Novelist Gets A Big Break

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There’s a scene in the film version of “Rocky Horror Picture Show” where Tim Curry shows Susan Sarandon his newest creation, Rocky. He asks her opinion about him and she says that Rocky, a perfect male specimen in gold lamé short shorts, is a bit muscular for her taste.

“I didn’t make him for you,” he snarls.

That, in a nutshell, author Jean Hanff Korelitz, said, is how she has felt about her own books. But then “Admission” was published in 2009 was found by filmmakers, who turned the literary mystery into a 2013 comedy starring Tina Fey, Paul Rudd and Lily Tomlin. Now, the world has started to discover and embrace Ms. Korelitz’s creations.

“People are finally reading my books; it didn’t happen for the first three or four,” she said during a telephone interview from her Manhattan home last week. “It’s been a long time coming. For the first time, people are saying ‘I know your work, I’ve read your book.’”

The author, who has also written a book of poetry, several thrillers and a children’s book, will be the first up at the 2013 Fall Writers Speak Wednesdays at Stony Brook Southampton on September 25. She has a new novel, “You Should Have Known,” coming out in early 2014.

Getting her start at a writing career took a long time for Ms. Korelitz. It wasn’t for lack of trying.

“My first two novels were not published, they’ll never be published,” she said. “When I started writing, it seemed like everybody was getting published but me. In their books, everybody was always sitting around in a nightclub and snorting cocaine, which my novels weren’t about.”

The author added that she’s a poet first, but a novelist at her core. “My heart was always in fiction but I was terrified. It took a long time to be brave enough to try.”

Her first successful attempts were in mystery writing, which she decided would be the most expedient route to getting published, though not necessarily where she wanted to end up. Her first published novels include “The White Rose,” “The Sabbathday River” and “A Jury of Her Peers.”

“I made a sober decision to write a legal thriller and it got published and it was terrific,” she recalled. “I was now seen as a legal thriller writer. It took me two or three books to get myself out of that box. Now people ask me if I’m writing another mystery, which drives me crazy.”

“But,” she paused, I never let go of plot, the importance of suspense. As a reader, I think suspense is important. I love to hear people say ‘I couldn’t put it down, I stayed up ‘til 4:30.’”

“Admission” did just that for those who wanted to adapt it into a film. It was life-changing for the author. Being published was one thing, but achieving success was another.

“A lot of people imagine that when you publish a book, they throw down the red carpet when you walk in a bookstore,” she laughed. “Or they ask if anybody has made it into a movie. Now I can say ‘yes.’”

One thing that hasn’t changed for the author though is her style of writing. Her love of poetry shows through in each of her novels. Readers recognize it in her word choices and the way they read together to form sentences.

“I can’t leave a sentence alone until I can say it’s the best sentence I’ve ever written in my life,” she said. “The sentence and the words, and the order of the words; even how the sentence sounds is important to me.”

Another trademark of Ms. Korelitz’s writing is strong, if not difficult, female characters.

“Overachieving females,” she laughed heartily. “I have never written about a woman I didn’t want to smack at some point. What that says about me, I’m not sure.”

“I find them more interesting,” she continued. “If you’re going to spend three years of your life with them inside your head when you’re writing about them, they better be interesting.”

The female lead in her next novel is no different. She’s a therapist who has written a book on why relationships fail (“a relationship guide which castigates women,” the author said), yet she discovers that she herself should have known, she should’ve read her own book.

“She’s completely deluded. It’s ironic,” Ms. Korelitz said of her main character in “You Should Have Known.” “Hopefully you’ll like her a bit more at the end than you do in the beginning.”

But even if readers don’t develop warm and fuzzy feelings for the character, that’s okay too, the author said.

“Unlikeable characters—if I didn’t develop a sort of inverse pride in that that, then I’m lost,” she laughed. “It’s kind of like being the most unpopular person in your whole life.”

The film “Admission” will screen at Stony Brook Southampton on Saturday, September 21, at 7 p.m. in Chancellors Hall. Author Jean Hanff Korelitz will give a Writers Speak Wednesdays reading and talk on September 25 at 7 p.m. The free event will be held in Chancellors Hall. For more information, call 632-5030 or visit stonybrook.edu.mfa.

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