A Gossip Girl Tells All
Paula Froelich’s debut novel, Mercury in Retrograde, is a Sex and the City tale about New York women that reads like one big blind item on Page Six (where she’s the deputy editor).
It’s the night of the much-anticipated Met Gala, and everyone from Anna Wintour to John Galliano has descended on the ornate Great Hall. The party is, as one character remarks, “just like a magazine come to life!”
But as bottles are drained and plates cleared, the evening devolves into a well-dressed bacchanal. Kitty Foil, a tiny teen actress who had taken one too many trips to the bathroom to “powder her nose,” starts to bemoan how she’s been “box blocked,” which, if you don’t know, is like “cock blocking but with girls.”
So, she does what any straight-thinking socialite would do: She kicks off her Jimmy Choos, straps on a pair of roller skates, and begins careening around the party.
The characters in Mercury are so specific and true to real life that one of Froelich’s friends recently called her in a panic. “I can’t believe you put my boss in your book!”
It may be hard to believe, but this scene has actually happened. It’s happened to Paula Froelich, author of Mercury in Retrograde, and deputy editor of Page Six at the New York Post.
“If I need inspiration,” she says, “all I need to do is look at the stacks of old Page Six.” The pages of the loved and feared New York Post gossip column—which represent Froelich’s countless numbers of nights out in New York—are now embalmed in containers under her desk.
But she barely needed to refer to them when writing Mercury, her new debut novel. That’s because the book is filled with fragments of her own stranger-than-fiction career: the parties she’s attended, the people she’s met, and, more often than not, little discoveries she’s made about herself along the way.
Mercury in Retrograde is a book about three women who all come to New York and end up living in the same SoHo building—at Froelich’s actual address. There’s Penelope Mercury, the hard-bitten journalist for a Post-like New York Telegraph, Lena “Lipstick Carcrash” Lippencrass, a socialite finally cut off from her family, and Dana Gluck, a workaholic lawyer whose husband leaves her for a model.
The book feels so much like a blind item that it’s become somewhat of a sport for Froelich, who dared readers on The Huffington Post to guess the identities of her characters. “After all,” she wrote, “in order for the writing to feel true, you have to have lived part of it.” The post generated guesses that everyone from Anna Wintour to Mort Zuckerman was fictionalized in the book. The winner of Froelich’s challenge (another identity she wouldn’t disclose) won tickets to her book party, which was hosted by her friend and Glamour editor, Cindi Leive.
The characters in Mercury are so specific and true to real life that one of Froelich’s friends recently called her in a panic. “I can’t believe you put my boss in your book!” she said. “Oh honey,” Froelich said. “That’s not your boss.” The character, she explained, was a hybrid of two other well-known editors.
All of this real-life character study has made Froelich nothing short of an expert. “Oh honey,” she says again, “I have a Ph.D. in human nature at this point. I can tell you why people are doing things, what’s the reasoning, what their level of education is, if their parents are divorced or not. Just within two minutes.”
There’s a Sex and the City and Lipstick Jungle quality to this book, as each woman represents a different kind of woman in pursuit of happiness in the big city. But Mercury is different from other chick lit in that it’s not all about, as Froelich puts it, “the ring or the guy.” In developing each of her characters, Froelich isn’t just sketching out archetypal women, like Miranda, Samantha, or even Carrie. She’s hashing out different pieces of herself, as each of her characters comes to resemble a different strain of her own life in New York.
She’s lived the life of the young beat reporter, the professional who wants a family, and that of the New York social fixture—who’s as much the life of the party just as she is a party reporter. What better way to express that one woman can do it all than have her embodied in three different successful urban women?
Multitasking has become second nature to Froelich, who often has several projects going at once. She says that she wakes up every day at 6 a.m. to work on her book and gets to the office by 10. After a full day at work, she rushes home to feed Karl, her squat dachshund, and to get ready for the evening. Then she’s out the door again for cocktails, a dinner, or a party. And then the day repeats (the 6 a.m. part probably dependent on how much fun she’s had the night before).
Because of Mercury’s release, it’s been a whirlwind week for Froelich—far busier than the usual routine of book-work-Karl-party. She’s had a series of glittery book parties, interviews, and even an appearance on The View.
But as the dust begins to settle, Froelich hasn’t slowed down one bit. “I’ve barely had time to change my underwear,” she says. She’s already hard at work on a young adult book called Grits, about her teen years at a convent in Kentucky. “Oh honey,” she says. “I was the only Jew and one of the only virgins in my graduating class!”
And, as any multitasking New York woman would, Froelich’s also working on a sequel for Mercury in Retrograde. Though she’s only written the first chapter, she has the second installment of the book almost entirely mapped out. But that’s not to say, of course, that the juicy details of last night’s party couldn’t find their way onto its pages. “The book is more about female friendships and how women evolve, and how friendships evolve,” she says. “What happens today could totally make it in tomorrow.”
Isabel Wilkinson is a Daily Beast intern who attends Columbia Journalism School. She has written for New York magazine and Women’s Wear Daily.