The PEN Ten is PEN America’s biweekly interview series curated by Lauren Cerand. This week Lauren talks with Warren Adler, best known for The War of the Roses, his delightful fictionalization of a macabre divorce turned into the Golden Globe and BAFTA nominated dark comedy hit starring Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner and Danny DeVito. Adler has optioned and sold film rights to more than a dozen of his novels and short stories including Random Hearts, (starring Harrison Ford and Kristen Scott Thomas), The Sunset Gang (starring Jerry Stiller, Uta Hagen, Harold Gould, and Doris Roberts); and his historical thriller, Target Churchill. 

When did being a writer begin to inform your sense of identity?
As a teenager I knew that was the life and career I wanted. I started writing at the age of 15.

Whose work would you like to steal without attribution or consequences?
None. My passion for originality forecloses on such a thought.

Where is your favorite place to write?
In my study. I have always had a room dedicated to my work.

Have you ever been arrested? Care to discuss?

Obsessions are influences—what are yours?
My obsession is to get it right, plot, characters, atmosphere, logic. I never go to sleep without figuring out what I will write tomorrow.

What’s the most daring thing you’ve ever put into words?
The sex scenes of my early novels when it was not generally approved. Looking back what I wrote was actually mild for today’s reader.

What is the responsibility of the writer?
To tell the truth through stories and provide insight to readers so that they better understand the world around as seen through the author’s eyes and to write the kind of books that excite the reader to the notion of “what happens next.”

While the notion of the public intellectual has fallen out of fashion, do you believe writers have a collective purpose?
I do not believe that the public intellectual has fallen out of fashion. The problem is that there is so much chatter and baloney that it is often a challenge for a so-called public intellectual to be heard, no less understood.

Where is the line between observation and surveillance?
Observation is essential to navigating through the perils inherent in life. It is a double-edged sword. While I was in the Army I stood guard duty to protect my fellow soldiers from an outside enemy. But how does a guard protect from an enemy who is inside the compound. I suppose it is a question of balance and good will. I do understand the dangers of overdoing it. As in everything, the question is: How much is too much?

What book would you send to the leader of a government that imprisons writers?
The constitution of the United States, but I doubt if he or she would read it.