TV writers Sarah Watson and Gina Fattore originally met while working on season four of Dawson’s Creek – and then they met again on season five of Parenthood. This spring, they each published their first novels. Ideally, they would wanted to have a conversation about their books in front of an adoring audience at one of LA’s amazing independent bookstore. Second choice would have been over glasses of rose at an overpriced, trendy restaurant — but email it is!
GINA FATTORE: I just finished reading your delightful book on a delightfully sunny LA day, so thank you for a page-turning distraction from the real world! Of course, it wasn’t all sunshine. I did get extremely choked up at the end — like a full-on, embarrassing Parenthood writers room level of ugly cry caused by reflections on all my own teenage hopes and dreams, friendships, and ambitions. I have ten thousand questions for you, but I guess I will start with… why did you want to write a book? I know we must have talked about this when we worked together on Parenthood, but I can barely remember January, let alone 2013.
SARAH WATSON: Thank you! I also finished your delightful book on a delightfully sunny day. Given the current state of the world (insert wide-eyed fear emoji here), I’m having a hard time reading anything too heavy. What I loved about The Spinster Diaries is that it tackles heavy topics but in a really optimistic and funny way. It’s hard to find something that can make me laugh out loud right now, but reader, I laughed out loud.
As for why I wanted to write a book, it really all goes back to childhood dreams. I always loved to read and I was really lucky that one of my favorite authors, Zilpha Keatley Snyder, came to my middle school to talk to us. After that, while other little girls were dreaming about their weddings, I was dreaming about my first book signing. (This might explain why I connected to The Spinster Diaries so much.) When you and I worked together on Parenthood, I was actually working on a different book. It was a glacially slow process since, as you know, TV writing can be a wee bit time consuming/crazy making.
GINA: Ambition is often considered to be a negative quality in women, and by writing a novel about the teenage years of the first female president, you tackled this ridiculous stereotype head-on. Did you think about that while you were writing? I really loved how Most Likely is a portrait of young women who want to achieve! It’s what drives them, and they don’t feel any need to be apologetic about it.
SARAH: Oh yes. That was incredibly intentional. I’d been working in the male-dominated TV world for so long and was completely over that delicate dance that all “lady writers” have to do where we come across as competent – but not too competent. Because god forbid we seem threatening. But I really do think the tides are finally turning. When I look at the generation of young women coming up now, they’re not apologizing, they’re not backing down. It’s pretty amazing. One of the moments that really inspired this book was watching Parkland student and activist Emma Gonzales stand up to these grown ass male politicians who were clearly so perplexed and irked that they couldn’t shake her. It’s like this generation got an entirely different memo about how they’re supposed to behave and that makes me really optimistic about the future. I can’t wait to see all the things they achieve.
GINA: I agree. I feel really optimistic about that too. The young women of today definitely seem bolder than I ever was. I was so afraid to fail at things when I was younger and really regret that streak of perfectionism. Failure is a necessary part of achieving! I know that now. That’s why I really loved the “failures” you threw at your characters throughout the book. I don’t want to give anything away, but can you talk about that aspect of the book?
SARAH: We attach so much shame to failure when really it’s such a huge part of growing up. Sure there’s all the obvious stuff: Failure teaches us lessons and make us stronger blah blah blah. We all “know” that even if we don’t like it. But there’s another thing about failure that we don’t celebrate enough. Sometimes when you fail to get the thing you really want – an acceptance letter from the school of your dreams, for example – it sends you on a different path. A lot of times it’s a better one. Or at least a better fit for you. Some of my failures have sent me in directions that are so much bigger and better than I ever could have dreamed. A few years ago I failed to get staffed onto the show I really wanted. Instead I got an offer to write on a new show called Parenthood. What started off as a “failure” changed my life and career forever. Without spoiling anything, one of the characters in Most Likely has a similar life-altering moment because she failed.
GINA: Okay, I nearly dropped my Kindle in the pool when I realized this, but we each have a character in our books who is influenced/inspired by a female historical figure who lived in the 18th century. In my book the inspirational figure is English novelist Frances Burney (1752-1840), and in yours it’s Martha Washington (1731-1802). Coincidence? Or maybe we are both the kind of people who look to the past for inspiration?
SARAH: There’s something simultaneously frustrating and comforting that women throughout history have always been dealing with some version of the same drama. We tend to think of women in the 18th century as being stuffy and boring and nothing like us, but that’s only because that’s the box that history likes to pack them into. I always thought of Martha Washington as the white-haired, bonnet-wearing, boring woman whose only accomplishment was standing submissively behind her husband. Then I saw Hamilton, and there’s a quick aside about how Martha Washington named a feral tomcat after Alexander Hamilton. (That’s true!) That one line completely changed the way I viewed her. It’s raunchy and funny and a pretty good dirty joke that didn’t fit in at all with the prim wife narrative. So I went down this deep Martha Washington rabbit hole and found out she was nothing like what I’d been taught. I liked the idea of opening up her narrative and telling people that there’s more to her story.
You do something similar with Frances Burney. You introduce us to someone who was SO significant and yet so overlooked. I was an English major and yet I barely knew who she was. Was giving a voice to an overlooked female writer an intentional choice?
GINA: Yes, absolutely. I feel so fortunate that I did get to study Frances Burney in college. When else do you have time to read 600-page novels that contain words like “nay” and “vexatious”? Famously prudish, shy, and anxious, she had a lot of strikes against her as a role model, but when I branched out from her novels and began reading her diaries, I was instantly hooked. The epiphany I had was very similar to the one you had while listening to Hamilton. Suddenly, the inner life of this woman from the 18th century felt totally relatable: her determination not to marry without being in love, her struggle to earn a living as a writer, and her inability to stop angsting and obsessing on an utterly uncrushworthy dude named George Owen Cambridge. Her voice in her diaries felt so alive to me that I made it my personal mission to get her story out there in some form or another. Looking back, I can see that I have always been particularly drawn to stories about female writers from centuries past who defied the conventions of their time to do what they loved. Without those stories, I don’t know that I would be a writer.
SARAH: One last question. I wrote Most Likely while the #MeToo movement was in full swing. This new era of feminism definitely influenced my book. The Spinster Diaries is set in 2006. Even though it’s not that long ago, the TV landscape was really different for female writers back then. By the time you finished revising your book, things had changed a lot. (Though we still have a long way to go.) Talk to me about your decision to keep the book set in 2006. Did you ever consider revising to make it current?
GINA: Yes, I thought about it a bunch of times, but then my brain would explode and I would stop thinking about it. I know it doesn’t seem like that long ago, but the iPhone didn’t exist yet in 2006 – or dating apps, for that matter – and while someone with a PhD should really do a deep dive into how these things have changed our brains, our anxieties, and our level of connection to other people – rethinking the way my main character would respond to that brave new world wasn’t an exercise that appealed to me. Also, the narrator of The Spinster Diaries is a huge fan of romantic comedies in general – and specifically, of Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters. I still love that movie – and all three of its frizzy-haired heroines – but in 2020, it’s no longer possible for a female writer to have an uncomplicated, worshipful relationship with Allen’s work. At least it’s not possible for this female writer. So that was another thing that fell into the “Let’s be a stubborn artiste and not change this” column.
SARAH: Oh wait. One more question. Is the “Journaling for Anxiety” journal real? If so, where can I buy it? Asking for a friend. (Okay me. I’m the friend.)
GINA: Not real — I made it up! Although anxiety disorders are the most common and pervasive mental disorders in the United States, and there is some evidence that writing or talking exercises can be helpful in coping with them. This means that even though Journaling for Anxiety is one-hundred percent fake, we all should be doing it right now. Or maybe we just have been? Even though it’s just email, I’m glad we did this. Talk soon in the real world! (Insert glass of wine emoji.)
About the Authors:
Sarah Watson is a television writer, producer, and novelist. She is the creator of the Freeform series, The Bold Type. Previously she was a Writer and Executive Producer of the critically acclaimed NBC drama Parenthood and had written for many other series. She is currently writing and producing a pilot for Fox. Her debut novel, Most Likely, was published by Poppy/Little Brown on March 10, 2020 as part of a two-book deal. Sarah lives in Santa Monica and can be found on Twitter and Instagram at @sarahwatson42.
Gina Fattore is a television writer-producer whose credits include Dare Me, Better Things, UnREAL, Masters of Sex, Parenthood, Californication, Gilmore Girls, and Dawson’s Creek. Her comic novel The Spinster Diaries is available now from Prospect Park Books. You can read more about it at her website ginafattore.com or follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @ginafattore.
Most Likely by Sarah Watson, out now!
From the creator of the hit TV series The Bold Type comes an empowering and heartfelt novel about a future female president’s senior year of high school.
Ava, CJ, Jordan, and Martha (listed in alphabetical order out of fairness) have been friends since kindergarten. Now they’re in their senior year, facing their biggest fears about growing up and growing apart. But there’s more than just college on the horizon. One of these girls is destined to become the president of the United States. The mystery, of course, is which girl gets the gig.
Is it Ava, the picture-perfect artist who’s secretly struggling to figure out where she belongs? Or could it be CJ, the one who’s got everything figured out…except how to fix her terrible SAT scores? Maybe it’s Jordan, the group’s resident journalist, who knows she’s ready for more than their small Ohio suburb can offer. And don’t overlook Martha, who will have to overcome all the obstacles that stand in the way of her dreams.
This is the story of four best friends who have one another’s backs through every new love, breakup, stumble, and success — proving that great friendships can help young women achieve anything…even a seat in the Oval Office.
The Spinster Diaries by Gina Fattore, out now!
Our heroine, a moderately successful TV writer in L.A., wants her life to be as sunny and perfect as a Hollywood rom-com: a cool job, a wacky best friend, and lots of age-appropriate hot guys just dying to date her. Instead, she’s a self-described spinster who is swimming in anxiety and just might have a tiny little brain tumor. So she turns to an unlikely source for inspiration: the eighteenth-century novelist and diarist Frances Burney, who pretty much invented the chick-lit novel.
A semi-autobiographical unromantic comedy, The Spinster Diaries is a laugh-out-loud satire of both the TV business and the well-worn conventions of chick lit―as well as the true tale of the forgotten writer who inspired Jane Austen to greatness. It’s an endearing and refreshingly honest testament to how one person’s life can reach out across the centuries to touch another’s.