De Pasquale’s Dozen: Jen Lancaster
I’ve toyed with the idea of writing a book about the experiences I’ve had while traveling and working with conservative leaders. One friend calls me the Forrest Gump of the conservative movement. That dream died the day I read a book by Jen Lancaster. Bitter is the New Black, Pretty in Plaid and My Fair Lazy are the memoirs I wish I had written.
Lancaster is smart, funny and, incidentally, a conservative living in Chicago. In one of her memoirs, Lancaster wrote about an encounter on public transportation. A woman approached her, aghast that she was reading a book by Ann Coulter. I was so tickled to see my political and entertainment world collide that I immediately emailed both Coulter and Lancaster. Of course, not all readers had the same reaction I had. A reader emailed her:
I purchased your follow up and quite frankly was instantly turned off by the Fox “News” and Sean Hannity (”Sean Insanity” as I refer to him) references. The final nail in the coffin though, was the part where you are on the bus and pull the Ann Coulter (”Man Coulter” imho) out of your tote bag. My limit with your particular sensibilities was reached and I didn’t even bother to use the drop box at the library (as a donation.) It went right into the garbage compacter (sic) (to make certain it was good and truly crushed and destroyed.)
Lancaster wrote, “You realize now I’m obligated to take the two dollars I earned from your purchase to buy Ann’s newest right?”
In addition to being a New York Times bestselling author, Lancaster also blogs at Jennsylvania.com. She doesn’t believe in spouting her political beliefs unless it contributes to the story. Unfortunately, not all writers respect their readers. Lancaster told the Los Angeles Times, “For example, I read a celebrity diet memoir recently, and I found myself identifying with the author. That is, until apropos of nothing the author went off about the evils of conservatism. All I could think was, Honey, unless the president himself forced you to eat all that fried chicken, I don’t want to hear it.”
She continued, “For me, my party views don’t advance my narrative. Until I can find a way to write political satire like my idols Christopher Buckley or P.J. O’Rourke, I’ll simply say what team I play for and leave it at that.”
Lancaster is personable, entertaining and the kind of writer that inspires me to venture outside my comfort zone.
1. If there were a television channel that only showed one movie over and over, what movie should it be?
LANCASTER: Is this a trick question? Because in terms of what should be shown, said should be uplifting like Chariots of Fire or thought-provoking, like Citizen Kane or flat-out brilliant, like The Godfather. But if you want to know what movie I’d actually watch most on the eternity channel, it’s a toss-up between Sixteen Candles and Independence Day. (Shameful.)
2. In A Clockwork Orange, Malcolm McDowell is strapped in with his eyes propped open and forced to watch images until he was “cured.” If you could give President Obama, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Leader Harry Reid the “Clockwork Orange treatment,” what movie would you make them watch?
LANCASTER: I’d want to make them watch the not-yet released version of Atlas Shrugged even though I’m skeptical that 800 pages of objectivist philosophy can be boiled down to a couple of hours. So, for the point to really sink in, I’d prefer they read the book over and over, paying special attention to the bits about Wesley Mouch and the looters. (Sidebar: It’s both amazing and disconcerting that the themes in Atlas Shrugged are as timely now as they were 50 years ago.)
3. What pop culture souvenir do you own that people would be surprised to learn that you cherish?
LANCASTER: This is where you want me to talk about my Twilight collectible dolls, thus making me mention Ayn Rand and Stephenie Meyer in the same breath, isn’t it? Shame. The thing is, I don’t cherish them so much as I think they’re funny. As for what I cherish, I’ve blogged extensively about my collection of Mad Men Barbies, so that’s not much of a surprise.
I guess my most prized pop culture possession is a signed first edition of the book Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk. I’m perpetually in awe of his skill as a writer and I totally connected with the underlying message that man is ultimately responsible for his own freedom. (Another sidebar: I bought this at a rare book store in Las Vegas, the same day I purchased new eye glass frames in a casino shop. Sometimes what happens in Vegas is too boring to repeat outside of Vegas.)
4. What do you remember most about going to the movies as a kid? How has that experience changed for the better or worse for your kids?
LANCASTER: What I remember most is going to the drive-in and playing on the swings during the previews and the opening cartoons and then being so exhausted I’d fall asleep halfway through the feature. What happened to drive-ins, anyway? Why’d they all vanish? I loved the feeling of being safe and secure in the family car and how even though we were part of a huge crowd, we still had our own little spot of space that was just ours.
If I had kids, I’d probably be way over-protective, researching everything they begged to see to make sure the content was appropriate. Inevitably, every time I go to the movies, I see parents with little kids in the theater and it’s all I can do to not lecture them. In case anyone out there didn’t know (which clearly they don’t, as they’re generally sitting beside me), The Forty Year Old Virgin is not the best choice for seven year olds.
5. Comedians like Joy Behar, Aisha Tyler and Whoopi Goldberg have criticized people like Ann Coulter for using humor in their speeches and writing. What role do you think humor has in politics?
LANCASTER: Humor’s an excellent way to make a point more palatable and/or relatable. Humor bridges gaps; laughter brings us together and that’s exactly why Whoopi and Co. hate it when our side uses it. (Hey, ladies—being funny isn’t just for Jon Stewart anymore!) And how crazy must it have made Ronald Reagan’s opponents when he’d toss out an impeccably timed one-liner? That man was a natural-born comic. That being said, humor’s only for the humorous. Nothing’s more painful that watching a profoundly unfunny politician cough *Al Gore* cough trying to dole out scripted jokes.
6. Name three reasons why your home state of New Jersey is so hot right now.
LANCASTER: Snooki, Pauly D., and The Situation.
Seriously, New Jersey’s a great state in a lot of respects. As soon as you leave metro New York, it’s gorgeous with tons of beaches and forest preserves. New Jersey is, in a lot of areas, clean and green and lovely. It’s diverse and has a high per-capita income and there are more scientists and engineers per square mile than anyone where else in the country.
Of course, they’ve also got the strictest gun control laws, which is why I’d never move back.
7. What was the first rock concert you ever attended and where did you sit and who went with you?
LANCASTER: This is where I wish I had a cool answer like some of my girlfriends who are a bit older. One of them saw the Beatles for her first show and the other saw the Rolling Stones. However, my first concert was Rick Springfield on his Working Class Dog tour. I was 13—I think—and my neighbor’s dad drove all the teenagers on the block to South Bend to see the show. We had terrible seats in the nosebleed section but we eventually forced our way into the third row. At one point Rick tossed his (magnificent) hair and a tiny bead of his sweat landed on my cheek, which, in the moment was the greatest thing to have ever happened to me.
8. What do you enjoy most about your job? What do you enjoy the least?
LANCASTER: I enjoy almost everything about what I do—the writing, the social networking, the related speaking engagements, and especially the interaction with my readers at events. I feel beyond blessed to get paid for a job I’d have willingly done for free. The only downside is sometimes fans cross the line in regard to my privacy. I mean, I’m an author, not a celebrity. I don’t have publicists trying to plant stories about where I had dinner in tabloids, so it makes me a little crazy when people insist on finding out personal stuff. For example, recently I got a letter that said something like, “I know you just moved to the suburbs and I’ve narrowed your new house down to three. Which one is it?” Oh, sure, let me get right back to you with that answer! How about I send you our alarm code and a list of my fears, too? (P.S. For the record, my new town doesn’t have gun restrictions like New Jersey. Just so we’re clear.)
9. What’s your favorite news website?
LANCASTER: Drudge Report, baby. I check that thing, easily, 20 times a day.
10. If Republicans and Democrats had theme songs for 2010 what would they be?
LANCASTER: For the Republicans, it should be Don’t Stop Believin’ and for the Dems, I’m leaving towards Oops, I Did It Again.
11. What’s the one thing you would do as President “just because you could”?
LANCASTER: Oh, I suspect we’ve already had enough Presidents doing stuff “just because they could” lately.
But if I had to choose something, I’d likely go medieval on everyone who texts and drives. I’m so tired of idiots putting my safety at risk because they need to send a Twitter announcing what they had for lunch. Seriously, pull over to send that message or I will use my power to make you pull over.
12. Tell me about the moment you decided to become more vocal about your political beliefs.
LANCASTER: As an author, I’m actually less vocal about my political beliefs than I used to be as a blogger. I was working to get my first book published during the 2004 elections and I wrote a lot of posts about my politics. Regardless of how articulate I thought I was, I found that I was winning neither hearts nor minds and I was losing readers. On top of that, my agent warned me that being so forthcoming could keep editors from wanting to buy my book, so I stopped. I hated the idea of silencing myself but I was willing to do so in order to start a writing career.
As years have passed and I’ve built a fan base, I’ve become far less cryptic about my political beliefs. Readers know what I stand for, but that’s not something I stress in my writing, at least directly. I try hard not to let my politics become divisive. Rather, through my books I want people to see that even though we might vote differently, we still have many of the same interests and goals and feelings. I have so many readers tell me, “You’re the first conservative I’ve ever liked.” Convincing others that conservatism isn’t evil is the first step in getting others to open their minds to opposing ideas.
No one’s going to be won over by my spouting dogma in my books because that’s not why people buy my stuff. I don’t write essays on why liberalism doesn’t work or why Obama’s taking us down a slippery slope. People read my books to laugh, so that’s my goal. But if my goofy little stories just happen to emphasize conservative values like morality, self-determination, and liberty, well… let’s just say that’s not unintentional.