Sloane Tanen is the New York Times bestselling author of nine illustrated and young adult books, including Bitter With Baggage Seeks Same: The Life And Times Of Some Chickens and Hatched! The Big Push From Pregnancy To Motherhood. Her latest work, There’s A Word For That, is her first adult novel. A graduate of Sarah Lawrence College with Masters’ degrees from both NYU and Columbia University, she lives in the Bay Area with her husband, writer Gary Taubes, and their two sons. She visited with Stay Thirsty Magazine for these Five Questions at her home.

STAY THIRSTY: Your latest book, There’s A Word For That, is a novel for adults while your prior books were for young adults. How difficult was it for you to make the leap from the Young Adult market to adult fiction? What motivated you to change genres and reach out to a different audience?

SLOANE TANEN: Actually, only two of my previous books were for young adults, Appetite For Detention and Are You Going To Kiss Me Now? The three illustrated humor books in the Bitter With Baggage Seeks Same series were for adults, and the other four books in the Coco series were for small children.

I started with Y/A because I needed to take small steps to build the confidence to write an adult novel. An adult novel felt like a giant leap from the illustrated books. Having never taken a writing class, or even attempted to write a story, I felt less intimidated by the prospect of writing a book for teenagers. I probably got that wrong. My humor gears older and the truth is, it’s very hard to write a great young adult novel. Nobody can sniff out a fake like a teenager.

STAY THIRSTY: Your novel chronicles people in the entertainment business, from film to writing, and their dysfunctional lives. And, yet, there is a comic flair to the bonds of family that prevail. Where did the storyline for this book come from and how comfortable are you writing about people going through hard times?

SLOANE TANEN: I personally love novels about dysfunctional families at a crossroads. If the family demons can be unpacked using humor, I’m in. I wanted to write a family reunion story that could address the “big” issues (ageing, success, loyalty, mortality) but underscore the gravity of those themes using humor. I’m a big believer in humor. Laughter makes life palatable. I don’t think of There’s A Word for That as a Hollywood novel, though. I chose New York and L.A. as the setting because I know both cities well, and they seemed ideal for putting a microscope on the vanities of the entitled. Though narcissism and dysfunction are in no way unique to Hollywood and New York, both characteristics take on a heightened intensity in those spot lit worlds. The idea was to take a handful of smart, self-involved, entitled characters and throw them into the most awkward, ratcheted up reunion setting. And then watch the drama unfold. I decided on a high-end drug rehab in Malibu because what better place to force a family to confront the things they’d rather not and to poke fun at the absurdity of their respective situations.

Sloane Tanen

Your father, Ned Tanen, was an important motion picture executive at Universal and Paramount studios and under his watch American Graffiti and Animal House were made. Why did you become a writer of books instead of a screenwriter or film producer? Did you ever consider There’s a Word for That might be made into a film?

SLOANE TANEN: Having grown up in the movie business, I wasn’t all that interested in it. I always wanted to go to New York and study and my father supported my being as far away from Hollywood as possible. I love stories but (perhaps because my dad was an executive and not a creative) the movie business felt like just that, a business. Mostly I heard writers complaining about their scripts getting butchered, actors complaining about unflattering lighting, and producers panicked about their budgets. It didn’t sound that good. That, and my father was very blasé about his job. He fell into the business somewhat randomly and while he was very good at his job, I don’t think he much enjoyed it. He was passionate about certain films (American Graffiti and Animal House among them) but had a finely tuned bullshit detector and he didn’t suffer fools lightly. Let’s just say he didn’t make the business seem all that glamorous and he certainly wasn’t advertising film as a career path for his kids.

I didn’t set out to have the book adapted but I do think There’s A Word For That would be a good movie or TV show. I love an ensemble cast and the book has meaty parts for two older actors. The novel is dialogue heavy and cinematic so it feels as if it wouldn’t be a stretch. I get a lot of casting suggestions from people who’ve read it. I always like to hear what people come up with.

STAY THIRSTY: With graduate degrees in literary theory and art history, how has your education informed your writing and your storytelling?

SLOANE TANEN: I worked as a painter for all the years I was in graduate school. I sold my work steadily, but I wasn’t sure I had the personality I thought I needed to “make it” in the art world. But, with my paralyzing fear of public speaking, I wasn’t sure I could “make it” in academia as a professor either. At 28, I cut out of my Ph.D. program and took masters in both literature and art history. I’d always been interested in the visual representation of the written word so the dual degrees sort of made sense. And yet, realizing I wasn’t going to be a painter, or a professor felt like a life crisis. The chicken books, which are essentially 3-D cartoons, were such a great moment in my life because for the first time I didn’t have to decide between the written word and the visual image. I could convey an entire story in one still, with one or two sentences, and then move on.  That those books did well was encouraging. I was surprised that my humor and visual sensibility resonated with so many people. The success of those books gave me the confidence I needed to keep expanding and to keep telling stories.

STAY THIRSTY: Having seen “behind the curtain” how movies are made and how books are written and produced, are you encouraging or discouraging your children about entering the entertainment business for their careers?

SLOANE TANEN: Ha. They can do whatever they want. As long as they don’t become professional video gamers on YouTube.

Sloane Tanen               

All opinions expressed are solely those of its author and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.