When your ex-girlfriend dates someone new, it can feel like she's dating Hitler

Simon Rich writes novels, short stories and has written for the long-running TV show Saturday Night Live. His latest collection The Last Girlfriend on Earth deals with love, relationships and aliens.

We are introduced to a great diversity of human and non-human characters. Did you feel that limiting the scope of your stories to only men and women would be too boring?

I spent years writing hyper-realistic stories about my own dating experiences. But they all turned out boring (because they were based on my own boring life.) It was frustrating, because for me, the experience of dating is the opposite of boring: it’s thrilling, frightening and insane. One day, I decided to stop writing about dating “the way it happens” and start writing about it “the way it feels.” That was the genesis of this book. (When your ex-girlfriend dates someone new, it can feel like she’s dating Hitler. When you manage, somehow, to pick up a girl at a bar, you feel like you deserve a congratulatory call from the President.) I ended up with my strangest book yet, but also (ironically) my most personal one.

You also write for TV. Does fiction writing allow you to have more freedom and more control?

There are a lot of creative advantages to writing fiction (the lack of commercials is a major plus.) But TV gives me a lot of extra weapons: music, special effects and (most importantly) skilled actors to make all my mediocre lines sound decent. I feel super lucky that I get to write in both mediums.

In several stories, love and relationships are presented as something formal which are assigned, either through a contract or, worse, a prison sentence. Do you think it would be easier that way?

“Love-based” marriages are a relatively recent phenomenon. In most pre-modern cultures, the choice of a partner was made for you. That’s why modern dating is so high-stakes. If you screw up, it’s your own fault!

You seem particularly talented at imagining non-human relationships—aliens, animals, robots… Would you like The Last Girlfriend on Earth to be the next message sent into space as a representation of love – or lack thereof – on our planet?

I think that would result in some very jaded aliens. We should keep this book between us humans.

In the acknowledgments, you wrote that your biggest influence was the album 69 Love Songs by Magnetic Fields, which are actually referenced in one of your stories. Are there any literary references dealing with the subject of love that you would recommend or which influenced you for this book?

Yes! These books were a big influence on this collection:

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
After the Plague by TC Boyle
Carrie by Stephen King
The Trial by Franz Kafka
Love is Hell by Matt Groening

I also ripped off these writers as much as possible: Vonnegut, Dahl, Shirley Jackson, Ray Bradbury, Donald Barthelme and Martin Amis.