Lit IT Girl: Debut Author Gretchen Berg

Our guest today: Gretchen Berg Why we love her: We fell in love from the first word of the first chapter of her debut memoir.  Seriously.  This is the kind of girl that we'd love to do happy hour with!

Her debut: I Have Iraq In My Shoe

The scoop on it: It's the timeless, classic tale: girl-meets-recession, recession-forces-girl-to-go-to-Iraq. I Have Iraq in My Shoe follows the author out of her comfort zone and into the Middle East. Taking the wit of Jen Lancaster and the fun of Sophie Kinsella and moving it to the desert, this is the story of a single, fashion-obsessed American female who finds herself metaphorically strapping on a Kevlar caftan to work in Iraq for a year. Irreverent and hilarious, saucy and smart, it's a tale of lessons both taught and learned, and all in the midst of a war zone: from teaching Iraqi women in headscarves while wearing designer pumps to enduring the shame and frustration of astronomical luggage fees.

Our thoughts: Liz's favorite book of the year so far.  It's like Sex and the City 2, but awesome and hilarious instead of boring and predictable. Gretchen's narrative is addicting.  LOVED, LOVED, LOVED it!

Giveaway: FIVE copies!  Leave a comment and you'll be entered to win!  We'll choose the winners on Monday, July 23rd after 6pm PST.

Fun fact: If you love her book, check out her blog!  It's super fun too!

Where to read more about Gretchen: her website or Twitter.


1. How many agents did you query before you found "the one"? Nine (which, incidentally, is my lucky number)

2. What's a line from your "favorite" rejection letter? Each rejection was surprisingly kind and helpful. One really great agent had emailed me and said while there were things she loved about my writing, and things she loved about the story, she was really hoping it would be more like “Eat, Pray, Love”. I huffed to myself, “Yes, wouldn’t it be great if we could ALL have lives like ‘Eat, Pray, Love’. I mean, who wouldn’t want to flit off to Italy and spend all that time eating delicious pasta and gelato, and then end up in Bali meeting her soulmate? Who?!” So. Very. Bitter.

And then I went home for summer break, and the movie had just come out. It was everywhere. “EAT, PRAY, LOVE!” JULIA ROBERTS! Everyone was reading it, everyone was going to see the movie, everyone was talking about it. I could not get away from it. It mocked me from television interviews and book covers and movie posters and silently taunted “Your story isn’t like thiiiiiiiiis one!”

After summer break I went back to the ms and resumed my search for an agent. I revisited the few rejections I had received to really absorb their comments and see how I could use that information to make the ms better. I re-read that one agent’s email again, which upon closer inspection actually said:

“…There is so much I like about your voice and your energy, but ultimately I wanted more of an organizing principle (like EAT, PRAY, LOVE)…”

Oh. That is different from what I had thought it said. Hunh. She’s right about that organizing principle thing. She hadn’t wanted the book to be like “Eat, Pray, Love”, she just wanted the mess of my manuscript to have more of a shape to it (at the time it was very blobbish.) So, now I read my emails a little more carefully and a little more slowly, but still laugh whenever I see “Eat, Pray, Love”.

3. What was the hardest part about writing your debut novel? Writing without knowing whether or not it would be published. “All this work when I could be creating outfits on Polyvore!” I can do blog post after blog post (after blog post), but writing an entire book takes serious discipline, and I’m not so much about the discipline.

4. What is the best/worst advice you received while you were trying to break into the book biz? I faithfully read Nathan Bransford and Chuck Sambuchino’s blogs for any/all information about getting published, and all their advice is “best”.

Worst advice would be from my dad, when I was talking about querying agents he rolled his eyes and made disparaging remarks, doubting the integrity of literary agents everywhere.

5. How did you celebrate your book deal? I know I should be whipped soundly for admitting this but I really haven’t properly celebrated it yet. I think I’ve been baby-stepping through the entire process, afraid to get too excited about any one part of it, because after that there’s still more. I’ll celebrate properly when I get my first royalty check, and the celebration will totally depend on the size of the check (crosses fingers for beach house).

6. Who is your writer crush? Tina Fey. And since crushes do not have to be monogamous, also Helen Fielding.

7. If you were stranded on a desert island and could have only one book, what would it be? “Bridget Jones’s Diary”. Being in Iraq was kind of like being on a desert island, and that was the one book I brought with me.

8. What's on your iPod right now? Miranda Lambert’s “Baggage Claim”, Sia’s “Clap Your Hands”, and I’m almost sick of “Call Me Maybe”. Almost. My obsession can be entirely attributed to the Harvard Baseball Team’s YouTube video. I’m not proud.

9. What's your #1 stress reliever? Exercise. Or wine. Sometimes I’ll have a few glasses of wine and then think “I should totally get on the treadmill. I’m so motivated right now!”

Not advised, no matter how confident you are the railings will assist your balance.

10. Who/what would you place in the center of the Entertainment Weekly bullseye? Anderson Cooper and Tom Cruise & Katie Holmes. For totally unrelated reasons, of course.

Thanks Gretchen!  xoxo, L&L