It’s the kind of slight the hypersensitive Blair Waldorf might take to heart. But when I visit the author in suburban Irvington, she warns me that she isn’t exactly living Blair’s life. Indeed, the lovely but reasonably sized home Von Ziegesar, 34, shares with her husband, a manager at a public art fund, and their two children (8 months and 3 years) is more kid-friendly than luxe. During our conversation, a workman drops by to inspect her leaking car. (“Try not to smoke near it,” he suggests.) The only sign of glamour is her cat, Pony Boy, a hairless creature who crouches by her side, gazing at me like a basilisk.
I compliment Von Ziegesar on her productivity. She’s planning to write her first non-YA book—possibly about motherhood. With the latest Gossip Girl in stores, another one due out in October, an infant, a toddler, and the spinoff series The It Girl in the works, it seemed like an amazing output. How are you doing all this? I asked. And that’s when the real gossip came out.
“I’m not writing The It Girl—did you know that?” Von Ziegesar blurts. “You keep talking about how I’m going to be so busy—but I’m not. It’s going to be ‘created’ by me, but use someone else’s writing.”
Alert “Page Six”: Just as her series reaches its highest pitch, Cecily von Ziegesar is getting out of the young-adult business. October’s edition (Gossip Girl No. 8: Nothing Can Keep Us Together) will be her swan song. After that, anonymous ghosts will pick up the quill, and Von Ziegesar will “oversee” the remaining books, and give notes on The It Girl, in which busty wannabe Jenny decamps for boarding school. But on both series, the byline will read “Created by Cecily von Ziegesar.”
“My editors will be like, ‘You bitch!’ ” she frets after the revelation—understandably, since such sausage-making scenarios are at once taboo and everywhere in the YA industry. (Hey, V. C. Andrews kept publishing after she died!) But it’s rather like Von Ziegesar to make explicit social complications others might politely kick under the carpet. She’d love to end the series; she knows it’s not hers to end.
Still, if she’s exiting the field, Von Ziegesar’s books have already altered the industry, catalyzing a legion of imitators, from Summer Boys (Gossip Guy) to Alloy’s own The A-List (Gossip Girl in L.A.) and The Clique (Gossip Girl in Westchester). Each aims to capture that Gossip Girl mystique; none quite hits the mark. Sure, they’ve got the ingredients—money, bitchiness, cliques, couture—and they are selling just fine. But these copycat series lack a tart and distinctive Von Ziegesar–iness, her appealing brand of cynicism—a cynicism that feels authentic, and also, oddly enough, compassionate.
Merely copying Gossip Girl’s coarser elements seems to miss the point. Von Ziegesar’s trademark is not, after all, her nasty streak, but her curiosity about the inner lives of the inner circle: She loves her meanest characters most of all. Although her fans may favor Serena, Von Ziegesar’s pet is the hilariously self-centered Blair, whose most generous daydream features her joining the Peace Corps, getting a killer tan, winning the Nobel Peace Prize, and having dinner with the president, “who would then write her a recommendation to Yale, and then Yale would fall all over themselves to accept her.”
So maybe it’s for the best that she’s thinking of writing about young moms—another world of aspirational ego begging to be punctured. She’s read The Nanny Diaries, and was disappointed in “this self-righteous educated nanny—I was more interested in the mother.” And she’s already bubbling over with acid candor on the subject, from the humiliations of finding a place to pump breast milk to playground politics. “I’d never really babysat. I feel like I’m Blair, or Gossip Girl. A teenager, basically—and now suddenly I’m a mom?” she says, wrinkling her forehead in amusement. “When I meet other parents and they’re more ‘mumsy’ than I am—you know, I don’t want to be ‘mumsy,’ but I’m like, ‘Were you always like that or . . . what happened?’”