With a recently published sixth book under his belt and the successful co-creation of “Banshee,” a TV crime-noir drama currently showing on Cinemax, Westchester author Jonathan Tropper seems to have found his groove.
While the industrious writer is currently working on a screen adaptation of his newest novel, “One Last Thing Before I Go,” his mind is also on returning to a set in North Carolina where a second season of “Banshee” is being filmed.
As a child growing up in Riverdale, Tropper had an affinity for writing, but he was also interested in music. A self-taught piano player, he didn’t think he could make a decent living as a musician. So, after graduating from Yeshiva University with a bachelor’s degree in English and then working during the day in his family’s jewelry display company, Tropper began writing his first book, “Plan B,” which chronicles the sea change felt by four Manhattan friends when they turn 30.
“That first book was the fastest one I’ve ever written,” Tropper said, recalling the eight to nine months working nights and weekends to complete it.
The hard work paid off. Tropper was lucky enough to attract the attention of an agent, and after the completion of his third novel, “Everything Changes,” he left his day job at the family business and turned to writing full time.
Tropper’s style developed as a result of reading different types of books as a child. He recalled that even at a young age he was conscious of what the writer was doing with the language.
During his high school years, Tropper, now a New Rochelle resident, delved into the novels of Stephen King and Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. In college, he found himself drawn to the work of Jay McInerney, the author of “Bright Lights, Big City,” “Ransom,” “Story of My Life” and more.
“I guess what I loved about McInerney was the fact that in 200 pages he was able to tell a fantastic story and create an original voice,” said Tropper, who later obtained a master’s degree in creative writing from NYU.
McInerney’s contemporary, literary style is what influenced him to expand his own repertoire, eventually publishing “The Book of Joe,” “How to Talk to a Widower,” “Everything Changes” and “This is Where I Leave You,” all of which have been optioned for the screen.
The fact that Tropper, 42, chooses to make male characters the centerpiece of his novels stems from his own life experiences and from observing other men in action. Using suburban middle-class Westchester as fodder for his ideas, Tropper, an adjunct professor at Manhattanville College, believes that America’s obsession with youth has put the contemporary American male into a state of confusion.
“America has become a place where we try to extend adolescence as much as possible,” noted Tropper, the father of three children, ages 14, 11 and 6. “This idea of not putting childish things away means there’s no clear demarcation between adults and kids, and there’s also unwillingness on the part of men to act their age.”
That thinking is woven into almost all of Tropper’s novels, which tend to focus on men who haven’t quite lived up to their potential and are often in the process of confronting old demons.
This is “Where I Leave You,” for example, deals with family ties and the realities of middle age, while “One Last Thing Before I Go” tells the story of a divorced middle-aged man, a former drummer for a one-hit-wonder rock band, who makes his living playing in wedding bands.
“There’s always an emotional clarity that I’m looking to express,” explained Tropper, whose perceptive nature has helped him create flawed yet interesting characters. He also admits to being a “student of the suburban lifestyle,” finding immense joy in the creation of the sometimes over-the-top characters and simply “making it up” as he goes along.
While Tropper has a few screenplays under his belt, including an adaptation of the Mary Chase play, “Harvey,” which he wrote under the guidance of Steven Spielberg (the project was eventually shelved), perhaps the most exciting turn in Tropper’s life has been his opportunity to work in the world of television.
“Banshee” is a project he co-wrote with fellow author and screenwriter David Schickler. Set in a small Pennsylvania town, the series follows the life of Lucas Hood, an ex-con who assumes the identity of the deceased sheriff of Banshee, but then continues his criminal activities, as he’s being hunted down by the gangsters he betrayed years earlier.
“I wanted the show to feel like a cross between a graphic novel and a Quentin Tarantino movie,” said Tropper, who has long been a fan of action movies and the work of Tarantino and the Cohen brothers. He and Schickler originally pitched the idea to HBO executives, who asked that they write a pilot. They now serve as executive producers along with Alan Ball, Greg Yataines and Peter Macdissi.
Tropper said the show, which premiered Jan. 11, is a “nice diversion” from his usual solitary home office environment. Describing his novel writing as a “somewhat lonely experience,” Tropper added that “collaborating with actors makes you feel like you’re part of something.”
Tropper’s books can be purchased at Amazon, Barnes & Nobel, IndieBound and Powell’s.