You might have seen Jenny Slate on Parks and Recreation, where she played Mona-Lisa Saperstein, or on Saturday Night Live, or maybe at the Little, Brown BookExpo lunch where she presented Little Weirds, her debut nonfiction book due out in November. The collection is “me talking about my emotions,” she says. “It’s not a bio, or comedy essays, but pieces on how I see the world.”
With chapter headings such as ”Fast Bad Baby,” “I Died: Sardines,” “Kathleen/Dog Flower-Face,” and sentences such as “I am a lovely woman. Who will come into my kitchen and be hungry for me?” and “A psychic recently looked right into the eternal cosmos and then returned to me with this elegant yet cryptic message: Grow up,” you can get a sense of the deliciousness and originality of Little Weirds.
And you will understand when her agent, Claudia Ballard of William Morris Endeavor, says, “I was enamored of her style and knew that the book would be unclassifiable. She put her heart on the page.”
Slate is represented by WME’s comedy/talent department, and when she came up with the idea for an adult book (she coauthored the children’s book series Marcel the Shell with Dean Fleischer-Camp at Razorbill), she was introduced to Ballard. A self-described “huge fan,” Ballard had followed Slate on Twitter and found her writing “funny and pithy.” She admired Slate’s vulnerability. “Even in its early stages, Little Weirds was so much more special than just a book,” Ballard says.
The two began working on it in late 2016/early 2017, and Ballard sent it out to a range of publishers. There were, she says, several meetings and many options, but she notes that when they met with Little, Brown editor Jean Garnett, you could see the melding of minds in the room: “Jean had a vision for the book that matched Jenny’s, and theirs was an instant rapport.”
Something that Ballard and Slate both commented on was that Garnett came to the meeting alone. “It definitely made an impression,” Ballard says. Slate adds, “It’s important to have a team behind you, but I liked that it was just us. I felt like Jean wanted to help me, but not change me. I met with a lot of lovely people, but she and I connected. She’s sensitive but a hard-ass, and I needed that. Also, she had an open mind; she wanted to be surprised.”
Garnett saw Slate perform stand-up in 2010 and “fell in love with her,” she says. “She’s a thrilling performer. I remember a bit she did about masturbating with the arm of the couch when she was a child.” And like Ballard, Garnett admires Slate’s vulnerability.
The proposal was 40–50 pages of essays, ideas, small paragraphs, “a range of writings,” Ballard says. “We wanted to give editors a sense of what the book would be, and we wanted an editor who would help Jenny put it together.” Little Weirds went to auction in October 2017 with Little, Brown winning North American rights. The contract was signed November 2017 for “high six figures,” and the book was delivered a year later.
Garnett says that she really wanted the book and was “ecstatic” when the proposal came in. “It was strange: 40 pages of bits and pieces, not much resemblance to what’s become the final book,” she says. “Young people here at Little, Brown were over the moon about it, and the whole team got on board.”
Slate says she started having fun with the writing. It was “a combination of curiosity and pride.” She says she asked herself, “I’m doing this. Will the world accept it? Will someone pay me to do this?” When she chose an editor, Slate says, she wanted “someone not risk adverse, someone to understand, a woman to step on my head.”
The editing process began with Slate sending Garnett pieces for a couple of months. Then, Garnett says, “Jenny told me that she had to hibernate; she had a vision and needed to be somewhere quiet.”
Garnett had no idea what to expect. “I was on maternity leave when the completed draft came in,” she says, “and it was so fresh, so delightful. Jenny came and stayed with me at my house upstate for several days. We started from the beginning. She would read the pages aloud and if something didn’t hit, I’d stop her and we’d talk. It was during those sessions that we came up with the title.”
Slate compares writing to gardening, “spending time with the essentials.” She says the pieces in the book are “how I speak to myself, what I want to share. I’ll be in the shower and I start with these strange incantations about my shower plants! I feel this book is a chance to say something important: feminist, hopeful, useful. I want to put out pieces of sweetness.” As she writes in Little Weirds: “When people get a glimpse of me, I’d like them to feel like it’s a good omen.”
Most of Slate’s career as a creative person has been in comedy, in live performance, but Garnett says Little Weirds “is about her writing, which is excellent,” adding, “if it were about who she is as a celebrity, we would have put her face on the cover.”
There’s been positive reactions from booksellers and a quote from George Saunders. Promotion plans include television, print, radio, and extensive social media, along with outreach to indie booksellers. Slate will also be doing events around the publication. Right now the book is publishing simultaneously in the U.S. and with Little, Brown UK on November 5.
In her chapter “Introduction/Explanation/Guidelines for Consumption,” Slate puts it all on the page: “We both know quite well that it is risky to reveal oneself, but I am compelled to do it.... Just as I get scared to perform, I am afraid to write this book. Across the board, I just get so scared. But I don’t want to live in a constant state of trepidation. I want to live in front of you, with you. I tremble myself to pieces when I perform. I also put myself back together and I leave without a limp.”