurant a few years ago. The waitress “had short dark brown hair and was kind of pixie-esque but not too pixie-esque. It was one of those crushes that snuck up on me — a few days later, I was like, hey, I could go back and see that waitress.”
He devised a plan: “I would go by the restaurant, which had big plate glass windows in front, and I would walk really slowly and look in as casually as I could, hoping to catch a glimpse of this girl. Once I figured out that she worked on Tuesdays, I went in and sat down — and she wasn’t there! I had to sit and eat a whole damn dinner by myself, and I had brought these props, like an issue of Harper’s that I didn’t want to read. [I’d planned to say,] ‘Oh, excuse me, let me move my issue of Harper’s so you can put my meal down,’ and then she’d say, ‘I love Harper’s!’ But she wasn’t there and I got served by the typical 52-year-old Indian guy.” Adding insult to injury, the food that night wasn’t even very good. [“Latte, tea or me?,” Salon, Oct. 7, 2004]