Courtesy of Gina Fattore
When we were young, we dreamed of being TV writers. For a college essay about who we wanted to be when we grew up, we chose Rose Marie's "Dick Van Dyke Show" character Sally Rodgers. Just imagine sitting in a room all day with two super funny guys, trading sarcastic quips and living the New York City single girl life when the work day was done. Although our paths happily went a different way, we've always been intrigued by the world of the television writer.
So we were thrilled to get copies of Gina Fattore's debut novel "The Spinster Diaries." The prolific television writer has helped breath life into some of our favorite characters — from Lorelei Gilmore of "Gilmore Girls" to Adam Braverman on "Parenthood" to "UnReal's" Quinn King. And last year, she and co-creator Megan Abbott brought the cheerleading series "Dare Me" to the USA Network.
Gina's semi-autographical novel gives a realistic "pay no attention to that woman behind the curtain" peek at what it's really like to be in the writer's room on a TV series. Rob Petrie and Buddy Sorrell are nowhere to be found but Gina's world is filled with Shoe Girls.
"The Spinster Diaries" is an entertaining exploration of the TV industry but it goes way beyond the confines of the studio lot. Gina shares her experiences looking for work in between shows and navigating some scary medical issues. And it's all told with heart and humor — what else would you expect for someone who's written for "Gilmore Girls" and "Parenthood"?
We went more in-depth with Gina about her television career, what inspired her first novel and her obsession with the world's first chick-lit author, Frances Burney, whose a main character in the book.
Here’s an excerpt from our interview with Gina.
Passionistas: What's the one thing you're most passionate about?
Gina Fattore: My gut said to say writing but maybe I need to be more specific than that because I write so many things, but it's always been writing. I am one of those people who I was 11, 10 or 11 when I first got, I guess, praised for my writing. I went to the young authors conference when I was in the fifth grade with my first book, which, remains unpublished because everyone's fifth grade book should probably remain unpublished. Um, but, uh, yeah, and I just, I always knew it's, it's the weirdest thing. It, it, I had a friend once say to me, a college friend who just, she called it a calling and especially when we had just graduated from college, and I believe everybody should sort of wander in their twenties until they land on the thing that is right for them. But I always had in the back of my mind, this idea of the calling, and I knew it was about writing.
Passionistas: Talk about that path from that fifth grade book to becoming a television writer.
Gina Fattore: (LAUGHING) Yeah. That was kind of a long journey. There aren't a lot of 11 year old television writers. I grew up in Indiana in this town called Valparaiso, which is in the part of Indiana. It's like the Northwest corner of Indiana that's actually closer to Chicago than Indianapolis but still like a small town, a sort of "Friday Night Lights" kind of place where people go to the football game or the basketball game every Friday night. And I was always that high school journalist person. I did the yearbook. I did the newspaper. I did it all.
And I had this scheme or this plan that involved going to Columbia, which was a funny thing in Indiana because nobody in Indiana actually knows what Columbia is. I know it's like this impressive school. It's in the Ivy league but there's a lot of confusion with the university of Missouri at Columbia.
So it costs a lot of money and it's difficult to impress people. But somehow I got it and my parents were on board with this. And I moved to New York and at 18, as all Columbia freshmen do, and I was an English major. I always knew I was going to be an English major. There wasn't a film studies or film major or anything like that available to undergraduates at Columbia. When I was there and I don't know that I would've wanted to do that anyway. It really did not occur to me that writing was screenwriting. I loved TV, I loved movies, but I really hadn't thought of it that way. It was all books and magazines and journalism to me. And then the accident that changed my life. When I graduated from Columbia, I was an English major, as I said, totally unqualified to really do anything in the world.
And I started applying for jobs at different places. And the one that I ended up getting was at the New York Public Library in the fundraising office. I worked in major gifts and planned giving. I answered the phone, we did research on the various donors we were trying to get money from. We would hold parties and events/ And my boss was this lovely, lovely woman named Judy Daniels and her son is a television writer. His name is Greg Daniels and he created "The Office," the American version of "The Office" and "Parks And Rec" and "King of the Hill." And Judy Daniels, I always say was my first agent. She essentially said to me, I think you should move to LA and work for my son and he should help you be a TV writer. And he did and I became a TV writer. I was his assistant for two years when he was starting "King of the Hill" with Mike Judge back in the mid-nineties and that was how I got my start.
He assigned me a freelance episode in the second season, which is a very traditional way for TV writer to get a break — you get to write one episode of a show. And based on that I was able to get an agent and the agent helped me get my first real job as a staff writer. When I didn't have to answer the phone anymore. That was the biggest victory of my professional life.
To learn more about Gina Fattore visit www.ginafattore.com or pick up a copy of "The Spinster Diaries" at Amazon, IndieBound, Bookshop or Powells.
Listen to Gina’s complete episode here.