Meet Meredith Berlin, Author Interview of Friends With Issues

“Friends with Issues” makes a strong case for novels about grown-ass women—strong, vibrant, edgy, capable, and super sexy. Berlin digs beneath the veneer of privilege to create complex, layered female characters with real-world problems—health, identity, sexuality, and marriage. A captivating tale of three women at a crossroads in life. Pour yourself a glass of wine or draw yourself a bubble bath and dig in…you’ll be hooked.”—Marcie Maxfield, award winning playwright of “Girls Together Always” and author of “Em’s Awful Good Fortune.”

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

When I was in third grade. I had nine cats—one cat kept having babies thus all the kittens and cats. My mother wasn’t a cat person, so they were kept in the garage except when my sister and I sneaked them in the house. Then my sister became allergic to them. So, my parents gave them away to different people in our neighborhood. I was mortified. I was heartbroken. I felt betrayed. I found that writing about it helped me deal with my pain. I wrote a “book” called “My Nine Cats.” It was ten pages of notebook paper.  I remember I wrote it with a green pen. Then I gave it to my parents. They were impressed with my writing. I learned that if I couldn’t communicate verbally, I could do it through the written word and I would be heard. I never got those cats back, but I did adopt others (my father used to sneak them into the garage) throughout my childhood and as an adult.

What is your book about?

"friends with issues"It’s 1997, and three successful, glamorous women will gamble with love, sex, and career as one man captivates them all.  It’s about the changes women consider making when they get older. They question their own happiness. Is this all there is, they wonder? Do I need to keep sacrificing my own life for family and society? It also has a lot of glitz. From New York to Hollywood, my characters interact with famous people, while working on themselves. These are married, privileged women with children and big houses. But they are yearning for something more, something different. Do they have the courage to do it? 

What was the most difficult part about writing the book? The most rewarding? 

Well, I first wrote this book twenty years ago, then I put it away. I kept thinking the book wasn’t good enough but now I realize that had a lot to do with fear. What if people didn’t like it? Why was I putting myself out there? But I was reminded that a lot of my most beloved writers were often criticized. I forgot that a lot of people cherished them, too. As far as putting myself out there, well, I had been an editor-in-chief of some very well-known magazines. My name was the first thing you saw on the masthead. My face was on a lot of TV shows. I had co executive produced an award show and won several Emmy nominations. I had already put myself out there. I still let my feelings overwhelm me. But when I moved to Florida, my college roommate invited me to join a wonderful writers group. The other members were immersed in my characters and encouraged me to finish the book. The hardest part for me was believing in my work. I had a story to tell that people would enjoy. I also did a lot of rewriting. I think that’s one of the keys to writing—rewriting. But it got to the point that I never thought I could finish the book. It could always be better. Well, it could, but I learned from the others in my group that it was time to end it. I still lacked confidence– some days I thought the novel was great. Other days, I thought it was awful. But I learned that a lot of writers feel that way. And talking to other writers, understanding that my feelings were normal, helped a lot. So, I think the hardest part was believing in myself. I was committed to finishing it and that was one of the most rewarding things about writing.  Because as you write you learn that you actually are a writer. Elizabeth Gilbert once said something like, “yes, you can write, but can you finish something?” She also offered advice to other writers. Just write for an hour each day. I tried it. One hour is doable. It usually turns into two and three and on and on…

What do you hope other people will take away from reading your book?

I hope they will realize that all of us (privileged or not) struggle with our hopes and dreams. We struggle with change. And when your life is already set up in a neat little box with a family, it’s hard to break out. Yes, privilege give you a lot more options. Most of us don’t have the means to follow our dreams. I want my readers to enjoy the glitz, glamour, and fun these characters have while also being reminded that putting yourself out there, gambling on the future, not doing what society necessarily thinks you should do, is a common thread. And mostly I want them to relate to at least one character. Despite its serious subject matter, I think this is a fun book. 

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

“You can do this.”

How long did it take you to write this book?

Probably a year back in 2001, and then another two in 2020. A lot of stuff happened in between.

What was your biggest challenge in writing this book?

Believing in myself as a writer. Sitting down and finishing it. Telling the demons inside of me to shut up.

Who are your favorite authors and why?

Joan Didion, hands down. She’s the only writer I can think of who’s work I will read over and over. She is spare in her writing but every word counts. Her books are haunting.  She’s a master. Anthony Marra. “Mercury Pictures Presents” was stunning. Amor Towles. Yes, I loved “A Gentleman in Moscow,” but “Rules of Civility” was about a time and place that I always enjoy reading about. He’s an elegant, masterful storyteller. I also like writers who entertain me. I love Daniel Silva’s thrillers, Donna Leon’s mysteries because she takes me to Venice and a loving, quirky family. With great food. Sue Miller, because I appreciate the way she writes about relationships. Nelson DeMille’s John Cory books, because he makes me laugh aloud. His dialogue is great. And of course, Hemingway. 

What is your favorite book in the same genre as your work? 

Everything Tara Jenkins Reid writes about interests me because her women are always strong and must deal with difficult situations. They, too, gamble with the outcome of the difficult decisions that they make. Miranda Cowley Heller. “The Paper Palace” is a story about a woman in a loving marriage. She has a complicated, difficult past. She’s a successful career woman with a family but a difficult mother. She must choose between her husband and a man she was friends with as a child. That resonated for me. I think people who liked that book will hopefully like mine. 

What does literary success look like to you?

Well, on its most basic level, it’s that I completed a book. It has a cover, a title, a story, a beginning, middle and end. My name is listed as author. It’s right there on the cover. You can pick it up and read it. I’m no longer a magazine writer, editor, producer, and jeweler.  I am an author, too.  Next, that thousands (okay millions) of people will read it and enjoy it. Finally, that a producer somewhere sees it as an audio visual production and it becomes a limited series or movie. 

What’s the best writing advice you ever received?

“Just keep working at it.” Elizabeth Gilbert’s (which was on a Insta live post) as I said—”commit to writing an hour a day.” And a piece of advice I gave myself— “you’re never too old to write a book.” (Or too old to do much of anything.)

What do you know now that you didn’t know at the beginning of your writing journey?

Saying you are going to write a book is not the same as doing it. It could take a very long time. Being successful at writing it, means just that. You’re going to have a lot of self-doubt. You definitely need a team of other writers and editors to help you. It’s not easy but it is doable.

 What do you do when you’re not writing?

Read incessantly, walk, spend tons of time with my husband. Travel to see my children and granddaughter who are spread all over the country. Swim. I’m a big swimmer. I can swim a mile at a pop. That’s a very big deal to me. 

What’s next for you?

More writing. Another book, perhaps. Spending more time with my loved ones and my dearest friends. Go on an adventure. One that involves traveling.

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Author Meredith Berlin is a three-time Emmy nominee and former editor-in-chief of Seventeen Magazine and Soap Opera Digest. Her debut book, Friends With Issues (Warren Publishing, January 24, 2023), follows three friends who have made their mark on Manhattan but who now struggle with the daily balancing act of career, family and friendship.