Five Questions With Author Laura Hankin

We talk about her books, the Wing and cults

Laura Hankin wears many hats. She’s a writer of multiple books and countless articles. She’s also a performer on screen and stage. Her comedy troupe Feminarchy has earned praise from Funny or DieThe Huffington PostThe New York Times and more. And, she once worked as playgroup musician in New York City.

That last one both delights me and serves as the inspiration for Happy and You Know It, a novel that follows a struggling musician as she gets pulled into the lives of the wealthy New York women who employ her as a private playgroup musician. It’s equal parts Nanny Diaries and Big Little Lies.

Laura’s latest release, A Special Place for Women, is a similarly quirky, funny page turner. It focuses on Jillian, a young New York journalist who infiltrates a social club for the city’s most elite women. A Special Place for Women goes in some surprising — and weird — directions. I devoured it in a single day.

Somehow in between all her different projects, Laura found time to chat with me about her books, a possible TV adaptation and what she’s reading these days. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Both Happy and You Know It and A Special Place for Women focus on the group dynamics of wealthy women. What draws you to that topic?

I've always just been really fascinated by female friendships, all the ways that they can be wonderful and all the ways they can be really messy. I feel like friendships can be just as full — and also fraught — as romantic relationships, and that a friend breakup can hurt as much or more as a romantic breakup. Yet I wasn't seeing a lot of books or other content that really dealt with that. So, I wanted to jump in there.

And then, I'm also interested in privilege and class. We spend a lot of time thinking ‘Oh, if I could just have a lot of money, things would be so much simpler.’ In many ways, that is true. It's nice to not have to worry that a big doctor's bill is going to send me over, but in other ways, it just creates all kinds of new complications. I wanted to write about women who get that life that they want, and then find that something is still missing.

A Special Place for Women is a satire of the infamous women’s club The Wing. Did you ever visit a branch of the club?

I had a friend who invited me to The Wing for coffee one day. I went to their club house, and I was really excited, thinking “Maybe I'll go find my people, and I can live that Instagram life as well.”

And then I walked in, and I just felt like, “Oh, everyone is thinking that my dress is so wrinkly, all these women can sense my social awkwardness.”

I guess I was struck by this imbalance between the way The Wing marketed itself as a place for you and all women compared to the feeling of being there. It feels like “Oh, it's not for me, it's much more exclusive,” even though it was supposed to be a safe space for all women. That's in part why I wanted to write about it — and I should just say that I'm sure some of that reaction was my own social awkwardness.

Samantha Bee’s production company recently optioned A Special Place For Women for a possible TV adaptation. What’s that process been like for you?

It feels like a dream, like I’m hallucinating. It's a real emotional roller coaster when an agent sends out a book for the Hollywood optioning process because if you're lucky — and I was lucky — there are many people reading it who express interest. But also, Hollywood people like to present the possibilities of what could happen, as opposed to what will happen. And then, none of it ever actually comes through.

I got really lucky that the people I clicked with the most were really sincere. They’re as excited about this project as I am. Right now, we’re locking down a showrunner and then it still has to go through multiple stages of development and be sold to a network. There’s no guarantees. You have to protect your heart all the time because plenty of projects reach this stage and never actually get on TV.

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What are you working on now?

I’m working on the pilot script for the possible A Special Place for Women TV show and I just turned in a draft of a new book. It’s about the stars of a High School Musical-esque show that was really popular in the early 2000s, until they all imploded spectacularly. Later in their careers, they have all gone in different directions and — surprise, surprise — the male star of the show is doing much better than the female star. The entire cast has to come back for a reunion special. There’s lots of drama, secrets and unfinished business bubbling to the surface.

And, finally, any books you want to recommend?

I loved Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Sutanto [Editor’s Note: I did too!]. It's about a bunch of women, and the unexpected dynamics between them, which I very much enjoy.

Recently, I read Cultish by Amanda Montel. It's quite good. It’s about the lengths that cults and cult-adjacent organizations will use to bring you in and then keep you in. She goes all the way from the notorious suicide cults to things that we interact with in our everyday lives that we don’t think of as culty, but use the same tricks, like SoulCycle or multi-level marketing organizations. It’s really cool and fascinating.

Thanks again to Laura for speaking with me. You can purchase her books here and follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Laura is also doing a virtual event with my favorite bookstore, East City Books, as part of A Mighty Blaze's Authors Love Bookstores series on Wednesday, August 11 at 4 P.M. I’m very much looking forward to it.

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