Curtis Sittenfeld’s 2005 debut novel Prep was a runaway NYTimes bestseller, and since then, she’s published six other novels, all critically acclaimed. Her new book, Romantic Comedy, a Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick, was called “hilarious and heartwarming” by Elle, and draws influence from Saturday Night Live.
In this week’s Meet a Mom interview, Curtis talks about this buzzed-about new book, motherhood, and more.
How closely did SNL influence your latest novel?
Very closely! My family was watching a lot of SNL in the early days of the pandemic, and I’d think to myself, “Someone should write a screenplay for a romantic comedy about the real phenomenon of funny but ordinary-looking men from the show dating dazzlingly talented and beautiful and famous women who appear as musical guests or guest hosts.” Then a few months passed, and I thought, “Oh, wait—that screenplay should be a novel, and that someone who writes it should be me!”
What do you want readers to get out of it?
I hope people experience Romantic Comedy as a fizzy, escapist delight.
Have your two daughters inspired your work?
My kids were very helpful to me with this book specifically. The scene that I get complimented on as being the funniest in the book is one where three characters are brainstorming for a sketch about dogs’ Google searches. In reality, my kids and I brainstormed the search terms while we were stuck in gridlock traffic in a school parking lot. I wrote our ideas on the back of a receipt, and in the book, a lot appear verbatim, though I added a few more adult-themed ones in a revision.
Love that. PREP was rejected by several publishers before becoming a bestseller. How are you teaching your daughters resilience?
I try to matter-of-factly tell my kids about how much I’ve been rejected or faced obstacles. I think even a person who has had a wildly lucky career, which I have, inevitably has encountered much more negative feedback and indignity than most people realize—whether it’s humiliatingly tiny turnouts at book events, horrible reviews in major publications, or insulting comments from random individuals. This stuff happens! It’s part of life! And in fact, to get a horrible review in a major publication actually means many more things have gone right to get you to that moment than gone wrong.
Amazing perspective. Out of all of your books, what was the most fun to write?
Romantic Comedy was a joy to research (listening to comedians interview each other on podcasts like Fly on the Wall or Working It Out, reading memoirs by Rachel Dratch or Colin Jost) and it was also so much fun to write the scenes. I mean, they were scenes set at a late night comedy show and/or about two people falling in love, flirting and bantering and eventually kissing. How could that not have been fun?!
Who are your favorite writers to read right now? Or what books are on your side table?
My new favorite book is the magnificently smart and deeply felt first novel Everything’s Fine by Cecilia Rabess, and my forever favorite writer is Alice Munro. In my current to-be-read stack are Witness by Jamel Brinkley and Big Swiss by Jen Beagin.
How have you encouraged your daughters to love reading, and writing?
I don’t give my kids the hard sell on reading or writing, though I do often read aloud to them news articles I think they’ll find interesting, including advice columns. And I admit that if we’re out and about and they want me to buy them a random article of clothing or trinket, there’s a good chance I’ll say no, but if they want me to buy them a book, it’s very likely I’ll say yes. Hmm, maybe I give a harder sell than I realize?