Elyssa Friedland, THE MOST LIKELY CLUB

Elyssa Friedland, THE MOST LIKELY CLUB

Guest host Allison Pataki interviews Elyssa Friedland about The Most Likely Club, an endearing and hilarious new novel about four life-long friends who haven’t (yet) lived up to their sparkling high school yearbook superlatives. Elyssa talks about growing up in the 90s (and weaving her nostalgia into the story), the challenges of parenting and motherhood that she and her characters navigate daily, and the importance of friendship in her life and book. She also delves into each of her unique female characters, describes a day in her hectic life, and teases her upcoming children’s book.


Allison Pataki: Hello, everybody. Allison Pataki here with Elyssa Friedland, author of The Most Likely Club, Elyssa’s fifth book. Elyssa, thank you so much for chatting with us today.

Elyssa Friedland: Thank you for having me. It’s so nice to see you.

Allison: So exciting. So nice to see you as well. Your fifth book, so good, so juicy, so thought-provoking. Will you just start by telling us a little bit about this book and your decision to write it?

Elyssa: Definitely. The Most Likely Club is about four women who were very good friends in high school. They went to high school in the nineties in a small private school in Connecticut. They’ve more or less stayed in touch through the years. Although, obviously, their lives are busy. They receive an invitation to their twenty-fifth high school reunion. Of course, that produces all the jitters and angst that you expect and really brings them back in touch more frequently. Three of the four of them make it back to campus for the reunion where they have a lot of time to reflect and consider where they’ve ended up in their lives, look around at their classmates and see where their classmates have ended up. It sets them on a path to try to make their high school superlatives come true. They each had a Most Likely in the yearbook. Things have not exactly worked out the way the yearbook predicted. They set themselves on a course to try to make these dreams come true.

I really wanted to write the book because my kids are getting older. I have three children, a fourteen, a twelve, and a nine. I’ve felt a really big shift in parenting lately where when my kids ask for advice or seem upset about things, I just have a much more clear picture of what that time was like in my life. My memories really kick in. When my oldest might have come home years ago and said, “So-and-so took the blocks from me at recess. So-and-so pushed me on the swings,” I’m like, okay. That’s sad, whatever. It wasn’t bringing me back with déjà vu to that moment because I was five at the time. I don’t remember. When my big kids are upset about, “So-and-so is really popular and said this thing about me. Now nobody wants to sit with me at lunch,” I’m like, oh, my god, it’s like I’m back in middle school. I’m back in high school. Parenting kids where you suddenly remember all these times in your own life, it’s a very weird, crazy experience. You want to tell your kids, none of it matters, which is kind of true and kind of not true. I explore that a lot in the book. Some things that happen to us when we’re young stay with us forever. Other things, we are able to just dismiss later on.

Allison: You talked just now about how going back to their reunion brings up for them, all the things. What did this do for you? How much of this was based on your high school experience? Obviously, we’re talking about the nineties, you leaned so heavily into. I just loved all the nineties, the grunge. You talk about Titanic. You talk about Friends, the music. What were the nineties like for you? What was high school like for you? How much did you draw on your own experience?

Elyssa: I’m definitely a product of the nineties. I graduated high school in 1999, which makes me two years younger than my fictional characters. That’s just because I wanted the timing to make sense with their twenty-fifth reunion. Mine will be coming up soon. I will definitely go. I grew up in New Jersey. I want to a small private school. It wasn’t as big as the school that I write about in The Most Likely Club, so it didn’t have quite as many groups. There weren’t enough kids to have the artsy group, the druggy group, the athlete group, the cheerleader group, the brainiac group, the chess club. It still had, of course, its social stratifications. I certainly was all in for grunge. I wore a lot of that dark, almost-black lipstick from MAC that my parents hated. I remember I wore my hair a lot with the middle part and then those two pieces just right down exactly. You can’t see, but Allison just literally put her fingers over her forehead exactly where those two strands hung down. I definitely experimented with daisies in my hair, a la Drew Barrymore. I watched Romeo + Juliet with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes a hundred times and bawled my eyes out. I wouldn’t even say I love the nineties so much. It was just such a huge part of my life. It was such a pivotal moment, that vulnerable time in your life where you’re changing. Every day feels different. Every emotion you have as a teenager is just amplified. You don’t have perspective at that age. The nineties are the decade where I felt a lot, a lot of feelings.

Allison: How do you parent your kids now when they come home with a lot of feelings and it takes you back? How do you do it?

Elyssa: Very interesting. I’ve gotten different pieces of advice on this. If you ever do any digging into parenting and read any parenting books, you will find just as many books that say to do one thing as you will to say to do the exact opposite, which is why I’ve stayed away from parenting books. I’ve heard from people I trust you should relate it to your own experiences. Then I’ve heard from other people I trust you should not relate it to your own experiences. That devalues what your kids are going through. Basically, it depends on my mood and what I’m in the mood to talk about. Because I work full time — I know we’re going to get into that also in our conversation, just the busyness and the exhaustion. A lot of my parenting is fly by the seat of my pants. It’s not really well-thought out. There are times where I look at my husband and I think, there are things we want for our children that they’re not doing. They’re not doing enough community service. I won’t call out which one, but one, we’re like, he needs — well, I only have two boys, so it’s one of the two — needs more of a passion. He hasn’t really found his passion. That takes time, to sit and talk to my husband and think, what are some things we could introduce him to? Then sitting with him and trying different things. Really, if I got him to cut his nails and brush his teeth and not lose his jacket, then I feel like the day was a success.

That was really what was important with me in this book. These women are at a crossroads in their life. There are things that they want that would make them happier. At least, they want to try to see if they’d be happier. Making any bigger changes are so difficult when you’re so exhausted from the daily life. To answer your question, though, about parenting, I would say that one thing I do think is that even though whatever approach I take, whether to relate to something from my own life or just be there to listen and acknowledge how difficult it is, I don’t think that there’s a way for a parent to take away the pain and the discomfort. I really don’t, but I think that’s good because I think this is the time to have those knocks. This is the time to get stronger. It’s probably a good thing that I can’t just wave a magic wand. If my daughter were to come home and say, “Everyone follows Lucy. Lucy doesn’t like me. Now no one sits with me at lunch,” I could be like, let me tell you about the Lucy from my high school. She is such a loser now. Let’s say that worked. Magically, my daughter went from crying to smiling and saying, you’re right. Who cares? Who cares about Lucy? I don’t think that would be good because I think that those experiences of, yeah, I’m hysterically crying — one night, I did cry myself to sleep. I was nervous to go to school the next day. I did have to evaluate who my real friends are. I did have to take a test in calculus while I was upset about something social. All these things are what make you prepared to be an adult. I sort of think that, yes, of course, if your kid is crying at a level ten and upset at a level ten, if you can get them to an eight, that’s great, but I don’t want to get them to a zero.

Allison: So good. I love what you said. This is the time for them to get their knocks. Speaking of being a mom, being a woman working, being a wife, “striving to have it all,” you say it so well here. I just want to read something that you wrote in this book. You say, “Was being a successful, happy, fulfilled woman nothing but a pipedream, that you were a ball-busting professional with no personal life or the idyllic stay-at-home mother with an ivy league degree collecting dust on the wall? Or maybe you have the adorable kids and the enviable career, but your spouse hates you for it. There seemed no way to win. There should’ve been a course in high school on reasonable expectations. Instead, they were memorizing SAT words and figuring out what parabolas were. Useless knowledge taking up precious space in our brain.” Wow. Elyssa, is there no way to win? Do the women in this book stay in this place? Do they arrive to a different conclusion? How do you feel about that when you write these words that you wrote?

Elyssa: Everything I wrote there I would write again today. I don’t feel any differently. I probably wrote that two years ago. It’s not like it was twenty years ago. Nothing has changed in the last two years that has made me feel like every word of that isn’t true. I feel so bad. It’s sort of a negative message, but I do feel like there is no real way out. There’s no way to just have a really busy, successful, fulfilling career and have a very balanced, wonderful family life where you feel on top of things. You don’t always feel like you’re running late or you forgot to handle this or you forgot to handle that. I think that there are people who have to figure out who they are. Are they someone that wants to do a lot of things pretty well, or do they want to do one thing extremely well? You have to know who you are. I’m someone who, I’m happier in my day-to-day life doing a lot of things pretty well, some of them just well, some of them even just okay, but feeling like I got, at least, to experience everything. There are moments where I do resent that I’m not concentrating on my writing as much because I’m also, every two seconds, getting interrupted by text messages about school pick-up. Would I not want the kids? No. Would I not want to write? No. I find it very difficult to completely disconnect and only write because when I try to put my phone away, that’s always when the world blows up. I’m missing the nurse calling about so-and-so and what happened at school. I think you have to just decide who you are as a person and recognize that you’re never going to be able to do everything extremely well. It’s not possible.

Allison: Maybe that dance evolves in different seasons of life.

Elyssa: I wonder. Right now, I’m so in the thick of it. I feel like my friends who are in this stage of life, and I talk about it with my husband, we all were like, we are just in the weeds. We’re not in the weeds like — there’s the diaper stage where you’re physically doing a lot of labor. That would be you.

Allison: Yes, I’m there.

Elyssa: We don’t really do physical labor at all with our kids anymore because they dress themselves. They do everything themselves. Frankly, taking their own Tylenol and putting on their own band-aids, it’s very different, and basically even get around the city by themselves at this point, except for the little one. There’s still, oh, my god, what summer program is my son going to do? Should he go back to camp? Should he do something substantial so it’ll look better for college? which is, in some ways, a lot more taxing than putting on a band-aid. Worrying about, are they doing drugs? Are they drinking? Are they vaping? How do we talk to them about that? There’s just a lot of demands on our time. We’re really, really in it. I do sort of hope that in ten years, things will feel calmer. According to my friends who are at that stage of life, it never changes. It evolves. I’m sure on a daily basis, people who have kids out of the house, if they decide they want to go down to Miami for the weekend, can go to Miami because they don’t have kids at home anymore. There’s that, but you should still expect to get text messages from your kids while you’re in Miami with demands.

Allison: You talk about that so much in the book so well from, obviously, various different perspectives of just the load that women carry with all of the hats they wear. All four of these women, all four of your characters in The Most Likely Club, are in or out of some sort of romantic relationship. Truly, how I felt with this book was that the great love stories of this book are the friendships that these women have with each other. Can you talk about that? It was so beautiful and very powerful.

Elyssa: My previous books had focused a lot on family. I don’t really write much in the way of romance. I don’t know why. I don’t know. Romantic relationships, they play roles in my books, but they’re never the central, central part. I think that I find more opportunities with family relationships and now friendship for really digging into what interests me and also what can be funnier. Although, I’m sure if I were to write a marriage tale, I could do a pretty funny job of all the little things that annoy us about our partners. Maybe that’ll be the next book.

Allison: You sort of set the groundwork for that in this one. There’s some of that.

Elyssa: I could probably. At this point, I had done so much with family. I wanted to write about friendship because I’m such a friend person. You know that “friends who are family” thing? I really believe in that. I’m super close with my friends. I talk to them all the time. I’m really good at staying in touch with people. I have friends from high school. Yes, you can see the dedication.

Allison: It’s dedicated to friends who are in touch, friends who text back quickly.

Elyssa: I love texting with my friends. It really is the jolt, that little serotonin boost I need all day long. My friends make me laugh. I just enjoy their company so much. I rely on them. I’m also a very honest person, so I have real conversations with my friends. When I’m upset, I tell them. I’m not particularly private. Because I’m not really private, it enables me to have these very deep friendships, but also super fun friendships. Of course, I love my family. They’re the first people I know who would be there for me. I do think blood ties and those marriage ties, they’re super strong, of course, but I really do feel sustained on a daily basis by my friendships. I feel so excited for my friends. I think some element of envy is probably just inherent for every relationship, every type of friendship, but for me, it plays a very, very, very small role, I would say. I rarely find myself envying anything my friends have or achieve. 99.99 percent of the time, I’m just so happy. I brag about my friends all the time, which makes me happy because that’s been pointed out to me. I guess I’m bragging about myself because I’m bragging that these amazing people want to talk to me. I’m bragging about myself by bragging about my friends. It’s sort of egocentric. I really just am so proud when my friends have these amazing accomplishments. I really have an amazing group of friends who have lit the world on fire.

Allison: So good, as happens in the book. This book could not have been written by somebody who didn’t have those deep female friendships because that is so evident. That’s woven into the fiber of these characters, that bond and that unconditional support, that intimacy that comes with knowing somebody so long and having done so much important life with another person, in this case, with a group of people. How did you decide who these four women would be? How did you carve out four unique characters?

Elyssa: It’s impossible to represent all women. Everybody’s story is so unique. Every person’s story is so unique. I would say from the outside, it was important to me that they were different from each other because it just makes for a more interesting book if each of them was struggling, but in different ways. You think of the natural ways that people might struggle as women in middle age. I have a character who is a super-superstar at work, beyond superstar at work. I have friends like that, but their personal life suffers. They find it hard to be a #GirlBoss. They’re held to different standards. That was really interesting to me. That’s the character of Suki I’m talking about. Also, for her, what I really liked exploring was, she is the one who seems the most perfect on paper and the most enviable on paper. Then you find out that things are not what they seem, which in our social media world is so important to recognize because there’s a lot of putting out a certain façade that’s not real at all. Even though people know it’s not real, they still feel affected by it. Suki’s perfectly crafted, manufactured life wasn’t what it seems. In the character of Tara, I had someone who had a professional dream but ended up in an adjacent industry. There’s a lot of settling. She wants to own her own restaurant, and she ends up running a cooking school for little kids. She’s sort of settled. She’s in the culinary world, but not in the way she ever imagined. I have Priya, who’s the character that I relate to the most because she’s full-time professional, married to a full-time professional with three kids. She is just falling apart. She’s really capable. She’s really well-intentioned. She’s a good person. She wants the best for her family. She wants to be the best doctor she can be. She wants to be the best mother she can be, and wife, but there aren’t enough hours in the day. She has sleeping sand crusted in her eyes at all times. She’s constantly yawning and just can’t —

Allison: — So much coffee.

Elyssa: So much coffee, and just wondering, I have the same job as my husband, so why am I the one doing all the paperwork? That’s something I think about a lot in my own family. Then Melissa, I wanted to deal with a character who’s divorced and navigating being a single mom, especially in her case where her husband is remarried and living in the same town and has another child. She’s raising this teenage girl as a single mom. She also deals with an eating disorder. She’s someone where being chubby in high school stayed with her. She will always see herself — no matter how thin she gets and how great shape she whittles herself into and how much time she can spend on the Peloton, she will always have insecurity about her body. It’s really exacerbated by the upcoming reunion. That’s a kitchen sink of issues. Although, there are hundreds more I could’ve explored.

Allison: What is the typical day for you like? There’s no typical because you’re a mom. You’re a writer. As you said, things always come up. What is a day like in the life of Elyssa Friedland?

Elyssa: I would say complete mayhem, exhaustion. I’m super busy. It’s funny you asked about friends. Part of my busyness is because I won’t sacrifice my social life. I’m so obsessed with seeing my friends and having plans. I’m not saying things wouldn’t be hectic if I just did family and job, but it would be one less thing if I wasn’t also trying to meet a friend for lunch or go for drinks or go for dinner or go to this party or that party. I never want to miss anything. If I get invited to a wedding or my friend’s daughter’s bat mitzvah in California, I’m like, yeah, I can go. Okay, so it means I’ll take the red eye. I’ll get there. I’ll basically sleep standing up in the airport. I will work on the plane, and this and that. Then I will go directly from the airport when I land to my son’s school play. It’s very hard for me to say no to social things because I’m so attached to my friends. A typical day is, wake up. I try to exercise a few days a week for my mental health. Exercise. I drink a ton of coffee. I respond to an endless stream of emails. I text my friends. I then tell myself I’m going to write a thousand words of whatever new writing project I’m in while also still talking on the phone and texting and doing forms. I definitely feel like it’s very hard for me to just focus on that.

I don’t even know how I’ve written five books because I can’t even remember writing them. I’m never really writing. I’m writing, but I’m also signing up Sam for baseball and making an orthodontist appointment and remembering haircuts and so-and-so’s birthday. Somewhere, I write books. It helps me to have that thousand-word-a-day goal, which I don’t always meet. Some days, I don’t write a single word. Then I do try to at least make up for it. If I have a day with nothing going on, I’ll sit and I’ll try to do three thousand words to make up for the days I did nothing. I go to an office. I try occasionally to pick up my kids from school. Although, I often don’t because it really eats up the middle of the day. Come home. Try to hang out with my kids also while working. I think just being there is helpful, even if I’m not super focused on them. At least, I’ve told myself that. I’ll park myself at the dining room table. I’ll work. The kids are just buzzing around me. I’m there if they want to ask me a question, but I’m not doing enough of the singular focus. How is your day? Tell me about it. What’s going on? What are you reading in school? If they ask me to look over an essay, I’m doing it with one eye while my other eye is doing something else. Again, it’s multitasking on steroids. Then I drink wine, and I go to sleep.

Allison: Hopefully, you get some sleep. Fortunately, as a writer, if you’re doing it with one eye, you’re probably still doing better than most people who are trying to do it with two eyes since it is your craft. You are good at it.

Elyssa: Thank you.

Allison: What advice would you have to aspiring writers?

Elyssa: Definitely, read as much as humanly possible. I’m sure a lot of people say that because it’s true. Read a ton. Read widely across different genres. You should always be reading a book. What else? You just can’t edit yourself enough. I always think it’s really important to read your work out loud. I am a writing teacher as well. Did you know that? I’m teaching.

Allison: Yes, amazing.

Elyssa: I teach writing, which is a lot of fun. My students seem to have responded really well to the advice about reading their work out loud. Even though you read a book, you don’t — actually, it’s not really true anymore because audiobooks are super popular. Still, for the most part, books are read. Yet reading it out loud, you notice so many things that are really awkward that you wouldn’t have noticed if you had only read it. That’s huge advice. It’s a hard job. It just requires tremendous perseverance. You have to get accustomed to rejection. It’s probably hard to be successful at anything without facing a lot of setbacks and having to work your butt off.

Allison: How can your readers connect with you? How can they follow you and keep up to date on everything with The Most Likely Club and what you’re working on next and everything going on?

Elyssa: I’m most active on Instagram, which is just @ElyssaFriedland. I do book content, family content, recommendations, just general humor. That’s the platform I like the most. My website, which is also just my name, elyssafriedland.com, is my book tour schedule. You can sign up for my newsletter, which comes out sporadically and when I have time to do it. That’s really it. I will have another book out in summer of 2024. Oh, and I have a children’s book coming out. I forget. I also have a picture book coming out in February. That’s called The Museum of Lost Teeth.

Allison: I was going to say, will you give us a little teaser about the children’s book?

Elyssa: Absolutely. It is a fabulously illustrated — I can say that because I’m not the one who illustrated it — picture book for kids, I would say, ages five to eight, five to nine who are losing teeth. It’s called The Museum of Lost Teeth. It tells the story of, where do the teeth go after the tooth fairy collects them from underneath pillows?

Allison: So good. My kids ask that all the time. I can’t wait to read them this book.

Elyssa: I’m going to send you one today.

Allison: Oh, my gosh, such a weird time for them. Their teeth just keep falling out. It’s so crazy.

Elyssa: It’s weird. The other day, my nine-year-old and my twelve-year-old lost teeth on the same day. It was so funny. I had sort of forgotten that the twelve-year-old, they still lose teeth. It’s nuts. They just keep coming out like sharks.

Allison: So good. I can’t wait. The Museum of Lost Teeth.

Elyssa: That’s in February.

Allison: Coming in February.

Elyssa: That’s totally done. Then it’s just waiting. That’s it.

Allison: Love it. Congratulations. Elyssa Friedland, author of The Most Likely Club, your fifth book, with your sixth book, your children’s book, coming shortly on the heels, thank you so much for chatting. We can’t wait to follow all your exciting updates.

Elyssa: Thank you so much. Very fun to be here. Thanks.

Allison: Thanks, Elyssa.

Elyssa: Bye.

Elyssa Friedland, THE MOST LIKELY CLUB

THE MOST LIKELY CLUB by Elyssa Friedland

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