My first novel The Scandal of the Season is a romantic comedy that I discovered by accident. I was writing my Ph.D about the famously misanthropic 18thC English poet Alexander Pope and I realized that a clandestine, upper-class romance lay behind his satirical poem The Rape of the Lock. I decided to recreate it. In my novel the love-affair takes the hero and heroine by surprise — they think of themselves as world-weary, emotionally savvy individuals, but they’re blindsided when they meet each other.
I was 30 years old when I wrote Scandal, living in L.A. Soon before it was published I returned to live on the East Coast and attended a lunch that Scribner hosted for me in New York. I found myself sitting next to a man whom I’d met once before, several years earlier at a friend’s dinner party in Manhattan. We’d hit it off, but he was married and I was dating someone. This time around we were both single. I want to say that we embarked on a clandestine, upper-class, poetic affair — actually we were too shy and embarrassed to talk to each other at lunch at all. But we arranged to meet for a drink the next weekend, and it was the funnest drink we’d ever had. We kept dating and a little while ago we moved in together.
It’s a romantic comedy in the sense that neither us of had the faintest idea what we were getting into when we met. It was all unexpected, not just meeting, but realizing that if you want to make two lives fit together, you have to be ready to accept any number of unexpected things. Once you’ve started you don’t really get to stop. Since I’m a writer the lessons of life almost always become the lessons of fiction. Unexpectedness is key. My writing mantras are: Accept the unexpected; keep saying yes; don’t be afraid of where it will take you. The “not knowing” phase is every bit as important as the eventual knowing.