2005_05_int_karenquinn.jpgWhere do you live?
I live in Tribeca with my husband, two kids, and two cats. We’re in an old IRS office building that’s been converted into apartments.

Your novel, The Ivy Chronicles, is about the cutthroat and, frankly, insane world of New York City private nursery school admissions - a world you're intimate since you were downsized at American Express and became a private nursery school admissions consultant. Is this a thinly veiled tell-all?
Totally.

In the book, parents do outrageous things to get their children accepted into schools, like tan their children so they look biracial (think "Soul Man") and attempt to buy off admissions staffs. What are some of the craziest things you've heard people do to get their kids into school?
There was a woman who hired an actor who pretended to be her husband through the parent interviews for her daughter’s kindergarten application. She thought the child would have a better chance if she came from a traditional family. The kid got into an excellent girl’s school and then the couple got a fake divorce the next fall. Then there are parents in the midst of real divorces, who can’t stand to be in the room together, but who pretend to be happily married because they know schools won’t take kids whose parents are going to be too difficult. I once heard about a father who put on a twenty-slide PowerPoint presentation pitching the advantages of his family and child over other applicants during a parent interview. Early in my practice, I had a client, a dad, who got so enraged over the admissions process during a meeting at my apartment that I actually feared for my life. I went in the kitchen and hid the knives. Every incident in the book, as outrageous as it may seem, is based on something real that happened when I was working with families.

What's more out-of-control then, nursery school admissions or corporate America?
Corporations will go to any length, legal or otherwise, in pursuit of profits. Parents will go to any length, legal or otherwise, in pursuit of a place at the best nursery school. So I would have to say that they are equally dysfunctional in their own special ways.

The book's main character, Ivy Ames, the bank executive-turned-nursery school consultant, suffers real estate fall from grace, moving from Park Avenue to the Lower East Side. Was moving Ivy to Brooklyn or Queens too dramatic?
In my first draft, I had Ivy move to Harlem, but since I’d never lived there, my editor didn’t think I brought the place to life as well as I could have. Since I have live downtown and spend a lot of time on the Lower East Side, I decided to move Ivy there in the second draft. That’s when I invented Kratt’s Knishery and Michael Kratt (one of Ivy’s love interests) - neither existed in the first draft of the manuscript. If I knew Queens or Brooklyn better, I might have moved her there instead and maybe she would have fallen for a fireman instead of a deli man.

The Ivy Chronicles in development as a Warner Bros. film, with Catherine Zeta-Jones attached to play Ivy. Who else do you hope they cast?
The book has a scene where Ivy goes on a date with George Clooney that her rich friend Faith buys her at a fancy private school auction. I would be tickled pink if George Clooney agreed to play that part. In the book I described Philip, the architect, as looking like a “young Ashton Kutcher,” so Ashton would be an interesting choice. But personally, I’d rather to see John Cusack or Hugh Grant as Philip. I’d love it if Michael Douglas would play Michael, the deli man. I think he’d be great in that part.

Your road to getting published was serendipitous: Your babysitter knew an agent, and even though the agent wasn't taking new clients, she loved your book. And then a traveling companion happened to be the editor of The Devil Wears Prada - and she loved the book and wanted to publish it, starting a bidding war. Clearly, this could only happen in New York.
You’re right - only in New York. I used to have a private school admissions business called Smart City Kids. After I left it, I had no idea of what to do next. My husband was desperate for me to get a real job with a regular paycheck. But I couldn’t stop thinking about all the wonderful stories from my time in the admissions biz, and I had this insane idea that I should try to write a novel based on those experiences – insane because I’d never written anything before in my life. I told my husband that I wanted to write this novel. He asked, “How long will it take?” I said, “Three months.” Not that I had any idea how long it would take to write a novel. So Mark gave me three months to write the book and then I had to promise to get a real job. I worked day and night and actually got the first draft written in three months.

That was when my babysitter introduced me to the agent she knew who ended up representing me. A few weeks later, Mark and I went to the World Track and Field Championship meet in Paris and got to know some other track fans, one of whom turned out to be the editor of The Devil Wears Prada She ended up making the first bid on the novel. There was a lot of luck involved in my getting this book published. It was as if the universe conspired for me for once, instead of against me. I think my experience goes to show you that if you have a dream that seems absolutely impossible, go for it anyway because it actually might come true. Mine did and trust me, I’m not the kind of person who is used to having her dreams come true.

Have you started your next book? Can you tell us what it's about?
Yes, I have. It’s about two very high-powered New Yorkers who marry expecting to have this very jet-set, the world-is-my-playground life together. But nothing turns out the way they expect.

What would you say to downsized New Yorkers?
It’s probably the best thing that ever happened to you. Now go out there and follow your heart for once, you risk-averse corporate drone. I double-dog dare you!

What's your favorite subway line?
I ride the R and W most often so I’m partial to that one.

What are your favorite and least favorite things about your neighborhood?
I like the liquor store on the corner of Church and Chambers because guys who work there always lend me tapes of the Sopranos. Over the last few days, I’ ve been watching the first season while drinking my favorite wine, Conundrum. The only thing I don’t like about the neighborhood is that there isn’t a grocery store close by.

Cats or dogs?
I was a dog person my whole life until we rescued this cat on 15th Street. She lived with us until she fell out the window and died, which was a terrible tragedy. Now we have two cats - a Russian Blue and a Birman. I adore them both. They’re like little lap dogs who like nothing better than to cuddle up with their humans. The Russian Blue is a natural hunter but since there’s nothing alive to hunt in our apartment, he stalks ballpoint pens and leaves one in front of my bedroom door every morning.

And what's your preferred book store and why?
I’m partial to any store that keeps my book where customers can see it. Seriously, when I walk into a bookstore and don’t see my own book, I get very upset with the store. But when they stock the book and display it well, I feel great loyalty towards the store and I’ll shop there and buy more books just to give them support for supporting me. Having your own book really screws you up as a bookstore customer. I can no longer go into a bookstore without looking for my own novel and if it’s hidden away somewhere, finding it and moving it to a prominent place. It’s sort of sad.


You can visit Karen's site, where she has a blog. Buy or learn more about The Ivy Chronicles. And here's a picture of Karen's cats!

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