By Stephanie Schaefer
I’ll shamelessly admit that that at any point in time I have a stack of magazines piled up in the corner of my room like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Getting a new mag in the mail each month has the magical power to turn any bad day around. Although iPad apps and the Internet have transformed the industry, there is something about the glossy pages, vibrant fashion spreads, and chic exposés that make sitting down with the latest print issue of Glamour or Marie Claire oh-so indulgent.
In her new fictional satire, Pretty in Ink, up-and-coming novelist Lindsey Palmer details the evolving world of women’s magazines, drawing upon her own experiences as an editor in the field. The debut novel is “filled with juicy gossip and outrageous office politics,” according to Publisher’s Weekly, and Booklist says, “Palmer’s debut contains the authenticity of experience and the salacious story snippets fans of The Devil Wears Prada will appreciate.”
Palmer recently took time to chat with me about her writing process, literary inspirations, and Connie Britton’s (aka Mrs. Coach from “Friday Night Lights”) fabulous hair. I for one can’t wait to sit down with a glass of wine and indulge in the drama-filled pages of Palmer’s new novel. If you’re a magazine fan like me, look for Pretty in Ink in bookstores March 25 (available for pre-order on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and IndieBound), or hear Palmer read an excerpt at Boston’s Trident Booksellers & Cafe on April 16!
Stephanie Schaefer: Did you know at an early age that you wanted to be a writer? Who were your inspirations?
Lindsey Palmer: I definitely wrote stories from the time I figured out how to form sentences. In fact, I recently visited my parents’ house and found a book of stories I wrote as an 8-year-old, which were sort of hilarious. It was full of silly plot twists and what passes for a third grader’s deep thoughts. Still, I’m not sure I thought about what it meant to be a writer until I was much older. Writing is just a mode of being for me, the way in which I’ve always attempted to make sense of the world.
I was always a big bookworm, reading whatever I could get my hands on, but it was in my high school A.P. Literature class when I first encountered novelists and poets who completely blew my mind (and I love this fact because now I teach A.P. Literature): Robert Penn Warren, John Fowles, Thomas Pynchon, J.D. Salinger, Mary Oliver, Wallace Stevens, Toni Morrison, Eavan Boland, and more. I couldn’t believe what these writers could accomplish with the same 26 letters of the alphabet that all of us have access to. In college writing classes, I found a lot of inspiration from the likes of Philip Roth, Grace Paley, Lynn Sharon Schwartz, and Mona Simpson, as well as from my fellow classmates, some of whom have gone on to publish beautiful books (for example, Alicia Oltuski and Ariel Djanikian).
SS: You’ve interviewed some pretty high-profile women—including Michelle Obama and Connie Britton—while working in the magazine industry. Do you have a favorite celebrity moment?
LP: I’m a big fan of NPR’s "This American Life," so interviewing host Ira Glass was a favorite moment. We spoke over the phone, and it was kind of amazing to hear this voice that I knew so well from the show answering my questions. It was a surreal experience, like the radio was speaking to me.
SS: I have to ask—Is Connie Britton’s hair as fabulous as it looks on TV?
LP: Yes, her hair is amazing! As someone who has always longed for long hair but could never really pull it off, I was in awe. And Connie Britton was so lovely and gracious, as was her former “Friday Night Lights” television husband, Kyle Chandler (aka Coach Taylor).
SS: Your upcoming novel, Pretty in Ink, is a satire on the world of women’s magazines. Can you tell me a little more about the novel and how you crafted your characters and plot?
LP: In terms of crafting plot, after working for years at women’s magazines—at Glamour, then Redbook, then Self—I not only felt I knew this world backward and forward, I also believed it would make an ideal backdrop for a novel. Especially in a post-2008 world, in the era of economic meltdown and recessionary downsizing, I thought this world would work really well for a thrilling piece of fiction. On page one of my novel, the editor-in-chief of the fictional magazine Hers gets fired, which sets in motion the kind of upheaval and staff reshuffling that will be familiar to anyone who’s collected a paycheck (or tried to) in the past five years. I lived through this kind of experience, and I took notes. Those notes eventually became the novel. The characters are not based on real people; rather, they’re combinations of different attitudes and traits either that I felt or had personally or that I saw in others. With the cast of characters, I tried to represent the range of perspectives and personalities that tend to make up a magazine masthead.
SS: How did you go about getting your work published?
LP: I wrote another novel years ago, reached out to a slew of agents (whom I found through acquaintances and colleagues, through acknowledgment pages of some of my favorite books, and through random Google searches), and received back a slew of really kind and encouraging rejection letters. So when it came to the second time around, I had those names filed away to reach out to again. I ended up signing with Joelle Delbourgo, who runs her own company and was a wonderful match for me; not only does she have years of experience as an agent, but she also worked for decades as an editor and so brings that editorial eye to the table, too. Her wise feedback helped me reshape my novel from something decent to something I could feel really proud of. Then, she pitched a bunch of editors. The book found a home at Kensington, a small publisher that focuses on smart women’s fiction.
SS: I’m impressed to read that you also have a Master’s in English Education! Has being an English teacher influenced your writing?
LP: It’s been really fun to work with young writers who bring so much enthusiasm and a fresh eye to their work. It’s interesting and inspiring to read their writing, and it’s also useful for me to go back to basics, thinking through how plot and character and setting and pacing work in order to be able to teach it. All of that is the good stuff. The not-so-good stuff is that the reality of having 150 students and teaching three separate courses every day. I have way less free time to write than I used to. I’m hoping I can dedicate my summer to writing.
SS: The editorial industry today is certainly changing. What advice can you give to young, hopeful writers?
LP: Write and read as much as you can. That is the best—and probably only—way to improve as a writer, and good quality writing will always eventually find a home. As heartbreaking as it felt when I wrote my first novel and didn’t manage to get it published, I now see those years of writing and revising as wonderful practice. I wouldn’t be the writer I am today without that experience, and I won’t be the writer I will hopefully be in five years without the writing practice I’m doing now.
SS: What is one random fact about yourself?
LP: When I was a kid I twirled baton and competed in Miss Majorette competitions. This has proved to be useful in adult life only in terms of the outfits’ potential for Halloween costumes.