Novelist Tom Perrotta began his literary career as a humor writer, but over the past decade has been shifting to more serious topics, such as child molestation in the award-winning “Little Children.”

His latest, “The Leftovers,” continues in that serious vein.

The book takes place after the Great Disappearance, which is similar to the Rapture mentioned in the Bible – except that the people taken were of all different religions and races, and were good as well as bad.

The book is about the people who were not taken and how they continue on with their lives.

It’s currently being developed into a possible HBO series.

Perrotta will be giving a talk and reading on Thursday as part of a program for The Telling Room at Space Gallery, 538 Congress St. The Telling Room is a Portland-based program to help writers from ages 6 to 18.

Perrotta recently spoke to us about his Telling Room talk, his new book, the planned HBO series and more.

Q: Do you do a lot of these kinds of programs (like The Telling Room talk)?

A: I wouldn’t say a lot. I do some occasionally.

Q: Why did you agree to do this one?

A: It seems like a great program, so why not?

Q: Tell me about the HBO series on “The Leftovers.” When will that come out?

A: We are developing it, so there is no guarantee that it will come out. You make a pilot, if you are lucky. They have a bunch of projects in development, and we are one of them.

Q: You have written for the movies before. How is that different, and how do you feel about redoing something you have written for a different medium?

A: I think you have to take an open mind into it. If you think your job is to protect your work and make sure nothing changes, it is not going to work. You are creating something new based on what you have done. There are a lot of authors who don’t want to do that, and I understand that, but if you are going to enter that process, you have to be open to having a dialogue.

Q: A lot of stories about you make a big deal about you being a suburban writer. Is it just a case — as every writing teacher advises – in which you write about what you know?

A: I have never thought of myself as suburban writer. I’m just telling stories that happen to be set in the suburbs. It isn’t even really writing about what I know. I am writing what I want to write, and they are set in the world I know.

Q: I found similarities of tone in your work to the works of Kurt Vonnegut and Joseph Heller, especially the Heller of “Something Happened.” Are you a fan of their work?

A: They were definitely writers that I read when I was young, but I don’t think of them as special influences. But I think what you read when you are young kind of enters what you are as a writer. I read “Catch 22” when I was young, and tried to read “Something Happened” recently and didn’t really like it that much.

 Q: Having the Rapture or Great Disappearance take place sort of moves you into science fiction as an author, but I thought the theme was dealing with a cataclysmic event – and it could have been the Kennedy assassination, 9/11 or even Hurricane Sandy.

A: I think that is a good comment. When it first came out, everyone wanted to see it as a 9/11 allegory. It is about the kind of event that seems to sort history. People who live through this will divide their lives into before this event and after this event.

It is how some people start their lives over again and some people diverge. Some people resume the lives they have been living, and some go into an entirely different direction. 

The event of the sudden departure is not the subject of this book. The subject of the book is how people start their lives after this trauma.

Q: I haven’t read your earlier books, but I have read that they have been comic novels. So “The Leftovers” was quite a shift.

A: I think moving away from the comic has been going on for a while. When people talk about comic novels they are the early novels, like “Election” in 1998, and “Wishbones” in 1997 and “Joe College” in 2000. But once I got to “Little Children” in 2004, it was still funny but a serious and dark subject matter.

“The Leftovers” is a shift because it turned out to be so much about grief and loss.

Q: Are you working on your next book yet, or are you too busy on the HBO project?

A: I’m working on a collection of short stories. Some of them had been written over the years, but now when I have time to write fiction, I work on a short story.

Q: Is that unusual? I thought most writers start with short stories and then do novels.

A: I wrote my first book, “Bad Haircut,” as a collection of linked short stories. I have written short stories over the years in between novels, so it is not something that I had abandoned. But my short stories tend to be long. I lack the ability of compression that short story writers have.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer living in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at 767-2297 or at:

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