Q&A With Author Deborah Schoeneman About Her New York Times Profile Of The ‘Fempire’

I email Deborah: I will publish this on my blog without any editing. It will go up as you return it (with a link to your piece, to your website, to your novel, and a note that this was done via email).

Here are her answers to all my questions:

* Can you give me any background on your NYT piece on the four screenwriters? Any story has so many buzzing variables, how did you come to choose the angle you did?

When I moved to LA last year, I started reading a ton of scripts. I was really struck by Liz’s scripts for "Sluts" and "Friends With Benefits." I think she’s a fantastic writer. I also heard about the Fempire from screenwriter friends–particularly from one guy who was jealous. I thought, well, here’s a social group and some tension and that’s always a good place to start with a styles story idea. I reached out to a publicist who was working with Diablo and Lorene, back when "Nick and Norah’s" was coming out (I wanted that to be the hook) and he said the styles section was not "serious enough" and they would only do it for the arts section. That wasn’t going to work, because I only write for styles. I ended up meeting the Fempire one day in a social setting and I just asked them directly to do the story. They were thrilled. The publicist had never even asked them to be in styles. When I met them, it was clear that Dana was the den mother/organizer, so I zoomed in on her via Facebook and that’s how it got off the ground.

* Anything that made this story distinctive for you from all your other work?

I really admire all of these women. I didn’t want to write a puff piece, but I think they work hard, produce great work and are really nice, cool and supportive. I’ve only written a few stories where I feel like everyone wins and I think this was one of them and that makes me feel good.

* One of my biggest flaws as a writer is description. I’m terrible at describing people. How do you decide when to include the beauty of a subject’s looks and how do you decide how to deal with it? Does describing male vs. female beauty have different minefields or do you approach that task the same?

My editors were more interested in my writing physical descriptions after they saw the pictures and understood that these women are really hot, not just writer hot, which is less hot than regular hot. I also find it helpful to compare subjects to celebs in some way in a description. Particularly if you’re writing something not really flattering about someone and you say they have Angelina Jolie lips or a Kate Hudson smile, that’s what they tend to remember most.

* You’ve done many different types of paid writing. Which are your favorite forms and least favorite forms?

I like to do stories where I feel like everyone wins. I win by getting a good byline and a paycheck and the subjects win by getting attention for something worthy. I hate celeb gossip reporting. It’s like eating candy—fun for a moment and then ultimately makes you sick. That’s why I stopped writing a gossip column for New York magazine. I just don’t want to be that messenger.

* I always find it amusing when women wear short skirts in public and then spend all their time trying to pull them lower. Has this ever happened to you? Can you provide us with any insight into the thinking that goes on with this habit?

I think Diablo just didn’t know she would be sitting on a high director’s chair. It’s usually an accident.

* How do you feel about these four screenwriters? How much do you let your feelings about a subject enter into your writing?

I really don’t have any need in my life and career right now to write something about someone I dislike. I just wrote a cover story for C magazine about Isla Fisher, which was also really fun because she was fun. Before I met Diablo, I expected her to be someone I wouldn’t like. I believed some of the hype of her haters from the Internet. Well, it turns out she’s exceptionally talented and warm. It was a good lesson.

* You’ve written mean things about people and glowing things about people. How does the type of writing you do affect your happiness level?

I am done writing mean things about people. It causes me great stress and unhappiness and there’s no real upside for me. Also, a good piece of journalism is not mean or glowing—it’s just honest.

* Many journalists describe the essence of their craft as "charm and betray." How do you feel about that? Do you do this?

I started at 21 at the New York Observer and I definitely charmed and betrayed a lot of people back then for the byline. Now I’m 31 and I’m over that game. It’s a sign of immaturity to play it. I believe the subject should have a very clear sense of what is going in the story before it appears in print. Have the fight in the fact checking stage. Don’t surprise people. It always comes back to haunt you.

* How did your screenwriters react to your piece?

Liz and Dana sent me nice emails. I haven’t heard from Diablo or Lorene yet, but I think I will.

* What have been the most surprising reactions you’ve received to it?

I’ve gotten a lot of kind feedback from friends. This was the first time I posted a story on Facebook.

* Is there anything terrifying about these four screenwriters? If so, what is it?

No. Their success is good for women writers everywhere. I hope women writers will read the story and feel inspired and supported and not jealous and catty. I went through the jealous and catty phase about women writers who were more successful than I. It was nothing but damaging and a waste of energy. I’d rather be on the team, even if I’m just warming the bench, than trying to beat it.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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