For a period of months last fall and winter, when I was twenty-nine, my life turned into an implausible movie about being a writer. In January my first novel, Prep—the story of an Indiana girl who goes on scholarship to an elite New England boarding school—was published by Random House. Over the next several weeks Prep became a New York Times best seller, Paramount Pictures optioned the movie rights, and foreign rights were sold in thirteen countries. On one especially surreal day I found myself on the fourteenth floor of the Random House offices in midtown Manhattan, drinking champagne. It was three-thirty in the afternoon.
Maybe the way to say it is not that my life became a movie but that I became a person I would probably have found odious not long before—less because of the book's content (in such scenarios the book is always peripheral) than because of the supremely cute pink-and-green grosgrain-ribbon belt (embossed, no less) on the book's jacket, because of the blurbs (so thoughtful and eloquent! so varied and plentiful!), because of the many articles about me in which I made little jokes and told little anecdotes and just generally talked about myself ad nauseam.
That Prep would receive such attention had by no means been a foregone conclusion. In June of 2003 my industrious agent, Shana Kelly, submitted the manuscript to fifteen editors; one made an offer. Later, when people asked how I'd chosen to go with Random House, I would admit that the decision hadn't actually been that difficult. My advance was $40,000, which seemed pretty good to me. But it also was well below the amount that, one imagines, will induce a publisher to seriously promote a book because it can't afford not to.