I’ve considered Maria Semple a friend for many years.  So I jumped at the chance to interview her.  One rainy afternoon, I took my laptop to her loft in Seattle and we settled in for a chat about her novel.

 

Let me start by saying that This One is Mine is brilliant.

Finally, someone who gets what I was going for.

(We share a laugh.)

I have a couple of questions for you.

Shoot.

Los Angeles is almost like a character in your novel. There’s a lot about the Sunset Strip, all of it very authentic. Duke’s Diner, Le Dome, Tower Records, the Whisky….

I tried.

You do know that the Whisky is not spelled Whiskey. There’s no E in the Whisky. You spelled it wrong on page 177.

Well–

Also, on page 197 you say Kurt is driving a “Dodge Saturn.” There’s no Dodge Saturn. GM made the Saturn.

I know!  The copy-editor didn’t catch those, and by the time someone pointed out those mistakes to me, it was too late.  I was totally traumatized, the whole thing kept me up several sleepless nights.  The only thing that calmed me down was the knowledge I could correct those typos for the paperback but–

Actually they’re more than typos. Typos are when you accidentally hit the wrong keys. These are flat-out mistakes on your part.

Well, whatever.  Anyway.  When it came time for the paperback, the publisher told me they weren’t changing the typesetting.  Which killed me.  After another week of agonizing, all I had was the hope that nobody would notice them.   So thanks for that.  What are friends for, right?

 

Speaking of friends. Most novelists, especially first-time novelists, usually include a page, or even pages, of acknowledgments. Personally, whenever I pick up a book for the first time, that’s what I look for. I like seeing who the author thanks, finding out who their agent is and their editor is, and seeing if they have any famous friends. But you don’t have any acknowledgments in This One is Mine.  What is that about?

I’m selfish?  Very similar to my character Sally–

 

What is that you’re eating?

Cold tomato soup.

 

I think that’s called gazpacho.

Not gazpacho.  This is actual hot tomato soup that’s gone cold.

 

That makes me depressed. What made you depressed recently?

The idea that universities will soon go the way of the newspapers, bookstores and record stores. That the all-great Internet has got kids believing they can get all their information from Google and their lectures on YouTube.  So the model of going to school and learning from a professor will soon become obsolete.  I was just recovering from newspapers and books biting the dust.  But now college is going become a casualty of the Internet?  Seriously, I can’t even think about it, it’s too dispiriting.

 

Sorry! So what’s the happiest thing you’ve heard recently?

That HBO is bringing back that awesome NFL documentary Hard Knocks and they’re going to follow the Jets in training camp this year.  You might remember a lot of football references in This One is Mine

 

Did you know that they’re letting the public vote on the “lost” Man Booker Prize? Isn’t that insane?

Wait, are you looking at the Internet or interviewing me?  Seriously, I have to go pick up my daughter at school. Please close your laptop and focus on this Q&A.

 

Did you vote on the Man Booker?

Yes, actually I voted for Troubles by J.G. Farrell.  I absolutely adore that book.  It’s a difficult book, but well worth the effort.

 

I don’t really like to spend a whole lot of “energy” when I’m reading books. What would you do if you had the energy?

Start a blog which is basically a Book Club Dead Pool.  (Do you know what a Dead Pool is?  It’s a type of football betting pool where all you have to do is pick one game a week.  And if your team loses, you get knocked out of the pool.  It goes until there’s only one person left.)  So basically, in my Book Club Dead Pool, we’d go around one-by-one and assign a book to read.  If even ONE PERSON doesn’t love the book, then the person who picked it gets knocked out.  And it goes around until there’s only one person left.  I know I would win because there are so many books I love that I can guarantee everyone will love.  So I’ll be the winner.  What do you think?

 

You lost me. What?

Are you checking email?

 

No, Dead Pool and book club and one person–

[End interview.]

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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.

2 responses to “Maria Semple: The TNB 
Self-Interview”

  1. […] more information, please read Semple’s delightful self-interview. And visit her official […]

  2. […] MARIA SEMPLE talks to her old chum Maria Semple. […]

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