When 1993 College graduate Caren Lissner entered the working world after matriculating from Penn, she said, she suddenly found herself thinking, “gee, I should have been in Wharton these past four years!”
While Wharton graduates “juggled job offers,” Lissner added, she was forced to contend with an economic recession and “every other English major in the country” as she faced New York City’s competitive publishing industry.
Yet 17 years later, Lissner has channeled that “idea of getting out of college and suddenly realizing you still don’t know what you’re going to do with your life” into her novel, Carrie Pilby.
Originally released in 2003 and set to be re-released on July 1, Carrie Pilby tells the story of a Harvard alumna who struggles to fit in with her seemingly immoral peers — “a sort of extreme version of me,” said Lissner, who wrote for The Daily Pennsylvanian and Punch Bowl magazine, and cultivated her own writing independently while in college.
Lissner recalled “seeing people going to frat parties and thinking on the one hand ‘I’d like to meet more people and be more social, but I don’t want to go to these parties all the time’” at Penn.
Following her low-key college experience, the Hoboken, N.J. native landed a job at a local newspaper, and has since become editor-in-chief at the Hudson Reporter, a New Jersey-based newspaper chain.
Though Lissner had already written several novels which were never published, Carrie Pilby was picked up by publisher Harlequin Teen ten years after Lissner entered the professional world.
“I got really frustrated and decided to just write something funny … instead of struggling with novel ideas that don’t work,” Lissner said of Carrie Pilby’s conception.
Fortunately, Lissner added, when she finished the novel, “chick lit” was gaining momentum as a literary trend, following the 2001 release of Bridget Jones’ Diary and other similar stories.
“In the summer of 2003, everyone was writing ‘chick lit’ books. The timing was really good,” Lissner said.
However, Lissner’s timing was not the only thing that propelled her success in the literary world.
When it was originally published, Carrie Pilby sold more than 40,000 copies. It was lauded in The Miami Herald and the New York Times, among others.
According to Cheryl Pientka, the agent who first sold Carrie Pilby to Harlequin, Lissner’s strength is her “honesty and directness. You feel like you could be talking with a friend,” Pientka wrote in an e-mail.
A review in Philadelphia Weekly called the novel “Woody Allen-hilarious, compulsively readable and unpretentiously smart.”
Now, however, the book industry has become “saturated” with ‘chick lit’ novels, and young adult fiction has in turn become the most popular new genre, according to Lissner.
In light of this trend, the second publication of Carrie Pilby will specifically target adolescent and young adult readers. It will feature a more “teen-oriented” cover, as well as a few minor textual changes to reflect the most recent technologies.
“Instead of renting videos, the lead character will be renting DVDs,” Lissner explained.
Though seven years have passed since Carrie Pilby’s original release — and Lissner has since released another novel and several pieces for publications such as The New York Times — she remained excited by the prospect of publishing her story again.
“Getting published is like falling in love,” said Lissner, who is married and expecting her first child. “It’s something you want all your life but can’t control.”
Linda Weidmann, associate director of the Benjamin Franklin Scholars Program, recalled the wittiness and enthusiasm for writing Lissner had even before leaving Penn.
“Writing was a passion of hers as an undergrad,” Weidmann said of Lissner, who was selected to participate in the BFS program as an incoming freshman. “She’s done a wonderful job of following through ever since — clearly this was something she always wanted to do.”