This summer, a friend and I were watching Sixteen Candles in Dolores Park where a group of girls on the blanket next to us would not shut their faces. People were shooting them contemptuous looks the same way Molly Ringwald's character Samantha would shoot looks at her oblivious family, or at Ted, the freshman dweeb crushing on her. We children of the '80s may have emulated Molly's ultra-emotive facial expressions for life.
Molly Ringwald's debut novel-in-stories introspectively reveals discontented human interactions. Each story in When It Happens to You pivots on betrayal, from Greta's husband Phillip's affair with their daughter Charlotte's violin teacher in "Harvest Moon" to transgender Olivia's mother Marina throwing away Olivia's dresses and "Anything pink, purple, sparkling." On betrayal, Ringwald says, "There's not one person you can meet who hasn't been on one side or the other, and very often both. I didn't want to just write about one kind of betrayal."
Recalling her teenage icon self, Ringwald lists personal icons who were power-women at least twice her age -- Hollywood's cool Diane Keaton and Gena Rowlands ("She played my mother and after that I watched all of her movies," Ringwald said) and the French "Isabelles" as she refers to them, film stars Isabelle Adjani and Isabelle Huppert. As a teenager inspired by Raymond Carver's realism, Ringwald says she felt that she had to keep her writer-self private. "I have been writing for a long time -- since I was a kid. I wrote short stories in my late teens and early twenties, and never expected to publish them. It was a creative outlet. I didn't think they were publishable. I was just learning how to write." Her favorite writers are Joan Didion, Lorrie Moore, Toni Morrison, Dostoyevsky, and Tolstoy. "The great thing about books is you never run out of them. The great thing about classics is you keep discovering them," she says.
Molly carves her writing schedule around her career and being a mother of three. "I'm not one of these people who can sit in front of a laptop all day long, that's like a life sentence," she laughs. "I write pretty fast, and as long as I have something down I can go back and revise it. I write on the plane, movie sets, film sets, wherever." In her writer's room, she puts on music. "Every character has their own little soundtrack and the music puts me in a certain frame of mind. When I was writing "The Little One" (the story of sweet Charlotte and her elder neighbor Betty) I was listening to classical a lot."
The title section, "When It Happens to You," reads like a monologue. "In my acting, my interest has always been in character. Characters who are not flawed are not interesting to play. It has spilled over in my writing. And then the music has helped with my ear, I know how things can sound, I'm very specific about that. I like to think of, 'When It Happens to You' as musical, overtly musical, a prose poem."
Each story glimpses peripheral characters with opportunities for a second book. "Or a film, yeah," says Ringwald. "Because the characters haven't let go of me yet, I just keep thinking about them wondering where they are and how they're doing. I'm very curious. I want to know!"
Molly Ringwald in Conversation starts at 8 p.m. on September 6 at Verdi Club, 2424 Mariposa (at Potrero). Admission is $12-$15 (Pre-show reception at 6:45 p.m. is $50. Limited to 40 people. Includes copy of Molly's book.)