February 2008


Leslie Lehr is an author and screenwriter whose movie script was put on hold during the recent Writers Guild of America strike. Her debut novel Wife Goes On is out this month. She lives in California with her two daughters.

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  1. Tell us about your new book, Wife Goes On.

    Wife Goes On is the story of four women with nothing in common except divorce, who find that it's more than enough to be friends. Together, they learn to live happier ever after. I wanted to write something funny and romantic, but with all the drama of real life, so these women run the gamut from Diane, an MBA turned PTA supermom, whose husband gambled away their home, and a former homecoming queen with two babies and an abusive ex-jock husband, to a recovering actress hiding in plain sight following the public humiliation of her superstar husband's affair, and a hotshot divorce lawyer who lost custody of her daughter and has to pay alimony as well. The word 'divorcee' is as false a cliche as the term 'chick lit.' This is the story of complex women searching for happiness - and finding it.

  2. Which of the four wives do you most identify with?

    While they each reflect certain aspects of my experience - from Annette's eye-opening affair to Bonnie's restraining order and Lana's backstage experience - Diane is the one I speak through. She was against divorce until she realized she was being a bad role model to her teenage daughter; having her first glass of wine alone at a restaurant is a big deal, and she is thrilled to rediscover the woman she always wanted to be. The book was originally told from her point of view, but it was ultimately more interesting to rotate between the characters.

  3. Why did you write a book about divorced women?

    I want to paint a positive face on it, lose the stigma. Despite the numbers, there is still a stigma - if only from that fear of failure inside us. Who doesn't dream of the white dress and the fairy tale ending? My parents had an ugly divorce and I didn't want to follow in their footsteps, so I spent a good 10 years resisting the 'D' word. No matter how easy the statistics make it look, when you have children, it's not remotely easy. It's heartbreaking. I wrote an essay about how hard it was to make the decision, ('Welcome to the Club') for an anthology called The Honeymoon's Over. Then one day, I woke up so happy - it was like I got a Do Over card. I recognized the old me in the mirror. Maybe I made some poor decisions early on, but this is my life! I get to try again! I did some research and found statistics that implied that women are happier after divorce mainly because we are better educated and have work experience - but I didn't buy it. It's really tough financially for most women. The laws have caught up with our professional degrees in terms of potential earnings, but most of us have been too busy running home for softball games to make that kind of money. I was no exception. So there had to be another reason. Then I realized that my mom's generation, often still bitter, was ashamed to talk about it, to air their dirty laundry. Now we wash it together. Going through this with my friends made all the difference in the world. I felt so strong, I wished I hadn't been so afraid for so long. Instead of crying to my friends, I wanted to celebrate with them. And I want people to see there is a light at the end of the tunnel - and it's not another train. It's the bright sun in a blue sky.

  4. Friendship is a central theme in the book. Which three chick lit characters would you most like to add to your circle of friends?

    Julia Einstein in Laura Zigman's Piece of Work. Rebecca Bloomwood in Sophie Kinsella's Shopaholic series, and Sara Rothman in Caroline Leavitt's Girls in Trouble. All real women questioning who they are and what they want - and able to laugh at themselves while they figure it out.

  5. What message do you hope readers will take from Wife Goes On?

    That you are not alone. Sometimes you feel so alone when you are married that it seems like that feeling will never go away. But it does. You just have to allow yourself to get through the grief process - a dream has died, after all - and friends can help you do that. You know that rule of wing-walking: don't let go of one airplane until you have hold on another? A lot of women do that, go from one man to another. But I think it's really important to find out who you are and be happy with yourself, to freefall a bit and look around. Later, there will be so many airplanes to choose from, you'll make a better decision. So let your friends give you that vital emotional connection. They can help you define yourself and gain the confidence that you have value. Often they are waiting for a signal, so reach out for help. It doesn't have to be one group of friends, either. The characters in Wife Goes On would never be friends if not for this emotional connection of recognizing the mutual experience. Different women provide different kinds of friendship, from a hiking buddy, to a crying buddy, to a talk-about-sex buddy, to a single one who wants to go dancing, or a married one who can go to a matinee. Also, the legal process has such a huge learning curve. Often, you need a simple answer that doesn't cost a million dollars an hour. Then the information is wasted - unless you help the next person along. You begin to recognize other women who need you. As you gain friends, you learn how to be one. Like the Girl Scout song, 'make new friends but keep the old; some are silver and the others gold'. I like to put it another way: Husbands may come and go, but friends are forever.

  6. What are you doing to promote the book?

    I'm celebrating all over the country. Cake and champagne on my book tour! My new website has questions for book clubs, a contest, a joke of the week, and a place for women to share success stories. Friends are helping me put on a benefit at this great spa in Ventura to help women starting over. My brother-in-law made a cute no-budget video, and my kids are teaching me how do MySpace. Plus, I'll be on panels at places like the LA Times Festival of Books.

  7. How did you get into writing novels?

    I wrote my first novel when I was home with my first baby. I had gone to film school and was traveling a lot to work on movies and it was hard to find day care when you work freelance, so . . . I read a lot. I had always written, but I never expected to do it as a profession. Then I read a novel that got a lot of critical praise and it struck me that I could do it better. And so I traded babysitting duties with a neighbor three mornings a week and gave it a shot.

  8. What inspired your first novel, 66 Laps - a tale about adultery and revenge?

    The novel that inspired me to write fiction was a tale of adultery that I found frustrating. There was no indication of what compelled this man to act so horribly. At the time, I was a young career woman having an identity crisis as I stayed home with a brand-new baby. One August day, the pretty model/actress wife of a producer I used to work for, came over with their baby for a play date. As our babies ignored each other, she stood there in her string bikini and pointed out my first gray hair. I wanted to slap her . . . but I didn't. Then a young girl - a sweet, young, blonde - started calling my husband for help at work. He was also in the film industry, surrounded by beautiful women all day. So I started wondering 'what if?' What if I was the kind of person who slapped the bitch who pointed out my first gray hair? What if I really believed my husband was having an affair? What was the worst that could happen?

  9. How did the writers' strike affect you?

    I had to stop working on an original movie for Lifetime. It was my first union job, so I was hugely in favor of the strike, but this was a really funny second draft, so it was awful to work so hard and not be able to turn it in. Or get paid. It was right before Christmas, so the timing was bad, but in another way, the timing was good, because I had time to enjoy my family and to focus on Wife Goes On.

  10. Tell us about your movie Welcome to Club Divorce.

    It's the story of one women, a really current take on what it's like today, in 2008, to have a sizzling second act. It's a custom story for Lifetime, who, as you can see from their new shows, is expanding from being the number one cable channel for women to being a source of original programming with a rich sense of storytelling. My project will evolve as everyone gets back to work, but for comparison sake, the reviewer who said that Wife Goes On is an updated version of First Wives Club meets Sex in the City, would say that Welcome to Club Divorce is Lifetime's response to The Starter Wife.

  11. Do you have another novel in the pipeline?

    Yes, a novel called The Long Way Home about a mother who goes to such lengths to protect her teenage daughter that she loses her - and everything else. I actually started this novel earlier, but when Wife Goes On bubbled up, I had to put that aside. I'm excited to go back and give it a happy ending.

  12. What's your favourite:

    1. Book

      A Wrinkle in Time by the late Madeleine L'Engle. I still have my dog-eared copy from eighth grade, which I used to embarrass both of my children by reading it chapter by chapter to their elementary school classes. I could never help crying when Meg fights the dark force of conformity by shouting, 'I love you, Charles Wallace!' In a way, I think it inspired a lot of my work, about the journey it takes to appreciate who you are and to find your way back home.

    2. Movie

      No one favorite. I love all the old films with strong women, have my DVR set to Turner Classic Movies. I'd love to see Gone with the Wind on a big screen again. And last night, my daughter and I spent some quality time drooling over Colin Firth in Pride and Prejudice.

    3. TV show?

      Mad Men, the new series on AMC. It's a period piece and the women character have less screen time, but they are just as complex as the men. The Grace Kelly wife is as insecure as she is powerful in that end scene when she avenges her children by shooting a pellet gun at the neighbor's beloved pigeons with a cigarette dangling casually from her perfectly made-up lips. And the office vamp is so conscious of the power in her pointy bra and massive hips. It begs the question of feminism versus exploitation. And, of course, I'm a sucker for Project Runway.

  13. What's the best tip you could give a person starting out as a writer?

    Read. When I teach in the Writers Program at UCLA, I'm always amazed at how little people read. You don't have to be limited to the classics, read everything: books, newspapers, cereal boxes. Don't be afraid to not finish a book, there's plenty more out there and something is bound to speak to you, be it for the characters or the story or the voice. The more you read, the easier it will be to learn the ebb and flow of storytelling and find your own style. And read a ton of books on writing. Every artist constantly hones her craft. Anatomy of Story is my current fave; the author is brilliant. Besides, what's more fun than reading about what you love to do?

  14. What's the best thing and worst thing about being a writer?

    The best thing is: you can always be working.
    The worst thing is: you can always be working.

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