Ann Leary’s first book, An Innocent, a Broad, was a memoir about the birth of her son Jack in England during what was to be a weekend trip so husband Denis could appear on British TV. The weekend turned into six months, and the book tells of her travails with the British health care system.

Her second book, Out-Takes from A Marriage (Shaye Areheart/Crown), at first glance is another book based on her life with the star of the popular Rescue Me, but is in fact a novel [PW’s review said Leary “has an eye for the comedy of manners of the rich and idle”]. In it, Leary looks at America’s celebrity culture through the lives of Julia Ferraro and her actor husband, Joe. Is Joe having an affair? And what’s Julia supposed to do about it? The results are alternately hilarious and heartfelt.

Ann Leary took time to talk to PW about why she turned to the novel.

Why did you decide to turn to the novel as a form of expression?

I love the freedom of fiction. Like many writers I know, I love a great story, love telling a great story, and I hate getting all bogged down in boring facts. I like to embellish and confabulate. I’d rather be fascinating and entertaining than reliable. I thought the story I told in my memoir might be entertaining, because it involved the conception and birth of a baby, and we all know that sex and birth are rife with comic possibility; and it was also a fish-out-of water story, which people always seem to enjoy. But so far, I haven’t been blessed with any more riveting real-life plots, so I have to write stories the old-fashioned way—I have to make them up.

What’s the difference between writing nonfiction and fiction?

The major difference, for me, has to do with story and plot development. In the memoir, I knew exactly how the story was going to end. In fact, I wrote the last chapter first and then the rest of the writing was all about getting to that last chapter. In the novel, I had a very clear sense of the main characters, and even the more peripheral characters when I began, but had no idea where they were going to end up. I had only the inkling of a premise—a wife who discovers that her famous husband might be cheating—and had to do a lot of work developing a compelling plot. So, in one way, writing the memoir was easier, knowing the beginning, middle and end. But the problem with memoir is that you are writing about actual people and you must be very careful with these people. One or two of the people I wrote about in my memoir didn’t really care for the way I portrayed them. Another person, whom I deliberately left out because he’s a celebrity and I didn’t think he’d want to be in the book, was very insulted that I didn’t write about him, because he had been very helpful to us. So that part was difficult for me. Writing the novel felt quite liberating as I could have the characters (some of whom are, of course, loosely based on people I have known) do and say whatever I desired.

You are married to Denis Leary. Aren’t you afraid that people will think this book is based in fact?

Not at all. The couple in my novel have a marriage that is in serious trouble. They live in Manhattan and are very much a part of the social scene centered on the entertainment business. Denis and I have been together for 25 years. We’ve raised our kids in a small Connecticut town we’ve become very much involved in the community. Of course, some of my real experiences as the wife of a celebrity have found their way into the book—certain humorous “outtakes” of our domestic life and also our early experiences in show business.

What does Denis think of your novel writing? Is he supportive?

He’s incredibly supportive. He’s taking off a whole week from shooting his show so that he can stay with our daughter and drive her back and forth to school while I’m out promoting the book.

What made you want to write in the first place?

John Steinbeck. I read The Grapes of Wrath when I was in 8th or 9th grade and I just fell in love with Steinbeck and was blown away, as we all are when we read our first book that we think is a miracle of words. Also, we moved a lot when I was a kid and I had more than a couple of summers in a new neighborhood where I didn’t know any other kids, so I developed a sense of imagination that I might not have developed if I was playing Barbies with other little girls all day.

Do you have any words of advice that you’d like to pass along to young writers?

The same words that many authors offer. Try to write every day. Don’t sit around waiting to be “inspired.” Writing isn’t magic—it’s work. Also, have a real life while you’re trying to write. Work in restaurants, bars. Be around people from all walks of life and really study them. It’s clear to me when I read fiction written by people who have had very sheltered, limited lives. Their characters are boring and I think character development is so much more crucial than story development in writing fiction.

Are you planning to promote on radio and TV? And are you frightened by what some of the interviewers may ask you about your marriage?

Yes, I’ll be on The View and the Today Show. I’m very lucky, as a first-time novelist, to be able to have this kind of national coverage and it’s mostly to do with my famous husband. I’m more afraid of people criticizing my book than I am of them prying into my marriage. Denis and I actually lead relatively boring lives. We like to do stuff with our kids. We dote on our pets. If I wrote a book that was based on our real lives, the reader would fall asleep before the end of the first chapter.

What do you think of the “celebrity culture” that currently engulfs America?

I’m fascinated by it. I’m not sure when everybody started to become so obsessed with the lives of our celebrities—by the mundane, everyday motions these people go through—but I do know that part of it is biological. We’re wired to adore. There was a real study done on laboratory monkeys and it was discovered that thirsty monkeys would rather watch a video of their group’s dominant monkey—their “star” monkey—than drink their favorite sweetened juice beverage. I think we have a need to study and follow certain people in our culture, but it’s primitive, and the more highly evolved among us are the ones who aren’t very interested in celebrity. I strive to some day be that highly evolved, but now I sometimes lapse into drooling monkey-like adoration, I admit it.