Writing has never been about the final product for Seattle-based author Maria Semple.
She wrote the 2012 runaway bestseller “Where’d You Go, Bernadette,” recently adapted as a movie. Her 2016 book, “Today Will Be Different,” also was a New York Times bestseller. Her first book, “This One Is Mine,” published in 2008, didn’t sell that many copies.
“It’s not about having a successful book,” she said. “I like being alone and imposing my will on the blank page.”
Semple, a self-described “book junkie” and “defender of fiction,” will speak at the Fort Vancouver Regional Library Foundation’s Authors & Illustrators Dinner on Nov. 6 at the Hilton Vancouver Washington, 301 W. Sixth St. Tickets to the 5:30 p.m. fundraiser are $90 each.
Semple, 55, launched her career by writing a screenplay about living in New York when she was a student at Barnard College.
“My father was a screenwriter,” she said. Lorenzo Semple Jr. wrote the 1960s “Batman” TV series and many movies. “I wanted him to love me, so I wrote a screenplay. It was fresh and original. I got an agent. I ended up going out to Hollywood. I started meeting people and making connections, and then got my first TV job.”
Semple worked as a staff writer for popular television shows, including “Saturday Night Live,” “Mad About You,” “Ellen,” “Beverly Hills 90210,” “Arrested Development” and “Suddenly Susan.”
Only later did she realize that screenwriting “was a bad fit.”
“I think it wasn’t what I was naturally good at –writing other people’s characters and trying to fit into something formulaic. I was good enough at it that I passed. I had a career going,” Semple said. “But it wasn’t until I started writing novels that I realized what I was made to do.”
While Semple had nothing to do with the movie adaptation of “Bernadette,” directed by Richard Linklater and released in August, she is involved with a limited TV series based on “Today Will Be Different” that Annapurna Pictures is developing.
“It feels much better to go back (into screenwriting) after I connected with myself,” she said.
Semple said she is an “intensely solitary person,” which makes her well-suited for writing novels. She structures her day to put writing first.
“I wake up early, around 5, and write for two hours, most of it on a yellow pad with pencil. I try not to get to the computer too early. I have an outline. I sit down and think, ‘I need to write this section or this scene,’ ” she said. “Then I make breakfast and drop my daughter off at school. I come back and put those notes in the computer and then I’m done for the day. … My brain’s too tired.”
The rest of the day, “I exercise and do errands and the drudgery of life,” she said.
“Where’d You Go, Bernadette,” her breakout novel, was perhaps as much about Seattle as it was about the title character, who hated the city and its Craftsman houses and rampant blackberry vines.
Semple’s own initial dislike of Seattle inspired the book. She and her boyfriend, along with their young daughter, moved there from Los Angeles in 2008. Living in Seattle was a long-held dream of her boyfriend, George Meyer, a screenwriter best known for his work on “The Simpsons.” He fell for the city when he attended Final Four college basketball games there.
“For many years, he had this fantasy that he wanted to move to Seattle. It had a mighty grip on him,” she said. She went along with it, but it took her longer to adjust to her new home.
She worked through her sense of dislocation in “Bernadette.” The story follows a 15-year-old girl, who sorts through email and correspondence for clues on the whereabouts of her missing mother, Bernadette Fox.
In her most recent book, “Today Will Be Different,” a former TV animator tries to get her life on track by setting goals for her day only to have her son stay home sick.
“I think that every book of the three books I’ve written, in many ways, is the same book,” Semple said. They all tackle the difficulty of being both an artist and a mother.
“I love my daughter more than anything. I think first of all, I’m a mother,” Semple said. “I recognize that I get the most joy from being alone, from writing. It’s where I feel most myself. And that feels shameful to admit and I don’t know how to resolve that, and every book is about how to resolve that.”
She hasn’t found the answer, but the question fuels her.
“I really believe that you shouldn’t have a thesis or an answer when you’re writing something,” Semple said. “You should only write something if you haven’t figured it out.”