Interview: Author Jen Lancaster

By Kit-Bacon Gressitt

Jen Lancaster was born, she was laid off, and then she started writing. Memoirs. Really funny memoirs. Five funny, snarky, memoirs that stuck it to those who made themselves targets. And it was a good life: multiple appearances on the New York Times Best-Seller List (most recently, “My Fair Lazy”), accommodating husband (he’s a steady presence in her memoirs), and endless fodder for humor (what’s not to laugh at).

Who could ask for more?

Jen Lancaster could. She wanted to try her hand at fiction. And now she has: “If You Were Here,” her first novel in a series of three, was released May 3. It’s about an Amish-zombie-teen-romance author, Mia, and her husband, Mac, who think buying and renovating a house would be really, like, fun.

Why zombies and the Amish?

“I love zombie books — Carrie Ryan is one of my favorite writers,” Lancaster said in a recent interview, during which she careened from topic to topic, with regular one-liner detours along the way. “But I’ve always been fascinated with the Amish. I’m fascinated by people who don’t have zippers and don’t subscribe to ‘Tiger Beat.’”

OK. And why fiction?

“I actually had a different memoir to do,” Lancaster said. “I spent a year doing volunteer work. … But I learned I’m way better at writing checks. I can do a lot more good. I’m not great with kids. I’m OK with old people. I’m great with dogs, but every time I work with one I bring it home.”

And off she went on a tirade about her beloved animals.

“There’s a bunch. Our two dogs, Loki and Maisy are both rescue dogs. We got them when I was unemployed. I volunteered for a dog rescue. I was making my husband crazy, so I volunteered, but no one told me it was a pit bull rescue. The manager thought I was nuts — I showed up in a fur coat. — Libby pees in the house a lot. I spent 800 bucks to steam clean the carpet, and she peed in the spot just as the guys were pulling away. — We have one old cat, Tucker. He is 17. In college, anyone who was graduating and had a cat, well, I couldn’t let the cat go homeless. By the time I graduated from college, I had six cats. Tucker is the last of them. Then a friend found a litter of kittens in the back yard, and now…”

Having succeeded in animal rescue, but bombed as a volunteer, Lancaster pounced on a new subject: “It, [If You Were Here], originally started off as nonfiction. My husband and I, we were moving to the suburbs and we thought it would make a funny book. And after five minutes, I realized it would ruin our marriage.”

What to do? Writing a novel was something Lancaster had been “kicking around for a long time,” and, unlike memoirs, with which she’s “pretty much stuck with the truth,” fiction allowed her to, well, write the truth — but funnier.

And if fan posts are for real (now that sounds like a Lancaster topic), the majority of them love it. Of course, anyone could be posting the comments, including friends and family.

Except the family hasn’t taken so well to Lancaster’s success, which for Lancaster is “a little dicey. … It’s so funny and so horrible,” she said. “My family’s underlying insanity has always given me a great sense of humor. So much of my writing has come from different things I’ve struggled with: my weight, unemployment, the house (yep, the house is real). We’re not struggling right now, but I’m still funny. It’s weird, though. I keep waiting for another shoe to drop. I still have a closet full of all my clothes for temping — just in case.”

And if Lancaster’s memoirs and novels do indeed “drop,” she has her syndicated column to fall back on — “Humor Hotel,” in which she writes about “important things like why the Kardashians are famous, what are the 11 spices in Kentucky Fried Chicken.”

But for now, it continues to be a good life. Lancaster’s assessment: “Writing novels. Still funny.”

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Crossposted at the North County Times.