The son of Tatum O'Neal and John McEnroe talks about his new book, Our Town

By Liz McNeil
Updated June 02, 2015 03:15 PM
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Skye Parrott

In this week’s PEOPLE, Kevin McEnroe, the son of Tatum O’Neal and tennis great John McEnroe, opens up about what it was like to grow up in his troubled family – but it’s his new novel he really wants to talk about. Here are five fun facts about his well-received new book, Our Town, the bumpy road to finishing it and what’s coming up next.

1. McEnroe first got the idea for the book while a student at Skidmore College.
“I wasn’t a good student,” McEnroe, now 29, tells PEOPLE. “I took a writing class, honestly, because it was once a week. My writing professor told me to write from the opposite sex’s point of view, and I wrote in my grandmother’s voice. (His grandmother was actress Joanna Moore, a fragile beauty who was briefly married to actor Ryan O’Neal and became addicted to pills and alcohol.) Even though I only met my grandmother twice, I knew she was viewed as a cautionary tale, as this sort of mess. From then on, I wanted to learn more about her.”

2. On the day he signed his book deal last July, he ended up in jail for twenty hours after he was arrested for buying drugs.
“It was the best day of my life turned into the worst day of my life,” says McEnroe. “I wanted to stay out a little too late to celebrate and I didn’t quite handle that well.” (The charges were eventually dismissed and he went to rehab for two months.)

3. He finished his novel at the the Betty Ford Center in Palm Springs, where he went two days after his arrest.
“I ended up finishing the book in rehab, so it was like going through all of that was maybe necessary for me to finish it and to understand where I came from and to feel like I was deserving of success. It’s like [Moore] was watching over me. She made me want to keep going forward.”

4. McEnroe’s next novel will be based on the New York City club scene where he experimented with drugs in his early twenties.
“I started using drugs when I was younger,” he says. “These sort of dark New York nights can be alluring, but once you’re there, I was so uncomfortable that I found it was a lot easier to go from the bathroom to the bar back to the bathroom than it was to talk to people. That’s why my next book is about a young sort of nightlife scene in New York.”

5. Despite watching his mom, Tatum O’Neal, battle drug addiction, the novelist says they share an unbreakable bond.
“I certainly have my mommy issues,” he says with a laugh as she sits by his side. “But I just want her to be safe.”