Jonathan Tropper on the Difference Between Writing for the Page and Writing for the Screen

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When customers come in saying they’re in the mood to read something funny, smart, maybe a bit twisted or profane but not too heavy, one of our go-to suggestions is This Is Where I Leave You, the family dramedy by Jonathan Tropper. It’s all those things, plus relatable and a fun read. No wonder it got snapped up by Hollywood.

The film adaptation — which made its debut over the weekend — has been met with mixed reviews. The reviewer for the LA Times said, “I can’t think of a family I’d rather sit shiva with.” NPR, on the other hand, declared it, “A very ordinary film, particularly for one adapted from such a thoughtful and tonally tricky book.” Tricky, indeed. Taking a book people love and bringing it to life onscreen is tough, even when the author himself writes the screenplay. Throwing in an all-star cast can’t hurt, though.

We wondered how things are going for Tropper, so we checked in with him. He was kind enough to answer a few questions:

In addition to the film adaptation of This Is Where I Leave You, you’re developing another film right now, plus producing and writing a television series for Cinemax. Can you tell us a little bit about how it feels to see the stories and characters you create acted out by people on screen? Does it ever still feel a little surreal?

Writing is such a private experience, so it’s always a bit of a surprise to see words you wrote coming to life — whole scenes you dreamed up there in front of you, sometimes exactly as you imagined, sometimes a bit differently.  You become very aware of how things work in three dimensions, as compared with how they seemed to work on the page.  And, obviously, when it’s actors you’ve admired for years speaking your lines, that kicks up the surreal factor a few notches for sure.

You have such a distinctive voice and style in the way you blend the comedy and pathos of work/social/family situations. What authors influenced you as you grew up and developed your own writing style?

In high school I read a lot of Stephen King and Kurt Vonnegut.  Other writers that influenced me really ran the gamut – Jay McInerney, John Irving, Richard Russo, Joyce Carol Oats.. I could go on and on…

There’s a definite masculine perspective to your novels — This Is Where I Leave You included — and we sometimes hear female readers say they love your books “even though they’re ‘guy books.'” Do you think of yourself as writing for a male audience? 

Well, I’m told that the majority of novel readers are women, so I’m not sure that any novels are really “guy books.” There’s definitely a male perspective that I bring to it, but I’m writing for men and women — basically, if you’re a reader, I’m writing for you.

You’re juggling a lot. What does your schedule look like? Is there room for another novel in there somewhere?

My daily schedule is mess. There aren’t enough hours in the day, and I’m all over the place with work. It’s a problem. But I have started a new novel, and I definitely want to have one out there soon. Stopping to get movies made has been a great adventure, and one I will continue, but I look at novels as my day job, and I’m nowhere near ready to retire.

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Have you seen the movie yet? If you have, we’d love to know what you thought. If you haven’t but plan to, read the book first! 

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