"This Beautiful Life," by Helen Schulman

Denise Bosco,Harper Collins
Helen Schulman, This Beautiful Life
Denise Bosco,Harper Collins
Jeff Glor talks to Helen Schulman about "This Beautiful Life," a chilling, emotional drama that focuses on an unsuspecting family suddenly caught up in a modern-day sex scandal.

Jeff Glor: What inspired you to write the book?

Helen Schulman: The novel was inspired by many real life events -- more than I reckoned for when I first starting thinking about it. "This Beautiful Life" is set in 2003, the year I sort of woke up to the fact that incidents that once would have lived and died in a private sphere of embarrassment had through a quick press of forward and send become large Internet scandals with an international audience. Over email, a friend sent me a photo of a bridesmaid reaching joyously to catch a bouquet at a wedding, only to have her breasts pop out of her strapless dress. A young woman in the U.K. sent a recent date a sexy email and he gallantly forwarded it to a few friends and within days the email had gone global and the woman was afraid to leave her house. And then there were kids and their indiscretions, incidents I read about in the New York Times about cyber-bullying, but also thoughtlessly self-inflicted wounds where kids sent pictures and videos of themselves naked or performing sexual acts. I was working on my last book then, "A Day At The Beach," and was thinking ahead to my next project.

JG: What surprised you the most during the writing process?

HS: What surprised me most was how fast the world was changing -- I couldn't keep up with it. The first few Internet incidents that I came in contact with were followed by a flood of indiscreet sexts, texts etc. not only by teenagers, whose very job description requires them to act recklessly and passionately, but by adults who were too smart or too educated or too famous to not have known better -- Anthony Weiner comes to mind. New questions were raised all the time, including variations on the impact that a momentary bit of bad judgment might inflict upon a life. Even the laws surrounding sexting are changing and changing fast. And then all the other issues I was grappling with, post-9/11 society, the rush to greed that led to the banking crises, changing attitudes about sex roles etc., were hard to keep up with -- so I decided to set the story in 2003, a year I could actually research and wrap my literary arms around.

JG: What would you be doing if you weren't a writer?

HS: What would I like to be doing or what would I actually be doing? Since I am 50 years old and never had the physique for it, it seems ludicrous to say that I still dream of being a ballerina -- but in my heart that would be my wish. Bio-ethics also appeals to me.

JG: What else are you reading right now?

HS: I am reading Keith Richard's autobiography, "Life," which I find completely compelling. Deborah Landau's haunting and elegant book of poems, "The Last Usable Hour," sits by my bed. Next in the pile are novels by two beloved former students, "Ten Thousand Saints" by Eleanor Henderson, and "Girls In White Dresses" by Jennifer Close.

JG: What's next for you?

HS: I am writing a screenplay based on a short (very short) story of mine called "Parent's Night for Revision Productions" and dreaming ahead to my next book.

For more on "This Beautiful Life," visit the Harper Collins website.

  • Jeff Glor

    Jeff Glor was named anchor of the Sunday edition of the "CBS Evening News" in January 2012 and Special Correspondent for "CBS This Morning" in November 2011.