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An Interview with Author Melanie Chartoff

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Melanie Chartoff’s been seen on and off Broadway, on series like Seinfeld, Newhart, Ally McBeal, Parker Lewis, Wise Guy, Weird Science, Wonder Woman, and heard as the animated mommy Didi on Rugrats, and the animated Aunt Nora on Jumanji. She’s been read in McSweeney’s, the NY Times, The Jewish Journal, Wry Times, Avalon Literary Review, Evening Street Press, and five editions of Chicken Soup for the Soul. Her first book, Odd Woman Out, is rated 5 stars on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Apple Books.

You can buy Odd Woman Out here.

Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?

I became smitten with theater as a child and first wrote plays and essays that were published in the local newspaper and performed at school. As an avid young reader I devoured Dr. Doolittle and any other books about animals I could find. I grew to love the satire of Jonathan Swift, Mark Twain and later the work of Kurt Vonnegut and Philip Roth. I’d also attribute my writing style to all my great acting teachers, from Stella Adler to Harry Mastrogeorge—how to feel, hear and smell from inside the story of another human’s life, and how to communicate complex ideas and emotions in tangible, palpable ways.

What inspired you to start writing this book?

I had performed many of the stories to strong response in theaters and a literary agent encouraged me to publish them in literary form. I was further motivated when I told young women I was marrying for the first time at 65 and they cried, “You give me hope!” My first book and its happy ending is dedicated to them.

Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?

I had sought a title to capture how awkward, how out of synch, how left out of life I felt, despite the collected image I projected as an actor. “Odd woman out” seemed apt. As I revealed the deeper secrets of my psychology, “exposure” seemed like an apt subtitle for a collection of intimate sad and funny tales from over my lifespan so far.

If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?

Pat Metheny’s “As Witchita Falls, So Falls Witchita Falls” and Ryuichi Sakamoto’s “Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence.” My audiobook actually does have an original soundtrack of discordant, peppy jazz chords.

Describe your dream book cover.

My book’s cover, a photo of a woman exposing herself, cloaked in a trench coat and sunglasses, feels ideal, as the book is a slow tease of information, rated PG17.

What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?

I’ve been having a career as a stage, screen and audio actor but as I get older writing fulfills more of my self-worth and more of my days. I also teach “Charismatizing Improvising” in Los Angeles, and coach beginning actors online.

What books did you read (for research or comfort) throughout your writing process?

Books by Mary Karr, Nicole Krauss, and Vivian Gornic; and short stories by Lorrie Moore inspired me.

What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?

It’s never too late to learn to love–yourself and maybe somebody else, too! My perfect reader ideally has an open mind and a good sense of humor. 

Are you a writer, too? Submit your manuscript to Atmosphere Press.

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