How a massage-table epiphany inspired the author of ‘Younger’ to get ‘Older’
If you buy books linked on our site, The Times may earn a commission from Bookshop.org, whose fees support independent bookstores.
On April 10, 2019, her 66th birthday, Pamela Redmond, the author of the novel “Younger” (yes, that “Younger”), was awaiting a massage at Santa Monica’s Tikkun Holistic Spa when an email from her agent brought crushing news. Like the other two novels Redmond had written in the previous four years, her latest had been rejected by publishers.
One might reasonably assume that the author of a bestselling novel-turned-popular TV series would have publishers lining up at her door. One would be wrong. In the 10 years between the publication of “Younger” and “Younger” the show, Redmond’s writing had become “more sophisticated and more ambitious,” she says. But then, “the popularity of the show created very specific parameters for my next novel. It had to appeal to older and younger readers and to fans of ‘Younger’ TV: not too dark, not too light.”
Redmond and I are chatting, properly masked and distanced, in the backyard of the sunny Silver Lake cottage she shares with the youngest of her three adult kids. A former Glamour editor and the cofounder/CEO of Nameberry, a popular baby name website, Redmond is the picture of pandemic chic in her crisp navy caftan, her blue eyes dancing above an ikat mask.
“As my masseur started working his magic,” Redmond says, “I realized that the plot of my latest rejected novel would make a perfect sequel to ‘Younger.’”
Redmond rushed home and wrote an outline and first chapter for a sequel set five years after the end of the show. Liza, now nearing 50, has written a book about impersonating a millennial to land a New York publishing job. Her former colleague, Kelsey, now a TV producer, summons Liza to Los Angeles, where Liza’s book is being made into a TV series.
Redmond laughs. “It’s so meta, it’s mega!”
Ten days after her birthday massage, Redmond signed the deal for a new novel called “Older.”
Redmond raised her kids in her home state of New Jersey, then moved to Los Angeles after her divorce in 2015. She was almost 50 when Simon & Schuster published her first novel. Her third, released in 2005, was “Younger.”
If you’ve watched the show, you know that its soft, sweet center is the innocent yet cagey Liza. And you know that buried inside the fluffy confection of “Younger” is a shiv aimed straight at misogyny and ageism in publishing and beyond.
Redmond always believed the novel would make its way to the screen. “I wrote ‘Younger’ imagining the role of Liza as a showcase for the hotness and the acting chops of an actress over 40,” Redmond says. “Younger” was indeed optioned by a procession of TV producers, but each project landed where most optioned novels go: nowhere. Then, in 2013, “Sex and the City” creator Darren Star pitched “Younger” to TV Land.
“When I read Pamela’s novel, I was drawn to the themes of reinvention and ageism,” Star tells me via email. “I knew several women who’d taken time from their careers to raise children, then found doors closed to them when they tried to reenter the workplace. Also, although Pamela wrote ‘Younger’ before the emergence of millennial culture, that generational divide was something I was looking to explore.”
TV Land picked up “Younger” for a 12-episode series starring Sutton Foster, a real-life 40-year-old. Foster’s co-stars include Hilary Duff as Liza’s co-worker and Debi Mazar as her lesbian roommate.
“It didn’t fully sink in that ‘Younger’ was going to be a TV show until the first day of shooting the pilot,” Redmond says. “Being on set hit me big and hard, like when the doctor put my first baby in my arms. I thought, ‘This is real, this is happening, this is going to change my life.’ Then the question became, will the series get picked up? Then, will it get renewed?” Each incremental triumph was “tempered by anxiety, never knowing if the next step was going to happen.”
Happen it did. Devoured by women younger and older, a cult favorite among publishing professionals, the show earned stellar ratings and critical acclaim. In July 2019, shortly after Redmond’s unhappy 66th birthday, TV Land renewed it for a seventh season, making “Younger” the longest-running original series in the network’s history.
The reality of Redmond’s success didn’t quite match her fantasies. “Before ‘Younger’ got made, I saw myself at the Oscars, with trucks full of money pulling up to my house. That’s a very naive and common view among authors.” The show itself, however, was “even better than my expectations. TV magic makes Liza look 20-something. In the book, I had to ask my readers to take my word for it.”
As much a shrewd businesswoman as an imaginative author, Redmond knew it behooved her to publish a sequel while the show was still hot, but the obstacles seemed insurmountable. Legally, Redmond may write about characters, settings and plots that she created in the novel, but not those Star created for the show — like the love triangle between Liza, Josh and Charles.
Moreover, with the series renewed season after season, Redmond couldn’t know when or how the TV story would end — making it seemingly impossible for her to write about the next phase of the characters’ lives.
The answer came to her on that massage table. “Suddenly I realized that if I started the sequel far enough ahead in time, I could bypass the characters I wasn’t allowed to write about and advance ‘my’ characters beyond wherever the show might end. That freed me to tell the story I wanted to tell.”
Simon & Schuster Senior Editor Kate Dresser guided Redmond through this fictional obstacle course. “’Older’ was my first experience editing a book whose characters already existed on TV,” Dresser tells me. “I deliberately didn’t watch the show while I was editing.”
Dresser’s job, like Redmond’s, wasn’t easy. “Pam had a lot of plates to spin,” Dresser says. “She had to incorporate the core source material — her own ‘Younger’ — and the timeline and characters of the TV show, and the narrative arc that’s unique to ‘Older.’ Luckily Pam’s imagination is rich enough to pull it off.” In fact, Dresser believes, the show actually helped, lending “texture” to the new novel.
For now, the plates are spinning nicely. Darren Star and Hilary Duff are developing a spin-off series; Redmond is in talks with producers about bringing “Younger” to the Broadway stage. And this week, Simon & Schuster publishes “Older.”
Redmond is still spinning, too — running Nameberry (“I just invented an algorithm to match expectant parents with the perfect name”) and writing a new novel, “The Matriarch.” Oh, and in her “spare time,” she’s writing an original TV pilot.
Redmond asserts that all these plates make a perfectly matched set: “Naming and storytelling are both ways to encode lots of information in an appealing package. Both reflect hopes, dreams, identity in a way that’s soft enough for us to bear.”
Pausing for a moment, Redmond looks pensive. I can almost hear the gears in her brain, formulating … what? Another book that changes the way society sees women over 40? A memoir about having written a book within a TV series within a book that becomes a TV series? A new empire?
No, she’s thinking of the way her characters seem to have spawned their own universe, a world in which she’s just another (very fortunate) player. “Seeing my characters come to life on TV was my dream. Now it’s my reality,” she says. “Anything can happen to a character in a fictional world. And these days I feel like I’m a character in my own novel.”
Maran is a Silver Lake book critic and author of many books, including “The New Old Me.”
to continue reading