Out of Twenty: 7 Questions for Maria Semple


I had the pleasure of reading Maria Semple’s wonderful book, This One Is Mine. I just have to say that I loved This One Is Mine.  As I first began reading it, I didn’t know that I would love it. I was appalled by the characters, but still almost right away I was rooting for them.  It’s really special when authors help can help you connect with the humanity of someone that you wouldn’t necessarily wanted to hang around with.

I’ve read a lot about This One Is Mine being a satire or a send up of LA, but I’m not sure that I am in total agreement.  Some things were a little ridiculous (and funny!), but I also think that you can get to a place where your life is pretty ridiculous and I felt like these characters were at that point. It was a beautiful thing to see them choose to grow.

Maria, welcome to Linus’s Blanket! Tell us a little about yourself and how you started writing.

I was an English major at Barnard and always thought I’d become a English teacher.  After college, I kind of drifted into TV writing.  I’m sure that sounds disingenuous, but my father was a screenwriter, so I grew up around movie people.  They seemed so glamorous and fun-loving and were way too respected by the general public.  Of course I wanted to be all those things.  I moved to LA and started hanging around assistants and struggling writers.   I soon got my first writing assignment.  It was much easier back then to break in, I think, to get little development deals with the major studios.  I remember figuring that all I needed was 24K a year– 12 for my rent and 12 for expenses.  That’s what I made my first few years, getting a little assignment that lasted a long time.  One thing led to another and soon I had a real TV career.

My mom would be thrilled to know that you worked on Mad About You and I was interested in the fact that you worked on not only that but also 90210.  What made you turn to novel writing?

I loved the camaraderie of writing for TV.   You’re sitting in a room with really smart, funny people, doing your best to make them laugh.  But the hours are long and the end product isn’t really your own.  There’s so much interference from the network and studio and actors.  It grinds you down after a while.  After I had a baby, I thought better of throwing myself back into TV.  It seemed like a young, hungry person’s game.  And I was old and stuffed.  So I decided to go back to the first thing I ever loved, which was literature.

How different is it to work on scripts?  What’s your favorite part of both processes? Do you now have a preference?

I was really afraid to write a novel because, unlike TV,  there’s nobody to help you, no deadlines to motivate you and no network to blame it on if it sucks.  But I love a challenge, and threw myself into it.  I found very quickly how much I loved it.  In fact, my friends who were novelists were worried for me.  They kept asking me how my novel was going, and I said, “Oh great, I love it.  It’s so fun.”  They thought they they had a Shining on their hands.  Or, as my friend Sarah Dunn said, “You were so happy, I thought you were sitting there the whole time doing potato prints, not writing a novel.”  I can’t imagine going back to TV.  Not because it’s so horrible or anything.  I do miss the people and the laughs.  But I moved to Seattle and you really have to be in LA to write for TV.

How did your characters present themselves to you?  Do you make an outline or do they come to you some other way?

I’m a big outliner.  This comes from my work in TV, where you can spend more time “breaking the story” than writing the script.  When I wrote THIS ONE IS MINE, I started with a big structure– a rich woman in a loveless marriage who has a self-destructive affair, plus her sister-in-law who’s on the outside looking in– and spent most of my days simultaneously writing the novel and the outline.

You hit upon a lot of topics and hot button issues in this novel, like drug addiction, hepatitis, depression, Asperger’s, etc…Did you know that you wanted to write a book which included these issues?  Can you tell us a little about how that happened?  Did these things arise out of what was coming from your characters?

Those things came out of the characters.  I knew going in that I wanted Violet’s lover to be less than perfect– it seemed more fun that way.  I had never written prose before so until I sat down to write, I had no idea what kind of writer I was.  It soon became clear that my comfort level was in a slightly amped-up reality.  In order to pull it off, I needed to get the details right.

You mentioned in another interview that while you were working on This One Is Mine you didn’t have the confidence to set it in any other place besides LA, since that is where you were living at the time.  Are you planning on writing another novel, and if so, do you think you still feel the same way?

My new novel is set in Colorado and Seattle, where, not too coincidentally, I’m dividing my times these days.  As a writer, I really get off on the details of daily life, and how they can mess you up– how a simple thing like the school calling a snow day can give you a nervous breakdown.  So I think I’ll always set my books where I’m living.  I’m including some historical sections in my new novel, though, so it’s an exiting challenge figuring out how to bring that same authenticity to people living a hundred years ago.

I saw that you are a Phillip Roth fan.  What types of books would I see if  were to visit Violet and David?  Do they have a library?  Given their issues what book(s) would you suggest for them to read.

Wow, I’ve never thought of that.  I think David rarely reads.  Maybe the new Malcolm Gladwell every few years.  Sally probably carries a dog-eared Eat Pray Love wherever she goes.  Violet, well, I think she re-reads the classics.   As for Violet and David, they need to read some John Gottman books on a healthy marriage.

Thank you so much for stopping by! I am so excited to hear that you are writing another novel and I am really, really looking forward to it!

Giveaway – Maria was gracious enough to offer a copy of her book, This One is Mine,  for me to share with a reader of Linus’s Blanket.  I love incognito giveaways, so this will be one of them. If you’ve read this far, and you haven’t read This One Is Mine, then you’re in luck. Here’s your chance.

In the book, Violet’s husband David looks for a sign that will decide whether he and Violet will end their marriage.  I do this too. I’ll be about to go out and say to myself “If I hear this song while I’m out, X will call me.”  or  “If I see this, then I have to [insert something I’m scared/don’t want to do here].” Silly…I know.  I don’t know if I really believe in this, but I do it.  To enter to win tell me if you believe in signs, what signs you look for and what they mean if you see them happen.  This one is US & Canada only and you can enter until August 8, 2009 EST. Good Luck!

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  1. Thanks for a fun interview, Nicole! I’m the bookish partner and my husband is the partner with a degree in film so we love when the two worlds cross over. Let’s see. As far as my entry, it’s funny, I love to use signs as excuses but I generally don’t REALLY believe in them. I also look at them in retrospect, like I’ll get to a certain point and say “Hey remember this thing that was clearly foreshadowing of where we are right now?” I do it all the time, post looking back and looking forward. I’m interested to see what everyone else says on this. Good question!
    .-= Pam´s last blog ..You can take the girl out of the book pile but you can’t take the bookpile out of the girl =-.

  2. I really loved this book and I think very highly of Maria Semple. I think that it is just that crazy in LA/Hollywood and that this kind of stuff would really happen around here. There are so many shallow people in LA.

    Anyway… I just wanted to say “hi,” “read the book” and “enter the contest.” (Obviously, no need to enter me because I’ve already read/reviewed it).

    .-= sheri´s last blog ..The Bachelorette: The Final Rose – July 27, 2009 =-.

  3. I don’t know if I really believe in signs, but since my dad died two years ago, my whole family looks for signs. I don’t really think that your deceased loved ones can give you signs, but maybe they can make you notice things. My dad worked for Budweiser as a route driver, so every time I see a Budweiser truck I think of my Dad.

    A while back, I was out with my mom and sister and niece and nephew (pre-school aged kids), and this man was telling us that if you find a head’s up penny, then someone in Heaven is smiling at you. It’s sort of become a thing in our family to look for them now (especially my five nieces and nephews, ages 1-7).

    Again, I don’t really think that my dad is causing a Budweiser truck to turn down a certain street, or leaving pennies for me to find, but maybe he causes me to pay attention. Really, what it comes down to is that I know my Dad is always with me, and seeing the trucks or pennies are just nice reminders.
    .-= J.T. Oldfield´s last blog ..Mansfield Park (the Movie) =-.

  4. That’s a tricky question. I will say “Oh that must be a sign” but I don’t go out looking for them. I guess like the other Pam said, I use them as excuses (ie., oh the ATM isn’t working so that must be a sign that I’m not supposed to buy that outfit). I am a big believer in fate though and think that everything happens for a reason and even though it may not be obvious at the time, the reason will become clear later. For example, my husband and I recently bought a new house. There was one that we liked that I’d been checking out online for a few months before we made the decision to sell our house and move to a bigger one. It was still for sale so I thought that was a sign that it was meant to be ours. Then we put in an offer and it was accepted. 11 days later, they had another offer but since we couldn’t risk having 2 mortgages and we hadn’t yet sold our house, we had to withdraw our offer. We were devastated but then we found the house we ended up buying in the same location but the house was much better suited to our family and our needs.

  5. I definitely believe in signs. Both of my parents died within two years of each other. Since that time, every once in awhile, I get a burning smell around me. No one else can smell it but me. When I get this smell, I know it’s my parents letting me know that they are here with me. They have helped me through a lot, just being here with me in spirit.

    Thanks for the chance.


  6. Nicole, That was THE BEST interview. It felt like I was listening in on a chat between you and Maria. Just from the way she ‘chatted’ with you, I can tell this is a great book. I definitely am going to read it – either I buy it or win it.

    I believe there are signs all around us. I don’t do the bargain ones like you do but I also don’t believe in coincidences. I’ve also had the ‘feeling’ of a deceased love one with me from time to time. The first couple of years after my dad died I would ‘feel’ him in the car with me when I was by myself and driving an hour or so on trips for business. It was actually very comforting.
    .-= Margot´s last blog ..It’s Tuesday – Time for Teasers =-.

  7. What a great interview. I haven’t had the opportunity to read This One Is Mine so I would love to be entered.
    As far as believing in signs, I stopped believing in them. I used to look for signs and believe in them when I was younger. The older I got, the less I looked and the less I believed. I don’t know which came first though, If my not looking caused me to not see so I stopped believing- or if I stopped believing so I didn’t see them anymore.
    .-= Icedream´s last blog ..The Sunday Salon 7/26/09- Finding Books =-.

  8. I totally believe in signs, coincidences and omens and more so the older I got. I pay attention to them! I would love to read this book, please count me in!

  9. Well my father has passed and sometimes while I am driving my Keychain starts making this noise. Kind of like a bell dinging and I think it is my father saying hi. Boy do I sound stupid. Please include me in your giveaway.

  10. No, I don’t believe in signs but it’s fun to read about them.
    wandanamgreb (at) gmail (dot) com

  11. Sometimes I look for signs–i tend to think of them religiously, but I don’t know if God really works that way or not.

  12. I guess I do believe in signs. When I have a problem or situation that I need help on I pray. and then wait for a sign or a ‘knowing’ of what to do.
    thanks for the giveaway

  13. Wow – intriguing interview. Pretty cool that you managed to set it up! I wouldnt say Im superstitous BUT I do read the horoscopes almost every day…
    .-= Aaron @ Werewolf Costume´s last blog ..Child Werewolf Costumes =-.