PW: Why didn't you name your main character, a very funny single art teacher living in L.A.?
MM: I did name her, but at some point in a discussion with my editor, we realized I was using her name so infrequently that we just removed it entirely. I thought, you will know her by her voice.
PW: How would she describe her own artwork?
MM: Very detailed... realism with edges of surrealism. Like my own artwork [laughs]. I used to be an art teacher. The work I used to like and use as a model in those days—one part René Magritte, one part Frida Kahlo, William Wylie and Joseph Cornell.
PW: So this is autobiographical?
MM: I was trying to write the voice of the women I've been hanging out with for the past 10 years—assorted smart, really neat, great women. And there's this lament I've been listening to and participating in. It's the joint voice of that peer group.
PW: Your first novel explores dumb girl theory, the myth of the Hole and our obsession with birthdays. Why do you think we are so obsessed with birthdays?
MM: As women, we're taught to be worried about getting older, pretty much from 18 on. I remember at various points of my life going, "Oh, my God, I'm 25, I'm too old—oh, I'm 30, I'm too old!" I recall being 16 and thinking, it's all downhill from here.
PW: Explain the dumb girl theory.
MM: I've been studying that for a long time. The idea that if there's chemistry between two people, that means there's profound love, and then that means that there are mysteries you have to solve. It's a whole philosophy of misperceived cues and lack of comprehension. Part of it has to be because you think it's in code. If he said, "See you later," did he mean he'll see you later, or a lot later? The real fact that I've learned in life is if a guy wants to be with you, he will be with you. There is no code to it.
PW: What is the Hole?
MM: It's a thing I've been thinking about over the years and finally made myself stop because I decided it was ridiculous—that if you're not in a happy family structure, you're in a big hole. It's the way that human culture has been set up for most of civilization, but there's an awful lot of single people now and you have to rethink it.
PW: You use the journal approach in the writing of It's My F***ing Birthday, documenting the birthdays of the main character, ages 36—43. Do you keep a journal?
MM: I've been keeping a journal since I was eight. I used to have a "Diary of Anne Frank Complex" when I was a little kid. I was a little bitter that my diary didn't have any great cataclysmic world events in it to better showcase my writing, so I used to try and add them so people would want to come back and publish me. I would write two pages of "I can't believe he didn't talk to me in class—he's so cute," then add, "Today, someone walked on the moon."
PW: You've spent years writing award-winning comedy for performers (Late Night with David Letterman, HBO comedy specials, etc.) and your own stand-up comedy routine. Now you've written for an audience you can't see or hear when they laugh. Which do you prefer?
MM: The first gives you thrills, a way to get out of the house. The other is more rewarding as a writer. You can't say all you want to say in front of a stand-up crowd. You have a limited time to say things—your task is to manipulate the laughing.
PW: What are you working on now?
MM: I don't have another book going on right now; I'm writing some TV pilots. I guess I want to do another book of funny essays [last published, Merrill Markoe's Guide to Love]. I really like that kind of thing.
PW: Do you think that birthdays should be outlawed or celebrated?
MM: Let's get rid of them. You can have one like every 15 or 20 years. It's the underlying attitude—it has nothing to do with the birthday. It's the whole way they hammer at us about being nervous about life. To hell with it.