Screenwriter-turned-novelist Gigi Levangie Grazer on raising “un-Hollywood” kids and the sheer value of honesty

“There is no balance—only life.” While you might expect these words to have come from a new age sage, they were, in fact, uttered by the glamorous, Hollywood-based novelist, Step Mom co-writer, and mother of two, Gigi Levangie Grazer. Between her upcoming book, The After Wife (which you can pre-order here), her tech company, film adaptations, and raising her down-to-earth boys, Levangie Grazer has plenty on her plate. To us, she discusses her father’s good advice, her prior marriage to mega-producer Brian Grazer, and how to unwind. “Do some yoga, some breathing, and for God’s sake (and everyone’ else’s), enjoy life’s imperfections.” —Lucie Alig 

From the film industry to writing novels, you’ve had quite the career! What’s your go-to advice for professional women?
My father, who had four girls and no boys, raised us to believe we could do anything a man could do (including fist fighting). My advice is to know yourself; be very clear and very honest about who you are. Think about what you loved as a child—what you could do for hours without getting bored. I spent years wearing a power suit, working for a major television producer, but I knew in my heart that I wanted to be a writer. Don’t live out other people’s dreams. Like my dad always said, “What other people think of you is none of your business.” Amen.

Can you tell us about your upcoming novel, The After Wife?
The story follows Hannah Marsh Bernal, a funny, self-deprecating woman who thought she had the perfect life—loving husband, sweet daughter—until she wakes up one morning to find herself widowed. And L.A., the land of almond milk and hip-hop yoga, is no place for widows. But really I’d say it’s a book about marriage, friendship (Hannah has her “Grief Team”), and spirits.

Speaking of your writing, Step Mom was such a moving screenplay. Can you talk about your own experience as a step mom?
I was lucky because my kids (I hate to call them “my step kids” because it sounds so removed) just happened to be well-mannered, nice individuals. But I won’t lie—there are a lot of challenges, too. I hear horror stories all the time, and even experienced some first-hand in my dating life after divorce. Most often, what step parenting comes down to is the quality of the adult’s behavior; kids feed off their parents’ signals. And conversely, when a step parent doesn’t have children of their own, it’s difficult to understand the intensity of a mother-child bond. Only now, after raising my two boys—Thug the Elder and Thug the Younger—do I truly “get it.”

In what ways does novel writing differ from the screenplay process?
I’m very comfortable with the screenplay format. I like knowing that on page 30, these two people fall in love; and on page 90, all is lost. I also love writing dialogue, my strong suit. I took a lot of acting courses in my teens, so I’m accustomed to the idea of “listening in” on a scene. By comparison, novel writing is more indulgent and intimidating. You can fill the pages at your leisure, but you have to write 360 of them. Yikes.

Despite your own successes, what was it like being married to such a high-powered man (producer Brian Grazer) in Hollywood? Any advice for women whose marriage/family is in the spotlight?
My husband was the most exciting man I’d ever met. We were a good fit, and I was thrilled to be part of his world. Still, my advice for women in similar circumstances is to maintain your own identity—sounds cliché, but it’s the truth. Maintain your sense of self, and don’t blame your high-powered spouse if your sudden interest in photography, jewelry-making, or t-shirt design doesn’t take off. A full-fledged career takes dedication, years of hard work, and a thick skin. No one likes an embittered privileged woman, even if we do covet her shoes.

What’s it like raising kids amidst the glitz of Hollywood? 
You’d be surprised how un-Hollywood my kids’ lives are. They both go to public school, by design, and play sports all over our wide, diverse city. They’re pretty much as normal as boys get—oftentimes too normal! (Let’s just say I’ve found their athletic cups in my silver drawer. Hilarious!) Still, I’ve definitely seen what too many “things”—whether money, video games, or Laker floor seats—can do to children. All those things take away from a child’s desire to engage and challenge themselves. I say let them earn their self-esteem; don’t hand it to them.

Aside from The After Wife, what other projects are on the horizon for you?
Apart from securing a napping schedule for myself? I have another novel due in August, The Sister Effect. My latest novel, Queen Takes King, is being developed for a Lifetime movie, and I’m also an owner in a tech company that I’m really excited about. But what I’d really like to do is walk my dogs more often