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so what do you do?

So What Do You Do, Nancy Jo Sales?
The people in your media neighborhood.

BY ALBERT LEE | Whether it's Chelsea Clinton "kissing up a storm," the Hilton hotel heiresses dancing on tabletops, or Hugh Hefner in bed with seven women one-third his age, the subjects of Sales' Vanity Fair profiles are sure to be colorful. Sales, who began her career at the National Enquirer, has also written frequently about the doings of Manhattan's obscenely rich, ne'er-do-well teens for New York magazine.

DOB: October 15, 1964.

Hometown: Miami.

Occupation: Contributing Editor, Vanity Fair.

First real job: Baking pies in my parents' health food restaurant.

A brief career sketch: I went from tabloids to People to New York to Vanity Fair, with a lot of freelance things in between.

Favorite book(s): Whatever I'm reading at the moment. But the book I've gone back to most frequently is The Great Gatsby. It's pretty near perfect.

Five latest obsessions: 1) My daughter, Zazie. 2) The extraordinary reporting on terrorism in The New York Times. 3) Wondering how this story was missed by every publication, including the Times, throughout the '90s and into 2001. 4) Wondering how as journalists we can address the things that make terrorists hate us without furthering their cause. 5) The trials of Tony Soprano.

Heroes: In no particular order, Jimi Hendrix, Charlie Chaplin, Vincent Van Gogh, Billie Holiday, my mother and father, Martin Luther King, the late novelist Chris Fuhrman, Graydon Carter, Kurt Andersen, and all the people who died on September 11. Rest in peace.

I'll always read a story by: George Gurley, Rebecca Mead, Eric Heddigaard, Robert Sam Anson, Jane Kramer, Maureen Dowd, Marie Brenner, Jim Windolf.

Nuttiest moment she's never written about: If I didn't write about it, it was because I couldn't, although I probably wanted to badly. The weirdest moment I ever did write about was Dennis Rodman asking me if I'd like to watch him have sex with Carmen Electra. Carmen vetoed the idea before I could respond.

Nuttiest thing she's ever done: Reporting a story for New York magazine in 1997, I tagged along while a cracked-out Times Square crack dealer robbed a crack house in Washington Heights. It was an ingenious plan that didn't work only because his partner robbed him of the booty.

How she feels about the kids she writes about: I think American values in the last 20 years have dived into a pit of narcissism and greed, and unfortunately, this had affected young people. They only imitate their parents.

Number of angry calls fielded from subjects of your profiles: Surprisingly few.

Best or worst moment on assignment: Best and worst together — Hugh Hefner was about to tell me how he has sex with seven women at one time when I found my new tape recorder wasn't working. No problem. Hef proved as handy with mechanics as with the female anatomy.

Note-taking tips: Write down everything. And learn to write without looking down. (I try to be as unobtrusive as possible. Sometimes you have to nudge the tape recorder a little closer or ask someone to repeat something.)

Funniest job interview: In 1997, I was talking to The New York Observer about going to work for them. I had been doing a lot of stories for New York magazine about the teenage underworld and street gangs, and Arthur Carter, the Observer's publisher, told me, "Mary [sic] Jo Sales, we want you to write about sle-e-e-aaze."

How to overcome writer's block: Look through your notes or listen to your tapes and you'll find something that will get you going.

Her next Vanity Fair piece: It's about a bunch of kids in L.A. and how they spent the summer of 2002.

The stories she's proudest of: The ones that people remember.

Smartest thing I ever did for my career: Not thinking too much about it.

So What Do You Do? appears on Tuesdays.


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