Writing is often a solitary task, but when you’re married to another writer, your kitchen can officially double as a fiction writing workshop.
Such is the case with journalist and novelist Jennifer Miller and her spouse, Jason Feifer, the editor-in-chief of Entrepreneur. The two co-wrote the new book “Mr. Nice Guy,” a laugh-out-loud look at New York’s elite magazine world from the perspectives of a sex columnist (Carmen) and a fact checker (Lucas) for Empire, a fictional magazine with offices at One World Trade Center.
amNewYork talked to the Park Slope-based authors, both 38, about their co-writing process.
What made you want to write a novel together?
Feifer: My background is in nonfiction and magazines, but I had an idea for a novel for a very long time, since my twenties, when I was corresponding with a sex columnist who had reached out to me for writing advice. Emailing her made me think about this premise. When Jen and I were dating, she tried to get me to write this story, and I failed. After she sold her last novel [“The Heart You Carry Home”], I suggested she write my idea next, and she wanted to work on it together. It’s set in the New York media world, a world we’ve jointly shared in the entire time we’ve known each other – so it was a perfect project to do together.
What was it like to collaborate professionally?
Miller: When Jason and I were first dating, I had just finished a second draft of my debut novel, “The Year of the Gadfly,” and I was at a point where I was thinking to myself, “Here’s this guy, we’re getting kind of serious, I’ll have this book I‘m going to try and sell and what if he doesn’t like it?” In retrospect, I did this really stupid thing and asked if he would read the novel as a professional editor and give me an edit. It was a make-or-break situation. Luckily Jason did like the book and turned out to be a fabulous editor. It paved the way for us working together on a joint project. I think what made this successful is that we delegated the specific responsibilities: Jason really hates it when he’s working and I’m looking over his shoulder.
Feifer: I can’t deal with that at all.
What was the co-writing process like?
Miller: We brought our own strengths. We plotted out the novel together, figured out the narrative and chatted over long car trips and dinners about the characters. We decided I would write the bulk of the narrative and Jason would write the columns, and then we would swap.
Where in New York do you like to write?
Miller: From home, depending on my level of motivation. I will write at home at the island in our kitchen – I have a crazy setup with a computer on a box and my wireless keyboard, because writing has given me a bad back, all of that. I try and work [novel writing] into my regular day as a journalist. If I’m not motivated, I’ll go to a coffee shop. Being around other people motivates me. I’ll also write longhand at the coffee shop. Not having a computer and writing in notebooks can trick you into working, it doesn’t feel like it’s real because you’re just scribbling notes. Then I’ll look forward to the transcription. It’s a mental game that I play with myself.
Feifer: Because I have a day job at a magazine, most of the work that I do is in my office or at home at night in our bedroom. The rare chances I can get to a coffee shop are really wonderful. The Centurion Lounge at LaGuardia Airport is truly one of my favorite places. I’ve been doing a lot of traveling for speaking and I’ll typically arrive early at LGA to sit in the lounge and just start writing, knowing that the next many hours I’m unplugged and focused on what I like to write. I’ll be well-fed and resist the bar. And then I get on the plane and don’t buy the Wi-Fi and crank through it – it’s a rare time in my life when no one can interrupt me.
Miller: This is not an expense two Brooklyn writers would typically have. We get access because of my dad’s credit card.
As New Yorkers, how do you portray New York City as both a real and fictional place in your novel?
Miller: I knew from the very beginning I wanted the magazine to be located in 1 WTC, which is where Conde Nast has its headquarters. Jason used to work at 7 World Trade, so when I was envisioning what the offices would look like, I used that. I wanted to capture the aspirational nature of the way that 1 WTC is huge and gleaming.
Feifer: That’s funny because I’m well aware that this Empire office is 1 WTC, [but] I always picture it as a different office. Lucas sits with this group of lowly staffers.
Miller: It would have been more realistic to have Lucas living in Queens or far out in Brooklyn, based on his salary, but I needed him in the East Village. It’s still possible to find a crappy shoebox apartment there with a roommate. At least, it was.
Feifer: A lot of this book is drawn from a time in my career when I worked on celebrity stuff at Men’s Health and was invited to ridiculous parties. We remember the absurd extravagance of so many places in New York.