Catching Up with Louise Shaffer (Rae
Woodard, Ryan's Hope)
October 23, 2009
Last month I had a lovely conversation with actress and author Louise
Shaffer. Soap fans remember Louise best as Rae Woodard on ďRyanís Hope.Ē
Louise also spent time writing for daytime soaps, including ďRyanís Hope.Ē
These days, Louise is a novelist. Sheís written four novels: "The Three Miss Margarets,"
"The Ladies of Garrison Gardens," "Family Acts," and "Serendipity."
Louiseís fifth novel, "Looking For a Love Story," will be available in April of
2010. I hope you enjoy my conversation with Louise as much as I did.
How old were you when you decided to become an actress?
I was about 15, professionally. There was a little summer stock company near
where I lived. Then that winter I had auditioned for The American Academy of
Dramatic Arts in Manhattan - they had this special program for teens. You had
to audition and there were a very small number of us that got in. There were a
professional adult academy Ė it was sort of like Julliard. It was on the
weekends, and as soon as I got my driver's license, I used to drive into the city
(New York), and I worked with one of the coaches at the Yale Drama School, and I
was in shows with the Yale theater group.
Were your parents supportive of your desire to act?
Both of my parents loved the theater. They met in a little theater in New
Haven, Connecticut. My dad was doing lighting and my mom was doing props and
sets and costumes and just about everything. She really loved acting. In those
days New Haven was a huge theater town, because shows that were on Broadway would
go out on the road to try it out for a couple of months. Usually the last stop was
the Shubert Theater in New Haven. So as a kid I saw a lot of big shows. We
went into New York City and saw theater all the time. We were a real stage
struck family in a lot of ways. My father died when I was 15, and my mother was
a little afraid for me, particularly after my dad died. She was aware of what a
tough life it was. But she was excited every time I had a part. And every time
I did a show at Yale, she was sitting right there in the front row.
Talk a little bit about your transition from acting to writing.
Iíd always loved writing and I wrote a lot of short stories before I became
an actress. I was in my 40ís and Iíd always kind of played around with writing
in my spare time. When I hit my 40ís the (acting) parts dried up. There just
werenít a lot of roles for women 40 and above. So I asked a friend, Claire
Labine, who was writing ďRyanís HopeĒ at the time if she would give me a few
breakdowns to work with. So Claire gave me some breakdowns, and I wrote the
scripts and she said, ďIíd like to hire you.Ē So I started writing scripts and
I did that for several years on and off for different soaps. I never really
liked writing for the soaps because the fun to me is in creating your own
characters. Thatís the joy of it for me.
Given the choice, do you prefer writing novels to acting?
I donít knowÖ I think I like the life of a writer better. Itís much more
your baby. Thereís respect for the fact that it was your idea, that it was your
concept, that theyíre your characters. Thereís a great deal of respect for you
as the creator. So from that standpoint itís a much more civilized and humane
way to make a living.
Do you miss acting?
Thatís an interesting question and itís one I ask myself a lot. There are
things about it I miss. I miss being in front of a crowd. I love that. I miss
it until I start thinking about it and then I remember all the pressure
involved. The cosmetic pressure was huge. An awful lot about being an actor is
how you look. With writing you just get to be more purely creative. There were
a lot of things I loved about acting and if somebody came up with a role for me,
sure it would be fun to do it again. But I think writing is more where Iím
Do you think your acting career had an influence on the books youíve
Thatís a good question. I was always somebody who wanted to reach a lot of
people and wanted to give them a good time. Iíve always seen entertainment as a
way to take a vacation. I think I have a rather ďshow bizĒ approach to writing
books. I wanna reach a lot of people. I wanna know that a lot of people are
reading my books. It really matters to me. I just want people to have a good
time reading me.
How did you come up with the idea for "Serendipity"? Can you talk a bit about
the writing process?
With "Serendipity," I always knew I wanted to write about four generations of
women. I always knew when I finished the first three books, Iíd want to
write about an Italian-American family. Not my own family, but about that
culture. I knew I wanted to write a book with a character in musical
What always comes to me at some point is an incident. Once I have that, I create characters that I believe a reader will
believe would do that. I never have a written outline, but I probably have an
outline in my head. I canít start writing unless I know where Iím going.
Do you ever get writerís block?
Donít say that out loud. No I donít but I can go for a few days where I just
donít know where Iím going. Living with a writer is not a lot of fun. Once I
get going, itís really the only thing I wanna talk about. Iím really not
interested in much else. When I can feel myself getting tight and anxious, Iíll
just pick up a book and read for five or six pages just to get away from it. Or
Iíll check my emails. Or if itís really bad, Iíll go clean out the kitty litter
Ė it gets me away from the desk.
Also I know "Serendipity" is a work of fiction but talk about some of the
things in the book that were influenced by you and your own family.
I did use my grandmaís kitchen and I got to go back in my mind and my
imagination to New Haven when I was a kid. The trip that Lu takes on the train
when she hands him the magazine Ė I did that on my first audition. I went into
Manhattan and I was so nervous I left the sheet music on the train. So I didnít
audition Ė I went home and cried. Also Luís backstage routines and rituals.
Most responsible, serious actors have the mix of honey and lemon for the throat
and the number of hours they need to sleep. Itís like being a professional
athlete. Youíre a real blue-collar worker. Everybody thinks itís such a
glamorous life, and itís really a serious, hardworking, life.
The men in "Serendipity" were so colorful and appealing. I loved Uncle
Paulie. I was also very drawn to Bobby and could see why the women loved him.
And George was wonderful Ė It was easy to see why Lu was drawn to him. Do you
find it more difficult to create the male characters than female characters?
Thatís a very interesting question. I have no problem creating men as long
as I donít have to get inside their heads. I always write men from the vantage
point of some woman watching them. I write men strictly as I observe them.
Through the point of view of some woman. I feel equipped to write from the
female perspective watching a man or reacting to a man. I donít know that I
feel equipped to write an internal monologue for a man. I write strong women. I come from a long line of really strong women - very
feisty and tough ladies.
Of the books youíve written, do you have a favorite?
Not really. Each one kind of grabs you for a different reason. The
"Three Miss Margarets" was my romance with the south. It was my
first book, and it had all of that excitement. I've always been proud of
"The Ladies of Garrison Gardens" because that was my second book and with all
the pressures of "Second Book Syndrome" and writing a sequel which I wasn't
expecting to do, I managed to make as big an emotional investment in it as I had
with the first. I kind of felt like I'd grown up professionally with that
book. "Family Acts" was a joy for me. I
just loved doing all the research. That one, in a lot of ways was just so
much fun to write. In "Serendipity" I got to write about an Italian-American
Talk about some of your favorite books and authors. Are there books you
enjoy reading over and over again?
I read most books over and over again. I love anything about The Tudors.
They fascinate me. They were just a larger than life kind of people. I love
Kill a Mockingbird." I love Rick Bragg, Bailey White, Pat Conroy, and Harlen
Coben. Iím getting into Michael Connelly. I love thrillers and I like John
Grisham. In the old days I used to like Agatha Christie. I like Jane Austen.
Louisa May Alcott was my first big favorite as a kid. I love PG Wodehouse. I
like Georgette Heyer Ė sheís a regency romance writer. Iím not a particularly
deep reader. I like escapist material.
Can you tell us anything about your next book?
Itís called ďLooking For a Love StoryĒ and it comes out on April 27, 2010.
Itís Louise Shafferís idea of a romance novel (laughs). Itís set mostly in New
York. Itís about a writer whoís down on her luck and takes a ghostwriting job.
Thanks to the lovely Louise Shaffer for spending so much time with me. It
was my pleasure to speak with her. It was truly one of the most interesting and
enjoyable conversations Iíve ever had.
Please read my
review of Louise's new book "Serendipity: A Novel."
Louiseís books are available on
For more on Louise Shaffer, visit her official website
. You can also follow Louise on Twitter at
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Page updated 12/27/11
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