Molly Ringwald joins the novelist club

How young were you when you first felt an urge to write stories?

Written by New York Times | Published: August 26, 2012 1:49:44 am

Molly Ringwald became a star for her roles in a beloved triumvirate of mid-’80s teenage movies: Sixteen Candles,The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink. Now 44,she continues to act and is also focused on a career as an author. In 2010 she published Getting the Pretty Back. She called that effort “a kind of entertaining,anecdotal style guide.”

Her new book is When It Happens to You,a novel told in stories,centered on Phillip and Greta,a couple whose marriage is foundering. Following are edited excerpts from the conversation with her.

How young were you when you first felt an urge to write stories?

I have always been drawn to writing fiction and have done it dating back to grade school,but I probably started writing in earnest in my late teens. Both writing and acting require an ability to understand character—and then recreate it.

It seems as if you have a happy family life. There’s a lot of emotional tumult in these stories. Is your fiction rooted in previous experience,or is your imagination just drawn to darker themes?

My imagination tends to be drawn toward flawed people because I believe our flaws are what make us human. Our struggle is to be happy or to find our way back to a kind of happiness. My characters embody that struggle.

Did you plan this to be a “novel in stories” from the start,or did you just find yourself returning to familiar characters in the stories as you wrote them?

I started writing When It Happens to You in August 2010. I had originally intended to write a collection of connected stories around the subject of betrayal. There are so many ways in which we betray ourselves and others. I chose to begin the book with a marital betrayal,because it is so archetypal,but after I had created the troubled marriage of Greta and Phillip,I wanted to explore further,to find out how they had gotten to this difficult place. In the processs,I began to build up the lives of some of the other characters.

Do you have hopes of turning the book into a film?

The book was very much conceived in prose form,but the characters have not let go of me yet. I would very much like to adapt it for film. I’m inspired by people such as John Sayles or Steve Martin,who have managed to have both literary and film careers.

Men are sometimes awarded extra points for writing female characters well,and vice versa,fairly or not. Your book charts the inner lives of both sexes. Do you feel as if you were drawing on different things when you write about men and about women,or do they all feel universal to you?

I definitely feel different when writing from a male point of view. I am much more conscious of what the character sees and what he notices. In my experience,I find that women and men tend to be drawn to different details.

There are precedents for actors writing fiction,but do you worry about reactions to a movie star breaking into the literary game?

Absolutely,but I am used to a fair amount of scrutiny,having lived in the public eye for longer than I’ve lived out of it. What other people think about my writing is something that I think would have troubled me much more at an earlier age. Still,I don’t consider myself entirely immune to criticism,particularly from people that I care about.

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