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Author quietly supports John McCain: Jen Lancaster explains

September 30, 2008 |  8:15 am

Jenlancaster

Jen Lancaster's third book, "Such a Pretty Fat: One Narcissist's Quest to Discover if Her Life Makes Her Ass Look Big, or Why Pie Is Not the Answer" hit the NY Times  and USA Today bestseller lists this summer. She writes sassy, funny memoirs -- she's also the author of "Bitter Is the New Black" and "Bright Lights, Big Ass." Lancaster, who lives in Chicago, wrote to tell Jacket Copy that she supports John McCain and that she's "a staunch Rush Limbaugh-listening, Ann Coulter-reading, Sean Hannity-watching, National Review-loving Republican," whose "one regret is that I was never old enough to cast my own vote for the Gipper." So I wanted to know more.

Jacket Copy: Many of the authors who have come out for Obama write fiction; you write memoir. Do you think that writing fiction insulates authors from being judged on their political views? In other words, if your creative work wasn't connected to your personal life, would you feel freer about expressing your political ideas?

Jen Lancaster: Expressing political opinion can be a powerful way to establish a character's voice when writing fiction. For example, in "Bridget Jones's Diary," there's a scene where Bridget argues pro-Labour politics with her conservative dining companions. I can't imagine any British reader, regardless of party affiliation, who didn't find what Helen Fielding wrote utterly charming. And Jennifer Weiner, one of my favorite American writers, seems to infuse her characters with a left-leaning bent. Her viewpoint subtly defines her characters, and her skill in quietly advancing this philosophy makes me feel like I'm getting valuable insight into the other side. In short? Including bits of her worldview works.

As a reader, I notice political views regardless of whether or not the book is fiction. What annoys me is when said views do nothing to advance the narrative. For example, I read a celebrity diet memoir recently, and I found myself identifying with the author. That is, until apropos of nothing the author went off about the evils of conservatism. All I could think was, Honey, unless the president himself forced you to eat all that fried chicken, I don't want to hear it.

For me, my party views don't advance my narrative. Until I can find a way to write political satire like my idols Christopher Buckley or P.J. O'Rourke, I'll simply say what team I play for and leave it at that.

JC: If you were asked to join a group of authors speaking out in support of McCain, would you? You wrote in an e-mail that you admire Reagan -- if he were back and running in this election, would you help fund-raise or organize in support of him?

Jen Lancaster: I've done what I can as a private individual to help McCain's campaign; I've donated money, put up yard signs, coordinated with others on Facebook etc. However, I'm not sure my public support of McCain would be helpful. I'm a humor writer, so I don't always present myself in the best light. The person who accidentally gets high on Ambien and then orders Barbie heads off the Internet may not be who McCain wants as an ad hoc campaign mouthpiece.

However, if Ronald Reagan were alive and running, that's another story. I'd put my career on hold to work for him. It's a question of passion -– I like McCain, but I loved Reagan.

JC: Do you think your readers would judge you differently if you were more vocal about your political views?

Jen Lancaster: I guarantee being more vocal would have an impact. I started blogging about politics in the last election cycle (before I was published), and according to my stat counter, I lost half my audience. I'm noticing a lot of the big bloggers who've posted about politics are experiencing an ugly backlash. Readers are angry because they went to the bloggers' sites for a laugh, not a lecture. Again, it's a question of being appropriate for the audience.

Now that fans have read my books, maybe they'd have a better understanding of who I am and they'd be OK with some political dogma. Maybe they even want me to weigh in with my opinions; maybe they wouldn't. Regardless, I have too much at stake to find out.

I've never been shy about expressing my views, but if I'm going to inadvertently alienate fans, I'd prefer to lose them over causes I'm really passionate about, such as pit-bull rescue and not a pit bull wearing lipstick.

Jen Lancaster writes more about keeping politics and writing separate at her blog, Jennsylvania, where she calls herself the governor.

--Carolyn Kellogg

Photo credit: John Fletcher

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