an interview with molly jong-fast      
Molly Jong-Fast


I enjoyed your book very much; I read it in a day. It must be strange to have so many people responding to your work.

It is. I'm glad you liked the book. I was in England recently and I got really good reviews. They all started the same way: "I didn't want to like this book." In the U.S. I've gotten mixed reviews so far.

Why do you think you went over more easily in England?

It's more an English sense-of-humor, because it's really self-loathing. I think that's part of it. I think another thing is that there isn't the same kind of feeling toward nepotism there. In American culture there's a real self-consciousness, a real need to be about capitalism, even though we know that a lot of the country runs on nepotism. Look--we're voting for George Bush, Junior. I mean, I'm not voting for him, but there are people who are. That part of American culture really hates itself; where nepotism is obvious, people are given the hardest time. Realistically, the people who are going to be taking over General Mills are the sons of bankers, because those are the people who will be able to afford going to Harvard, and those are the people who can afford to go to private school to get into Harvard. They're also the ones who can afford the SAT tutors to get the scores they need to get into Harvard. When people see nepotism work in such an obvious way, it's the one chance they have to really attack it.

I know this, but I forget it. It would be fine if I were able to maintain objectivity and to think, "Well, you're just taking the brunt for something that's going on all over America that people don't like." But instead, I think, "They hate me."

In what way do you "forget" this?

I don't keep it in the forefront of my mind. What I try to do is to tell myself, "You wrote the best book that you could, and there are a lot of people who like it." Hopefully it will help some people with adolescent alcoholism, which is one of the things on my agenda--not that this book was meant to be a completely altruistic thing.

But that was one of the reasons that you wrote this?

Definitely, that was a part of it. I wanted to talk about alcoholism. At the same time, I think that there is this whole disgusting Sex and the City New York City culture, where everybody is rich and skinny, and everybody celebrates this by not trashing it. I wanted to really expose this, to talk about it. In a lot of ways, I think that people don't want to recognize this. When it's further away it's funnier; when it hits close to home it's scary. It's upsetting and kind of gross. I love it, personally. I live for that stuff. I read on Page Six the other day that there was this model who was so bulimic that they had to paint her teeth white with Liquid Paper. That's insanity! That's the culture that everybody else in America is worshipping, and my point is that this is totally insane. Maybe I didn't entirely succeed, and I know that I'm very young, but what I'm trying to say is that the emperor has no clothes. I got flack for that.

Does it bother you to get flack?

No, I'm kind of happy that I did. I've gotten a lot of really nice publicity too, which is great. It was interesting; in England, I got a lot of really mean pre-pub commentary. However, I felt like these people were really talking about my work. And then I got really good reviews when it came out, so I felt that the book was good. This gave me enough confidence to go to my home country and to believe in the book. That was important.

Do you feel that the people who've criticized your book "get" it?

The criticisms have all been different, as has the praise. My book was sort of a parody of the kind of novel that I thought the child of a famous person would write. I wanted to be a This is Spinal Tap of books.

I think that the expectations placed on me were very high. I didn't try to write War and Peace, and I knew that. I'm very happy with the reception that I've gotten. I feel that I was taken seriously, and that was huge. And I did it, which is cool too. I wrote a novel. It wasn't the writing as much as the publishing process that taught me such a great deal. I could never write reviews of other peoples' books. It's way too much power. I only took two to three years to write this book, but there are people who take ten or fifteen years. There's a book coming out that the woman took 36 years to write. It becomes their life. I feel as though I have a lot more compassion for myself and for the book and for the people who reviewed it. I'm able to see their side of things.

It's interesting; I've learned more about myself through this process than anything else. I've been talking to my mom a lot, and she tells me that I'm such a different person than I was even three months ago. In some ways I'm really mature and in some ways I'm like a ten-year-old. I have that weird situation where I grew up too fast, so there are all these holes in my growing up-ness. If I have to take a plane by myself, I'm really scared. I had to go to San Francisco recently for a book tour, and my mom and I were talking on the phone in the lounge. I'm on an airport pay phone saying to her, "I cannot go." And she says to me, "I love you. I'm very proud of you. Now get on that plane!" I did, and it was a great time. So through this I've done a lot of things that I'm scared of, which is really amazing. Like writing this novel: it was the only thing I could do if I was scared of it.

I had a hard time on Salon Table Talk ('s online discussion area, which recently invited Jong-Fast to be a guest). There was this one woman who told the whole discussion group that I was rude to her when I was a little girl. I got on there yesterday morning and there were twelve of them in there. It takes up such an insane amount of time; I was on for about five hours last night.

I would imagine that it's tough to turn off an ongoing discussion that is all about you.

It's all about you and when you leave, they continue talking about you. I think Salon has figured out the way to get the most work out of somebody without paying them. The woman who didn't like me had met me when I was a little girl and felt that I was really rude to her. The truth was, someone introduced me to her at an event and I said that I'd been in every photo op. I was nine. Nine-year-olds say what they hear from their parents. She told this story through Table Talk, and I said to her, "I'm really sorry if I was rude to you, whether I was young or old." Everyone is rude to somebody at some point in their life, but most people don't have the opportunity to then write about this while that person is up on Table Talk. I apologized and she flipped out. I was really nice to her the whole time, though. I understand: it's hard to look at someone who is really young and who has a lot of advantages, financial and career, and to like them. If I was not me I would be insanely jealous of me and not like me. I don't even know if I'd be jealous as much as I just wouldn't like me. I understand that.

The hard lesson for me is that I have always wanted everybody to like me. I'm one of those people who would call up my ex-boyfriends, the ones that have dumped me and the ones that I've dumped, to establish that we're still friends. I send them birthday cards. I really work hard to get people to like me, and the lesson here is that you can't always have that. What's amazing is that I so needed to learn this lesson that I learned it on a huge scale. I had grown up with great parents. They had problems: they were neurotic, Jewish, liberal parents who had fights about communism at the dinner table. They loved me; they got divorced when I was four years old, and they were always fighting for my time after that. It was a really publicly messy divorce. So I always wanted to make sure that everybody was happy, and that everybody liked each other. I feel incredibly liberated from that now, since the book has come out. People have not liked me and they've not liked my work and it's been okay. I thought I would die if that happened, and instead it's really liberating because now I feel like I don't need to keep all this weird stuff up. I can do what I want to do. Before, everybody was on me all the time about my writing.

How did that effect the book?

I was very conscientious of a couple of things. I didn't want to go after my parents, which might have been a natural response. I didn't want to write Mommie Dearest just because I thought it might sell.

Your mentioned that a big reason for writing this book was to talk about adolescent alcoholism. Can you elaborate on that?

I'm not going to say that it was my crusade to educate people about adolescent alcoholism. But I had suffered from it and nearly died from it because I didn't know what it was. I didn't know Jewish people could be alcoholics. I mean, is that possibly the stupidest thing you've ever heard?

My mom realized that I had a drinking problem. It wasn't like the book. It wasn't dramatic or fantastic, and I wasn't shooting heroin at after-hours clubs. My family always wanted to be European. We're a Russian immigrant family and there was always wine at the table, and the kids would get it with seltzer. It wasn't a big deal, but then one day my mother realized that I was drinking an amazing amount of alcohol. If I smoke in front of my mother she'll quote me statistics about the rate of death from lung cancer. So she realized that my drinking didn't seem right, and she was worried.

It was bad for me, but it was more a matter of our not knowing what it was, what do about it, or how to treat it. It wasn't even that we were in denial; I knew that it was not good and that it was the elephant on the table. It was really strange to have a family in the most cosmopolitan city in the entire world that doesn't know what alcoholism is. A lot is written about depression, because somehow depression has become an "okay" mental illness. There are the illnesses that mean you're really screwed up and there are the ones that mean that you're okay. Like with Prozac being used to treat depression; that's become okay. But alcoholism is still very taboo. If you tell people you're an alcoholic, forget it. I'm abstinent; I wouldn't be able to tell you if I was in AA anyway, because it's an anonymous program, but I haven't had mind or mood-altering substances in almost three years. I would go out on dates with guys after I'd gotten clean, and I couldn't tell them. As soon as I did, they'd say, "See ya…" I couldn't figure out what the big deal was.

It seems like such a universal problem.

Yes, but I also think that there's more of a stigma about it in the northeast than in, say, California. I think that there's more untreated alcoholism here. Alcoholism is a literary tradition if nothing else. I just read today, in the illustrious Post, that Truman Capote went to Smithers. There's a lot of social stigma still attached to it, and I feel that the more books that are written on it, the less that will be the case. It's the kind of thing where, until it becomes a theme in American literature, it will not be extinguished. There are about 800 books on eating disorders and depression; there's Prozac Nation, Prozac Diary, Prozac Shoebox. We've seen a lot of interesting stuff written on certain mental illnesses.

I grew up reading books by Bret Easton Ellis and Jay McInerney, who I love. I think they're great. My book was definitely written in the tradition of Ellis, McInerney, and Tama Janowitz. I did that consciously; it was a parody of those books, in a weird kind of way. But I feel that their characters get off too easily. They always maintain their slickness, and there don't seem to be a lot of consequences to their actions. They can sleep with whomever they want and they aren't called sluts; they can do as many drugs as they want and they don't overdose. I felt that I wanted a character who people called a "coke-whore." The stuff that I know really happens, because I've known people like this before. People get AIDS from shooting heroin. That's what happens. People get AIDS from heterosexual sex. Women get reputations as sluts if they sleep with too many guys. This is stuff that should not be going on, yet it's stupid, trivial stuff that goes on in America every day.

Do you think it's more of an issue in New York?

No. I actually think this less the more I get to know kids in the suburbs. My cousins went to school in Connecticut and I've been spending a lot of time out there talking to them, because I want to base my next book in the suburbs. They are so much more fucked up than city kids are. They all do drugs I've never heard of. They say, "We're going to go roll tonight," and I have no idea what they're talking about. I feel like they're much more affected by adolescents drinking and doing drugs. It's everybody's least favorite topic, and I really try to talk about it because I think deep down people want to.

I also think that there aren't a lot of books about women coming of age in any way except through dating. It's really important that I don't perpetuate the stigma that I need a man to make my life full, or that I need a man to come of age. The truth is, the men that I've gone out with don't make me me. I always used to associate dating and men with coming of age, and I don't anymore. Coming of age means taking responsibility for things, which we don't do nowadays until we're a bit older. I don't think that having a relationship or losing your virginity means that you've come of age. I'm very worried about this trend, that you have to have a husband to be a viable person in America.

Do you think that's still a prevalent attitude today?

I think it's worse today. I think it's coming back as a backlash against feminism in the most dangerous way, because it's coming back through popular culture, rather than through the government or conservatism.

Can you give some examples of where this is evident in popular culture?

Take Sex and the City, which I love. I love Candace Bushnell's books. I think that she's an interesting and funny writer.

You've been compared to her.

Yes, and I'm thrilled about this, but I still think that she's perpetuating this trend, this idea that women need men. I think it's society, and she's just recording it. There are a lot of messages for women who are single and over 35. We're getting that statistic again, that we're more likely at that point to be hit by a car than to marry. Who cares? It doesn't matter. I'd rather get hit by a car right now.

This all started with the Bush administration talking about family values. I think so far my generation has been very capitalistically-driven, and not politically-driven. Every generation has their cause, and right now I think that there's this very strong backlash against feminism, one that's been growing for a long time and is building steam. The conservatives have boot camps, where they're training people.

What will the outcome of this be?

I think Roe v. Wade is going to get turned over. There are going to be four seats open on the Supreme Court in the next four years; it's all about who gets into office. If Bush gets into office, forget it. This year the late-term abortion ruling was five to four. That's frighteningly close. What's amazing is that most of the people in this country are pro-choice; I think that 65 to 70% of all Americans are pro-choice. It's a large majority. But most people don't know what Bush's stand is on pro-choice versus pro-life, which is pretty bad. I think we're going to see ourselves losing a lot of freedoms, and maybe we'll have another revolution.

I read your article in Mode magazine about bulimia. Did you intentionally leave that out of Normal Girl?

Yes, because that's really about me. That's my problem. I wrote about bulimia because I thought I could help people, because my case wasn't that severe. Usually you associate eating disorders with people having to get their teeth painted. I wanted to write a piece about having a moderate eating disorder. But the eating disorder stuff was me. The alcoholism was also me, but to that extent, coupled with the drugs, it was a world that I'd just observed. I made some stuff up.

What did you make up? The drug overdose details?

For the drug details, I interviewed people. Turns out I knew a fair amount of heroin addicts; it's amazing who you know that is an addict. I had no problem finding people to talk to. I asked them what they do and how it feels. A lot of what I learned about heroin I also learned from movies. I learned from Permanent Midnight; the heroin-shooting scenes in my book are largely influenced by that movie. People who've read the book have asked me if I've ever shot heroin, and it cracks me up. I'd been thinking the whole time that it would be obvious that I knew little about it. I'd experimented with drugs, but never with heroin.

Have you had anyone refute the accuracy of your book?

I've had friends buy it to make sure that they're not in it. If they are, it's completely unintentional. I might have written real characters if I thought they'd fit in, but there's no one I know who really is like the characters I created. The Janice character is so far off from anyone I've ever actually known.

Where does she come from?

Well, I knew that there were people like her. I thought about Jerry Hall a lot when I was writing Janice's character. I've seen people who look like former models, who are incredibly beautiful but who are kind of going downhill. Not that Jerry Hall looks like that; she's absolutely beautiful. But I thought about people like her. Then there's the character of James; everyone knows someone like James, married but gay. That one was easy. The characters I have the easiest time creating are these bon vivant characters who travel the world, the people who never have a permanent address and are always staying at other people's houses. You meet them and you think, "How does this person with no money live in this 27-room mansion in Gracie Square?" There's always someone like that.

What about Miranda? Is she you?

Miranda is, in a lot of ways, my alter-ego. She's the person I always wished I was tough enough to be.

How does she differ from you?

She is able to say the stuff that I think. I want to be stronger and speak my mind and get what I want, but instead I get caught up with polite formalities. She's really blunt and she doesn't care about people liking her, which was a weird lesson for me to try to learn. In fact, as a consequence people sometimes think that she's a slightly unsympathetic character. It comes back to that whole worrying about people liking me issue, which is a big one of mine. I like that about her; she's a tough cookie.

How do you feel when people don't think that she's a sympathetic character?

I've developed a pretty thick skin. As long as there's something that people like, I'm okay. Making rich Jewish kids from the Upper East Side look sympathetic is no small task. When I started writing this I thought, "Who isn't going to have sympathy for this character?" My editor would tell me that no one does. Now I understand that there's not a natural inborn sympathy for kids who have everything and blow it and destroy their lives. There should be. When you have nothing and you make something out of your life, that's the greatest thing you can do. But to have everything, and not to be able to make something of it, is really sad. I think it's the great American tragedy of the '00s, to have everything and to not be able to put any of it together for yourself or for anyone else. There's nothing sadder to me than that, and that may be because it's so close to me. It's very easy to have sympathy for the things that are sympathetic. Racism, sexism, children starving in Bosnia--these are all things that are categorically bad. To have things that are both good and bad is, to me, much more interesting.

I'm interested in the kind of things that Alice Walker talks about, and maybe I'm more interested in those topics than in the things that I know from firsthand experience. But I felt that it would be really unfair for me to take a topic that wasn't mine.

For your first novel?

In general, really. Maybe that will change, but to take a topic that is not mine seems unfair. That's my own weirdness.

What do you think the answer is for this large population of people that "have it all" and can't figure out where to put it?

That's the problem; I don't think there is an answer. That's the worst part about it. People have told me that I never really resolved my character by the end of the book. I didn't want to resolve her; there's no answer to drug addiction and alcoholism. You just try to not drink one day at a time, and that's it. Hopefully you don't. I don't think there's any concrete answer to being over-privileged and not being able to do anything. I think that that's why people are so interested in it. You can do things for people who are starving in third-world countries. But you put someone in therapy for the rest of their life, and it doesn't mean that they'll become well, or that they'll stop hating themselves.

I think that there's an equality that people force upon themselves if they've had too many advantages. Sometimes people who have too many privileges try to lower themselves with self-hatred, to get themselves to a fair starting ground. All of America thinks that the more we have the better off we are. The great lesson here is that having a lot doesn't necessarily mean that we are better off. Even more than that, when we start to have too much we start to hate ourselves more, and get further down into self-loathing. You have people who are really trying to even out the universe in their personal lives. I certainly notice that I've done that.

While you were facing your addictions?

Yes, and even now. I feel badly for all the advantages that I have. I'm hard on myself. Even when I was working on my novel, I'd tell myself, "Considering all the advantage you have, you should be winning a fucking Nobel Prize by now!" The worst thing I see is people who have tons of advantages and who do nothing. Better to do something and fail horribly. Better to do something and look stupid than to not do anything at all. That's something that I say and I live. It's so important.

Do you think that Miranda's dark times are behind her?

Yes, I hope so, for her. She's got problems though. She's going to be years on the couch. I think that the drugs are behind her, but the rest of it, no.

Is Miranda going to show up anymore in your writing?

No, though she may make a cameo in my next book. Because I get attached to characters, especially if I like a book. Bret Easton Ellis's characters aren't that loveable. They're not very cuddly. But Jay McInerney's are. Take Brightness Falls; I love that book, and I wanted to see all those characters again. You do see characters pop up again in his books. The Secret History by Donna Tartt is one of those books. It's a must-read. It's 1,000 pages; I don't usually like to read anything that's 1,000 pages. But it's amazing. I sat on the couch for three days reading it. I did not answer the phone. I was amazed at what a great writer she is; I was dying for a sequel. It's like Harry Potter for me.

So I think that I would want Miranda to pop up, to see her in mid-life. I don't think she needs a whole book, but I think that she'll definitely make a cameo.

I've read that you have yet to read your mother's books. Is that still the case?

I read 150 pages of Fear of Flying a while ago.

What stopped you from going on?

What's so ironic is that everybody reads everyone else's books and wonders, "Who is this person? Who does that character represent?" When you know the author, you map it out. I mean, my mom read my book and said, "You must be very depressed. I'm very worried about you." And I was like, "Mom, it's fiction!" So I started reading my mom's book and wondering who the different guys were. I gave it up. I was almost done with therapy anyway; why put myself back in there?

Do you think you will eventually read them?

Definitely. I'll read my parents and I'll read my grandparents, and I might even write about them. I might write a biography of the family at some point. It's an interesting story; my great-grandfather on my mother's side was a gangster. I think the most interesting stories are of the people in my family, the spouses, who weren't famous, and how they dealt with the ones who were. So I don't rule that out, but I probably won't do any of that until everybody's . . .


Yes. Even though it wouldn't be mean; I mean, I've gone through the anger toward my parents that everybody goes through, and I don't have any issues. I think they're great. I live in the same building as my mother; I love her. But I know how creepy it is to be written about. Generally speaking it would be very nice, but I wouldn't want to make anyone uncomfortable. I still get mad at my mother sometimes. We had a fight the other day because she wouldn't let me take the car to Connecticut. But then I stop and I realize that my mother is one of the people who's helped me the most in my life. Beyond just helping me with my career, she's helped me to deal with a lot of the stuff that's gone on. So, I feel a huge debt of gratitude toward her. It's really brought us very close together. She came with me on my English book tour.

How did that work out?

We had a great time. I didn't tell anyone that she was coming, because we don't like to do interviews together, mostly because it's just really hard to do an interview with another person. You can't talk about everything that you want to. At this point we feel that it would be really bad for our relationship too. It's stressful enough to just be mother and daughter; to have to do mother-daughter work together takes a lot. So we didn't tell anybody that she was coming. It was really fun. We had adjoining rooms, and she got the big room, as always. I said, "But it's my book tour!" and her response was "I'm the mother." It was great; she'd surprise the journalists, coming in while I was doing an interview. We had a lot of fun. She coached me through the flight; I have a terrible fear of flying. She'd explain it all to me: "That's the landing gear. Those are the flaps." I have to fly all the time these days.

How do you get through it?

When I get on the plane I tell the stewardess that I have a real fear of flying. I also tell her not to serve me any alcohol. I haven't drank in a long time, but when I get on planes, I really want to drink. I hear that drink cart and I just burst into tears. So I explain all this to the stewardesses and either they completely ignore me for the rest of the flight or they're really nice. I've had stewardesses come sit with me, and one time I got to sit in the cockpit. So I've had some really good experiences, and seen that people who you don't know can be really nice. When you live in New York, that can come as a surprise.

Do you have advice for people who are struggling to overcome alcoholism or other vices?

I think the most important thing is to know that there are a lot of ways to get help, and that there are a lot of things that people can do to get help. There should be alcoholism hotlines everywhere. If you call the operator and ask for help with alcoholism, there are 800 numbers they can give you. I feel that the best thing I can do is to just be a power of example and talk about it. That will hopefully start to de-stigmatize it.

Would that have helped you while you were growing up?

Absolutely. Even now, the more people I know who are drug and alcohol-free and successful, the better I feel. It's easy to think that all the "cool" people drink and do drugs. Look at Sex and the City; every week they're downing Cosmopolitans like they're going out of style. Our culture does a lot to promote alcohol, because it's a major money maker. You would be shocked to see the statistics on alcoholism. Alcoholism looks like nothing else; it doesn't effect a huge part of the population. Less than 10% of the population are alcoholics, but 10% of the population consumes 80% of the alcohol. It's huge.

The thing about adolescent alcoholism is that it really doesn't look like anything else. There are different kinds of alcoholism; there's the woman who drinks one glass of white wine every night for four years and can't stop, but adolescent alcoholism is your sixteen-year-old cousin drinking Wild Turkey in the living room and everyone's wondering, "What's wrong with Lenny?" That's what adolescent alcoholism looks like.

Does it look more rebellious? What does it look like?

It looks like someone just getting wasted and throwing up and blacking out. It's beyond normal teenage drinking. With adolescent alcoholism, you'll see young people with incredible tolerances for alcohol. The teenagers who have a beer and get drunk and giddy are not going to be the adolescent alcoholics. The ones that have seventeen beers and can walk down the street in a straight line and touch their nose, those are the ones that will become alcoholics. I used to be able to drink an incredible amount. People would ask me where I put it. There's a huge difference. People make the mistake of thinking that kids will be kids, but there are such extremes. A drunk frat boy who's had four beers is very different from the girl who's a straight-A student and who drinks fifteen Zimas and drives home and is fine. Both people exist, and the public tends to throw both into the same category.

I don't think the answer is to not let kids drink on campuses. I think the answer is that parents have to be more vigilant about it. Stricter parenting is the way to go. I don't mean stricter in that parents should punish their kids for drinking or should forbid them to drink at all, but they should practice being very aware of their kids, and make their kids talk to them. What happens with all of this is that we don't have dialogue, so we don't know what's going on. The most important thing is to open the dialogue. My parents were very open with me. My mother would say, "If you can't drive home, call me." I would, and that was what saved me in the end, knowing that I could go there. Granted, I'd go there and throw up all over her. But if I had parents who were seriously religious Orthodox Jews, and who told me that drinking was a sin and I was a bad person, I probably would have killed myself. I already thought that this was my fault, that it happened because I was not a good person. It took me a long time to get used to the idea that alcoholism did not mean that I was a bad person; it just meant that I was sick. That's a huge deal right there, so if you also have parents who are telling you that you're bad, you're not going to end up well. Adolescent alcoholism is responsible for most teen suicides.

Is that a proven statistic?

Yes, but I don't know the exact figure. Most teen suicides are the results of overdoses, and the people who overdose are the people who are trying to quit. The story with heroin is that usually the people who overdose are the people who were addicted, who have tried to stop, and who haven't done it in a while. Or they think it's cocaine. If you're in the groove with heroin, from what I hear, you don't just overdose. You've got a tolerance for it.

I also think that New York is a microcosm for all the weirdness that goes on in the rest of the world. We don't send out the right messages. New York and Los Angeles produce most of the media, most of the TV that the rest of America watches, and we're not sending out the right messages. Instead we send out a message that everyone's having a good time, and that involves drinking. We have to be careful with the messages we send out , and the responsibility falls on the people who make media more than anything else, because those are the people with the most power. I felt like writing this book was something I could do to help. I also know that the more people I talked to who were alcoholics and who would talk about it in a non-tabloid-y way, the better I felt.

Another problem with alcoholism is that it's a publicity nightmare. There are some people who just don't get sober. There are people like Robert Downey Jr., who's now in jail for a long time. It's a hard disease to treat, because the only treatment for it is total abstinence. You see more and more people now "coming out" about it, people who have been successfully abstinent. That is really important.

Did you have a single moment or incident when you realized that you needed to stop drinking?

Every moment from the age of thirteen on. People used to tell me I was an alcoholic. That's a sign: if people tell you you're an alcoholic, then you are probably an alcoholic. We knew. I reached a point where I just got tired of it; there wasn't anything particularly dramatic that occurred, but I just felt that I could no longer keep up with drinking and feeling sick. My life for a long time consisted of getting drunk, going home and watching Melrose Place, when it was on every night at 11, and throwing up. And I'd cry, because Melrose Place is very sad, as you know. Then I'd go to bed, and I'd feel horrible the next day.

I think people assume that growing up with the childhood that I had, I knew lots of famous people and was a wild child. It wasn't like that at all. Even in my most partying days it wasn't. It's not me.

What do you do now to replace the time that you did spend drinking?

I spend a lot of time in Connecticut now. I have this whole WASP-y Jew side where I like to sea-kayak and sail and horseback ride. I've become the pack-a-day smoking nature lover. It's disgusting. I spend a lot of time with my friends and my baby cousin, Jordan, who I love. I have some really good friends, from high school and from grade school, and then I have a lot of close friends who are a little bit older. I just hang out, go out for coffee or dinner. I occasionally go to dinner at restaurants that make me uncomfortable because they're really fancy and everybody's rude. I try to avoid those. I don't mind going to dinner with my parents at a fancy restaurant, because they're parents. But when my friends want to go to Le Cirque, I don't know why. I'd rather order in Chinese. That stuff makes me uncomfortable. I don't feel the need to go to the new hot restaurants, because that's not who I am. It's who I once thought I'd want to be, which is why I'm so stuck on it. Miranda is who I thought I'd become after everything I went through, but she's not who I turned out to be. The jury's still out though; I'm only 21.

Where would you like to be in twenty years?

I want to have quit smoking. I'm excited. I want to have lived in other countries, like England or California, which is kind of another country. I'd like to live by the beach. I want to write another book, but I also want to write plays, as soon as I figure out how to do that. I want to get more into humor writing. Before I wrote this book I thought that all I wanted to be was a novelist. I do want to write another, but I don't feel anymore that novels are the only way to go.

One of the great gifts of my life is that I don't have to worry about "selling out," because people already think that I have, due to nepotism. It's incredibly liberating, because I can do whatever I want to do without worrying about my reputation.

You seem to have a really healthy grasp on all of this.

It's because I've spent a lot of time talking about this with my mom. She'd say, "Look at the bright side. Now you don't have to worry about selling out." I have all these very positive friends who always want to look at the bright side of every problem. When I was younger and spending time in England, the press would be really mean to me. I was stupid and I did interviews when I had nothing to plug but was on book tour with my mother. People wanted to know about me and I was flattered. I made mistakes; I didn't understand what was really me and what was what I thought other people wanted me to be. I lived through that, so now as long as the press isn't attacking me personally, it's much easier. I also do have a huge support system of family and friends. I'm really lucky.

--interview by Laura Buchwald
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