I used to write for TV. I worked on good shows, like Ellen, Mad About You and Arrested Development. And bad shows that nobody needs to know about. During those years, I never actually watched TV, though. All I did was read. Writing for TV was fun and challenging, and something I was good at, but the end product never much held my interest. One day, when I was in the middle of negotiating yet another pilot deal, I thought, I know what's going to happen, I'll waste a year of my life in the development grind and the thing won't even get made. So, kind of on an impulse, I decided, fuck it, I should write a novel. It was the thing that scared me the most, so I thought I'd better get to it.
I asked myself a simple question. "If someone came up to me holding a book and said, 'Oh my God, Maria, you are going to absolutely love this book,' what would that book be?" I was in the middle of rereading Anna Karenina for the millionth time, so I took that as a cue. I literally wrote a list of what I'd want in a novel and taped it to my desk. Here's the exact list I wrote almost two years ago to the day:
- about marriages/relationships
- someone having an affair
- characters are real & grounded, but acting crazy, like I'd be afraid to
- emotionally and psychologically detailed
- living in nice houses
- you have no idea where it's going
- lots of characters who end up affecting each other
And so I began. Unlike in television, where you're always thinking, "Is this what the network wants? Is the actor going to object?", at every juncture I asked myself, "What would I want to have happen here, if I was reading this book in bed after a long boring day with my kid? What would make me keep reading instead of going to sleep?" That was my only criteria. It was a joy to write, every step of the way. I hope that comes across to the reader.
-- Maria Semple