Q: How much was your novel based on your own experiences as Francis Ford Coppola's philosophy tutor?
A: The novel is a traditional roman a clef, so it’s very much based on real life. Hence - a lot!
Q: You note that your protagonist, Alice, "is her own soul." How did you create her?
A: I felt the best way to find Alice was to find myself at that same age. I looked deeply inside my hidden psyche and channeled parts of myself that had been hiding —from this vantage point of years later —and tried to really get into my own truth at that time.
It’s hard to find honesty, but from the distance I was able to see that my younger self was not all that honest.
Funny enough, I could find more truth even from all these years away. I felt that was the most productive way to create Alice. They say write what you know, right?
Q: Did you know how you'd end the novel before you started writing it, or did you change things along the way?
A: I took much of the story from my real life, but since it is a novel I did consider changing the story line, and having love win in order to give my readers that romantic satisfaction. But, in the end, it was important that Alice find her way back to herself, not through a man. That was more in keeping with the integrity of the story and its themes of self-discovery and empowerment.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?
A: To find their own way, their own voice, their own power — and not look for it through a man. That’s what I hope they take away from this story.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: A crime novel about a group of housewives. I’ve lived as a mom for the last decade, and there’s lots of material there. It’s a story about greed, family, marriage and the American dream. A dark, psychological thriller.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I wanted to explore my own #MeToo moment from my 20s. That was my impetus for writing The Tutor. It was not about “outing” a man, nor exploiting his fame, but rather, trying to understand my own part in that dance. And to ask myself — was I complicit? I never felt like a victim. This is not a victim story.
On a side note, I was inspired to explore my story when I saw Sofia Coppola's Lost In Translation. In it, a Yale philosophy grad like me has a connection with an older famous man (like her father, Francis Ford Coppola) in a foreign country. It felt close to home (and was directed by Francis’s daughter), so it inspired me to write my own story.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb