The Debutante Ball is thrilled to welcome author Camille Perri to the guest chair! Her debut novel THE ASSISTANTS, released in May 2016, is a fast-paced, fabulous book that J. Courtney Sullivan calls “addictive, hilarious, and smart. It’s “9 to 5 for the student loan generation,” and Publishers Weekly describes it as “if the characters from HBO’s Girls were capable of larceny and blackmail.”
I loved meeting Camille at the Point Street Reading Series (with the amazing Robin Kall of Reading With Robin) and am so happy to learn more about her and her writing through this interview.
If you haven’t already, pick up a copy of THE ASSISTANTS!
Enjoy! ~ Amy Poeppel
When you were a teenager, what did you think you’d be when you grew up?
When I was a teenager, I thought I would grow up to be a writer. But, like, Jack Kerouac. Or Sylvia Plath. Or Jim Carroll of Basketball Diaries fame. I was very into the tortured artist thing. The self-sabotaging, usually suicidal misunderstood genius. The holy fool. The wild child. If you knew me in my twenties, you would have witnessed this misguided exaltation in action. Fortunately, I survived to see my thirties, when I finally figured out that a well-balanced life was a much better way to go and that I could be a writer without having to be a WRITER or even an ARTIST.
What’s the strangest job you’ve ever had?
One summer I thought it would be a great idea to get a second job handing out umbrellas at the local beach. I’d seen sun-kissed teens doing this job during previous summers and I’d envied how they were being paid to breezily look over their faded paperback copies of Dharma Bums or Cat’s Cradle to toss an umbrella at a beachgoer, stuff a few dollars into a register, and then return to their reading. So I applied, got the job, got my summery uniform T—and then they handed me a giant garbage bag and one of those long-handled pickers you might see ne’er-do-wells using to pick up trash on the side of the road to fulfill their court-assigned community service. Still, I was like okay. Fresh air, sunshine, the ocean. Picking up garbage on the beach wouldn’t quite be the relaxed vibe I was hoping for, but I couldn’t complain. Then I was directed to hop onto the back of a quad bike driven by the King of the Ne’er-Do-Wells, who was five, maybe ten years my senior. I had to hold onto his sweaty torso to keep from flying off the quad as he sped through the sand, took flight over dunes, and brought us up on two wheels en route to meet his friend. There, I was instructed to disembark on a desolate, inexplicably windy, and surprisingly trash covered stretch of the beach while he lit a joint, said, “When you’re done here, you’ll mop the bathrooms,” and then sped off with his buddy to I don’t know where. It took me forty-five minutes to trek my way back to civilization, where I handed in my picker, garbage bag, and uniform T and said, “Thanks for the opportunity, but I quit.”
What is your advice for aspiring writers?
My advice to aspiring writers is to keep a journal. There’s no better way to develop a regular writing practice, get to know yourself, and develop your voice. Also: therapy. I believe weekly talk therapy with a trained professional should be required occupational training for all writers of every level.
Do you have a regular first reader? If so, who is it and why that person?
My first reader is always my partner Helen. This might not fly with some couples, but for me it makes perfect sense to have the person who knows me best and loves me most read my work when it’s at its weakest and most vulnerable. I know in my heart that Helen wants to tell me everything I write is the greatest thing ever, so when she delicately points to something as not working, I know it really must not be working. It probably sucks big time. This level of honesty is much more useful to me than being cheered or coddled.
What’s your next big thing? (new book, new project, etc.)
My next big thing will hopefully be The Assistants movie. I’m currently writing the screenplay and working with producer Miranda Bailey to bring the book to the big screen. One of my favorite things in the world has always been watching movie versions of books that I love, so the idea of this happening with my book is totally mind blowing. My other next big thing will be my new novel, When Katie Met Cassidy. It’s going to be a romantic comedy about a woman who gets dumped by her fiancé and starts sleeping with women. My goal is for it to be sexy and fun, and also have something important to say about gender and sexuality. More soon!
Camille Perri is the author of THE ASSISTANTS. She has worked as a books editor for Cosmopolitan and Esquire. She has also been a ghostwriter of young-adult novels and a reference librarian. She holds a bachelor of arts degree from New York University and a master of library science degree from Queens College. She is currently at work on her next novel.
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