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5 Q's with Judy McGuire

Judy McGuire contacted me when I was working on a dating article. I had way more sources than I could ever use in a 900 word article, but then she told she her book, entitled How Not to Date, was coming out in early January (*cue the lightbulb*) and I figured she'd make a great 5 Q's subject...

Urban Muse: How did you get started as a relationship columnist?
I’d been a writer and editor for a bunch of years when I hooked up with an animator named Richard Mather and we started working on a TV pitch called “Dategirl.” It was about a sex & love advice columnist who lived in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Much to our great shock, we got a development deal with MTV. We were so excited! In fact, I was in such a tizzy that I quit my job working as a heroin ethnographer and took a temp job working as a fact-checker at Allure magazine.

We went through nine months of development with MTV and then, just as we were going to pilot, they pulled the plug, saying they never really understood the main character. I was pretty devastated. I’d derailed a career in academia and was spending my days calling cosmetics PR agencies to double-check the spelling of some fugly new blush. It was a low point.

Then, Richard Martin, an editor from the Seattle Weekly I’d met while he was vacationing out here, emailed and asked if I was interested in becoming the character I’d pitched to MTV. The paper was looking for a new sex columnist and he thought it’d be funny if I wrote it. That was in 2000 and I’ve been doing it ever since. It’s also run at various times in the NY Press and Men’s Fitness.

UM: Do you ever get questions that you’re not sure how to answer?
I’m kind of a know-it-all, so that rarely happens. The only one I can think of is when a pedophile wrote me, saying he was having trouble controlling his urges to touch little girls. That was pretty horrifying; especially after he turned up on the news a year or two later.

UM: How long did it take for How Not to Date to go from conception to bookshelves? Did anything surprise about the publishing process?
It was actually a fairly quick process—I got an email from an editor at Sasquatch Books, asking if I’d be interested in writing a book. Uh, yes, please! I had about three months to write it and it’s coming out this Thursday (ed. note: that's tomorrow, folks!).

There were a couple surprising things about the publishing process—first, I’m really horrible at pitching myself, so it was nice to have an editor approach me. Another surprise is how vulnerable and sort of horrified I am at certain aspects of it being out there. The possibilities of bad reviews don’t particularly bother me, but learning that family members have been ordering copies and will now know about some truly humiliating parts of my life is kind of horrifying.
Does my Aunt Eileen really need to know that I had sex with a giant-cocked, support-hose-wearing Lithuanian in a lame attempt to make his roommate jealous? Probably not. Holidays at my house are never going to be the same.

UM: Any new projects coming up?
I’m working with a production company on some television pitches and rewriting my memoir proposal. One of my biggest failings as a writer is pitching, so I’m going to try and remedy that this year.

UM: What other writers do you admire?
I love memoirs. Mikal Gilmore’s book, Shot in the Heart—I must’ve read it five times. I also loved Jeannette Walls’ Glass Castle and Girlbomb by Janice Erlbaum. I’m anxiously awaiting memoirs by Felicia Sullivan and my old friend, Valerie Frankel.

Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep was great and I adored Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home. Redmond O’Hanlon, John Waters, Merill Markoe and Cynthia Heimel crack me up, as does the universally beloved David Sedaris. I’m also a fan of tough guys like Pete Dexter (God’s Pocket is one of my all-time favorites), Dennis Lehane, Nick Tosches and early James Ellroy.

Thanks, Judy! Congrats on the book release.

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5 Q's with Judy McGuire + writers on writing