Posted Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2011, at 12:10 PM
When I set up an interview with Valerie Frankel , the writer who collaborated with Jersey Shore star Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi on her new novel, A Shore Thing , an odd yet specific question about the Princess of Poughkeepsie popped into my mind: What does Snooki smell like? My curiosity about Snooki's scent was instantly sated when I spoke to Frankel on the phone this morning. (The answer is Britney Spears perfume.) That's also what wafts off of Giovanna "Gia" Spumanti, the heroine of A Shore Thing -with her pint-sized frame, her signature poof, and her predilection for Jersey-style "gorilla juiceheads," Gia is a lightly fictionalized version of Snooki who spends all summer drinking in Seaside, N.J., working at a tanning salon, and bonding with her cousin Bella. Below, read more about what it was like to work with Snooki, how Frankel hopes the book will be received, and who came up with that famous fart scene .
Slate: How did you get the gig?
Frankel: She wasn’t as famous when I got the book offer. It was between Season 1 and Season 2, and I guess I got the call because I had written a book with a celebrity ( Joan Rivers ) for the same publisher, and I've written YA fiction and chick lit, and I’m from Jersey. I wasn’t familiar with the show when I got the job, but of course I wanted to do it right away, who wouldn’t? Then I started watching the show and familiarized myself with the show, and the humor and the drama.
Slate: How did the writing process work?
Frankel: We talked on the phone-she was sequestered because the book was written during Season 3. We talked about character, plot ideas, themes included, developed ideas, and went with that. She was reading and commenting along the way. She had tons of great ideas, details I would never have thought of in a million years.
Slate: What sorts of details? Like calling a butterfly clip a "tramp clamp"?
Frankel: I don’t know to what extent I can be totally forthcoming. I have to be kind of vague. But I can say that she loves Vin Diesel, so that became a recurring leitmotif. (One chapter is called "Vin Diesel Is Hotter Than Jesus.") Most of the language comes from her-talking to her and watching Jersey Shore . Tramp clamp, I am from New Jersey and we’ve used that for a while.
Slate: Who came up with the sub-plot about the preppy jerks, the ones who try to date-rape Gia's cousin Bella?
Frankel: We wanted the book to have some depth, and one thing that does come up a lot watching the show-people drink a lot and get into dicey situations, and for the fans of the show, we wanted to put it out there that sometimes dicey situations can be scary. This is a reality they should be aware of. I can’t speak for Snooki, I don't know that she has ever faced this, but it had its place in the novel. Being a New Jersey native, going down to the shore for my whole life, it's a big thing that out of towners are very much looked down on and there is a real conflict between the locals and the Bennies.
Frankel: Bennies are out of towners, not from the shore. That’s slang going back in the day.
Slate: Did you get to spend much time with her in person?
Frankel: She was sequestered, so I wasn’t able to. But in our talks she just amazed me again and again with how enthusiastic she was for the project and the face-valueness of her. She gets trashed a lot in public. I'm surprised about how mean people are. My experience with her is that she is an intelligent, enthusiastic, appreciative young woman. She is just a nice kid. It’s incredible what she can take.
Slate: Why do you think she's become such a breakout star?
Frankel: During the process of writing the book, I had this experience that was telling for me. I got this job in mid-July, right before my vacation in Vermont and Maine. At that point I was talking to Snooki and familiarizing myself with the show. I got it and the basic idea and got the plots and everything, but I wasn’t sure who the audience was. I exist in this other world-in the book publishing and magazine world of people who would make fun of this project.
We were driving home after two weeks in Maine, and we stopped in a gas station in Massachusetts and saw that Snooki had just been arrested. It was a surreal moment. My last few weeks were spent trying to get in this person’s head, and there she was in on the cover of the New York Post . And these three girls were in there, and they were looking at the cover, and I was afraid they were going to say something mean. They didn’t. They laughed and said, "I love Snooki, she’s so cute." I always say: Snooki drinks for our sins. I am collaborating with Snooki for those girls, who look at her and they say, she’s not this ideal Paris Hilton or Lauren Conrad, this blonde type-she’s just from Poughkeepsie. She's having a good time and enjoying this lightning-in-a-bottle life that she’s in right now. It was a breakthrough moment. I finally got it. This is why she’s a star.
Slate: Just one more question. Who came up with that scene that was quoted in Vulture yesterday : "Gia danced around a little, shaking her peaches for show. She shook it hard. Too hard. In the middle of a shimmy, her stomach cramped. A fart slipped out. A loud one. And stinky."
Frankel: Snooki wanted to have some mean-girl villains, and they spike her Jell-O shot with some laxative, and that's what happens. That was all Snooki’s idea.