Author Jonathan Tropper Profile
Jonathan Tropper uses New Rochelle as his muse.
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Growing Up on the Cusp of Suburbia
Tropper grew up a typical ’70s kid in a house in Riverdale with two brothers and a sister, a stay-at-home mom, and a dad who ran a large contract-manufacturing corporation. “I didn’t stray too far from my roots,” he says. He says they’re close, with none of the dysfunction of the siblings, parents, and spouses who grace his stories.
Tropper studied English undergrad and then went on to get a Master’s degree in Creative Writing at NYU, after which he spent eight years running a Manhattan-based company that manufactured displays for jewelry and watch companies. He wrote at night and on weekends but also embarked on a not-so-unusual post-college path. He played softball and basketball with the guys when he could, got married, had kids, and moved to Westchester.
His first published novel, Plan B, about a group of college friends turning 30, attracted the attention of an agent, allowing him to quit his day job and become a full-time writer. That was almost 10 years ago, but it seems now is his time. According to Lipskar, the movie studios always pay attention to his books—four of them have been optioned at auction within a week or so of the manuscript’s completion —but this last one, This is Where I leave You, seems to have really caught on. “The mix of pain and hilarity that is a hallmark of most families’ lives is exactly the right canvas for Jonathan, and readers love it,” Lipskar says.
The Bronx native says his whole concept of suburbia comes from Westchester. “It’s the only suburb I’ve ever lived in.” The City on the Sound started finding its way into his stories early on but confirmed its presence with How to Talk to a Widower, which takes place in a fictional town called New Radford and is “one-hundred percent New Rochelle,” he says.
See if you recognize New Ro in this scene from the book:
“New Radford is pretty much what you’d expect from an upper-middle-class suburb. You’ve read the book, seen the movie. It’s all here. The original masonry homes, Tudors, and Colonials from the 1930s housing burgeoning families and imploding marriages, German luxury cars positioned in driveways like magazine ads, bored-looking kids dressed in the faded palette of Abercrombie & Fitch congregating nefariously in parking lots, morning commuters loaded like cattle onto the Metro-North trains into Manhattan, minivans and midlife crises doting the landscape like freckles.”
Burian says there was always something special about Tropper growing up, though he had no idea about his writing talents until college. “His roommate used to rave how Jonathan could dictate a full English or history paper for him without any effort.”
“Jonathan is, quite simply very talented,”he continues. “He was a black belt in the martial arts and a super-entertaining piano player without any formal music training. He was also somewhat precocious when it came to girls, as he was never without a serious girlfriend, even as a kid. It’s very exciting for all of us to watch him continue to build on his every success, while at the same time remaining very true to his family, friends, and community.”
It’s almost a little disappointing how, well, normal Tropper seems. He’s your typical suburban guy who works all day (he writes in a quiet nook at the Manhatanville Library where he is an adjunct fiction professor), plays a little piano when he has free time, spends evenings helping his wife with dinner and his kids with homework, coaches Little League, and often schleps his little ones to Last Licks in Scarsdale, or to the batting cages at Sportstime USA in—where else?—Elmsford.
Tropper says he used to work at home but found that he was more productive in the college library, where he admits to a “messy process.”
“I always know what my central theme will be and my character’s journey but everything else finds its way in or out. Sometimes I’ll be halfway through or three-quarters of the way through and find I’m reinventing what I’ve already done.” (His biggest piece of advice to students and would-be writers? “Persevere. My first book sold was not the first book I wrote.”) He admits to having a “graveyard” of unused material on his computer that he hopes to use one day. Which gets curious minds wondering if maybe a story on turning 40 might be a possible plot line in the not-so-distant future?
“The themes of his books have clearly grown from the arc of his life as they deal with topics such as being single, growing up, getting married, being married, living in suburbia, etc.,” Burian says. “But most of the characters are way more colorful than the people around him.”
And though Tropper’s supposed to be working on his sixth book—something about fathers and sons in the suburbs (“maybe”)—screenwriting is taking up a lot of his time. “It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.”
As a result, Tropper has been traveling a lot recently to LA for business. No matter where his career takes him, though, he says there’s nowhere he’d rather be than here. All of which is good news for us Westchesterites who will be seeing more of “fictional” New Ro (and perhaps other Westchester towns) either on the big screen, or in novels to come.
Jeanne Muchnick, a freelancer based in Larchmont, has been a fan of Jonathan Tropper’s for years and was thrilled to meet him in person.