Aimee Agresti, THE SUMMER SET

Aimee Agresti, THE SUMMER SET

Zibby Owens: Aimee Agresti is a novelist and entertainment journalist. A former staff writer for Us Weekly, she penned the magazine’s coffee-table book, Inside Hollywood. Her work has also appeared in People, Premiere, DC magazine, Capitol File, The Washington Post, Washingtonian, the Washington City Paper, Boston magazine, Women’s Health, and The New York Observer. Her latest book is called The Summer Set. Aimee has made countless TV and radio appearances dishing about celebrities on the likes of Access Hollywood, Entertainment Tonight, E!, The Insider, Extra, VH1, MSNBC, Fox News Channel, and HLN. The author of, as I mentioned, The Summer Set, also Campaign Widows and The Gilded Wings Trilogy for young adults, she graduated from Northwestern University with a degree in journalism and lives with her husband and two sons in the Washington, DC, area.

Aimee Agresti: Hi!

Zibby: Hi.

Aimee: I’m so excited to meet you. I’m such a fan, as I told you. I just love what you’re doing. I’m so grateful as a reader even. I love the interviews that you do so much. It’s just so exciting to get to meet you and be on, so thank you.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, it’s my pleasure. By the way, when I was reading some of the blurbs, I feel like I know everyone who blurbed your book.

Aimee: I think you do. I know. I got so lucky. I have the world’s best blurbers. Oh, my gosh, I know. You’ve talked to all of them.

Zibby: Yeah, I think so.

Aimee: They’re all amazing. I got so lucky that they took the time to do that because they’re some busy women, those amazing writers who were kind enough to read. I’m always so grateful. I always feel bad asking for blurbs because I know everyone’s in the middle of their own work. To switch gears and read somebody else’s and then have to write something about it is hard to do, so I’m always grateful. You’ve got great people on all the time. I was like, oh, my gosh. I was lucky to get those ladies.

Zibby: Oh, stop. The Summer Set, congratulations on the launch and everything. It’s so exciting. Tell listeners what The Summer Set is about.

Aimee: The Summer Set is about an actress named Charlie Savoy. She was a Hollywood “it girl” and an ingénue in her early twenties. Then she flamed out and disappeared from Hollywood. When we meet her at the beginning of the book, she is almost forty years old. She’s been in sort of a legal scrape and she’s forced to go back to the summer Shakespeare theater where she got her start as a teen and where her ex, Nick, is the artistic director. Drama and hilarity ensue as they spend this summer together. It’s about a Hollywood actress, but I really think it’s a universal book because it’s about old friends, old flames, old rivals, and second acts. I think that’s something that a lot of us can relate to, especially the age that I am, early forties. A lot of us are sort of reinventing ourselves, whether we become moms or when we get to this stage in our lives. I think it is sort of a universal story.

Zibby: Totally. I’m all about reinvention in your forties.

Aimee: Right?

Zibby: What inspired you to write this book?

Aimee: That’s a great question. I got my start in magazines and entertainment journalism. I was at Premiere Magazine right out of college. That was a great movie magazine. It was just such a great place to be. David Foster Wallace wrote for them back in the day. Then most recently, I was a writer at Us Weekly. I’ve always really loved the entertainment world. It’s funny, I think the seeds were really sown early for this book because back in high school — I grew up in this very small town, Olney, Maryland, outside of DC. We were really lucky to have this great theater there. It was a professional theater. They cast all the actors from New York. They came in. The really cool thing about this theater was that the actors stayed on the grounds in their own residence together. I’ve always had an overactive imagination, as novelists tend to have. Even back then in high school, I was volunteering there, always off stage, way off stage. I would volunteer and I was always thinking — the actors, a lot of times they were young and beautiful and living together. I was like, who’s friends? Who’s enemies? Who’s getting together? What’s going on? I always wanted to know. I think that has always been in my head a little bit. I really love being around that world. I think it’s really inspiring. My mom, back then, was in charge of the welcoming committee for the actors, which was so much fun. She would enlist me to help her throw parties when they arrived. We would bake them cookies and have lunch for them and make little baskets for their rooms and stuff. I was always watching everybody wondering what was going on, how they were getting along.

Zibby: What was it like writing for Us Weekly? I always read those articles with so much interest and intrigue, but almost feeling guilty about it because there I am just trying to pry into people’s private lives. Tell me about that. That’s so interesting.

Aimee: It was so much fun. It was a great place. I always said, at least back in the day when I was there, the stories really were true. We had a very solid fact-checking department. It was a lot of fun. I really got my start at Premiere. Back then when it was all really new to me was extra exciting. I was twenty-two, had just come out of school. Because I was that age, I was often interviewing the up-and-comers, which was really cool. Sometimes they would be my age and in their first thing. You were talking to them before they’re famous, before they know they’re famous, and they’re really real and genuine. You know you’re never going to get them that way again. That was always really fun for me because then I feel like you spend a little time with someone and even if you don’t talk to them again after that, you kind of always want to follow their career and see where it goes. With that, some of them went straight to the top. Some of them took more winding paths to success. Then some of them hit road bumps that were really rough.

It always made me wish that we actually were friends, that I could call them and be like, are you doing okay? What’s going on? I saw what happened. But you can’t. You feel this connection from the moments that you spent interviewing them about their life, but then this huge disconnect because then they’re gone and you can’t get back in touch with them. To watch these different paths that they took I thought was really eye-opening for me. It was fun because I got to be, back then, a party reporter, which I didn’t even know was a job back then. I felt like I should be paying them. I would go to the premieres and stand on the red carpet and ask the questions and then go to the movie afterwards and then go to the party and drink champagne and talk to the stars again and go home and write a story, and it was a job. It was great. It was a lot of fun. I tried to get all of that excitement and passion about Hollywood and that industry into the book because I think we all love it, right?

Zibby: For sure, guilty pleasure. I know you’ve written three YA books and two novels. How did you switch from that into writing books?

Aimee: I always wanted to write books. I’ve always loved books. My mom’s a librarian, so I grew up reading everything in sight and just living at the library. You know how it is? It’s one of those things that you feel like — I didn’t know anyone who was a novelist. It felt very unattainable. I’m a practical girl. I love writing, so I went into journalism and went into magazines and things. I was always writing on the side. Then when we left New York at one point — my husband’s in politics, and we came back here when Obama came to town. I was freelance writing and I thought — I had written a novel before that. You know how these paths of a novelist — everyone has that one that’s tucked in a drawer that will never see the light of day but you learned how to write a book from it. I have that book that is the book that I wrote that got me my agent who I’m so grateful to have found so long ago. It just wasn’t the book that was going to be published. It just didn’t work out, but I kept going.

When we moved back here to Washington from New York, I was like, I’m going to try this again and write something very different than the book I had written before. Everything is timing. It happened to be that time when grown-ups were reading Twilight and Hunger Games and all of that. I always tend to write the book that I most want to read at any given time. Everyone was reading that. I was having this real feeling of, I’d like to try writing the kind of book that I would’ve loved as a kid. I read so much. I always loved mystery and romance and adventure and strong girls. I cobbled together all those elements. That became that trilogy. I got lucky. It was the right time for that. It’s funny. When I wrote that book, the first in the trilogy, Illuminate, I had the idea for Campaign Widows, which was my first adult book, at the same time. I was debating which one to go with first. I had just gotten back to Washington even though I’m from here. The city changes with each administration. I felt like I wanted to live in the city more with the Obama years and really see how that was going to change the city before writing it, so I went the trilogy instead. I’m glad that I did that. It was funny. I had them both. I was like, which one do you go with first? It’s hard to decide. I got lucky. I’m very grateful. Anytime a book gets published, you feel very lucky. It’s a crazy business, as you know.

Zibby: I know. It’s amazing. I want to do a whole nother show, I’m just making this up, of all the people out there who wrote books and they can’t be on the show because they never got published. Maybe they’re just not quite here yet. They’ve written their first book or their second book. I just feel this obligation to tell people, you have to write at least a novel or two before you can even contemplate having success. It seems like everybody has to write them. You have to have the ones in the drawer.

Aimee: It’s true. I feel like they’re the ones that get you to the one that actually works out. It’s all worthwhile. I always like writing because I feel like it’s something that you get better at as you go. It’s not like at some point you have to stop doing it. If we had decided to be gymnasts or something, you’d have to probably stop that at some point. Writing, you can keep going, get better and better.

Zibby: Totally. You can just keep getting better, get better and better. So what are you working on now?

Aimee: Now I’m supposed to be writing the next book. I’ve not been the best multitasker in quarantine here. I know what the next book is. I’m mapping it out. I’m a big outliner. I always feel like I need to have the whole thing mapped out before I actually start writing because then the writing process actually goes pretty fast. I’m sorting out the pieces right now. I’ve got the major stuff, but I have to actually just sit down now and start the writing. Again, not the best multitasker. I think you need to write a book about time management and multitasking because I would be the first in line to get that. I don’t know how you juggle all the things that you do. I’m always very impressed and inspired by you.

Zibby: Thank you. I don’t know how I do it either. Every day is different. I feel like I don’t do a lot of things very well. I’m cutting a lot of corners these days. As we were talking about before, I’ve had to email my kids’ teachers a couple times, more times than I could admit, being like, we missed this, or I’m sorry about that. I do the best I can. I do things really quickly. I don’t know how I do it.

Aimee: Well, I’m impressed. I’m also glad to not be the only one who’s emailed the teachers a bunch of times and been like, we’re doing the work. I promise. We’ll be on the call, I think.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh. You’ve already given such amazing advice to everybody. Is there anything else you would want to say to aspiring authors aside from everything else?

Aimee: I always say just keep writing because it’s true. When you’re writing and you’re not having the success and the luck and having people pick it up and publish it and stuff, you feel like, how do I keep going? You just never know when it’s going to work out. You’re getting better all the time, so just keep writing. That’s the one thing I feel like we have control over in the publishing world, is just to keep writing and keep making new work. Then you just never know what’s going to be the one that strikes a chord with somebody. Keep going.

Zibby: We talked at the beginning about reinvention in your forties. How do you feel that you have reinvented yourself in the last couple years?

Aimee: I love that. I feel like the biggest thing is when you become a mom. It changes everything about how you live your life and do your work and everything. That has made me a more efficient person, for sure. It’s also forced me to sort of figure out how to do my work the best that I can when I can do it. Everything has changed about the way that I work. On the first book that I wrote, I thought, I’m kind of a fast writer. I wrote this pretty fast, but no, no, I just spent every possible minute and didn’t need to sleep much. I used to have really useful nighttime hours writing. I found it very peaceful. I don’t know how you are with your kids, but I have all this adrenaline right before their bedtime. Then as soon as they go to bed, I’m like, I’m going to write all these pages. Then I fall asleep, often with my laptop. Sometimes I fall asleep with my laptop on my lap. I’m sitting in bed. You know you’re not going to get work done, but I’m like, I can work in bed. The laptop falls on the floor. I’ve had everything happen. Now I try to sit down to write when I know that my head is really there and I can crank some things out. For me, it’s always most important to end your writing time excited to go back to it rather than hitting a word count every day. I’ve learned a little bit how to change my writing habits and my work habits to be more efficient. I think we’re learning every day as moms and as writers.

Zibby: I totally agree. Thank you. I’m so glad to have spoken to you, Aimee. I hope I get to meet you in person sometime. I feel like I need a picture of — maybe I’ll take a picture with my phone — of your amazing backdrop here. It’s insane. I think you did a great job with the technology. It was a pleasure to talk to you.

Aimee: Thank you so much for having me. This is so exciting for me. Thank you. Keep doing all the amazing stuff that you’re doing. We’re so grateful as authors.

Zibby: Thank you. Have a great day. Bye.

Aimee: Thanks, bye.

Aimee Agresti, THE SUMMER SET