Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Interview with Maria Semple

Maria Semple, author of This One Is Mine, has been kind enough to stop by Reading with Tequila to answer some questions.

Maria Semple spent her first two years in Spain where her father had gone to write a play, but instead ended up writing the pilot for the TV series Batman. They packed up for Los Angeles, where Maria mainly remembers being driven around the hills in a Mercedes convertible with the latest Stephen Sondheim playing on 8-track. Wanting to expose the children to a change of seasons, her parents moved the family to Aspen in the early seventies. There, Maria became an expert skier, pot-smoker and delinquent. She was sent away to boarding school at Choate Rosemary Hall and loved every minute of it.

College was at Barnard, where Maria had big plans of becoming a novelist or an English teacher. Those dreams got derailed when she sold a movie script to Twentieth Century Fox just after graduation and moved to LA. She got into TV when her friend Darren Star-- whom she'd met on the ski slopes in Aspen years earlier-- gave her a job on Beverly Hills 90210. Thus began a fifteen-year career in television, writing for good shows like Ellen, Saturday Night Live, Mad About You and Arrested Development. And bad shows nobody needs to know about.

She had a baby and quit television. When it was time to get back to work, she resisted Hollywood and gave novel-writing a try. THIS ONE IS MINE is the result. Writing it was the most fun work experience of her life.

Maria, her boyfriend and their daughter have since left LA for Seattle where Maria's at work on her second novel.

Reading with Tequila: You put your characters through hell in This One Is Mine. How did you come up with the situations you placed them in?

Maria: You nailed it, I wanted to put them through hell. It's hard to answer how I came up with the situations. It's a combination of moments I always wanted to write about, and who the characters are, and what would be most dramatic. But mainly, I was looking for drama.

RWT: Teddy fascinates me. He seems such an unlikely choice for Violet's love interest. Why did you chose to portray him the way you did?

Maria: I played around with that character a lot. Obviously, I could have made him this totally romantic Mr. Darcy type. But I though it would fun if I pushed it as far as I could in the other direction. You don't see that much. So over many drafts I tweaked how "unlikely" I made him. Some readers think he's too unappealing. Some totally get it and write me, "I had my own Teddy once." I knew I'd turn off readers potentially with Teddy. But I didn't want to play it safe. I wanted to have some fun.

RWT: This One Is Mine shows the often hidden side of family relationships between husband/wife, mother/daughter, brother/sister and sister-in-law/sister-in-law. How hard was it to write families that realistically?

Maria: First off, thank you for saying it's realistic. When you're writing, you have to constantly question yourself, and challenge yourself to get it right. That's what writers do when they spend most of their day sitting at the desk staring out the window... we're raking ourselves over the coals to make sure it's all authentic.

RWT: How long did it take you to write This One Is Mine start to finish? Can you tell us a little about the process?

Maria: I write the first draft in about four months. Then I did six more drafts before I showed it to an agent. At about draft four, I started showing it to select readers, friends of mine whose opinions I trusted. And they gave me notes. I believe in writing a draft to the end. Putting it aside for a while, then reading it straight through. I go to a hotel for this, for two days. No computer, no cell phone. Just sit there and read my novel and try to experience it as a reader. I don't mark on the manuscript, but take minimal notes on a yellow pad, describing what it feels like to read it. What part is slow, what seems confusing, what part is great. The I start from page one and work on it.

RWT: You were a writer for many successful television shows before you wrote This One Is Mine. Did you find an unexpected differences writing in different medias?

Maria: TV is a machine and you're just a small part of it. It's super fun, super social. Novel writing is isolated and it's all you! Nobody to blame but myself if someone doesn't like it.

RWT: Can you give us any information about your current project or what you're planning to work on next?

Maria: Struggling!!! But a happy struggle. Every day I wake up, drop my daughter off at school, and feel lucky to be able to call myself a novelist.

Maria Semple's Website
This One Is Mine on Amazon

Reading with Tequila's review of This One Is Mine

About the Book

Violet Parry is not Anna Karenina. Witty, affectionate, and fearsomely resourceful when she wants to be, she's a modern woman who has traded a great job for a picture-perfect Los Angeles life with her rock-and-roll-manager husband, David, and their darling daughter. She can speak French, quote Sondheim and whip up dinner from the vegetables in her garden. She has everything under control—except her own happiness. Driving the hills of Los Angeles, her sense of isolation grows with every curve. She has a chance encounter with Teddy Reyes, a roguish small-time bass player with a highly-evolved sexuality. He shows an interest. That's all it takes. Heedless of consequences, Violet embarks upon her monomaniacal journey towards destruction.

David’s sister Sally, in great shape but pushing forty, is on a mission of her own to attain exactly that status and security which Violet is so quick to abandon. Nothing can stop her—as is discovered by the unfortunate bystanders in her path, and by Jeremy, the sportswriter-savant she's desperate to marry before he achieves the television celebrity she knows is his destiny.

Consumed with recklessness, Violet and Sally overlook the possibility that David and Jeremy may deal some surprises of their own.


  1. Thank you for the interesting interview!^O^ I already ordered This One is Mine and I can't wait to read it!*_*

  2. I chose this one to read next, i'm starting tonight. I look forward to a fun read.

  3. Fantastic interview! I love the questions you asked. This One Is Mine sounds like a compelling read. I'll have to check it out!