This week, Rachel Kramer Bussel--senior editor at Penthouse Variations, columnist, and editor of over 30 erotic anthologies, most recently, Please, Sir and Please, Ma'am asks Adena Halpern--author of The Ten Best Days of My Life, which has been picked up by 20th Century Fox, and the recently-published 29--five questions about age, choosing one's generation, and bringing 29 to the screen.

1. Ellie Jerome wishes on her 75th birthday to be 29 for a day, and her wish gets granted, sending her down memory lane, falling for a hot guy, and generally causing chaos. How did you come up with the idea for the book and why did you choose the age 29?

I wanted to write a fun book about the idea of wishing for the craziest most farfetched dream and actually have it come true. For me, the whole point of writing is to take the reader out of their hectic day and make them smile. If haven’t achieved that goal, I haven’t done my job. At the same time, one of the things I enjoy doing most is taking a character, whether she’s a 75-year-old grandmother like Ellie Jerome in 29, or a seemingly spoiled girl like Alex in The Ten Best Days of My Life and give them actual depth, really explore who they are, show that they have more to them than who we initially peg them to be.

When I started thinking about new ideas for books, I knew I wanted to write about a character who was in her seventies. 70-something women of today were born at a very interesting time in the 20th century. The character, Ellie Jerome, is too young to be considered a part of “the greatest generation,” where women were told after World War II that their place should be in the home. She’s too old to be a part of the “baby boomer” generation when equality and choice for women came to the forefront. So women like Ellie had to choose which generation to follow. I came to find out that a lot of Ellie’s contemporaries listened to their mothers who said, “your best bet in life is to marry a rich man.” If they wanted to work, society told them that they had three choices for an occupation: teacher, secretary or nurse. I wondered if women of that generation regretted the time in which they were born? Did they choose the right generation to follow? I wondered if there were actual women of that generation who felt they made the right or wrong choice? And then I came up with the idea for a book. What if a woman of this generation could actually be a 29-year-old woman today who has all the choices in the world, and even for a day, what would she do? What would she change? Is life today as a 29-year-old woman better or worse?

I also loved the idea of having her 25-year-old granddaughter, Lucy, spend the day with her, show her what it’s like to be a young woman right now. How amazing would it be if for one day, we could meet our twenty-something grandmothers and actually spend the day together as contemporaries? For me, that would be my wish.

I chose the age 29 because I believe that 29 is the perfect balance between leaving your childhood behind and taking all the things we as women have learned and take onto adulthood.

2. You chose to tell the story in both first person for Ellie as well as third person when it came to her daughter Barbara and her best friend Frida. Was writing in this way challenging, and how come granddaughter Lucy didn’t get as much attention?

I chose to write Ellie in first person because this was Ellie’s story. This was Ellie’s wish, her gift. I felt it was necessary for the reader to tag along with Ellie on her day and be able to hear her thoughts and fears and excitement firsthand. What happens to Ellie directly reflects what happens to Barbara and Frida. If I told their day in the first person, and allowed the reader to hear them speak firsthand, they would be in the spotlight as well. I didn’t want to do that. I wanted this to be all about Ellie.

The reason Lucy might not seem as if she gets as much attention is because Lucy has it all figured out. At 25, even though she is the youngest, she is the wisest of them all. Lucy is Ellie’s guide to this current generation as they set out on their day together. She knows the rules, what to do and what not to do, what matters and what doesn’t. She provides Ellie with the guidelines to being a young person today.

3. Is there a message, besides the one Ellie gives readers at the end of the book, that you hope readers walk away from 29 with?

This book was written for three generations of female readers in mind. Lucy: 25, her mother Barbara: 55 and her grandmother Ellie: 75. My hope is that whatever the age of the person reading this book is, that they comes away with a better understanding about why our grandmothers or mothers or daughters are they way they are. I hope they have a better understanding of how growing up in the different generations has affected our lives. I worked very hard and did a lot of research to make sure that the person reading the book would be able to say, “that’s me,” or “that’s my mom,” or “that’s my granddaughter.” My hope is also that whatever age the reader is, they will not only see themselves, but also see their grandmothers or mothers or daughters in a way they never thought of before.

4. You thank the seventy-something women you interviewed for the book and said they were more honest than you had expected. Can you share how you found these women and what kinds of things you discussed? What were their biggest regrets, and what surprised you the most?

It wasn’t that difficult to find 70-something women. My mother is around this age and she’s got a wonderful group of friends that I’ve known all my life. In addition, most of my friends have mothers from this generation so I had that pool as well. When I asked them the question, “What would you do if you could be a 29 year old woman of today?” I thought I’d get a lot of flippant answers and be ruefully dismissed. Of course, I did get some of that, and stuff like, “I want to wear sexy underwear and actually look good in it,” made it into the book.

The thing was though, I didn’t get as many answers like that as I thought I would. When I asked the question, a lot of these women looked at me with wide eyes, as if I could really grant this wish. A lot of them told me that they wished that they had worked, even if financially they didn’t have to, but they wished that they had done something for themselves and not put everything they had into their husband and children. Some wished that they hadn’t listened to their mothers who told them they needed to get married instead of doing what they really wanted, which was to get an education. The women I interviewed who did work and did have families told me how much they struggled to climb the office ladder. How they were looked down upon and passed over for promotions because they had children. The male bosses were sure they would leave at some point to concentrate on their families, they surely couldn’t do both, so why put faith in them to run their companies? Today, they told me, it’s not an issue, but back then, some of them were looked down upon.

5. You mention in the reading guide afterward that you’re very inspired by your degree in screenwriting and movies in general, so I have to ask: Are there any film deals in the works for 29? Who would you have play Ellie Jerome on the big screen and why?

As of now, I’ve gotten some interest from producers about optioning the rights to this book, but no concrete deals have been made (but hopefully I’ll be able to tell you something different soon). My last book, The Ten Best Days of My Life, has been optioned by 20th Century Fox and Amy Adams is signed on to play the lead role. The craziest thing about that was that I actually had Amy Adams in mind when I was writing creating that character. I had nothing to do with Amy reading the book and subsequently signing on to play the role. As a person who writes about fulfilling dreams and having wishes granted, this was one of the craziest things that’s ever happened to me.

As for who should play the lead role in 29, I did have two actresses in mind when I wrote 29, but I’m too afraid to spill right now. I don’t want to jinx it. I’m hoping lightning will strike twice.

Photograph by Stephanie Ellis

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Comment by Robin Feltner on August 4, 2010 at 12:59pm
I agree. The age of 29 and the age of 30 are so far apart in terms of personal growth. It clicked for me at 29/30, too.


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