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How to Talk to a Widower by Jonathan Tropper
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How to Talk to a Widower

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How to Talk to a Widower by Jonathan Tropper
Paperback $17.00
Jun 24, 2008 | ISBN 9780385338912

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  • $17.00

    Jun 24, 2008 | ISBN 9780385338912

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  • Jul 17, 2007 | ISBN 9780440336877

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Product Details


“Tropper has the twentysomething guy thing down to a science. His prose is funny and insightful, his characters quirky and just a bit off-balance but decent enough to take to our hearts.”—Booklist

"A portrait of a modern guy in crisis…. Alternately flippant and sad."—Publishers Weekly

“Most resembles Lolly Winston’s light, bright Good Grief…. [An] entertaining new contribution to lad lit.”—Miami Herald

Author Q&A

A Q&A with author Jonathan Tropper on his book, How to Talk to a Widower

What’s your typical writing day like? And what environment is most conducive to your process?

I generally try to treat writing like any other job. I wake up early and am at my desk before nine am. To further the illusion of a job, I don’t work at home, but commute to a local college about twenty minutes away. I find by treating it like a real job, I can attach a modicum of discipline to the whole enterprise. Of course, in a real job, you can’t say to your boss, “It’s not going well today,” and then blow off the afternoon at the movies, which I do sometimes. But for the most part, I try to write straight through from nine until two or so. Then I take a break, and then I revisit what I’ve written and do a bit of editing, so that I’m ready to break new ground the following day.

I also find I don’t write well in a quiet office. I do much better with the quiet bustle of a small college library or a quiet bookstore café.

Can you name the first book you read that inspired you in some special way? Why?

I’ve been inspired by numerous books, but the two books I always seem to come back to are Bright Lights Big City, by Jay McInerney, and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, by Peter Hedges. Bright Lights is so tight, so concise, and yet so fully realized. It would take me twice as many words to say what McInerney says, and I still wouldn’t say it as well. And What’s Eating Gilbert Grape has such a wonderful cast of characters, so flawed and sympathetic and real, while still being odd and outrageously funny. Gilbert Grape was the book that made me want to be a writer. Whenever I get stuck, those are the two books I go back to for inspiration. In a wonderful coincidence, Peter Hedges, who has since gone on to become a successful screenwriter and director, is now writing and directing the movie version of my novel, Everything Changes.

Which came first: the characters, or the storyline?

For me, it always starts with the character. I may have a rough idea of the premise I want to explore, but it won’t go anywhere until I’ve really developed a complete understanding of who I’m writing about. I’ll write pages and pages about my protagonist, most of which will never make it into the novel. But by the time the novel is really getting underway, I’ll know him cold; his past, his present, his hurts, his dreams, and where I want to drop him off when the ride is over.

Author Essay

Jonathan Tropper writes about his novel, How to Talk To a Widower

How to Talk To a Widower started out as a very different book. Before that, it started as a highly morbid and inappropriate dinner conversation. My wife and two of her friends had flown off on a trip to Los Angeles. That night, I was out to dinner with the two other husbands, enjoying a rare stag night, when someone mentioned that our wives were still in mid-flight. At some point, it occurred to me that if their plane crashed, we would be three young widowers living in the same neighborhood. My remark was met with shock and disapproval. How could you even say such a thing? But that’s what writers do, we allow ourselves to keep thinking, imagining, empathizing, and discussing past the point where other people have willed themselves to stop.

Inspired, I began writing a novel about three men living with their families in the aftermath of an horrific plane crash in which their three wives died. I created three very different men, and three very different marriages. And about a hundred and eighty pages in, I shared it with my publisher, and we all came to the same consensus: It wasn’t very good.

“It’s not very funny,” someone pointed out.

“Well, it’s about three men whose wives have died. I wasn’t really going for ‘funny.’”

“Still…” they said.

After meditating on it for a bit—and by that I mean obsessing about it, day and night, for weeks—I realized that the problem was not that it wasn’t very funny, it was that it simply wasn’t very interesting. It was sad, and well written, and ultimately pointless. The characters weren’t coming alive for me, and it showed.

So I took a beat and did some soul searching. The beat lasted around seven months, during which everything I wrote was crap. I asked for and received an extension and then I made the gut wrenching decision to throw it all out and start over again. There was one character, of the three men, who showed some promise for me, a twenty-nine-year-old widower named Doug Parker, wallowing in grief, marooned in suburbia, and saddled with a rebellious stepson, his dead wife’s son from her first marriage. And as soon as I started to write the book about Doug, it all came together. I liked what I was writing. It felt right and true and even funny. I called the book After Hailey. The publishers preferred How To Talk To A Widower. They never like my titles. I’m used to it.

People ask me why I seem to always write about screwed up people, and I always respond that no one wants to read about happy, well adjusted people. Happy, well adjusted people are boring. Doug Parker is not happy. He’s sad, angry, terrified, lonely, horny, and hopeful. Sometimes he drinks too much. Sometimes he sleeps with inappropriate women. Sometimes he gets into fights. And every so often, when you least expect it, he manages to get it right.

Since the release of How to Talk To a Widower here and abroad (it was actually a bestseller in the U.K.), I’ve heard from many widows and widowers who were moved to share their stories with me, and it’s been gratifying to hear that I’ve been able to a put a voice to some of their experience, that they found something to connect with in my character. For a fiction writer, there is no greater validation. I’m very proud of How to Talk To a Widower, even if I still can’t quite get used to the title. Sure, on the surface it’s about death and grief, but really it’s about life and love and family and the myriad ways there are to screw up all three.

I hope you enjoy it.

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