Q&A: Stewart O’Nan on Fictionalizing F. Scott Fitzgerald
For all that has been written, said, extrapolated from, and culturally metabolized about F. Scott Fitzgerald, the last few years of his life are often dismissed as a steady downward slide from writing The Crack Up, published February 1936 in Esquire, to his premature death of a heart attack in December 1940 at just 44 years old.
But it was during that time that Fitzgerald moved to Hollywood, reinvented himself, repaid his debts and fell in love for the final time. Of course, he also failed to finish a new novel, felt the impact of his worsening health, and struggled to maintain a relationship with his beloved but committed wife, Zelda. It’s not the expat parties in Paris of the 1920s so often associated with the author. But it was an interesting time in the life of one of the most celebrated literary figures of the 20th century. In his newest novel, West of Sunset, Stewart O’Nan presents a fictionalized account of these final years, bringing to life scenes of Fitzgerald in Hollywood. We talked to O’Nan about fictionalizing such a famous figure and what he learned about Fitzgerald in the process.
Stewart is in Seattle today for two events!
The Pub @ Third Place Books, 1/30/2015
Elliott Bay Books, 1/30/2015
Here are some tunes that Stewart is listening to while on the road. Give it a listen via Spotify!
Stewart visited the Sony Lot (formerly MGM) yesterday! Check out the pics below.
Notice the great plastic rainbow int the photo? That’s from the Wizard of Oz!
Here is the rear of the Thalberg building; Fitzgerald worked on the third floor.
Stewart with Joan Bayley Weamer (right) and Holly Watson (top, Viking Penguin Publicity). Joan worked on the lot in its heyday and met Irving Thalberg as a young ballerina dancing in Romeo and Juliet. Stewart interviewed her while working on the book.
by PAUL CONSTANT
Stewart O’Nan’s greatest gift as a writer is his ability to work in miniature. His greatest novel, Last Night at the Lobster, is nothing more than the story of the final day of a failed Red Lobster restaurant. With absolutely no gimmicks or sentimentality, O’Nan gave the staff and operations of a backwater chain restaurant outpost the same care and attention that, say, Jonathan Franzen bestows upon terrible suburban American families, and the results are riveting. His novel The Odds, about a married couple trying to give their dying marriage one more shot by taking a Valentine’s Day trip to Niagara Falls, is similarly small in scope, a quiet story about an ordinary couple.
His newest novel, West of Sunset (Viking, $27.95), represents a departure from that formula. It’s a novel about the last days of F. Scott Fitzgerald, who is about as far away from an average restaurant manager as you can get. Setting aside the fact that writing a novel about the author of TheGreat Gatsby is pretty gutsy, O’Nan also writes about Hollywood in the late ’30s, when legendary figures like Humphrey Bogart and Dorothy Parker were holding court in bars around the city.
Stewart will be at Warwick’s tonight!
San Diego, CA
Warwick’s, 1/29/2015 7:30pm
The west coast tour continues tonight at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena!
Stewart O’Nan discusses and signs West of Sunset
Start: 01/28/2015 7:00 pm
695 E. Colorado Blvd
In 1937, F. Scott Fitzgerald was a troubled man whose literary success was long over. In poor health, with his wife consigned to a mental asylum and his finances in shambles, he struggled to make a new start as a screenwriter in Hollywood. Just three years later, he would be dead of a heart attack. Those final years of Fitzgerald’s life, often obscured by the legend of his earlier Jazz Age glamour, are the focus of Stewart O’Nan’s brilliantly written novel. With flashbacks to key moments from Fitzgerald’s past, the story follows him as he arrives on the MGM lot, begins work on The Last Tycoon, and tries to maintain a semblance of family life with the absent Zelda and their daughter Scottie.