started writing Sex and Sunsets 35
years ago when I was living in a backpacker tent in the Gros
Ventre Mountains because I'd lost my tipi in a divorce. By
night, I was washing dishes at Anthony's Italian Restaurant
in Jackson, Wyoming. A month after my divorce I discovered
you can touch women if you dance Western swing in the Cowboy
Bar, so that's what I did for 10 years. The combination of
Jim Beam and hour upon hour of aerobic exercise made me one
of the healthier drunks in Wyoming.
One night I started a letter to
my friend Greg. "The need has come to explain myself. First:
I hear voices in running water." Twenty pages in, I realized
two things. 1) This was too good to waste on a guy who
wouldn't write back, and 2) I'd found my voice.
Washing dishes is the best job
possible for a novelist. Philip Roth should try it. You keep
moving, which keeps your mind moving, but you don't have to
think about what you are doing. You are left alone to
daydream. I made up conversations, then huddled over my
yellow legal pad to get them down quickly before they
evaporated. I felt just like Little Richard, slinging
plates, flipping glasses, singing to the roaring rhythm of
my Hobart. (Good Golly Miss Molly," "Sally Had a Party," and
"Tutti Frutti" -- all tributes to waitresses.) Of course,
Little Richard wore make-up when he washed dishes. I wasn't
The first draft was more or less
nonfiction. The divorce backstory was semi-true. The ongoing
action of chasing Colette fell in the line of
autobiographical fantasy. If you have a problem, write
100,000 words about it. You'll be so concerned with how to
move a character across a room, the problem will be long
The Right Kind of
Wrong tells the story of Leo Palamino, a writer forced to
wash dishes to make ends meet, and whose ex-wife makes his
many flaws public in a blog called WHY YOU SUCK. When Leo
meets Colette, the girl of his dreams at a wedding - HER
wedding – he will do anything to win her over. And so the
ultimate underdog love story begins… in which Leo, a
fearless dreamer, risks all to show Colette and the whole
world all that is right with a man famous for being wrong.
Through nine drafts, the character
of Kelly -- Leo, in the movie -- stayed basically me. In
fact, when they brought me to the set, the director
(Jeremiah S. Chechik) told the star (Ryan Kwanten), "This is
you in 30 years." I thought, "Sure, I looked like that 30
years ago." From his face, I assume Ryan Kwanten thought,
"Over my dead body."
The model for the character of
Colette evolved, depending on what waitress I was smitten by
at the time. To this day, there are four women claiming to
be Colette. The ex-wife, Danny, Danny's father, and various
characters left out of the movie are all fairly real. A
couple of characters put in the movie but left out of the
book are also awfully close to people from my past. I don't
know how screenwriter Megan Martin did that.
Seven years and 135 rejections
later, the novel was published. People magazine called me,
"The Lone Ranger on Thorazine." I took that as a compliment.
The novel was optioned as a movie.
The option ran out, and it was optioned again, and again.
Option checks arrived for 25 years, and, as political
correctness took over the arts, my story of romantic pursuit
of the woman you love warped into a stalking book. (Imagine
trying to finance The Graduate today.) I gave up on it being
made. Then Robert Lantos, Jeremiah Chechik, and Megan Martin
cracked the code.
Last October Robert flew me to
Canmore, Alberta, and I hung out on the set, watching them
shoot a scene I may or may not have written 30 years ago,
but I certainly lived it.
Here is the coolest part of the process, from campfire to
Canmore: I looked around and it hit me like a rock to the
head that this thing that had sprung from my brain was now
providing jobs for hundreds of people. My dishmachine
daydream was real.