How I Rewrote My Life

Leslie A. Rasmussen, whose new novel The Stories We Cannot Tell is out now, looks backs on the different chapters of her creative existence.

Writing novels can be a lonely profession. You sit in a room by yourself, with only your characters for company. My characters rarely listen to me, and truly don’t care what issues I’m having. I’m just the conduit for them to fall in and out of love, yell at their mothers or grieve over a loved one. When I wrote television sitcoms, working on shows like Roseanne and Evening Shade, I was always a part of a group. The writers and crew formed their own family, and even if those families were dysfunctional, I still had people to lean on. When I was stuck on an outline, or a plot point, or having a bad day, there was always someone there to help.

Growing up in Los Angeles meant one thing to me: the entertainment business. Since I was a kid, the movie studios have fascinated me. Paramount, Warner Brothers, Disney and Sony were all a short drive away. Before September 11, you could walk into the Bank of America building next to Universal Studios and simply stroll out the side door onto their lot. I started doing this with friends when I was 14, and no one every stopped me. It was weird, because I looked 10, as I wasn’t the tallest bean on the pole. And just in case a guard saw us, I was ready to immediately start sobbing about how I’d lost my mother somewhere on their lot. The more often I snuck on, the more I became convinced that I belonged there.

Leslie A. Rasmussen (center) during her time in writers rooms.

After I graduated UCLA with a degree in communications, I got my first job at the Mary Tyler Moore Studios (MTM), which is now Radford Studios. I started as an assistant to an executive producer on Hill Street Blues, one of the most critically acclaimed shows, but no matter how many Emmys it won, it wasn’t the type of show that I loved. What I loved were sitcoms. Sitcoms were shot in front of a live audience, and I would sit at the run-throughs during my lunch hour and marvel at how the writers, cast and crew, through chaos and laughter, had become a family. I’d been told that I had my father’s sense of humor, equal parts sarcastic, dry, and silly. I wondered if I could be a comedy writer. I had kept a journal, I’d written short stories, and my letters home from camp cracked my parents up, but I doubted I’d be offered a seven-figure check to create my own show based on that.

When I entered the business, there weren’t a lot of women comedy writers, because one sex didn’t think women were funny, but I had ambition and drive, so I wrote spec script after spec script, honing my craft. During that time, I met an amazing woman writer who believed in me and helped me get an agent. As my career began, I loved being able to write episodes the audience could relate to where the characters had problems that they had to work through together. As I worked on more shows, I realized that whether the show was about a family, office workers, policemen or firemen, what appealed to the audience was a group coming together to help each other.

During the time I wrote for TV, I got married, and a few years later, had two sons. Even though writing for TV was my dream job, the hours were brutal. My sons came first, so when my youngest turned two, I knew it was time to step away.

Switching gears, I got a master’s degree in nutrition, but after practicing for 10 years, I realized how much I longed for the camaraderie of the staffs I used to work with. It had been years since I wrote for TV, and the business had changed drastically. The network executives that were now in power had been studying for their drivers’ tests when I was in the business, so there wasn’t anyone clamoring to hire me. My agent had retired and when I tried to get a new one, I was seen as just a mom who used to write for television. A has-been at 40. In my heart, I knew that wasn’t true. I was still creative and still had the same passion to do something meaningful, I just needed to figure out where I fit in now.

Leslie A. Rasmussen at an event for her first novel, After Happily Ever.

I began writing humorous personal essays about my life that were published on Huffington Post and other online sites. My friends, my parents, even my dogs were fair game. At least my Basset Hound didn’t mind me sharing her most embarrassing moments. I’d give her a treat and she’d forgive me for telling the world how she tripped over her own ears and fell in the pool.

The more essays I wrote, the more courage I had to try something I’d never done before. I wanted to write a novel. I couldn’t wait to create my own characters who could deal with situations readers could relate to and help them feel less alone. At this point, I had a lot of life experience to draw from. The ups and downs of marriage, infertility, pregnancy, miscarriage, child-rearing, loss, a parent with dementia.

My first novel, After Happily Ever After, is about a family. Reviewers called it “a humorous and heartbreaking look at marriage, the empty nest, and the challenges of watching your parents age.” My second novel, The Stories We Cannot Tell, comes out on July 11. It deals with infertility, pregnancy, friendship, family and love; all issues that I hope my readers will find comfort in knowing someone understands.

Leslie A. Rasmussen with her dog Talia and her two novels.

Even though I now sit in a room alone to write my novels, I’ve found a community of readers, book clubs, podcasters and, best of all, other authors who I get together with on Zoom and in real life. I’m grateful for this new family who supports me, lets me vent, and encourages me. I’ve come to realize that you can create an extended family wherever you end up. And to be honest, I can’t say I will never write for television again. I just need to be asked.

Leslie A. Rasmussen is the award-winning author of the novel After Happily Ever After and her new novel, Stories We Cannot Tell, is published on July 11. She was born and raised in Los Angeles and graduated from UCLA. She went on to write television comedies for Gerald McRaney, Burt Reynolds, Roseanne Barr, Norm McDonald, Drew Carey, as well as The Wild Thornberrys and Sweet Valley High. After leaving the business to raise her boys, she obtained a master’s degree in nutrition and ran her own business for ten years. Recently, she’s written over twenty essays for Huffington Post, and Maria Shriver, and spoken on panels discussing empowering women in midlife and other women’s issues. Leslie is a member of the Writers Guild of America, as well as Women in Film and the Women’s Fiction Writers Association.