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Alumna’s debut novel explores heartfelt realities of middle-age identity, romance

Alumna Leslie Rasmussen published her debut novel, “After Happily Ever After,” on April 6. Transforming herself from a screenwriter to a novelist, Rasmussen was able to develop new skills and strengthen herself as a writer. (Kristian Sabatino/Daily Bruin)

By Hannah Ferguson

April 7, 2021 9:03 p.m.

Leslie Rasmussen’s debut novel was almost a nonfiction book.

After collecting surveys from people in long-term relationships, Rasmussen said she originally intended to write about how couples address conflict while keeping the romance alive. Instead, the UCLA alumna identified a slew of commonalities and she felt a work of fiction would better suit her purpose. Released Tuesday, “After Happily Ever After” centers around stay-at-home mom Maggie as she strives to rediscover herself while watching her daughter leave for college, taking care of her aging parents and negotiating a marriage in which she feels lost. Rasmussen said her own journey to transform herself from a screenwriter to novelist led to a humorous, heartfelt story full of relatable characters.

“For women who gave up a career and stayed home with your kids … you reach a point where (the kids) are basically are independent,” Rasmussen said. “You realize, ‘Wait, this could be my time, now what do I want to do? Do I want to try to get back in the work force and what I used to do, or did my interests change?’”

(Courtesy of She Writes Press)
The book centers around stay-at-home mom Maggie, as she strives to rediscover herself while balancing every other aspect of her life. Rasmussen said the challenges presented to her during the writing process resulted in a humorous, heartfelt story full of relatable characters. (Courtesy of She Writes Press)

[Related: Student chronicles her trauma, growth in self-published poetry and prose collection]

Originally a screenwriter in LA, Rasmussen said she began writing her book in 2018 while also raising her kids. Unlike writing for television shows in which writers work collaboratively with each other, the director and the actors – she said writing a novel proved to be a much more daunting task, as the creation of the narrative is limited to the author herself.

While writing a novel proved to be more solitary than screenwriting, Rasmussen said she was still able to collaborate with others during the initial drafts and editing process. She worked closely with writing coach Linda Schreyer to work on skills like describing and setting each scene. Schreyer said being able to enter a safe space with people who are familiar with your written work allows for honest, supportive feedback.

“Writing is a very lonely profession, (but) no one can write a book all by themselves,” Schreyer said. “It really helps when someone else knows the story you’re writing and has been with you all the while that you’re writing it and can help you and make comments.”

The most difficult aspect of the writing process was learning how to outline correctly, Rasmussen said. While she first began to write her novel without a strict plan, she quickly discovered that knowing the beginning and the ending plotlines was not enough. Though outlining screenplays came naturally to her, she was only able to complete her literary narrative after finishing a thorough outline, despite already having begun writing.

“I’m writing a second book right now, and I went through a whole outline process before I ever started,” Rasmussen said. “I realized that it’s just a waste of time to just get going and not have an outline if you don’t know where you’re going with it in the middle. The middle is always the hardest part for me.”

[Related: Readers learn to focus on life’s central perks instead of mistakes in alumna’s book]

In developing her protagonist Maggie and her husband Jim, Rasmussen drew from the surveys she initially collected for her nonfiction book to create characters that were an amalgamation of a variety of people’s lived experiences. Bruce Rasmussen, Leslie’s husband, said readers will be able to see people in their own lives reflected back at them in the narrative.

“(Maggie) deals with a lot of stuff that working women who have stepped out of the working world have dealt with, which is trying to get back in once your kids are out,” Bruce said. “You have to deal with your aging parents on one side and you’re losing your child to adulthood on the other side, and you have to restart your life which is a tough thing.”

Additionally, Bruce said Maggie’s sense of humor she maintains throughout the novel leaves readers with an understanding that moments of laughter are what help people through the more difficult parts of life. Using witty dialogue, Rasmussen said her goal was to incorporate levity interspersed with sections of heartbreak. Throughout the writing process of “After Happily Ever After,” Rasmussen was able to develop new skills, like including longer descriptions, and strengthen herself as a writer, she said.

“I know I have grown a lot as a writer because I started out not having a clue what I was doing in this book or how to write a book,” Rasmussen said. “I learned not just through doing it but through reading, talking to people, going to conferences, going to all kinds of things and just kept writing and writing different drafts. In my second book now, I can see how far I’ve come, and I can see that I have learned so much about writing.”

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