An Interview with Harley Jane Koxak
In what ways is Wollie like you?
Wollie's a greeting card designer, and I've been a perpetual doodler my
whole life, an amateur, completely uneducated graphic artist . . . For the last
20 years, I've made my own Christmas cards, shlepped them to the printer, sent
out 500 to my nearest and dearest--a mildly idiosyncratic obsession that Wollie
would understand. Neither Wollie nor I has much physical courage (although I'm
in better shape and run more than she does, and I am, I might add, much less
well-endowed. Also shorter and less blonde.) And we're both indoor people. Who
would be happier in a world where we never had to drive a car.
After a successful acting career, what drew you to writing?
In my teens and twenties I was an avid letter-writer and
diary-keeper, and then, upon graduating from NYU's graduate acting program, had
an almost overpowering urge to have a baby and write a play. I postponed the
baby, wrote the play, workshopped it a bit, put it away, tried to write a
screenplay, a novel, a musical, put them away, and then, 15 years later, took a
short story class from a genius who teaches at Santa Monica College, Jim Krusoe.
I lived for his class. I can't adequately describe the feeling I got there, of
being at home. Of course, I've also felt at home on film sets and rehearsal
studios, among actors, but this was different. It was such joy to be with people
who weren't concerned with our makeup or the impression we were making, but
simply concerned with words, sentences, paragraphs on a page. As I neared my
40's, the acting parts grew less interesting to me (going from Leading Lady to
Mom of Leading Lady) and my writing grew more interesting to me. Then I started
having babies, three in quick succession, which, along with my book contract for
Dating Dead Men and its sequel, effectively put on hold my acting career. I
still have the Actor's Nightmare, though -- a common one, where I find myself
onstage, performing a play I neglected to learn the lines for (I had it 2 nights
ago. The play was Macbeth.)
Who are your literary influences? What have you read and enjoyed
I started out with Nancy Drew, and Harriet the Spy, and then went on to
devour my mother's collection of British murder mysteries. An early favorite was
The Spy Who Came In From The Cold by John LeCarré. I remember where I was when
I finished that book; it took me days to recover from the ending. I also adored
John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee series. (I read much tougher than I write.)
Current favorites include Robert Crais, Nelson DeMille, Janet Evanovich,
Elizabeth George, T. Jefferson Parker . . . too many to count.
Is this the first in series? If so, what's next for Wollie?
Yes, it's the first. In the book I'm now finishing up (currently
titled Dating Carnivores) Wollie continues her checkered dating career, this
time on a cheesy reality TV show called "Biological Clock" and enrolls
in Santa Monica College, trying to finish up her bachelor's degree. She--like
me--is math challenged, and when her math tutor disappears, Wollie gets sucked
into searching for her. The third book, , is just taking shape in my head,
involving a dead ex-boyfriend that she and her best friend Joey both dated.
Because of your acting experience, do you see Dating Dead Men as a
movie and who would you cast as the main characters?
I think my acting experience causes me to see story-telling as a
collection of "scenes" and I tend to read aloud a lot, especially the
dialogue, acting all the parts. I can't help seeing it as a movie, but it's a
little abstract -- I don't usually go so far as casting. In the case of Dating
Dead Men, the physical models for Wollie and Doc were Uma Thurman and Griffin
Dunne. I was doing a TV movie with Griffin when I began writing the book, and he
mentioned that Uma was a summer neighbor of his. The thought of Griffin (very
handsome and charismatic; not tall) and Uma (gorgeous, tall) was so evocative to
me, I had to pair them romantically. Halfway through the book, Doc and Wollie
took on a life--and faces--of their own, and departed somewhat from the people
who inspired them. If Dating Dead Men becomes a film, that physical Uma-Griffin
relationship would not be as important as that indefinable something, that
"x" factor, the chemistry of the actors, and their individual spirits.
Movie-making is such a mysterious, magical, serendipitous (one hopes)
combination of elements, the director, producer, screenwriter being as important
to the process as the actors, I don't exactly "cast" it. I think the
best adaptations of books-to-film occur when the film becomes its own entity, so
when I daydream, it's in general terms, talented people being drawn to the
project for reasons of their own, and bringing to the party things I never