How did you come to write The Girl's Guide to Absolutely Everything?
I was 27 and a Senior Producer at Oxygen Media. Each day, books were arriving on my desk marketed squarely at me: books with flashy covers and witty titles that promised to explain how to snare a man, how to order a cocktail, how to land that corner office before I turned 30. They proffered little more than retrograde flirting tactics and shopworn clichés. I wearied of saying "I could do this so much better" and decided it was time I did.
I contacted all the wise, brilliant, hilarious women I knew in their late 20s, 30s and 40s and ask them: "What do you know now that you wish you'd known after college and in your 20s that would have made your life a lot less difficult, spared you heartache, generally made the transition to life on your own a heck of a lot easier? What do you still not know that you wish someone would tell you?" All the responses were enthusiastic, passionate, soul-searching. I had my work cut out for me.
Who is this book for? Is it just for "girls"?
The Girl's Guide to Absolutely Everything is for any young woman who's ever lain awake wondering what she's going to do with her life, where to find a date, how to explain her job to her parents, defriend an old college pal who's driving her nuts, manage her money without fainting, or figure out how much to spend on a wedding present. PS If you're actually lying awake on a regular basis, see page 12, "Rock Bottom, Thy Name Is Insomnia," for help.
No, it's absolutely not just for girls. This is the book I wish I'd had when I was in my 20s, but it's also the book that I still need in my 30s, the book that women in their 40s, smartypants teenagers, grandmothers and boyfriends and dads and brothers have told me has helped them manage their own lives and better understand the women they know. Show me a mom who isn't dying to know how what her daughter's dating life is like; show me a guy who isn't an eensy bit curious about what goes on at the gynecologist or how to get a killer deal on a used car. It's all in there.
This is a long book! How do you know so much about "absolutely everything?"
I spent four years reading, researching, interviewing puzzling, writing and revising in putting together The Girl's Guide to Absolutely Everything. For every chapter, from health to fashion, sex to etiquette, I conducted surveys, one-on-one interviews and focus groups with a committee of 60 brilliant women in their 20s, 30s and 40s—friends, friends of friends, moms of friends--who agreed to be my advisors on the project. I also interviewed experts in each of the disciplines on which I was writing: a financial analyst, physicians, therapists, a nutritionist, a doctor of Chinese medicine, sexperts, an image consultant, an interfaith minister, et. al. The result is an accumulation of wisdom, some hard-and-fast facts, a lot of opinion, a bunch of different voices and points of view, on--you guessed it--absolutely everything.
What do you think women need the most advice about?
It will come as no surprise that every woman is different, so each will take different points from the book that speak to her. The girl who's happily in a relationship is going to be less concerned about Internet dating but may not have the first clue about saving for retirement or how to decide what role she wants faith to play in her life.
Certain questions do, however, come up a lot: How do I figure out what kind of job I want? Why can't I find someone sane to date? What if I feel like I'm growing apart from all my friends? How do I find a good therapist? What's a 401(k) and who could ever run that far? No one likes to talk about finances (except accountants), but I swear if I could have a sit-down with every college graduate in the country, I could save them not only a lot of debt, but a lot of anxiety that seems to accompany everyone's relationships with money.
There are a lot of books written for young women. How is this one different?
There are indeed a bunch of books for young women out there, and I know this because I've read each and every one, and many of them are very good. My goal in writing The Girl's Guide to Absolutely Everything was to write a book that didn't exist: one that covered not just one or two topics, but every single topic out there. I was also adamant that this book be as compelling and entertaining as it is informative. I wanted to write a book that made me laugh and made me feel inspired, one that had as many additional voices to my own as possible--both other women and experts--so it would truly be indispensable, and help as many people as possible.
How would a Hollywood producer describe your book?
It's Our Bodies, Ourselves meets Fran Lebowitz's Metropolitan Life with more than a dash of Cynthia Heimel's Sex Tips for Girls and Miss Manners thrown in for flavor. (Okay, that's a Hollywood producer who's also a chef. Don't forget the coriander.)
Okay, be straight with me. Give me ten things every young woman needs to know.
1. Eliminating carbohydrates from your diet is not going to make you thin or healthy.
2. Say no to one date, say no to dating.
3. You're more likely to find a job through networking than sending out resumes online.
4. If you quit smoking before 30, your risk of heart disease and cancer will go back to that of a non-smoker. 5. Your siblings are your most powerful allies. 6. There's no shame or weakness in going into therapy.
7. No one needs more than one credit card.
8. Sometimes apologizing is more important than being right.
9. Talking on your cell phone in a restaurant is unacceptable.
10. Do not underestimate the impact of a hand-written thank-you note.
11. If you can only afford one pair of shoes, a nude shade is more versatile than black.
Yeah, that's eleven, but you can't ask the author of a 500-page book to stop at just ten.
How have you changed your own life since writing the Girl's Guide?
I take my physical and mental health a lot more seriously. I'm thinking about the future more, but not in an "I'm scared, what's next?" kind of way, but more "the things I do now are going to have an effect on how my life is down the road, what can I do now to make myself happier later?" This means thinking about how I treat my body, not letting ailments go unaddressed; who I cultivate relationships with, making an effort to surround myself with smart, loving people who wish me the best. I definitely have an awareness now that we have one life to live, and I want to live a lot. I'm conscious of time, I don't want to waste it.
There's a lot to remember in this book. Do you practice everything you preach?
Yes, of course I do, and you have to as well.
Oh fine, of course I don't! If I did, I'd be pretty boring, and so would you. If anyone were to swallow every piece of advice in the book wholesale, I'd doubt their sanity. Id also beg them to stop because if there's one thing I've learned in all my experience, it's that all the advice in the world isn't going to do you a whit of good if you don't, ultimately, make up your own mind, if you don't think for yourself.
I try to be nice to myself. If I, say, forget to send a thank-you note, or start a "Talk About Us" with a boyfriend at precisely the wrong moment, or answer my cell phone in a restaurant, I forgive myself, I vow to be better next time. I think we're all better off living our lives, doing what makes us happy, and using The Girl's Guide to Absolutely Everything as a road map to the pleasures and pitfalls ahead of us. There will be detours and wrong turns and forks in the road, but we're doing our best to get where we're going. I hope I've provided just that, a map--some direction, some options, some advice. You're at the wheel, and yes, it's going to be a bumpy ride, but hopefully it's going to be a whale of a good time, too.
Are you working on another book?
Yes, I'm planning to focus more closely on some of my favorite parts of this book to which I couldn't give as much space as I would have liked. There's so much! Updated 11/07: Currently, three. One is related to the Girl's Guide, one is investigative non-fiction, one is fiction. If I told you anything further, I'd have to make you sign an NDA. Or at least get a notary public involved.