Is the Farrar, Straus and Giroux spring 2007 catalog in need of a warning sticker? Be sure to be seated with a cool glass of
Va-va-va-voom! There’s first-time novelist Katherine Taylor, author of Rules for Saying Goodbye, heating up the page with coquettish eyes turned not toward you, the reader, but off to the side, as if she’s responding to a wolf whistle from George Clooney, and—oh, Monsieur Giroux!—her curvy bodice is simply straining against a clingy T-shirt.
You have to check the cover of the catalog to reassure yourself that, yes, this is FSG, not Hyperion … or Abercrombie & Fitch. Well, last year Viking gave the fellas the dewy Marisha Pessl, whose comely face and form were read more closely than her smarty-pants novel. Is FSG—the abstemious publisher of Nadine Gordimer, Joseph Brodsky and Susan Sontag—following suit?
FSG’s synopsis of Ms. Taylor’s largely autobiographical novel gives us a clue:
“Years in the glamorous chill of an East Coast prep school will introduce [Kath] to a razor-sharp sense of social distinction … and an indispensable best friend—all that she needs to prepare for life in Manhattan. There will be fourteen-dollar”—cough, cough—“cocktails but no money for groceries; unsuitable men with enormous charm and unsuitable jobs with no charm at all; and a wistful yearning for a transformation from someone of promise to someone of genius.”
On the book’s back cover, these words come in a cheerful pink.
“I didn’t want any pink on the back of my book,” said Ms. Taylor recently over $14 (or thereabouts) cocktails at the Chateau Marmont in Hollywood. “I didn’t want pink on my book—not because of what other people would think, or how it would be judged or marketed: I didn’t want pink because I wouldn’t buy a book that was pink. That’s why I haven’t read any of the pink books.” She paused. “I don’t want to disparage the pink books.”
Ms. Taylor, who lives in West Hollywood and drives a dark blue Mercedes S.U.V. and has a boyfriend “who works in finance” in Manhattan Beach, gleaned what she needed to know about New York when she lived on the Upper East Side from 1994 to 2003, working as a bartender. Was it hard to find love in New York? “Noooo-hohoho,” she said. “You’re asking the wrong person. I was a bartender, remember.”
Raised in Fresno, the 33-year-old writer attended the University of Southern California creative-writing program under the tutelage of T.C. Boyle (who provided a big-footed blurb) before moving on to grad school at Columbia University, where novelist Michael Cunningham (The Hours) was her thesis adviser. She won a Pushcart Prize in 2003, and the door to success budged open a few more inches when HarperCollins editor Courtney Hodell signed Ms. Taylor to a two-book deal for an undisclosed advance. When Ms. Hodell moved to FSG, Ms. Taylor went with her.
But having written a book punctuated with “expensive pink wine” and charming, “unsuitable” men, Ms. Taylor then had to convince FSG that she had most certainly not written chick lit. She met with the art department to discuss the book’s cover.
“I said, ‘Look, I don’t want any pink on my book, I don’t want any cigarettes, and I don’t want any cocktails. And I don’t want any girls drinking coffee, either,’” she said. In the end, she got pink, cigarettes and cocktails.
“But I love it,” she said. “It works, and I love that [the cover] looks like an old film still and that it’s an old-fashioned cocktail glass and that the woman is wearing dark nail polish, not something bright.”
As for the hottie author’s photo?
“You look like what you look like,” she said. Her brother took the photo. “I’ve never been one of these women who thought, ‘I’m such a pretty woman.’ I always thought I was one of these tomboy-type girls who looked like a boy.”
Only recently, she said, did she realize that she was attractive.
“It’s hard, when you’re blond and attractive and you live in Los Angeles and you’ve written a book about young women in New York, not to be called ‘chick lit,’” she said.
Ms. Taylor said again that her book is not chick lit—or at least she’s pretty sure it’s not. She’s never read a page of the stuff.
“I don’t want to diss Candace Bushnell at all,” she said of the author of Sex and the City and Lipstick Jungle. “I met her once, and she’s like the loveliest, most generous, kindest woman you can possibly imagine. And I haven’t read her books, so I don’t really know. But from the television show, I don’t imagine my book is in the same genre.
“When Curtis Sittenfeld wrote that horrible review of poor Melissa Banks in The New York Times Book Review, and she called her a slut—you don’t want to be on either side of that equation,” she continued. “You don’t want to be the person degrading chick lit, because they’re smart women writing books that are incredibly popular and sell very well. I’d love to be popular and sell very well. And also, I can’t say anything about those books, because I haven’t read any of them. It’s not my scene.” She added that she never watches television, but chooses to read instead.
Ms. Taylor, who was looking a bit like one of Ms. Bushnell’s characters in a pair of leather pants, heels and beige turtleneck, allowed that women writers have a harder time being taken seriously than their male counterparts.
“Indecision [by Benjamin Kunkel] was ridiculously simple, I thought,” she said. “And had it been a girl who’d written it, it would have had the pinkest cover in the world. It would have been the pinkest of all-time pink covers.”