Editor’s Note: This story is adapted from the talk Pamela Redmond gave this past weekend at NextTribe’s Out Loud LA event.
I got the idea for Younger, my novel that became the TV show by Darren Star, when I was lying on the couch reading a story in Vogue about extreme plastic surgery. There were techniques so radical, the story said, that you could enter the operating room looking like, say, a 50-year-old New Jersey mom and emerge looking like a young, hot, and completely different person.
I could understand the appeal of getting a do-over on my 20s with the strength and perspective I’d gained in my 40s. If I had another chance at my 20s, I’d start writing novels right away instead being so afraid I wasn’t good enough that I didn’t even try. I’d be tougher and braver and work harder, so that by the time I had my kids, I’d already be established rather than trying to launch my career at 50.
I felt instantly that getting such a do-over was a great idea for a novel. I’d call it Younger and it would be kind of a twist on Big, a movie I loved. In fact, it would make an excellent film or tv show, I thought, offering an actress over 40 a chance to both show off her acting skills and look superhot.
Not Any Magic
My heroine, I decided, would be like a lot of my mom friends, who’d stopped working when they had kids and then found it impossible to get back in. Most of the real women I knew finally gave up, but what if that weren’t an option for my heroine? What if she had to go back to work, maybe because her husband left her and took all their money. What if pretending to be younger started out as a desperate tactic to get a job and morphed into something more delicious and provocative?
I didn’t want to write about the kind of person who’d get extreme plastic surgery, but how to turn a 44-year-old into a 28-year-old without it?
I didn’t want to write about the kind of person who’d get extreme plastic surgery, but how to turn a 44-year-old into a 28-year-old without it? My first idea was magic, and I wrote 75 improbable pages featuring a storefront fortune-teller and a New Year’s Eve wish. My agent hated it. “You’re either a magic writer, or you aren’t, she explained, and I wasn’t.
The solution came from Christina Baker Kline, one of the three other novelists I met with every Friday to talk about problems with our work or careers. What if she just fakes it? Christina asked.
Christina had recently gone alone on a press pass to a rock concert, and the young guy sitting next to her had assumed she was his age. I hadn’t been able to pass for 28 since I was probably 31, but Christina and lots of other women I knew in their early 40s could.
The Threat of Discovery
I learned to write novels from the mystery writer Elizabeth George, and her technique starts with the characters. In addition to my heroine Alice (Sutton Foster), a middle-aged mom pretending to be younger so she can reclaim her career, I made her best friend Maggie (Debi Mazar), a successful artist who decides she wants to have a baby before it’s too late.
The story looks at the ways age affects our lives as working women, as parents, as moral human beings.
I also gave Alice a young colleague (Hilary Duff) who can’t wait to be more grown-up. My own daughter was in her early 20s then, just starting her career, and I knew the professional world could be difficult for young women, too, who often wished they were older and more established, making real money and commanding responsibility and respect.
Alice’s boss, I decided, would be a harried working mother who personified the difficulty of doing it all. And, of course, Alice needed a hot young boyfriend who could help her do over her 20s in ways beyond professional.
My story had to work as a Tootsie-style caper of someone in disguise who’s always threatened with discovery. And it also had to work as a look at the ways age affects our lives as working women, as parents, as moral human beings.
Channeling Meg Ryan
Now all I had to do was write the book. You sometimes hear these apocryphal stories about people turning out whole novels in three weeks, but I really did write the first draft of Younger in three weeks. Coincidentally, I had a residency scheduled at an artists’ colony, and any woman in her 50s given three entire weeks alone with a studio, a cook, and no housework can write a measly 300 pages.
I tacked Meg Ryan’s picture to my bulletin board when I was writing: She was in her mid 40s then, and I imagined her as Alice. I also imagined that once the book was published, Meg would option it and play the leading role.
That didn’t happen. In fact, the book was first published to little fanfare, and I was afraid that no one else would think my idea was as brilliant as I did.
But then it did get optioned, by Lifetime Television with the fabulous Debra Martin Chase, who was a producer of Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. I would have liked to have seen that version of Younger, but it didn’t get made. After that it was optioned by the sisters Suzanne and Jennifer Todd, who made Bad Moms and Austin Powers. Another version I would love to see, but that also didn’t get made. It got optioned by The Shuman Company and by ABC, big powerful people. But nearly 10 years passed, and nothing happened.
During that decade, I wrote three more novels and two humor books. I created and launched a website and put two of my kids through college. So when Darren Star came along wanting to option Younger, it was hard for me to get excited. I mean, I loved Sex & the City, which I watched—four episodes at a time—with my friend Alexa while drinking frozen margaritas. But I’d come to think of Hollywood as a place where novels went to die.
Life Imitates Art
So imagine my astonishment when, a decade after I banged out my book at fever pitch, I found myself at a suburban house watching the first day of the pilot shoot of Younger. There was Sutton Foster as the story’s heroine, coming home from another unsuccessful job interview to find house hunters poring over her living room. And there were 100 other people too, peering through cameras and wielding booms and powdering foreheads, all working to bring alive the idea I got reading Vogue that long-ago day.
Fiction writers have a superstition that what you write about will happen to you, and so I found myself, around the time the show premiered, getting divorced after my own long marriage and moving to LA. No one mistook me for 26, but, like Liza, I found myself struggling to reinvent my life, to learn the mores of a new culture, and to fit in with people who were very different from me. In short, I felt 26: that excited, that overwhelmed, that terrified, that alive.
Fiction writers have a superstition that what you write about will happen to you.
So in the end I did get the chance to start my adult life over again and do things differently. This time, I didn’t jump into a new relationship as soon as the old one ended the way I always did in my 20s. When something I wrote didn’t work, I wrote something different. I stopped speaking New Jersey and learned to speak LA, saying “Have an awesome weekend,” instead of “Go fuck yourself.”
Now, with Younger launching its sixth season, it seems appropriate that the novel that started it all is getting a reinvention of its own, with pictures from the show and a foreword by Darren Star. It also seems fitting that I’m starting work on a sequel to Younger, about a woman who writes a roman a clef about passing as younger that gets made into a TV show. It’s called Older.
The new edition of Pamela Redmond’s novel Younger will be published by Gallery Books on June 4. Redmond is the New York Times bestselling author of 20 other books of fiction and nonfiction, including How Not to Act Old and 30 Things Every Woman Should Have & Should Know.