Novelist and screenwriter Jonathan Tropper has One Last Thing to say
Jonathan Tropper, the master voice of angst-plagued men in suburban America ("How to Talk to a Widower," "The Book of Joe") has just released his sixth novel, "One Last Thing Before I Go," which was optioned for $1 million before it was even published. A divorced father who co-parents his three children who range in age from six to 13, Tropper lives in New Rochelle and will be signing copies of One Last Thing 7 p.m. Aug. 21 at the Upper West Side Barnes & Noble, 2289 Broadway.
Q Your latest book is about a guy who refuses a lifesaving heart operation and is hilarious. What is the secret to writing funny?
A For the human race in general, it's pretty hard not to be funny, whether it means to be or not. It's always better to tell a story conversationally, the way you'd talk. My goal always in writing anything is that nobody should ever be just one thing. I don't want anybody to be predictable. I want the characters' humanity to be surprising.
Q Drew Silver, the book's protagonist, lives in an apartment building filled with divorced misfits who invite women young enough to be their daughters to the swimming pool so they can ogle them in their bathing suits. Did you ever do time in such a place?
A It's not me! I live in a house! Years ago -- before I was divorced -- I was in Los Angeles on business and a friend of mine pointed out one of those buildings and said, "that's where all the divorced Hollywood executives live in between lives." I filed that away because I wanted to write about a guy who lived in a building like that, and thought a place like that would be a fantastic backdrop for a story.
Q The story gives off a Westchester vibe, but the locale isn't named. Where exactly, does this novel take place?
A I like to set my stories on the East Coast, in the Hudson Valley. But it's not anywhere specific.
Q Your protagonist, Drew Silver, is a guy who has sort of surrendered to dying by default. Guys like this drive women nuts. Why won't he grow up and take care of himself?
A Silver, in particular, is lost at sea for awhile because he's kind of given up. He's decided to let the world steer him because he's lost the ability to steer himself.
Q Health insurance as a factor in his decision not to have a lifesaving operation is never mentioned, even though Silver is a drummer and musicians typically have a terrible time getting medical care because they lack health insurance. How come?
A I never get into the politics of my characters. I don't want in any way for what my characters do to be mistaken as some kind of political statement. I didn't want anything that would detract from the human story. So I pretend a little that that stuff doesn't matter. I guess I imagined he somehow had some insurance.
Q Maybe you can pretend health insurance isn't a factor in medical care because you just got $1 million for the movie rights. Congratulations.
A That's a million over several years if everything goes right. It's not like they handed me check for $1 million.
Q Still -- nice. Are you thinking about what actor you’d like to play Silver, your protagonist?
A The way I picture him is not lined up with any particular movie star. I’ll do the screenplay but there’s a lot outside my control. I don’t necessarily like to step back and let the machine take over, but that’s the process.
Q Will the ambiguous ending in the book remain?
A I haven’t gotten there yet, but my guess is probably not. In all of my books, I try to end in a hopeful place. A place where there’s hope and redemption. I’m not interested in investing all that time and work in something that’s not.
Q Are writers now commencing novels in hopes the plots will appeal to Hollywood?
A Funny you should ask. My last five were all optioned by Hollywood but never got made. With (this) last one, I set out deliberately to write something I did not think would be remotely option-able. It’s darker than the other books. It has a darker, more intimate story I didn’t think Hollywood would like and it will be really challenging to adapt it. (This is Where I) Leave You is supposed to start shooting in September but that’s a point I’m loathe to talk about. I just don’t believe it until it’s happened.
Q Your character is living off the residuals of a single song he did years ago. Nick Hornby’s protagonist in About a Boy is also a guy who has his life given meaning by a kid who is living off the residuals of a hit song his father had. Did Hornby’s book influence you?
A I can’t say for sure it didn’t, because that book places in my top 10 favorite books.
Q But what a coincidence! Is living off residuals in some kind of perpetual adolescence a male fantasy?
A It’s more about how dangerous a little safety cushion can be. When you don’t have to starve, it can do bad things to your initiative. One little bit of success can actually ruin your life. Silver got a little taste of stardom and never stopped believing it wouldn’t come back. What’s wish fulfillment for me is not worrying. I’m a New York writer. There isn’t any more of a neurotic breed than that. A little bit of me wouldn’t mind not caring about all that stuff (success, taking care of oneself, making money, etc.). The idea of not worrying really appeals to me.