current photo on book cover by Teness Herman
I think I was intrigued by the idea for this book because I have three daughters, ages 20, 18 and 14, and I want them to have close, loving, female friends as they go through their lives. In the two years I worked on the book, I often thought about my daughters, and my dreams for them. The Ames girls became an inspiration for me.
In what way were the Ames girls an inspiration to you, Jeff?
I saw how they worked at their friendships over the years, stoking it, in the same way people will keep a fire going in a fireplace. They were there for each other in times of need. They offered each other shoulders to cry on and places to go where they could laugh together. I'm not sure they've made me change the ways I interact with my male friends, but I do know that I'd love for my daughters to have the close bonds the Ames girls have.
I'm with you there. What is it about women's friendships that is so critical to their sense of well-being?
The Ames girls haven't tracked the latest scientific studies on friendship, the ones showing that having close friends helps people sleep better, improve their immune systems, boost their self-esteem, stave off dementia, and actually live longer. The Ames girls just feel the benefits in their guts. There's been some pretty compelling research: One study shows that a woman who wants to be healthier and more psychologically fit in her old age is better off having one close friend than a half-dozen grandchildren!
So why are longtime friendships so important to women to their health, to their self-esteem? I think it's because when women hold on to old friends, they are holding on to a piece of themselves.
One of the Ames girls, Cathy, is now a make-up artist in Los Angeles. Her L.A. friends are intrigued that she remains close with her old Iowa friends. "What do you still have in common with them?" they ask.
Cathy's response: "What keeps me going back to them? I think it's this: We root each other to the core of who we are rather than what defines us as adults by careers or spouses or kids. There's a young girl in each of us who is still full of life. When we're together, I try to remember that."
Friendship's more powerful than half a dozen grandchildren? That's amazing. Let's talk for a moment about how you researched this book. There was a treasure trove of memorabilia to go through. How much did that help you recreate the girls' story? And is this a girl thing or do guys save mementos too?
The Ames girls were great chroniclers of their friendship and great savers. I had notes they passed to each other in junior high. One of the Ames girls gave me six years of her diary, from high school into college, so I knew what the girls were up to every day during that period. The Ames girls gave me hundreds of letters they had sent each other over the years. A lot of them had scrapbooks, which I was able to go through. I don't think men would save so many mementos of their friendships. And to be honest, I don't think most women would be as apt to save all the things the Ames girls have saved. When I was writing the book, so much of what they gave me was invaluable. I felt like an archeologist going through old prom corsages!
Jeff listening to the Ames girls, photo credit: Kelly Zwagerman
In each of your books, you really connect with the subject (or, in this case, subjects) and come out the other end with new-made friends. Before you started writing books, did you ever imagine such a perk being part of the process?
I'm curious about people and the lives they lead, and so I think I'm drawn to those with compelling stories. I do know there's a difference between a journalist and a friend, so it's not like I'm looking to make friendships. I'm looking to tell stories. Though there are boundaries I want to respect, I sometimes have to ask people hard or uncomfortable questions. So it's hard to both write about people and be their friend. But I am grateful that in the course of 30 years writing both as a newspaper columnist and as a writer of books -- I've made some meaningful friendships along the way.
And you've homed in on some great stories. Speaking of which, what's next, Jeff? Do you have another book floating around inside your head already? If you do, and it's not top-secret, care to give our readers a hint?
I'm working on a book proposal right now. It will be a book about the love in the lives of girls and women, but it's not yet fully formed, and I haven't even shown my publisher yet. So I don't want to go into too much detail. But thanks for asking. If I ever get the thing written, I hope we can talk again!
Good luck with it. Anything we didn't cover that you'd like to bring up, Jeff?
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