New novel (and big movie) keep Susanna Fogel busy
Writing about your family can be dicey, but, luckily, Susanna Fogel’s family has a sense of humor.
“I have to say, my family’s always been incredibly open and encouraging of any way I might want to express myself,” says Fogel, a New England native whose divorced parents live in Brookline and Lexington. “At a very young age, they accepted that my outlet would be writing, and comedic writing, and they were pretty accepting of that.”
That’s fortunate because Fogel’s new novel, “Nuclear Family,” is full of characters who, she admits, bear more than a passing resemblance to members of her own family, including a former child prodigy dad who writes haikus in his old age and has a very young son.
The book, which began as a “Shouts & Murmurs” piece in The New Yorker, is told through a series of letters and notes — some hilarious, some absurd, some sad — a literary device Fogel settled on because, frankly, it seemed easier and, potentially, funnier.
It’s also what she’s good at. Fogel, who’s 36, has written a few screenplays, including one for a big-budget film she’s currently directing in Budapest, and she’s just most comfortable writing dialogue.
“Honestly, a collection of monologues felt more doable than normal prose style,” she said. “I’m not sure I could get through even one page of normal prose without obsessing over it.”
“Nuclear Family” comes out Tuesday, but Fogel won’t be in Boston to celebrate. She’s busy shooting “The Spy Who Dumped Me,” an action comedy starring Kate McKinnon and Mila Kunis as besties who become embroiled in a spy caper in Europe when one of them finds out her ex-boyfriend (”The Leftovers” Justin Theroux) was a spy. “Outlander” hunk Sam Heughan plays a mysterious MI6 agent and Gillian Anderson is his boss.
“The experience of writing a book was empowering because I dictated the format and the length and what I wrote about and how I wrote about it,” she said. “But the film business is great because I enjoy all the collaboration that’s required.
“It’s a pretty opposite experience,” she said. “Being in pajamas all day writing a novel and running around Budapest as fake bullets are flying.”
If it sounds like Fogel has a lot on her plate, she does. But she’s taking it in small bites.
“Kate McKinnon asked me if I’m scared do this big movie,” Fogel said. “My answer is that I’m confident in the little decision, but when if I zoom out and think about what I’m actually doing, it’s totally terrifying. So I try not to do that.
“Luckily, I’m so tired at the end of the day, I don’t have the energy to go there anyway,” she said.