Write On! talks to authors—and real-life couple—Howard Morris & Jenny Lee about their book: Women Are Crazy, Men Are Stupid: The Simple Truth to a Complicated Relationship, which they are currently developing as a pilot for ABC. Morris began his career in television, writing for the revolutionary HBO series Dream On, and then on the Emmy-nominated Home Improvement. He created the series, Holding the Baby and In Case of Emergency, and has written on My Wife and Kids, According to Jim, and most recently, The Starter Wife. Lee, the author of three books of humor essays: Skinny Bitching, What Wendell Wants, and I Do. I Did. Now What?!: Life After the Wedding Dress, was a writer on the hit Samantha Who? and The Troop.
How did Women are Crazy, Men are Stupid come about?
Jenny: The book was the result of one of the biggest fights we had in our relationship to date. I had been expecting a romantic night out (and I had told him point blank I wanted one, which I know doesn’t sound romantic, but I was well past the age of expecting men to be mind readers), and basically it didn’t happen. In fact we got home about 10:30 on a Saturday night and Howard went to bed (alone) and I ate a Dominos pizza (alone) and in the dark. I then marched up the stairs and woke him up and we had a HUGE fight. It escalated into the middle of the night and I was admittedly irrational and I told him I could prove that he put more effort into his relationship with frozen yogurt than he put into his relationship with me. He called me crazy (which I wouldn’t recommend to the men out there reading this). But, instead of going medieval on him for calling me crazy I actually realized that what I had said sounded a bit crazy. This is when I threw my hands up in the air, defeated, and said. “Maybe it’s true, women are crazy. [But]Men are stupid.” Howard started to laugh and said, “That’s it! That’s your next book!” He was serious in his thinking that it was a great idea for a book and he kept saying that if I didn’t write it, he would. I told him to go right ahead. He started writing it, and then he asked me to write it with him to give the crazy women a “voice.” I said, “No,” because I thought it would break us up. Eventually he wore me down, and I decided I would at least go along with the proposal, and if it sold, well, it was meant to be. And then it sold.
Howard: The struggle to convince her to write it with me is in our introduction in the book. It was truly a miserable night (and fight) that inspired the book, but I do feel like it’s all paid off. We have a really funny and sometimes insightful book. And we [just] sold the book to ABC and are now writing a pilot based on it. Thank God I’m stupid and insensitive!
What was the writing process? How did you go about getting Women are Crazy, Men are Stupid published?
Jenny: I had written three other books before, so I knew how to write a book proposal already. What I hadn’t done is ever work with another person on a project. We put together a proposal which consisted of the book idea, why we’re the perfect crazy woman and stupid man to write the book, what other relationship books are currently out there in the marketplace and how ours would be different, and lastly, we also submitted a few sample chapters of the book. Howard gave it to our book agent, Andy Barzvi at ICM (we were both already repped there for our TV writing) and she loved it immediately. And when we first talked to Patrick Price (our fabulous editor at Simon Spotlight Entertainment) we knew immediately that he was an editor who immediately “got” the book.
Howard: Having to write the proposal, and really define the project, and write sample chapters, was great for me. Because it not only proved to the publisher’s that there was a book here, but also to me. Especially, since I’d never written one before. My experience has been mostly television, while Jenny’s previous book experience was invaluable. I didn’t even know what a book proposal was!
What is it like writing with your spouse?
Jenny: I wonder if I should let Howard answer this one first. Let’s just say I believe it was more difficult for me than for Howard. … It took us a while to get a system that worked down … meaning, the system where he sat with me and went over my work line-by-line, out loud, and suggested changes was NOT a good system. But to be fair, I will completely admit that I was a bit of a pain in the ass in the beginning process, because I had been reluctant to write the book from the get go. Finally Howard called me out on my “bad attitude” (again, deservedly so) and I realized he was right and I changed my attitude.
Howard: It was a pure pleasure from beginning to end. Nary a harsh word was ever spoken between us!
Okay, seriously. We had our moments. But it really did come together when we figured out our process. I’d start the chapter with my point of view on the subject, or story, and then she responded with her point of view on what I’d written. Sometimes she loved my chapters (like the one about peonies) and sometimes she didn’t. And sometimes I wouldn’t hear from her for days and wonder what she thought—and then find out in her response. There was never a dull moment. But one of my favorite chapters was the one on romance, that involves the fight that started the whole book. Because I took both of our versions of the events and spliced them together. And its effect is that it’s like the reader is a friend of ours sitting across a dinner table and we’re telling him about this brutal but funny night.
How do you resolve creative differences?
Jenny: To be honest we fight them out. What we have going for us is that we have a profound mutual respect for each other as writers, and that’s a huge thing. So we really do listen to each other’s ideas and suggestions. But in the end we each know that we’ll both do it the way we want to … but all I can ask for is that he’ll hear me out … and if he does and still wants it a certain way (on his sections) that’s fine by me. Same goes for my chapters, I listened to his comments, but in the end they are definitely how I wanted them to be.
Howard: The advantage of this kind of book is that it’s ABOUT two points of view. And so I’d be “stupid”—to use a phrase—to try and impose my perspective on hers. Our value to each other is that we DON’T think alike. And if I didn’t exactly “get” something she wrote, I trusted her that “women will.” I think the most helpful you can be is just in getting clear on what the other person WANTS to say and then doing your best to help them say that—whether you agree or not. NOTE: I had to learn all these things. None of it came instinctually.
What was your favorite part of the process? The greatest challenge?
Jenny: Being done. Actually it was when we put the whole thing together … it was really great to read it as a whole. We had worked in a way where Howard wrote the first part of a chapter and then I would have a chance to respond. (And my response was sometimes a direct response to what he had to say, but I also had the freedom to write whatever I wanted to say on the topic at hand.) I will say that it’s a great feeling to be proud of your work and for the first time in my book career I can confidently say that we over-delivered on the proposal. (I can compare it to how sometimes the appetizers are better than the main course … and sometimes proposal ideas (because they are just proposals) sound a lot better than the final product … but on this book I really think we accomplished more than we even set out to do, which makes me proud. The greatest challenge was working together as a couple (and trying to sneak my tv watching around Howard’s schedule).
Howard: I really enjoyed the writing part more than Jenny. I think for me, when I discovered something I really didn’t know before, it was the most satisfying. The book was teaching me things as I wrote it. And if forced us to really look at not only the other’s point of view, but to better understand our own.
You each also write in a different specialty, how was this project different from/similar to your other kinds of writing?
Jenny: I have written three previous books before, so I definitely knew the drill. But it was certainly fun to see Howard experience the joys (the terror) of writing your first book. I have a tendency to procrastinate a lot in the beginning (though I say I’m just mulling over my thoughts in advance), and this project was no different. I’m actually a fairly new television writer so I was far more comfortable writing prose than in script form. But as I usually write about my own life all my writing has always been very “voice” driven. I love writing dialogue, which is what attracted me to television writing.
Howard: I like the freedom a book affords you. First of all, there isn’t an executive over your shoulder telling you what you can’t and can write—as is often the case in television. It’s much more open ended and free form which was freeing for me—if also a bit scary. Also, in a script, it’s so structured and rigid, and you’re constrained by time limitations.
How important is diversification for a writer?
Jenny: Diversification is very important for anyone trying to be creative. I, like many writers I know, have tried out all different things. I’ve written for magazines. I’ve written essays. I’ve tried to write short stories (which I love but have not had much success in). I’ve toyed with writing a novel (and by “toy” I mean I’ve started a few but never managed to finish any). I went through a huge phase of learning how to draw and paint last year … I wasn’t sure whether it was a hobby, or what was going on … but now that I passed that phase I think I might have had a mild form of writers block and I was working out my creative ideas in a different way. I have loved every experience that I’ve had so far of TV writing (I worked on Howard’s show In Case of Emergency, Samantha Who?, and a Nickelodeon young adult show called The Troop). It’s just been so much fun to collaborate with others because I find writing to be a bit lonely at times and I’m really social. But whenever I have worked on a tv show I start to miss writing prose, because in TV writing there is a lot more talking than actual writing …
Howard: I agree. Writing for television in MOST cases—certainly not all—is really fun and social. And because we write comedy, it’s really funny. I’ve never laughed harder than in a writer’s room. But you do start to go crazy after a while and not feel like what you’re doing is “real” writing. You treasure those days, and its mere days in most cases, when you are “off to script,” and get to write on your own.
Advice for writers?
Jenny: Just keep plugging away. I know it sounds generic but just keep pushing yourself. It’s all you can do. I knew I wanted to be a writer since I was a kid, but I didn’t get my first book deal until I turned 30. And I didn’t decide to try television writing until I was 35. (and trust me, I’m a little old to be a newbie TV writer). And with TV writing I really didn’t know anything about it at the time when I came out to LA to try. I, like many people, watched a lot of TV and really felt like I could do it too … I know this sounds brazen, but it was my naivet√© that really helped me, because if I had known how difficult it was to be a TV comedy writer I might not have tried. You really just have to go for it. I know all types of writers and everyone is freaked out and nervous and doubtful and cocky and inspired and crazy and stupid. … You just have to try… and keep trying. I’m 38 and lately I’m thinking about starting another novel. Sure I’m scared, but that’s half the fun … (okay, it’s only a quarter of the fun … but you know what I mean.)
Howard: Writer’s write. Honestly, it’s as simple as that. The only thing I would add is that writers also at some point have to finish things. Whatever it is. Sometimes I feel like what separates the “real” writers from the others is just that we finish stuff.
What do you know now that you wish you knew at the beginning of your careers?
Jenny: That writing is harder and easier than it looks. Oh, and that reading about what other people are doing is not as interesting as doing something yourself. (Get off the internet and go write! Yes, Howard, you too! )
Howard: Sorry, I was on Facebook, what did you say? As far as what I wished I’d known. … Let’s put it this way. The title of my Hollywood memoir will be, “Bad Things Will Happen To You.” And I’ve had my share of heartbreaks. But I’ve also had a great time. And had my share of good breaks, too. But seriously, what else am I qualified to do? Be a park ranger? A welder of some sorts. I have no other abilities. I don’t even have a hobby. So no regrets here.
Tags: Author Q&A Debra Eckerling Howard J Morris Humor I Do. I Did. Now What?: Life After the Wedding Dress Jenny Lee Non-fiction Relationship Skinny Bitching What Wendell Wants Women are Crazy Men are Stupid Write On!