Wednesday, August 15, 2007

INTERVIEW: Tish Cohen knows how to build a Town House.

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"Jack Madigan is the 36-year-old son of an Ozzy Osborne-like rocker who died a surreal death onstage involving a recalcitrant reptile. Jack has awakened from the rubble of a life on the road in a shambling mess of a four-storey Boston town house, bequeathed to him by his father, with a teenaged son from an ex-wife about to remarry, never having worked for a living and, worse, with an acute, and apparently incurable, case of agoraphobia. But the money is running out, and the town house has grown decrepit from neglect, and Jack longs for a future free of his phobias and lifelong malaise. In her first novel, Tish Cohen has written an original portrait of a pathetic man that is at times sardonically comic and humanly poignant. Never straying into sentimentality or veering off into ludicrousness, Cohen's Jack Madigan is a three-dimensional, albeit anomalous, lost soul of our modern, twisted, fractured society."
--Rex Pickett, NYT bestselling author of Sideways
    Life can't get much worse than it does for Jack Madigan in Tish Cohen's debut novel TOWN HOUSE.  Can you image getting dizzy spells from stepping outside the house that your famous rock star father left to you in the will? But, it isn't any house. It's the house that you lived in since you had been a child.  Ah, might be thinking at this point...why would I want to? And the funny thing is that when I started to read this novel, I was one of those people that wondered exactly why it was that I was reading about a 36 year-old, for lack of a better word choice, loser that can't cope with life. I'd read one chapter and I had to read one more. This book builds slowly. It grows on you like morning glories in the spring time. At a certain point, I was caught in this book so much with the emotional dramas between the most unlikely cast of characters. The ending is absolutely superb! It's the sort of ending that makes you weep and jump for joy at the same moment. It's also an ending that never really leaves you entirely. And, that makes this book, with its strange cast of characters, something that everyone has to read before the movie hits silver screens across the nation. Let me re-state myself to emphasize this point: You have to read this book!

Tish Cohen
Author Tish Cohen

Tish Cohen is herself something of an unlikely player in the world of publishing. Strangely enough her story is simple and fascinating, like the very book she has written. She is a Canadian author that wrote a novel in record time.  She sent it out to Canadian agents that mostly told her NO because her work wasn't serious enough, literary enough. Classic, isn't it? Tish Cohen doesn't give up.  She sends her novel to American lit agents and sure enough agents at Writer's House, an awesome lit agency based on NYC, picks her book up and sells it to Hollywood. Not classic at all. In fact, is so rare to sell a debut novel to Hollywood before a publishing house has it is what I would define as mythical. Her story is the sort of stuff dreams are made on. Modern Girl Style sets out to learn from Tish Cohen about her books, success, rejections, and more.  Tish Cohen is an inspiring woman that we can all learn something from.

The Interview
1.    How did you manage to write TOWN HOUSE in three and half weeks? Did you outline the novel so that you could turn out the pages faster? What was your writing process like?

The idea for Town House hit me when I was still polishing up another book, so it bounced around in my head for about three months before I got serious about it and began to plan. I started out with Lucinda, the little neighbor girl who acts like a dog, the dilapidated Boston mansion and a protagonist who couldn’t step outside. I knew I wanted Lucinda to force her way into a reluctant Jack’s life, both figuratively, and literally – through a hole in the wall between the houses.

Left: 348 Beacon St., Back Bay, brownstone: One garden-level, 727-square-foot studio condominium for sale. Price: $499,000 50 Beacon St., Beacon Hill, town house: Four condominiums for sale. Units all have three bedrooms and range in size from 2,051 square feet to 3,141 square feet. Prices range from $1.99 million to $3.99 million. Right: 5 Union Park, South End, row house: One owner’s duplex with three bedrooms, and four rental apartments with two bedrooms each for sale. Five story building with 1,225 square feet per floor. Price: $2.99 million

I did outline the book – I’m a huge fan of outlining because it gives me the chance to live through the story before I begin to write. Once the outline was complete and I began to write, I would spend every evening “filming” the next day’s scenes in my head, right down to quirky details and scraps of dialogue. So by the time I actually sat down to write, I knew every scene quite well. Surprises still occur when you outline, but I find I can work more fluidly when I have an idea where I’m headed.
In a way, Town House came to me fully formed. The reason I wrote it so quickly was because I couldn’t function until the first draft was complete. It’s just the way I work. But there are always months of rewriting, reworking, so my timeframe sounds far sexier than it really is.

2.    TOWN HOUSE sold to Hollywood before it sold as a book. Now that sort of success is mythic. How do you define success? Has that definition changed since TOWN HOUSE took Hollywood and the publishing world by storm?

Town House did sell to Fox 2000, with Ridley Scott’s Scott Free productions attached to produce, before the book sold to HarperCollins. While it was unusual for the book to sell that way, I was well aware that not many optioned books actually get made. With that little dose of reality in mind, I was pleased to hear the screenplay was underway shortly after I signed the contract. Doug Wright (Quills, Memoirs of a Geisha) was hired for the adaptation – quite a thrill as he’d won a Pulitzer, a Golden Globe and a Tony. So now we were no longer just a book with an option, we had a pretty hot screenplay. The movie began to feel more and more like a reality.

A few weeks ago, Fox announced they’d enticed director John Carney, writer/director of the acclaimed indie film, Once, to direct Town House. Seeing Town House on film moved a whole lot closer.
Then Fox announced in Variety that Town House is set to begin production on the East coast this coming January. At this point, with an actual film date announced, it feels very real and I feel blessed, actually.

 3.    Before TOWN HOUSE, you wrote two novels that were rejected. What did you learn from those previous rejections and how did those rejections help to create your debut novel?

I was fairly lucky in that my early rejections were encouraging. Most editors offered terrific feedback and (once I wiped away my tears) I absorbed the editors’ comments. I learned a great deal about plotting from these rejections – mostly that plots are considered something of a necessity!

4.    Do you have any fears about your book being translated into a major motion picture? What are some of your general fears and what have you learned about dealing with them?

I have fears about many things, but not about Town House becoming a movie. I have met the people in charge of Town House at Fox and Scott Free and trust them fully. I’ve read the screenplay and adored it. And after seeing John Carney’s Once, I honestly feel like this film is in the very best hands possible. If you haven’t seen Once and it’s still playing near you, go! It’s raw, haunting and real. John Carney will take Jack Madigan’s agoraphobia and treat it with dignity and real emotion – I have no doubt about it.

5.    Are you working on the sequel to TOWN HOUSE or have you turned your writing talents toward a different direction? Basically, what can we expect from you next?

My next novel is not a sequel to Town House, but is called Inside Out Girl, and is about Rachel Berman, an overprotective mother who runs a magazine called Perfect Parent, and is forced to consider caring for Olivia Bean, a learning-disabled 10-year-old girl obsessed with rodents. Olivia’s father is facing a hellish decision and Rachel’s teenage daughter is buckling under her affections for the girl next door. Everyone’s lives are changed forever by the Inside Out Girl, who becomes an accidental superhero in inside out pajamas.

My first novel for 8-12-year-old girls is out in stores – The Invisible Rules of the Zoe Lama. It’s about a feisty 12-year-old whom everyone goes to for advice in a modern-day, middle-grade remake of Jane Austen’s Emma. While Zoe’s heart is in the right place, um, her advice gets her into a giant mess. I’m just starting to hear back from readers on this book , and am happy to say kids are gobbling it up in a day or two. Most comments I’ve received are that kids who’ve never enjoyed reading are loving it and eagerly awaiting the next Zoe (which comes out next July). So that makes me happy.

Bonus Question!!!

If you could live one day as any rock star, who would it be and why?   

Hmm. I think I’d like to be Joss Stone, only without the crazy tights. She has a voice that strikes me as edgy, honest and effortless. She once did a rendition of The Beach Boys’ God Only Knows. It was beautiful – even if it did come free with a pair of jeans from Gap.

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