American author Lauren Weisberger scored a best-seller with her debut novel The Devil Wears Prada. Now out as a film, SJ's Caroline Westbrook talks to Weisberger about success and the importance of her Jewish background and culture.
At the age of 29, author Lauren Weisberger has already made the best-seller lists thanks to her first book The Devil Wears Prada. Published in 2003, the book tells the cautionary tale of smalltown Jewish girl Andrea Sachs, just out of college and looking for that big break in magazine writing. However she gets more than she bargained for when she takes on the job of assistant to Miranda Priestly, editor of the prestigious fashion magazine Runway - and the very definition of the boss from hell. Soon, her ambitions of a glittering career in writing have been superceded by her editor's constant demands and a world of high fashion where wearing less than a three inch heel is a crime.
The book not only touches on Andrea's Jewish background (similar to that of Weisberger, who hails from Scranton, Pennsylvania), but also that of Miranda Priestly who, we discover, started life as plain old Miriam Princhek, one of eleven children from an Orthodox Jewish family in London's East End who transforms herself from, as Weisberger puts it "Jewish peasant to secular socialite" in order to become one of the hottest names in fashion journalism.
Weisberger, who now lives in New York City, had her own experience of the publishing world after graduating from Cornell University in 1999, when she worked for Anna Wintour at Vogue Magazine - however, she says that the inspiration from the book came from "a combination of places: a combination of places: my friends' stories of their own jobs from hell, time I spent working at magazines, and of course, my own imagination".
SJ's Caroline Westbrook talks to Weisberger and finds out more about her own Jewish background, what she loves about writing and her favourite bagels.
Is there much of your own personality in Andrea, the main character in The Devil Wears Prada?
Well, if you like her, then I'd say: absolutely, we're so much alike. Kidding, kidding. I'd say that Andrea and I have very similar backgrounds but not quite so much in common personality-wise.
How has having a best-seller changed things for you, professionally and personally?
It's absolutely changed thing professionally, in a major and wonderful way. I now have opportunities to write for so many fantastic magazines, and I'm working an another book right now. In that way it's been amazing. Personally, however, nothing's shifted that drastically (which I think is a good thing). Friends, family, apartment, social life: it's all pretty much the same.
What do you most enjoy about writing?
Honestly? It's an amazing excuse to hole-up and not talk to anyone for days on end. But aside from that, I most enjoy when I'm writing scenes with lots of dialogue, as that comes most naturally to me and seems to allow for the most creativity.
What advice would you give other young, aspiring authors who would like to write a book?
Discipline, discipline, discipline. There are so many talented people out there with great stories to tell, but the trick is finding the time (that absolutely no one has) and sitting down to write. Even if you love writing, there will be times when you just don't feel like doing it, but it's only through sheer will power and sometimes forced-motivation that you sit at that computer and suffer through the dry spells.
What can we expect from your next book?
The next book will take a peek at the weird world of New York City nightlife for the twenty- and thirtysomething crowd of New Yorkers with a lot of time and even more money.
One of the most interesting aspects of the book for me was the way in which Miranda had shrugged off her orthodox Jewish upbringing to transform herself into the person she became. How important is it to you to include Jewish characters and themes in your work?
It's important to me less out of a need to make a statement and more just because it's a way of life I know, one with which I'm comfortable. When you're looking to create new characters or flesh them out with more detail, you naturally turn to what's around you, and in my case, I see a whole lot of Jewish friends and family.
What is your own Jewish background and how important is your Jewish culture to you?
I was raised in a combination of Conservative (for my younger childhood) and Reform (for my teenage years) synagogues and it's tremendously important to me on a number of different levels. Probably the most immediate impact Judaism has on my life is a love of Israel-I studied there in high school and in college and visit every chance I have. It's one of the defining points of my own identity.
Where did your family originate from and is Weisberger the original family name?
As far as I know, Weisberger is the original family name. My mother's side (Roth) is from Czechoslovakia, and my father's side is from Hungary. Both of my grandfathers fought for the Allies in WWII.
When was the last time you set foot inside a synagogue, and do you belong to one in New York?
There is a wonderful synagogue in New York that appeals to the young, single crowd and I go there sometimes. (Otherwise, it's uncommon for individuals in their twenties to actually belong to a synagogue until they start a family). Mostly, I go with my mom and sister over holidays when we go back to Pennsylvania.
Andrea is a fan of salt bagels - what is your own bagel preference?
Salt. Surprise, surprise.
The Devil Wears Prada is published by Harper Collins, £6.99