As soon as Maria Semple, author of the wildly successful “Where’d You Go, Bernadette,” starts talking, it’s easy to see who inspired her beloved character.
She’s down-to-earth, self-deprecating and hilarious, which readers will discover for themselves when she reads from her new book, “Today Will Be Different,” at the Rancho Santa Fe Literary Guild’s October Author Talk on Oct. 24 at The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe.
“Today Will Be Different” is about a day in the life of Eleanor Flood, a former animator on a hit TV show and a middle-aged mom who’s married to a hand surgeon to the stars. The story takes place over one 24-hour period and covers a tremendous amount of ground – both physically and emotionally.
The book opens with a promise Eleanor makes to herself that many readers will relate to: “Today will be different. Today I will be present. Today, anyone I speak to, I will look them in the eye and listen deeply. Today I’ll play a board game with Timby. I’ll initiate sex with Joe. Today I will take pride in my appearance. I’ll shower, get dressed in proper clothes, and change into yoga clothes only for yoga, which today I will actually attend. Today I won’t swear. I won’t talk about money. Today there will be an ease about me. My face will be relaxed, its resting place a smile. Today I will radiate calm. Kindness and self-control will abound. Today I will buy local. Today I will be my best self, the person I’m capable of being. Today will be different.”
And, of course, it is – but not in any of the ways Eleanor planned.
“That’s how I wake up in the morning,” admitted Semple in a phone interview that was more like an intimate conversation with a best friend. “It’s very much me. I could sit here and act like I was a better writer but the fact is it’s just me.”
For more than a decade, Semple was a writer and producer for top TV shows such as “Arrested Development,” “Mad About You” and “Beverly Hills 90210.” But when her daughter was born, Semple decided it was time for a change.
“I loved writing for TV and it suited me to be with all the funny people,” she said. “But the weird thing was I didn’t watch TV. I was much more interested in reading books. Plus, those crazy hours don’t go well with motherhood. It’s an unsavory combination.”
When her friend, novelist Bruce Wagner, suggested she write a novel, she was intrigued. “It honestly never occurred to me that someone as fundamentally scatterbrained as me could write fiction. So I just started writing, and it was the happiest work of my life. I had the best time, and I loved sitting alone and coming up with scenarios. I just knew this was what I was born to do.”
Semple’s debut novel, “The One Is Mine,” is about a woman living what looks like the perfect Hollywood life – except she’s deeply unhappy.
“It’s got the themes I think I’m always going to be going back to,” said Semple. “With that first book, I was trying to put on a more serious hat. I loosened it up enormously with ‘Bernadette’ And then, with ‘Today Will Be Different,’ I pushed it even further. It’s just my voice.”
That voice resonated so strongly with readers, that “Where’d You Go Bernadette” spent over a year on the New York Times bestseller list and became a book club favorite.
“Because people loved it so much, I feel like, with the new book, I’ve just been waiting to see what the relative level of disappointment would be,” she said. “I thought if people are mildly disappointed, that would be a victory. As it turns out, people seem to like it.”
That’s an understatement. The reviews have been raves, and Semple is thrilled.
“It makes me feel really good – mainly because it’s really easy,” she laughed. “Now that I know, oh, it’s my voice people are responding to, it’s not that much of a reach to write about an early onset Alzheimer’s-like menopausal woman who talks about everyone she comes across.”
For all their humor, though, Semple’s novels are rich with emotion, and nowhere is that more evident than in the 16-page graphic novel included in “Tomorrow Will Be Different.”
The work of Eric Chase Anderson, brother of filmmaker Wes Anderson, “The Flood Girls” tells Eleanor’s childhood story, and it’s both beautiful and devastating.
“I love physically holding a book in my hand and constantly going back to look at the pictures,” said Semple. “Because Eleanor is an illustrator, I thought I should show some of her work. I really wanted to kick it up a notch so the book would be a great experience for the reader. You know, if you look at my Twitter account, the subtitle is, ‘I make it nice for the people.’ That’s me – Maria Semple: I make it nice for the people.”
Semple will be making it nice for the people on Oct. 24 from 10:30 a.m. to noon at The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe, thanks to the Rancho Santa Fe Literary Guild in partnership with Warwick’s. Tickets are $55, and include a continental breakfast and a signed copy of “Today Will Be Different.”
For reservations or more information, visit www.rsflibraryguild.org or call 858-756-4780.