Ellen Meister is one of the warmest, funniest, most generous writers around. I am so, so lucky to know her. She's the author of The Rooftop Party; Love Sold Separately; Dorothy Parker Drank Here; Farewell Dorothy Parker; The Other Life; The Smart One; and Secret Confessions of the Applewood PTA. She teaches creative writing, does editorial and ghostwriting services AND she's the voice of Dorothy Parker on Facebook! I'm so thrilled to have her here. Welcome Ellen!
I always think writers are haunted or obsessed into writing their novels. What obsessed or haunted you?
That is so true! I was actually working on another book when I got the idea for TAKE MY HUSBAND. It was early in the pandemic, and I was close to losing my mind, cooped up in the house with my husband and three twenty-somethings, desperate for alone time that was utterly impossible. So I made a PLEASE KNOCK sign for the door to my little office, and tried to escape into my writing. My husband—who is smart, funny, and adorable but has little sense of boundaries—often ignored the sign and burst in while I was deep in concentration. Adding crankier signs to the door did nothing to help, and I finally snapped, coming up with the idea to write a book about a woman who wants to kill her beloved.
At first, I did NOT want to write this book! It seemed too… mean. And maybe a little too revealing about the darkest corners of my heart. So I tried ignoring it, but the idea would not leave me alone. And so, I gave chapter one a shot, deciding I would write this book if I could figure out a way in. The rest, as they say, is history.
The question here: could a wife’s husband’s death be her ticket out—is both hilarious and provocative. How much fun was it to write this?
Caroline, my dirty little secret is that I love to write. I don’t love plotting—that’s the part that makes me weep and moan and rend my garments—but once I know what needs to happen in a scene, I love to put my characters in the situation and listen to what they have to say. So, once I figured out the trajectory of my main character’s arc, and the story that drove it, I absolutely loved getting outrageous!
I always want to know if writers feel they have learned lessons from their last book that they can use in their new one. (I never was so lucky!) But did you?
I do think I’m always learning and growing as a writer, though I’m not necessarily conscious of the ways my writing is evolving. That all seems to happen under the surface. I will say, though, that my previous book had a young protagonist, and I was so ready to write about a late middle-aged woman. It felt liberating.
What was the writing like? And how do you write? Do you map things out, find your way in the dark?
I can’t write unless I have an idea of the structure. Because for me, it’s always all about the main character’s arc. So I need to think about where the character starts, where they end up, and how they got there. That’s not to say I come up with a rigid outline. It tends to be a pretty fluid document, because my characters often surprise me and won’t behave how I originally expected them to. To me, staying true to the characters is essential. So, I do a lot of rejiggering of my outline as I go along.
What’s obsessing you now and why?
Oh! I teamed up with some great folks—Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry—and we are trying to sell TAKE MY HUSBAND as a TV series. David and I wrote a pilot together, and it was as fun as it was fascinating. Stay tuned for developments on this project!
What do you want readers to come away from the book thinking about?
As women, it’s so easy for us to fall into a pattern of ignoring our own needs for the sake of others. It’s the way we’re socialized from a young age. So I’d like them to think about standing up for themselves in their important relationships, and remembering that their needs and desires are just as important as their partner’s.