Your book has been described as Mad Men meets
Devil Wears Prada - a very enticing combination! What sort of research did
you do for this novel, and what was the most surprising thing you learned?
I was lucky with this book because there were several
excellent biographies on Helen Gurley Brown, as well as all the books she wrote herself.
Naturally, the place for me to start was HGB’s scandalous bestseller, Sex and the Single Girl. It was published in 1962 and sold two million copies the first month it was out. It was
basically a guide on how to find men and what to do with them once you’ve found them. It was
truly groundbreaking material because, at that time, no one else was speaking to single
women in that way. Sex and the Single
Girl gave me a good feel for Helen Gurley
Brown’s philosophy and her views on men, dating and of course, sex. The blueprint for her
future makeover of Cosmopolitan
can be easily found in the pages of her book. I also watched
the Sex and the Single Girl movie and lots interviews with HGB—there’s a slew of them on
YouTube. (Also I was fortunate to have met a dear friend of Helen Gurley Brown’s, but we’ll talk
more about that later.)
But at the end of the day, there’s no substitute for hands-
on research, so I went to New York. Even though I had lived on the Upper West Side for a short
period of time, it was important to go back there and see the city through the eyes of Alice
Weiss. I spent my time there living in Alice Weiss and Helen Gurley Brown’s worlds. I went to
Helen’s apartment building on Park Avenue, saw which bus route she took to her office every
day (yes, she rode the bus to work!). I went to the building that originally housed the old
Cosmo offices on West 57th
Street. I also found the exact apartment that Alice would
have rented on the Upper East Side in what was called the Girl’s Ghetto back in the 60s. (And
it really did have a butcher shop on the ground floor.) On the more glamorous side, I went to
the Russian Tea Room, the St. Regis, the Plaza, the 21 Club and some of HGB’s other famous
As for the most surprising thing I learned, it’s hard to pick
just one, but I suppose the most shocking of all was Helen’s advice and sometimes outright
encouragement of having affairs with married men. Ironically, Helen and David Brown were
happily and faithfully married for 51 years, but I have to wonder what she might have done had
some other woman made a play for her husband.
A writer’s process is as unique as the book they finish. How do you approach writing a
novel, especially one with such an interesting premise?
I’ve found that each book requires a slightly different
approach. This book was especially tricky for me. I remember it took us quite a few tries to get
it right. I think I wrote about a hundred pages and after sharing them with my editor, I knew I
needed to throw them out and start over again. (My agent reminded me that I usually do this
with every book!) For me it’s hard to find the jumping off point, a little like finding the starting
point on a roll of cellophane tape—I go round and round until one tiny piece catches! The
biggest challenge early on was getting the Alice Weiss character right. I wanted her to be
wide-eyed but at the same time, smart enough to catch on to big city living fast. Once I had
Alice’s voice and felt I really knew her, the rest of the story rolled out and started to write
I understand that you met Lois Cahall, a close friend of the formidable
Cosmopolitan editor-in-chief, Helen Gurley Brown. What was that like, and
how did it enrich your story?
Meeting Lois Cahall was a gift from the writing gods. I
remember I was having lunch with Andrew Gross and his wife, Lynn. Andy asked about my
next book and as soon as I mentioned Helen Gurley Brown, Andy and Lynn both said, “We
have to introduce her to Lois.”
Lois Cahall (a writer herself and founder of the Palm
Beach Book Festival) met HGB at Studio 54 and the two became fast friends. In fact, Lois
regarded Helen as her second mother. Lois and I finally met face-to-face over lunch at the
Breakers in Palm Beach and she was so warm and lovely. She immediately put me at ease and
in a way, getting to know Lois made me feel as though I knew HGB just a little bit.
I’m very grateful that Lois trusted me with her stories and
memories of Helen. She shared information that I never would have found through any other
source. It was very important to Lois (and to me) that Helen be portrayed as accurately as
possible. To that point, Lois vetted the book and was quick to point out wherever Helen
started sounding like Anna Wintour or where I’d overlooked an opportunity to bring out her
smarts and strength. A lot of my favorite Helenisms came straight out of my
conversations with Lois.
One of the great things about historical fiction, whether they are based on actual historical
figures or not, is the vast availability of time periods to explore and enjoy. What are some of
your favorite historical fiction novels?
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles—actually, it’s a tossup between that and Rules of Civility. I just
love Amor Towles’ writing. I think the man is a genius.
The Alice Network by Kate Quinn. Kate Quinn combines page-turning storytelling with unique and fully
realized characters and she wraps it all in such elegant prose.
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen—I think I’ve read this book three or four times and have loved it more
with each reading.
Summer is about to begin - do you have any fun summer plans this year?
Since I’ll be on the road quite a bit this spring and into
early summer, John and I decided that our big plans for summer would be to stay in Chicago
and redo our kitchen. We both love to cook and it’s time we made our space work for both of
us. But… I have a feeling we might sneak away to visit friends and family out
West while we’re under construction.
What can readers expect from you next?
Right now, I’m working on my next novel,
The Social Graces. It tells the story of Mrs. Astor and Alva Vanderbilt vying for control of New York
society during the Gilded Age. It’s scheduled for release in January 2021.
Rapid Fire Random Questions
Favorite candy: Chocolate, preferably dark
Favorite way to be kind to yourself: Getting my hair done at Lira Gurzi Salon. Lira always brings me back to life. It’s a real treat to visit her salon and I leave feeling like a
Best compliment you recently gave to someone: “You make wherever you are a better place to be.”
Favorite flower: Hydrangeas. They remind me of
pompoms, and I think the wannabe cheerleader in me likes them for that very reason.
Random interesting fact you like to tell people: I just started driving again after a 20-year hiatus
Best vacation you’ve ever taken: A ten-day trip
to Israel with my family in celebration of my mother’s 80th birthday. It was a once in a
lifetime experience that had a deep impact on me.
Earliest celebrity crush: Dean Martin –I
remember thinking those Gold Diggers showed such restraint. Oh, how he made my young
Cake or pie: Cake. Devil’s food with white icing.
Last book you read that you really LOVED: The
Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai. It just blew
You have a totally free afternoon - no deadlines, no obligations, no Twitter notifications!
What do you do?: I would be “a lady who lunches”. I
would grab my BFFs and go have a beautiful lunch somewhere, followed by a trip to the nail
salon for mani and pedis and perhaps an afternoon cocktail! Ah, yes, that’s what I call a
Mad Men meets The Devil Wears Prada as Renée Rosen draws readers into
the glamorous New Yo k City of 1965 and Cosmopolitan magazine, where a brazen new
editor-in-chief—Helen Gurley Brown—shocks America and saves a dying publication by daring
to talk to women about all things off-limits…
New York City is filled with opportunities for single girls like Alice Weiss, who leaves her small
midwestern town to chase her big-city dreams and unexpectedly lands the job of a lifetime
working for the first female editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine, Helen Gurley
Nothing could have prepared Alice for the world she enters as editors and writers resign on
the spot, refusing to work for the woman who wrote the scandalous bestseller Sex and the
Single Girl, and confidential memos, article ideas, and cover designs keep finding their
way into the wrong hands. When someone tries to pull Alice into a scheme to sabotage her
boss, she is more determined than ever to help Helen succeed. While pressure mounts at the
magazine and Alice struggles to make her way in New York, she quickly learns that in Helen
Gurley Brown’s world, a woman can demand to have it all.
Women's Fiction Historical | Historical [Berkley, On Sale: April 30, 2019,
Trade Size / e-Book, ISBN: 9781101991145 / eISBN: 9781101991152]
It's delicious, it's
delightful!! You will love it !!!!
As clichéd as it sounds, Renée is a former advertising copywriter who always had a novel in
her desk drawer. When she saw the chance to make the leap from writing ad copy to fiction,
she jumped at it. A confirmed history and book nerd, Renée loves all things old, all things
Chicago and all things written.
A graduate of American University in D.C., Renée has contributed to many magazines and
newspapers, including Chicago Magazine, The Chicago Tribune, Complete Woman, DAME,
Publisher’s Weekly and several other now sadly defunct publications. She is the author of
Every Crooked Pot and Dollface, A Novel of the Roaring Twenties and What The Lady Wants: A
Novel of Marshall Field and the Gilded Age. She lives in Chicago.
Fresh Fiction Editorial Manager Danielle
Dresser is an avid reader, lackluster-yet-mighty
crafter, and accomplished TV binge-watcher. Once upon a time, she was a publisher publicist
and continues to cultivate her love of books and reading by chatting with the best authors in
the business. She lives in Chicagoland with her very own romance hero husband, darling
daughter, and two tempestuous cats. Follow her on Twitter
and Instagram, @dj_dresser.
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