Exclusive: Maria Semple Channels the Sad LA Wife


TV-writer turned novelist Maria Semple had us at Arrested Development. After having worked on that cult favorite, and other series such as Beverly Hills 90210 and Mad About You, she has recently fulfilled every writer’s dream and published her first novel, This One Is Mine.

After the jump, we get the chance to ask her about the disaffected housewife phenomenon, her favorite books about LA, and the inevitability of re-writes. If you live in New York, you can see more of her tonight, as Maria will be appearing at The Strand to discuss TV writing with her longtime friend Sex and the City creator Darren Starr and to read from This One Is Mine. Event details here.

Flavorwire: The disaffected LA housewife phenomenon hit the airwaves last year with the success of “The Starter Wife”, and now is the subject of your first novel. Do you think there’s a general malaise that is palpable in LA and that women like your protagonist, Violet, are everywhere?

Maria Semple: I think women everywhere struggle with marriage, motherhood and careers. No matter how many of these things we take on, there’s always this terrible low-grade feeling that we’re letting someone down– husbands, children, ourselves. And that’s totally depressing. Hopefully, Violet is the only one who sees the way out of the malaise is to take up with with a sex-addicted, virus-infected ex-junkie.

FW: You come from TV writing, which probably makes the jump to fiction easier than if you came, say, from a career in food writing. What made you want to write a book, and how has your TV experience shaped your approach to fiction?

MS: What writer doesn’t dream of writing a novel? I was just gutsy enough to give it a try. TV helped me in so many ways. It made me ruthless about story and dialogue. More than anything, it made me comfortable with writing as hard, grinding work. When I was writing THIS ONE IS MINE, I’d always read over pages I’d written and they were God-awful. Believe me, most people would give up any illusions of becoming a novelist on the spot. But I was never fazed. I had faith that with a ton of rewriting, it would get there.

FW: LA is central to the characters and situations in This One Is Mine. Do you have favorite LA-centric novels or films that you found inspiration in?

MS: Bruce Wagner’s Force Majeur and I’m Losing You. Bruce’s — that’s right, I just called him Bruce, I stalked him into a friendship with me — Bruce’s books are so unapologetically specific to LA. When I started writing This One Is Mine and I kept wanting to get detailed about LA and the weird way of life in LA, I didn’t worry that people wouldn’t get it, I just went for it. I shudder to think of what I’d be without Bruce Wagner.

FW: Your story is very dialogue-driven, which gives the book quite a relatable feel. Did you find yourself drawing from everyday conversations you had with friends, and if so, what do they think about it?

MS: Luckily, they don’t seem to have read it. Hey — screw them.

FW: Finally, you’re appearing with the illustrious Darren Starr tonight — if you had to pick a favorite series out of the Starr repertoire, which would it be?

MS: Oh, man, I’ve got to say 90210. It was his first hit, and it’s always great to watch the friend you bum around with make good. Really good. So good he can give you your first TV job.