Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Divorce Party by Laura Dave

Laura Dave is a great, great author. She has this incredible way of creating characters who are so flawed and normal, like people you or I might actually know. It's as if she can climb into their skin and become that person. Laura weaves the story together in a seamless fashion which satisfies those who like to read light women's fiction as well as the more serious kinds of books. Some writers have a literary talent that cannot be denied. Laura was born to write, I think.

Laura's first novel London is the Best City in America was very warmly received and now The Divorce Party is getting rave reviews. Let's just say this is a smart writer and her career is full of promise. Both her novels have been optioned to become major motion pictures. She's living my dream. You go, girl! I can't wait for her next book which I hope is about a lovely girl named Cindy who runs a website and gets discovered by Hollywood... umm...anyway, I'm very excited to share this interview with you.

How many times did you drive out to Montauk to visit the location for the book? What is it like there?

I drove to Montauk too many times to count. It is a beautiful town which is, quite literally, on the end of the earth. Because of that, it requires something different of its inhabitants. Living in a city, there are so many distractions—so many ways to avoid knowing what is really going on inside of you, inside of your closest relationships.
The quiet in Montauk—the solitude and isolation there—requires an attention to one's own life and surroundings that I greatly admire.I am also fascinated by the people who live in Montauk year-round versus the summer people, who come in and try to take over for a while. There seems to be this reclaiming that occurs perennially—an acknowledgment each September from the year-rounders that this place is ours. That type of devotion to one's home isn't unlike what is necessary to keep a marriage strong, or to keep a family together. This is part of what I ended up exploring in The Divorce Party, which made Montauk a great setting for it.
How do you chose your character's names?

That's a really interesting question. A lot of the time, a character's name will just come to me. In fact, when they are coming to me and feel right, it is often an indicator that the story is moving in the right direction. When I am having trouble naming someone, it usually means that I haven't gotten to the heart of that character quite yet.The first character I named in The Divorce Party was Champ Huntington, the family patriarch, quickly followed by my narrators: Champ's daughter-in-law, Gwyn, and Maggie—who is engaged to Gwyn's son and on her way to becoming the newest Huntington. I had the most trouble naming Maggie's fiancé, Nate, who kept changing his mind on me. He was Jacob for awhile, then Jack, then Lucas. But I can't write about anyone named Lucas and not think of Lucas: the movie (staring Charlie Sheen!)

Your books are very in depth giving each character lots of personality and detail. It's almost like you studied psychology. How do you form your characters?

I am not one of those writers who sits down and maps out everything about a character before I start writing. I usually know a few defining things about each character, (like what you would know after spending an afternoon with someone for the first time), and I let myself learn more as I go. This creates a situation in which my characters are allowed to surprise me—and, occasionally, make things very difficult for me too. I created a character in The Divorce Party who is 8 months pregnant by a man she has known for 10 months. Not necessarily a typical recipe for lasting love. But this character is adamant that it is, in fact, a love that is meant to last a lifetime. And about a hundred pages into the book, I started to believe her. This meant a complete rewrite. But, for me, that is also the fun part.
While I have never formally studied psychology (unless you consider Psych 101: Freshman year of college, which no one should!), I am fascinated by what makes people move, make decisions, change their lives. Informally, these are the questions I am always trying to answer for my characters.
What is the last book you read?

The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. Amazing.

What is one movie that you could watch over and over again?

The Insider (the Michael Mann movie with Al Pacino and Russell Crowe). I love love love that movie. I'm not even sure why, but there you have it. On the opposite end of the spectrum, if I happen to turn on the television and see When Harry Met Sally, I'm fixated until the final time Meg Ryan says "on the side."

The Divorce Party is being turned into a film. How did producers get the book ahead of the release date?

I have a great film agent. That's the simple answer. She loves books, and takes on ones that she cares deeply about—then she finds the right people to be involved in turning them into movies. I don't know how she does it, exactly, but she is truly awesome.In terms of The Divorce Party, Universal Studios acquired the rights with Echo Films, Jennifer Aniston and Kristin Hahn's new production company; and Gwyn Lurie, who wrote the screenplay for my first book, is back on board to write this screenplay as well. I'm very excited.

What traits do you admire in each of your characters?

I admire in my characters many of the same traits I admire in real-life people who inspire me: a surprising sense of humor, a comfort in their own skin, a willingness to stand up and take risks. We are often on journeys in our lives to, quite simply, get out of our own way—to be braver and happier and more giving. I admire when my characters set out on these journeys and figure out how to come through for themselves and for the people who matter most to them. And I always, always like when they can figure out how to laugh instead of cry.

How long did it take you to write the book? Do you have a complete outline before you sit and write it? How do you tackle the process of writing a novel?

I am never sure how to answer the question of how long something took to write. Technically, I started putting pen to paper about twenty months ago (and by pen to paper, I mean: I opened my Mac). But there was this specific image that got the ball rolling for me, which has been running through my mind for years: a woman driving down a driveway to her future-in-laws house, and realizing that she is not signing up for the life that she thought she was. I couldn't let go of that image, which makes me unsure when the work actually started. Maybe I was doing some of it all along, and just waiting to figure out how the pieces all came together.
A trip I took to Montauk to visit friends in the spring of 2005 really helped me begin to see the entire picture.Even as I'm writing a book or a story, I always work toward that sense of discovery. I only outline minimally. But, something happens in the writing that lets me know if I am on the right track. I usually write several drafts before I show anyone a word.

Are there things you wish you could change once the book is printed and published and sitting in book stores?

Of course. In fact, many times I have seen writers make changes to their books while they are giving a reading. I totally understand that impulse. I once heard one of my favorite writers say that the best thing he ever wrote he left on a bus. He didn't mean it literally, but was speaking to a point that I can relate to: once a book is out there in the world, the parts you want to change become so large. While it is lost on a bus, it is perfect.

What is the status of the film version of your first book, London is the Best City in America?

These things seem to take a long time. My first book is still in development at Universal Studios and a great screenplay has been written. I promise--I'll keep you posted as I know more!

If you could write a movie of your life, what would the title be? And who would play you?

I would definitely need to title the movie after one of my favorite songs, maybe a Rolling Stones song, like Ruby Tuesday or Moonlight Mile—though Moonlight Mile has already been taken (and for such a sad movie!), so I guess I'll go with Ruby Tuesday.I love music so much--I would want to be in charge of the soundtrack. I have a lot of ideas already. But, I'm not sure what the movie would be about, or who would star in it. Maybe I would start with the music and take it from there. Two tracks that would definitely make the final cut? If I Should Fall Behind by Bruce Springsteen and ANYTHING by The National.

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