University of Rochester


More Than ‘15 Minutes’

An alumna packs her career as author and comedy writer. By Jayne Denker
Sara Faith Alterman ’01
NOVEL IDEAS: The head writer for ImprovBoston, Alterman draws on her experiences in the entertainment industry for her fiction, including her second novel due out this year.

“Am I talking too fast? Tell me if I’m talking too fast,” says Sara Faith Alterman ’01. “I tend to do that, so just tell me to slow down.”

Slowing down seems like the last thing the former Rochester film and media studies major is interested in. In the five years since graduation, she’s done more in the entertainment business than several professionals put together.

After working as a production assistant (and a waitress, to make ends meet) and spending a year studying with Second City, she now is head writer for the comedy troupe ImprovBoston, writes for the online magazine and filmmaker site, and has completed her second novel.

Asked to name her profession, she describes herself as “author/comedy writer/ film journalist/tired.” (“I don’t sleep a lot, but that’s okay,” she says.) Although she didn’t plan it, Alterman considers herself an author first and foremost.

“I was living in Myrtle Beach, because there was a lot of film and television work in South Carolina. I was a production assistant . . . and I hated it,” she says. “I also hated waitressing. So I started writing these funny bits about both, just for fun, and after two years I realized I had something that could be a novel, so I thought I’d put them all together.”

That first novel, My 15 Minutes, which was published last September, is the story of a Los Angeles waitress who accidentally becomes the average-girl “girlfriend” of a heartthrob movie star—a pairing concocted by the star’s agent. Her second, Tears of a Class Clown, which will be released this September, features a main character who’s very funny but makes a living as a bartender because her paralyzing stage fright keeps her from pursuing a career in comedy.

Alterman admits that both novels have autobiographical elements, drawing on her experiences in food services and in the entertainment industry.

Being a performer was part of her plans when she began college at Sarah Lawrence, where she spent her freshman year as a voice major. Once she realized that the highly competitive artistic scene there took the fun out of singing for her, she transferred to Rochester, where the arts were alive and well, just less competitive—more comfortably so, says Alterman. And at Rochester she discovered a way to enjoy singing again, helping to found the a cappella group After Hours.

These days, however, she views singing as a hobby, and she spends most of her time at a keyboard. In addition to her journalism and comedy writing, she’s working on her third novel, which she describes as a female Walter Mitty tale.

Alterman’s books fall into the pop culture catchall of “chick lit”—those candy-colored trade paperbacks by and about young, hip women—and she doesn’t mind the label.

“I’m honored to be in the same field as Helen Fielding and her Bridget Jones novels,” she says. “I like the empowerment of the genre—it speaks to women. But there are a lot of rules when you’re writing a chick lit novel—where’s the romance, who’s the token gay character. I haven’t felt constrained by the rules yet, but I’m afraid I might, eventually.”

While she rejected one chick lit “rule” outright—“I have a verbal contract with my publisher: No pink covers!”—she does hope to tap into the genre’s popularity with other media. “I would give my right arm for a movie deal,” she says. “Seeing my book make the transition to the screen would be the icing on the cake—the extra icing.”

She says that My 15 Minutes is being shopped around to studios, and the book has generated some interest, although there are no firm plans yet. In the meantime, she says, “I’m happy with seeing my name on a book cover.

“Of course, my dream job is to be a rock ’n’ roll goddess,” Alterman says. “I’d drop everything to do that.”