The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton -- Even if I'm reading it for the tenth time, and I know every single thing that's going to happen, I'm crying by the end.
What are some of your favorite films, and what makes them unforgettable to you?
Curiously, a lot of them are set in L.A. In Inside Daisy Clover, Natalie Wood's breakdown in the dubbing booth is breathtaking.
In Shampoo and Chinatown, the direction, the script, and the performances are almost perfect.
Gone with the Wind is an amazing adaptation of the book, a film that manages to depict the novel exactly the way we saw it when we read it.
Finding Neverland is almost like a tone poem: wistful, dreamy, realistic, and otherworldly.
What types of music do you like? Is there any particular kind you like to listen to when you're writing?
I can only listen to classical music when I'm writing -- anything clean, like Chopin.
Do you have any special writing rituals? For example, what do you have on your desk when you're writing?
I have no rituals or set writing schedule. When my children were little, I adopted the philosophy that writing is done in chaos and a sentence at a time. I very rarely go out to lunch, as I don't like the way it breaks my day.
My desk has a clutter of books and papers, stationery, a pair of binoculars in case a bird flies by the window, no pens, ever, a laptop, a wireless router, and a beautiful wooden plaque on which is painted a Cuban lady from the 1800s dressed for a party, with doves on her shawl, standing under the moon.
If you had a book club, what would it be reading?
If I had a book club, it would be reading, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon, because it's amazing and there's so much to talk about. I have a friend who read it recently who mistakenly thought it was a work of nonfiction.
What are your favorite kinds of books to give -- and get -- as gifts?
My favorite book to give at the moment is The Historic Restaurants of Paris by Ellen Williams, a funny little tour book about restaurants that still exist and have been there for years. I always thought it would be fun to do a tour of Paris keyed just to this book.
I like to receive cookbooks as gifts because I like to read them and they're expensive -- I never buy them because I have so many, it always feel like an indulgence to me. And there's some puritanical side of me that thinks if you have The Joy of Cooking and Gourmet you should be able to cook anything.
Many writers are hardly "overnight success" stories. How long did it take for you to get where you are today? Any rejection-slip horror stories or inspirational anecdotes?
My first novel, Cool Shades, was rejected 37 times and then published as a Dell paperback, not trade, mass-market. And then, The New York Times gave it a full-page rave review. That week, it was No. 2 on the L.A. Times bestseller list. In those days, there was a mass-market list and a trade list, so being on the mass-market list meant you were selling a lot of copies. But they'd only printed 2,500 books, and it sold out. And they didn't reprint it. It was really sad. It's still not in print. But I was too stubborn to quit and do something sensible.
If you could choose one new writer to be "discovered," who would it be?
David Eggers, except everyone's already discovered him. His new volume of short stories, How We Are Hungry, shows what an amazing stylist he is. It's hard to believe that the different voices in this book were written by the same person.
What tips or advice do you have for writers still looking to be discovered?
My advice to anyone who's trying to write is, books are written a sentence at a time -- that you can't wait for a block of time. That it's possible to have a full-time job and write a novel, working a few hours at night or early in the morning. I was working as a studio executive when I wrote my first novel. Try to take magazine assignments or newspaper assignments, even local ones, if you can, as it helps develop your craft, and it feels good to be paid, even modest amounts, for your work.
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