ABOVE: MOLLY RINGWALD. IMAGE COURTESY OF FERGUS GREER
They don't make them like Molly Ringwald anymore. The muse of famed '80s film director John Hughes, she was your teenage crush, the big sister you wish you had, your sometimes-mentor. Ringwald was never caught flashing her private parts while hopping out of an Escalade, nor was she ever married in a live televised ceremony. Ringwald, now 44 and a mother of three, debuts her vivid first novel, When It Happens to You (Harper Collins), this week. It's refreshing proof that a child star can grow in her talent and isn't destined to become a cliché; the has-been, a product of fame too fast, too soon.
We chatted with Ringwald about backstabbing, damaged people, and the very fine line between love and hate.
LIANNE STOKES: As a Brat Pack icon, is it a challenge for you to be taken seriously as an author? If so, how do you overcome that?
MOLLY RINGWALD: I don't have control over how people choose to perceive me. The only thing I have control over is my writing. I think that people who care about books and like the kind of books that I write will respond to it. I don't want people thinking it's a dishy celebrity book; that's not what I wrote.
STOKES: The title of your book, When It Happens to You, is telling: You're never too big to have someone betray you or to feel unloved. What inspired you to write about what you did?
RINGWALD: When I was thinking about the themes that connect us, love, hate... [laughs] If I could think of one thing that connects us all that's not talked about, it's betrayal. At my twins' preschool, I made two friends, and out of the three of us, I'm the only one who is happily married. The other two are now divorced as a result of cheating spouses. Everyone has been betrayed, turned on someone, or been their own worst enemy. I tried to write about betrayal from as many angles as I could understand.
STOKES: What struck me as profoundly sad was the moment one of your characters, a father, cheated, and his six-year-old daughter blamed her mother for what he had done.
RINGWALD: Yeah, I think kids do that. They tend to lash out at the parent that's there more. And daughters and fathers are generally a lot tighter, there's the Oedipal thing. Writing Phillip was difficult, but I wanted people to understand that although he cheated and destroyed his family, he was in pain. One of the themes of the book is that we are the most brutal with the people we love the most.
STOKES: There is a character in your book who doesn't love her daughter—a very taboo topic. Where did you get the idea? It was almost hard to read; that's what made it so good.
RINGWALD: Most of the book came from my imagination, but that actually came from somebody I had met when I was a teenager. She was someone who struggled to love her children, but loved me a lot. I remember being very confused by how it was possible to have this woman so clearly adore me and she couldn't give any of that to her daughter. It was one of those things that stuck in my head, and I ended up using it 25 years later. I wondered at the time if she was guilty. But she was also at a different time in her life. Sometimes when people have kids young, they're not ready.
STOKES: You're a Generation X icon. Any plans to relate to Gen Y? Or do you own your time and place?
RINGWALD: I feel connected to my kids. I don't know what their generation is called. Gen Z? My eldest is going to be nine in October and my twins are three; I have a while with the other two, but Matilda is going to be a teenager overnight. I want to be prepared as much as you can possibly be as a parent. For a long time, being a teenager was exactly the same. Now with the Internet and social media, it's completely different.
STOKES: You've got a jazz album coming out. Does your eldest share your love of music?
RINGWALD: My musical tastes are very different from my daughters, as they should be, because that's how she individualizes. When she puts her music on, I grin and bear it.
STOKES: What's she into?
RINGWALD: Ke$ha, Katy Perry.
STOKES: If When It Happens to You were made into a movie, what character would choose to play?
RINGWALD: I'm planning on making and directing the movie. I realize these characters have not let me go. I'd like to play Marina. She's the only one I wrote as a redhead, you know. [laughs] It's written as a book, so in order for it to be a film, things are going to have to be cut and other things added in. It's going to have to find its own cinematic language. I've been wracking my brain trying to find the best way to do that so it maintains its integrity but works as a movie. If you have any ideas, feel free to share them with me.
WHEN IT HAPPENS TO YOU IS OUT TOMORROW.