Novel leap for Mad Men creator

Little, Brown plans to publish the novel Heather, The Totality, written by Matthew Weiner (above), next autumn.
Little, Brown plans to publish the novel Heather, The Totality, written by Matthew Weiner (above), next autumn.PHOTO: NYTIMES

Matthew Weiner's debut novel is about multiple characters obsessed with a teenage girl

NEW YORK • Last autumn, Matthew Weiner was walking on Manhattan's Upper East Side when he saw a teenage girl having a tense conversation with a companion near a building under construction.

Weiner, creator of the AMC drama Mad Men (2007-2015), was carrying the notebook he always keeps with him to record snippets of overheard dialogue or a fleeting idea for a scene. He scribbled down a short note about the girl and the unsettling sense he had that she was in some kind of "animal danger".

He was not sure what, if anything, would come of the idea.

"You don't know if an idea is going to be a TV show, a movie, a play, prose, a poem or a stupid note you write in your notebook and forget about," he said. "It was a little story where I was like, I wonder what that is, maybe I'll use it some time."

Over the next nine months or so, the little story grew into a novel - his first. Heather, The Totality was recently acquired by Little, Brown, which plans to publish the novel in autumn next year. Translation rights have sold in 10 countries.

The narrative unfolds from the perspective of multiple characters who are obsessed with a teenage girl named Heather and who aim to control or possess her, including her parents, who compete over her. The story takes place in contemporary Manhattan, as well as Florida and New Jersey.

Judith Clain, vice-president and editor-in-chief of Little, Brown, said it reminded her of Henry James and had an "Edgar Allan Poe feel".

"It's psychologically very chilling, very clever, and you feel while you're reading it that something terrible is going to happen," said Ms Clain, who acquired North American rights to the book at auction.

While the setting and plot bear little resemblance to his television work, the novel shares some thematic threads with both Mad Men and The Sopranos (1999-2007), which Weiner also worked on, particularly in its exploration of moral ambiguity, Ms Clain said.

Weiner, who studied poetry at Wesleyan University, has often cited the literary influences on Mad Men, including works by John Cheever, poet Frank O'Hara and novelist Sherwood Anderson.

Weiner, who has written plays and poetry, said he has experimented with fiction before, but dismissed his earlier efforts as "nothing that I would ever show anybody". Now, with the sale of his debut novel, he is joining a group of screenwriters who moonlight writing fiction.

Attica Locke, a prolific writer for film and television (Empire), is also a mystery novelist. She signed a two-book deal with Little, Brown's Mulholland imprint earlier this year.

This summer, Alfred A. Knopf bought a short story collection from Raphael Bob-Waksberg, creator and showrunner of the bleak and surreal animated show, Bojack Horseman.

Graham Moore, whose screenplay for The Imitation Game (2014) won an Academy Award last year, recently published a best-selling novel with Random House. Moore is writing the film adaptation of his novel, The Last Days Of Night (2016), about the rivalry between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse during the dawn of electricity.

Noah Hawley, creator and showrunner of TV show Fargo, wrote one of this summer's best-selling thrillers, Before The Fall (2016), about a private plane that crashes into the Atlantic. The novel, his fifth book, shot up the list, selling 300,000 copies in about three months.

"What's exciting for me is to bring the novelistic mindset to the screen and vice-versa," said Hawley, who recently finished the film adaptation of Before The Fall and is now back to work on episodes of Fargo.

Weiner, in his post-Mad Men period of creative exploration, does not seem eager to jump back into screenwriting just yet. He is working on a play and more fiction, he said.

Still, he is not ruling out a film adaptation of his novel down the road.

"I think it would make a good movie," he said. "But that's not why I wrote it."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 19, 2016, with the headline 'Novel leap for Mad Men creator'. Print Edition | Subscribe