When she isn’t acting in The Secret Life of the American Teenager or singing with a jazz band, Molly Ringwald (The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink) writes fiction. Her first novel, When It Happens to You (a “novel in stories,” according to the subtitle), comes out Aug. 14, and it’s a serious book that deals with infidelity and betrayal, among other subjects. We talked to the actress about her budding literary career.
I was skeptical when I heard you were writing a novel, but it’s actually good. How frustrating is it to deal with preconceptions?
[Laughs] I’m pretty used to it by now. I mean, yeah, it’s kind of insulting, but then I try to step outside of it and think how I would respond, and it’s true that there’s not too many actresses who write literary fiction. I would say expectations are sort of low, but I feel like the work speaks for itself. I’m pretty proud of the book.
Where did the urge to write come from? Were on the Breakfast Club set thinking, “Screw this, I really want to be a novelist?”
I always wrote fiction, even when I was doing The Breakfast Club. I just never wanted to publish anything unless I was proud of it.
Is there a drawer full of screenplays somewhere, or is that not something you ever tackled?
There’s a few. But there was never one that I felt strongly enough. I’m a very tough critic, especially of myself. It has to be at a certain level and I have to feel very passionate about something in order to put it out there or to pursue it. I think screenplays are so ridiculously hard to get made anyway, you have to feel very passionate about them to begin with.
How did you actually go about learning how to write fiction?
I think I had a certain amount of talent and an eye for detail that’s always been there. I think it’s something I’ve employed in my acting as well. But certainly there’s a learning curve in terms of actually learning how to write. I’ve written a lot of bad stories to write good stories. [Laughs] And I’m a big reader, so that really helps. You just sort of read and study and read and try it and write and don’t get it right and continue.
One of your characters is a 6-year-old. Speaking as somebody who has a kid the same age, I thought you really captured the speech and behavior of that period. What was your approach to writing about children?
Thank you! Well, I have kids. [Laughs] it was very important to me that they sound real. I think one of the mistakes a lot people make is they try to make them sound cuter and smarter and more adult and sweeter and more angelic than they really are. I adore my children [Ringwald has an 8-year-old daughter and 3-year-old twins], but the fact of the matter is that children can also be incredibly cruel. One of the themes of the book is how you can be absolutely brutalized by the person who loves you the most.
A supporting character, Peter, is an actor. How much detail did you draw from your life? I’m thinking of the annoyingly unhelpful feedback from casting directors, for example.
[Laughs] Yeah, I drew somewhat from my own life. [Like Peter] I was told at one point for one audition that I didn’t sparkle. It was [an audition] for Benny & Joon. I came home and my agent said that was the feedback. It stuck in my head all these years.
What’s next? Another novel?
I’ve started taking notes on a new book, which is exciting. The main thing that I’ve always wanted to do is write and direct, so that’s probably going to be the next thing on my list. I’m very interested in adapting When It Happens to You for the screen. Demetri Martin wants to play Peter. After I’d written the book we met and I was like, “This is perfect for you. Can you read this and tell me? There is a masturbation scene. [But] don’t worry about that. We can work on that. [Laughs]
For more on Molly Ringwald, check out this week’s issue of Entertainment Weekly, on newsstands Aug. 3.