October 7th, 2009 Jenny Booth | Special Section Stories
 

Maria Semple

     
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You really should read: This One is Mine

With a movie script bought up by 20th Century Fox as she graduated college, followed by a 15-year stint in TV writing (including the genius cult-com Arrested Development), Seattleite Semple knows a thing or two about combining humor with a strong narrative. She’s leading a workshop on storytelling, having won a Pacific Northwest Book Award nomination for her very first novel, This One Is Mine, a zesty take on the tribulations of a perfect-but-dissatisfied L.A. wife and mother. 10:30 pm Sunday, Oct. 11. Oregon Convention Center, $35.

What’s your personal writing ritual?

I start every day copying a page from the dictionary into a composition notebook…only good words, ones that I could actually use. Currently I’m in the E’s.

What are your favorite themes to write about (or that you’re most guilty of rehashing)?

Unsympathetic people acting slightly crazy, and then redeeming them.

The most beautiful word in the English language is: Lugubrious.

Because it sounds like a combination of lurid, googly-eyed and luxurious. If there really was a word that meant all those things: beautiful!

What authors made you want to pick up a pen in the first place, and why?

James Salter, Bruce Wagner, Vladimir Nabokov, Philip Roth: the men.

Fight Club time: If you could fight one author (or critic), who would it be and why?

Naomi Klein, with Jell-O, because my boyfriend thinks it would be hot.

Name a book you think is highly overrated. Be honest.

I don’t really think of books in terms of being overrated. Once you’ve published a book yourself, you become a much gentler critic. But there are acclaimed books that I just don’t get. Netherland comes to mind. I read it, I finished it, and I thought… really?

Dream project:

Writing the book for a Stephen Sondheim musical.

Most recent nightmare:

Being just feet from wailing sirens, incessant car alarms, helicopters landing on adjacent rooftops and drug dealers screaming at each other from across busy streets. Oh, wait, that’s just the nightly Belltown lullaby.

Your cure for writer’s block:

Lower my standards! Works every time.

Pessimistic question: Will you keep writing even after people stop reading?

I’m still answering these questions, aren’t I?

Cautiously optimistic question: Obama? Discuss.

Give the guy a break. It’s not like this is his idea of a good time, either.

Share one thing you’ve had to change in your everyday life thanks to our current recession.

My phone number.

Please paste a short paragraph from a story you’re currently working on:

I wrote this today. Newlyweds Bill and Vivian are on a road trip with Bill’s brother, Stu. Stu has just put in a Grateful Dead bootleg tape.

“’Samba in the Rain,’” Stu called. “Vince sings it. But it was written by Robert Hunter, who wrote all of Jerry’s songs. And you know what happened. You know that Robert Hunter wrote ‘Samba in the Rain’ and played it for Jerry and Jerry took one listen and said, ‘You can give that one to Vince.’ You know Jerry didn’t want any part of this song. You know he said, ‘Give it to Vince.’”

“You don’t know that,” Vivian said.

“Excuse me,” said Stu.

Bill adjusted the mirror so he could shoot a look at Vivian. She wouldn’t meet his glance.

“You weren’t there,” Vivian told the back of Stu’s head. “Stop saying you know what happened when you weren’t there.”

“I know,” Bill said. “Let’s have fun.” And then proceeded to say nothing.”

 
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