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'Where'd You Go, Bernadette' author Maria Semple talks about her new book

Semple shares the moment that she knew she was onto something good with 'Where'd You Go, Bernadette' and tells us what inspired a pivotal plot point.

By Staff Writer / October 3, 2012

Author Maria Semple confesses that she thinks Bernadette – the protagonist of her novel – is "awful." But, she adds, "I hope I've written a challenging character."


Where did mother and former star architect Bernadette Fox disappear to, right before her family was due to leave on a trip to Antarctica? It's the question her daughter Bee is trying to answer in the new book "Where'd You Go, Bernadette" by Maria Semple, author of "This One Is Mine" and former TV writer for shows like "Mad About You" and "Arrested Development."

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In "Bernadette," Bee searches for her mother by combing through documents, secret letters, and e-mails. As Bee looks for the truth, Semple skewers the city of Seattle and the hyper-involved parenting style embraced by the adults at Bee's private school, with whom Bernadette butts heads repeatedly before her disappearance. This includes one mother who nags Bernadette about clearing out blackberry vines that have grown over onto her property.

In an interview with the Monitor, Semple, a Seattle resident, discusses the reaction her Seattle neighbors have had to her book, the exact moment she knew she was onto something good with her "Bernadette" manuscript, and why it makes sense that "Arrested Development" has found success on DVD. Here are excerpts of the conversation. (Spoilers for "Bernadette" follow.)

Q: What appealed to you about TV writing?

A: My father was a screenwriter and I kind of grew up in that world. I always had a mind for characters and dialogue, and my head was filled with that stuff, so it seemed like a good place to start.
Q: To discuss one of the TV shows you wrote for, what was your favorite part about writing for "Mad About You"?

"Mad About You" fit my sensibility the most of any show that I worked on, and as a result, it was really fun. It felt like a very natural fit.

What I liked about ["Mad About You"] was being able to use stuff from real life. There were other TV shows that had a lot of weird, stilted jokes, and with "Mad About You," it was much more observational. The humor was much more about being a couple, and I really liked that. I feel like that was the most fun, to be in a room with writers and just kind of tell stories about a fight that you had that morning with your spouse – and to all of their horrors, it would end up in an episode.

That, to me, comes more naturally to me than a much more stilted type of comedy.
Q: How do you feel about the fandom that's sprung up around "Arrested Development"?

I think it makes sense, because it was a show that was almost perversely not meant to be understood the first time you watched it. I think that has a lot to do with why it was canceled. It almost dared you to try to understand the show the first time around, and it was very intricate and there were a lot of jokes that would play out over several episodes and it worked much better as this whole.

There were so many winks to the real fans, and it was very self-referential, and that type of thing really works well with repeated viewings. It makes sense to me that that's how it's found a second life. It's more appropriate.


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