The Paper Palace: A Captivating Journey of Love and Intrigue
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Discover the allure and metaphorical depth of The Paper Palace, a captivating novel set in the enchanting Cape Cod. Brace yourself for a powerful narrative that explores the complexities of relationships, familial dysfunction, and the human experience.
Unveiling the Depths
The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller is a beautifully written page-turner that unfolds over the course of 24 hours at the renowned Cape Cod holiday home of Elle. As Elle finds herself torn between her husband and her childhood love, she delves into the depths of her life, unearthing a world filled with privilege, haunted by familial dysfunction, cruelty, and tragedy. Cowley Heller effortlessly captures the metaphorical significance of this cherished vacation destination.
“It is always fascinating to consider what lies beneath,” Cowley Heller muses. “Swimming with sharks is the perfect metaphor. You gaze upon the breathtaking beauty of the Cape’s ocean, yet it has now become a prominent meeting place for great white sharks. There’s more than meets the eye, both on the surface and beneath it.”
The Writer’s Journey
Growing up in a family of artists, writers, and editors in New York, Cowley Heller always aspired to be a writer. However, self-doubt and the struggle to find her own voice led her on a winding path for many years.
“I always believed that I would become a writer, being raised in a household of writers and editors. I attempted to write the ‘great American novel,’ but I couldn’t. It took me a substantial amount of time to identify the problem. It wasn’t just the worry about meeting everyone else’s expectations; I needed to access a different part of my brain. My writing was controlled, lacking my own unique voice. I wandered through various other endeavors, feeling unfulfilled, knowing deep down that writing was my true calling.”
After graduating from Harvard, Cowley Heller embarked on a career as a books editor at Cosmopolitan magazine. She later spent a decade working as head of drama series at HBO, where she contributed to groundbreaking shows such as The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, The Wire, and Deadwood. Being part of what is now dubbed television’s golden age was an exhilarating experience for her.
“At the time, HBO’s drama series department was experimental and free-spirited. Our team was brilliant, and we had unparalleled creative freedom. We firmly believed that allowing brilliant, creative minds to flourish was far superior to imposing strict financial considerations. We simply wanted to create exceptional content. It was immensely enjoyable, but as the company grew, so did expectations, which placed mounting pressure on us. The independent voice of the writer gradually diminished.”
The Legacy Lives On
While Cowley Heller ventured into other projects, the shows she worked on continue to occupy a significant place in the cultural landscape. Many people turned to these beloved series during the lockdown period. Cowley Heller draws an interesting parallel between shows like The Wire and The Sopranos and exceptional novels.
“These shows are like remarkable books that you revisit time and again. Although there are still some fantastic shows out there — Succession being an excellent example — there are also numerous mediocre ones. As a viewer, I long for stories that engage me on every level, where the writing, the storytelling, and every aspect come together to provoke thought and leave a lasting impression.”
Cowley Heller acknowledges that her time at HBO influenced her book, which she is currently adapting into a screenplay.
“While I had experience in critiquing screenplays and editing them, I had never written a screenplay until this year,” she laughs. “But even though I left HBO a while ago, its influence on my writing is undeniable. Working as a book doctor at literary agencies and reading countless manuscripts taught me what resonates with readers. Additionally, being in the editing room at HBO and reading thousands of scripts ingrained in me an affinity for screenwriting.”
“I think very visually, as if I’m watching a film inside my head. Moreover, my time at HBO helped me develop an ear for dialogue, understanding how people truly speak, not how they are often portrayed. The back-and-forth, repetition, evasions — the real intricacies of conversation.”
When Cowley Heller found herself at a crossroads after her plans to pursue a Ph.D. in art history fell through, a friend’s advice led her back to the drawer containing a few forgotten pages, the genesis of The Paper Palace. Simultaneously, she started studying under a remarkable poetry teacher, which proved to be a turning point in her writing journey.
“I applied and got accepted to a Ph.D. program at UCLA, but due to my husband’s television show being relocated to New York, our plans changed. I deferred my acceptance and applied to a Ph.D. program in New York instead. However, they later changed their minds and wanted the show to be based in Los Angeles.”
Feeling uncertain about her path, Cowley Heller confided in her friend during a beautiful walk in the Santa Monica mountains. The friend encouraged her to revisit her unfinished books and give writing another chance.
“I thought, why not? I retrieved my work from the drawer and simultaneously began studying with an incredible poetry teacher. This opened up an entirely new creative mindset for me — writing from the ‘dream’ brain, rather than the critical superego brain. It was liberating.”
From Dream to Reality
Even after completing The Paper Palace, Cowley Heller remained unsure of how it would be received. Hence, she was astonished when the novel sparked a nine-way publishing auction.
“It was truly unbelievable. Everything happened within two weeks in both the UK and the US. After spending so much of my life pondering whether I would ever achieve this, and then actually writing the book, I hesitantly released it, uncertain if others would connect with it. To have it sell like this was an absolute dream come true. It holds immense personal meaning for me, having reached this milestone in my fifties. Moreover, the messages I’ve received from readers via social media are incredible. Every time someone expresses how much the book has touched them, I’m overjoyed.”
The Paper Palace, written by Miranda Cowley Heller and published by Viking, is now available. Quill And Fox