Ain't it great when a writer you admire turns out to be as funny and entertaining in person as he is on the page? Such is the case with Mr. Tropper, who I caught last night at a signing/reading on his tour to promote the release of the paperback version of This Is Where I Leave You, one of my favorite novels of 2009.
Put it this way: If Jon's careers as a novelist and screenwriter don't work out, stand up comedy wouldn't be a stretch. He's quick-witted, smooth, sarcastic and damn funny — seemingly very similar in real life to the fictional wise-cracking, smart ass main characters in his novels.
In fact, when someone asked him the inevitable (and annoying) question about how much of his writing is autobiographical, he smirked and deadpanned "None of it." Then he paused, laughed, backed himself up a bit, and explained that any writer who says that there isn't at least a kernel of autobiography in his fiction is lying. He said that of any of his books, Everything Changes (my review here), along with being possibly his favorite, is the most autobiographical. The novel is about an early-30s New Yorker who pees blood one day, freaks out that he might have cancer, and then falls in love with his dead best friend's widow while dealing with the return of his clownish, Viagra-popping father Norm. Tropper made it clear that none of that had actually happened to him, leaving us to wonder what about the novel made it most autobiographical for him.
Tropper began the event by talking about how he developed the story for This Is Where I Leave You, presumably preemptively striking against the "Where do you get your ideas?" question. He said he wanted to write a book about a guy who loses his job and wife in one fell swoop. And then, to add insult to injury (and comedy for his reader), he wanted to send his character to the worst possible place he could imagine when things were low: his parents house. But he needed a way to keep him there for more than 20 minutes, so he converted the family to Judaism, killed the father, and had them sit shiva — all in one afternoon of creative inspiration. That was a productive afternoon, he said.
A woman commented that the character Judd in This Is Where I Leave You is every woman's worst-nightmare regarding how men think. This made me laugh, because I thought Judd, if a little depraved and more honest than might be socially acceptable, was actually pitch perfect for how dudes think. Tropper also laughed, and said, "So is the question 'Do all men think like that?' Well, I have bad news for you..." He conceded a little, explaining that Judd is "sexually angry" because he'd just caught his wife in bed with his boss, so that's the lens through which readers should look at him over the course of the rest of the book. In other words, there's a part of Judd in every dude, but because Judd is a bit damaged at the moment, not every dude lacks the impulse control Judd seems to, in both thoughts and deeds.
A few other notes from the event:
— Tropper changed publishers between Everything Changes and This Is Where I Leave You, actually paying to get out of his contract because he was fed up with the way his former publisher was marketing his novels, and was especially annoyed by their ridiculous covers. Yeah, he said he despises the Everything Changes cover — he said he thought he'd written a novel about a guy in crisis, and then what do they put on the cover? A giant vagina. He also hated the original cover for How To Talk To A Widower (my review here) — a novel about death whose cover makes it look like a teen comedy. Thankfully, his past books have been re-published with new covers more closely resembling the design of This Is Where I Leave You.
— I asked him how he translates his humor to the page, since jokes, one-liners and especially sarcasm don't always translate well in black and white print. He said he doesn't try to write funny, he just writes. That's his style, his personality. I might not have believed that without actually meeting him, but it's pretty apparent from the way he is that that is the case.
— He's written a screenplay for This Is Where I Leave You (it's kind of a rarity for writers to adapt their own novels), which currently has a "famous" director attached and is in development at Warner Brothers. He said he's hopeful the movie will get made, but he's not holding his breath. As a screenwriter also, he seems pretty jaded and disenchanted with Hollywood. "Any movie that doesn't have a super hero doesn't get made anymore."
— He said his favorite novelist is Richard Russo, who actually also adapted his own novel — Empire Falls — for an HBO miniseries.
Here's the rest of Tropper's book tour schedule. If he's coming to your city, I'd highly, highly recommend checking him out!