I solemnly swear that I did not steal my characters' names from Sophie Kinsella.
Nobody will believe me when my second novel, Mating Rituals of the North American WASP, comes out. I am hardly a household name. But every romantic-comedy reader, all bazillion and six of them, has read Confessions of a Shopaholic or one of its many sequels.
Everyone except me.
You must trust me on this.
I don't read women's romantic comedy. This is not out of snobbery; I write women's romantic comedy. But I work in a light, frothy profession, where I spend my days pondering such questions as, "Is shimmer lipstick appropriate after 35?"
When my pink, frilly, girly workday is done, I want complicated and dark. (I read The Plague over Christmas vacation. Universal anguish? Near-anarchy? Dead rats? This, to me, is escapism.)
More importantly, I don't want to muddle up my head with other books like mine. It's too easy to read something, forget you read it, and then weeks later come up with an idea—I'll make the hero a modern-day Mr. Darcy!—so brilliant that Helen Fielding came up with it in 1996.
But here's the thing. I seem to be in some sort of Vulcan mind meld with these authors anyway.
My first book, It's About Your Husband, is about a woman who starts a new career as an amateur private eye. She gets the idea during a conversation in which an unhappily married acquaintance (who, incidentally, is a twin) complains, "Men are such dogs." The original title of the novel was supposed to be The Dog Catcher, until I heard about a forthcoming novel called The Dog Walker, featuring twins and a lot of snooping around. Okay, I couldn't do anything about the twin characters, but I could change the title.
Later I found out my writing teacher's new book had a heroine named Iris, just like mine. She assured me she didn't mind the coincidence.
Unsettling though isolated incidents, right? No. I was halfway through writing Mating Rituals of the North American WASP, which is set in a fictional Connecticut town, when someone told me my main male characters, Luke and Dean, had the same names as two main male characters in Gilmore Girls, also set in a fictional Connecticut town. Then I picked up Jennifer Weiner's The Guy Not Taken, only to find that she, like I, had a flaky female character named Nicki.
Okay, I thought. I'll change Dean's name. But Nicki and Luke stay. How many more times can this happen?
So last night, I was watching Confessions of a Shopaholic, the movie, in which the love interest is named Luke. But it doesn't stop there. Shopaholic's heroine, Rebecca, has parents who drive around in an RV. My heroine, Peggy, has parents who drive around in an RV.
And the best one is this: Rebecca's best friend calls her "Bex" for short.
Peggy's best friend is named Bex.
I spent the rest of the movie wondering if I could stop the presses and rewite Mating Rituals one last time. Seriously, who names a character Bex?
Apparently, Sophie Kinsella and I do.
No, really. You have to believe me.