What was your major?
I was an English major, and I took as many creative writing courses as I could.
Who or what influenced you most at Cornell?
My advisor and creative writing instructor was Dan McCall. He'd written several succesful novels and "Jack the Bear" had been made into a film starring Danny DeVito, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Reese Witherspoon. He was the first person I had ever met who had worked in the entertainment industry.
At the time, the idea of working in entertainment just felt like something other people got to do, and I had no idea how one went about starting a career. In addition to everything he taught me about storytelling, Professor McCall made the idea of making a career in something creative an attainable goal.
I also vividly remember a creative writing class taught by a Junot Diaz. Junot was really young at the time, and he had this huge enthusiasm for any work that he considered honest and insightful. Every time we'd meet, he impressed upon me that my work was important and should be treated as such. He was obviously so passionate about the creative process. This was back when he was earning his MFA from Cornell; in just a few years he'd be on magazine covers and winning the Pulitzer Prize.
What are you most proud of accomplishing while you were at Cornell?
I wrote a little play in Ron Wilson's playwriting course that I was happy with. Writing an entire play seemed like a huge amount of work with many possibilities for failure, so I remember being pleased when I was finished and had something decent to show for it. I would probably cringe to read it now, but it had a story that made sense, reasonably clear characters, and it resolved itself into some sort of ending. After I completed that and it wasn't a total disaster, I had a lot less doubt and dread going into other, longer projects.
What was something you found challenging at Cornell and how did you get through it?
I remember thinking how hard it was to switch from something purely creative like writing a short story to studying French verbs or solving calculus problems. I thought that once I graduated I'd be able to think creatively all the time without distraction, but of course that isn't true. No matter what you do, you're always balancing creative and analytical thinking, and you still need to be able handle logisitics, people and problems.
Comment on the long-term and short-term value of an arts and sciences education.
I think well-rounded education creates well-rounded curiosity. I had lunch with a bunch of Cornell classmates the other day, and I was struck by how broadly everyone's curiosity still spanned. Everyone was reading multiple books on widely various topics, and discovering all sorts of new things. I guess studying a broad field of study is habit forming.
Where’s home for you now?
I split time between Los Angeles and New York. Right now, I'm working on MTV's "The City," so I spend most of my time in New York.
What kind of work have you been doing since graduation?
I've worked in television since I graduated. The short resume is:
"The Ricki Lake Show"
"Late Show with David Letterman"
"Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn"
Animal Planet's "Pet Star"
MTV's "The Hills"
MTV's "The City"
I've also had the opportunity to do a bunch of fun side projects. I rewrote a screenplay for a Croatian production company, I wrote a "Hills" dating book (under my pen name, Lila Stewart), I worked as an associate producer for an independent short film, produced some radio pieces for public radio, and wrote and provided commentary for NPR's "All Things Considered." All of these things were done either to learn, build my resume, or solely because they were fun.
Can you provide realistic information about first positions, such as how long one can expect to stay in them and what one should expect to get from them?
The best advice I ever heard about first positions is to find the one person who has the job you want to do, and then do everything you can to work for that person. It really doesn't matter if it's answering phones, photocopying scripts or taking the lunch order. There will always be someone there who used to answer the phones too, and you'll be surprised how happy and willing they'll be to help along someone who works hard and wants to learn the job.
The other thing I'd stress is that the way you get really good at something is to do it all day, every day. The sooner you can figure out exactly what it is you want to do and submerse yourself in it, the better off you'll be.