Bustle Book Club
Lorde Has Gotten Jessica Knoll Through Years Of Working On Luckiest Girl Alive
The author listened to the album on repeat while writing the novel, which inspired Netflix’s new film.
Jessica Knoll has been working on Luckiest Girl Alive — first the book, then the screenplay adaptation for the Netflix film — since 2013. “There's that Joan Didion quote that's like, ‘I've already lost touch with a couple of the people I used to be,’ and it truly encapsulates who I am now from who I was [then],” Knoll tells Bustle ahead of the film’s debut on Netflix. It’s true, a lot has changed: When Knoll first began the novel, she was a senior editor at Cosmopolitan; in the years since it published 2015, she’s become a literary triple threat, writing essays for publications like the New York Times, penning a second novel, working on screenplays, and releasing the first film she wrote, which stars Mila Kunis. Amid all this professional change, Luckiest Girl Alive has been an anchor. “This has been the thing that's been with me the most,” she says.
The novel follows the perfect-seeming Ani, a women’s magazine editor determined to hide her past trauma. The film has the same conceit, but Knoll has evolved since the book’s publication, and so has Luckiest. “The stages of growth that I went through are mirrored by various pieces of writing that I've done related to the book,” she says. Essays like the one she wrote for Lenny Letter in 2016, in which she revealed that, much like Ani, she was also gang raped and bullied as a teenager. This confession, along with the #MeToo movement, inspired Knoll to craft a new ending for the film — one in which Ani also finds healing through coming forward and telling her story. “It was only seven years ago, but it feels like not just in my life, but in the culture, so much has happened.”
Now, after almost a decade of Luckiest, Knoll is nearly ready to move on. “The grief that this is really, finally put to bed will probably hit me in a couple of months,” she says. “It’s frightening and makes me want to cry, but at the same time, I remember the feeling of being in post [production on the film] and being like, ‘I cannot f*cking wait for this to be over.’” But for all her mixed emotions, there’s one thing she’s unwaveringly excited about: “I will be happy to never get another notes document about this project again.”
Below, Knoll reflects on the merits of the Real Housewives franchise, dirty martinis, and Lorde.
On her favorite recent read:
The best book I read recently was Vladimir by Julia May Jonas. It's so provocative and just the concept [of a professor infatuated with a colleague] sucked me in right away, and then it lived up to it and beyond. It looks like it's an ironic novel, but the writing is very top-notch and literary. All of it is just really subversive and fun.
On the Bravo franchises she unwinds with:
I tend to drink to dirty martinis to celebrate [a good day of writing], but if I'm very down about something, drinking just sends me further down into the abyss. So really it's just being lazy on the couch with my dog, Beatrice, and watching Real Housewives. I watch obviously Beverly Hills, New York, and Salt Lake City.
On her best piece of writing advice:
The thing most people need to hear is that everyone has writer's block from time to time. My therapist always uses the metaphor, “Go with the skid.” Don't try and fight it and be like, "I need to do something to snap myself out of this." Try not to judge yourself, and try to do other things that feel good and take care of yourself. I find long walks are always good for letting my mind wander, and just having faith that I've been in this funk before and I've come out of it.
On the books that line her desk:
My desk is pretty neat. It has a vase with some dried flowers, and all the books that I’ll pick up and open to a random page just to inspire me. Normally, a Gillian Flynn book, Michelle McNamara’s I'll Be Gone in the Dark, and some old 1970s Cosmos for research for my next book.
On the power of Lorde:
When I was writing the book of Luckiest Girl Alive, I listened to Lorde's Pure Heroine on repeat. I can't listen to that album without being transported back to that time. I listened to a lot of Florence and the Machine as well. With the screenwriting, occasionally I would put on the Lorde album just to get me back in the mindset that I was in in 2013 and 2014. But all my other books and screenplays have mostly been done in silence.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.