Monday, November 26, 2018

My First Time: Jennifer Spiegel

Not My First Time

This is not my first time.

What did I think back then, seeing my name in print? Was I all blushing bride, bookish rube? Did I carry around ink and quill just in case a random fan asked for an autograph? Was I wearing a black beret, tilted strategically on the top of my head? Did I sleep in that beret?

Tell me I didn’t wear sunglasses inside.

What had I expected that first time? Accolades? A writer’s retreat in, say, Bora Bora?

I guess, in all honesty, I thought it would be easier. Someone—some successful writer guy—told me in so many words, “You only come out of the gate once.”

These words hurt. I wish I could say they didn’t. But I am haunted.

I love my first two books. I feel strongly about them; each marks and commemorates an epoch in my life. There’s something unrepeatable about their contents. When I was a kid—like seriously a young child—I declared to my mostly stable parents, “I want to live an episodic life.” Who knows what I meant? I had some kind of latent aversion to what I deemed “a white picket fence life.” Apparently, I craved emotional upheaval and heartbreak and mental terrorism. Thinking about my childish desires now, I cringe.

Ironically, I got a rather episodic existence after all. Long story.

The Freak Chronicles is one aspect of my youth (I’m An Expatriate!); Love Slave is another (I’m a New Yorker!). I seldom re-visit either work but when I do, I’m struck by a few things: I am not the woman who wrote either of those books, and I could not write them today (both were written several years before their publication in 2012). When I last dipped into Love Slave, it was like a museum piece to me. I read it and felt almost grateful for its detail and—I’m gonna say it about my own work—authenticity. Here was a souvenir of my early adulthood, and I could give it to my children someday. I nailed that epoch! And that’s what I like to through something (usually traumatic) and write about it later. Fictionalizing a truth and worrying over its detail.

But I’ve just published my third book: And So We Die, Having First Slept. It’s been six years since my big break. I’m this other woman. I’m forty-eight, almost forty-nine. I’ve been married for fourteen years (looooonnnnnnggggg episode—we keep renewing our contract, sorta like The Walking Dead). There are children involved.

I think, often, about leaving them my possessions.

When I die, what will my kids get?

I’ll leave souvenirs, books.

You only come out of the gate once...

Unless you do it in a different way.

I’m coming out again?

True, the Eccentric Writer Routine has lost much of its charm. (I still play it up at home. I am pretty weird.) I can no longer get away with certain behaviors. Any fashion statement is inevitably a bad fashion statement. It’s bitterly hard to be blasé or aloof or whatever-it-is I’m supposed to be these days as a sexy but earthy/strong but delicate/metoo-conscious middle-aged woman with humility, wit, and a book—especially when I’m just wondering what my kids are doing and if Tim managed to record Better Call Saul before we turn on The Great British Baking Show.

I am an Eccentric Writer.

But I’m not a cool Eccentric Writer.

And so, this gate I’m supposed to walk through AGAIN....It’s there. I see it. I’m approaching it. I’m weathered. I’m another woman.

Make way: Mom is a-coming.

There’s the Book Promo Hustle. To say that I’m jaded would be too strong, too fierce. I’ll only say that I worked with very talented people on my earlier books, and I had high hopes. I don’t think I was planning on economic prosperity (Tim was). Rather, I think I hoped that those gates would be left wide-open for me. Maybe I thought there would be people on the other side always beckoning me, calling out, “We want you! We want you!”

(In Tim’s head, it was like, “We’ll pay you! We’ll pay you!”)

A Note on My Husband Who Doesn’t Write: Tim is super supportive of my “career.” I really cannot complain. I joke—a lot—about how he’s my Sugar Daddy. There is absolutely no way I could write like I do under other circumstances. He has essentially given me a writer’s life. All of that said, you know what I was hoping for when I came out of that first gate? A little street cred. Some legitimacy. I wanted everyone to know—even him—that I’m Working Hard Here. Even though it looks like I’m sitting around on the couch with the dog, I’m writing books! I wanted to justify having a Sugar Daddy. That’s not cool to say, is it?

But now what do I want for my new book?

I don’t need the street cred. I’m past that. I Yam What I Yam, as Popeye once wisely said.

Rather, I want to commemorate another epoch. I want to fictionalize a piece of myself. I want to give it to my children.

I am overly-conscious of my own mortality: that’s where I am now. It’s all about my children.

And Tim.

I want to say to him: Here, I wrote you this book.

You can show it to the kids later.

Yes, I’m rather morbid. That’s another story involving cancer. Which is completely written in an unpublished memoir so talk to me if you’re interested. (Epoch Over, I hope.)

So is that all I want for my book? Am I looking for paparazzi and panel discussion invites?

No, but here is one other thing I want: I want to say a few things, and I’d like to say them well.

That’s what I want for this book.

I may end up repeating this line elsewhere: This is the book I wanted to write.

Should I add “right now”?

I’m in the process of writing a piece on Elena Ferrante, but I’ll say now that I guess I wish I could be somewhere between Marilynne Robinson and Elena Ferrante on the publishing front. I’d like to be wise and good like Robinson, and removed from my books like Ferrante. With the other two books I published, I was giddy—tripping over my own two feet—to be liked for my writer-self. Now, maybe a bit tempered, I admire the quiet morality of Robinson and the philosophical distance of Ferrante.

Alas, I’ll tell you the truth: I probably still want to be liked.

But I’d prefer if you just liked my book.

This is not my first time.

Jennifer Spiegel is the author of three books, The Freak Chronicles (stories), Love Slave (a novel), and And So We Die, Having First Slept (another novel). She’s also half of the book-reviewing team, Snotty Literati. For more information, please visit her at

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. For information on how to contribute, contact David Abrams.


  1. I can't wait to read And So We Die...but, as I am the "Tim" in my marriage to an artist (guess that makes me a Sugar Mama...?) I have to wait for my pre-order to arrive. In the meantime, I hope more blogs and websites will continue to provide these teasers. Having read Freak Chronicles and Love Slave, I'm eager to experience this Episode.

  2. I love this comment! Thank God for the Sugar Parents.