George Hodgman (author of Bettyville) does his best Baba Wawa interviewing me here:
George Hodgman (GH): I just read that you and your mother are going to Reno for the National Bridge Championships. You’re like Ryan and Tatum in ‘Paper Moon.’ So tell me, have you actually started to like playing bridge and how did this all begin and what’s next? Mother and daughter swimming with the dolphins?
Betsy Lerner (BL): Swimming with the dolphins is so Eighties. Bridge is the future. Think about it, we’re living longer than ever before. You’re going to want to play Bridge in the nursing home. I started by taking lessons at the Manhattan Bridge Club. I was immediately hooked, though my enthusiasm sadly exceeds my ability.
GH: When I wrote my book, I had to worry and I did worry—a lot—about my mother’s reaction. How in the world have you managed to keep all five ladies happy and not calling lawyers or launching missile strikes in your direction? Very tough to please these folks AND keep your honesty/integrity as a writer.
BL: No way was I going to screw them. If it was off the record it stayed off the record. I still live in New Haven and have to eat lunch in this town. I tried very hard to capture their essence, and their personalities. You gave me advice at one point that guided me: you never regret keeping something unkind out. It served me well.
GH: I am really fascinated by the longevity of these bridge groups all around the country, women who have played together for half a century sometimes. It is truly an amazing tradition. They must have developed incredible intimacies, but also incredible rivalries and resentments. Could you please talk a little about the whole personal dynamic of your mother’s club?
BL: My mother’s club has been together for over 50 years. But they don’t seem incredibly intimate. In part, it’s generational. “Sharing,” for folks in their generation, meant splitting a sandwich, not spilling your guts. Observing the dynamic in my mother’s club reminded me of a long marriage; sometimes you have to keep it zipped for the greater good.
GH: These women have led what you might call traditional or conventional lives. Do you think they ever felt jealous of your life? Were there things about their choices and lives that made them have any regrets?
BL: I’ve heard regret in their voices. Most poignant is the lady who gave up on a much-desired acting career because she couldn’t imagine going to New York or Los Angeles on her own. They all gave up something, but they also believed they had the life they wanted.
GH: I think that Bridge sounds like a very hard game, and you do a good job of capturing the difficulty not just of learning it, but of sitting down with these veterans who are really serious about it. Talk a bit about your learning curve and please, tell me, are you a good player now?
BL: I no longer suck. Let’s leave it at that.
GH: You are a very busy literary agent. You write. You have a husband, a daughter, a host of lovers throughout the country. You are a very ambitious woman, but don’t come off like that at all. Can you tell us a little bit about how you have managed to “have it all”?
BL: First, I only need five hours of sleep. Second, I am incredibly compulsive. I am ambitious, but I am also filled with self-loathing so it balances out. I try to keep my lovers happy.
Got any more questions?
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