Exclusive Interview: Life Would Suck Without You Writer Jennifer Preuss
My friends Rob, Steve, Jeff, and Prabu have known each other since 1981, and man, the stories we could tell you. We won’t, but if we could, oh man. But we’re not the only ones. In her new memoir, Life Would Suck Without You (paperback, digital), writer Jennifer Preuss recounts some of the crazy real-life adventures she’s had with her girl squad over the years. Though in talking to her about it, she revealed that her original intention was not to write a book.
So, to begin, what is Life Would Suck Without You about?
The book is about my three best friends and our stories together over the past eighteen years. The four of us could not be any more different, and at various places in our lives, and yet my life doesn’t seem to make sense without them. They basically complete me, for lack of a better phrase. Thank you Jerry Maguire.
What prompted you to write the book, and what you made you think that other people would want to read it?
So, I always have this reoccurring dream where the four of us are in a hotel room somewhere tropical, like Barbados. The dream is the same every time. I notice a dripping faucet, there’s clothes all over the floor, a dog is sleeping at the end of the bed. And the way, I don’t have a dog. I wake up in a king size bed and realize I am completely naked with my three best friends. I wake up at the same point every time I have the dream: when I realize I have no clothes on and Nikki, Panooch, and Cecilia are there with me.
I always thought that was the start to a great TV show. I work at a school with a lot of people in the industry, and told a couple people about it. I eventually got a meeting, and the idea was well received, but they basically they told me I’m a nobody and should go try to write something instead.
I was defeated and was like, “forget it.” But then a friend of mine who is a writer and a publisher said, “You could totally write this.” I didn’t believe him. He asked me to email him a story about the girls and me. I did and he then said to try to show the story, not tell it. I revised and resent it and we kept going back and forth like that until I had eighteen short stories written.
As time went on, I started laughing out loud as I would revise, or I would cry at certain things we went through. Reliving these important moments in my life, I realized that these stories about the female connection are so relatable. We all have stories like these. We just choose not to broadcast them. I have always loved attention, so I wanted to put myself out there and share them. Maybe start an honest dialogue? Maybe get a TV show out of it? And at the very least, I will have memorialized these three women who have shaped me into who I am today. It’s my love letter to them.
How often, in writing the book, did you stop and debate whether or not to reveal something?
Many of the chapters wrote themselves. I had told the stories to so many people that I was basically just writing down conversations. I wanted the book to feel like the reader was having a conversation with me where I was doing most of the talking.
Other chapters were more challenging. There’s a chapter where a friend of my husband hit on me. It was the hardest to write. Mostly because I had to admit to myself my feelings about being hit on: I kind of liked it. I then I had lunch with a writer friend, who I respect so much, and she gave me the best advice ever. She said, “Write as if no one is going to read it. Then go back after and take things out that you’re not comfortable with.” That chapter then became the most fun to write because she gave me permission to go there.
I also tried to only write stories that I was directly involved in. There are so many others things that didn’t make it into the book because they weren’t my stories to tell. That was a big guideline I used for what to share and not share.
In those debatable moments, did you ever ask any of the real people what you should do?
I was constantly asking the girls what to do. Mostly I asked Cecilia. So much of the book deals with her and losing her husband. There are many private moments I needed her to be comfortable with and to be okay with me sharing.
Did you ever think of writing the book as fiction?
I never considered it. The whole point of the book was that we are real people that real things happen to. I tried once to change all our names, and it felt so wrong I just couldn’t continue. I mean what other nickname could I come up with like Panooch? She’s Panooch! There is no other name I could give her that would be as cute as her real nickname.
Poochy? Scruffy? Bunny? … I’ll stop. Anyway, before you started writing Life Would Suck Without You, did you read anyone else’s memoirs to get a sense of what to do? And, let’s be honest, what not to do?
Ha! I wish I could say yes to that question. That would have required me to do research and I am pretty sure that would have delayed if not cancelled the whole book getting written.
I just wrote from the heart. I studied how to teach writing through a workshop approach to my first graders with an amazing professional development company called Growing Educators. I happened to study with them the summer I began writing this book. They heavily rely on mentor texts and teach us to use them in the classroom to show our students what writers do. I use mentor texts in the classroom and look for what authors do in their writing with my students. But for me, I would teach a mini lesson during the day on narrative writing for workshop and then go home at night and try it out in my own writing. I basically taught myself how to write like a first grader.
But hey, I published a book. The methods obviously work.
So what writers, and which of their books, do you think were the biggest influences on how you wrote Life Would Suck Without You?
Well, Jenn Sterling is a huge influence on me in terms of following my dreams. She writes amazing fiction stories that I have fallen in love with. She’s actually the writer who gave me that great advice about writing as if no one was going to read it. Her personal story inspires me.
I also loved the book The Storied Life Of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, where each chapter begins with a mini story that seems to not be connected to the main story but then you realize it is in the end. I took that and wanted to do something similar by introducing my chapters with little anecdotal stories that paired well with each chapter. Those are both fiction writers but were big parts of influencing either my will to write or style of telling a story.
I also love Michael J Fox’s biographies. I guess I just love reading stories about people’s lives. I love when I read a book and all the dialogue between characters so I tried to have a good amount of dialogue in the book.
What about non-literary influences? Are there any movies or TV shows that you think were an influence on Life Would Suck Without You?
Well, Sex And The City for sure. I think of my friendships and stories as what happened after they stopped having sex and moved to the valley. What happens after they get married and have kids? I’ll tell you: One of us has the typical two kids, husband, stable job; another gets divorced; another marries a younger, hot model type and never plans on having kids; and the other’s husband dies at age thirty-five and has to pick up the pieces of her shattered life with a five-year-old in tow.
There’s a Kirkus review of Life Would Suck Without You, and it mentions that you have a self-deprecating sense of humor. Who do you see as being your biggest comedic influences?
I know my answer is supposed to be some famous comedian, but honestly I want to say my dad. He and I laugh all the time together. He always says I got his sense of humor.
But on the professional side I love John Stewart. He is a bit self-deprecating and so incredibly smart. I also love Louis CK. He is so honest about what it’s like to be a parent. I think my self-deprecating humor has to do with being honest with who I really am and not afraid to say it. I have come to terms with the fact that I am not perfect and the things that make me not perfect are actually the most endearing to those around me.
The Kirkus review also calls the book, “A memoir about friendship, womanhood, and the idea that girls just want to have fun.” But do you think guys would enjoy reading Life Would Suck Without You as well?
I hope so. My publisher has read it like ten times, and says he cries every time at the sad parts. My husband read it and said it was “captivating” which was the greatest compliment of my life. It mostly is a book that celebrates women, but I think anyone can relate to friends navigating each other through life, no matter if they are a man or a woman.
What do you think men would get out of reading the book?
A good laugh, inside tips on what we women do when they aren’t around, and perspective on relationships.
We talked earlier about whether you had asked the real people whether to include something revealing in your book or not. But now that the book is done and out, have your friends who are in the book read it, and if so, what have they said about it?
All three have read it. Panooch loved it and wanted to come over and have me read it out loud to her. Cec read it out of sequence, flip flopping between chapters and gave me a heartfelt approval with lots of jokes and reminders about how funny we are together. And Nikki…Nikki texted me to tell me she was so “Fucking proud” of me and “Fuck you for making me cry.” It was so very her.
Did any of them point anything out that they thought was wrong or could’ve been better or that they liked and wished you’d done more of…
I think it was mostly me. As I was reading chapters for the audio book I was like, “I should have added more dialogue in this chapter.” The girls asked why certain stories weren’t in there and I told them they weren’t my stories to tell. It would just then be me relaying a story to a reader instead of showing you how it really happened. If I wasn’t part of the story, I couldn’t do that authentically, especially in a memoir. I wanted to be as accurate as I could and that could only happen if I was part of each of the stories shared.
So you mentioned earlier about you this started life as a pitch for a TV show. But now that it’s a book, has there been any interest in making TV show out of Life Would Suck Without You? Or a movie? And if so, what can you tell us about it?
I was approached with having a discussion about it over dinner with some executives. It’s still pretty early in the game to say, but nothing would make me happier…
If Life Would Suck Without You was to be made into a movie or TV show, who would you like to see them cast as you and why them?
Anna Kendrick should play me. She’s cute, funny, and can sing.
Finally, if someone enjoys Life Would Suck Without You, what would you suggest they read next and why?
Well, Kirkus Reviews did suggest if you like Mindy Kaling’s book, you’d like mine, so I’m going to go with Mindy Kaling’s Why Not Me? Kirkus has great taste.