Friday, January 30, 2009

Author Snapshot: Maria Semple

Most recent book: This One Is Mine
Born: Los Angeles
Reside: Seattle
Birthday: May 21, 1964
Web site:

What’s your favorite city?
Aspen, Colorado

You only have six hours to spend there. What do you do?
Anything, so long as I'm outside and covered with sunblock.

What food do you love?
What food don’t I love, is more the question. I'm a vegetarian and I consider bacon one of my favorite foods.

What food have you vowed never to touch again?

Chocolate chip cookies made substituting white sugar for brown sugar. I did this once. It was midnight and I had to eat something really bad for me, so imagine my good fortune to find a bag of chocolate chips in the cupboard. I went through all the ingredients and miraculously I had everything except brown sugar. It seemed harmless enough to use white sugar instead. Well, I don’t know what the chemistry of it was, but even the smell of them baking made me nauseous. I took one bite and I spent the whole next day vomiting. I have to stop writing about it, because I can taste it now.

What’s on your nightstand?
The galleys for Sarah Dunn’s new novel, Secrets to Happiness. It’s hilarious.

What inspires you?
Renouncing all praise and criticism. Knowing that I’m not special and the only way I can distinguish myself is by working hard.

What are you working on now?
My next novel. I’m so happy to be back writing after doing press for This One Is Mine. I love doing readings, and feel like it's important to honor you work by doing readings and press. But there’s nothing like succumbing to the madness of living in the world of your novel.

Tell us about your process.

I start every writing session copying poetry or part of a short story into a notebook. Then, I copy a random page of the dictionary. That gets me connected with words and the great writers who came before me.

I sketch out the scene I’m writing by hand, with a pencil on a yellow pad. When I get enough down, I move to the computer. In the larger sense, I’m a big believer in outlining and, as we say in TV, “breaking story.” Before I begin the novel, I know the big beats of the story, and where it’s going to end. I start my drafts at the beginning, and from there lots of cool stuff can pop up which can change everything, so I’m constantly revising the outline as I go.

Lift your head and look around. What do you see?
A fabulous map of Aspen, Colorado circa 1893. My next book takes place in Aspen and so I hung a map of the town across from my computer.

Out the window is Elliot Bay. Container ships and the Bainbridge ferry are doing their things. It’s actually sunny today.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
My father was a writer. And I idolized him. So I never thought about becoming anything else.

If you couldn’t write books, what would you be doing?
Being an executive assistant. I’m very organized and like being in the whirl of things, but don’t necessarily want the responsibilities and focus that comes with the whirl. Anytime there’s somebody I admire, I never think, “I want to be that person.” I usually think, “I want to be that person's assistant.”

To date, what moment in your career has made you happiest?

When I got the call that Little, Brown wanted to buy my novel. I hung up and went downstairs to tell my boyfriend. On the way, I passed my daughter’s room. She was three at the time. I saw all her little dresses hanging from her closet and I thought, “Her mother is a novelist.”

For you, what is the easiest thing about being writer?
The writing! I’m sorry to say that, but I really do love figuring out the story and the characters and the sentences.

What’s the most difficult?
Finding the time to write.

What question do you get asked about your writing most often?
How much of that is autobiographical?

What question would like never to be asked again?

Has Oprah read your book, because that would be really good for you, if your book got picked by Oprah.

Please tell us about This One Is Mine.
It’s a modern-day Victorian novel about marriages and relationships in LA. It’s funny and serious and passionate and surprising. People seem to really like it.

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