The ghostwriter of Younger's fictional novel Marriage Vacation speaks out
Pauline (Jennifer Westfeldt) may be a delightful addition to the cast of TV Land’s Younger, but she’s still seen by many fans as a mere obstacle in the ongoing Charles-Liza love story. Last season, the character wrote a novel called Marriage Vacation, with Liza as her trusted editor. A thinly veiled account of Pauline’s time away from her family, moving from Big Sur to Australia and the jungles of Thailand, the book has now been published — for real.
Of course, Pauline is but a fictional TV character, so to get the scoop on how exactly Marriage Vacation came together, EW caught up with the book’s real-life ghostwriter, Jo Piazza, who’s also the author of the upcoming novel Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win. Below, Piazza reveals how the Younger opportunity came along, why she relates to Pauline, and whether she’s Team Josh or Team Charles. Read on for the full conversation, and order your copy of Marriage Vacation here (and pre-order Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win here).
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you get involved with this unusual project?
JO PIAZZA: I had just finished up a novel with [my editor] Christine Pride, from Simon and Schuster, called Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win, about a woman running for Senate in the midterm election. Christine called me up and was like, “We have this crazy thing that we’re doing, and I think you might be the only writer that I know that can pull it off for us.” We just took it from there.
Were you a fan of Younger before you signed on?
I think it’s one of the better comedies on television. It’s so smart, so witty. I had to rewatch the entire show as research for the book. I had a newborn at the time, and it was actually one of the easiest things to watch while breastfeeding because the episodes are short and they’re like candy to devour.
What was the writing process like? Did you collaborate with the Younger team?
They gave us a lot of leeway while writing the book, which was fantastic. We came up with an outline, gave it to Darren [Star, the show’s creator], and Darren has a couple tweaks, a couple changes, and was like, “yes,” and we got to run with it.
How does Marriage Vacation expand the world of Younger?
I think it makes the world of Younger bigger, in a way. I think every fan has been waiting for this; I know I’ve been waiting for this. Every book that they’ve come out with on the show, I’ve wished was a book in real life. It’s just another way that fans can enjoy the show, which is so incredibly cool. It also lets us see a different side of a character who doesn’t get that much airtime, but who I think a lot of fans can relate to. Frankly, I would like to see all of Younger‘s fictional books become real books.
Page 58 was was really built up on the show. How did you go about writing that scene?
Oh my God, it was so hard. No pun intended. It was so hard. I’m not a raunchy sex person. I’m not a great writer of dirty sex scenes. This is by far the dirtiest thing I have ever written, or ever thought about. How often does a writer have to build a plot around a single scene and know that it’s going to land on a very specific page? Like, we knew that page 58 had to be happening from the very beginning, and I was nervous about it the whole time. My first draft, I wrote what I thought was a very dirty sex scene, and Christine writes back to me and [tells me] it’s not dirty enough. I think one day we have to publish the text messages between the two of us, [because we were just] going back and forth one-upping each other.
Then, we [finally] have a draft of the scene that we both think is the dirtiest thing I’ve ever written, that she’s ever edited, and then we go back and check in with everyone over at Younger, and they’re like, “No, dirtier.”
Pauline made the choice to leave her family to find herself. How did you work to make her sympathetic throughout the book?
It was hard. I have to say that. We didn’t have that much to go on to create the plot of the book, and we knew we wanted the book to also be a standalone novel, so if you haven’t watched Younger, you can read the book, you’re fine. You can read and enjoy the book — great beach read. But Pauline was complicated. We were pretty much thrown one of the most absurd plots possible and had to figure out how to still make her a sympathetic character, and how to make her fun and interesting, because at the end of the day, every woman, no matter how long you’ve been married, can fantasize about taking a vacation from your marriage. [But] she’s [also] a mother of two young girls who leaves her kids, and that’s harder. So it’s harder to come up with a plot where a woman’s leaving her children and still make her a sympathetic and likable character, and that was the biggest challenge for us.
And the impetus for Liza’s actions on the show — no matter how absurd — is her love for her daughter.
One of the things that we do know is that Liza really did like this book — she enjoyed this book, and that’s what made us know that Pauline had to be sympathetic in it, because Liza is such a devoted mother that we couldn’t have Pauline just be this flake who just jets off and is like, “Peace, guys. I’m gonna go party in Bali for the next year, then come back.” We had to ground it in a real plot and give her real motivations, and also real anxieties and issues that would cause her to leave. This is the catch-22. We had to make her sympathetic, but we didn’t want to make Charles unlikeable.
With the addition of the book, fans are getting a version of another 40-something woman, who is quite different from Liza.
One of the things that I love about the show, and now about the book, is that we’re building out really interesting characters of these 40-something women, right? For so long, the rom-com, chick-lit books [were about] women in their 20s, and [the fear of turning 30]. Both the show and the book are showcasing real women in their 40s with real struggles and also really interesting lives, inner lives and outer lives, and I think that that’s a big step, to show women in a different age range than both Hollywood and books have in a really long time.
And the show and the book are showcasing women who are taking agency over their lives.
A lot of Marriage Vacation was about Kate/Pauline taking agency over her own life and what that means when you finally decide, “I need to be the one to make a change.” It’s a big deal.
Why should fans of the show read the book?
Fans of the show will love the book because there’s just so many nuggets from the show that it gets you so excited when you stumble on them. Hands down, the best thing about the book is that we get to know more about Charles. I think most fans desperately want to know what’s beneath that very well-tailored three-button suit.
Are you Team Charles or Team Josh?
Team Charles all the way.