While I've previously declared my appreciation for Julie Klausner and her recent young adult (YA) book, Art Girls are Easy, I only recently got a chance to follow up with her and chat on the phone.
If you’ve never read Julie’s books or heard her podcast, How was Your Week?, her tone is consistently funny and relatable, and her confident attitude is infectious — like if Stockard Channing from Grease was crossed with Oprah, but somehow wound up with red hair.
Because her podcast is so conversational and because I have logged many sleep-deprived hours listening to it, I had to keep reminding myself that I’d never actually spoken to Julie before. Still, during our interview, Julie was lovely and open about her fondness for musicals, The Monkees and JAPs who know their lipstick.
Sarah Bennett: I read a lot of YA sci-fi/fantasy, and while it's not something I'd wear on a T-shirt, there's very little shame these days among adults who enjoy the YA genre, at least within that world. Is that also part of your decision to write something for YA — its wider acceptance overall?
Julie Klausner: Well, the main reason I wrote a YA novel is because my agent encouraged me to on the basis that they still sell. That, and because when I first published my "Modern Love" essay that later became part of I Don't Care About Your Band, my agent received an inquiry from someone asking if I'd want to write a young adult novel, and he passed that idea long to me, I think by planting the idea that not only would that be something that I might be good at, but is a genre that is still lucrative, and there are still ways to break through even if you're not an established, famous author. Then he told me to look at other YA novels that were on the market because they're really different from the ones I grew up with — dirtier, funnier, more satirical. That lead me to read Gossip Girl, which was really smart and funny, and it occurred me to me that I could do something like that. I was never going to be the person that picked up Gossip Girl in the first place, but after I did, I thought they were really smart.
SB: Speaking of Gossip Girl and the world of people who can afford taxis all the time and have staircases in their apartments, you set your novel at a fairly upscale summer camp. Was that on purpose?
JK: I went to two different summer camps. The first was one I hated, with cabins and canoes and soccer and obstacle courses. It was such a fucking nightmare, I just hated it so much. I wasn't ready for it emotionally, to be away from my parents for two months. But the second camp I went to was a little bit more like the camp I described, which was a little JAPier. I don't think every bunk had air conditioning or anything, but everyone had a hairdryer and stuff. Girls would say stuff about what I feels like to have Chanel lipstick on your lips and know the names of lipsticks and stuff. There was also a strong cultural divide [at this arts camp] between the different kinds of artists, because there were visual artists, actors and dancers.
SB: I remember the dancers at my performing arts camp: I'd never seen so many shirts with the necks sliced off. Did you find it daunting at all though to write about present-day teens, if only because of their immersion in social media? Paul Feig said he set Freaks and Geeks in the '80s because he was too intimidated by trying to set his high school experience in a modern, e-mail-y context.
JK: I'm actually pretty addicted to social media — I have a different relationship to it than him, I guess, since it comes as naturally as breathing — so it wasn't challenging to me, and having the book set at a camp instead of a high school meant that social media wasn't as prominent. I'm glad I went to high school in the pre-social media era in some ways, but at the same time, if everybody's doing it, then nobody's embarrassed. Maybe.
SB: You're doing a cabaret show at Joe's Pub right now. What songs are you doing?
JK: With Jon Spurney, I created a medley of Ben Folds and Stephen Schwartz songs, and I'm also singing some Loretta Lynn, Mike Nesmith, Nancy Sinatra, Ann Margret, Billy Joel and Fiona Apple. Hopefully I'll keep doing the show here and there over the summer.
SB: You spent time at UCB and interning at an indie record label in college. Did you ever feel judged for your love of the musical the-a-ter and Billy Joel and whatnot?
JK: First of all, I wouldn't say I love Billy Joel, but that our relationship is complicated. But I'd say that, if you have confidence, you're good, you know? You just have to have the attitude of, "These are the things I love, and if you don't like it, you can fuck off." Besides, UCB has always been a good environment for funny women. Because Amy [Poehler] is one of the pillars there, it's like being funny and a woman is never questioned. I always felt incredibly valued in that community despite having different tastes from some of my peers. John Gemberling and Curtis Gwinn came up with me there and were like brothers to me, but when they'd invite me over to watch whatever horror/sci-fi movie they were obsessed with at the time, they were cool when I was like, "Um, no thanks." But really, there are no guilty pleasures — I like what I like, without guilt. That's all there is to it.