Although it’s not surprising that comedy writer Leslie A. Rasmussen’s debut novel, After Happily Ever After, is incredibly funny, the relatability of her characters’ experiences is uncanny. Pulling from real-life emotions and events, Leslie manages to capture shared experiences that are less than ideal and turn them into something not only worth rereading but reliving.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Leslie. I’m so happy to have you on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss After Happily Ever After: A Novel.

Leslie A. Rasmussen: Thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited to be here.

Zibby: It’s so funny, when I got this book pitched to me and I read the back, I was like, oh, my gosh, I have to do this. Forty-five-year-old woman dealing with parents, dealing with kids, all this stuff, what to do next, I was like, I have to discover, what does this lady do in the ?

Leslie: That was the whole point of me writing the book. I wrote it just because I wanted — it is women’s fiction. I just wanted people to relate to it. What’s great is a lot of men have read it, which surprised me because I didn’t think they would. They have. They’ve loved it. I’ve gotten great reviews from men, which is really nice.

Zibby: That is really nice. You have a great sense of humor. This book, it’s funny. You have such a wit. It’s great how you do that.

Leslie: I used to be a comedy writer. I was a sitcom writer a long time ago.

Zibby: I read that.

Leslie: I love banter. I love great dialogue. That’s the most fun for me to write.

Zibby: Wait, so tell me a little bit about that. I know you worked with all sorts of greats like Burt Reynolds and Norm Macdonald. Tell me how you got into that and now how at this stage you switched gears and wrote your debut novel. It’s really cool.

Leslie: I did. When I got out of college, I went to work. What was MTM, Mary Tyler Moore Studios, and became CBS Radford, I went to work there. I was working on a show called Hill Street Blues, which a lot of people will know. At the time, I was hanging out with a lot of sitcom writers. I was naïve. I just thought, I can do this. I was going to go in the direction of producing at the time. I thought, oh, this seems more fun, so I just started writing and writing. Eventually, I met a lot of sitcom writers. I met one that was on Major Dad at the time. She sort of took me under her wing. She loved my writing. She sent it to her agent. Also, she sent it to the producers. They gave me my first script, which was fabulous. Then I did a lot of freelance. I did some stuff on staff. I did some freelance. I did a lot of pilots. I worked with Drew Carey actually before The Drew Carey Show. I worked on a show that he was on. I worked on Evening Shade with Burt Reynolds. I worked with Rosanne on Rosanne. I did a bunch of those kind of shows.

Then I got pregnant. I had gotten married during all this time. The hours are terrible in sitcoms. My husband is a sitcom writer. One of us — I knew it was going to be me because I wanted to raise my kids. I didn’t stop until my second child was born. I was trying to do a lot of freelance. The whole business changed. The Writers Guild changed. It was really hard to get freelance scripts at that point. I actually just took off time. I raised my kids for a while. Then when my youngest went to kindergarten, I went back and got a master’s degree in nutrition. I opened my own business. I did that for ten years. During that time, I continued to write. I wrote over twenty essays for Huffington Post. I was one of their bloggers. I just kept writing things about my family, personal essays. At the same time, I was also doing — I wanted to write a nonfiction book at the beginning about women and long-term relationships and how they dealt with conflict and jealousy and their sex lives. I put out a survey anonymously. I had all these responses. When I read all these responses, I realized, wow, women have so much in common in this age group. I also had a million mom friends. We were all just talking. I started the nonfiction book and realized, I don’t really want to do this.

I decided to write fiction. I turned all of these situations into my main character, Maggie. At the same time, everybody was going through things with their families. My father, unfortunately, passed away before the first draft was finished. He didn’t have the same issues at all as the father in the book, but my father had a lot of medical issues. My mother was his caregiver. I knew that side of it also. Even though I didn’t pick the same issues by any means — my dad was sharp as a tack until the day he passed away. It had nothing to do with his dementia or something. I just really wanted to show a woman trying to rediscover herself in the middle of her life amongst all these other things that are coming down on her. I think in our forties, that really does happen. So much comes down on you at the same time, whether it’s your kids — then your kids start to become a little bit more independent. Then you’re thinking, well, now what do I do? I closed my business. I decided to just spend my time writing novels. That’s really how I got back into it.

Zibby: Wow. You’ve also written about the whole nutrition piece and that time. I read your essay about the bully on the scale, which literally, I posted on Instagram about this morning. Then I read your article. I was like, this is literally the answer to what I posted.

Leslie: That’s so funny. Exactly, I did some nutrition articles and some personal articles.

Zibby: That is really neat. There were so many places where I dogeared and underlined that I thought were so funny. Let me see if there’s something I can find to read. What did I want on this page? Just these little quips you have. “I still have clients to see, so it’s good I’m now sober. Although, I wonder if lately I’d be a better therapist buzzed.” All these times, I just chuckled.

Leslie: Oh, good. That was the point because there are some heartbreaking moments in it. I wanted to write everything else I could with more humor.

Zibby: This one, too, when you’re confiding — not you. I’m sorry. When Maggie is confiding in her friend and they’re going on a walk. Her husband hasn’t been having sex with her that much, which I also think is just great to talk about in this age group and whatever. You said, “‘What do you think’s going on with Jim?’ Ellen asked. ‘In our marriage, there have been times he’s disconnected, but we talk and he gets better. But now when I ask what’s wrong, he’s vague or avoids answering. He comes home, eats dinner, watches a little TV, and falls asleep. I lay there wondering if I did something wrong. I worry that after Gia leaves for college and it’s just the two of us, he’ll be in his own world and I’ll really feel alone.'” Then because it’s so cold out, the friend Ellen goes, “You’re not alone, and if I hadn’t lost feeling in my arms, I’d hug you.” She said, “We finished our walk and Ellen tried to give me that hug, but her arms were so frozen she couldn’t lift them, so she just bumped up against me. ‘It’ll be okay,’ she said.” Yes, of course, there are other themes like when she visits her dad in the hospital. Then the mom is still at home now cooking up a storm without anybody really to feed, but cooking the things that she finally wants and dealing with a narcissistic mom and all these complicated life elements.

Leslie: mom, exactly.

Zibby: Then that one feeling, that fleeting moment where she’s like, what about this guy? You never know. I feel like it’s such a turning point stage of life right in the middle of everything. You just captured that perfectly, really.

Leslie: The whole thing that happens with Michael is just to show that there are times that relationships — Maggie and Jim really do have this great marriage. They really do. They really love each other. It’s just, he’s going through his own stuff. He’s not talking to her about it, so she feels lonely. She feels like, I don’t know what’s going on with him. It’s not like she thinks he’s having an affair. She just doesn’t know. She feels really alone. When this guy comes in and gives her attention, it just doesn’t hit her that that’s what she’s doing, is going in that direction and not going back to Jim and saying, hey, we need to talk about this.

Zibby: I liked, also, how you had one chapter from Jim’s point of view when he was with a guy friend. That’s why I’m almost not surprised with guys relating to this book. That feeling of, I’m dissatisfied in my career, but I don’t want to burden my wife with that, I’ve got to sort this out myself, is also something that —

Leslie: — That’s very manly. Men don’t always say what’s going on, but women sense it. We know that there’s something happening there. I did that partially because I wanted to do the book from the first-person point of view. I had written the first chapter as a third-person point of view. When I wrote it, I thought, I don’t know who Maggie is. I just felt a little bit distant from her, so I wrote it again. When I wrote it from “I,” I knew exactly who she was. I knew her thoughts. I knew everything. To do that, as you know, if it’s from the first-person point of view, you can’t just know anything else happening off camera, off screen. I decided that it would be really great to know what Jim was going through from his point of view. I also really wanted people to read what the father was going through from the father’s point of view. I did a lot of research. I met with a neuropsychologist to talk about Lewy body dementia. I also joined a Facebook group. They allowed me to be on it to read what these caregivers were saying, and people with it. Everything that happened, it’s real. It’s not necessarily exactly the same way that it happened to this person, but I read real situations. Then I took from that to say, okay, this is what would really happen to him with the hallucinations. I did a webinar during COVID with the American Brain Foundation. Robin William’s wife is a big part of that. They also work with Parkinson’s. I thought that would be really good to just see what these people were saying. It was also during all that time with Robin Williams going through this that the Lewy body dementia has become a little bit more that people need to know about it. Everybody knows about Alzheimer’s, but they don’t necessarily know about Lewy body dementia.

Zibby: All of it just sounds so — aging, getting sick, there’s so many things.

Leslie: I know. Believe me, I know.

Zibby: Every day, to hear about a new thing to have to worry about, I don’t even have the mental energy to keep them all in there circling around, but they’re in there. They’re in there. How long did it take for you to write the book? What was your process like when you were doing it?

Leslie: I think it took me about three and a half years from really starting with nothing. I joined a writer’s group. It was only really the coach and then one other woman. We went through and wrote and then brought stuff in and talked about it. It took me a while because writing scripts is so different. A thirty-minute script is maybe thirty-six pages by the time you’re done, forty pages. A book, it’s like three hundred pages, so I was kind of intimidated by the whole thing. I ended up starting it knowing the beginning and the end but not the middle. I started writing without an outline, which I don’t think I would do again. When I got to the middle, I was like, uh, oh, I don’t know what I’m doing here. I pretty much just sat down and then wrote a whole outline and figured out exactly where everything was going to go and then finished it. A couple of drafts in, I went to the 2018 Kauai Writers Conference. Christina Baker Kline was teaching a workshop. She brought in Kristin Hannah and Alice Hoffman. The three of them were amazing. Christina Baker Kline, oh, my gosh, she is not only the nicest woman in the whole world, but she’s a great teacher. Kristin Hannah had so many great things to say about revisions that when I went home, I revised it. I put in a lot more things that I thought would help. It was great. Then at that point is when I thought, okay, I think I’m ready to start trying to get it published.

Zibby: Interesting. I know you said everything — not everything. Most things in the book were based loosely on something true. Did you go through some sort of period like this with your marriage? Was there somebody who caught your eye? Was this based on a friend?

Leslie: The tiny bit about the emotional affair was based on a friend who had had a twelve-year emotional affair with somebody. Now she’s divorced. She had a twelve-year emotional affair with somebody. Nothing ever happened. They never touched. They never kissed, nothing. I knew why she was doing it. We had talked about it at the time. Her husband was never home. He never paid attention. She didn’t know what state he was in because he was working all the time. I thought that was really interesting at the time when it happened. Her and I had talked a lot about it. I’m still married to the same person that I knew since college. That’s all fine. The parts that I would say are a little, tiny bit autobiographical, my father and I had an amazing relationship. That relationship between Maggie and her father is based on my father. The way the father is, I went back after my dad passed away and put in a few more things from my childhood just because I felt that connection with that character for me. Everything else is really from so many different people. Maggie is just from so many women that I knew, basically, or didn’t know.

Zibby: Two more questions. What are you working on now? What advice would you have for aspiring authors?

Leslie: Right now, I am about two-thirds through my next book. It’s basically about two young women who separately find out something tragic in their lives. They come together in a support group. It’s how each one of them deals with this tragedy. It’s a similar tragedy, but they deal with it differently. One is Jewish. One is Catholic. That’s the only piece from my life. I’m Jewish. My husband’s Catholic.

Zibby: I am Jewish and my husband’s Catholic, but he converted, actually.

Leslie: That’s great. My husband didn’t convert, but he kind of left the religion when he was thirteen, so I can say, then it’s okay. Otherwise, I don’t think it would’ve worked. We pretty much raise our kids more Jewish than Catholic. Then the other question was, what advice do I have for writers? I would probably say it doesn’t matter what it is, write something. Even if you think it’s terrible, just write something. I remember writing something and thinking, oh, my god, this is the worst thing I’ve ever written, and coming back the next day and thinking, did elves wake up in the middle of the night and rewrite this? It’s actually okay. Find something in there where you jump off to another point. I would also say, find somebody else who’s an author or a writer and be in some kind of group with them even if you don’t know them. You need support. Writing is a very alone thing. It’s very solitary. You definitely need support in that. Those would probably be my advice. Definitely, write. Definitely, find other people to talk to about writing so you have that.

Zibby: Excellent. Leslie, thank you. This was so fun. It’s so neat to hear about back in Hill Street Blues days. That’s so neat. You’re a part of that whole cultural moment and everything. That’s fantastic.

Leslie: I worked on that and Alf and Carol Burnett’s show, not the old one, the newer one. I worked with a lot of people.

Zibby: Amazing. Congratulations on your debut novel.

Leslie: Thank you. Thank you so much. I follow you. I watch your show, when I can watch it, as much as possible on YouTube. I love it. Thank you so much for having me. Really, it’s an honor.

Zibby: Thank you. That’s so nice of you to say. Thank you. Have a great day.

Leslie: Thank you. You too.

Zibby: Take care. Buh-bye.

Leslie: Bye.



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