Linda Schreyer and Jo-Ann Lautman are the co-authors of Tears & Tequila, the story of Joey Lerner and the group of participants in a Grief Group of young widows and widowers that she leads. The book releases June 1, 2014. We asked Linda and Jo-Ann to answer 12 questions about the book and the writing experience.

Q: Where did the inspiration for Tears and Tequila originate?

LINDA SCHREYER: Jo-Ann had a great idea for a story about a Grief Group of young widows and widowers. She came to me to write it. After talking with Jo-Ann for months about overcoming grief I began to write the first draft that would become Tears and Tequila (twenty-five drafts later.) From the beginning I was taken by the idea and convinced that the story of a Grief Group of young widows and widowers—who go from death to life in nine months—would make a great novel. Their stories of the grievers would remain fairly constant throughout the next twenty-five drafts. What changed was everything else!

JO-ANN LAUTMAN: During my time working in Hospice I saw that young people going through grief situations were, I felt, somewhat discounted by the other people in the waiting room. I often heard comments to younger people who had lost a loved one such as, “You’re still young. You can get married again.” Or, “don’t worry, you’re young, smart, pretty, you still have a lifetime ahead of you,” Or worse, “Thank God it happened now, instead of when you are in your 60’s or 70’s.” Grief happens to people of all ages. It cannot be avoided. It is a part of life, and LIFE is the main focus.
I wanted to tell a story of what I had seen, particularly as it related to young widows and widowers.

Q: How did you first meet each other? Were you friends before you started the book?

SCHREYER: Jo-Ann and I met in December, 2010, at a Christmas sale in the home of a mutual friend. I was selling leather jackets made by my son, a fashion designer. A woman (I didn’t know) walked up to me, saying, “I need to talk to YOU.” I had no idea who she was. She (Jo-Ann) told me she’d heard of me and that she had a great story she wanted told. A few weeks later she sent me some pages about a Grief Group of young widows and widowers. The idea fueled my imagination. We began to meet and talk and never stopped talking. Along the way we became friends. Then we became family.

LAUTMAN: My respect and admiration for Linda is better than most marriages. She heard my words about grief, death and loss, felt my emotions and knowledge and found the right words and side stories to make this a novel about lives and life. Her world of expertise was soap operas and daytime television, and she gave this basic theme all the separate and delicious angles needed.

Q: Jo-Ann, you are the founder of OUR HOUSE, one of the most respected non-profit grief centers in the nation. How did you come to feel so passionately about the topic of grief support?

LAUTMAN: My passion began with watching and listening to those in the halls or waiting rooms of the Hospice patients. I knew that age appropriate groups communicate best. There was/is competition and judgments but when everyone is 30, or 50, their communication skills are different, as are there needs, desires, concerns. I wanted to make a difference, and Our House was my way to help others deal with the pain and difficulty I was witnessing.

Q: Linda, you have an impressive career as a writer for television and other media. How has your own background and experiences impacted the writing of Tears and Tequila?

SCHREYER: I could never have written Tears and Tequila had I not learned to write for forty-two characters a week in daytime television. Nor could I have written it had I not learned to plot six months of story for General Hospital and other shows. I could not have written it if I had not written a biography and learned how to tell a story of eighty years in a man’s life. And I would not have resonated to the idea of grief had I not been raised in a house of silent mourning – for my parent’s parents – who were killed in the Holocaust.

Early on, I knew the timeline of the novel would be nine months. I knew the grievers would go from death to life in that time. What I didn’t know was how I was going to make a cohesive weave of all the members of Grief Group together with all the characters I created in the make-believe world of Oasis. I started to make story boards and charts. I put them on an easel in the studio where I write. Early on, I carried those story boards into Jo-Ann’s house in the rain. I set them up in her den, where a fire was burning in the fireplace. As always, and to Jo-Ann’s enduring credit, she thought they were terrific.

Anyone else would have told me I was nuts.

At the time I understood everything on those charts. Whenever I was confused about which character was doing what, when, I would walk over to the easel and study the charts. Looking at them now, I can see how people thought I was a lunatic.

Q: How did the writing process work between you both?

SCHREYER: Jo-Ann and I talked. And talked. I went back to my studio and wrote. And wrote some more. I began to send her chapters to read. She read them and got back to me. We talked about the characters and the plot. After about nine months of writing, Jo-Ann went through an illness. She said she was having trouble concentrating when she read. I decided to go to her house and read the chapters to her. The idea came alive after I asked my husband, Terry, to come and read with me. Terry has a fabulous reading voice and so began our “Fridays at Jo-Ann’s,” where Terry and I read chapters aloud in the den and were treated to fabulous home-cooked lunches.

Hearing the work read aloud and talking about the characters and the plot was invaluable. Jo-Ann’s comments all along the way were a continuous source of inspiration and laughter.

Writing is a solitary act. I often wrote late into the night, coming back to the house at midnight or later. As the novel went through rewrite after rewrite I often was plagued with doubts.

Whenever I left Jo-Ann’s house after one of our Fridays, where the characters came alive (to Jo-Ann and to Terry), I felt happier and more confident. Jo-Ann’s enthusiasm, great ideas and nonstop belief in the novel, and my writing, have been the wind beneath my wings.

Q: A huge part of Tears and Tequila revolves around the leap your protagonist Joey takes to begin a new life for herself. Tell us about her journey—and the larger idea of life’s unexpected opportunities.

SCHREYER: After a few months I became aware that the characters in the Grief Group (mostly created by Jo-Ann as a fictional amalgam of people she had worked with) were the only real characters in the book. We needed a protagonist, an antagonist, a love interest and more. We needed the world where Joey worked and Grief Group met.

After wracking my brains I took a day off from writing. On a walk beneath the old live Oak trees in Chesebro Canyon, the character who would become our ‘Joey’ came to me.

She would be an amalgam of Jo-Ann and myself – a woman who came out to LA from New York at a critical time in her life (like I did), who fell into leading a Grief Group and turned out to have an innate talent for doing it (like Jo-Ann.)

My personal journey – from the East Coast to the West, divorce, raising kids, having multiple careers as a composer, television writer, writing teacher, art curator, biographer , novelist and aspiring playwright –have greatly enriched my life.

Like Joey, I have often gone from lost to found. I understand the restless nature and optimism of a character like Joey. It closely mirrors mine.

Q: Another important theme in Tears and Tequila involves the new group of people Joey encounters and the opportunities they bring to each other for growth. How important are those friendships—both new and old–in times of major life transformation?

SCHREYER: Throughout my changeable life I would never have grown to where I am today without my wonderful, understanding friends.

Q: Movies such as Love Story, Steel Magnolias, Up, or books like Joan Didon’s The Year of Magical Thinking have become classics of the heart-tugging genre. What are your own favorite movies or books about love and loss?

SCHREYER: Who doesn’t enjoy a good cry? My favorite movie of all time, Random Harvest, gets me every time. After my mother died in 2005 I devoured Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. I resonate with stories of love and loss. Books like The Postmistress, by Sarah Blake; The Language of Flowers, by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Elizabeth McCracken’s An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination—each had a profound effect on me. I cried buckets over Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty and E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web.

LAUTMAN: The movie, Ghost really captured that feeling of loss for young widowed people. And Sleepless in Seattle was such a wonderful film on the aftermath of a beloved spouse dying, with a young father and son. Some of my favorite children’s movies revolve around these issues, too, like Bambi or Finding Nemo.


Q: In Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, the author writes “Grief is different. Grief has no distance. Grief comes in waves, paroxysms, sudden apprehensions that weaken the knees and blind the eyes and obliterate the dailiness of life.” But those deep emotional moments are often invisible to friends or acquaintances who may encounter a person dealing with grief. Without access to those inner emotions, how can we best help our friends or loved ones who are going through a grieving process?

LAUTMAN: I have learned to listen with my eyes, ears and heart. I give the grieving person their space, and I never make a promise that I can’t follow through with. When talking to a someone working through grief, try not to ask, “What can I do?”—because the answers are just too vast. On the other hand, DO talk of sweet memories. And it’s OK to say you’re sorry, and it’s OK to use the proper name when talking to someone about their loved one. The word “loss” is a tough one for people dealing with grief. No one is LOST; rather they’ve died. There is never “lost and found” when it comes to grieving.

Understanding how a person grieves can be helpful, too. Grief is like the tide. There is a low tide and high tide, and suddenly a random wave can rush over you and you are again, without warning, drenched in grief. To someone on the outside looking in, it might appear random. But to those on the inside, each of the senses are falling into grief: A smell, like her perfume, or a wafting of his after-shave lotion. It can be a taste, like her chocolate pie. It can be the sight of another happy couple, or a place where you once visited together. It can be the sudden remembrance of her touch, or his rough hands or dirty fingernails. As the friend of a grieving person, it’s simply helpful to be aware of how suddenly and randomly these painful feelings can arise. Just knowing this is helpful.

Q: A big part of the book deals with the process of coming to terms with a life without a loved one. How does grief affect the identity of the person left behind?

LAUTMAN: It changes daily. The weather, a holiday, time. And time only allows the grief to become assimilated…it comes and goes, but hopefully always has a place where you can recapture what is wanted and reminisce.

Q: In Tears and Tequila, the members of the Grief Group seeks out the stories of others even as they are dealing with the immediacy of their own respective losses. Do you think that listening provides comfort and solace, or is it a way of helping to forget?

LAUTMAN: Listening is the greatest gift. To be heard is a gift, a validation, a sign of hope and a future.

Q: The words “grief” and “happiness” have a difficult relationship. But a big part of Tears and Tequila is the ultimate feeling of reclamation; the joy in finding one’s way forward towards a new and different type of happiness. As storytellers, how did you balance these two competing emotions?

LAUTMAN: I believe together we grew to know these people, some became part of as, as with time and conversation they each took on a different hue….they had their own story, own avenue and dreams.