What's in a Page: Stephen McCauley on My Ex-Life and espresso-fueled stories
Divorce is a tricky business, particularly during the back nine of one’s life. In My Ex-Life, main character David Hedges has been over his ill-fated marriage for decades — not least because he’s gay and his former spouse is not. But when he hears from his ex-wife, Julie, for the first time in ages, that aforementioned tricky business re-emerges.
Stephen McCauley’s latest novel, out today, follow the two 50-somethings as they reconnect under the auspices of David helping Julie’s daughter navigate the college application process. They all wind up living together in a seaside Massachusetts house where things get … interesting. And complicated. And hilarious.
McCauley is known for his touching yet humorous writing — his most famous novel, The Object of My Affection, became a Jennifer Aniston-starring rom-com — and below, he lets EW in on just how he works his craft.
What is the first thing — ever — that you remember writing?
A story about a boy who gets blown out to sea on a sailboat. I think it was my fantasy of getting out of the suburbs.
What is the last book that made you cry?
Sing, Unburied, Sing, by Jesmyn Ward. The book that made me cry hardest was Stoner, by John Williams.
What is your favorite part of My Ex-Life?
There’s a chapter toward the end of the book told from the point of view of a minor character. I was afraid it broke a contract with the reader about point of view, but I had so much fun writing it, I insisted on keeping it in.
Which book is at the top of your current to-read list?
Speak No Evil, by Uzodinma Iweala. After that, I go into summer-reading mode, meaning long novels. The Levant Trilogy, by Olivia Manning and probably an Anthony Trollope.
Where do you write?
I write in public libraries, and sometimes coffee shops. I can’t write at home and gave up trying long ago. I need activity around me that I’m forced to block out. It helps me focus.
Which book made you a forever reader?
Probably Johnny Tremain, by Esther Forbes.
Pick a GIF that you think, in this moment, best describes you and your book:
How about one that describes my writing process?
What is a snack you couldn’t write without?
Is espresso a snack?
What was the hardest plot point or character to write in My Ex-Life?
There’s a lot about divorce in this book, and since I’ve never been divorced — or even married — I had to research it. Fortunately, almost everyone I know had a story to tell.
If you could change one thing about any of your books, what would it be?
I did make changes on one book between the hardcover and paperback editions. I loved the heroine, but readers found her heartless, which wasn’t what I wanted to convey. I asked the paperback editor if I could make some judicious line edits, and he agreed. I spent weeks doing it, but I’m not sure they made her any more appealing.
If My Ex-Life had a movie poster tagline, it would be:
The publisher did it for me: “Home is where your ex is.”