Tennis enthusiasts may remember Leslie Cohen from her 15 minutes — or make that five hours — of Long Island fame in the mid-'90s, when she was setting local records. All through her teens, the Great Neck native was a ranked U.S. Tennis Association tournament player, hitting No. 1 on Long Island when she was 12.
"How do two 10-year-olds play a five-hour match, you may ask? That was one of my records. The fact is, I learned a lot of things from competitive tennis that I use as a writer," she said in a Zoom conversation from her mother's home in Water Mill, where she's been since the pandemic. "Lesson One: Perseverance. Lesson Two: Perseverance. Lesson Three: Perseverance."
Cohen's first novel, "This Love Story Will Self-Destruct" (2018) was an edgy update of "When Harry Met Sally." Her second, "My Ride or Die" (William Morrow, $16.99) flips the standard romcom formula, putting female friendship front and center, boy-girl stuff on the side. She introduces her two narrators, best friends Amanda and Sophie, at Sophie's wedding in Vermont … which Sophie calls off. In the aftermath, the two make the unconventional decision to buy a house together and swear platonic allegiance, letting relationships with men come and go as they may.
I think I'm showing my age, but what does the title mean?
"My ride or die" is slang for a best friend who is with you through thick and thin. And that means something to women of all ages — friendships are critical to our survival. We all know the ebb and flow, the heartbreaking moments as well as the moments of true understanding.
Sophie and Amanda take turns telling their story. Is one of them more 'you' than the other?
Like Amanda, I went to law school, but unlike Amanda, I was the worst lawyer in history. That's partly because, like Sophie, I always wanted to be an artist — in my case a writer, in her case a painter. I'm not quite as free-spirited as Sophie, but I don't think I'm as anxious as Amanda either.
And Sophie's from Brazil. Are you?
No, but my grandmother and her sister are Holocaust survivors, and while my grandmother came to New York, my great-aunt went to Brazil. I have a lot of family down there, and a bit of familiarity with the culture. I got the Portuguese phrases Sophie uses from my cousins.
There's so much detail about the art world and Sophie's struggle for a career.
That took legwork. I had to speak to artists, I had to walk into galleries and ask questions, which they don't take so kindly to, I found. But I hate when, in the movies, if somebody wants to be a writer, they write their first piece and then suddenly they're in The New Yorker. I wanted to show real challenges.
The one subject you could have written about with no research at all is used in only one scene — the tennis match between Amanda and her boyfriend in Central Park.
This was my first time writing a scene where people play tennis! Maybe it just seemed too easy. Writers like to torture themselves, I guess. But this time, I thought, why don't I have some fun and write about something I know inside and out?
Even more fun, she beats the pants off him! Is the "artsy part" of the Hamptons Sophie visits real too?
The street I described, with colorful houses and unusual mailboxes, is near my mother's house in Water Mill, but I don't know who lives there. Of course, there have always been artists in the Hamptons, so it's entirely possible.
One of my other favorite locations in the book is Cabo San Lucas, which you describe so alluringly.
I love it when people go on vacation in a book and I get to read about it. I put extra energy into the settings because actually, the movie rights were sold before the book was written and I was picturing in my head exactly how each scene would look on screen. It's the production company who made "Twilight" and "The Fault in Our Stars," Temple Hill Entertainment.