People often ask me how I became a writer. My standard reply: “It took me until the age of twenty-nine to figure out I didn’t want to marry a manic-depressive, alcoholic writer, I just wanted to be one.”
I starred in my first play at age ten in Camp Tapawingo’s production of Annie. Belting out “Tomorrow” led to more serious endeavors at a performing arts camp. When I was fourteen, I had stigmata as Agnes in Agnes of God, and at fifteen, I murdered a King as Lady MacBeth. I collected plays published by Samuel French and Dramatists Play Service; those wafer-thin, pastel-colored, paperback plays were my treasures. I read them and re-read them – quietly and out loud. In high school I discovered Chekhov, and from my bedroom on the 13th floor of an art-deco high-rise on Bleecker Street, I identified with the world-weary Russian heroines. In college I fixated on Ibsen and rejoiced at the character of Nora’s metamorphosis in A Doll’s House. I loved plays. I loved archetypal stories. Though I was a compulsive journal writer -- spending as much as three hours a day writing -- it never occurred to me that I could ever write those stories. I revered playwrights as demi-gods. I felt a writer had to either be Arthur Miller or nothing, and I certainly didn’t think I possessed the brand of brilliance to create a Willy Loman. I thought the best I could do was to act out the plays written by the geniuses, so I stuck to my role as actress.
In my twenties, every single man I dated was a writer. My first real love was a renowned young playwright. We were together for four years, and I took immense pride in being his “muse.” I loved recognizing my own words sprinkled into lines of dialogue spoken by his female characters. My proudest moment was seeing his dedication of a play to me in print. He and I talked passionately about writing and literature. When we ultimately broke up, I moved on to the next writer-boyfriend. I was infatuated with writers, yet it never occurred to me that perhaps I wanted to be one. The first time I recall this notion coming up was the night I saw the Broadway production of Vita and Virginia with my actress friend Rosemary. During intermission, Rosemary expressed how much she’d love to play one of those parts. I replied that I didn’t want to pretend to be Virginia Woolf – I wanted to be her. “You do?” asked Rosemary. “You want to be a writer?” I answered, “Of course -- I’d much rather be a writer than an actor!” Though I spoke the thought aloud, I did not have the confidence to act on it.
Several years later I moved to Los Angeles. Living off of the pittance actors make doing plays Off-Broadway had lost its romantic appeal -- I needed to earn some money, so I headed west to seek work in television. I started watching TV for the first time because I was auditioning for TV. Also, it was the first season of Ally McBeal, and my best friend from New York has been cast in the starring role. I spent a lot of time on the set, watching dailies with my friend, studying it. I had never before consciously realized there was such a job as a TV writer. As I watched the show (which I thought was very good, but a far cry from The Crucible), a little voice in my head said “Well, I can write that…” One afternoon, I went to the local Borders with a white legal pad and a pen and began working on my first television spec-script. I never looked back.
Nine years later, I’m a Writer/Supervising Producer on the TV show, Gossip Girl. And due to some twists and turns in my personal life, I’m also the author of my first published book, a memoir, called Pretty Is What Changes: Impossible Choices, the Breast Cancer Gene, and How I Defied My Destiny. I’m still working up my courage to write my first play. Even if I never live up to Death of a Salesman, I’m proud to be a writer, to continue striving for excellence, and to count Mr. Arthur Miller as my muse.
Causes jessica queller Supports
Women for Women
NYU Cancer Institute