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Life Arts    H2'ed 8/27/10

Talking with Two of "The Girls from Ames"

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I recently interviewed Wall Street Journal columnist and author, Jeffrey Zaslow. My guests today are Karla Blackwood and Kelly Zwagerman. Their friendship group was the subject of Zaslow's latest best-seller, Girls from Ames: A Story of Women & a Forty-Year Friendship. Welcome to OpEdNews, Karla and Kelly. What did you think when the idea was raised of exposing your long-standing friendship group to the scrutiny of a journalist?

Karla, Then and Now

Karla: Jeff is such a nice guy, and easy to talk to, but it was sometimes hard sharing such personal, and for some of us, difficult stories of our lives. That being said, there was a lot of laughter, too. It was a challenging process, but we are pleased with how the book turned out.

Kelly: Jenny first approached all of us with information about Jeff, and she set the stage for him to place individual calls to all of us. My initial reaction was that I felt honored to talk about my friends with a journalist, particularly someone with an outstanding reputation. My first conversation with Jeff occurred early on a Saturday morning, and I talked to him from my bed while drinking tea. His enthusiasm for a story about friendship was infectious, and I found myself opening up to him more each time he called or sent e-mails. From the beginning, I felt that Jeff was respectful of sensitive information we shared with him, and I trusted him to write responsibly. I'm not a particularly private person, so I don't feel as though anything in my life was "exposed." I wanted to share very honest details of my life as a way to honor women and their circumstances. The Girls from Ames resonates with so many people because our story is really their stories.

Kelly, Then and Now

You say that your story is their story, Kelly. I'd qualify that: their story - or the one they would love to have had - if they had been lucky enough to have such a friendship group since childhood.

Kelly: We've heard from many women across the nation, who tell us about their friends. I hear from women almost weekly that they are the "Kelly" in their group. Most readers identify with the women in the book, and that's why it is having so much success. Perhaps most women aren't part of such large groups of friends as the women from Ames but, according to the messages I see posted, close-knit groups of women exist everywhere, and these female connections are important, significant relationships. I would venture to say that women with close friends find these connections as important as marriage and family relationships. In many cases, friends outlast marriages.

Did you ever have doubts that this man, or any man, could really understand the deep female bonds that you have enjoyed over the years?

Kelly: This is my least-favorite question. I would be offended if someone doubted my ability to write about a subject that concerned mostly men. Jeff is a journalist, and his job is to collect information and report it. Good journalists aren't necessarily experts on the topics they write about. So ... no, I never had any doubts that Jeff would be able to write about female bonds. I had read his columns, and based on that writing I believed he could write well about any subject. He wrote about a dying man without having that experience in his own life, and he wrote about a pilot without knowing much about the airline industry.

There are people who disagree with me on this point and argue that a woman should have written about the women from Ames. I wonder if those same people would argue that female journalists shouldn't cover football because they haven't played the sport?

Sorry to get so feisty about this topic. That might be one of the reasons Jeff labeled me as outspoken.

There's nothing wrong with feistiness. I'm glad you spoke frankly, Kelly. I almost didn't ask the question but knew that people are curious about it, so I went ahead. Did you find yourselves bonding with Jeff over the course of the writing of the book?

Karla: I'm sure you have already figured out while interviewing Jeff how funny and witty his is. It has been such a pleasure getting to know him

Kelly: Yes, I came to respect and admire Jeff during the writing and also the promotion of the book. On top of being a caring, sensitive person, he is very funny. One of the most rewarding experiences of the book is having Jeff become a friend. His writing feels life-changing to me, and I believe that his legacy will be columns and books that ignite very positive events.

Of course, the book has also brought the women from Ames together for a variety of functions, and several times Jeff has helped this happen. The women and Jeff spent time in Omaha and Portland for book events, and, for this teacher, travel during the school year is such a nice perk. It was wonderful to spend time with my girlfriends at both these functions; nothing feeds my soul more than being with them. A day at the spa can't possibly revive and refresh me as much as time spent with my friends.

As a result of the book and Jeff, I'm plugging into a vast network of women; I feel a powerful force as I meet so many people who realize the value of friendship.

Friends are the best! I know I couldn't live without mine. When you grew up, were you two aware that you had something special going? Did you ever imagine that you would be such close friends all these years later?

Karla: I knew I had a great group of friends in high school, but I don't think I really thought about how unique and special it was then. Even as an adult, I don't think I gave it too much thought, until this book came out. Talking to so many people through book clubs and appearances throughout the country, I have learned that a lot of people didn't have one friend they have stayed close to, let alone a large group, like ours. Now, I realize and appreciate how special it is.

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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