Picture a film shoot somewhere in Canada. On one side of a swimming pool, the gear, the crew and most of the cast; on the other side, Molly Ringwald. They're shooting the rest of the scene before her part, so she sits on a box to wait. She begins tapping on her phone, and as the hours pass, that's all she does: sit on the box, tapping. By the time the camera turns her way, she has finished the first draft of "When It Happens to You," the impassioned, clever title story of her first book of fiction, which hit the shelves this month.
"I've always written really well in places like that, where there's no pressure," she says. "This isn't your official writing time. You're in a place, and think, 'Well, I'm stuck here anyway, so why not write?'"
Why not? Well, certainly, she has plenty of other things to do. She's married and has three children. She's a regular on the ABC Family drama "The Secret Life of the American Teenager." She has a jazz record coming out soon. She's one of the most recognizable movie stars of the 1980s, who gamely shows up for anniversary celebrations of "Sixteen Candles," "The Breakfast Club" and "Pretty in Pink." Why make time to write at all?
"When I was younger, I wanted to be a singer-actress-writer. Those three things. Obviously, the acting took off," she says dryly. We're sitting in a cafe in the Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles, the kind of place where the presence of the recognizable redhead is taken in stride. "I kept writing; I didn't know necessarily what I would do with it, but I just kept doing it."
Ringwald's early work made it no farther than the nearest drawer. But after the success of 2010's "Getting the Pretty Back," a self-help memoir about turning 40, she was emboldened. "When It Happens to You" (It Books, $24.99) is an unexpected detour into literary fiction, connecting stories that take the form of a novel. The characters suffer a cheating spouse, mothers both frigid and overprotective, and the unwitting cruelty of a small child. Then there's the insouciantly selfish French boyfriend -- Ringwald fans may remember her first marriage was to a Frenchman.
"No matter what I write, people are always going to wonder, 'Is this her life? Is this her?' I can't control the way that people read my writing. I can only control what I write," says the 44-year-old actress.
The daughter of a jazz pianist, Ringwald began performing as a child, making a record with her father's band at age 6. She was a cast member on the television show "The Facts of Life" as a preteen but became a star in the trilogy of John Hughes films for which she is so well remembered. She then took on more grown-up roles -- in "Fresh Horses," "For Keeps?" and "The Pick-Up Artist."
Instead of attending college, she moved to France in the mid-'80s -- something of a refuge, an escape from the American cultural label she didn't want to get stuck with. It appeared on advance copies of her book: "Brat Pack icon."
"I died when I saw that. I died," she says. "You spend your whole life. ... "
She stops for a moment. "People have other problems that are much more important than whether or not I'm called a member of the Brat Pack," she says.
In the past 15 years, Ringwald has appeared on various TV shows, in film and onstage. She made her Broadway debut in "Cabaret," and has performed in London, New York and Los Angeles.
Ringwald is looking forward, not back. In conversation, she often jumps ahead, leaving sentences unfinished and moving on to develop her thought. She wrote the stories of "When It Happens to You" in sequential order, and always kept the next story in mind while writing. Now, she's got the seed of an idea for her next book, maybe a novel. "It's like a little grain that's going to turn into a pearl in my head," she says. "It's going to get bigger and bigger, and eventually it's going to be too big to hold there, and I'm going to have to write it down."
But first, she's got the idea to adapt "When It Happens to You" for the screen. "It's something I'm very interested in doing," she says. She also plans to star and direct.