Her family name may be all over the front pages these days, but former ABC News producer-cum-Newsweek contributing editor Holly Peterson has found herself thrust into the limelight recently for another reason: the publication of her debut novel, “The Manny,” a beach read about a Park Avenue mom who falls for her male nanny. Suddenly Peterson’s days are filled finding camera-friendly outfits for her TV interviews and jetting from Washington to Los Angeles to the Hamptons for parties hosted by her many friends, including Joel Schumacher, George Stephanopoulos and Susan and Alan Patricof (as well as Ralph Lauren and Vogue), all the while trying to schedule face time with her three children and their caretakers — including, yes, the manny. Add to that the fact that her father, Blackstone Group co-founder Peter Peterson, just walked away from his fund’s much-discussed IPO with almost $2 billion in cash, and it all equals a full-on publicity maelstrom. WWD caught up with her in the eye of the storm at her Upper East Side apartment as she readied her kids for their first trip away from home alone.
WWD: Your book really has an outsider’s perspective — the protagonist hails from middle-class Minneapolis. Where did that stem from, since you yourself are a New Yorker?
Holly Peterson: I think everyone feels like an outsider. Everybody wants to be invited, everyone wants to be with the cool girls, everyone wants to have the cool shoe. Sometimes you don’t even like the group that you’re trying to be a part of. What I really wanted to write about was a woman struggling with home, work, husband and kids, and trying to have it all and feeling like she’s failing. The book is based on things I know, and the characters are composites of people I see, but it’s fiction. I have a happy marriage.
WWD: How did you gather material? Are the conversations in the book real?
H.P.: I have taken notes for 10 years about ridiculous over-the-top things people have said to me at drop-offs, at pick-ups, at dinner parties, at benefits. Some of those lines I put verbatim into my book and kind of wrapped a whole chapter around some fantastic comment or line — like “wheels up.” I find it amazingly pretentious that people say, “Oh, you know, it’s wheels up at 3” [referring to takeoff time of their private jet]. I just want to smack them. I almost named my book “Wheels Up.” It’s so indicative of this explosion of cash and money that we’re experiencing, because people are thinking nothing of taking a $30,000 one-way trip. You see people who have so much money and they just want more and more and more and it becomes a psychosis.
This story first appeared in the June 28, 2007 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
WWD: What about your own background?
H.P.: Growing up with a father like I did, and growing up in this world with so much money, you see so many different behavior patterns. My father’s behavior pattern was always giving back and not wanting to be showy and, because he’s of the Depression-era mentality, always looking for a bargain. He was never a dad who believed in lavishing us with cash. He used to give me $300 a month in my 20s for the difference between a doorman studio and a walk-up studio. The entire sum he’s taken out of The Blackstone Group — $1.8 billion in cash — and he’s putting every single penny into foundations, in his name, with his wife, Joan Ganz Cooney, and in his children’s names. [Peterson will be announcing this in the course of the next few weeks.] He’s a man who grew up in a Greek restaurant, his parents are immigrants; he’s worked like a crazy fool his whole life, and he’s giving all of his money away. Of course, nobody mentions that. It’s just, they’re so rich, they’re so rich. But he’s giving every penny away.
WWD: You’ve definitely captured the ethos of New York society in the book. Has anyone been upset about your portrayal?
H.P.: No. A lot of these girls have a sense of humor about themselves. And I wanted to write about them in a fun way. That’s very much the spirit of the book. Like the lunch place in the book — it’s Le Bilboquet, because we go there all the time. My husband is obsessed with the steak tartare. And I show up in my purple Patagonia jacket and they hate us so much because we’re just so uncool. I’ll wear my sheepskin slip-on Merrells and my Patagonia jacket and my $2,000 Gucci snakeskin bag and it’s just a really, really bad look.