Danielle Krage interviews Leslie Lehr (prize-winning author, Novel Consultant for Truby’s Writers Studio, and essayist) about her memoir, A Boob’s Life.
A Boob’s Life has a fascinating structure, interweaving personal narrative with national history, and in this conversation, Leslie shares her practical approaches to achieving this.
Leslie also has a wealth of advice for handling the lens of humour, and for ways to create highly visual scenes that propel the memoir forward.
You can find Leslie and her work at:
CLICK HERE FOR TRANSCRIPT
Today, I am very excited to have Leslie Lehr with me to talk about writing her memoir, ‘A Boobs Life, How America’s Obsession Shaped Me and You’, which I really enjoyed reading. Selma Hayek has described it as ‘original, thought-provoking and written with an elegant sense of humour’, which is spot on. And she loved it so much that she also picked it up to develop into a comedy series for HBO Max.
It’s a beautifully written book. It’s full of comedy in such interesting and nuanced ways. So I’m very excited to talk to Leslie about it today. But before we dive in, Leslie, is there anything else that you’d like people to know about you and your work?
Wow, you can find everything on my website, leslielehr.com. I have a recent article actually about memoir and why it’s so important on writersdigest.com. And generally I post on Instagram and Facebook and all that under me. I’m constantly writing and I work with other writers. So that’s kind of my day job that lets me write whatever I want and be as funny as I want to be without caring how fast it sells or whatever. But this book has been a joy and I love talking about it. And it’s so funny because there are such serious parts but so much humour that it’s been a real gift. And here comes my cat.
Oh, hello. Always welcome on the podcast. So I wanted to ask you about the concept because it’s such a great concept. Saying, I’m going to write a memoir is one thing. Coming up with a concept and all the different elements that you have and framing it in the way that you have is quite another. So I just wondered what key moments you remember from the process of originating it or developing it as a concept.
I had no intention of ever writing a memoir. I did not want to talk about my breasts. The New York Times now calls me the boob expert and that was so not what I wanted my reputation to be, especially in my hometown in Ohio. It completely came up because of the circumstance, which is actually how I believe humour comes up as well in my writing anyway.
I had gotten out of the shower one night. I had written about breasts and how I thought I had attracted my husband, my second husband, by being so sexy and showing my boobs and stuff. And then I got breast cancer and he’s stuck with me and it was amazing. And so that was in a New York Times Modern Love essay that went viral. And I thought that I was never gonna write about breast cancer at all. I didn’t wanna be that sad person. I didn’t wanna be identified as that kind of sad person. And so I never wrote about it. I had no intention of writing about it. But then one night I got out of the shower, years later…my husband and I just had bought a condo and had an ocean view and it had been the dream of my life and he had promised me if I survived, he’d get me an ocean view. And so we did have one for a few years and the first night we got there was so excited and my hair was starting to grow in. There were chemo curls, which is a real thing. And I had so many surgeries and had gone through years of treatment and I got out of the shower and I like dropped my towel and saw myself in the mirror and my nipples were just like…They were a joke. My breasts were not…. I just, I was freaked out because I hadn’t really looked in terms of me as being beautiful again. And the scene was more clownish and funny than, you know, in a sad way. And I was so upset. And this was supposed to be our big date night. And my husband, I was so mad. I wanted to call my doctor and fix them as if they were broken. And my husband accused me of being obsessed. And I thought, I’m a feminist. How can I be obsessed with breasts, you know? So we sat down to watch TV and he had taped the last big show of David Letterman. And he had all the stars. And he, in the United States, is known as the intellectual comedian. And the first thing he did in his monologue was tell a boob joke. And I thought, okay, jokes about my boobs, this is not funny to me. And I’m not the only one who’s obsessed. And so my husband went to bed, you know how guys just fall asleep right away. I thought it was very disappointing. I’m awake staring at the ceiling. And then I went into the other room and I looked at this picture and – it’s in the book – that made me laugh every time and it was on the top of my moving boxes because it was my favourite picture of me and my sister and my mom….we were all in matching red bikinis. I’m three years old. My sister is one and I laugh when I see this picture because she could not keep the red strip of cloth across her nipples and it was so funny that she couldn’t cover her nipples and you knew you had to do that and then I realized oh my gosh I knew at three, that nipples and breasts were taboo. This is a whole thing. And so I got on the computer and I thought, somebody must have written about this already. And I looked up breasts and it was all breast cancer and chicken recipes. And then I looked up boobs and it was boob jokes and porn. And I thought, okay, this is my next book.
And honestly, after chemo, my brain was not, I was really great analytically. I was doing a lot of developmental editing. I could diagram and really see how plots needed to work, but the creative wellsprings were gone. And suddenly reading, you know, 150 nicknames for boobs and all these boob jokes and thinking, my boobs were not a joke, you know. My whole life…. I was a little girl wanting boobs and looking at beauty queens and growing up with a dad who read Playboy and little Aunt Fanny, all the jokes in the back.
And then I finally got some boobs and I had to hide them to get a job in Hollywood. And then I show them, you know, to be sexy and get a date. And then I use them to feed my kids. And then I was flat and then my mom talked me into get in a boob job and then I got remarried and then they tried to kill me with breast cancer and I thought… women go through our entire lives with breasts and it’s really part of our lives and I wanted to explore what that meant to us, how the culture made us feel about them, how it related to everything and there were so many funny situations that were also you know some really serious situations and that night I just thought okay I have to write this and it has to be a memoir…to use my experience as a nonfiction narrative.
And actually selling it…. At first I was like, oh, this is, you know, it’s a nonfiction narrative. It’s outside the box. It’s not really memoir, but because it has all these facts and I had to move facts to connect the dots of stuff happening in the culture on fact pages and not include them in the actual memoir scenes, which are much more live scenes, you know, like you’ve seen a film or a TV show, plus the analysis, which is part of memoir, you know – you do the scene, the summary, and then the analysis.
So it was a very complex structure. And at the time that made it very tricky to sell. So now I tend to call it as a pop culture memoir. And as you said, it was picked up as a comedy series that same week it was number one in feminist literature on amazon.com, you know, so people think it’s really scholarly and, you know, serious. And I get letters from, you know, breast cancer people. There’s only two chapters of the 21 that are about that experience.
But the humour rides all the way through it. So for me, it’s wonderful to talk about how I was able to do that and where the humour comes from.
And did you know that from the very beginning… that you wanted that humour to go all the way through it? Was that like a non-negotiable for you?
That’s just how I naturally write. I started working in Hollywood and thought, I can make better movies and I don’t wanna see these movies. And I was working in production and then I had kids and I started getting more serious about my writing. And I really started writing kind of to vent all my complaints about how crappy it was to be home as a new mom and this was really hard and where are all the other people and what happened to my career and all that kind of stuff.
And so I wrote these essays that were funny, you know, like, oh gosh, here I am. And look at this. And my dad would call and say, ‘what do you do all day?’ And I’m like, all covered in spit up on, ‘you don’t want to know that’, you know, but it was, I just write about the humour and context of the situation. So all of my essays kind of have that tone, that light tone, even when I’m talking about serious stuff. So it was really a natural part of my voice. And then when I would go into it, of course, I wanted to make sure to hit those funny notes.
And some of the biggest scenes in the book turn on that humor that then you go, oh, you know.
Mm. That was one of the things I really loved and admired and was like, how did you do that so consistently across the book? I don’t know if you have an answer to that… because I can kind of get my head around essays and maintaining the tone for that and that then filtering through to voice. But I thought it really did look like a structural feat to take us through the whole chronology of your personal story and we see those relationships developing in different ways and all the different things that happen from, like…. fun shopping things…. to as tragic as it can be when life is literally threatened by something like cancer. How did you manage to weave the tone across the whole arc? That’s what really I found daunting from the outside.
Well, it was definitely planned. I mean, that moment in the dressing room where we are at Victoria’s Secret and I was flat-chested and about to have my 38th birthday and my mother saw my chest and called me deformed. It’s like, I always expect people to laugh at that, but people when they read it are like horrified until my next line. And then I’m like, ‘They’re supposed to be like that. You didn’t do this.’ And then, you know, we have a funny conversation, but that verbatim really happened. And I think in life, we try to make light of these serious moments. You know, some people when they’re upset will laugh. And for me…going back to planning that. I mean, originally I thought this will be essays, but then to have that continuum of how it affects us even with the movies and the music and pick up a magazine about boobs or who’s showing the boobs and who’s not showing them, I really did work on the structure to make it all connect and have different goals along the way. And as you know, my husband now is John Truby, who’s a big structure guy. And I actually took his class in the eighties and…used his structure in every single thing I’ve ever sold, you know, from the New York Times essays to books to screenplays to nonfiction and fiction.
And so structure is, I mean, I’ve been in debates at Barnes and Noble of, you know, plotters versus pantsers. And I work with a lot of writers. For me, it really is all about building that structure that then you can hang the jokes on, you know?
Where comedy may have started in a real slapstick kind of thing with Buster Keaton and the three stooges…which is humour I don’t really get as a woman…. Like I don’t want things messy. I don’t want people hurt, you know? So as humour developed, I can see the humour in situations that kind of let me live a better life and make light of things that let me understand them better.
And also distance helps. So I definitely felt that you know, this was a way to get humour. Like, you know, when we did get married – I mean, you know, these situations sometimes write themselves is -we… he wanted a wedding. I’d been married for 20 years earlier, had kids and, you know, his elderly parents were there and the women who did my dress like put in these foam bumps for like newlywed girls who want big boobs. And I hadn’t really had time to try them out…. try the dress on…. we’d been in such a hurry…. My car broke down that day…. You know, I had one daughter who like… couldn’t find her…. and getting wrestling everyone in and trying to stay on a budget….And mostly I was so afraid my boobs were gonna like pop out if I raised my arm in the ceremony, wearing a strapless dress. And so it’s like, why do so many people have strapless dresses? Who has this happened to?
And so the thing about a memoir, it’s really curated experiences. And so I can add the things that made things funny and still be able to express the point. And I think that’s the thing that people don’t understand about memoir is that it’s not a biography. And what I like to say is if my life is a house, I’m showing you one room of my house. And in this case, maybe it’s my lingerie closet, you know, it’s where my naughty things are. But it does connect to the rest of the house, but I’m not telling you a lot of things that don’t have to do with this. And I feel like humour is that same kind of thing that you can do to go from not joke to joke, but story to story and bring out the humour of it so that people can enjoy it. I mean, who wants to read a serious book, you know?
And I do get serious at times I talk about how, you know, the effects of how we judge our bodies and judge other women in America, it really holds us back in terms of the laws that are against us and how we get trapped by our biology. And I encourage people to vote, but you know, I try to space those more serious parts and weave them into things and have plenty of humour. So it’s like, you know, Mary Poppins, a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down, right?
Yeah, totally. And it also means that I think, because I’m sure so many of us have been affected by cancer of different kinds…for me, the idea of staying in a memoir that would stay in like the most intense, painful, sad space for an extended amount of time might be too much on a night, you know, where I’ve finished work and I’ve still got six things to do. Whereas yours, it was that honesty that I connected with as…a woman and a fellow human, but also that I could trust that I could handle the experience. Like I read it in almost one sitting. And if I hadn’t had my eyes closing to go to sleep, I would have continued, but I then started again the next morning because it really was like an enjoyable experience too, in the best way of the brain being stimulated to think about things I hadn’t thought about, things I had thought about, but not expressed as well as you, things that it gave me a new perspective on, things that were validating, things that made me feel seen, things where I was like, oh, I had no idea that was like….some of the stats. I really loved the way it was interspersed. It was a very engaging, stimulating, enjoyable experience, as well as being filled with that human emotion. And so the humour, I thought it was brilliant. And you make it look really easy, but I know it’s not. So that’s why I wanted to ask you about it.
Thank you. Well, you know, some of it is and some of it isn’t, but I gotta say, you know, boobs are ripe. I mean, you know, just the word boob is funny. And, you know, everybody has a boob story and we don’t talk about it. I didn’t wanna call it a breast’s life. You know, that’s personal. Boob’s life, I can talk about it. It’s like an object and that’s kind of, you know, part of the thing that’s been objectified. But even I get judgmental and think, oh, people with big boobs are slutty or stupid and you know people with flat are intellectual and it’s like oh god I mean I’m judging myself. I mean I have breast implants I have tons of scars whatever but it’s like I’m better because I did it for this reason and it’s kind of irrelevant. Only recently I realised that oh all the women who have breast reconstruction after cancer…. how is that so different than someone having breast implants because they want to be like a woman. Or a trans person who immediately gets breasts to identify as a woman. It’s a gender thing.
And then you get these facts like men look at a woman’s breasts within 200 milliseconds of them entering the room and I’m looking at, oh, I can see the cartoon, you know, like Bugs Bunny with the eyes going boing. But then it’s that advertising and, you know, so many elements capture that instinct to keep men’s eyes on our boobs, make our boobs this thing where we can call them boobs instead of as part of our body. But the humour was just I mean, it was just there for the taking, you know. I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but I feel like life can be a lot lighter if we treat it that way.
And, and, you know, I think short shorter chapters help so you don’t get really bogged down. And, and as I say, it’s the, the book is framed by, you know…Am I going to fix my boobs again? You know, I went through all this stuff with cancer. How did I get here my whole life? But then it starts kind of at the beginning and goes through this American history of you know, listening to songs and seeing all these movies and videos and all the women in Playboy. And it’s, if you look at it, it’s like you’ve got to laugh because you, I mean, the people who were in Playboy are astounding, you know, and Victoria’s Secret, which is a huge deal. And, you know, I mean that whole TV show that millions of people were talking about, they were able to have women walking around in underwear and have like a $15 million bra made of diamonds. That was like a crown for boobs.
I mean, you gotta laugh or else you’re gonna cry. Like, what is wrong with this picture? You know? And I know with Kate Middleton, or whatever her formal title is, I mean, she first came onto the scene when….what I heard is that she modelled in a lingerie fashion show at a school thing. That’s where her husband met her and then they broke up and were back together. But it’s like, there is an effect that the woman’s body has on men. And if we look at it in all a negative way, then we’re missing out half the picture because we all have boobs, they’re wonderful. They’re, you know, they give life, they can kill us and they’re beautiful, they’re part of women’s beauty and there’s also a lot of humour. And so I guess I would want to not have bad humour. The fact that even I still lean towards doing that, it’s like I have to stop myself. I mean, it’s real, but I definitely love, you know, the whole humour.
And even at the end of the book, I mean, I guess you’ll have to read the end of the book. I mean, at some point I just might if I’m gonna do them again. There’s a whole new chapter that brings us up to 2023 because I always dreamed of being a beauty queen as a little girl and didn’t have the boobs. Or Miss America. And then at the end, I actually got invited to be in a parade. And that was a whole different experience and kind of brought the story to a hilarious and touching ending. So for me, I really like weaving humour into these more knowing moments. I think it gets us in kind of deeper places. And as you said, a more readable way.
Yeah, I agree. Totally. And like you said, I think that also to me maps to life. As you say, you’ve touched on some of those situations because sometimes we are at a funeral, or with someone who’s sick in a hospital or…and I know each circumstance is different, but many of us do use humour, for all kinds of reasons… to break tension, to connect, to get enough distance.
Yeah. And after the funeral, you go to the party and you eat and you laugh and you talk about the good memories, you know, so there’s that yin and yang, I guess. So.
Yeah, totally. And you said that it was difficult to sell. I mean, that seems hard to believe now seeing the finished boo. But had you finished the book when you sold it or were you selling it on a pitch? What was that process like for you?
Yeah. No, I definitely wrote the whole book, but then nobody wanted to read the book. They wanted to read the proposal, you know. I actually had, you know, comedy TV interests before book interest. And that was weird because it had to do with the category of selling, you know? And it’s like all of us who… all of your listeners who are interested in comedy and writing. There’s not a humour part of the bookstore, right? I mean, there is, but it’s Dave Barry, it’s all these people who are just comics. But so many books have humour in them. And I, when this book, the hardback, came out during COVID, that’s why I’m so excited now that it’s almost been better for me. I’m on tour with the paperback, and I have all this new information because so much has happened in the last two years. But during COVID, when I was finally vaccinated and went to New York City, just to sign books in Barnes and Noble, the manager said, where do you want this? In nonfiction or in biography? There wasn’t, there’s not even a memoir section, which I write about in writersdigest.com. And biography is all celebrities, and that’s how they sell the most books that are in that memoir category. And then nonfiction, there was a book about toxic breast milk, you know, there were biology books, but there was nothing that had this hybrid situation. And so it was…I think it was the categorization of agents who are trying to sell a book to say, ‘oh, it’s this kind of book’, you know, and I’m like, well, there’s a little of everything. It’s this nonfiction narrative from the lens of my personal experience, you know, because I want women to relate to this, to, like you said, to think of, oh, I felt like this about my boobs. I mean, every morning we get up and we decide, are we going to wear a bra? What kind of bra are we going to wear? Are we going to push our boobs up? Or hide and push them down, or since COVID maybe it’s wear a sports bra, or nothing. Do we have to cover our nipples? Where are we going? Who are we gonna see? Do we want it to match our outfit? Do we want it to match our panties? How do we feel about, you know, I mean, everything, we really do have to think about them consciously or unconsciously every day. So I just kept, actually, I just kept sending my age of chocolates constantly. It’s like, ‘Let’s try it again. Let’s try these other people,’ you know.
And I think that timing is really important in selling a book, depending on if you’re writing a certain genre, you know, and you have a series and have a following and, and I’ve just been used to going the traditional method because I’ve been writing for a long time. And I’m much better at writing than I’m at marketing. I’d rather have somebody else do that. And so I keep choosing the traditional route. So that, so then it’s all about how to sell it.
Yeah, that makes sense, totally. And I wanted to return to a craft point, so a slightly left turn, but it’s something that you mentioned when you were describing writing the personal stories as scenes and thinking of them as scenes. And I thought that was really interesting the way that you described that. And I think it’s incredibly helpful…far more helpful for many fiction writers than thinking in chapters necessarily.
So I think before I started reading screenwriting books, I really struggled to think of how to structure things. And I think screenwriting has been a gift in terms of actually thinking of scenes. I wondered if you wouldn’t mind elaborating a little bit more because you’re so good at it, that you do it so quickly and so deftly. What elements do you consider when you’re thinking of writing that scene?
Thank you so much. I honestly, I’m a really visual person and I can’t even when I’m writing, gosh, essays, because my essays generally also have a scene. I generally kind of graduate, I’ll write an essay and then I’ll write a book. But the books….I can’t really write something unless I already see it as a movie in my head. So I’m playing out that scene. And then when I revise that, I have to like change the scene in my head and then write that down, you know? So that’s, I just write in a very visual way.
And when you’re planning it out, I would say, and when I work with writers, I, I just really encourage people to do the scene list or the event list first. I mean, I had a folder for every subject in this book and put all my research in it, and I would write things in that topic and most of them did become then chapters but to string them along I already had started with an event list of…. here’s all the things that happen and then kind of put a line in it… oh there’s a chapter, there’s a chapter, there’s a chapter. And of course every chapter in any kind of book needs to have a whole new story question and a goal and obstacles and a climax and a resolution, but it’s not the overall story. It just picks up to the next level. So I like to think of chapters as stories in themselves, but you can’t start there or you’ll get an episodic story, which is the enemy of any novel or any memoir. It’s a TV series rather than a movie, you know? And you need to have, if you’re writing a book, you have to have that long-term goal and then all of the little stories in between. So I always start with the events in order and then say, okay…there’s a chapter.
And then once I have the chapters, I work really hard to make it a story. I have to see it, I write it. And then, you know, the kind of strategy of writing scenes or writing memoir is this three-point scene, summary, analysis. So you do the kind of live scene that happens and then you kind of say, oh, here’s what really happened, you know? And then…Here’s how it applies to what I’m trying to talk about or why it happened. And done well, the reader will not notice this at all. But this is also why I’ve worked with, in fact, in the UK, I was working with a memoir writer recently and he was just too close to the story. And he had the money and he had the time now to write it. So I helped him as much as I could, but he still was undetermined which direction he wanted to go in. And you really do need some distance to figure it out.
What is the overall story question even of a memoir? It’s not a documentary, you know, you can’t just write… and I have that problem. It’s sometimes just a couple of words that make the difference. You don’t want to tell the story of what happened. You want to have a story of discovery so even if it’s already happened the reader is discovering it with you. The wonderful thing I have discovered about memoir, not that I’ll ever write another one, is that you discover a lot along the way.
At a distance is the only way you can do it. And to relive things through having that scene in your head, you know, is a big deal. I’ve always been a bookworm my whole life, except for like, you know, college where I only read college books… and probably people in high school wouldn’t realize I was such a bookworm, but going up to that. And since I was kind of trained more from the screenplay school of making things vivid and using verbs and not wasting words, you know, I treat every page like a valuable piece of real estate. I don’t want to repeat things. I don’t want to have words like too many weak verbs that need would or able to. I want to have things that are colourful that I can see, because the worst thing in a book and I….I was writing this to a client today is… we have to be the camera, you know, we don’t have the whole crew to shoot the movie. In a book, all we have is words and we need to show them what’s in our head because we’re imagining it, you know, so we have to put that picture on the page and it is a translation and it is not easy. So it takes a lot of revisions, but if you can picture it, it’s easier to just start that way for me. I just that’s how I work visually, you know.
Yeah, and the scenes are very successful in that way. It was so easy to read, which is a hard thing, isn’t it? That you actually make that magic happen of the words leaping us into the scene. But I feel like I know exactly what these characters look like, and exactly what was happening, and where people were, and what the reactions were.
Thank you. Yeah. Well, it takes a lot of thinking for every word on the page, you know, and then a lot of revisions. You know, even the scenes that existed in real life, you know, to figure out where they go and how they build to what you’re trying to say is tricky and where to stop, you know, and where to infuse internal dialogue, you know, of what I was thinking then or what I’m thinking now about what was happening then. That’s the tricky part of memoir.
You know, it’s not just the story of your life. It’s not just George Washington was here. Queen Elizabeth did this. It’s like, you know, we watch, I watch all this….The Crown….and I’m huge into all the historic shows, you know, about England and the documentaries, some of them, you know, the older ones are just, here’s what happened. But when you are following a character who wants to do something, you know, that’s fantastic. And that’s even why some of the more recent ones, you know, have a lot of humour. There’s a lot more people watching them. So you can make your memoir funny, then you get people like you…. they’ll pick it up at the end of a hard day. Cause you know, it’s not, you’re not gonna be, oh gosh, you know, in a bad thing.
But there’s so much more in the book. And I think that was just a great way to do it, to have the humour to it. I mean, the most money I’ve gotten for it are people who think it’s a comedy. Everyone gets what you can out of every book. It’s all your personal experience. There are pictures too. There’s funny pictures.
Yeah, the pictures were lovely. And as I say, like I do think it’s very funny, but I really appreciated all the other elements too, because that’s the thing is as humans, many of us that love comedy and are drawn to comedy are actually really interested in ideas and philosophy and existential things and history. You’ve got a really interesting blog post as well about things being herstory, so recontextualizing things, language, we want many things. But the comedy is an important ingredient of that. So I understand why we have to because of marketing, but it gets so reductive, doesn’t it? Just to put that one label on.
Yes. It’s ridiculous. I hope Barnes and Noble read my writers.com thing because it’s like, why is there no memoir? But also because you know, they’re going to sell famous people biographies more than those memoirs. And so it’s really about the numbers and now that the publishing industry is just, you know, it’s business, there’s a lot of conglomerates, there’s less small imprints. And so it’s a gamble. And then those of us who write because we have to write, we’re just going to do it anyway. And that’s why people are starting to self-publish.
But yeah, writing funny is good. I mean, even though I write more serious stuff, like after this, I have another novel that is, oh, there’s definitely some humour, but it’s a much bigger novel. But at the end of the day, I go for the funny books. I go for light stuff. Life is hard. So for me to be able to write a whole life story with a lot of humour, it’s fun for me too. It’s fun to write, fun to read. And if I’m not laughing, no one else is gonna laugh, right? If I’m not crying, nobody else is gonna cry. So I really feel like in your own work, it’s important to be entertaining.
Yeah, that makes total sense. And I also love what you said about distance. And it’s something that I’ve thought of before in relation to memoir, but I sort of see through a new lens, now you’re talking about it with the humour too. Because thinking about different situations, if I was like, okay, what would my different boob stories be? There were ones that were funny at the time, and there were ones that were not.
But now I might recast them as something where there is humour and you get the scope of, like you say, of going through that journey where people might be horrified and then actually there is some humour. But it needs that distance, as you say to think about how to shoot and then represent that scene.
Yeah, I was horrified that my boobs were gonna pop out at my wedding and I’d be totally embarrassed and look like a floozy. I was like a grownup, you know? But at the moment I was, but now looking back, it’s like, that was pretty funny. You know, how did that happen? Why didn’t I think of it in advance? And oh my gosh, you know? So, you know.
I love that. That’s wonderful. And are there…. probably not for memoirs, because yours is a really unique way of structuring it…but are there any particular either fiction books or films that you really do love and appreciate for their humour? And I know that could be hard sometimes on the spot to think of different ones.
Yeah, that is hard. Honestly, the book that I’ve… I read so many books. But you know what, that’s part of the joy of being a writer. It’s like, oh, sorry…this is research. But I really felt that there, you’ve probably heard of, you know, Lessons in Chemistry, which is number one forever. Bonnie Garmus, I think is her name. And it’s, if you look at it in one way, it’s just a real feminist story that’s a murder mystery and yet the juxtaposition of the, you know, it’s a historical novel, right? It’s in the 50s and being able to look at that situation versus our conceptions now, even though a lot of the situations are the same. Same with my Boob’s Life. It’s like a lot of the situations that used to happen 40 years ago are still happening. Some are happening even worse. And so contextually, there’s a lot of humour and I feel like with her too, just by experiencing it from that distance, it’s, there’s some humour in it.
But I read so vastly and so wildly. It’s, yeah, it’s tricky to pull out one book. I encourage people to read everything, not just in their genre. And don’t be afraid, you’re never going to copy someone else’s book, because that’s really hard to do.
You might take a couple of tips from them, but also you’re going to have your voice and you’re going to do it your way. And so, I just encourage people to read as widely as they can. Now, generally I do read things written by women… because although… it’s interesting because I work with both men and women as writers…I just something there’s a sensibility that has the kind of humour that I like more. Liike I said, I guess my humor comes from situations and from the juxtaposition of my expectations and how it really happens, you know, whereas men maybe are coming from a different place, you know, or some are great. Actually, this book, I have gotten so many emails from men who grabbed it because of the cover, because of these pointy boobs on the cover and said, ‘Oh man, I thought this was just going to be this, you know, a sexy kind of funny thing.’ And then they really like it. You know, and I’ve talked to women whose sons are like sneaking it and reading it. And I’m getting letters. I mean, you always get the letters where people are creepy or want to hit on you, but there’s been people, guys who are really enjoying this book, and it’s certainly… I don’t advertise it as being for men, but man, it would be fantastic if more guys, you know, were able to read it and say….Wow, I have no idea what it’s like to live in a woman’s body and to not want to walk outside at night because it could be dangerous, or be afraid someone’s gonna hit on you or whatever. And what do you do with your body? I mean you know men don’t have that instant identification of their gender, but the humour is different, too. So I mean I definitely look for funny things at night And I’m easy prey for Hallmark movies too just because I know how its gonna end. I’m gonna laugh at stupid stuff. I don’t have to have a brain teaser all the time, you know.
But that’s why there are fact pages in my book, because it is like just the history of Vittoria’s secret or all the myths about boobs that people think, you know, magically boobs do. Then also stuff about the government. There are things that happen when you see things in order, it’s really interesting. And I did have structural questions about where to put those. Right now they’re between the chapters. There’s a whole thing on cheerleading that’s after all the cheerleaders and the sexy cheerleading costumes and Miss America in 1998, Miss USA…like 90% of those women had boob jobs, you know, it’s like how the boob swimsuit competition was just cancelled and Miss America and the women got death threats, the women did change that. I mean, but did I put them at the end then the story would have probably been better all at once, but then I thought nobody was going to read them. So I had to be very careful to have them, in between the chapters. But make sure that the chapter hook was strong enough that the person would get to the next chapter so that it was one story like you said.
I really liked where they were placed and the play of them. I really enjoyed that. And I thought it was really skillfully done.
And did you get feedback or solicit feedback at any point? I mean, it sounds like you went into the process with a very strong outline and obviously lots of skills and tools to use. But if so, what was that process like for you trying to get helpful feedback on something that’s also a very personal book?
Thank you. I love feedback. For me, I think anyone who reads closely enough to have an opinion is giving me a gift. The first draft is the hardest, you have to get it down. And then when it’s down, I’m so close to the material. There’s a difference also between having feedback on the story versus the prose. And you gotta have the story down and then you can work on the prose. And I think it’s helpful to know if you’re talking too much about something or if they wanna know more.
And I did have two chapters that were combined. In fact, there was a whole chapter about wedding dresses and why there are so many that are strapless. And that we, the history of it….I put it down into a couple of paragraphs because it wasn’t as strong as some of the other parts. And yeah, I miss it, but I always figure I have my draft and then I have the draft that people who make their living selling books know will sell better. It wasn’t edited much for content at all.
The only times I had an argument was when some, and this is funny, but there was like a young woman who was 25 who said, ‘oh, you can’t call it women’s lib, that’s derogatory’. And I’m like, I was alive during that time and that’s why we called it that, you know? So I had to say, sorry. But I would make it so that I could, I would give her, do exactly what she said on something that I felt was less important. And so I’m like, this is just staying. But generally I think people don’t have to read all your words. And if they care enough, they get an opinion. However, when there are other writers, then you have to be very careful that they’re not projecting, you know, their wishes or their story or seeing what they identify as weak in theirs. So, if it’s somebody who’s on your team, who you’re paying or is part of your publishing team, then that’s fantastic. Otherwise, it’s really important to stay true to, you know, how you want the story to be, and I just felt like this is the story, you know, if you want that book, then that’s a different book.
So I was willing to wait. And I think probably had somebody wanted it earlier and wanted more changes, I would have jumped, but it was, I kind of, you know, it was like a done deal. This was the book. And I’m kind of glad I didn’t make any changes. But then, it’s also so subjective. I mean, when you…after all that struggle and have Good Morning America call it a ‘must-read’ and People magazine had a picture of it and Glamour magazine. It’s like all these unusual people in Publishers Weekly, the people who counted, who thought this was a fantastic book. Then I just want to say, ‘Oh, that’s right.’ You know, sometimes you have to trust your instincts, because we’re constantly breaking the mould and you don’t want to write….I mean, unless you’re writing a genre series and you want to hit the beats that the reader wants to hit. But if you’re writing something that is important to you, having a story that’s unique. In fact I just finished reading, I just finished judging the Women’s Fiction Writers Association Rising Star Contest. And I had this question… because in the last round, there was one story that was fantastically written, but I’ve heard it before. There was another story that needed work, and I would say start it here and do this, but it was so unique. It was a much more compelling story.
And so I think there’s a happy marriage where it’s important to be unique and also write it really well. Because once you write a book, it’s there forever. It’s in the Library of Congress here. You guys probably have a similar thing in the UK, but someone can find it. And that’s why I also discourage people from writing a draft and publishing it on Amazon. It’s like, there’s a lot of crappy writing out there and your name is on it. And even when I have clients, sometimes I’ll work way beyond what…they’re paying me for it, because it’s like, if anyone knows I worked on it, it needs to be good, you know? And I do also always encourage people to have, you know, a light hand in humour and not be so lecturing. Nobody picks up a book to be lectured unless they’re in school.
So true. Well, you did a fabulous job. I’ve just got one more question before we wrap up, which is…we wrap up with advice. So you have had an amazing career. We’ve only touched on a tiny, tiny portion of it today. There’s so much that you’ve done as a writer and within Hollywood and in multiple different roles. Is there any advice that you’ve been given that you found really helpful and still find yourself applying? Or also I know that you’re very generous and you work with lots of writers in a mentoring and teaching capacity. So any advice that you find yourself giving time and time again to writers of comedy?
I would say save everything. You know, if you think of something funny, write it down and put it in a file because you might be able to use it later. And always keep a notebook with you or a phone. And if you have a funny idea, write it down because I used to think that the funniest stuff will stay with me. They don’t always… because stuff will come up, you know? So I always try to keep things that I’ll look back on.
But also something that seems really simple is… titles are really important. I mean, who knows if my book would have sold had it not been called A Boobs Life, right? And I knew that title the very first time. And sometimes titles come at the end, sometimes titles come at the beginning. But it’s the importance of the first words people say, the first sentence, the first page, the first chapter, that’s all you got to grab a reader. And so it needs to set the tone for the book. That would be my biggest advice.
Hmm. That’s really good advice. And actually I had a whole question around that at the beginning, because it’s such a good title and set the tone so well. So I’m glad that you’ve covered that there too. So thank you.
Thank you. Well, what’s funny is somebody asked me if it was a take on a Bug’s Life, which is this animated movie. But for me, it was actually a take on A Boy’s Life, which was this famous, you know, classic book with the memoir. And so it also talks about my age versus the person who asked me this question.
Oh, I didn’t make that connection.
But whatever works is okay. So that’s another thing. We put it out there and we take whatever, but it’s still funny. No matter what the reference is, even if it’s not A Boob’s Life. And it tells the whole story. This is my life from my boob’s perspective.
Yeah, perfect. Perfect and not easy to do. So really good advice to think about that. And Leslie, you’ve given so much wonderful advice today. Thank you very much. Where should people go if they want to find out more about you and your work and your fabulous books?
Oh, definitely go to my website, leslielehr.com But if you Google A Boob’s Life, you will see my website and go on there. You know, I do a newsletter every month and sometimes I don’t, but it usually has some writing tips as well, and where I am. I’m kind of travelling all over the United States right now. I’d love to come back to England and do a signing there.
I actually have been getting letters from people in the Netherlands who found it in their library. So, I guess anywhere that’s English-speaking. Yeah, although I did a radio thing just last week from Spain. So I love getting feedback. I’d love to hear your boob story and any comments you have. And I do talk about my other books and consultations as well on my website. But you can get, there’s also a book club, like fun questions to ask in a book club. This is a fantastic book for book clubs because everyone has a good story. And I love visiting book clubs. I can always pop in on Zoom and answer your questions in person. I’m happy to do that. And then also I do talks. There’s so many subjects in this book, even those that we haven’t covered. So dive in and you’ll find something to entertain you.
Wonderful and I’ll put those links in the show notes. Thank you so much for writing such a fun book and it’s been wonderful talking to you today.
Thank you, I appreciate your time. Love your boobs.