New York Times bestselling author Susan Isaacs sat down with The Creative Coalition CEO Robin Bronk in the latest episode of “At Home With The Creative Coalition,” a podcast featuring unplugged and uncensored conversations with today’s biggest stars. In the newest episode, Isaacs talks about getting involved in social justice causes in college, writing her smash-hit novel “Compromising Positions,” being on set of the film adaptation with Susan Sarandon, her motivation to keep writing, and much more. Highlights below.
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Highlights from “At Home With The Creative Coalition” featuring Susan Isaacs —
On quitting her job and beginning to write “Compromising Positions” and how it affected her personal life:
“I had my first kid. And [my job] gave me a three-week maternity leave. And that was it. And I said, ‘I can’t do this.’ You know, we were living in Brooklyn Heights at the time, and it was just too much. And I wanted to be with my kid. So, I quit and I did some freelance magazine articles, speech writing. And ultimately, we moved to the suburbs. I read, you know, kept up a little writing and read a lot of mysteries. And at some point, with every writer, it goes to being a reader, just saying, ‘I think I can do this.’ And truly, my non-conscious mind was very busy, because the character was there moments later – the main character – and I bought a book called ‘Writing a Novel,’ and it says, ‘Make a list of characters’ names, make an outline of no more than whatever pages.’ So I did all that! But it was very hard to get started. I did not start to write fiction until my youngest went off to preschool… Nobody seemed overly excited. I mean, they were like, ‘Oh! You’re writing a novel. That’s nice.’ You know. And then, you know, ‘I’m going over to Sears, do you need any Toughskins jeans, Andy?’ You know, it was like that. And I didn’t want to talk about it at great length because I had no idea if it would be finished and would ever get published. And also basically not realizing I was a novelist at heart that I love working alone, I didn’t have the need to share. My husband after a few years – three, four years – went back to the U.S. Attorney’s Office as chief of the criminal division. So, again, he was gone. But he would come home, and, every night, he would read what I wrote that day. And he was the only one I showed it to. And basically, his comments were great. But sometimes, it was kind of like cross-examining my characters. ‘Why is he saying this?’ And it was the most benevolent kind of reader I could have. And he was a smart reader of fiction. So that was fine. And that was it. At the end, my best friend read it and, you know, loved it, and was very encouraging.”
On whether there were any moments in the “Compromising Positions” movie that diverted from the book’s plot, and the time she mistakenly thought the film’s director was praising her instead of Susan Sarandon:
“Oh, completely! Well, I wrote the screenplay. So I collaborated in taking my own book apart. And it was right because, I mean, why film a book? It should be cinematic, it has to hold up as a film that becomes a whole different animal. An animal with, ideally, a resemblance to the book is a reason why you think this would make a good film. But it should work as a movie. You should be able to go into it and never have heard of the book. So it was different. It was much more visual, you know, I learned to cut words and do action. But I remember at some point, there was an argument between Susan Sarandon and Edward Herrmann, who played her husband. And it was, you know, very tense and very emotional, but a suburban argument – you know, nothing. But it was so well done. And the director said, ‘Cut,’ and he said, ‘Susan, that was wonderful.’ And I start saying, ‘Thank you,’ and I realized, he’s talking to Sarandon. And he was, he was right to talk to her. She was the person. She was the Susan. But it was, you know, it was a good life lesson, and a good movie lesson, but it was an exciting time. And that was it. Then I went home and kept writing.”
On what motivates her to keep writing, and the decision to write a novel with a sequel:
“I wouldn’t know what to do with myself. I mean, I write for about three, four hours a day, then I quit. Usually in the late afternoon, I’ll mark up what I’ve written that day, because the first draft is always unpublishable. Then I just go back to it. So it’s part of the structure of my life… It’s not that I want to go out and join a country club and play tennis – I don’t play tennis, very embarrassing. And the characters come! I mean, a character comes into my head and says, ‘I need you to tell my story.’ First, I get a hint of what kind of person they are. And then eventually the story comes. And once the story comes – my last novel, ‘Takes One to Know One,’ was my first where I decided, ‘You know, I’m a woman of a certain age (plus about 20 years), so I can do whatever the hell I please. So why not do a series? That sounds like fun.’ It didn’t sound like fun when I was starting out, but I’ve written all the other types of novels. You know, the political novel, the saga, you know, taking a biblical story in ‘Lily White’, it was the story of Rachel and Leah. But I’d modernized it, and I made their father a furrier. So I’d done all that, and I had this terrific character who had enough of a background. She had been in the FBI. She was Jewish, she had gone to Queens College, and was an Arabic speaker. And she joined the Bureau after 9/11 because she knew she could be useful and because she wanted to do something for our country. And I liked that idea of patriotism. But I also wanted to make it a mystery. And she had left the Bureau. She’s a literary scout, scouting contemporary Arabic fiction, and she gets married in her mid 30s to someone really fabulous through a real patch. Adopts his daughter, he’s a widower, and she had enough in her background to make her interesting in more than one book, and her best friend from Queens, her best friend since first grade, went to Hunter and then became a stylist to the stars. So, they’re in very different worlds. Her husband’s a federal judge. So again, they’re in different worlds. And her dad is a retired NYPD detective. So I wrote that book. It was really well reviewed.”
On getting involved in political protests during the ‘60s Civil Rights movement:
“I was trying it all, but I felt it all. I mean, I was – in part, I was very conventional. But civil rights, and, you know, seeing the reports on TV, and then talking to people, not only in Queens – because there were relatively few African Americans there when I was there – but people who came to campus. On campus, we had the NAACP, we had SNCC, we had a couple of other organizations that, you know, now have merged into others. So there were plenty of speakers, plenty of people who had been through it all, and just the cruelty and the stupidity of it. And even earlier, with Brown v. Board of Education as a kid, seeing the people line up and spit on kids and children who just wanted to go to school – that got me. I always had a sense, mostly from my father, that I was smart and that I could handle myself. Now, you know, I’ve learned a great deal over the years, but I never felt that as a woman, I was as hampered as someone born Black would be in this country. So my soul really went there. And that sense of, when you live in a democracy, where justice is possible, why can’t it happen? Why can’t it be?”
More about “At Home With The Creative Coalition”
Hosted by The Creative Coalition CEO Robin Bronk, “At Home With The Creative Coalition” brings listeners intimate portraits, key moments of discovery, and “art and soul” conversations with iconic entertainment industry personalities from the big screen to the boardroom, from L.A. to D.C. Listen now at http://thecreativecoalition.org/podcast.
Upcoming guests include Melissa Manchester (“Don’t Cry Out Loud,” “Through the Eyes of Love”), Yolonda Ross (“The Chi”), and Tramell Tillman (“Severance”).
Previous guests include Jason Alexander (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”), Shiri Appleby (“UnREAL”), Justin Bartha (“The Hangover,” “National Treasure”), David Alan Basche (“The Exes”), Asante Blackk (“This Is Us”), Carly Chaikin (“Mr. Robot”), Wilson Cruz (“Star Trek: Discovery”), Alan Cumming (“Schmigadoon!, “The Good Wife”), Ethan Cutkosky (“Shameless”), The Creative Coalition President and actor Tim Daly (“Madam Secretary”), Lea DeLaria (“Orange Is the New Black”), Griffin Dunne (“This Is Us”), Kerry Ehrin (“The Morning Show”), Wayne Federman (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”), Michael Fishman (“Roseanne,” “The Conners”), Jim Gaffigan (“The Jim Gaffigan Show”), Willie Garson (“And Just Like That…”), Judy Gold (“The Other F Word”), Nicholas Gonzalez (“The Good Doctor”), Clark Gregg (“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”), Tony Hale (“Veep,” “Arrested Development”), Evan Handler (“And Just Like That…,” “Californication”), Patricia Heaton (“Everybody Loves Raymond,” “The Middle”), Jon Huertas (“This Is Us”), Jason Isaacs (“Star Trek: Discovery,” “Harry Potter”), Richard Kind (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”), Chad Lowe (“Supergirl”), Aasif Mandvi (“The Daily Show”), Rachel Mason (“Circus of Books”), Marlee Matlin (“CODA”), AnnaLynne McCord (“Let’s Get Physical”), Eric McCormack (“Will and Grace”), Wendi McLendon-Covey (“The Goldbergs”), Katherine McNamara (“Shadowhunters”), Molly Smith Metzler (“Maid,” “Shameless”), Marta Milans (“Shazam!”), Rob Morrow (“Billions”), Kathy Najimy (“Younger”), Ken Olin (“This is Us,” “Thirtysomething”), Haley Joel Osment (“Future Man,” “Entourage”), Joey and Daniella Pantoliano (“The Matrix,” “Memento”), Bill Prady (“The Big Bang Theory”), Kyla Pratt (“The Proud Family”), Jessica Queller (“Supergirl”), Anthony Rapp (“Star Trek: Discovery”), Reid Scott (“Veep”), Mona Scott-Young (“Love & Hip Hop”), Alena Smith (“Dickinson”), Julie Taymor (“The Lion King”), Krista Vernoff (“Grey’s Anatomy”), KT Tunstall (“Black Horse and the Cherry Tree,” “Suddenly I See”), Matt Walsh (“Veep”), Alfre Woodard (“Clemency,” “Luke Cage”), Constance Zimmer (“Good Trouble”), and David Zucker (“Airplane!,” “Scary Movie”).
More about The Creative Coalition
The Creative Coalition is the premier nonprofit, nonpartisan 501(c)(3) social and public advocacy organization of the arts and entertainment community. Founded in 1989 by prominent members of the creative community, The Creative Coalition is dedicated to educating its members on issues of public importance. The Creative Coalition also creates award-winning public service campaigns including #RightToBearArts to promote the efficacy of the arts. Actor Tim Daly serves as the organization’s President. For more information, visit https://thecreativecoalition.org.