Betches love Luckiest Girl Alive. In fact, we loved it so much we wanted to know a little bit more about the author, Jessica Knoll.
Here’s our game of (almost) 20 questions.
1. What motivated you to write Luckiest Girl Alive?
I’ve had ambitions to write a book for as long as I can remember, and I was encouraged to pursue this goal in school and as an editor at Cosmo and Self. But I wanted to take my time and figure out what it was I wanted to say. That happened through a combination of discovering the sorts of stories I like to read (gritty psychological suspense from the likes of Gillian Flynn and Donna Tartt) and hitting my late twenties, when the messaging that a woman’s value hinges on how pretty she is, how likeable she is, how thin she is, and whether or not she has a ring on her finger seemed to be the loudest. I realized I wanted to address this pressure within a larger, suspenseful narrative.
2. How did you get the inspiration of the character of Ani?
I adore the voice of Dolores in Wally Lamb’s She’s Come Undone, and I wanted to create a character whose voice was just as distinct. I ended up writing in this sort of stream of consciousness style, from the POV of someone who is relentlessly and sometimes viciously honest, but funny, and not without a heart.
3. Ani is definitely a betch, but would you want to be friends with her?
I think I could handle her.
4. How much do you and Ani have in common?
More than I’m sometimes afraid to admit, depending on how you feel about her. There are the obvious ties—she’s an editor at The Women’s Magazine, I was an editor at Cosmo and SELF, she grew up on the fringes of the Main Line in Pennsylvania, I grew up on the fringes of the Main Line in Pennsylvania. But on a deeper level a lot of the things she’s frustrated by and hurt by and angry about are things I have been frustrated by and hurt by and angry about in my real life as well.
5. Ani’s fiancé, Luke, seems like a total catch on the surface. He has a handsome face, nice job, moneyed family, the works. Obviously, he’s not all he’s cracked up to be. Does this character come from your past dating experience?
No, but I know my fair share of guys and girls who were born with silver spoons in their mouths and have a hard time empathizing with those who have struggled. I had a very comfortable upbringing and I was lucky that my parents prioritized my education by sending me to a top-notch private school, but I was definitely surrounded by kids above my pay grade, and I was definitely an outsider. Ani is a product of the same dynamic, and it’s why she’s so determined to reinvent herself in adulthood.
6. What would you tell ladies who aspire to be with someone like Luke?
Well, there are certainly blue-blooded guys who are good people at the core, so the message isn’t to avoid all guys who work in finance or whose relatives came over on the Mayflower. It’s more about learning to filter out all the chatter about what a happy life should look like and charting your own course.
7. If you had to pick someone to date, would it be Luke or Andrew (Ani’s former teacher)?
Mr. Larson by a landslide.
8. You and Ani both work for a magazine. Do you share the same sentiments about working in the world of magazines and publishing?
The magazine world is filled with ambitious, driven women who are in love with their careers. There is this trend toward apathy right now, like it isn’t cool to care about anything, and I loved working in an industry where women in particular were passionate about what they did. I wanted Ani’s job to be a source of strength for her in the book, as it was for me in real life.
9. What do you think is the biggest misconception about your job as a magazine editor?
You know what drives me crazy? Aside from Republicans trying to defund Planned Parenthood, it’s characters like Carrie Bradshaw and Andi Anderson from How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days who propagate this idea that you have your one column, and it’s your sole responsibility, and the gig is enough to pay for an apartment on Fifth Avenue and a closet full of designer shoes. When I first started at Cosmo, I was expected to pitch, research, write and edit about ten different pages and I could barely afford the rent on my mouse-infested shoebox.
10. What do you think is the biggest misconception about being a published author?
That once you write the book and tackle your edits your job is done. I was floored to discover how much I had to do in terms of marketing and publicizing the book. It was a full time job to get the book and my name out there.
11. Ani seems to live by a secret set of rules based on the premise that you either know them or you don’t. My favorite example of this is when Ani says she wants anemones at her wedding because peonies are decidedly amateur. Do you think arbitrary rules like this put unnecessary pressure on contemporary women?
Oh, most definitely. And I feel like I’m still learning! I had drinks at Bemelmans the other night and the very chic woman I met there commented on another patron’s choice to wear jeans to Bemelmans. We were sitting down and all I could think about was how I was going to get her to leave before I did so she couldn’t see I was wearing jeans too.
12. What’s your favorite of Ani’s unwritten rules?
That it’s always nice to see you and never nice to meet you. A friend’s very powerful father taught me that one.
13. In your Self article “The Baby Checkpoint: How Long Should You Wait to Have Children” you offer some pretty sage advice for those of us who feel like we were born without a maternal instinct. Why do you think, in 2015, motherhood is still such a controversial and touchy subject?
Because now it’s a choice. For previous generations of women, marriage and children were mostly a given. That’s just the course a woman’s life took. It’s like that passage in The Bell Jar, about seeing life branch out before you like a fig tree: one fig is a husband and a happy home and marriage, one fig is a famous poet, one fig is a brilliant professor, one fig is Europe and Africa and South America and so on and so forth and a woman could starve to death, sitting in the tree, unable to decide which fig to pick. Now, we live in a world where we are encouraged to pick all the figs, and told we can have it all—or at least try. That’s an enormous amount of progress, but the flip side is that having too many options can be just as terrifying as having not enough options.
14. There’s no doubt that if Ani were real, she’d have pretty amazing style. What’s your best piece of fashion advice for working betches?
Invest in a sharp blazer and a quality pair of black pumps and get them from either a flash sale or a designer discount site like The Outnet. The Outnet is amazing! You can get a Theory blazer for less than two hundred dollars, and it’s so versatile. You can sex it up with a pair of leather skinnies, or tone it down with a pencil skirt for work.
15. What’s the best piece of career advice someone has given you?
“Figure out her sweet spots.” Kate White, who was the editor-in-chief of Cosmo for fourteen years and for four of the years I worked there, said this to me when she turned the reins over to Joanna Coles. When a new editor takes over at a magazine, it’s a very volatile time for the old staff—she is going to want to bring in her own team, and your job is on the line. I realized I had endeared myself to Kate by figuring out her sweet spots. Kate liked people who came in early, and if she called you, she liked for you to pick up the phone and say, “Hi, Kate!” I wrote down her cell phone number and tacked it to the wall of my cubicle so I could cross-reference it whenever my phone rang. So I set out to do the same with Joanna. I figured out that Joanna liked people who stopped her in the hallway or barged into her office and said, “I have the best idea!” Oh my God, it was a terrifying thing to do, but I did it. Two months later, she let 70% of the editorial staff go, but I made the cut. I found out later it was because of all those times I stopped her in the hallway or barged into her office, raving about my great ideas.
16. Alright now some fun stuff. Coffee or tea?
17. Boxers or Briefs?
Boxers. Has any woman in the history of time ever picked briefs?
18. Netflix and Chill or a night out?
80% of the time it’s Netflix and Chill. But I make the most of the other 20% of the time.
19. Red or white wine?
Red if I’m Netflixing and Chilling, white if I’m going out.