Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Elinor Lipman author of The Family Man: Loaded Questions Interview

The Family Man marks Elinor Lipman's tenth novel. Lipman has made a career out of writing lightly comedic novels full of characters that are engaging, heartfelt and yet entirely human. Lipman's latest novel focuses on Henry Archer, a single openly gay attorney who's a stand up guy. The fun of The Family Man begins when Henry's life is entered, once again, by his shallow and hard to handle ex-wife, Denise. Henry's former wife finds herself on hard times and does precisely what she frequently did during their marriage -- attempt to get Henry to solve her problems. The heart of the novel, however, has to do with the relationship between Henry and Thalia, Denise's grown daughter whom Henry had contact with when she was a child. Henry attempts to make up for lost time as he and Thalia forge an amusing relationship that allows our protagonist to fully cope with the past and look towards the future.

Kelly Hewitt
: Your novel Then She Found Me was turned into a feature film in 2007 starring and directed by Helen Hunt. I have also read that both The Ladies' Man and The Pursuit of Alice Thrift are also in pre-production. I always wonder how authors feel after seeing their literary works translated onto the big screen. How did you feel about the adaptation of Then She Found Me? To what extent, if any, are you involved in the production aspect of your two latest novels turned motion pictures?

Elinor Lipman: Actually, the latter two are not in pre-production; by now barely in development. Screenplay rewrites are in the works and directors are attached, but I am never sanguine about movie prospects because everything is nothing until it's something (a Jack Nicholson quote.) Then She Found Me took 19 years from option to screen, which explains my Hollywood pessimism. I did love my movie, though, and did not mind the changes from the book. I hear from loyalists all the time who think that the novel should have been, essentially, the screenplay. I direct the crybabies to something I wrote for Huffington Post when the movie came out. (Click here to read the article.)

KH: A fan of your novels wrote in a review that the best part of your writing is that you develop your supporting characters just as fully as your primary characters. This is something that I noticed too, it certainly makes The Family Man and your other novels more compelling and complete. Is that something you focus on or that comes naturally, the dedication to providing the reader with fully fleshed out supporting and primary characters?

EL: It's not something I focus on. My goal is always good storytelling and verbal economy. I'd like to think that if a supporting character feels fully developed it's not because I described his childhood or the wind in the trees outside his bedroom window, but because I found the right combination of telling details.

KH: In a review of your novel The Inn at Lake Devine the Chicago Tribune wrote of your work “Think Jane Austin in the Catskills!” In reviewing your latest novel, The Family Man, the Washington post dubbed the novel a “screwball comedy from 'an Austen-like stylist'”. You have been dubbed a modern Jane Austin on more than one occasion. How does that sit with you?

EL: Hmmm. How would one feel about being compared to a beloved and timeless author? Maybe: It is a truth universally acknowledged that any novelist in possession of her right mind would be thrilled.

KH: After writing nine novels you've probably been compared to all sorts of literary figures. Can you think of one that was crazy or totally off base?

EL: Actually, not all sorts of literary figures. Well, once a British critic wrote, "Imagine, if you can, a cross between Philip Roth and Melissa Bank." The L.A. Times said I was Larry David without the whining. I don't see that, but I loved it anyway.

KH: I am struck, after having read several interviews and features on you over the last couple of years, by the fact that everyone says the same thing. You're nice, cheerful, positive, upbeat and comfortably so despite the occasional ribbing of your son and husband. Why do you think that, in interviews and features on you and your career, there is such a focus, maybe even a hint of disbelief, on your good nature?

EL: I noticed early on that the bar is set pretty low in publishing. I called my agent's office once and said politely to a temp, "This is Elinor Lipman calling for X. Is she there?" The temp reported back to my agent, "Who is Elinor Lipman? She's the nicest person I talked to all day." See? Low expectations.

KH: Have you ever had the urge to play against type by writing that is unlike the traditional Lipman novel?

EL: Every time I think I've done that, woven death or anti-semitism or racism or villainy into the work, people still think it's funny. I'm told it's the voice. I do want to be seen as a good observer with a wry eye, but I'm always surprised at lines people laugh at when I'm doing readings in public. And believe me, I've been a judge for the National Book Awards, for the National Endowment for the Arts, for PEN this and that, so that I come away from the piles of submissions with no desire to go earnest.

KH: The Family Man marks your tenth published work since Into Love and Out Again in 1988. Looking back at twenty plus years of writing, has the process gotten any easier?

EL: No, not easier. On many days I think harder. One thing that experience has taught me is to know that having doubts about the material all the way through, and feeling lost and out of ideas is part of the process. It happens with every book. It helps to think--and to have my friends remind me--"Ha! That's exactly what you said about (fill in any past work)." Their mocking of the same old familiar doubts helps me put my hands back on the keyboard.

KH: I have not come across it used to describe any of your recent work but I wonder, how do you feel about the term “chick lit”?

EL: Hate it. I don't like it when reviewers use it and I especially don't like it when publishers market books that way.

KH: Your readers have expressed a great deal of admiration for the protagonist of The Family Man, the openly gay, stand up guy Henry Archer. As an author what draws you to a character like Henry?

EL: I can't really say I'm drawn to a character when I'm doing the actual drawing. I did know I wanted Henry to be sweetly paternal, a gentleman, old-fashioned and well-adjusted in a somewhat nervous fashion. I don't try to make political statements, but I did want readers to come away thinking, "What a decent man. Why can't all fathers be gay?"

KH: The Family Man has only been in bookstores a month or so but I am sure that some of your faithful readers are already wondering what's next for Elinor Lipman. Have you already begun work on your next project?

EL: Yes. I'm about 100 pages into the next one. That sounds like I'm a fast writer, but I finished The Family Man more than a year ago. This new one is also set in New York, and all I'll say is that the recession is nibbling at the edges of the story.


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