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'Sex' and the single novelist

'City' grad Liz Tuccillo travels the globe to research her new book.

June 18, 2008|Mindy Farabee | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- A few years ago, when the jaunty advice manual "He's Just Not That Into You" reached its zenith, co-authors Liz Tuccillo and Greg Behrendt -- both writers for HBO's "Sex and the City" -- scored bestselling ubiquity and couch time with Oprah by espousing a refreshingly pithy empowerment: If a guy is into you, he'll make the effort. If he doesn't, move on. No womanly excuse-mongering.

Soon after, the whole singles-industrial complex came calling -- Could she do a TV segment on assembling just the right outfit for a first date? An article about shopping for Valentine's Day? -- and an inadvertent career in relationship punditry was almost born.

That didn't sit well with at least one of the would-be pundits.

"I'm not that girl," Tuccillo said over a late Sunday brunch. "I don't know how to dress for a date. I don't like Valentine's Day. There was this moment when I could have been positioned to be this dating expert, and it was the last thing I wanted to be. I'm so proud of ["He's Just Not That Into You"], but I didn't need that next step of being, you know, an expert."

So instead, Tuccillo hopped on a plane, started taking notes, and came up with a novel, "How to Be Single."

At its center frets Julie Jensen, a late 30s Manhattan publicist whose life's work is to promote jingoistic titles such as "The Clock Is Ticking! How to Meet and Marry the Man of Your Dreams in Ten Days."

Unhappily unhitched and unimpressed with her career trajectory, Jensen opts for major life surgery after a night out with the gals ends up ignobly in the emergency room. Curious to see if her international cohorts are faring any better, Jensen embarks on a global fact-finding mission about singledom. Set in Iceland, India, Brazil, Beijing, Bali, Rio de Janeiro, Paris, Australia and Rome and intercut with scenes of relationship free-falls back in the U.S., "How to Be Single" seeks to fashion a beach read-cum-travelogue hybrid.

Lucky break

A Brooklyn native with roots in Iowa, Tuccillo, then a playwright bereft of television credits, landed at HBO in late 2001 after a friend's exquisitely timely introduction to "Sex and the City" show runner Michael Patrick King (the following day, one of his writers quit). The self-help tome that sprung from the show's loins, meanwhile, keeps on giving. The film version of "He's Just Not that Into You," a romantic comedy starring Gennifer Goodwin, Jennifer Connelly, Jennifer Aniston, Drew Barrymore and Ben Affleck, among others, is scheduled for a fall release.

"I can't be cranky anymore," Tuccillo confessed. "I want to say things never fall into my lap, but I kinda can't say that anymore. All the bad luck I've had for all these years, I think this is a break. This is the good run."

But why continue to dwell on singlehood? Tuccillo lingered over her mineral water a long moment. As the last writer on board, she said, "Sex and the City" ended a year too soon. "I felt like I had one more, one last thing to get off my chest about being single. It felt almost like a continuation of that experience," Tuccillo said. "My friend who read the book recently said, 'You've compiled the comprehensive book on being single, check it off your list, now you're ready for the next phase of your life.' "

Tuccillo has already lined up several projects. At the moment, she's collaborating with Italian director Gabriele Muccino ("The Pursuit of Happyness") on a film about divorce as well as a series for Italian TV revolving around Italian men married to American women. She's also penned a feature of her own, which she hopes to direct this year, a drama about tragedy among three friends. "It's the darkest thing I've ever written," she says. "People were laughing at me, 'This is the same woman who wrote for "Sex and the City"?'

"I think I'm just like most writers, affected by circumstances. It feels like a very serious time, and that's reflected in what I want to write about now."

But first, Tuccillo had to have a word with the French. "How to Be Single," she said, exists at all because France, well, just wasn't that into her. "Every couple weeks I'd get a new [copy of "He's Not That Into You"] from my publisher in a new language, translated into Romanian or Mandarin or something. But France never wanted it."

Ultimately, Tuccillo seduced the Gauls, but in the interim "I was acting like a woman scorned. I started getting obsessed with why. Why there's no single culture in France? There's no 'Bridget Jones's Diary,' there's no films about being single. It's all about being married and having affairs.

"I actually ended up getting some answers, which was shocking because I thought it was going to be a joke. But the women were like, 'No, we haven't read your book, and we don't need it.' " Somebody's mothers, it seems, are doing something right. "I asked, 'Where'd you get that confidence thing?' They said, 'We were taught from the beginning you have pride, you're a French woman.' And they really did have it. It's fantastic."

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