"I wrote a book because I didn't have enough to do," says Karen Bergreen, her comic wit a constant companion. Her debut novel, Following Polly, is a comedic murder mystery about a Harvard-educated stalker, and it has many, including the New York Times, talking. And pretty much, while they are talking they are laughing, not only because the book is a laugh-out-loud page-turner, but because Bergreen herself keeps people laughing. Harvard educated herself (but lacking the stalker status of her protagonist Alice Teakle), Bergreen may be one of only a handful of NYC comedians who not only holds a law degree but also practiced law. And it's a good thing that she is no longer practicing, otherwise her talents would have been wasted in the generally un-funny world of corporate litigation.
Bergreen is naturally funny, innately silly, and her appreciation of her own humor is contagious. In other words, she says something funny, laughs at her own clever comment, her audience (whether an individual or group) catches on and then laughs with her. She has been gifted with an ability to craft spot-on cleverness, on the spot.
That Bergreen wrote a book because she "didn't have enough to do," is classic Bergreen. This comment, which adorns her webpage, simply called karenbergreen.com, says it all because in actuality Bergreen couldn't be busier. The writer and mother of two young boys by day, comedic actress, stand-up comic and comedy teacher by day and night, not to mention wife (let's go with, by night), is a working mom, albeit in the untraditional sense. Bergeen works out of a home office in her NYC apartment, where her little boys can be heard playing, often in the same room, though she calls this "bothering her" not necessarily "playing." Add Bergreen's requirement for a healthy lifestyle that includes cooking for her children and working out daily and, despite her own personal adoration for the television, a no-television policy for 6-year-old Danny and 4-year-old Teddy, and Bergreen is one busy writer.
So, how exactly does a juggler like Bergreen do it? Has she figured out the magical formula that all working (full and part time) Mom's are seeking -- the mother's version of the Fountain of Youth that give us eternal time?
"No," she says unequivocally.
Though I wonder, since she creates time where it doesn't really exist. A born and bred New Yorker, Bergreen says she wrote half the book on the subway, and that was with pen and paper rather than a laptop or iPad. "It gave me a mood to follow. A lot of the book is New York. I was almost recording things that were happening. The B-roll."
Unlike other writers with children, Bergreen says she definitely relied on a variety of babysitters. She doesn't consider herself a magician-like wordsmith. "Some writers say 'I wrote when the baby was napping and I whipped things out of the computer.' I couldn't do that," says Bergreen. "I had babysitters because I am not that efficient. Even with babysitters on hand - if I am home I end up doing a lot of childcare myself. I had to be okay with not writing at the pace I would have written at without kids ... In some ways, this might have helped me. Often, ideas would come to me days or weeks after I'd started a chapter, and it gave me a chance to let them simmer and build. If I'd gotten it all done efficiently, in a day and a half, the way some writers seem to do I might never have gone back in and made it better. Then again," Bergreen laughs, "maybe that's just pure rationalization for not getting more done."
So Bergreen, who considers herself far from perfect as a mother and wife, wrote a book about the non-perfect woman's obsession with the perfect woman. Alice Teakle embodies the average woman while Polly represents perfection. She is gorgeous, thin, smart, blonde, cocky to the point of bitchy and a complete narcissist. "If you don't know a Polly, then you are a Polly," Bergreen quips. "I think people are in awe of people who are attractive and put together. Could be our society, could be biological." Right away, we find out that Polly has been murdered, and the non-perfect protagonist, Alice, becomes the lead suspect. (We find this out on the book jacket, so there's no give away here). Is this the revenge of the nerds? Perhaps. "My dream," Bergreen says, "is for people like Polly to wake up and say, 'I'm a bitch,' to really realize it, and to then be nicer and kinder."
Of course, it seldom happens. Perhaps its why Lifetime Television has had so much success with their show Drop Dead Diva, about a perfect Polly type who dies in a car crash and "wakes up in someone else's body." The "someone else" is an average Alice Teakle type, and we finally get to see "perfect Polly" come to the realization that she is/was awful.
Since writing instructors always say, write about what you know, this begs the question: Was Bergreen ever a stalker? Suspected of murder? "No, not either," she says jovially. "I think that's where I am more mentally healthy than Alice. The stalking was fantasy completely. Of course, I would love to stalk someone, sure, but I wouldn't do it. It's like comedy. The fun part of my jokes on stage as a comedian is that it's the fantasy of what I would want to say in real life if I could. The stalking that I write about in the book is what I would do if I could."
It may have taken Bergreen two years to write the book, which she began when her older son was three and continued writing after the birth of her second, but nothing seemed to deter her. She was passionate about the idea of fulfilling a dream, a theme that found its way into the book. "It wasn't something I thought of before I wrote the book. I think we sometimes do things to pass the time. We have jobs, we get married, we have kids, and we aren't thinking of the vision we have for ourselves. We need to stop worrying about what people think. Like my main character, having a focus on something in particular helps. I think there was probably a time when I was lost, I had those same depressed feelings that Alice has. But, as soon as she found something to focus on, Alice lost that depressed feeling. It's the same thing in life. The focus is what ultimately gets you through."