About Stephen McCauley

Stephen McCauley
Stephen McCauley   Download hi-res

Stephen McCauley: I grew up outside of Boston and was more or less educated in public schools. I went to the University of Vermont as an undergraduate and studied for a year in France at the University of Nice.

Upon graduation, I worked at hotels, kindergartens (see The Object of My Affection), ice cream stands, and health food stores. I taught yoga in a church basement and set up a house cleaning service. For many years, I worked as a travel agent (see The Easy Way Out) and was able to travel somewhat extensively and inexpensively.

In the 1980s, I moved to Brooklyn. After taking a few writing courses at adult learning centers, I enrolled in the MFA writing program at Columbia University. I'd had a desire to write for a long time, but rarely talked about it, mostly because it seemed like an audacious ambition. Being in graduate school gave me the structure and excuse I needed to begin writing more seriously.

At the suggestion of a teacher, the writer Stephen Koch (who recently published a comprehensive, intelligent, and helpful book on writing: The Modern Library Writers' Workshop) I began working on my first novel. ("Just drop your bucket over the side," he advised, "and see what comes up." As for plot, he said: "Not so complicated. Look at Farewell to Arms. Boy meets girl, girl gets pregnant, girl dies, boy walks home in the rain. The end.")
 The first draft of The Object of My Affection was submitted as my thesis for graduation from Columbia. Stephen Koch offered to send it to an agent, and shortly thereafter, it was accepted by Simon and Schuster. I was working at a travel agency when it was published. About six months later, 20th Century Fox bought an option for the film rights, and I left that line of work.

Since 1987, I have taught at UMass, Wellesley College, Harvard University, and, most frequently, at Brandeis University. Currently, I co-direct the creative writing program there with poet Elizabeth Bradfield.

I'm a pretty slow and self-conscious sort of writer, and despite my best efforts, there's been a gap of four or five years between each book. The Easy Way Out (1992), The Man of the House (1996), True Enough (2001), Alternatives to Sex (2006), and Insignificant Others (2010). The isolation and self-discipline writing demands doesn't come easily to me, and so teaching has been a welcome (though time-consuming) part of my work life.

My books have done surprisingly well in France, and that part of my career has been an enormous pleasure. Several novels have been bestsellers, I was named a Chevalier in the Order or Arts and Letters, and two novels were made into films there. True Enough was made into a terrific feature (La Verité Ou Presque) from Films A4 in 2007. It was written and directed by the actor and director Sam Karmann, and has a great cast. A really fantastic adaptation of The Easy Way Out (L'Art de la Fugue) was released in 2015. The movie was written and directed by Brice Cauvin and stars Laurent Lafitte, Agnes Jaoui, Marie-Christine Barrault and Benjamin Biolay. The story of the production and release involved years of delays, multiple law suits, and the astonishing conviction of Brice Cauvin. It was vastly more successful in France than anyone expected.

The adaptation of The Object of My Affection shows up on television fairly often, largely, I suspect, due to Jennifer Aniston's enduring popularity. Over time, I've grown fond of the movie, and find the screenplay (written by the late Wendy Wasserstein) to be moving and sturdier than many in the romantic comedy genre. I wish it has a more ambiguous ending, but so be it.

Shortly after I finished my sixth novel, I was approached by an editor who was looking for someone to write a couple of novels about a yoga studio in LA and five women who teach and practice there. I do a ton of yoga and have for years. I felt as if I'd come to the end of some unspecified project when I finished Insignificant Others, so this seemed like a fun opportunity. The books are full of big events—suicides and miscarriages and drug addiction and erotic encounters on ski lifts. And yoga. Lots of yoga. Each of the two novels was written in a matter of weeks, which feels like the amount of time they should have taken. They were published under the pseudonym Rain Mitchell, which sounds either like a New Age dancer or a British prostitute from a Somerset Maugham novel. They were published in fifteen countries. Sometimes I miss Rain. Rain wrote more freely and un-self-consciously than I do. I learned a lot from Rain, but perhaps not enough.

I seem to be incapable of writing at home, so after years of trying residencies and monasteries and such things, I've committed to working in libraries. I'm more grateful for the boom in public libraries than I can say, as are the hundreds of people I've met there who use them daily for work, for writing, for computer access, for the bathrooms. These days, my travel consists largely of renting an Airbnb in a small city within five hours drive of Boston (requirements: yoga studios, health food store, a really good place for espresso, and a gay community) and going to the library to write. It seems to work.