Gossip writer Paula Froelich opened the front door to her one-bedroom Soho apartment on a recent evening, wearing a flattering emerald dress with puffy sleeves and woolly, moccasin-style slippers.
She had one hour, she warned, before she had to run out and meet Daily Candy founder Dany Levy and socialite Gigi Howard for an 8 p.m. dinner at Minetta Tavern. But she wanted to make sure the Daily Transom had a chance to drop by her apartment.
“I’m obsessed with this building,” she said of the Sullivan Street walk-up, described in detail in her new novel, Mercury in Retrograde, due out in early June from Atria Books.
She bent down to feed her dachshund, Karl, who was milling about at her feet after being dropped off by a doggy daycare sitter. “It’s like a mini neighborhood. That’s the thing about New York isn’t it? There are so many people behind the walls. They’re like cockroaches!”
Ms. Froelich’s novel, crammed with designer names and winking society references, is of the Manhattan chick lit genre. It is about three women brought together at 148 Sullivan (the author’s actual address) by a series of unfortunate events. Penelope Mercury (read: Paula Froelich) is a resident in the building who quits her job as a door-stepping reporter at a tabloid called the New York Telegraph. Lena “Lipstick” Lippencrass, a socialite, moves into the building after getting cut off by her father. And Dana Gluck, a corporate lawyer, takes the penthouse after her investment banker husband leaves her for a Russian model.
“They’re all composites of me,” said Ms. Froelich, sitting back in a gray velvet armchair in her cozy living room accented by a furry white rug and Hamptons-style coffee table books. Ms. Froelich speaks loudly, confidently, with a perpetual sense of sarcasm that makes her, at times, a little intimidating and, almost always, impossible to read.
“I knew I wanted to write a women’s book, but what bothers me about women’s books is that a lot of them are like, ‘And they gave themselves one year to get married!’” she said with a mocking, fairy-tale inflection in her voice. “It’s really misogynistic in a way.” (The characters in Mercury pursue love interests, but only after their respective lives and jobs are settled.)
Ms. Froelich, 35, has spent almost a decade as a Page Six reporter. She moved to the city 11 years ago from Los Angeles where she took the bus to a clerk job at Ace Hardware—“I moved here for the public transportation,” she said—and briefly worked at the Queens Gazette, at Institutional Investor writing a newsletter called Derivatives Week, and at Dow Jones newswires covering the same beat. Then someone recommended she apply for a job at Page Six.
“I was like, Page Six? What’s that?” she recalled. Ms. Froelich applied and got the job despite lacking experience outside the finance beat. For the next two years, she went out every night. Then she suffered a crack-up, she said, and slept for approximately a month.
Given the demanding lifestyle of a gossip reporter, Ms. Froelich’s personal life—much like her characters’—hasn’t gone exactly as she planned.
“I’m from Ohio. I thought I would be married with three kids by now,” she said. “But I’m really glad I’m not. I look back at the men I’ve dated, with the exception of one guy, and I think, ‘Wow, that would have been the biggest mistake.’”
Ms. Froelich said there was that one time when she was close to getting married. So what happened? “Well, you never want to get into something where you think, ‘Well, there’s always divorce!’”
In recent years, Ms. Froelich has slowed down a bit and doesn’t go out quite as much. Still, the near decade she’s spent collecting anecdotes about the conquests, failures, and public embarrassments of New York’s powerfuls proved useful when it came time to write her novel.