Monday, September 17, 2012

My First Time: Jennifer Spiegel

My First Time is a regular feature in which writers talk about virgin experiences in their writing and publishing careers, ranging from their first rejection to the moment of holding their first published book in their hands.  Today’s guest is Jennifer Spiegel, author of the just-released debut novel Love Slave from Unbridled Books.  Her collection of short stories, The Freak Chronicles, was released earlier this year by Dzanc Books.  Regular readers of The Quivering Pen may be experiencing a bit of deja vu right now.  Yes, it's true: Jennifer Spiegel did contribute to this feature back in July, so this makes her second "first time."  But when the writing is as sharp and delightful as what Jennifer brings to the screen, I'm happy to give QP readers a double-dose of Spiegel.  If you want the full shot of 100-proof JS, you can visit her website here.

My First Literary Crush

Everyone always says Holden Caulfield, and I suppose I could, too.  I’m pretty sure Holden has something to do with everything.

There was, however, Raskolnikov a little bit later—and, perhaps, he was my first real literary crush.  Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment may have offered me my first perfect bad boy: dark, brooding, smart, and a family man who WHO SUBSCRIBES TO HIS OWN TWISTED MORAL CODE BORN OUT OF A WARPED SENSE OF ALTRUISM!  And then, then, redemption!  We’re talking James Dean before there was a James Dean!  I remember well his shadowy, dusty, creepy landscape, and its assembly of disparate parts:  prostitutes and police, academics and pawnbrokers, St. Petersburg and Siberia.  The guilt-ridden human heart churning, scalding.

Do yourself a favor and say his entire name aloud: Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov.

Um, yum.

Raskolnikov was also a foreigner—and every American girl knows foreign guys are hot!

(Side note: sometimes, when my husband and I are joking around, I like to say things like, “How in the world did I end up married to the whitest guy in the world?”  This because, prior to me, he had never before eaten hummus.  And there’s his propensity for mayo, which I find ultra-WASPy.  I’m being unfair; he does have a lovely Roman nose, which suggests otherness, right?)

I think, though, my teenage years hit shortly after my early brush with Russian literature and I turned to British rock stars (also with Roman noses).  When I emerged from that era of utterly-non-altruistic-bad-boys, I had a fairly minor affection for Salman Rushdie, because he was in hiding and all.  That seemed pretty cool.

But then there was Douglas Coupland.  By the time I got to Doug, it had morphed into something not terribly romantic.  I guess I had grown up.  Either that, or I was experimenting with bitterness and anti-male sentiment.  Soon, I’d marry the whitest man in the world who had never before eaten hummus.

In my twenties and early thirties, though, I was convinced that Douglas Coupland and I were supposed to be best friends—like best friends.  After years of an unrequited literary crush, I had the opportunity to interview Coupland for Hayden’s Ferry Review when he came to town to do a reading for his latest book, All Families are Psychotic.  This was in 2001.  I was working on my MFA at Arizona State, I was thirty-one, and HFR granted me tons of creative license.  The interview is unorthodox; it’s more of a creative nonfiction piece.  It’s not online, but you can find “Douglas Coupland: Who Is This Guy? (Or, Generation X Lamentations)” in Fall/Winter 2001 Issue 29.  The interview is pretty great, if you ask me.  But now, I’m going to share some of the behind-the-scenes stuff.

I just wanted to be his best friend.  That’s not so far-fetched, is it?

I was supposed to meet him at his hotel, which was right next to the Borgata of Scottsdale, this fancy shopping place (“mall” sounds a little low class here), which looks like a medieval castle.  It’s still there, though I don’t know who frequents it.  Tourists?  Old people?  Ultra-WASPy old tourists?  Do you need to put a gag in my mouth to stop me now?  Am I crossing the line?  Can someone sue me for saying this stuff?  I’ll tell you this: this shopping center does not have a pet store or a Sbarro pizza.  (And since having kids with the whitest guy in the world, I don’t do shopping centers without pet stores.)

We met at Coupland’s hotel, which was next door.  I was trembling and sweating, preparing for my role as “Fascinating Young Woman.”  I needed to lure him in somehow.  I needed to be witty, smarmy, deep, atypical, observant, philosophical but not annoying.  So I arrived with two cups of coffee from Starbucks, because those kind of people often drink coffee.

And let me just add this detail to your mental image: the coffees, which were relatively expensive for me, were genuine tokens of my affection.

We walked to the Borgata, holding our cups.  Though I looked like a shabby grad student (blue jeans, Jansport backpack) and Coupland is Canadian, he looked pretty spiffy.  I can’t totally remember, but maybe he was wearing yellow?  Can I be sued over that—like if he were actually wearing navy or gray?

This is the kicker.  We needed a place to sit to do the interview.  I had my mini-cassette recorder in my purse.  Coupland said he needed to eat something.  There was an Italian restaurant ahead of us.  We walked towards it.  As he strolled, Doug dropped his cup of coffee into the trash.

I was crushed.

Douglas Coupland, Coffee-Tosser
In college, I once saw the guy I thought I loved coming down our dormitory hall holding his underwear in his hands.  He was walking next to some girl I despised for no reason, and it was a Saturday morning; the yawning, stretching, and sweet talk said enough.  Not to mention the underwear.  I was working at the front desk, and they had to pass me.  I had a job to do, answering phones, buzzing people when their guests arrived.  Our eyes met, and I had to hide it away, bury any anguish—just like he had to ball up his boxers in the palm of his hand, clenching his fist.  We were both concealing something.

Much later, a man—not a college boy at all—told me I was pretty in an unusual way—a “different way,” he said—but he wanted to be with someone else.  In my mind, she was pretty in a normal, ordinary, common way.  The man was calmly deciding between me and another woman, like he was choosing between brands, between Coke and Pepsi, Shamrock and whatever.  The relationship hadn’t gone too far, though I had kissed him in front of an Einstein’s Bagels—and, now, the thought filled me with something like self-loathing.  How had I let myself be put up for auction?  How had I done this, and why had I kissed him?  He thought he looked like Kenny Chesney, that’s what he said.  He didn’t, nor did I care about Kenny Chesney.  But that kiss!  I don’t know if I hid my pain then or if I unleashed this inexplicable fury that masked my bruised self, my injury.  Did I let him have it?  Did I deliver a violent tirade or sink into myself, pretending it was okay?

Douglas Coupland once threw out the cup of coffee I bought him as part of my performance as “Fascinating Young Woman.”  The toss was casual, incidental—he meant nothing by it at all—but I knew we would not become best friends, privileged members in one another’s lives.  I went on with the interview, and it was a very good interview indeed.

Before you get the wrong idea, please know that Coupland offered to buy me dinner at the Italian restaurant.  When I declined, he insisted.  I still declined.  But he would’ve bought me dinner at a super crazy-expensive restaurant.  Know, also, that he personally signed my books that night at the reading—and he said very nice, totally flattering things inside my copies which I still have today.

After the reading, we never saw each other again.  I never heard from him either.  I wrote this kick-ass interview.  I tried to get him to write a blurb on the back of one of my books.  It didn’t happen.  He never responded to my e-mails.

I’m over it.


  1. awww..., the coffee!!!... you can feel the squashing disappointment, but turned into a terrific story

  2. I love this story- and it was a kick-ass interview.

    1. Thanks, both of you. And Dear Sweet Anonymous, you read my interview! Thanks! What's a cup of coffee when you've got readers?

  3. Ha. This cracked me up. I have this vivid slo-mo picture of coffee dropping into the trash and your heart sinking as quickly with it. Great story.

    1. That's pretty much how it was. I think my mouth may have been opened and my lips were in the shape of a big "NO!" I thankfully emitted no sound.

  4. A new writer has entered my world! Thank you!