New Yorkers long have taken pride in looking askance at Los Angeles — see Woody Allen’s reaction to the city in “Annie Hall,” or Carrie Bradshaw’s in “Sex and the City.” If Candace Bushnell’s famed protagonist had a sister, she might be Stacey Knight, the heroine of “The Art of Social War,” out Nov. 18.
Written by first-time novelist Jodi Wing, the book follows Stacey as she is uprooted from her beloved Manhattan existence when her new husband is relocated to Los Angeles. In the face of conniving movie producers, an endless circus of “disease of the week” benefits run by bodacious blondes and an Anthony Pellicano-esque P.I., Stacey looks to Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” for guidance.
This story first appeared in the November 11, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Though Wing also moved from New York to Hollywood as a newlywed when her husband was tapped to run Nielsen, she insists similarities stop there. “It’s entirely fictional…everything is satire,” she says as she sits on the roof of the Gramercy Park Hotel during a recent trip back to Manhattan. That said, she was prompted to write the book based on a series of e-mails she sent home about her Los Angeles experiences. “I was in transition,” she says. “This was something I used to write myself out of it.”
Moving caused a huge case of culture shock for Wing. “I was a hard-core New York working woman. I thought I was great. I had my table at Elaine’s,” says the former sports and entertainment marketing consultant. “Then, boom, we landed in Oz.”
“I hadn’t driven in 16 years. For 37 years I had honed all the wrong skill sets,” she continues. “Everybody [in Los Angeles] is toned and tan and exposed. I had years of working-woman woolens in my closet.” Not to mention, she adds, “the hot dinner reservation there is 7 p.m.”
The arcane rules of the Tinseltown social scene took a little getting used to. “Everything is business disguised as pleasure,” says Wing, a Long Island native. “There is a pecking order amongst the women that is definitely an attachment to their husbands positions….It’s very industry focused and everyone knows who everyone else is. I think that’s why people behave so badly.”
But luckily Wing delights in stories of bad behavior and other sociological oddities. “I’ve infiltrated many things,” says the 44-year-old gleefully. “The crazier it was, the more fun I was having. The people with their crystals and the ‘what kind of flower are you’ types. It was just insanely funny to me.”
Such observations inform the book, including instances of what Wing terms “girl-on-girl crime.”
“It exists whether you are 13 or 70,” she says. “All the lessons we learned in junior high school still apply, [except] it’s heightened. I’m fascinated by it because I was never very good at maneuvering then, and you learn you’re still not now.”
It’s territory that has been tilled by the likes of Jackie Collins and Gigi Grazer, wife of producer Brian Grazer and author of “The Starter Wife,” now an ABC series. And in true Hollywood style, Wing has a movie deal of her own and is working on a second novel about — what else? — aging in an appearance-obsessed world.
Even as a born-and-bred New Yorker, though, Wing acknowledges there are good things about Los Angeles. “It’s nicer out — you aren’t fighting the weather. And by virtue of all the spacing out, it’s a big decompression.
“Now my big thing is I have a lemon tree and a lime tree — I’ve got a guacamole tree and a margarita tree. I’m perfectly happy.”