With ‘Sad Desk Salad,’ former Jezebel writer Jessica Grose satirizes the blogosphere

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Jessica Grose's 'Sad Desk Salad' is out now. (Judith Ebenstein)
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When Jessica Grose, a former writer and editor for Jezebel and Slate, realized that no one had written a novel about working at a high-traffic blog, she decided to write her own.

“Women's websites hadn't been satirized before," Grose said over the phone last week from her home in Brooklyn. "The community is vibrant and amazing and ridiculous at the same time. It's a unique and crazy existence. There’s such a stereotype that you sit in your pajamas and write about what you have for lunch, but no one captured what it's like to produce writing at such a high volume. It’s a loving satire.”

The result of her pursuits is Sad Desk Salad, out today. The book follows Alex, a writer at the popular women’s blog Chick Habit, who is known for her highly opinionated posts that generate high traffic numbers. While she tells herself she’s fulfilling her dream of writing professionally, really she’s a slave to her IM-crazy boss, Moira, and all of her other relationships are suffering.

But the book isn’t just about Alex’s angst. One day, via an anonymous tip, Alex learns of a video of a political candidate’s daughter doing drugs. She struggles with the possibility of willfully ruining this girl’s life for the sake of being a star at work. And it’s a timely plot device in the wake of the Mitt Romney "47 percent" video leaked by an anonymous tipster to Mother Jones.

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In the book there’s also a hate site called Breaking the Chick Habit—BTCH for short—that seeks to humiliate the writers via their embarrassing pasts. Grose has never been the target of a hate site, though there is at least one for Jezebel.

“Their goal seems to be to get the writers to change what they say," said Grose. "They have a lot of emotion wrapped up in the site and what it says. They feel like exposing and critiquing the writers will get them to be more P.C. or talk about the issues they feel are important, but they don’t realize how the job is done and how fast it has to be done." Grose said that when she writes for an online publication, she tries not to read the comments at all.

Writing a novel, she said, is “a million times more insular." There’s no immediate feedback from readers, commenters, or other writers linking to what you have written.

“You have to believe this long project is worth its time,” she said.

One bonus of churning out, as Grose has done at points, nearly a dozen posts a day, is that it erases any tendency toward writer’s block that one might have. Grose says she’s grateful for the “boot camp” of blogging where “you just get it done.”

Grose said she set out, in writing the novel, to attempt to reflect the combined feeling of stress and boredom native to blogging jobs.

“You’re trapped on the Internet, and it seems like it’s your entire world. There’s a loss of perspective—people who don’t spend their lives online often have no idea what you’re talking about.”

And like her protagonist, when living and dying by traffic, as so many bloggers do, “sometimes you say things you wish you had said more delicately or maybe not written at all.”

Grose, who said she will continue to write online and in print and is pregnant with her first child, tried to make the fictional job and lifestyle depicted in her book as faithful to real life as possible, though she took some liberties in getting the action offline and into the world.

“A lot of the details are accurate," she said, "just much more dramatic. If you had a camera following someone who's a blogger, it would just be them sitting at a laptop all day.”