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 recently?
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 would've imagined.
Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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