Tall Poppy Interview: Tish Cohen
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Tall Poppy Interview: Tish Cohen

2007_05_23_TC.jpgWould you want to read a book about the middle-aged agoraphobe son of a dead rock star whose life is transformed by a nine year old girl who wants to be a dog? Tish Cohen thinks you will, and Torontoist agrees. The Toronto native has just published her first novel, Town House, which she describes as an “urban anxiety tale”. There’s been a lot of buzz about it, not only in the musty halls of publishing but also in Hollywood, where the movie rights have already been picked up by Fox. Tish and her publishers are holding a free public launch party tonight at the Drake Hotel.
Torontoist sat down with Tish to talk about her book, her life in Toronto, and her sudden success.

So how did you become a novelist?
Basically, at some point I’d had every job under the sun, and one day I thought “What’s wrong with me? Why have I gone from job to job? I’m flawed.” And then I thought maybe that’s a novel– so that was the basis for my first book. I really did it on a day by day basis, just to gauge if I could do it. I landed an agent with that first book, but it didn’t sell. My rejections were very kind and encouraging though, enough so that I thought it was worth continuing.
With the next book, I landed the agent that I have now. We shopped that around but it was a little eccentric, so the editors loved it but the publishers didn’t because it wasn’t commercial. When were getting the last rejections in, I presented this idea (for Town House) to my agent and he said “Yes, I’d read that.” At this point I was absolutely determined to make it because I‘d had so much rejection. I was so determined that this would be the book that would get me published that I wrote it in 3 1/2 weeks.
Three and a half weeks? That’s impressive.
I wouldn’t be impressed; it’s not a healthy thing. I’m sure if you analyzed it, it’s unhealthy and obsessive and sick. It’s just that if it’s not finished I literally can’t do anything else. I’ll skip anything–god forbid anybody dies if I’m on my first draft
As a native Torontonian, why did you decide to set the book in Boston?
For one thing, I love Boston, I just adore that city. But I didn’t write about Toronto in this book because I had set my previous book in Toronto and had been told by editors in New York “Uh uh, no Toronto, Americans won’t be interested”.
Is it more challenging as a woman to write a man as your protagonist?
It wasn’t hard to write at all–I related to him perfectly. Originally it was going to be a woman, but once I decided I wanted the character to have panic attacks, to have anxiety to factor in to his life, I thought that society would be more accepting of a man than a woman. I think there’s a double standard there, because a guy who has all kind of quirks and stuff comes across as charming and cute and endearing and lovable and the underdog and everybody pulls for him, whereas if it’s a woman people are more like “She’s nuts”. I think people are a little tougher on a woman with quirks.
Also I think that female readers would love that character more. I would love that character more.
2007_05_22_Townhouse2.jpgWere you surprised by how quickly the movie rights were snapped up by Hollywood?
Well, I was a professional loser at this point. I’d been rejected, and I had a theory that if an editor wants your book they answer immediately and they buy it immediately. None of this waiting. I’d been through all the waiting and I knew that “no news is good news” is bullshit. So my agent sent the manuscript out on Thursday and by that afternoon I was depressed.
So Friday, silence, and by the end of the weekend I was just a wreck–I can’t believe this book is also not going to be published. On Monday my agent called and said “I didn’t want to tell over the weekend, but the Hollywood literary scouts have your book.”
I was speechless. We’d never talked about Hollywood, but of course as a writer you’re always secretly thinking about it. It turned out the editors had contacted the Hollywood literary scouts, and unbeknownst to me I’d already been assigned a film agent in Hollywood. On Monday when my agent called, I was told I was told the president of Fox was reading it. I hadn’t even sold the book yet.
That must have been exciting.
Well, the irony is, be careful what you write about. That night I woke up at 3am in a panic attack, hyperventilating, and it took me 3 hours to calm down. Then the media started calling, and I had to do interviews, and it was this fast and furious attention on me that I was not expecting, This led to a period of panic attacks where I actually didn’t leave my house for weeks. At that point that I realized that I had a fear of success
If you’d like to meet Tish, or you just enjoy going to free public events, head down to her book launch party tonight, Wednesday May 23, at the Drake Hotel. The event starts at 7pm, and also features an interview with Toronto literary luminary Leah McLaren, author of The Continuity Girl.