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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Harem Girl at Back Fence PDX Tonight

Posted by Courtney Ferguson on Wed, May 19, 2010 at 11:01 AM

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I might have a little author crush on Jillian Lauren, who wrote a pretty gosh darn good memoir about being a teenage harem girl. Her book, Some Girls: My Life in a Harem, is engaging, open, and smart. It documents the nearly two years she spent charming the pants off Brunei's Prince Jefri, as an 18-year-old member of his lady harem. She describes the outlandish amount of wealth at his compound, her mind-boggling tens-of-thousands-of-dollars shopping spree in Singapore, the bizarre sharing of her between the prince and the Sultan of Brunei, and the catty power-plays between the women in the harem. Planning on going to the beach anytime soon? Here's your book: It's scintillating, heartbreaking, and completely endearing.

Now as a thirtysomething mother and wife, Lauren's still adventurous, touring the country on her book tour along with her family (husband Scott Shriner, bassist for Weezer, and their adopted Ethiopian baby). Between her harem days and her mommy days, she has been a tattoo model, burlesque performer, novelist, friend to the likes of Annie Sprinkle, Margaret Cho, and she briefly dated Camille Paglia. So, umm, she's pretty cool.

I'm excited to hear her story tonight at Portland's storytelling night, Back Fence PDX, where the theme is "At Your Service."

Back Fence PDX
Tonight at Mission Theater, 1624 NW Glisan
w/Steve Almond, Eric Spitznagel, Cole Gamble, & more
doors at 6 pm, show at 7:30 pm

Thursday reading at Powell's, 1005 W Burnside, 7:30 pm

Complete transcript of my interview with Jillian Lauren after the jump. You can also read my book review in the hard copy of the paper this week.

MERCURY: Where are you right now?
JILLIAN LAUREN: I’m in New York [laughs]. I’m sorry, I was just fielding “Are you going to pick up the phone? Are we having it delivered?” “The baby just got back,” and blah, blah, blah, blah. But I’m in New York and I’m with the family. We’re having good time. I have a reading here tonight [May 6]. It’s at the Happy Ending Lounge and it’s a club/night thing. It’s not my own reading—I did that on Tuesday night. So this should be fun. It’s very low pressure—maybe four or five people reading.

How is the book tour going?
It is going so well. I mean, we all got sick, so that makes it a little bit challenging, but it’s really going beautifully. The View was so much fun (I did The View. I don’t know if you knew that.) It was really fun. So I have 8,000 tons of work to do that’s not seeming to get done, but it’s going really well.

Have there been any strange reactions to your book on the tour?
Other than Barbara Walters calling me a hooker, like 11 times in three minutes. No, you know, I have been surprised. I was really very prepared: I went to therapy and I was really prepared for the haters to come out. I wasn’t all that prepared for all the love I’ve been receiving and the support. It’s really been a wonderful surprise to me. But, you know, there’s definitely “I feel sorry for you,” “You should be ashamed of yourself.” You know, block this user on Facebook. Block, block, block, block. So there’s been a little bit of that, but for the most part, I have more emails than I can even answer right now. Like “I read your book and I have triplets and it was a wonderful escape.” Just things like that, which really bring tears to my eyes. What more could I hope for than that?

Has that love been the best part of having your book published?
Sometimes the “love” is hard. It’s hard to receive. I don’t know, as a writer I’ve spent so many years really struggling on my own. So I don’t know if that’s been the best part. It’s been such a sigh of relief to finally have this out. All the anxiety I had about what would this be like when [Some Girls] was published. What would my neighbors think? What would my family do? What kind of reactions would I have? All that anxiety is just dissolving right now, ’cause it’s done, it’s out there. I feel really proud of it and pleased. Now I don’t have to worry about it anymore.

I read your self-interview on the Nervous Breakdown website.
Thanks, that was so much fun.

Your question about being a narcissist opportunist was funny. I didn’t think you came across like that at all in the book. I did wonder why you wrote the book now and not earlier?
Well, it took me so long to write it both from a craft standpoint and an emotional standpoint. I really had to learn to write first. I think that the idea that “I had this quirky thing happen and I just wrote it down. Like, here’s my journal, just publish it.” [That idea] about memoirs is really inaccurate. That’s really a fallacy. I wrote two novels before I felt ready to start to craft a nonfiction story about my life. And one of those novels is going to come out in a year, so I was able to get them both published.
And emotionally, I had to really be coming from a very stable place, a place where I was ready to go back into that time in my life, which in many ways was very funny and a great adventure, but was also very dark. It was my habit to really revisit [that time] too much. I didn’t think about it a whole lot. To really open that can of worms I had to be stable and happy in my marriage and happy in my home and secure in my writing routine.

Do you get a lot of material from your journals at the time? All the details are so vivid.

Like I said, writing a memoir is not a transcription of journals. But my journals were invaluable to me, for exactly that reason, the details. I didn’t really remember what [the prince] was wearing when I first met him, but I did write it down. And things that he said to me, and what the girls were wearing, and what the room looked like, and also what I felt like at any moment. My journals kept me very honest about that.

Did you have any idea what you were in for when you went to that audition to become a harem girl?

Well… no. No, I didn’t have any idea. I had never even heard of Brunei. I’d never even heard of that country, when they gave me the job. But, of course, I [now know] that when somebody says, “Would you like to audition to entertain some businessmen in Singapore?” first of all, you should say “no” [laughs]. You should know not to do that, but I certainly knew that something sketchy was going on.

Do you know what happened to any of the other girls? Like Fiona, the harem girl who said no to the prince’s proposal?
I wish I could remember Fiona’s last name (rather, the woman in the book I call Fiona. Fiona’s not her actual name). I wish I could remember her last name, and I can’t. That’s one thing that I didn’t get out of my journals and maybe as I’m journaling now that’s one thing I do consider. I didn’t write down anyone’s last name. I never thought that I would need it. So I haven’t been able to get in touch with Fiona. But who knows? Some Girls is being published in Thailand and I imagine it’ll sell in other places in Southeast Asia. Actually, I just found out I’m going to debut on the New York Times Bestsellers List on May 16.

Congratulations.
Thanks! I think that will sell it in even more countries. So maybe she’ll hear about it. I think the portrait of her is pretty flattering and she’s somebody who meant a lot to me in my life. One of the other girls, I’ve kept in touch with over the years. We stayed friendly—the girl I called Julie in the book. A couple of other girls have surfaced. A couple girls showed up at my launch party in Los Angeles. That was wild. It’s really been an amazing experience.

How aware were you of how manipulative the prince was at the time? Was that more a retrospective thing?
That was something that I saw in retrospect. I was so young. I thought that I had a whole lot more control over the situation than I did. I started to figure it out after a while, that I really didn’t have the reins. That I was dealing with a pro in mind games. That I never really could get on top of the situation. I really saw it in retrospect.

He was kinda sadistic.
There was absolutely something pathological about his behavior. I would not disagree.

Any chance of Some Girls being published in Brunei?

Absolutely not [laughs]. No [laughs]. There isn’t even freedom of the press in Brunei, so I would say that would be a big negative. I imagine with the success of the book, that [the prince] will see it. He’s very worldly and he has people working for him all over the world. I imagine that he’ll see it.

Has he or his people ever tried to get in contact with you?
Nooooo. The end of it is the end of it. He never even tried to get in contact with me then. I mean, other people would contact me. It wasn’t like the prince picked up a cell phone and called you. There was always some sort of an intermediary. I’d fall down dead if I ever picked up the phone and heard his voice.

You mentioned your upcoming novel—what’s that about?

My novel is called Pretty. It’s about a girl who is recovery from a partially disfiguring car accident and is attending a state-sponsored vocational beauty school. It’s a novel about beauty school and healing. It’s about the part that looks play in our lives as women, mental health issues… it’s got a lot of stuff in it.

I hope that your hero, Patti Smith, reads your book. Do you think she will?

I do too! I really do. I tried to get her a copy of the galleys, but I’m not sure she got it. Maybe with it being out and having some recognition that will help. I just met someone the other day who says that they can get it to her, so we’ll see. I hope she does!

Have you been to Portland before?
I adore Portland. One of my closest friends moved to Portland, which I really resented until I started visiting her. I think it’s the most killer city in this country—definitely one of them. I would move into Powell’s. I think they should have apartments, like in the poetry section or something.

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