Born Rivals No. 7: Jen Doll
Miles Klee is a little-known novelist. Recently, he decided his best career move would be to start a feud with another writer. This is his ongoing attempt to find (and destroy) the perfect rival.
In a city of cutthroat bloggers, Jen Doll has spilled more blood than most, writing for The Atlantic, The Village Voice, Vulture, Gothamist, and that last bastion of faded relevance, The New York TImes Book Review. Next spring will see the release of her memoir Save the Date: The Occasional Mortifications of a Serial Wedding Guest. Doll was hesitant to give this interview, concerned that she might come off as a “jerk,” but deep down she knew that she always does.
Jen Doll, your first book is coming out next spring, so obviously the question on everyone’s mind is: what the hell are you writing now? Haven’t you rested on your laurels long enough? For shame.
As a matter of fact, I am hard at work (soft at work?) on another book proposal, but I can’t discuss it because I’m afraid you’ll steal it (or, really, I can’t talk about it for fear of being mocked heartlessly and made a public fool of). In the meantime, I am writing various things for various nice people at websites and print publications and so forth, and perfecting my Christmas list, and thinking. Lots of thinking.
Speaking of Save the Date, though, may I inquire as to how many times I’m thanked in the acknowledgements? Or, to put it another way, are you appropriately grateful to know me?
Well, this is awkward. Miles, I am sorry to have to remind you that you did not invite me to your wedding, and I really think that even though you didn’t know me then, you should have had better foresight, because duh. Now for a secret that I think you already know and therefore is not a secret at all: One of the book’s chapters does include a wedding at which you were also present, and a person described as part of “a couple I hadn’t met” is, in fact, you. (Now that we’ve met, I would describe you differently, but one can’t change the past.) In related news, there’s still time to update my acknowledgments, so if you send me something nice that I’ve requested on my Christmas list, maybe I can change the future.
Maybe I’ll just give back that Raymond Chandler novel I had no intention of returning. Can you give us a rough estimate of how many bottles of white wine were consumed as part of the creative process? What did the cheapest one taste like?
I completely forgot about that Chandler novel! Thief! Given that the book covers my life in wedding guest attendance from the age of eight until very recently, and yet, I only started drinking last week, I would say half a glass which I swished and spit, though the only way you’d believe that is if you were drunk. (I just tried to estimate actual number of bottles and blacked out.) Sweat and desperation.
On the topic of desperation, here’s a hypothetical for you: we attend the same literary conference, which happens to be held on a cruise ship. (We wouldn’t normally get on a cruise ship, but it was all expenses paid because we’re both so famous and successful.) The ship sinks, though, and we’re cast adrift on a life raft together. The emergency supplies include a pencil and waterproof sheet of paper. Would you use them to write out a heartrending confession that will likely be lost to the history, even if I had already suggested playing MASH?
Am I confessing to your murder? If so, I will thank you in the acknowledgments for this great idea for a second book.
I think there’s a Hitchcock film about that, but Netflix has it listed as a “Very Long Wait.” Right now I would like to shift gears and gloat about being a writer of fiction, which is not beholden to real life. Doesn’t it irritate you, having to churn out these truthful, depressing, magaziney pieces full of junk that actually happened and whatnot? Because they’re certainly irritating to read.
Yes! Fortunately, when I talk to my mother about how she and her friends might be horrified by some of my real-life wedding antics should they read my book (I am actually rather worried about this, horrifying people), she keeps saying, Oh, I’ll just tell them you made it up, and I’m like, NO, STOP SAYING THAT. THE BOOK IS TRUE, MOM. STOP TRYING TO RUIN ME. I mean, though, with fiction, man … you actually have to make stuff up. Isn’t that difficult? Don’t you just feel like giving up?
Only when I’m awake. Since you’re so disgustingly prolific, my largest concern about signing on as your opposite number is that you’ll die of a heart attack in the next three years, and then I won’t have anyone to align myself against. Would I have to take out an insurance policy on our rivalry?
Since it is, in fact, very important to have a good nemesis, I suppose I shall have to live. For you, Miles. Also I’ll make some doctor’s appointments to take advantage of the health insurance I am paying for that will slowly but surely make me broke. You should probably take care of yourself, too. Eat a little something now and again. Do some yogic breathing. You know.
If we could, I’d like to take a stab at passive-aggressively blurbing each other’s work. I’ll go first: “Welp, Jen Doll has done it again. Just when you think it’s safe to skimmingly run your eyes over some text, here she comes to charge you $25.95 for it. And how! I’m not exaggerating when I say I couldn’t put this book down—I think it had model airplane glue on it or something.” OK, your turn.
dajdlkafdlajkd;fajkld;jaldjflasdfjkaljdf! — Jen Doll
No, but really, Miles, you’re very talented. And in Canada, the book is $28.95.
If you’re going to wrong-foot me with flattery, you’ll have to praise my looks. You live in Brooklyn, which as I understand it is where all writers are from. What’s your favorite place in the borough to schmooze with fellow literary types? I want to know so I can be sure to avoid it.
I mostly just stay in my own apartment until dusk, then scurry out to buy overpriced cheese at the fancy food store, or maybe I go to the gym to watch Law & Order SVU on the elliptical TVs. Of course, each of these places is chock-full of literary types. Chock-full. How’s Upper Manhattan these days, anyway?
The yuppies are coming. This new bistro on 121st and Amsterdam brought us homemade black currant and ginger gummi bears with the check. I aspire to be a busboy there someday, but I’m not getting my hopes up. What’s your plan for when you burn out?
What this next book presupposes is that I already have.
This may touch a nerve, so I’d better say it: You used to date a very close friend of mine, and my wife and I went on a couple of double dates with you. Why couldn’t you have stayed together, so that the four of us might cultivate a cruel, harrowing, Edward Albee-like interdependency?
Look, that time we all ate at that nouveau tapas restaurant in Brooklyn among the literati and then you stole my Raymond Chandler novel was wonderful and precious and I will always have the fondest of memories of that other time I … actually I don’t remember any of this, what are you talking about? No, but really. I don’t know. If Salman and I could have made it work, well… Let’s just say we all have our regrets.
Jen Doll, thank you for involving yourself in this appalling exercise and being a model of perfect candor. Or sarcasm. Who really knows, with you. Care to slag off anyone else in publishing before you go?
I really think we should hate on some people besides Jonathan Franzen, aren’t we supposed to be creative? And, oh God, if I have to hear one more thing about positive vs. negative reviews I shall be forced to drink as many bottles of wine as I did in the writing of my first book. Which will probably happen anyway, FYI.