Stephanie Lessing

's first novel, She’s Got Issues

, features Chloe, a young woman who speaks to her shoes and is overjoyed when she lands a job at premiere fashion magazine Issues, only to find that everything's not quite as glamourous inside as she'd thought it would be growing up. She hasn't landed her ideal job as "shoe editor," but rather assists her extra-mean boss Ruth while navigating all sorts of footwear, professional and personal crises. Chloe's the kind of character you either love, or love to hate, and, whichever the case, her endearing ditziness makes this lighthearted novel a perfect summer page turner filled with office backstabbing, catty coworkers, and shoes, glorious shoes.

Lessing's a former Copy Chief for Mademoiselle, and knows whereof she writes, though she now makes her home (which she claims to never leave, though we suspect she does make the rare outdoor appearance) in Demarest, New Jersey, where she's hard at work on Miss Understanding, the sequel to She's Got Issues, focusing on Chloe's militant feminist sister, Zoe, when she's not blogging in her particularly hilarious, deadpan fashion about her exploits in skincare, face lifts, to do lists, parenting, and writing (the highs and the lows).

She’s Got Issues started out as an essay collection called A Girl’s Guide to Girls. Can you tell me about your writing process and how the essays evolved into the novel? Once you chose to make it a novel, how long did it take you and what were the biggest stumbling blocks? Did the story come easily or was it like pulling teeth?
My writing process goes something like this. I go to the kitchen and stuff myself with carbohydrates and when I can no longer move, I sit in front of my computer thinking of stuff that makes me laugh out loud and then I write it down. I don’t work from an outline or any sort of deliberate attempts at a story line. I simply stick my character in a situation and watch what she does. The collection of essays known as A Girl’s Guide To Girls evolved into a novel because no one would publish them. It was either a novel or nothing. I chose one essay, “Girl Boss,” and decided to see what it would be like to interview with the type of woman I describe in that essay.

Once I sent Chloe, the heroine of She’s Got Issues, on her first interview, the book was as good as written. She became a human being as soon as she sat down in the reception area and I became fascinated by the way she reacted to the other girls around her. I just kept following her around and mimicking her. She wrote the book. I had nothing to do with it. I was nothing more than an observer with a pen throughout the entire process. Nothing could have been easier.

You wrote an essay about characters’ voices invading your head. Do characters ever enter your head who you don’t want to write about?
Yes, all the time, and that’s an incredibly good question. Characters invade my head all the time who want me to write about them but I refuse because I don’t want anyone to know they exist. They’re that scary.

When commenting on creating Chloe, you wrote, "What I learned is that she can get out of anything simply by lying her ass off." I read Chloe as more naive and a little deliberately clueless rather than an all-out cunning, scheming liar, even though she seemed impossibly ditzy and annoying at times (but made me smile plenty of times, too). Is Chloe as sly as she’s made out to be in the jacket and promotional copy? Does she really know what she’s doing or does she hit on a stroke of luck by being in the right place at the right time?
I didn’t write the jacket copy and quite frankly, I’m still not sure what it means. Chloe is sweet and innocent and the furthest thing from a schemer. She has absolutely no idea what she’s going to do next and sort of flies by the seat of her pants from the moment she wakes up until she goes to bed (no later than ten). She lies because she’s constantly digging herself out of a hole but they’re always white lies and she feels terrible about it as soon as she tells them.


In many ways, even though She’s Got Issues is Chloe’s story, Zoe is present throughout; they are extremely close, talking at all the key moments and even living together for much of the book, and Zoe is the star of the sequel. Are Chloe and Zoe opposite sides of the same coin, and do you think they’re closer than the average sister pair? Absolutely, I sort of think of Zoe as Chloe’s alter ego. They seem like opposites but they’re really not. Zoe fights the “girl thing” but you’ll see in Miss Understanding that she’s not what she appears to be and she’s a lot more like Chloe than she cares to admit. Sisters have a way of defining themselves as opposites in order to hold on to their own identities—especially when they are very close. The reason Chloe and Zoe seem closer than the average sister pair is because my mother is a twin, my sister and I are like twins and that’s all I’ve ever known. It’s funny that you picked up on that. I didn’t even do it on purpose.

It would be easy to paint all of your characters as total caricatures, but it felt like even the ones we were meant to hate, like Courtney, had their good sides. Were some of the "villains" more fun to write, and did you take pains to make everyone at least somewhat likeable?
The only character I can honestly say I don’t like is Ruth. Actually, I think I might hate her. But I do love the rest of them and I adore Courtney—even though she gives the sickest advice of anyone I’ve ever known, she means well. I have to say, though, writing Ruth’s lines was the most fun. I kept thinking she might suddenly do something that would qualify as humane, but surprisingly, she never did. I’m still waiting for her to come around.

Were you trying to make a statement at all about fashion and feminism? That seems to seep in, albeit in comical ways, with different characters giving their takes on what, if anything, a fashion magazine means in the lives of women. To someone like Chloe, it’s a lifeline, but to Zoe or even some of Issues’s employees, it’s more complicated.
I can’t thank you enough for asking me that question but it might not be wise to get me started, what with people having to get on with their lives and whatnot. It’s just that this is such a burning issue for me and I had to let it out. If you sensed a message about feminism and fashion coming through, you actually got the book. I think a lot of people who read She’s Got Issues take it at face value and don’t see any of the stuff you saw. In some ways I think it’s because I may have only hinted at the issues I was trying to expose, but in Miss Understanding all hell breaks loose; issues are just flying everywhere. It’s like a huge menstrual party.

Having worked in magazines, and now concentrating on your fiction, what have you found to be the major differences between writing fiction and nonfiction? Do you have more freedom with fiction?
Writing for magazines is surprisingly a lot like writing fiction since everything is well, fiction. But the big difference is that I get to write about people now, instead of stuff that makes your skin slippery.

Your blog is incredibly funny as well, with comments like "A girl photographer is like a girl gynecologist. She could take a picture of my vagina for all I care" that one doesn’t necessarily expect from someone with your background. Does being funny come naturally to you? Are you the person who’s always making your friends laugh?
My friends are all much funnier than me. Every now and then I say something funny, by accident, but that’s about it.

What’s the relationship for you between blogging and novel writing? How do you see blogging and the internet affecting you as an author and your promotional efforts with the book, and are you consciously thinking about that when you blog, or just sharing stories from your life?
I’m sharing stories from my life because I need to do that for some reason. I’m not sure that it has much of anything to do with promoting my book because I’m pretty sure you’re the only one who reads it. Well, you and my mom anyway. . .and my agent, Kate Garrick, she reads it.

Now, you’re married, have kids and live in New Jersey, and Chloe’s a single girl living in New York. Was her voice ever challenging for you to grasp because of these differences?
Chloe’s voice is always in my head.

Is there any of Chloe in you and vice versa?
The thing about Chloe that I relate to the most is that she’s always in over her head. I feel that way every minute of my life. I will never feel like a grown up, no matter how old and decrepit I become. I think there might be something very wrong with me. I’m not maturing.

Would you ever write an advice book and, if so, what would it say?
“Don’t listen to a word I say.”

Because Chloe’s obsessed with shoes, to the point of talking to them and treating them like her confidantes and advisors, I’m curious how obsessed with shoes you are.
I like shoes in a very unhealthy way.

How many pairs do you own?
I’ll be right back, I’m going to go count. . . . I’m back but I’m not telling.

Have you ever talked to them?
I once told a pair of Christian Louboutins to go to hell, that’s how badly they were hurting me, but usually, no.

Part of Chloe’s charm, as well as perhaps her most annoying feature, is that she seems blithely unaware of the feelings of the people around her; she plays dumb to her boss’s efforts to sabotage her, insisting she just wants to help her. In real life, is a little cluelessness actually helpful in the workplace, or is it better to keep an eagle eye on everyone and everything and actively butt in so people know you’re watching?
Chloe doesn’t play dumb. She is dumb. In real life, however, it’s better to be smart—but there’s something to be said for giving people the benefit of the doubt and for looking for the good in people—even when you know they’re trying to hurt you. Meanness, I’ve found, is usually a byproduct of fear. If someone is afraid of you, they are going to be on the defensive. If you understand that, you can help them. This is especially true in the workplace where people are scared to death of being replaced. The most valuable person in any office is the one who supports those above her and beneath her. That’s what it’s all about. I was hoping Chloe would teach Ruth that but, unfortunately, she never caught on.

You gave some media quotes about Brad and Jen, saying of George Clooney, “He's Brad's best friend, and therefore Jennifer and George can spend hours making fun of Brad." Are you interested in the latest celebrity goings on?
Not really, the truth is I was asked to comment on that situation but my first question was, “What do you mean? Brad and Jen broke up?” I honestly thought it was a rumor.

What do you think about Brad and Angelina?
I think they’re both really pretty.

Who’s your favorite celebrity couple?
Lois and Peter.

Speaking of celebrities, Tara Reid’s been reported as being the most likely actress to play Chloe. Does she strike you as being right for the part, and have any other casting decisions been made?
I have no idea what’s going to happen with this. I’m hoping Mandalay will take it on as a TV series with Showtime. The trick is finding the right TV writer. And personally, I think Tara would make an awesome Courtney. Courtney’s part could easily steal the show and whoever gets that part will be a lucky girl. But as far as the part of Chloe, I picture someone like Kate Hudson or Alicia Silverstone or Reese Witherspoon or Renee Zeilweiger. And I’m pretty sure I spelled all of those names wrong.

Will you be involved in the film (or TV) version?
I hope so.

How much of a resemblance does your fictional Issues magazine have to some of the magazines you’ve worked at?
The only real similarity is the mirror in the art department. We had the exact same floor to ceiling mirror at Mademoiselle. We all used to meet there in the morning and stare at ourselves and complain.

Chick lit is often derided as fluffy nonsense, and your book has a character with a shoe on her head on the cover, featuring a woman who uses shoes as the adult equivalent of dolls, which doesn’t necessarily negate the fluffy image. Did you set out to write a "chick lit" novel?
I thought I was writing a tongue-in-cheek, over the top, spoof on chick lit-hence the shoe on the head (although don’t get me wrong, I love chick lit) but I’m not sure it came across that way. Maybe because deep down, I’m fluffier than I think I am.

What role do you see chick lit books having in the lives of young women?
I think chick lit is extremely therapeutic and we shouldn’t let people who think books that aren’t painful or depressing guilt us into feeling if we read something that makes us laugh, or worse yet, happy, that we’re not reading something that’s worthy. For the most part, chick lit is fun and light and refreshing and hopefully inspiring.

How into the world of chick lit are you?
It’s hard to be part of any world when you never leave your house, but I do read a lot of it. I’m just not a member of any writer’s groups or organizations of any kind.

Does writing about relationships in your novel make you the go to person in your social circle for relationship advice?
I’m a notorious matchmaker and by that I mean I’m terrible at it, but I’m always trying to force people into falling in love with one another. I love my husband so much, I feel everyone should have what I have, whether they want it or not. But most of my friends are married and married people tend to go to shrinks for relationship advice.

You gave some advice recently on your blog about making it as an author, and your first step is "Write a book about something that’s so true, no one in their right mind would admit it. And then cover up everything you’re trying to say with lies." Is this what you did?
I think that’s what all fiction is. It’s the absolute truth except for the details.

The sequel to She’s Got Issues is going to focus on Zoe. When can we expect that, and can you give us a sneak peek?
Funny you should ask. Miss Understanding is still a work in progress but I’m thinking about putting an excerpt or two on my blog. I actually just decided that this minute.

What else are you working on?
Right now I’m working on losing the weight I gained writing Miss Understanding.

She’s Got Issues is available now. Find out more about Stephanie Lessing at her website and blog, and read an excerpt from Miss Understanding. Stephanie will read from She’s Got Issues September 12th at 7 p.m. at Barnes and Noble at Riverside Square Mall in Hackensack, New Jersey, and will be part of a chick lit panel and book signing on October 19th from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Marymount Manhattan College; see her site for details.