Exclusive interview with author Robinne Lee discussing her new novel about a mom who finds herself in the tabloids for dating a boy band performer half her age
By Gabrielle Pantera
HOLLYWOOD, CA (Hollywood Daily Star) 2017/7/2 – “Right out of school I’d managed a singing group that was produced by one of the members of the New Kids on the Block,” says The Idea of You author Robinne Lee. “I spent a lot of time around them when they were still at the height of their fame. A few years ago, my husband was away on business and I was up late surfing music videos on YouTube when I came across the face of a boy I’d never seen in a band I’d never paid attention to.”
“It was so aesthetically perfect it took me by surprise,” says Lee. “It was like…art. I spent a good hour or so Googling and trying to figure out who this kid was. In doing so I discovered that he often dated older women, and so the seed was planted. When my husband returned a couple of days later, I joked with him that I’d found the perfect guy and I was leaving him and our two kids. ‘Oh, and by the way, he’s half my age.’ My husband laughed, and then a moment later said, you know, that would make a great book.”
In The Idea of You, Solène Marchand is a 39-year-old divorced mother and owner of an art gallery in Los Angeles. Solène meets her daughter Isabelle’s favorite boy band August Moon. Solène is intrigued by band member Hayes Campbell. He’s also clever and confident. He’s also 20 years old, closer to her daughters age then hers. Solène soon finds herself in a relationship with Hayes, and seeing her life and her daughter’s exposed in the tabloids.
“I knew a May/December relationship where the woman was older would be controversial and compelling, and further complicating it with celebrity made it more intriguing,” says Lee. “To confront that from the perspective of the mother was a gift, really. All the concerns and obligations we have as parents. The onus of always putting our progeny first, putting others’ happiness over ours. And then further tackling ageism and sexism, and the idea of feeling invisible as we approach middle age.”
“It was the addition of the daughter on the verge of her teenage years that really made it exciting for me,” says Lee. “That’s such a tricky, delicate time. At least it was for me. Where everything seemed heightened and dramatic and every little slight or misstep felt like the end of the world.”
Lee spent a good deal of time researching modern-day boy bands, unearthing as many interviews and think-pieces and concert footage and videos as she could. She found how much their privacy has been compromised by social media. “I became so fully immersed in the boy band world that it was more difficult than I anticipated to pull myself out,” says Lee.
With the help of a friend who works at a gallery, Lee researched art and the gallery business, a world that was new to her.
Lee traveled to most of the cities visited by Hayes and Solène in this book, seeing hotels, restaurants, stores and villas. “I researched every location obsessively. I hope to the point that the reader cannot tell the places I have been from the place I have not.”
Lee started writing The Idea of You in March of 2014. It has yet to be optioned for film or TV.
An actress and a producer, Robinne Lee has starred in Hitch and many other films and television. She’s been a performer and writer most of her life.
“I can’t remember when I was not writing stories and putting on plays,” says Lee. “I do feel one feeds the other. I think I’m naturally very good at dialogue and rhythm in my writing because of acting. I don’t act out the scenes I write per se, but I do speak the dialogue over and over again until it feels natural to me. And with the prose as well, I am always reading sentences and phrases and paragraphs out loud because I need it to sound aesthetically pleasing to my ear. And I think a lot of that comes from acting. I need it to almost sound like music. Like poetry. I think that comes from performing plays like Shakespeare and Mamet. Those playwrights teach you the importance of meter. And once you learn meter, it stays with you…always.”
“Acting as a career, often being in the public eye, and being in the company of huge celebrities definitely informed much of the writing of this book,” says Lee. “Being on sets with Will Smith, having Tom Cruise come to visit. Being targeted by paparazzi on the Fifty Shades set. Seeing Jennifer Garner hounded. Attending exclusive after-parties at Prince’s home. Dining out with people like Gabrielle Union and Dwyane Wade and realizing you cannot have a meal uninterrupted. Those things stay with you.”
Lee spent six years working on a novel prior to this that was semi-autobiographical. “It did not sell,” says Lee. “And, it crushed me. But in the last year or so I’ve learned that just about every author has a fully-finished first manuscript in a drawer somewhere that they, too have not sold. That’s made me feel a little bit better. I have always written for pleasure. I have dozens and dozens of incomplete files, and a garage with box upon box of my writing. In high school, I penned two novels by hand. I’ve written a lot about young people finding their identity, straddling cultures, navigating class, race, and religion.”
Lee says she’s a huge Anglophile, that when she started writing The Idea of You and knew there was going to be a boy band, she thought, “Oh, I can make them British!”
Elizabeth Beier at St. Martin’s Press is Lee’s editor.
“She is wonderfully brilliant and poised,” says Lee. “It’s kind of hard not to love someone who loves your book. I want to be involved and on top of everything, and when you’re working with a publisher, at some point you need to just let go and trust that they know what they’re doing. I am very much a perfectionist and an overachiever. It’s hard for me to sit back and trust that someone else is going to get it right…my vision, my ideas, my book. St. Martin’s Press has been selling books longer than I’ve been writing them so certainly they are fully competent. But as a writer you think of your book as your baby.”
Richard Pine at InkWell Management is Lee’s agent. Pine sent out the manuscript and within a couple of weeks had an offer from St. Martins. “I’d worked on it intensely with Richard,” says Lee. “So by that point, it was quite tight as a manuscript. Elizabeth gave me a couple of notes and suggestions, and I did a quick pass and then we were ready to copy edit.”
Lee was writing a query letter and making a list of top agencies when a girlfriend told Lee she’d pitched her book to a friend who’s an agent and he wants to read it. “InkWell was on that very short list of my dream agencies and Richard was the founder,” say Lee. “So I sent it off to him on a Thursday night and hoped for the best. On Monday, I got the call. He’d spent the weekend reading it and he absolutely loved it. And in that first phone call he said things to me that I’d been waiting my entire life to hear as an artist. He got the story, the characters, the themes, the subtleties. He got every last bit of it. He got me.”
Lee is currently writing a “dark and twisty” family drama about finding one’s identity. She stars in Fifty Shades Freed, releasing in February. She’s in an indie film with Taye Diggs about domestic violence called Til Death Do Us Part that will be out in the fall.
Lee lives in Los Angeles in a house with an exquisite view of the Pacific. “A house not terribly unlike the house of my protagonist,” says Lee. “It was a big part of my inspiration in writing this book.”
Lee was born and raised in Westchester County, New York, a suburb north of Manhattan.
Twitter and Instagram @robinnelee facebook.com/therobinnelee/
The Idea of You: A Novel by Robinne Lee. Trade Paperback, 384 pages, Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin (June 13, 2017). Language: English, ISBN: 9781250125903 $15.99