an annotation of an excerpt of lauren conrad’s l.a. candy
May 19, 2009
Yesterday, Teen Vogue released an excerpt of Lauren’s novel “L.A. Candy,” which is due out on June 17th. This is an annotation of that excerpt. (If you prefer, here’s a Word document which is slightly easier to read.)
Jane checked her watch as she rushed out of the elevator, into the world of soft lighting and trickling waterfalls. She had an excuse for being late this time, though. She’d spent most of the morning running errands for Fiona. Plus, the L.A. Candy crew was following her around for the rest of the day. They had intercepted her in the parking lot, miked her, and filmed her getting out of her car and walking to the lobby of the building. Five times. Now they were setting up in the front waiting area of Fiona Chen Events, filming her “arriving for work.”
“Hi, Naomi!” Jane said, waving to the receptionist. She tried to speak at the usual accepted low decibel, but she knew that would only guarantee her a text message from Dana telling her to say it again, a little louder. 
Naomi adjusted her silver headset and peered out at Jane from behind a huge bouquet of white tulips. She glanced self-consciously at the two camera guys zooming in on her. “Hi, Jane. Fiona wants to see you in her office right away,” she whispered.
Jane felt her blood freeze.  Fiona never called Jane into her office unless she was in trouble. It was always something like, “Jane, the last time I checked, ivory and eggshell weren’t the same color,” or “Jane, is this message from Jeffrey with a J or Geoffrey with a G?” What had she done this time? Either way, she preferred that her humiliating lectures take place in private—just her and Fiona behind closed doors. Guess not today. She frowned at the cameras, which were supposed to be capturing “an average workday.” Well, now, the L.A. Candy viewers are going to see my average butt getting yelled at, Jane thought. 
She sighed and started down the hall toward Fiona’s office.
“Wait! Jane!” A man wearing an earpiece rushed up to her. “Hey, I’m Matt. I’m directing today’s shoot.”
What did he mean, directing? She thought they were just following her around. What needed to be directed?
“Hey. Sorry, Naomi said Fiona wants to talk to me.”
“Yeah, we know. We just need a few minutes to set up,” Matt explained, moving to the side as several crew members carrying cameras and other equipment passed them. “Her office looks beautiful, but it’s all white. Makes it hard to shoot. They spent two hours lighting it this morning,” Matt went on.
“What’s wrong with white?” Jane asked.
“It just doesn’t look great on camera. Color looks way better.”
Jane looked down at the summery white lace dress she was wearing. Crap, she thought.
“Okay, you can go in now,” Matt instructed Jane as he stepped away from the door.
Jane knocked lightly before going inside. Fiona looked up from her computer screen. “Good morning, Jane! Please come in and sit down.” She sounded more pleasant than usual. She must enjoy humiliating people, Jane thought.
As she stepped into Fiona’s office, Jane looked around. Two metal stands securing large lights flanked Fiona’s desk. The intensity of the lights was muted by wide sheets of what looked like tracing paper wrapped around the fixtures and held in place by wooden clothespins. The same kind of paper had been taped over one of the tall windows. The result was an overall softening of the lighting in the room.
Jane sat down in one of the chairs. Fiona clasped her hands and leaned forward. “So. Jane. You’re probably wondering why I called you in here today.”
Jane nodded, her eyes wide.
“I realize you’ve been here at Fiona Chen Events for only a short time,” Fiona said. “But during that short time, you’ve—”
—managed to screw up just about everything I’ve asked you to do, Jane finished silently.
“—handled the pressure very well. I think it’s time for you to move up to the next step. To that end, I would like to offer you a promotion. How would you like to be my full-time assistant?”
“Of course, it will be strictly on a trial basis,” Fiona went on. “Let’s say three months. During those three months, you will work harder than you have ever worked before. At the same time, you will have opportunities that you have never had before. And if you succeed, your future as an event planner in this town will be virtually guaranteed.”
Fiona leaned back in her seat and stared at Jane, waiting for her answer. Suddenly, Jane noticed that Fiona was wearing makeup. When had the boss lady started wearing makeup?
“Well, Jane?” Fiona prompted her.
The camera zoomed in on Jane.  She took a deep breath. Was she ready for this? A real job was better than an internship because it meant she would get paid. It also meant that she would get more responsibilities, more respect … more everything.
“Yes!” Jane said, nodding. “I’d love to. Thank you so much!”
Fiona smiled. It was not her usual chilly, arctic, I-am-the-boss-lady-and-you-are-my-slave smile, but a cordial, friendly smile. It didn’t look entirely natural on her. “Fabulous! Let me show you where you’ll be sitting.”
Jane opened the bottom drawer of her new desk and tucked her bag inside. She opened the two others, too—each drawer had a different vintage crystal knob—and started planning what would go where. The top drawer would be for pencils, pens, and stationery. The middle drawer would be for energy bars, breath mints, makeup, tampons, and other personal stuff. 
She still couldn’t believe it. She had walked into Fiona’s office expecting to get reprimanded. Instead, she had gotten promoted. In her computer monitor, she saw the reflection of one of the camera operators changing angles behind her. She felt bad for him. He was edged up into the corner and had no space to move. “Roomy back there?” Jane teased. The guy shrugged and laughed a little.
“Hi,” Jane said, a little startled.
“Hey, there,” the guy said. “I’m looking for Fiona Chen, but I think I got lost. I have an appointment to show her my portfolio.”
“Across the hall,” Jane said, pointing. “She actually has someone in there … you may want to wait a minute.”
“I’m sorry. The girl at the front told me to come straight back.”
“Oh, no worries. She just pulled someone in there for a sec. Some mix-up with peonies. He’ll be out in a minute … a little less of a man.”
The guy laughed. “I’m Paolo.”
“You a model?” Jane asked, pointing at the portfolio in his hand.
Paolo laughed again. “No, no. I’m a photographer.”
Paolo smiled at her. He had the cutest smile. “Hey, this may be a little forward, but … could I call you sometime? Maybe we could go out for coffee or something? I just moved here from San Francisco, and I don’t know too many people in town.”
Jane was taken aback by his boldness. They had met all of 60 seconds ago. Still, he did kinda look like a young Brad Pitt. Besides, when was the last time she’d been on a date? Braden didn’t count. She had met him for drinks again at Cabo Cantina over the weekend, to celebrate her being on the show and moving in to a new apartment. It had been his idea. But that wasn’t a date. It never was with him. “Sure,” she said.
Jane blinked. Oh, yeah. The cameras were still rolling. Paolo was being filmed. But he didn’t seem fazed by it. Did that mean he had walked into her office knowing there would be cameras? Had Dana talked to him already and gotten him to sign the release papers? Had she told him to ask her out? Or did he just happen to be there for a meeting, like he said?
Just then, Fiona’s door opened and Damien, an intern, shuffled out and shamefully dropped his head.
“I’ll grab your number on the way out,” Paolo said before he disappeared into Fiona’s office.
Despite just meeting him, Jane couldn’t help but be excited. She looked past the camera in the hallway and spotted Dana. Jane grinned and mouthed, “He’s so cute!” Dana nodded in agreement and gave her a thumbs-up.  Jane noticed a release form in Dana’s hand. Did that mean Paolo had been released? Did that mean it had been a setup? Jane smiled to herself as she realized she didn’t care.  She was already thinking about what to wear on what might turn out to be her very first on-camera date …. her first date, period, since Caleb. Okay, so Paolo wasn’t Braden. So what? It was nice to have a guy interested in her. It had been a long time. Too long.
From L.A. Candy (HarperCollins), available June 16 wherever books are sold.
 So Lauren has chosen “Jane” as the name for her literary doppelganger. Personally, I would’ve chosen “Laura” or “Lauren” for the identity confusion it would offer, but Jane is also good, I guess, and maybe Lauren is so tired of the meta-play of The Hills that she’s not really wanting to get lost in the funhouse in her novel; she’d just as soon get out. The obvious literary reference that Jane brings to mind is Austen and Lauren as seen on The Hills (and thus, I guess, in real life) is this almost painfully true-to-form painful Jane Austen heroine, more Lizzie Bennett that Lizzie Bennett herself, so this reference is actually fitting without even thinking about The Hills focus on the minutiae of social codes and interactions and how this relates to Austen. Maybe this is Lauren’s symbolic way of acknowledging this connection, of sort of Being Jane, a movie I couldn’t make it through despite Anne Hathaway, thought it was admittedly much better than The Jane Austen Book Club, though anything is better than The Jane Austen Book Club, which was so so full of horribly annoying (to me) and poorly rendered middle-aged-woman-empowerment-moments (like even more nauseatingly Lifetime-y than Diane Lane in Under The Tuscan Sun) that it was unwatchable (yet I still watched it).
 Do events companies often have multiple water features in their offices? I’m just asking.
 I like the idea of the crew of the TV show being an antagonizing force. Not only is this true to Lauren’s experience (see the behind the scenes special where the producers force themselves into her taxi on New Year’s Eve as she’s crying after leaving her boyfriend) but it adds something extra for the writer to play with, in terms of narrative complications maybe but more importantly in terms of interesting things for the narrator to perceive and think about, the way that the obsessions with Work and Literary Ambition propelled The Devil Wears Prada away from the chicklit clichés of boys and bags and shoes to something deeper and more resonant.
 Interesting that Lauren here is avoiding having her heroine work at a teen fashion magazine (and thus cleverly avoiding the clichés of the chicklit protagonist working in publishing, a really common trope from Bridget Jones’s Diary to TDWP to a whole strew of lesser imitators, including the currently airing and abysmal CBC by way of Soapnet series Being Erica which I caught the other weekend and which ugh) but instead splices in the job that Heidi did, working at an events company. This leads me to the tangent that if Lauren is really serious about writing she should eventually do a book Two Girls Fat and Thin style, alternating sections between a Lauren character and a Heidi character. (The substitution of Fiona Chen for Brent Bolthouse I will talk about in a second.)
 This use of ironic quotes is a good choice.
 This is what I’m talking about with the narrator having things to think about. Worrying about whether her mic is going to pick what she’s saying instead of ordinary shit like whether she looks fat, filtering her consciousness through this external thing, this is exactly what will set this character apart from the norm.
 The use of a dialogue tag like “whispered” is an annoying genre fiction thing; I hope there won’t be much “shouting” or “screaming” or “yelling.” I also don’t necessarily like that “Naomi” is self conscious about the cameras, too – I feel like the self consciousness should be Jane’s “thing” alone, something that defines her as a character and keeps her at a distance from the others,. Also, this shared self-consciousness creates this camaraderie that I think is bad for the dramatic tension. The protagonist should feel isolated and have to find her way to community and relationships — I’m thinking specifically of the way that Bella is disconnected from others at the beginning of Twilight and never really manages to make real friendships with the other girls in her class.
 Is this possible?
 These are really weak, PG-rated copies of insults said by Meryl Streep playing Miranda Priestly who was a copy of Anna Wintour written by Lauren Weisberger. The second line in particular – if you’re calling the person back, why would that even matter?
 This is a place where free indirect discourse would yield a less distracting paragraph ending than “Jane thought” – for example: “An average workday? All the L.A. Candy viewers were going to see was Jane’s average butt getting yelled at.”
 This is a thread which definitely has potential. I just keep thinking of a teenage girl’s version of Remainder.
 Again, we don’t need a thought tag. All it does is break the illusion of the narrative by reminding us unnecessarily that we’re reading a novel.
 Note that we’ve not yet been given any real visual details about the space or the characters inhabiting it – this is our first real physical description of the space we’re in, besides the aforementioned “waterfalls.” Maybe it makes sense that Naomi and Fiona aren’t described, since this is obviously a mid-book excerpt, although the fact that Matt is given no identifying descriptors is kind of an annoying function of bad YA prose. I realize that he isn’t an important character but must he be completely formless and void?
 Fiona Chen Events? This is a really awful name for a company. At least “Brent Bolthouse” has some fratty dynamism to it. It’s an interesting move for Lauren to make her Anna Wintour/Lisa Love figure Asian – I’m not sure quite what to make of it. I think for the majority of her audience it would be more “comfortable” and less “icky” to have the bitchy authority figure be an older white woman, but this is, um, progress? No, probably just tokenism, or, even more likely, “Hey, that’s a name!”
 Jane really likes ellipses…
 Of course a novel inspired by The Hills would have to include a scene with a character meeting her boss and thinking she’s in trouble but then out of the blue receiving a promotion or other fantastic gift. What’s interesting about this scene is how much flatter it is in print than in its televisual equivalent. This is mostly due to the lack of sensory detail present in the scene: we can’t see Lisa Love’s craggy gravitas or Lauren’s panicked flop sweats, they’re visual imagery that this minimal YA prose can’t give us. Sensory detail is what inflates scenes on The Hills and makes them seem like more than they are – without it, this scene feels rote and rushed and offers none of the emotional payoff of the TV show. No mimesis, ma’am.
 Do teenage girls today really dream of being event planners? Is this a proper aspirational career for our audience? I don’t know, I don’t really think so. I saw an MTV True Life once which was like “I’m Lower Middle Class And Live Outside of Manhattan But Am Commuting to Manhattan To Fulfill My Dreams” (I don’t remember the exact title) and in that there was a young woman who was trying to work in PR, but still, this seems like a weird job for a twelve year old to be fixating on. I mean, I’m not expecting Harriet the Spy here but event planning, really?
 “Boss lady”? What a weird, dissonant term. Is this some sort of slavery narrative, a postcolonial inversion in which the ethnic minority is in the position of power and the rich white intern girl is the slave?
 This is trippy and the unintentional perspective shift is annoying and also unrealistic – would she really be aware of lenses zooming at this pivotal moment? The Hills is a show which is made for the third person perspective (no talking heads, etc.), yet after reading Twilight I feel that if Lauren really wanted to write a good book instead of just making money, she should be writing in the first person. Even if this writing was good, like some YA Robbe-Grillet, it would still be a literary imitation which paled in comparison to the sensory splendor of The Hills for the reasons previously discussed – it’s like The Hills with no music to tell us how to feel. After reading Twilight, I’m convinced that Lauren could do a self conscious, sarcastic Bella Swan character who, through the use of the first person, could reveal things about herself that the audience would actually like to know, but obviously that’s not what we have here.
 This kind of vague rendering of a preschool-level thought process is an example of why it’s good for Jane to have the reality show stuff to think about instead of just the fluffy clouds floating around inside her brain.
 I assume there’ll be a page break after this in the actual book.
 These are excellent specific details. This is the kind of thing there should be more of. Not only are these specific details that put our narrator’s head in a concrete, physical place that reveals something about her character, but also these are the kind of details that can be mirrored by the YA reader – this desk arranging is an activity that the reader can transpose into her own life, imagine doing or pretend to do herself, deepening her connection with the world of the narrative.
 This description, which is the most detailed physical description in the excerpt, is indicative of the poverty of language visited upon us by bad YA genre lit. Like, this is not even mug-shot level imagery, much less a true literary description. There’s no poetry, there’s no emotional component, there’s no hint of “Jane’s” feelings or thoughts, it’s just this bland, vague physical description. Say what you want about Twilight but at least Stephenie Meyer makes an effort. Compare Lauren’s “a guy with short, cropped blond hair and blue eyes” to SM’s “a gangly boy with skin problems and hair black as an oil slick leaned across the aisle to talk to me…an overly helpful, chess club type” and that’s just a minor character that the narrator is disgusted by, not anywhere near a possible love interest like Edward, who is painted with an absurd amount of descriptive (purple) prose. Even when SM’s physical descriptions are minimal, they still carry an emotional component that reveals something about the narrator: “They were two girls, one a porcelain-colored blonde, the other also pale, with light brown hair. At least my skin wouldn’t be a standout here.” It’s no wonder her books are so popular if this kind of writing is the alternative available to young girls.
 This sentence and the subsequent section are much more fun to read if you substitute “penis” for “portfolio.”
 I hate…the overuse…of ellipses.
 So this excerpt is pretty evenly split between a “work” segment and a “life” segment, a mixture which will likely stand in the book as a whole. The point of releasing an excerpt like this is to create a sort of micro-representation of the book, a saleable nugget to whet the readerly appetites of potential buyers. I find the choice to release this particular section as an excerpt to be puzzling, though, since it’s completely lacking in dramatic tension. In the work segment, “Jane” meets her boss for about sixty seconds and gets a promotion that she doesn’t deserve out of nowhere and in the life segment, a boy who looks like a young Brad Pitt talks to her for sixty seconds and then asks her to go on a date with him out of nowhere. It’s pure fantasy, there’s no real sense of trouble or problems or, you know, “drama.” There’s no sense of the character having an agency – Lauren doesn’t do anything, she is done to by the other characters. Contrast this with the emo fireworks of the standalone first chapter of Twilight in which Bella sarcastically describes the future love which will bring her to the brink of death, the cattiness and evil hijinks I’m assuming fills most chapters of Gossip Girl, or the excerpt Random House released for TDWP, which perfectly captures in small that book’s manic obsession with work and gives us an enticing sketch of the relationship between the two main characters to boot. This story of Jane living this fairytale life with maybe some minor annoyance caused by the camera crews gives us none of those things. Even if you’re in it for the “fantasy,” why would you read a book about a person who has no problems?
 Is Brad Pitt really a reference point for “hotness” for young teenage girls today? What movie have they seen him in? Brangelina wasn’t really a phenomenon for them, was it, weren’t they too young?
 I’m not that familiar with contemporary YA lit, but is it appropriate to mention drinking and have it be something which is normal and acceptable to do alone with boys and carries no stigma or Scared Straight plot twist?
 Despite Lauren’s assurance that the book is “in no way calling anyone out,” it seems pretty obvious that “Braden” will prove to be a composite of “Brody” and “Stephen” the two non-heroes in Lauren’s real life.
 This is by far the most promising part of this excerpt and if this book is anything beyond genre sludge, it’ll be because of this. This focus on the effect that being filmed has on the way you perceive the world, how it makes it difficult to trust people and to trust yourself, to truly be yourself, the stress it puts on your relationships, the way the line between performance and existence is eroded: this is what makes Lauren’s story unique and what has the potential to make Jane’s story unique, too.
 This relationship between Jane and her producer could be great for the story, as long as it’s suffused with equal parts love and hate, antagonism and affection, and not in the clumsy way this is juggled in the excerpt. Lauren has talked often of her affection for the crew but has also talked about how difficult it is to be filmed all of the time by them – this ambiguity is what needs to be rendered in the relationship with Dana. I’m thinking of the model created in the amazing and unjustly forgotten Lisa Kudrow vehicle The Comeback, in which Laura Silverman plays a reality show director who is constantly filming Valerie (Kudrow’s character) and who seems to truly care about her, but also cares just as much about getting footage of her worst moments. Maybe Fiona Chen is just a distraction, maybe she isn’t the important older female character at all. Maybe instead the other important female figure is “Dana,” who controls the constant zooming of the cameras and decides who will be “released” and who won’t.
 This sentence is the reason the book will be horrible. I understand the plot necessity of burying the lede here so that when Paolo does turn out to be an actor or model cast by Dana to date Lauren, it’ll be a shock and horror and et cetera, but the idea that Jane can just instantly and completely blank out all of her worry and stress and self consciousness and “not care,” that is the kiss of death for the character. This is not the Lauren Conrad I know and identify with, the Lauren Conrad the girls who form the audience for this book know and identify with, the Lauren Conrad who obsesses and freaks out and holds grudges and who always, even at her lightest and happiest moments, has angst and tension burning under her celebrity skin. Lauren Conrad does not “not care.” A character really based on Lauren Conrad could be this ultimate super-self conscious yet relatable chick lit heroine, I think, but this character is not that, this is purely adaptation as a form of flattery, all surface, no depth. I realize that this is a YA book, but like I said, the audience for L.A. Candy is the audience for Twilight, I would assume, and that book, for all its faults, sets a standard for prose and voice and description and the realistic rendering of incident that this book has no hope of coming anywhere near. However annoying and pathetic Bella Swan can be, her consciousness lives on the page and feels true. The fact that Jane is able to just forget her troubles and go on, fun and fancy free: well, this is certainly more fake than real and not in a good way.