Zibby Books

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A ghostwriting gig in the Hamptons becomes far more than a job in this sexy, atmospheric, and deliciously tense story. Kirkus Reviews says, “Like cinnamon Red Hots, this of-the-moment domestic thriller keeps you sweetly sucking away till it delivers the punch.”

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Griffin Dunne, THE FRIDAY AFTERNOON CLUB

 

Transcript:

Zibby: Welcome Griffin. Thank you so much for coming on Moms Don't Have Time To Read Books to discuss the Friday Afternoon Club Family memoir. It was so good. Oh my gosh. Ate it all up. Every word. So good. 

Griffin: I'm so glad. I like your dog in the background there. 

Zibby: I know. I was just looking. I was like, Oh my gosh, I should probably wake her up.

But... 

Griffin: here's mine right there. 

Zibby: Oh, so cute. 

Griffin: Also asleep. 

Zibby: Yeah. Usually she's on the couch, but you never know. Okay. Tell listeners about the book. When did you decide to write this? I know you started off always knowing it would be a family memoir, but when did you decide now's the time to write this and how did you get going?

Griffin: Well, I have a very intrepid agent. He wasn't really, I wasn't really a client of his, but we're friends. And he'd been after me to write a book, uh, for at least 10 years, because he'd heard my stories that I regaled about, about my own mishaps in New York and, and growing up in LA and, and also about my family who had a pretty scandalous and fascinating, uh, past going back generations.

So along the way, without telling David Kuhn, the agent. I've been sort of logging stories, um, and letting them sort of build. Until I felt sort of fecund and about, well, almost really less than two years, I wrote David and sent him, uh, about, uh, 40, 50 pages and he went, Oh, you sneaky, sneaky. This is great. I know how to sell this.

And he drew up a beautiful proposal and, and many publishers were interested. And, uh, soon as, uh, we worked everything out with Penguin, where. You know, I've been reading Penguin books. Um, they have so much, uh, meaning in history to me. That was a place I definitely wanted to be at. I went right to work and I have to say it was, it just flowed.

I was just sort of obsessed. I, I came in well under my deadline. I found, you know, when I was acting in a movie, when the camera would turn around and there'd be a setup, I'd brush back to my dressing room and just pick up from where I left off. And it just sort of went like that for, uh, you know, a year and a half.

Zibby: Now you're making all other authors feel terrible. 

Griffin: I know. I know. It's always, it's not always going to be like this. No, as a filmmaker, you know, people's And it's true, I think, sometimes with books, it just, it, it, it, my first movie just came so easily, and the sophomore effort, because you just know, there's so much expectation, and you're comparing yourself, and you know what to be afraid of, the second work is usually more challenging.

Zibby: Yeah. Well. 

Griffin: That's okay. 

Zibby: I feel mildly better myself. I don't know. One of the things that you do in the book is you make yourself into a character, right? You're you show us how funny you can be and all these times where you're, you're the dark humor and wit and all of that, and all the situations into which you Into it you fall that make you feel like you're in a movie to begin with.

Can I just read this, this passage towards the end? Is that okay? Yeah. This is when you, you've gone to con and you don't, you're, the dry cleaner still has your tuxedo and so you have to get the tuxedo from your security guard, which is so funny. You said, I paced my room in just a bow tie and a shirt, taking no delight in the irony that Paul Hackett's misadventures continued to follow me even after I'd made the movie.

These you're never going to believe what just happened moments have taunted me all my life. It's why Amy thought of me for the role and Marty couldn't imagine anyone else after picking up on my chaotic vibes. Marty being Martin Scorsese, just for those who aren't familiar on a first name basis, but that's okay.

But it can be tiresome to constantly be in stressful situations that an unseen audience finds hilarious. If, when putting my room service tray in the hallway in only my underwear, the door locks behind me, I swear I can hear a laugh track. The 20 that blew out the window of the taxi at the beginning of the movie is something that actually happened to me in the back of a Chicago cab.

I had hoped making After Hours might exercise these laugh track moments of my life, but to date, no such luck. 

Griffin: Yes. 

Zibby: They continue. Is that really the thing. 

Griffin: They do? I'm afraid they do. Just, you know, remarkable. I have a very, uh, uh, hostile relationship with keys. Constantly losing them and being locked in.

And I do find, you know, particularly when you're in a hurry, some very creative obstacles come my way that I do think, oh, this doesn't happen to anyone else. This is only happening to me. I'm sure other people feel that, but it's certainly a way I, I continue to feel. 

Zibby: I, I literally just ordered these tiles, I guess, where you can put them on your phone and your glasses and like things.

So you just stop. I just stop losing things all the time because you waste so much time. 

Griffin: Yeah. Um, I, I am, I, I lost the tiles.

Zibby: That's funny. Oh my gosh. So your book is really divided into two sections. And the first is almost a career memoir. It's a career and family story of how you're, well, more family than career, but how, like your coming of age, so to speak, and how that goes with your whole family and the, you know, the issues within the members of the family and your own, you know, relationships.

And then the second part is much more. Of the trial, and I'm so sorry for the loss of Dominique, I'm so sorry, that's, it's so horrific and you wrote about it with beauty and grace and, and all of that, but anyway, so when you were structuring the memoir and trying to figure out the two things to tell, did you feel this pull of how to divide it and how to tell that story and how to make sure that the trial story didn't sort of take over the rest of the book?

Griffin: That was always a concern of mine because it was, uh, I decided to write it chronologically, which sounds like a logical thing to do, but I'd originally envisioned to move the book, even when I was on my proposal, that it would be a family memoir with chapters with, with, with incidents that would take place, and I was inspired by David Sedaris's, um, Uh, books about his family and, uh, my editor, John Burnham Schwartz, who's also a wonderful novelist as well.

He suggested the boring tact of why don't you just write it in sequence? And I realized the story doesn't begin with, you know, I was born in a manger. The story began in the Mexican revolution with Pancho Villa driving my mother's side of the family across the border to Nogales and the great famine, Irish famine on my father's side.

And. It brought me through their child, my parents childhood and the difficulties that they had. And my father was, had a very, very, uh, abusive father. And, and I just carried their lives along until I was born. And as I'm going along in sequence, I knew that the trial, that the murder and the trial was On my path and I would, I was kind of like dreading that part, but it just, you know, it arrived that sequence of events.

And I, after I, I worked my way through that, it was very, I just, I wanted to the trial in particular, I wanted to get across one travesty, judicial travesty after another that happened to us in the courtroom without, without commentary, without me having to express my feelings because the, by them, the, The people would know the narrator, the readers would know the narrator well enough to know how I feel and that they would be as outraged as we were and as confounded.

And so when I got through that part and then I continued with my career, I realized this is this is book two and it totally. And so I went back and I just put book two, which was the beginning of the trial. And then I took a chapter that I'd written chronologically of, of. The homicide detective, Johnston, uh, Harold Johnston, waking my mother up to tell her that Dominique, my sister, her, her daughter was, uh, had been strangled and was on life support.

And I made that the prologue. And, and then I knew, I knew what my ending was going to be, that I was going to open with death. and end with life, with my daughter being born. So the structure came to me by writing chronologically. 

Zibby: Wow. That's really interesting. You wrote one of the most powerful scenes, I think, was when your brother Alex was institutionalized or these two other people had brought him and you were the one who had to sign him in to stay.

And you were like, I can't do this. I can't do this. And you took him out and you could tell you were just like wracked with. guilt. You didn't want to leave him, but he was having another manic episode. In fact, the whole way you wrote about Alex and mental illness was really nuanced and beautiful and, and shows really clearly what it's like to live with somebody or to love somebody who struggles.

Tell me about that moment and just the takeaways from this whole thing. And I'm so happy that at the end you said he's doing very well because I was really rooting for him all along. 

Griffin: Yeah, no, he's, he's, he's, he's doing great. Just backing up for a moment. You know, I, I, I, I, when I wanted to write the book.

I could not write it without my brother's blessing. And in order to write about my family and, um, I would have to, you know, talk about his, his, uh, his mental struggles at that period in his life. And he said, you can write whatever you want about me. Just have it come from a place of love. And it was a note that I took to heart with everyone, um, who was in my immediate family and beyond.

And so Alex and I were very, very close, are very close. And. You know, having to, you know, see him, you know, locked up in the U. C. L. A. Psychiatric ward was just torture for me to see him like that in that condition and him, you know, begging me to get him out of there. And I just I loved him too much. I didn't have the heart.

I couldn't do it. I just couldn't do it. It was, uh, and I said to the judge, yeah. In this little courtroom, you know, where you have someone mandatorily committed, I just broke down. I said, I can't do it. I can't do it. And I started crying. Alex was, was free. He was not free of his illness that would continue on for some, some years, but that was a, uh, that was a very tough, uh, tough time for both of us.

Zibby: Sorry, did you ever read or see the recent series of I Know This Much Is True by Wally Lamb? 

Griffin: I sure did. I sure did. And you know, Mark, Mark Ruffalo's a good friend of mine. And I, I get so emotional. I've opened up some vein ever since writing this book, but I had called him. And he knew about my brother and, you know, Mark has had a tragedy in his family with his brother.

And we just talked and talked about that. I just really hit me deep is his performances as himself, as. You know, playing his brother and as well as the central figure, they got it just right. They got it just right. That was, I felt so, I related to that. I hadn't read the book, but I, the series really moved me.

Zibby: So powerful. I always think about that. It was just amazing, especially in the context of yours, but, so you have these very, uh, You know, heartfelt, dark moments in your mother's, you know, MS. And, you know, just so there's so much stuff in here. And yet then we're like, you know, hanging out with all these celebrities.

Like there's just so much you're in this full ride, which is of course your life. Carrie Fisher, by the way. So my husband, Kyle started Morning Moon Productions with Billy and her husband, Austin. So they. Oh my 

Griffin: gosh. Oh my gosh. That's amazing. 

Zibby: Yeah, so I was like there looking at the house that they're rebuilding and all this stuff.

Oh, 

Griffin: yeah, well, I know that house. You know, I've written Billie. I've just encouraged her to read the book and I don't know that she has yet. I think her, uh, her dad might have, you know, sometimes, you know, when the book was about to come out or something that there'd be little tiny gossipy things that would just focus on something that Carrie and I even talked about on camera in a documentary about her, about me.

Taking your virginity and they make it sound so salacious. Like that's what the book was about. So I remember I, I contacted, uh, Billy and the father going, read the book. You're going to, it's going to bring back your mom. And that section was so much fun to write. And, you know, Charlie Wessler was in the book and Carrie had a close knit of.

Friends of myself, a guy named Gavin DeBecker and Bruce Wagner, the wonderful writer and Beverly DeAngelo and they read the book and they just were, that was the ultimate compliment. Like you got her. It was like being in the room with her, which thrilled me. 

Zibby: Wow. 

Griffin: It felt like I was in the room with her when I was writing it.

Zibby: It felt like we were too. It sounded like a very fun room to be in, although perhaps not near that shower, but with the hand or whatever. Uh, you wrote something so beautiful. Nice about her too, you said. In the years ahead I was there for her family weddings and she for many of mine. She loved to pretend she couldn't remember which of my exes was which, but of course she knew, and dug for every little nugget about when and where it all went wrong with the same curiosity she'd had about my proclivities when she was a virgin.

I wish I could remember our last conversation before she left for London on the trip from which she never came home in 2016. It was probably about Christmas plans or our daughter's shenanigans, but I know, despite not remembering what exactly was said, That we laughed very, very hard. 

So good. 

Griffin: It sucks me out, but just hear it.

Zibby: That's so good. 

Griffin: Yeah. 

Zibby: Oh my gosh. Well, this is, I'm sure will be a gift to, to Billy and the whole family, so it's really fun. You also, which has gotten, I know a lot of media attention, this sort of expose, if you will, of your dad and things that we might not have known about him as a public figure in his own right, in addition to your, you know, aunt and uncle and, and all of that.

How do you think your dad having, let's pretend he just read this book, what do you think he would say to you? 

Griffin: I, I think about that a lot and I, and I'm pretty certain I'm right about this answer that he would be really very, very proud and, you know, both, both he and John and Joan did not hold back when writing about their writing about themselves and their own personal journeys.

And, you know, dad had said once to me, we were having conflict about something and he would say. Write it down. Just let me have it. You're going to feel great. Just say whatever the hell you want about me. I don't care. Just get it down. And that rang in my ear. And so I think he, you know, he's very, he was very honest about himself.

You know, he did a documentary. It was a documentary about him. And he talked about a lot of the same things I did about, You know, his, his sort of weaknesses as a, as a social climber and how important it was to give parties and to be at parties and be invited to parties by celebrities and famous people, uh, you know, he really worshipped at the altar of, of, of fame.

And, you know, as a. As a, as children and it kind of made my, my brother and I kind of uncomfortable, you know, Dominique was much younger and you know, it was like kind of, um, you know, I talk about him, you know, when I was young of my, my best friends were their fathers were movie stars and played tough guys.

One guy was Jack Palance, who was the gunslinger and Shane and the other was Howard Keel, who was a lumberjack and. You know, my father was not particularly known for his masculinity and tough guy stuff. That came later, the real tough guy. But at that time, you know, they, these, my friends, Gunnar and Cody would taunt me and go, my, our dad could lick your dad with one hand tied behind their back.

And I said, well, uh, he, he wouldn't, he'd kick both your asses and he wills just soon as he gets out of prison.

And I made up this line. What's he in for? I said, he robbed a bank. And the rumor went around like smallpox. It was like the principal called my dad. And then my dad, when he came home from work, just went, is that something you want me to do? Griffin, Robert, I was so embarrassed and he was embarrassed. You know, it was like, you know, he kind of knew.

He knew I wasn't, you know, proud of him as I came to be. But at that time I was, you know, just a kid who had an idea of what a man was supposed to be. And, and at that time I thought my father didn't fit the bill. Uh, well, he certainly, and that was before I knew, I never knew he was a war hero. You know, and later in life, you know, when he was very well known and, and received all these awards and was recognized on the street, he'd always tell you, and, you know, quite proudly, he really enjoyed his late life, uh, success.

But he never told me about that. He never bragged. He never told me he saved two soldiers lives. In the battle of mints in the toward the end of the war. And so, you know, there was, as I say in the book, you know, I, I wanted to be, uh, you know, I always had this idea of what it was to be a man and, and didn't realize till much later I've been raised by one all along.

Zibby: I love that. So what is success? What does the success of this book mean to you? Like, what would you deem successful? What would have to, what would happen? 

Griffin: Well, 

Zibby: What do you want to happen, I guess? 

Griffin: Well, the first success was finishing it, actually doing it. It was, it was on my bucket list to someday write a book.

I, I, I, I'm a big reader and I've been, you know, taking in the styles of different writers and, you know, seeing how, you know, You know, Philip Roth and writers that I admire how they do it. I've been doing that even subconsciously for a long time, but I think that the success and the praise and I'm just love hearing how much I met and enjoyed where I can, uh, at an age where I can just take in all the love and not be conflicted about it as you know, people are when they're younger and they're Get success very early, but it's different than, you know, coming out in a movie that I directed or was in or produced because this, I did, this is the only thing I've ever done all by myself.

It's, it's been a solo flight all the way along and the landing has been triumphant. I feel like Lindbergh or something, you know? And, and so I have that, uh, I have a real sense of accomplishment of, of having done something by myself. And starting and finishing it and then having it and being proud of the end result.

Zibby: Well, you should be. It's really good. And the way you tell stories is captivating and the pacing is so good. And it's a nice, clean writing style where you're totally in it. And, um, you know, as a book itself, I think it is, it is great. And obviously you had all the stories to fill it. You know, it's like a, you know, I was like envisioning it like a Build A Bear.

I'm obviously spending too much time with my children, but you know, like, like the outside is great, but like, it's this, you know, the stuffing, anyway, whatever, never mind. Anyway, do you have advice for aspiring authors? 

Griffin: Well, I'm a novice writer myself, but I will give advice anyway, that not to censor yourself, just, just keep writing, just, just get it down, just plow forward.

The fun part is editing, but just get it, get it all out. You know, I'd be, I would turn in pages to, to my editor, John, 50, you know, in lumps of 50 or 60 pages. Someone's just, you go, come on, you don't want to say that or, or, you know, just go, I don't know what the hell you're talking about here. And I go, okay, that's a good note.

And then I would just go back and fine tune it and fine tune it. And I, I just, I just didn't censor myself. I, I, one piece of great advice I learned from Joan, not that she told me, I read it, but I took it to heart. Was always leaving something the end of the day, leaving something incomplete that you look forward to picking up the next morning.

That was great advice. And I would go to bed having to resist the urge to get out of bed in the middle of the night and keep, keep on going. Which sometimes I failed at that, but, but that was good advice that I got from her that I'll pass along. 

Zibby: Amazing. Well, thank you so much for the book, for the time. I really appreciate it.

I feel like you need to go start like a sub stack or something because now I need to read. I want to keep following, you know, like now I feel very invested. I'm like, okay, now what? Like, how's it going? What, where are the stories? 

Griffin: I got more. I got more. 

Zibby: Okay. Good. Okay. Good. 

Griffin: Thank you. And thank you for including me when you're with your summer read.

Zibby: Oh, you're welcome. You're welcome. 

Griffin: And, uh, this is fun. Thank you. 

Zibby: Thank you. Okay. All right. Take care. Congrats.

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Griffin Dunne, THE FRIDAY AFTERNOON CLUB

Bakari Sellers, THE MOMENT

Lawyer, CNN commentator, and New York Times bestselling author Bakari Sellers joins Zibby to discuss THE MOMENT, an urgent, astute synthesis of the modern political landscape and policies impacting Black families and communities. Bakari, whose book blends personal family history with a broader narrative of Black experience in America, recounts the traumatic birth of his twins and his wife’s near-fatal complications, which revealed systemic inequalities in the healthcare system. He also reflects on his upbringing in South Carolina, his family’s involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, the generational trauma Black Americans face, and the necessity of empathy, activism, and continued progress towards equality.

Transcript:

Zibby: Welcome, Bakari. Thank you so much for coming on Moms Don't Have Time to Read Books to discuss The Moment: Thoughts on the Race Reckoning That Wasn’t and How We All Can Move Forward Now . Congrats. 

Bakari: Yeah. A lot of words. I know. I'm sorry about all the words on the title. 

Zibby: Did you want less? Did you want fewer?

Bakari: No, it, it was necessary. It was necessary. 

Zibby: Um, first of all, I know a lot of the book takes us back through your family history and the history of black people in general and what we can do going forward and all of that and your sort of call to action. But I love the embedded story of your personal family throughout, um, so I just wanted to hear a little bit more, and you can tell listeners all about the book and everything, but, um, it sounds like you went through a lot with the birth of your twins and your wife's near, you know, fatal delivery and liver transplant, and anyway, thank you Can you just tell me a little bit more about your family, because now I feel very attached to everybody.

Bakari: Yeah, no. Thank you so much. And when you write books, you have characters, and you have scenarios, and you have stories to tell. And, um, for me, it was important for everybody to know who I was completely, the full me. And that means that I'm a husband and a father. And my, my wife, uh, was, we had an amazing, um, pregnancy, and we had an awful birth.

Um, she nearly died during the birth of the twins, Sadie and Stokely. She lost seven units of blood, um, and I believe they said somebody her size only had about nine units of blood. She hemorrhaged. We pulled back the sheet. It was nothing but blood everywhere. And, um, she spent the first 36 hours of the twins life in ICU.

That's first. And second, um, you know, Sadie was still a little John to sit three or four months. And at 10 months we had, uh, um, we, you know, we ended up, she ended up at four months going into full, um, liver failure. Um, and at 10 months, she had a transplant. And so we've been able to see the kind of the inequalities and the, um, discrepancies we have in our, and a bias as we have in our healthcare delivery system up close and personal.

Um, I'm from the big city of Denmark, South Carolina, where we have three stoplights and a blinking light. And. Um, you know, my mom was a part of the desegregating class of her high school, and my dad was a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and marched with King and, um, you know, was shot in the Orangeburg Massacre, February 8th of 68.

And so all of these characters make up my life. This is all family. And for me, um, it is an amazing, um, An amazing and amazing American story and it gives me the ability to challenge the country to be better than she is because the blood of my family literally runs through the soil of this great country.

And we've, um, we've lived through so much. And so, um, we just want, like I tell everyone, I just want tomorrow to be better than yesterday. 

Zibby: It's amazing. Um, in the book you say that every black person has post traumatic slave disorder. Can you talk about that? 

Bakari: Yeah, I mean, it's generational trauma and people, um, oftentimes like to challenge me and say, well, you know, the Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Act passed in the mid 60s.

So you had 60 years. And I'm like, well, I hear you. Um, but you. This country wasn't a full Republican until everyone had rights such as, such as those. And so you take 300 years of slavery, another 100 years of Jim Crow and oppression. And finally, you get, you know, full citizenship in the mid sixties. I mean, that's the first time that black folk were able to vote, drink water out the same water fountains, go to the same libraries.

And we acknowledge that in the book. And the unique part about the book is that it's not just an acknowledgement of the past, but it is a, um, Prescription for where do we go from here and thinking about the future and that's so important and asking ourselves like where where do we go from here and I try to lay out prescriptions and the prescriptions the reason being is because I don't want people to you may not agree with everything that I say, right?

And that's fine. But so many people are disheartened and so many people are on the sidelines. I wanted to have conversations to draw those people off the sidelines, re engage them in the conversation. Not just a conversation about the past, but how do we move forward? 

Zibby: So what, and I mean, I know because I read, but what is your, what is your advice?

Like, where do you, what do you think people desperately need to do aside from look at some of the inequities in the system, such as the healthcare system, which you, you dive into and there's lots of statistics and all of the. That's bad facts. 

Bakari: Yeah. No, I think that, you know, a lot of these systems in the country are broken and, and, and, well, let me say they work intended, but they don't work for everyone.

And we have to reimagine our roles in those systems and reimagine what they look like, um, and reimagine 'em in an image that is, that fits all of us. And then, you know, the, the larger thing is nobody can do this by themselves, right? Mm-Hmm. , it's gonna take all of us. And we saw some of that around George Floyd, the fact that.

People from all walks of life, Democrats and Republicans, black, white, those from the North South, all around the world came out in the streets because they just saw with their own eyes, something that they felt to be so unjust. And, you know, for a moment, I thought that we were making progress and then I realized, and we've realized since that time, um, we're, we're just, we're not there.

And that for me is a large, large problem. I, um, I believe and we, we, we articulate this in every chapter as we go through. I believe there's so much more that we can, that we can do in our daily walks of life to improve the plight of others. The number one problem we have in this country, uh, Zibi, is that, um, we have an empathy deficit.

And people no longer can put themselves in the shoes of others. And I wrote this book so that maybe you can put yourself, or at least understand the shoes in which I walk. And then we can figure out how we finish and complete this journey together. 

Zibby: I love that. Was it hard for you to write? 

Bakari: Yes, um, I, so, on my podcast, A couple of years ago, I had an opportunity to interview Cicely Tyson on Monday, and she passed on Wednesday, and I love, love, love.

In fact, her book was one of the best books I've read in the past five years. It was an autobiography, and here she was. I want to say she was 92, 93. She might have been 94. I can't remember how old she was, but I posed the question to her, like, You're writing your first book, an autobiography, like, and you're over 90 years old with Mrs.

Tyson, tell me why now? And in her amazing voice she said, Because I was waiting until I had something to say. And you know, it's so powerful. And for me, um, it was just, that, that was it. I wanted to have something to say. It's such a powerful moment, um, that we were living through. And I am halfway through the book.

Ran out of things to say. 

Zibby: I'm sorry. I shouldn't laugh. I'm sorry. 

Bakari: It wasn't like writer's block. It was like, Hmm, but you can't have a five chapter book, right? 

Zibby: I tried that, by the way. I wrote a book and I handed it in and it was 30, 000 words. And I was like, here you go. And my editor was like, I don't think so.

That's like half a book. And I'm like, I think it's fine. It's fine. 

Bakari: Yes. So I, um, you know, I, I had my thoughts were everywhere and I, you know, I'm very disciplined in the writing process and I learned that in during my first book, my vanishing country, because, um, I had to finish my book by a certain time so it could be released in May because that summer, a young man named Barack Obama was issuing his memoir.

We, nobody knew when it was coming out, but the last thing we wanted was your book to compete with that because that would not be much of a competition. Um, but I dedicated myself to writing 15 minutes a day. Sometimes you write for 15 minutes and sometimes that 15 or sometimes you don't write anything during that 15 minutes or sometimes that 15 minutes turns into an hour.

And so I tried to either write or transcribe or dictate, not transcribe, dictate for 15 minutes a day. And this book actually was unique because we had some other voices, Ben Crump, uh, Reverend Dr. William Barber, um, Joseph Darby, Antoine C. Wright, my brother, my father, many other voices in this book that helped flesh out some of the ideas and narratives.

Zibby: At the end of the book, in the acknowledgments actually, you reference a dear friend of yours who had passed away from a blood clot. Can you talk about that? 

Bakari: Yeah, I mean it was one of the, it was probably something I would have talked about more if I wasn't near the completion of the book, but January 3rd, I had just spoken to him January 2nd, January 3rd, um, I, uh, I got a phone call from his girlfriend.

I was walking through the mall and, um, he was just a, he was my best friend in the entire world. Brian Newman. I don't know, Zibby, I don't know if you watched the Alec Murdoch trial. That was the lawyer in South Carolina who killed his wife and child. And it was one of the biggest trials last summer.

Anyway, his father was the judge in that trial. 

Zibby: Okay. 

Bakari: Newman. And we went to We went to college together, law school together, lived in law school together. We, we were thick as thieves, as they say, and he was just somebody that I loved and adored. And, um, you know, um, losing him took a big piece out of me. We had just celebrated his 40th birthday a couple of weeks before.

Um, and he on Thursday or Friday, it was right before new year's, this was, wasn't feeling well. Always felt something in his chest or other. Um, he was having a little shortness of breath. Our other friend is a doctor and said, maybe you have COVID or whatever you need to go. Sunday, he went out, it was New Year's Eve on Sunday, went out and he left New Year's Eve earlier, which is something he never does because he is somebody who lives life to the fullest.

Monday came, went to happy hour with the boys, said he still wasn't feeling well. Tuesday, he said, I'm going to the doctor. Um, he went to the doctor and they, They told him that he had a blood clot and he had the opportunity to drive himself to the hospital or they could drive him. He drove himself, passed out, came to finish the drive, passed out right in front of the hospital, bumped his head, went in the hospital, coded and died on the table.

So it was a traumatic experience. And, um, you know, for anyone who loses a loved one, I talk to his parents all the time. They're like my other parents. They've, they've had to, um, You know, they've had to go through the process of, of burying a child, which no one wants to do. Um, you know, you begin to live for them.

And so he is somebody I now live for. 

Zibby: I'm so sorry. That's a terrible story. I'm so sorry. 

Bakari: It's it, but unfortunately it is life and it's, um, you know, it's, it's what you do with that tragedy and how you overcome. 

Zibby: Yeah, I know there's post traumatic growth and all that and, you know, on the flip side of inherited trauma, maybe, I don't know, the only perk in the trauma universe, but I don't know.

And I'm not sure about it. 

Bakari: You know, I was like, do you ever stop grieving? Like please somebody tell me when that happens and nobody knows the answer to it, but we deal with it and it's just, it's, it's tough to say the least. 

Zibby: I lost my very best friend to trauma. As well, I, we were roommates all through college and after college, and she died on 9 11.

She worked in one of the towers and so,... 

Bakari: oh, my goodness. 

Zibby: Yeah. So, um, I know that gaping hole and, you know, her parents and, um, but. There's something about someone who keeps so many of your memories, too. You know, all the things you go together and then those just disappear and anyway, I, my heart just breaks for you.

So. 

Bakari: Maybe you and I can write a book about that. 

Zibby: Okay. Sure. 

Bakari: We'll go through it. Yeah. We'll talk about it out there. 

Zibby: Okay. Sure. Yeah. I would love to. Why not add it to the list? We're not busy, right? We don't have anything to do. 

Bakari: Yeah. 

Zibby: You're not like trying to change the world or anything. 

Bakari: Certainly. 

Zibby: Um, how do you balance like, I hate that word balance.

Um, 

Bakari: Your question was presumptuous. 

Zibby: No one can balance. That's why I stopped myself halfway through. 

Bakari: No, you're not prioritized. I mean, I'm a father and a husband. And so you go through those priorities, but in terms of balance, I don't have any. I try to sleep when I can and try to take care of myself. It just gets tough.

Um, life is tough and raising twins is not easy and 

Zibby: I have twins too. 

Bakari: I have five year old twins. Most times I'm like, yeah, I'm like, if anybody, um, does anybody want twins, please, they're buy one, get one free right now. 

Zibby: And sometimes people are like, oh, you have twins. I always wanted twins. And I'm like, no.

I mean, I love my twins so much now they're almost 17, but you know, it's a lot. It is hard. 

Bakari: A lot. Yeah. I was like, nobody. No, you don't want twins. Yeah. The only people who want twins are people who don't have twins. 

Zibby: Yeah. It sounds good. Sounds efficient. I like efficiency. I do. Yeah. Um, my goodness. Um, how, so it said in the book, you wrote in the book, I should say, that you were called to public service like forever, right?

This is, you always knew you wanted to, to do this and give back and, and all of that. But, um, Is the actuality of it. A little bit less glamorous than you thought, or is it just, how is, how does reality compare to your goals?

Bakari: Oh, it's changed. Right? Um, when I first got elected, it was not a, I was, I got elected in 2006.

I was 21 years old. I was the youngest black elected official, youngest state legislator in the country. And to tell you about the timing, you know, we barely had Facebook, no Instagram, no Snapchat, no Twitter campaigns, no text message campaigns, et cetera. But... 

Zibby: I remember those days. 

Bakari: A lot of it. A lot of black folk, we looked up to Deval Patrick.

It wasn't Barack Obama. You know, Barack Obama was just somebody who gave a great speech and at the DNC in 2004, Deval Patrick was a two term black governor from Massachusetts. Everybody was like, you know, this is the pinnacle, the top. This is who we want to be like. Um, but there wasn't a level of celebrity that went with it.

When Barack Obama got elected, that's when the celebrity kind of came and people wanted to be famous by going into politics. And now there's such a cross section between entertainment, pop culture, celebrity, politics. And it's actually created an atmosphere where the people who we elect are just not good human beings.

Right? And so I think that although I believe the task to still be noble, um, the people who you have to work with to effectuate change make it quite difficult. 

Zibby: Interesting, but still worth doing? 

Bakari: That's a good question. I ponder that question every day. Uh, I would, the answer to the question is yes today, but as I go through and get older and matriculate throughout life, I don't know what that answer is.

Zibby: Interesting. Um, what do you want readers, particularly, like, I know the, the book seems to be written as if the reader is also black, but I am obviously a white woman. Here we are talking. See me? I'm like not trying to hide anything. You know, what can every, what can people who are not in the same situation.

Bakari: Um, 

Zibby: I mean, I've read a lot about this, obviously, I mean, but, but, but, but, but, but, but, I got your perspective, I got your family story, I got your analysis of what we need to do, um, the places in society, you know, listed sort of one at a time, you know, taking us through how we, you know, anxiety and the healthcare and all of that, um, like where we can do better, um, where we all have to do better, the gains that, that have been gotten and those that have not, um, and, you know, It's not okay.

That's, that's where I left off. 

Bakari: Well, I mean, that's, that is, you got it. 

Zibby: Did I pass? 

Bakari: You passed. 

Zibby: Okay. Good. 

Bakari: You passed. I don't really think there's a failing in that question, but you passed. And I think that acknowledging that we've made progress, but we still have yet a ways to go is the first real big acknowledgment that we're not there yet.

There are a lot of people who want to say, well, we're here, post racial, we've made it. You had a black president. Congratulations. Do better. And I, you know, the first thing is acknowledging that we've made progress, but we still have so far to go. And the second thing is being willing to at least listen to the stories, which you, by picking up the book and reading it and turning the pages, having that willingness to listen.

And so maybe we can find some commonalities in the things that we both want to see, and I can understand the work you're doing versus the work that I'm doing. And even by giving me a platform today to talk about this book, you are doing Yeoman's work and bringing us further together. And talking about ways in which we can join.

And so it's little things like offering your platform or going back to because what I tell people, particularly white college educated women, is that. Sometimes I might have the right message, but Bakari Sellers may not be the right messenger. And there are conversations that you can have with other white folk that I can't have, which may change perspectives, or enlighten, or say, maybe we need to think about this differently.

And so hopefully this book will arm you with the tools to bring people off the sideline, have those uncomfortable and difficult conversations with your friends and peers, um, and maybe, just maybe be hopeful enough in where tomorrow can get us that we work together towards that common goal. Thank you.

Zibby: Amazing. I just, uh, I also read this weekend, Uncomfortable Conversations with a Jew, and I had Emmanuel Achoan for his other book, um, the first book, rather. So I feel like I'm, I'm about, I'm having a lot of uncomfortable conversations. So just add this to the list, you know, you just pile it on. 

Bakari: Yeah. As if you're not stressed out enough.

Zibby: Well, there is nothing more powerful than connection, right? And talking to other people and sharing stories. And I think that's something you do well in the book and that we all need to do a better job of in general. So I appreciate you taking the time to write it and to share your experience and, um, I'm hoping it helps progress the dialogue.

Bakari: I hope so. I hope, um, I hope that I am a part of the problem solving caucus and not the problem caucus. That's my goal. 

Zibby: Yes. And it gets easier having twins. It does. Yeah. It's, it's easier. 

Bakari: I needed that. 

Zibby: All right. Well, thank you so much. Thanks for coming on. Congratulations. 

Bakari: Thank you. Thank you so much for your support.

Have a blessed day. 

Zibby: Okay. You too.

Zibby: Welcome Johann. Thank you so much for coming on. Moms don't have time to read books to discuss magic pill, the extraordinary benefits and disturbing risks of the new weight loss drugs.

Congratulations on your book. 

Johann: Oh, thank you so much. I'm really excited to be with you. 

Zibby: I feel like the subtitle should have been something like one man's journey through multiple countries and through, you know, you know what I mean? Like there's, there's so much first person reporting that goes on. And your own emotions and all that as opposed to like a strict factual thing about weight loss drugs.

Johann: Yeah. It was very personal to me. I remember the first time I learned that we now have drugs that cause just staggering amounts of weight loss. You know, the average person who takes a Zempic Wigovi loses 15 percent of their body weight. The average person who takes Menjaro loses 21 percent of their body weight within a year.

And I remember just a very personal level. Feeling really intensely two very contradictory things. The first thing I thought was, well, this could save my life. I'm older than my grandfather ever got to be. He died of a heart attack when he was 44. Loads of the men in my family. Have heart problems because they're fat, right?

My dad had terrible heart problems. My uncle died of them. I was 44 when I learned about the existence of these drugs. 43, I must've been, and I was obese and I have been for most of my adult life. And I knew that sadly, obesity makes heart disease and actually. 200 known diseases and complications much more likely.

So I thought, wow, if there is a drug that can reverse obesity, that's going to be a big deal for me and a lot of other people. But I also thought, wait a minute, we've seen this story before, right? About once every 20 years, a new miracle weight loss drug is announced. We're told it's going to save us all.

We stampede to take it. They always discover it has some horrendous side effect. That means it has to be pulled from the market, leaving a trail of broken people in its wake. I was worried about what it meant for people with eating disorders, people for the progress we've made with body positivity. I just, I felt such a mixture of things.

I thought, I just, can there really be such a thing as a free lunch when it comes to something as complicated as this? Although I guess with a Zempik it would be a smaller free lunch. And so to understand this, I used my training in the social sciences at Cambridge university to go on a big journey all over the world.

I took the drug myself, a Zempik in my case. And like you say, I went on this big journey all over the world, from Iceland, to Minneapolis, to Okinawa in the south of Japan, to interview the leading experts on these drugs, the biggest defenders of the drugs, the people who pioneered them, the biggest critics of these drugs, and people who just are thinking about how this is going to profoundly change our lives in all sorts of complicated ways.

Zibby: So you mentioned just to start right off with side effects because, you know, there are some and you talk about sort of the 10 biggest risks and then at the end you sort of share a couple more still with all of the side effects, like perhaps an increase in thyroid cancer, but that's a small risk to begin with, right?

And some other side effects. Yeah. Yeah. It feels like the risks are still relatively low as far as we know. Of course, we don't know what's going to happen in the long run, right? And so the, the downsides are still far smaller than the upsides, right? 

Johann: Oh, no, I wouldn't put it that way. I think we've got to weigh very carefully here, two sets of risks.

There's the risks of being obese. And then there's the risk of these drugs, right? And I'm slightly embarrassed to say, the thing that, of all the things I learned in the research for my book Magic Pill, the thing that most shocked me was just how bad for you obesity is, on average. I know that sounds dumb because I guess since I was five years old, if he said to me, you know, I was being obese, bad for your health, I would have said yes.

I mean, I was amazed by how, basically, This scientific, and I wish this wasn't true, I desperately wish this wasn't true, but obesity makes literally, almost literally everything we fear more likely. Heart attack, stroke, dementia, cancer, by really quite significant amounts. Even the, even the stuff that, so think about diabetes, right?

I'm very embarrassed to say. If you'd asked me two years ago, before I started researching this book, about, about diabetes, I would have said, you know, Okay, I know that obesity makes it much more likely you'll get diabetes. In fact, if you're obese when you're 18, you have a 70 percent chance of becoming diabetic in your life.

But I think I thought, okay, that's not good, but as long as you've got health insurance, And you get insulin, you're basically okay, right? Diabetic plus insulin is like me, right? That's not the case at all. Diabetes knocks 15 years off your life on average. Diabetes is the biggest preventable cause of blindness in the United States.

More people in the US have to have a limb or extremity amputated because of diabetes than because they had got shot. And you will have noticed a lot of us get shot. In fact, diabetes is so bad for you. I'm talking about type 2 diabetes here. That was the one that's connected to obesity. that a leading doctor in Britain, Dr.

Max Pemberton, who treats diabetics, said to me something that sounds incredibly shocking when you first hear it, but when you look at the evidence you understand why. He said, if you gave me a choice between becoming HIV positive or becoming diabetic, I would choose to become HIV positive, because if you're HIV positive and you get treatment and you live as long as everyone else, that is not true of diabetics, right?

It kind of knocks you back, and that's just one of the 200 conditions that's made more likely. So, so what we have to do, is we have to weigh those risks, and realistically for me, I would have continued to be obese. I had been obese most of my adult life. I tried dieting a thousand times. I exercised quite a lot actually, and I remained obese.

Now there are some people, sadly, there are only a minority who can lose weight just and keep it off after becoming obese, just by being, just through exercise and diet. And of course you should try that first because that's much less risky than these drugs. But if you're a part of the 90, 85 to 90 percent for whom that doesn't work in the longer term, then we're going to have to have this conversation.

this conversation about the drugs. So what we know about these drugs, the best case for them by far is that if you reverse obesity, you massively improve people's health, right? One of the best ways we know this is actually through a parallel area of science. So people have only been taking these drugs for obesity for a couple of years now.

So actually I think the best way of looking at the benefits is to look at something a little bit different. Let's think about bariatric surgery. Up to now it's been very hard to lose loads of weight and keep it off. The best way, the most reliable way has been bariatric surgery, right? Things like, you know, gastric sleeves, that kind of thing.

So what do we know about bariatric surgery? First thing we know is that it's a horrible, grueling, Horrendous operation. One in a thousand people die in the surgery. It's no joke, but why do people do it? They do it because the benefits to your health of reversing obesity are just staggering. If you have bariatric surgery in the seven years that follow you are 56 percent less likely to die of a heart attack, 60 percent less likely to die of cancer, 92 percent less likely to die of diabetes related causes.

In fact, it's so good for your health in those seven years, you're 40 percent less likely to die. And we know these drugs are bringing us in a similar direction. If you take these drugs in the next couple of years, if you started with a BMI higher than 27, you're 20 percent less likely to have a heart attack or stroke.

Big deal, but there are really significant risks associated with these drugs. You referred to some of the smaller ones and we can dig into them. There's some that I'm really worried about. The one, this is not one that I'm worried about for myself. There's some that did affect me that I'm sure we'll get to, but there's some A few that I would not describe as small.

And by far the one that I'm most worried about is eating disorders. So, we know there are lots of young girls, it's overwhelmingly girls, there are a few boys, but overwhelmingly girls, who want to starve themselves. I'm guessing most people listening will have, will know someone in their, will have known someone in their life like that.

And what we know is these drugs, are like rocket fuel for eating disorders, as Dr. Kimberly Dennis put it to me, one of the leading eating disorder specialists in the United States. We can go into that in more detail. I wouldn't call that a small risk. That's a really, really big risk. We could have a, in the worst case scenario, if we don't take the steps that I go through in the book to, to regulate these drugs properly, we could have an opioid like death toll of young girls who starve themselves to death.

There are other risks that I'm worried about, but that's, and some that affected me, but that's the biggest one. So I wouldn't say the risks are small, but I would say if you are obese. If you don't have thyroid cancer in your family and you're not trying to get pregnant, I'll explain why I've added those clauses if you like.

I suspect, and you should certainly talk to your doctor, I'm not a doctor, in my judgment, on balance, the benefits outweigh the risk. If you're not obese, if you're only overweight, or in fact, Skinny, then the calculations are completely different. If you're a healthy weight or skinny, definitely shouldn't take the drugs because you're taking all the risks for none of the benefits.

And in fact, taking on some other risks. So yeah, it's complicated picture. Anyone who says there's a one size fits all answer for everyone is not leveling with you. So it's complicated. It's why I hope my book is in part a guide so people can go through. Okay. What are the risks of obesity? What are the risks of these drugs?

How do they apply to me? What What will it likely feel like if I take these drugs, both physically and psychologically? A lot of the book is about how it feels psychologically to take these drugs, which I think is a really underexplored area. I'm conscious that was a very long answer, so I'm going to shut up now.

Zibby: No, no. And I, I felt badly as you were talking, I didn't mean to oversimplify. I was trying to extract sort of Maybe it was a personal interpretation of like, you know, what are the biggest risks, like, for me, perhaps, at this stage in my life, what are the ones you outline, like, aside from the emotions and, and, and full disclosure, I'm on Manjaro, I've lost a bunch of weight on it, and I'm very happy to be on it.

Johann: Oh, I'm so glad for you. 

Zibby: Yeah, but also just want to know and have you, you know, I read the book, so I'm very aware of all the things, but it felt to me like it wasn't as dire, but I don't know. So 

Johann: I think that's really interesting. One of the things that fascinates me about how people have reacted to my book, Magic Pill, is some people come up to me and say, and I'm getting lots of emails.

Some people say. I loved your book. It made me absolutely convinced I must take these drugs immediately. And some other people say to me, I loved your book. It made me convinced I must never take these drugs. And to me that I feel like that's, it's been like the dress, you know, but the blue gold dress, whatever it was, um, I saw it was gold.

To me, that's a sign I've done my job because I think the truth is actually the science around these drugs is pretty complicated. There's a lot we know and a lot we don't know, and we have to weigh the risks and benefits in a very personal way. 

Zibby: I mean, one thing that comes through loud and clear in the book, among others, is the risks based on our societal production of food and the highly processed foods that we eat here and your whole section on Japan and how you analyze, you know, what are they eating versus what are we eating?

And I was literally reading it and I was like, maybe I should only eat Japanese food. Maybe that's the answer. It's like only going to Japanese restaurants.

Johann: I think this is such an important question because When I was overweight, I felt like such a failure. I felt like I, I was failing and doing the research for the book.

One of the things I learned is I wasn't failing at all. I was an entirely typical product of the environment we've created. And, you know, I would just say to anyone watching or listening, just stop for a moment, pause the podcast and Google something for me, just Google photographs of beaches in the United States in the 1970s and just look at them for a minute.

Right. They look really weird to us. Because everyone in them seems to be what we would call skinny. You look at them and go, this is weird. Where was everyone else on the beach that day? Right? And then you look at the figures for what people look like in the United States and Britain, as you can tell from my weird Downton Abbey accent, that's where I'm from.

That's what people look like, right? The explosion of obesity. Has happened incredibly quickly and essentially, I'm looking at you, I'm guessing you're about my age. I'm 45. 

Zibby: 47. 

Johann: In our lifetimes. Right. This extraordinary explosion. So you basically have between 350-300 years where human beings exist in something like our modern form and obesity is extraordinarily rare.

And then in our lifetimes, it blows up right to the point where now 42 percent of Americans are overweight or obese. It's doing. 42 percent of Americans are obese and 70 percent overweight or obese, right? Staggering. Why did it happen? What happened to us? This change happens everywhere where one change takes place.

It's not where people become weak willed or greedy or all the other stigmatizing things we say. It's where one change happens. It's where people move from mostly eating fresh, whole foods that are prepared on the day to mostly eating processed and ultra processed foods. Which are assembled out of chemicals in factories in a process that isn't even known as cooking It's it's called manufacturing food and it turns out this new kind of food that never existed before Affects our bodies in a profoundly different way and there's I go through the seven different ways in which this new kind of food Makes us obese Much more likely to be a beast, but there's an experiment that to me, just totally distilled it.

I've nicknamed it cheesecake park. It's very simple. It's carried out by a brilliant scientist called, called Dr. Paul Kenny. Who's the head of neuroscience at Mount Sinai in New York. Got a lot of rats and raised them in a cage and all they had to eat. It was healthy, nutritious food, the kind they evolved to eat over thousands of years.

And when that's all they had to eat, the rats would eat when they were hungry, and then they would just stop. They had some kind of natural nutritional wisdom that meant they'd go, Oh, I've had enough now. I'm going to stop. They never became overweight. They never became obese when that was the food stuff they had.

Then Professor Kenney, Dr. Kenney, introduced them to To the American diet, he fried up some bacon, he bought a load of Snickers bars, he bought a load of cheesecake, and he put it in the cage alongside the healthy food. And the rats went crazy for the American diet. They would literally dive into the cheesecake and eat their way out, and emerge just completely slicked with cheesecake.

And all that kind of natural wisdom they had about knowing when to stop eating, And they had the healthy food disappeared and they ate and ate and ate and ate. Dr. Kenney said to me within a couple of days they were different animals and they all within a few weeks became actually quite severely obese.

Then Professor Kenney tweaked the experiment again in a way that feels a bit cruel to me as a former KFC addict. He took away the American diet and left them with nothing but the healthy food they'd evolved to eat over thousands of years. And he was sure he knew what would happen. They would eat more of the healthy food than they had at the start.

And this would mean, you know, this would prove that that kind of food, junk food expands the number of calories you eat in a day. That is not what happened. Something much weirder happened. Once they had the American diet and it was taken away, they refused to eat any food at all. They shunned the healthy food.

It was like they no longer recognized it as food. It was only when they were literally starving that they went back and ate it. Now I would argue we are all living in a version of Cheesecake Park now. The food we are eating is undermining our ability to know when we're full, to feel sated, and stop eating.

And it is leading us It led me throughout my life, from when I was very young, to massively overeat. It's not the only thing that's going on, but it's the primary driver of obesity. And once you understand that, you begin to see what these drugs do. Because what this new kind of food does is undermine our ability to feel full, to feel sated, to feel you've had enough.

What these drugs do is they give you back your feeling of being full. I had never felt full in my life until I started taking these drugs. Now I feel full after I eat a small amount, right? I'll never forget when I started taking the drugs. I went to a diner just up the street from where I live. I went in, it was the second day after I'd taken it, and I ordered what I used to order every morning for breakfast, which was slightly embarrassing to say.

It was a huge chicken sandwich with loads of chicken and mayo in it. And usually I would eat that and still want some potato chips. And I had like three mouthfuls and I was just full. I didn't want any more. It was, it was the weirdest feeling. Um, and that was how it was from then on. I went from eating about 3, 200 calories a day to about 1, 800 had a dramatic.

And obviously I lost 40, you know, I lost a huge amount of weight, 42 pounds in a year. 

Zibby: I love in the book that the people at the restaurant were like, are you sick? Are you ill? Is everything okay? I have the same thing too. I'm like, oh wait, I can eat a couple bites and then I leave it. I can like eat half of a cookie.

And just put it down. It's mind blowing. 

Johann: Totally reminded me, reminded me of a real low point in my life. It had, it was Christmas Eve, 2009 at 1 PM. I went to my local branch of KFC where I lived at the time in East London. And I went in and I, I said my standard order, which is so disgusting. I won't repeat it.

And the guy behind the counter said, Oh, Johan, I'm really glad you're here. Wait a minute. And I was like, okay. And he went off behind where they fry all the chicken and everything. And it came back with a massive Christmas card in which and every member of staff and they had written it to our best customer and they would have written these personal messages to me and one of the reasons my heart sank is I thought this isn't even the fried chicken shop I come to the most.

How could this be happening to me? So yeah. 

Zibby: I love that, I love that scene in the book. That was great. You know, I've posted about Majaro and tried to explain the benefits that I have seen and sort of dispel some of the myths that I feel like have been perpetuated. And the thing I've been getting back in many DMs and emails and everything is just, you know, so many people who want to try it, who are obese, but their insurance here is still not covering it.

And what should they do? And what doctor should they see? And it's a whole big mess and then nobody can take it. And then they just are left feeling like knowing there's this magic solution or there's something that could help them and help their health that for whatever reason, the healthcare system is preventing access to.

What do you, what do we do about that? 

Johann: Well, there's a big answer and a small answer. The big answer is. I live about half the year in the U. S. and half the year in Britain. And I am instantly enraged and stunned by how Americans are ripped off every day by the drug companies. So I buy Ozempic here in Britain, it's It's about 220 a month, if I translate it into U.

  1. dollars. When I try to buy it in the U. S., it's about 1, 000 a month, a bit less, you know? It's exactly the same drug. There's not some magic thing that happens as it crosses the Atlantic, right? It's just that in Britain, drug companies are not allowed to rip off people. So the way it works in the U. S., as you don't need me to explain to you, but, Is drug companies employ armies of lobbyists and make massive campaign donations to politicians and in return, politicians of both parties take that money and allow the drug companies to rip you off.

So the big answer is we need to politically stop the drug companies screwing us all over and they don't just do it on a Zempik, they do it on literally everything, right? I mean, everything, insulin, uh, I mean, just, it is unbelievable. No other country allows drug companies to do this. We need to rebel. I would urge people to look up Bernie Sanders speeches on it.

And you know, he's one of the politicians who's bravely spoken out about the politics What the drug companies are doing to people. So that's the big answer, but I'm sure lots of people hear that and go, yeah, I agree with you, but what do I do now? Right. Like that, that's not going to happen tomorrow. And, you know, and by the way, there are, you know, we have made progress on this.

You know, there have been positive steps taken. The drug companies can't rip people off quite as much as they could before Obama care. There have been some positive steps in the last four years, like the regulation of the price of insulin. So, you know, we shouldn't be hopeless. There are things that can be done in terms of what you can do at an individual level.

I don't have a good answer for you. What I can tell you is eight years from now, the entire picture will change because eight years from now, as Zempit goes out of patent, at which point anyone can manufacture it, it'll be a daily pill, it'll be a dollar a day, and I predict half of the American population will be taking it.

Between now and then, it must be enraging beyond belief to know that there is something that can massively reduce your risk of dying, to know that you would be able to afford it if you lived in Britain, but you can't if you live in the US. Unbelievably maddening. One option, which is risky, is to get compounded versions.

So, under American law, it's a bit of a gray area, but under American law, if there's a shortage of a drug, other people are able to, allowed to manufacture copies of it. So, They'll be compounded semaglutides, the active component in this that are available near where you live. It's a bit risky. It's not made in an FDA approved lab.

Some people have gone to get it and they end up getting something that's completely different and it has a terrible effect on them. I hate to explain to people how maddening that situation is, but I can only level with people about the reality of it. It sounds like we should just move to Britain. Well, Britain has its problems, but you don't need to move to Britain.

Americans can fix this, right? Before we have Medicare. Old people used to die a bit, right? Medicare is the most popular institution in the entire country. Right? Medicare is not some fantasy thing, it's not something we have to imagine, oh, maybe one day, right? Everyone over the age of whatever it is, 60, gets Medicare, right?

The, the, we can expand that to people at younger and younger ages. Right? That's, that's, the United States is the richest country in the world. It is scandalous. I mean, don't get, don't let me go on a binge. Okay, okay. You don't have to move to Britain, you just have to fix the United States and it is absolutely fixable and a majority of Republicans, Democrats and Independents want to fix this.

Zibby: I want to just touch on your friend Hannah because she sounded really, really special and we've learned a lot about her in the book and your relationship to her and how you haven't forgotten her and I just wanted to acknowledge the loss and say she sounded really funny and really awesome and even though you weren't as close at the time of her passing, it doesn't matter, right?

It's that loss that stays with you forever. So I'm just very, very sorry that that happened to you and to her. 

Johann: Oh, just, just to, just, just to explain to listeners, um, I had a. a wonderful friend who, well, we bonded when we were, I was a teenager. She was a little bit older, a couple of years older than me. And we, we, when we first met, we really bonded over our love of fast food.

And it was one of the kind of staples of our friendship. And she was an incredible person in many ways. And she, she died in her, uh, only a little bit, well, her mid forties, having had a series of, you know, health problems that are all made more likely by obesity at cancer, uh, terrible back pain. She got COVID very badly and then had a heart attack while choking on some food.

So, you know, I think when you were young, the health threats of obesity seemed very abstract. And as you get older, you know, essentially everyone listening will know someone who died of obesity, although we don't think of it that way. You think, oh, my aunt died of cancer. You don't think, oh, right. But your aunt's cancer was made much more likely by her being obese.

Or you think, you know, my friend died of, you know, a heart attack, but right. But was that heart attack made much more likely by obesity? You know, professor Gerald Bermand, who's at Harvard, who designed the food label that's on all food in the United States has calculated that Obesity and food related illnesses cause 678, 000 deaths a year in the United States.

It's not far off, you know, a COVID pandemic every year, right? And most of that is preventable, right? And the way I think about what's happened with these weight loss drugs is processed and ultra processed foods have got us into a trap. And these weight loss drugs are a trap door. Now they're a risky trap door, right?

I go through The 12 big risks associated with them in the book. But for many of us, they're the only trap door we've got, right? Now, we should make sure our kids don't grow up in this trap. And there are lots of ways we can do that. It's too late for you and me, probably. We've lived that life, right? We've had the biological changes that happen when you, Eat a diet that comes mostly from processed and ultra processed foods.

But it's not too late for our children and grandchildren. That's not happening in Japan, where they have almost literally no childhood obesity at all. I've got to tell you, and almost no adult obesity. I've got to tell you, it's a really weird thing. I went to schools in Japan with a thousand children, and you walk around and there is not one overweight child.

And it's, it's all right. This isn't some weird. You know, it's not some fact of nature. This is the result of decisions we have taken as a society, and we can reverse those decisions if we want to. So yeah. 

Zibby: Wow. Last question, speaking of children. I know you touched on this, but thoughts on Manjaro, Ozempic, all the drugs, for children?

Kids at what age? Blah, blah, blah. I know you're not the FDA, but sure. 

Johann: Well, I started writing my book feeling very conflicted and I came to lots of conclusions and I learned a huge amount about how these drugs make you feel. Uh, talking to book about complex psychological issues that come up when you're eating patterns are interrupted, right?

And that can bring to the surface a lot of the deep underlying emotional drivers of your eating that were there all along. Now that can be a good thing, you can deal with them in better ways, but that can be difficult, it was difficult for me. I talk about lots of things we know. We now know about these drugs that I think people need to be prepared for.

And just as I thought I was kind of reaching a kind of conclusion, right? That basically, if you're obese, I think the benefits outweigh the risks, broadly, although there are lots of people for whom that's there are exceptions to that, that I go through in the book. But then I looked at the evidence around kids.

So Novo Nordisk, the Danish company that made Ozempic, is now running a trial on giving these drugs to six year old children. And it really accentuates all the doubts. Both the doubts about obesity. If you are obese, when you're a child, it is exceptionally hard to become unobese so I can see the case for treating it early, but equally, one of the biggest concerns about the drugs, the one that I'm most worried about for myself, because I don't, I'm not concerned.

I might get an eating disorder is we have no idea about the longterm effects of these drugs, right? Diabetics have been taking two diabetics have been taking them for 18 years. But actually people for obesity have only been taking them for two years. There are some concerns about risks that may already be emerging among those diabetics who's taken it for a long time.

But in terms of the long term risk, we have absolutely no idea, right? And we know these drugs work primarily not on your gut, but on your brain. We know they work by changing your brain, though we don't actually know how it changes your brain, which is a bit disconcerting. So if you're looking at a child, and we know these drugs for most people only work for as long as you take them.

So if you're taking these drugs. If you're giving these drugs to a six year old, we're assuming that child will take these drugs for 80 years. What are the long term effects on that child? I asked all the experts. They all give a variant of, Yeah, we don't know. It's a bit worrying, isn't it? So, the issues around kids.

And I, and I interviewed, you know, parents who've given their kids these drugs. So I had a huge amount of sympathy for a lovely, wonderful woman, a nurse in Connecticut called Deborah Tyler, whose daughter was, you know, having, if I remember rightly, kidney and liver problems. You know, when she was eight, she tried all the things, diet and exercise.

I get it, right? I suspect in Deborah's position, I would have made the same decision, and I suspect I would be as agonized as Deborah is about it. It's really, really hard. There's a lot of dilemmas around these drugs. We should never have been put in the position where this was our choice. You know, a risky medical condition versus risky drugs.

We can fix that. I've been to places that have fixed it for people like us. There is that choice. I hope my book, magic pill is a guide. so people can think about what that choice will be and what it will mean for all of us because it's it's it's gonna these 47 percent of americans want to take these drugs this is going to change the world around us in all sorts of complicated ways we need to take a beat and think about what this extraordinary medical breakthrough and what this incredible Medical revolution is going to mean for all of us for some people.

It's going to be life saving people with heart disease For example, it's going to be life saving for some people. It's going to be lethal people with eating disorders for most of us in the middle It's going to be complicated and we've got to think through that complexity and the book is called magic pilka There's three ways these drugs could be magic, right?

The first is the most obvious and if it feels like your experience and my experience are a bit like that It could just solve the problem, right? All my life, I've overeaten. Now once a week, I inject myself with, in the leg, a tiny little scratch. And now I don't ever eat. It feels like magic. The second way it could be magic is more disturbing.

It could be like a magic trick. It could be like a hunter who shows you a card trick while picking your pocket. It could be that over time, the 12 risks that I go through in the book, which are different to the kind of common side effects, it could be that they over time outweigh the benefits. I do not rule that out.

I think that will be the case for some people. Possibly most of us. But the third way it could be magic is I think the most likely. Think about like all the classic stories of magic that we're told when we're kids. Think about like, uh, what would be a good one? Aladdin. You find the lamp, you rub it, the genie appears, you make your wish, and your wish comes true, but never quite in the way you expected.

It always comes true in some weird and unpredictable way. We're already seeing that, there's lots of unpredictable effects of these drugs, and I think, yeah, I think that's why we need to really think very carefully about where we are now. 

Zibby: Okay. Lots to digest, no pun intended. 

Johann: Although we'll digest it much more slowly because of the enzyme take.

Zibby: Yes, I will digest it slowly and not as much of it. Thank you so much, Johan. Oh my gosh, I'm gonna be like stewing. Oh my god, and again, stew. Anyway,. 

Johann: It's very hard to not use. I have to stop. 

Zibby: I will be thinking about your book. I loved your book. I love the way you write. And now I want to go back and read Still in Focus and whatever.

You know, I'm a fan. I'm a huge fan. So congratulations. 

Johann: Oh, I really appreciate you saying that. Thank you so much, and anyone who wants to know where to get the audio book, the ebook, or the physical book, you can get it basically anywhere. But if you go to magic pill book.com, you can get more information about it.

Zibby: Congratulations. 

Johann: Oh, thanks so much. 

Zibby: Thank you. 

Johann: Hooray. 

Zibby: Thanks for the time.

Johann: I really enjoyed that. Thank you so much. 

Zibby: Thank you. Bye-Bye. 

Johann: Cheers. 

Zibby: Cheers. 

Johann: Bye. 

Zibby: Bye Bye.

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Bakari Sellers, THE MOMENT

Laura Hankin, ONE-STAR ROMANCE

Zibby is joined for a second time by Laura Hankin, the author of ONE-STAR ROMANCE, a wickedly smart rom-com about a struggling writer who has to walk down the aisle at her best friend’s wedding with the man who gave her book a very public one-star rating—which, by the way, happened to Laura! Laura delves into the novel’s deeper themes of evolving friendships and the challenges of creative pursuits and then talks about the highs and lows of her own career. She and Zibby also discuss anxiety-inducing Goodreads reviews, Laura’s writing journey during pregnancy (and morning sickness), and the viral TikTok video that inspired this novel.

Transcript:

Zibby: Welcome, Laura.

Thanks so much for coming back on Moms Don't Have Time to Read Books to discuss one star romance. Congratulations. 

Laura: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me back. 

Zibby: Listeners, you can't see this, but we're basically wearing the same exact sweater, but in a different color. And we look really funny with our books behind us and our brown hair and our sweaters and like books about writers and all this stuff.

So it's pretty awesome. Yes. Anyway, twins. I was just saying before we started how much I'm loving this. It's so smart and funny, which is no surprise because I've read your other books and this is just what you do. But, you know, this is hitting more close to home because of all the writing stuff and all of that.

Um, although the mom playgroup thing was also hitting close to home. I think you'll just have to, you're just like going to follow my life. I'll tell you what I'm doing like in five years or something.

Laura: I was going to say, am I just like lurking behind every corner writing down the thoughts that are going through your brain?

Zibby: Yeah. Yeah. You left some sort of camera last time you were here or something like that. 

Laura: It's all a long game. 

Zibby: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. Exactly. Picking off now with One Star Romance. Tell listeners what your book is about and where you came up with the idea. 

Laura: Yeah. So One Star Romance is about a struggling writer who has to walk down the aisle at her best friend's wedding with a guy who's given her book one star on Goodreads.

And, you know, although this maid of honor and best man would rather never see each other again, they are then forced back into contact over the next decade through their 20s and 30s as, like, each time that these best friends of theirs celebrate a new life milestone event. And I came up with the idea because I had to walk down the aisle at my friend's wedding with a guy who'd given my book one star on Goodreads.

Zibby: No, stop. 

Laura: Yes, it's true. It's true. Although we did not fall in love. And my husband has been like, please tell people that that's not me. And I would never do that to you. How did you realize that? Like, how did that, how did you? Well, because it was my first book ever and it was a small printing. And so I think at the time my Goodreads page was mostly full of like friends and family writing nice reviews.

And so I hadn't yet realized that like, For your own mental health, perhaps you should not go on your own Goodreads, because you could just come across the most, like, devastating thing ever that will Rookie move. Rookie move. Yeah, yeah, exactly. I was a rookie, and I was stalking my Goodreads page, and I saw this one star come in, and the name attached to it, I was like, wait a minute.

Isn't this, you know, the guy that I'm going to be like, made of honor, best man? I guess he had just, he had bought the book to like support me and then didn't like it and didn't really realize that his Goodreads profile was public and was just trying to like keep track for himself. So it was not malicious at all.

But of course, at the time, being a young writer, I was like, how dare he? 

Zibby: Well, that's really bad. That's bad. So, did you find out Give me the real life story now. When did you find out that he did this and did you confront him about it? 

Laura: I found out before the wedding. I think it was like, you know, months before the wedding.

It wasn't like the day of. And I was like, I'm just gonna be So pleasant to him when we hang out at this wedding because I'm going to rise above it. So I didn't say anything to him about it until 

Zibby: Okay, good. Here we go. 

Laura: The reception, obviously, there had been some drinking. I'd like done my little toast and on the dance floor, I think some of the other bridesmaids were like, do it.

Do it. Say something. And so on the dance floor, I was like, Hey, what would you rate my speech? But I don't actually think that he heard me in the dancing sweaty crowd because he was sort of like, what? And then I was too cowardly to say anything else and just kind of danced away.

Zibby: I mean, is he still like good friends with the friend of yours who got married?

Like, is he now reading this book? I don't know. 

Laura: Uh, I have not like stayed in contact. You know, this was years ago. But still, this is one of your friends, right? You got married. It's true. It's true. I'm not sure what this guy is up to. And, you know, like this character in this book is not based on him at all.

I know. I'm sorry. I know. I know. And he's like, oh, I'm sure a wonderful guy who I barely know. No, I know. this guy in the book is now is a romantic hero. 

Zibby: That's right. I was like, this guy is actually quite likable in the book. So yeah, he's really funny. And you know, their banter from the first interaction, like, I love that.

And I was actually being like, wow, this is so good. Like, sometimes I pause and just think, Someone is writing both sides of this conversation, you know, because both sides are like really witty, like when you watch two people talk, but like in a book, I mean, it's just, it's like a magic, magic trick. Really?

Anyway, and I almost wish I, you didn't have to like market books and put the copy and all that stuff because it doesn't come right away that this is what's going to happen. And it does come as a surprise, even though it's because it's like, it's not in the first couple of pages. Like you don't get to it till like, I don't know.

Yeah. page 70 or something, you know what I mean? Like, and then, wait, it couldn't be, right? It's not really him. 

Uh, because you already like are rooting for them to get together at the beginning. 

Laura: I know that it is the funny thing about having to market a book, like you've got to put your fun stuff right up front, but also in a book you like build things up a little bit.

Yeah, I'm sure you've brought for this yourself. 

Zibby: Oh, but I mean, I could still suspend just at one point. I actually like flipped over the back and I was like, maybe it isn't about the one star read, you know, because this is just like a fabulous book about writers and, you know, creatives and academics. I have to just read some of these hilarious passages.

And oh, I mean, is that okay? Could I just read? Of course, yes. I'll sit here while you read my words. Funny things about writing and all that. Okay, well, first of all, this is like a heartfelt, really awesome thing about writing when Natalie is describing sort of why she writes. And she was saying part of it is, For recognition, not prizes, she says, but she said there have been moments when I've read something in a book that feels like it was written just for me, like the author reached inside my brain, took all the thoughts I didn't know how to express and put them into a perfect paragraph.

And in those moments, I felt so utterly connected to a person I didn't know that it made me think, yes, the world can be hard and people can be awful to each other, but there is also such beauty in the fact that we can recognize each other like that. I want to be able to give that feeling to other people.

And then he says, Well, then screw any MFA program that wouldn't want to give you the chance. Wow, that's good. Who wrote that? It's really good. It's really good. And I feel like so many writers will relate to that. And readers will relate to that. I mean, it's It's the best feeling. It's the best part of when you read something and you feel so seen, or you write something and someone else feels seen.

It's like the greatest. It's the greatest part. 

Laura: Yeah. Oh my gosh. I, yeah, I have books on my bookshelf right here that are just like underlined, you know, with like, I can't believe that this author, and some of them are so old too. You know, it's like, I can't believe that this author a hundred years ago, or a hundred years before I was even born, like, knew how to say this thing that I'm feeling right now.

Zibby: Totally. I was just, I did this event with the Irma Bombeck writers workshop or whatever. She was writing, like, So long ago, and it's all the same stuff, you know? It's like, yeah. We don't change that much over time. Not as much as we like to think.

Laura: Right. 

Zibby: Like, oh, well, arranged marriage in the, you know, 1800, or like, I don't know, I'm sure it was different back then.

No, it wasn't different. Nobody wants to be married to somebody they don't like. 

Laura: Yeah, still the same feelings. Oh, yeah. Even if all the conventions are different. 

Zibby: Not to say there aren't. You know, arranged marriages today, but anyway, but this book not only does all of the inside writing stuff, but also the, the humiliation, not humiliation, but the having to go through being a maid of honor and all of the stuff that comes with it and the competition among other people.

And like just the humor and all of the pain is basically this book, right? 

Laura: Yeah. Well, one thing that felt really important to me with this book is that I wanted to write a romance, but I also wanted to write about This friendship and how it changes over the course of a decade when you know one person is like moving along this track of getting married and getting the job promotions and having a baby and buying a house and the other one is trying to do this creative career and it's not immediately working out for her and she just feels very lost and so you know how do these people who love each other so deeply and have been so connected how do they like maintain that same level of love and care for each other as their paths just start to diverge and diverge and diverge, starting with the maid of honor.

Zibby: Especially as you mentioned, the friendships in younger life, right? You're like common law married to your roommates and everything. I mean, it's, it is a very intense bond when you're that age and living with someone. Like we don't do that now. We don't just like live with our friends. Like we go on a retreat and it's like, Oh my gosh, that was a lot of time.

Laura: Yeah. Yeah. But when you're 24, which is, you know, how old Natalie is at the start of this book. And then it goes till when she's 34, it feels like inconceivable that suddenly your friend could be like, Oh, I, I don't want to live with you anymore. I'm actually going to go live with this guy instead. 

Zibby: My gosh.

I remember being in a wedding in Costa Rica. One of my girlfriends was getting married. One of the first ones, although not that early, but still we were so close. And I remember just like crying in my bridesmaid's dress in the bathroom because I just felt like I was losing her. Like that, that would be it.

And I, it was devastating and of course she's not lost and we still like we live across the country we text all the time but you know there's just something like some some sense of loss when a close friend gets married. 

Laura: Yeah and it i mean it does change your relationship even if you are able to still be there for each other like it it's not going to be the same as it was when you, you know, shared a crappy apartment and like, could just fall asleep in each other's beds all the time.

But it also feels like it's selfish or immature to like express that sense of loss, and so you do have to go cry in the bathroom and not let anybody see you. 

Zibby: Otherwise it's just selfish and terrible, and I really did want her to be happy, and I'm delighted she is happy, you know. 

Laura: Yeah, yeah. But then also I think sometimes there's the panic too, if, if they are moving faster than you are, there's this panic of like, what if I never find somebody?

And then like all my friends one by one leave me in this way, and then I'm just alone. And how do I learn how to be okay with that? And I think. You know natalie has to kind of Learn how to be okay with that before she's able to be ready for this love that maybe has been there all along. 

Zibby: Maybe, don't give it away. Let me just read this part like Connor took her this is her the boy she was dating man Whatever, manchild, I don't know, whatever.

She was dating at the beginning of the book, but not for that long. And she described it like this, Connor took her to literary salons with his friends from his writing program. Natalie tried to network, but Connor's friends were terrifying. If they found someone, particularly a writer, lacking, they immediately knew the perfect devastating sentence to expose that person's deeply uncool core.

God, there were so many ways to like all the wrong things in this world, weren't there? Was there anything more pathetic than than having bad taste. Oh my gosh, you're so funny. Thank you. Oh, this was good, too. I'm mad. Sorry. No, you're making me feel great. Thank you. No, just when you publish a novel and you're talking about people's reactions to it, and of course, all the stuff with Goodreads and all of that, and how she had found the novel.

She said her novel was real. She'd found it in a bookstore on publication day and burst into noisy tears. But then you said, so it's kind of anguish to let people know, Nat replied, he and Gabby had come to her book launch and sat in the front row whooping. As far as Nat could tell, though, neither one of them had gotten a chance to read the book yet.

Gabby had started it. She'd texted Nat after the first page that she was madly in love with it already. But then she'd fallen off. Well, she'd had a wedding to plan. Maybe she was saving the book for her honeymoon. Natalie was learning that you couldn't force anyone to read your novel. The people you thought would be the first to read might drag their feet, while your mother's friend's aunt, who you'd met once, would email you a week after it came out with a detailed recap of her thoughts.

So funny. It's almost like in grief, it's like you just don't know who's gonna come out in support and who's gonna disappoint. It's like any big milestone, in a way. 

Laura: Yeah, yeah. And it's kind of, it's a beautiful thing sometimes when you're like, Oh my God, this person who I never, Thought would have connected with it this way totally did and like I had such a strong response.

That's lovely Even then sometimes as your anxiety be like, why didn't this person read it? Do they hate it? And does that mean or you know, did they start it and hate it? And does that mean that they hate me too now? 

Zibby: Yes, I mean you can't be a writer without constantly running into your monologue or else you wouldn't be able to write anything, right?

Therefore you are most susceptible to the, all of those, you know, all of the self doubt and, and the rest of it. So, and the observation.

Laura: Yeah. That's why Goodreads can, you know, is such a fascinating thing, right? Because it's like you, have all these writerly anxieties and you want so deeply to connect with people, um, or you know, make readers feel something.

And there is this like magical website on the internet where you could go and you could see like just how much your work is touching other people. But the price that you have to pay is that you could also read like the most casually devastating review that will like ingrain itself inside your body forever.

Zibby: So true. I read like a podcast review once And I like cried. I cried like all night because most of the podcast, I mean, what are you gonna say? It's like a conversation. Do you know what I mean? Like, I mean, it's not, you know, it's not like a book. It's like, anyway, I was like, how could someone be that mean?

And I just like cried and cried. And I'm like, I'm not supposed to cry. It's just one person and you don't know what they're thinking and feeling. You know, but, like, Natalie, it's like, you don't feel like that. 

Laura: Yeah, in the moment, you're like, this is ridiculous that I am having this response, but also I can't help it.

Because in real life, like, you know, nobody's going to walk up to you and be like, I find you stunningly boring and pedestrian, which is, you know, not coincidentally, the first one star review that I ever got on this team, word for word, but yeah, like, it's just, we don't say these things to each other. In real life, but we say them on the internet.

Zibby: Yeah, it's like, I know it's a, I know books are a product, but they are a person's innermost thoughts and art and working in any way. Yeah. 

Laura: Oh, but then, you know, it's like, The, the small price that we pay for getting to like, do this amazing job and readers of the course should be able to say whatever they want about the book and like, that's great too.

And so we have to just be like, okay, maybe this is not for me and I just need to remove myself from this. Did you make sense? But it, it takes time to, one, learn that, and two, have the self control to do that. 

Zibby: What if people think it's, what if people ironically, like, give this book one star? Do you know what I mean?

Like, maybe there's, like, you can't let that happen. People think they're being funny like one star romance. Here's the one star. 

Laura: One star. I know. The hope is that there'll be like one star more like five. Yeah. Like, yeah, of course there's the possibility that it'll go the other way too. 

Zibby: Like I should have listened to the title.

Have you talked to anybody at Goodreads? Like are you, cause you're You give them a lot of airtime, you know, it's a marketing thing for them. 

Laura: I think my publicist is like reaching out to them, but we'll see. Obviously, they have a lot of books to feature.

Zibby: I know, but still, not a lot. Okay, well. 

Laura: Look, Goodreads, if you're listening, if anybody on Goodreads is listening to this podcast, would love to work with you.

Zibby: Yes, you should do a thing. They should like sponsor an event for you or something, you know? 

Laura: Oh my God, that would be great. 

Zibby: It would be hilarious. What, what is your launch event? What are your touring plans and all that? 

Laura: Yeah. So I am doing my launch event in Washington DC where I live at East City Bookshop, which I just love.

It's my neighborhood shop. And like every single person who works there is just the most wonderful, passionate bookseller. And so I'm really excited for that. And then I'm coming to New York and I'm going to do the Rift Bodice on June 21st. So I can't wait for that too. And then, you know, I. I have a baby now, so I'm like, maybe, yeah, surprise.

I have a baby. So I perhaps am going to go to fewer places than I might otherwise, you know, last time I went out to LA this time, it feels a little bit harder to coordinate that kind of thing. So I think for the moment, those are my two events, but I might, I might add on a couple more. We'll see. 

Zibby: Well, if you want to do an event ever at Zippy's Bookshop in Santa Monica, please feel free.

We would love it. It's so fun. I love this book. 

Laura: Thank you. I loved visiting it when I was out there last time. 

Zibby: Thank you. 

Laura: It's a great store. 

Zibby: Yeah. Amazing. So, how long did this take to write? Did you just whip this out or, like, tell me about it? 

Laura: I would say that, like, the first half of it, well, first of all, the outline came quite naturally to me.

Well, okay, let's rewind a little bit. I, you know, had told this real life anecdote for a while without ever thinking that it could be a book, just as, like, a funny thing to bring up at parties and stuff. And then I actually made like a TikTok where I told the anecdote and it blew up a little bit in the comments.

Everybody was like, where's the rom com? Get on it. So I knew that I wanted to write from this general premise, but I couldn't figure out Like, okay, so they, you know, have this interaction at this wedding over this book, but what then? Um, and it took me a little while to realize, oh, actually, it's going to be all the life events that their friends are going through over this decade.

But then from there, the outline came quite naturally to me because it's like, we've all been to all of those life events, right? So it was like, okay, here. Engagement, wedding, you know, job promotion, prisoning, et cetera. And the first half of the book poured out of me pretty naturally. It was just like so fun and joyful to write.

And I think I, I've never written a romantic comedy before, but I've always wanted to. And I've always snuck little romantic comedies into previous books as subplots. And then I got pregnant and. Was having like severe morning sickness and fatigue, and it was right around when I was getting into the slightly more challenging sections of the book to write, like when things get more serious, and then I was trying to, you know, write a love scene, and I was like, be careful guys, you know, this could happen to you, you could get really sick, so the end took a little bit longer, but, uh, I ultimately finished it and sent off the final edit and about a week before giving birth.

Yeah, that was the process. 

Zibby: Oh my gosh. Well, that's really awesome. Do you have another book in the pipeline? 

Laura: I've mostly been on maternity leave, but I am, I'm coming back now and like figuring that out and working with my editor, who I love, but nothing to share yet. 

Zibby: How old is your baby now? 

Laura: She is eight months.

Aww. Yeah. She's amazing. 

Zibby: Congratulations. It's amazing. Thank you. Yeah. So great. Well, what advice do you have for aspiring authors? 

Laura: I think my biggest piece of advice is recognize that nothing is going to be perfect immediately. You know, like don't think that just because your first draft isn't good means that you are like doomed because perfect is the enemy of done.

And like, you can fix a bad first draft, but you can't fix nothing and you're gonna have to fail like as in this book. You know, you're going to have to fail before you can succeed, and it'll probably make you a stronger writer if you fail. Oh. Embrace that. 

Zibby: Yeah. 

Laura: Oh well. 

Zibby: And maybe just, you know, make sure not to give people mean reviews.

Laura: Yes. Not to everybody, but you know, people that you know. 

Zibby: People that you know. People that you might walk down the aisle with. Perhaps. Yes. Amazing. Well, Laura, congratulations. Really awesome. A lot of fun. 

Laura: Thank you so much. 

Zibby: Yeah. Congrats. Awesome. 

Laura: Thank you. 

Zibby: All right. Take care. Bye.

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Laura Hankin, ONE-STAR ROMANCE

Ruth Reichl, THE PARIS NOVEL

Zibby speaks with New York Times bestselling author Ruth Reichl about THE PARIS A NOVEL, a sumptuous, evocative, mouthwatering adventure through the food, art, and fashion scenes of 1980s Paris as told by Stella, a woman who stumbles across a vintage store, tries on a fabulous Dior dress, and is changed forever. Ruth reveals how her own transformative experience in a couture dress inspired this novel and then delves into the themes of hope, joy, and fairytale-like transformation. Then, she describes her unexpected career in food writing and the evolution of food culture and then shares her best advice for aspiring writers.

Transcript:

Zibby: Welcome Ruth. Thank you so much for coming on Moms Don't Have Time to Read Books to discuss the Paris novel. Congratulations. 

Ruth: Thank you. 

Zibby: So not to embarrass you, but I am such a fan that I pulled out all the books. I had to go all over my house to different bookshelves, but Tender at the Bone, Comfort Me with Apples, Garlic and Sapphires, Delicious, now the hardcover of the Paris novel, and Save Me, The Plumps.

So that's where I'm coming from. Tell listeners about what the Paris novel is about, please. 

Ruth: Well, for those of you who have read, save me the plums, there's a chapter in that book about my going into a dress shop in Paris and finding this dress that just transforms me completely. And it was the first dress that Yves Saint Laurent designed when he was at Dior.

And I wanted to be that person in the mirror so much, but it was 6, 000. So. I didn't buy it. And when I turned that book in, my editor, the late, fabulous Susan Campbell said to me, I love that chapter so much. Don't you think you could turn it into a novel? Can't you just take that idea and make a novel? And the minute she said it, I was, Oh, yeah.

Oh, yeah. I can see exactly where to go with that. And so that is what the book is about. The book is about someone who is very much not me, but who goes in and has this transformative experience with address, which I didn't know could happen until I, until that moment in my life and can really happen. And.

From that moment, her life starts over in a completely new way. And she has adventures. She goes from being a very timid person to someone who is just open to everything in the world, to food and art and music and literature and people. That's what the book is about. 

Zibby: It's so funny because in a book, you don't know where it's going to go.

So when she put the dress on, I was like, okay, is this going to become like a magical realist type thing? Are we going to now fly? Like, what's going to happen to her? Or is it going to stay in something that really might happen? Because it felt so otherworldly when she put the dress on. She looks so gorgeous.

She felt so different. So I was, Delighted that she stayed in the, in, that she stayed like sort of at Le Domego and it was like an actual story. 

Ruth: Yes. Yes. No, it's a real story. But you know, it's, it's a story, I, I feel like at this particular moment in time, we all need possible fairy tales. Yes. We all need to know that at any moment, something wonderful can happen to you, no matter how sad your life is.

Yes. You just don't know what's around the corner. And, I mean, that really very much, I mean, that's what I love about literature. I love that it can give you hope and joy. 

Zibby: Totally. I completely agree. And she had a tough go of it. She had a really estranged relationship, or she was estranged from her mother, and then her mother passes away and leaves her with this inheritance.

Meager, if you know, only not meager, but meager in that it only covers the dress, right? This is like, you know, she's like, should I spend my life savings on a dress or, you know, for to live for the next however many years? Tell, wait, tell us more about the dress experience you had yourself that you wrote about.

Ruth: So I literally went into there is. I think it's probably the best vintage clothing store in the world in Paris. I've been going there since I was like 20, but never, I mean, it's, it's filled with exquisite things and you go into it like it's a museum. And I, uh, when we were working on the Paris novel, uh, on the Paris issue for Gourmet, I again went in there and for the first time allowed myself to try something on because I had a clothing allowance and I did put on this dress and it was this moment, I mean, the shopkeeper in the novel says to Stella, Your dress is waiting for you.

And the shopkeeper actually did say that to me. Your dress is waiting for you. And I thought, Oh yeah, she says this to everyone. She gets out the most expensive dress in the shop and I put it on. And it really, if you've never had the experience of putting on real couture clothing, it is amazing because it is made for the body of the person who buys it.

I mean, it is handcrafted. And I obviously was exactly the same size as this woman. And it really did. I mean, I looked in the mirror and I was a person I had never imagined I could be. And I desperately wanted it. But 6, 000 for a dress. And also, how often do you have an opportunity in real life to wear a, you know, fabulous couture dress?

But for years, I wondered what would have happened if I had bought that dress? Would my life be different? What if I had gone out and I had allowed myself? to be that person. And so I got to imagine it for someone else and for someone who was much more in need of having a transformative experience than I was.

Zibby: Wow. Oh, I just love that. That's amazing. Well, I love also that she takes the dress and, you know, bargains her, gets this bargain where she can borrow it for the night. And if she doesn't like it, they'll let her return it, which was genius, especially as a plot device. And then she goes off on this lady's assignment and is just sitting there and meets the somebody who ends up changing her life and takes her all around and shows her Paris and everything else.

And she's just sitting there in this gorgeous gown. Like, why not? Why not eat oysters in this beautiful and a cold, what do you say? A cold Chablis or something? A cold. 

Ruth: Well, so she is a woman who likes to have, she's very orderly and she likes a plan and the shopkeeper says, do exactly what I tell you to do.

When you leave here, you will walk through the Tuileries, and then you will go to Les Demingots, and you will order oysters and a Chablis, neither of which she has ever had before. And so she experiences her first oyster, and it is, and I mean, and I got to try and imagine what it was like to have all these flavors for the first time when you were 32.

And that was very fun for me to just imagine the joy of eating an oyster for the first time as an adult and really being in that experience and, you know, feeling the textures and the way it feels in your throat and the brininess and to take. Chablis and to take. your first sip of Chablis and she closes her eyes and she's like on a mountaintop and there's, you know, water running down the mountain and it's green and she has these really extraordinary sensory experiences when she's tasting and this lovely old man next to her says You eat with such intensity, and she's shocked because she hasn't even realized what she's doing.

I mean, she's so in the moment. And then they embark on this friendship, and he's I loved the characters in this book so much. From this wonderful old man who is kind of like what I would imagine a fairy godfather would be like. Totally. He's real and he's, he is, is, he's in his 80s. And so, and the book takes place in the 1980s.

So this is a man who knew Picasso, you know, he knew everyone in Paris in the 20s. And so he tells her about his childhood, which is so different than her. Because, you know, he was given a kind of freedom because of the war, and, you know, he'd grown up in this very stuffy, uh, aristocratic family, but in the war, all the rules went away, and suddenly, you know, he was following Cocteau around, and so he tells her about Cocteau.

All the things that he knows and loves about art, which, you know, he's, he's, he's an art consultant, and he introduces her to art in a way that she, that she had never known before. And, and then she discovers. the great bookshop in the world. And I, I'm kind of stunned when, when I think about it, George Whitman, the man who started Shakespeare and Company is such an amazing character.

And the more I read about him, um, the more I thought, why is, why doesn't he, why doesn't he walk through everybody's book about Paris? Because he's, you know, he was such an extraordinary person himself. You know, there's a sign in the shop that says, Take what you need, pay what you can because he believed that everybody needed books and they couldn't afford them.

They should just take them from him because it would change their lives. And he allowed people to live in his shop. 

Zibby: You know, I was going to ask, did people really sleep there? That was a thing? 

Ruth: Over the years. 30, 000 people have slept there and people you've heard of. I mean, Ethan Hawk did. Frank Sinatra sent people there.

And you can still live there. I mean, if you go on their website, Shakespeare Company, they tell you how to become a tumbleweed if you want to. And, I knew people who were tumbleweeds. I never did it myself, but I always thought, you know, what an amazing thing to live in a bookstore. Yeah. You know, it sounds like a fairytale, but it is not a fairytale.

And it, when you walk through the store, there are little signs everywhere from people who have been tumbleweeds and how it changed their lives. And when, you know, that their children are coming now to be tumbleweeds in the shop. 

Zibby: Wow. I have a tiny independent bookstore in Santa Monica now. And I'm like, I don't know that I, That there would be such a draw to sleep in the store.

Like, yeah, but obviously getting lost in the stacks is such a, it's such a dream, right? Just to have your imagination on play like the whole time. 

Ruth: It is, and you know, I think there's a reason why there are all these books about, you know, magic in the bookshop. I mean, bookshops are, I mean, kudos to you for opening a bookstore.

I mean, it's one of the great joys of my life is that bookstores are coming back. 

Zibby: Yes. There's something very special about just getting together, getting lost in stories. Amazing. What keeps you coming back? I know there was a specific idea to write. a novel now and where that came from. But you've done a lot of nonfiction writing and the novel, and do you find one harder or easier?

Ruth: Well, I have to tell you, I do not find writing easy. I hate to write, you know, like most writers. I love having written, but I hate writing and keep writing because having once, once it's, you've done it, it's, it's such a great feeling when good words appear on the page. And I, you know, I grew up in, in book publishing.

My father was a book designer. And so I. I've always thought that writing fiction was like the highest calling and I always wanted to write fiction. I wasn't sure that I could. I was very close with MFK Fisher who said that she wanted to write fiction and did in fact write one book which she made me promise never to read.

You know, she said, it's terrible. I can't do it. And I have it, but I've never read it. But I love fiction so much. I mean, it's my drug of choice. It's, you know, when things get bad, all I want to do is disappear into a book. And having been a journalist most of my life, I had this fantasy that writing a novel would be like reading a novel.

Can I tell you that for Galitius, it was absolutely not. I mean, it was harder than anything I've written. And I don't know why, but writing this book, was like reading fiction. I mean, I literally said to my family every day, I'm going to Paris now. And I would go off to my studio to write. And I was so convinced that it couldn't be good because I liked it too much.

It was too easy. It was, it was too much fun. I mean, I just loved being with these characters and I literally every day wanted to find out what they were going to do. And so, I mean, if writing were always this much fun, I would have written hundreds of books. 

Zibby: Oh my gosh. Yeah. It's, it's the unexplained subconscious, right?

Who knows why some books are so much easier. 

Ruth: Right. And I'm, you know, I'm not sure it'll ever happen again. But. 

Zibby: Don't, don't, don't say that. Don't jinx yourself. Maybe it'll always happen. Now you know how to write books. Now you know how to write novels. Obviously you know how to write books. But you know what I mean.

Ruth: I'm working on, uh, I'm about to work on a sequel to this book. Oh no way. Because I love these characters so much. I just didn't want to give them up. I didn't want to end the book. And then I thought, you can end it. Because you can, you can pick them up at another point in their lives. 

Zibby: So what point will you be picking them up?

Ruth: About 10 years later. 

Zibby: Oh, so exciting. Well, see, that's smart of you, because you gave yourself enough leeway by saying it in the 80s. You could actually have, like, multiple sequels. 

Ruth: Exactly. But now we're moving into the 90s, and it's a different time, and they will be in a different place. And, you know, I'm very excited to find out what they're going to be doing.

Zibby: That's great. Oh, I can't wait to read that one. Oh my gosh. So I actually wrote my own novel recently called Blank, and in it, there's a woman who goes to open houses in secret, in costume, and so in the book I say, she's just like you. Oh my gosh. Oh, I have to read this. I have to find the quote. I was like, I should have had it already, but I said something like, just like Ruth Reichel and, um, well anyway, I can't find it now.

I can send you a copy. But anyway, I thought of you every time I I'm going to go buy a coffee. As soon as we end this, I'm buying a coffee. Oh, thank you. Well, you're in there because you've, you inspired me with the whole, you know, eating at restaurants and hiding yourself and all of that. It was, Brilliant.

Ruth: That was fun, too. The strength. It was fun. 

Zibby: So a lot of your career has been in food, with food, loving food, giving us scenes like the oyster binge fest at the restaurants and, and just communicating that joy of eating. As you said, books are all about joy. What is it about food When did you know that this was your thing?

That like, you were a foodie before a foodie was a thing? That you loved to read and write about it? Like, was it something? That you always knew you would write about. Like, loving it is different, but. 

Ruth: Absolutely not. I mean, I always knew I loved food. And everybody thought I was really strange. I mean, that, that jacket on Tender at the Bone is me cooking at seven.

Zibby: Amazing. 

Ruth: And, so I always knew. That I loved food, but it never there. There wasn't such a thing as a career in food other than being a chef. I mean, there were like 10 people who wrote about food when I was growing up, you know, not even so it never crossed my mind. that that's something that I could do. And I, after I, after graduate school, my husband and I moved to New York and I got a job that I really hated.

And we were living on the, at that time, very scary Lower East Side. And, but it was a great food neighborhood, you know, it was still, you know, little Italy still existed. I mean, all the moms would be there at the Pioneer Market and Alos and Chinatown. Um, we had this new influx of, um, people from other parts of China other than Canton and the Jewish part of the Lower East Side was still a vibrant neighborhood.

And so, you know, I would just wander around the neighborhood and people were so enthralled with this, you know, 21 year olds who wanted to know how, how to cook things. And people kept giving me recipes and I would go back and all our friends from college would come and crash on our floor of our loft.

And I'd make these huge dinners for all our friends. And one night, a friend of mine said, you're such a good cook. You ought to write a cookbook. Now, you know, today, that would be ridiculous, but in 1971, when I went to a publisher and said, You know, I have this idea for a cookbook. They didn't say, Can you cook?

Who's testing your recipes? Where are the recipes from? They just said, Oh, a cookbook by a young person. What an interesting idea. And they gave me a contract so I could, they gave me enough of it advanced to quit my job. And so I spent a year writing this very of its moment cookbook. And I realized how much I loved writing about food.

I mean, I wrote about roaming around New York and I got to put anything I wanted in it and all my friends made art for the, I mean, it's, it's, it's a very strange little cookbook, but I then realized. That one, I loved writing and that maybe I could do some of it. I mean, I didn't, I still didn't think I could have a career in it, but I thought I could write.

So I started writing for, we, we moved to Berkeley. I started a restaurant with some people and, but I was also writing for. magazines, mostly about art, which was my field. And one of my editors came to eat my restaurant a few nights a week. And one day he just said to me, you know, have you ever thought about being a restaurant critic?

And it literally had not, I mean, it hadn't crossed my mind. My mind. And I didn't think, Oh, this is my new career. I just thought they're going to pay us to go to restaurants. My friends, I was living in a commune, you know, but I can take all my friends to restaurants. This'll be fun. And so, I mean, that was really the moment that, but even then I thought I was doing that until my real life started.

I don't think it was till the LA times hired me as the restaurant critic that it hit me that maybe that was my real life. 

Zibby: Is there anything you miss about the earlier days? 

Ruth: Oh my God. I miss, I miss so much. I miss, I mean, I loved living in this commune. I mean, I loved living in a group of people. I mean, you know, there's always someone to talk to.

There's always someone to cook for. And I miss, I mean, those early years in the food world were amazing. amazing because now the press and restaurants have become kind of adversarial. But in those days, there was this little group of us who were all in love with food and we were all in it together. It was like chefs and writers and, you know, and we were, sort of jumping up and down and saying, you, we could have good food in America.

We could grow good food. And I miss that, that the excitement of it being something new and trying to pull other people in to appreciate it as much as we do. And that the way it was all changing, you know, I mean, when I started writing about food, there weren't farmers markets. And, you know, watching food become part of popular culture has been very exciting to me, you know, where, you know, when I had no money, we didn't go to restaurants.

It just didn't occur to us to go to restaurants. My son has no money. It doesn't occur to him not to go to restaurants. I mean, he doesn't go to fancy restaurants, but, you know, it's just, he would no sooner not go out to eat than he would not go to movies or buy books or, I mean, it's just, food has really come into the culture and it's been fun to watch that happen.

Zibby: Wow. I was out to dinner with my brother and his kids recently and my little niece, who's nine, is now basically a real foodie and she's like, loves everything and knows everything. And we sat down and she was like, What's the grade of this Wagyu beef, you know, is it, she's, she's like, Oh, it's a four. And I was like, what does that even mean?

And she went off and told me the whole thing. Well, there's this a and the secret, but I was like, where are you, where do you get this stuff? So yes, I feel like it has trickled down. So now a nine year old can, can tell you the ins and outs. 

Ruth: I mean, and I wonder what she'll be eating when she's 20. 

Zibby: Mm hmm.

Yeah. 

Probably a lot. And she loves to cook, too. So there you go. I'll be, I'll be eating at her house.

Ruth: Yes. You will not, you will not go hungry. 

Zibby: I will not go hungry. Yes, exactly. So what advice do you have for aspiring writers of all kinds? 

Ruth: Keep writing. Follow your passions. I mean, I think, you know, the thing I learned from this book is if you're writing about things you really love.

It really can be fun. And I mean, the other thing is. It's very interesting. When I, when I wrote my cookbook, my, my kitchen year and I was on book tour for it. One of the people who interviewed me on stage had me read from my first cookbook, which I wrote when I was 21. I'll read from my kitchen year, which I wrote a few years ago.

And the interesting thing to me was that the voice was the same and that's why she wanted me to read it. She said, you know, this book was written 50 years ago. I mean, they're 50 years apart. These two books and your voice is exactly the same. And so I wasn't conscious of having a voice. But it seems to me that it's important, whether you know it or you don't know it, to write with the way you speak.

To use your voice. I don't know if that makes sense.

Zibby: It makes total sense. I love it. And it's why people who have loved your nonfiction, like me, are very happy to read your fiction as well, because it's the same type of thing. Like, you kind of know what you're getting, because you've felt a brand around the way you see the world, which is a way a lot of us want to see the world, and your sense of humor, and your descriptions, and your wit, and all of it.

So, yeah, I think it makes a lot of sense, and it's on the receiving end of that. It is, it is very welcome, so. 

Ruth: Thank you. You are very good for my ego, may I say. 

Zibby: I'm sorry, I've been a fan. I've been a fan for a long time. I don't often get this way. I mean, that's not true. I get this way a lot. But I mean, like, you know, I've been reading you for, I just love the way you write.

I just love it. I'm, I'm a fan. That's all I can say. So, thank you, thanks for coming on the podcast. Congratulations on the Paris novel, and for having me. I want this outfit. 

Ruth: Oh yes, I have actually, for book tour, I finally, so I, I'm just starting book tour, but when I was in D. C., all these women showed up. dress the cover. So I thought, yes, that's what I need to do. So I, I now have my book tour outfit. 

Zibby: Perfect. Excellent. All right. Well, thanks so much, Ruth. It was a pleasure. 

Ruth: Well, real pleasure for me and I'm getting your book right now. 

Zibby: Okay. Thank you. 

Ruth: Okay. 

 

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Ruth Reichl, THE PARIS NOVEL

Jonathan Haidt, THE ANXIOUS GENERATION

Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt joins Zibby to discuss THE ANXIOUS GENERATION, a must-read investigation into the collapse of youth mental health in the era of smartphones—and a plan for a healthier, freer childhood. Jonathan attributes increasing rates of anxiety and depression among children, particularly girls, to two main factors: the overprotection of children and the rise of social media. He shares his recommendations, including delaying exposure to smartphones, phone-free schools, and encouraging independent, unstructured play.

Transcript:

Zibby: Welcome, Jonathan. Thank you so much for coming on Moms Don't Have Time to Read Books to discuss the anxious generation, how the great rewiring of childhood is causing an epidemic of mental illness.

Thank you. 

Jonathan: Thanks so much, Sydney. What a pleasure to be here. 

Zibby: It was so wonderful meeting you at the event that was hosted on your behalf at Tiffany's, which my gosh is so pretty. But anyway. 

Jonathan: That was, I couldn't believe that space. 

Zibby: I know. I know. I just kept taking pictures. I'm like, this is so beautiful.

Where, you know, where did this come from? But it was so great just to sit there on the floor and listen to you talk about all the important issues that are in the book and then of course to go through the book later for all the specifics. Tell listeners. basically the premise of the book, although it's pretty obvious from the subtitle, but just like give your little spiel about the book.

Jonathan: Sure. So the, the, the origin of the book is the fact that teen mental health began to collapse around 2012, 2013, very suddenly. We didn't know why we saw it first on college campuses. We noted that the students coming in in 2014, 2015, we're just really different, much more fragile, much more anxious. All of our mental health centers were flooded in 2015.

It wasn't like that in 2012. And so why, why did that happen? And there's two parts of the story. The first part is that we have vastly and grossly overprotected our children, blocking them from the kind of independence and pre play that all of us, if you were born before 1987 or so, if you were, you know, older millennial, we all had adventures outside.

We were on our own. We learned how to be self supervising. by being self supervising from around the age of seven or eight. Kids were out playing. And we stopped all that in the 90s. So anyway, the overprotection is a story that I told in my last book, The Coddling of the American Mind. And in that book, written in 2017 with my friend Greg Lukianoff, we have just a couple of paragraphs on how, well, you know, it might also be because of smartphones and social media.

I mean, the timing is right. Like we don't really know. The evidence is not clear. But, you know, the kids who went through puberty on smartphones and social media, especially Instagram, they seem to not be doing so, but that's just correlation. We can't prove it's causation. So that was what I thought in 2017.

Well, by 2019, we had a lot more data. The problem was a lot bigger than we thought. And it was international. That's what blew my mind. Once I saw. It wasn't just us. This was happening in Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand. It was even happening in most of the Nordic countries and they let their kids out to play.

The Nordic countries still to this day actually let their eight year olds walk around outside. Although I was talking with a Finnish journalist the other day, she said, yeah, we let our kids walk outside and they walk around looking at their phones all day long. So anyway, so the story in the book is that what really did them in, what really has damaged our kids and especially the girls is going through puberty.

On social media, this is no way, especially for a girl to go through that transition. Her body is changing. She's coming up with a new identity. She's learning new social skills. So the book, I can summarize the book in a single sentence. We have overprotected our Children in the real world and we have underprotected them online.

Zibby: So. You're one of the suggestions and you have a lot of conclusions in the book and how we can stop it because when I sit here and I listen to you say all this, I start panicking like, Oh my gosh, I've ruined my children. It's too late. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. You know, one is intercepting this issue early, right?

Postponing, delaying kids. But I feel like that is easier said than done. And obviously, yeah. You, you are aware of this, you know, with all of your research, but kids are expect, expect it. They demand it. They, you know, how do you, even if you know that it's a danger, what can parents do? And what if it's, when is it too late?

Is it ever too late? 

Jonathan: Yeah. Well, it's, it's never too late to make things a lot better. So, you know, I, I do fear, my kids are 14 and 17 and if they'd had a fully normal childhood with a lot of outdoor adventure. I think they'd be tougher and stronger than they are now. So I do suspect we're going to see lasting effects, but you know, look, most kids are not mentally ill.

They're not, most kids are not depressed or anxious, uh, among girls. It's, it is about a third that girls, you know, 30 to 40 percent are having anxiety and depression difficulties. But so let's, let's take it in two steps. Let's let's first, let's talk about parents of young kids where it's not too late. So, you know, every kid is just mesmerized by the screens.

A lot of my family videos. Because I got an iPhone in 2008. My son was born in 2006. So he grew up with me having an iPhone. So many of our videos, he does something cute and then you see him reaching out. iPhone, iPhone. I want to see. Yeah, I want to see, I want to see. Yeah, exactly. And so, you know, as when we were kids with television, parents have to set limits.

They have to have, you know, Constraints. Otherwise this stuff will take up the entire, the entire life. So television, you know, you couldn't take it outside with you, but the iPhone or an iPad, you can take around with you around the house. So if your kids are young, you need to really delay immersion into the phone base, into the screen based life.

So keep in mind, stories are good. If you watch a movie with your kid, that's great. There's no problem there. If you're, if you're five, six, seven year old watches a cartoon, you know, a 15, 20 minute cartoon show, That's okay. That story is what you really need to have a reason to mess them up. It's the short form videos.

It's, it's the fragmented attention. It's the sitting there with the device and doing five things at once or in a row. That is really bad training for your child's brain to develop focus and the ability to stay on task and what we call executive function in psychology. So you want to delay, delay as much as possible.

And the, I'll just give you the, the, the four note, we'll start with the four norms or four norms that if we all do. It gets much easier. I mean, you know, you're right that it's easier said than done, but it's only easier said than done if you're acting alone. If you're acting with other families, now it gets much easier and much more fun.

So here are the four norms. No smartphone before high school. Just give them a flip phone when you send them out in fifth, sixth grade, whenever it is, give them a flip phone or a phone watch. Don't give them the whole internet in their pocket. The second norm, no social media before 16. This one is really important.

This is one where it would really help to have legislation raising the age to 16 and demanding enforcement. But even if we do this as a norm, even if we, you know, like my daughter, I won't let her have Instagram. If we had four other families. that we're doing this, it would be much easier for them. Third norm is phone free schools.

Zibby: Wait, clarification on that point. Sorry. When you say don't have social media, do you mean consume it or post on it? I mean, you can, you could say don't have an account, but can you look at other people's accounts? 

Jonathan: Right. So, the key, the key step is opening an account. We, this should be by law. It should not be legal for anyone to open it because when you open an account, what your child is doing is she's saying she's making, she's signing a contract with a company that says that she's given away her data and rights to the data.

She can say things about her family and the company can do whatever they want with the data and your parents don't know, they won't have to know and they don't, you don't need their permission. That's the way the law is written now. As long as you're old enough to lie and say that you're 13, you can go anywhere on the internet.

Oh, but if you say you're 18, they can of course go to porn sites. So, uh, the main thing is just don't let them open an account because when they open an account, the algorithms get to know them. The algorithm will feed your daughter or your son exactly what activates their, their deepest, uh, unconscious urges.

And if they don't have an account, we can't post. Posting is the worst, especially for girls. Girls must not grow up posting pictures of themselves and wait for people to comment on their bodies and their faces. Now, as for whether they can watch YouTube videos, of course, YouTube is technically social media, but the way we use it, it's not so much used by kids as like a place to post it, because it's more just like, you know, you, it's, it's how to do everything in the world.

It's, it's, it's entertaining. So YouTube is mostly an entertains. TikTok is much, much worse. All the short form video things are much, much worse. I would suggest don't keep your kid off YouTube, but I would suggest keeping them entirely off of TikTok. In fact, my daughter, she was, she, she transferred, transitioned from elementary, from middle to high school and she was watching TikTok, uh, and even though, um, I'd said, you can't have an account, but she was watching it still and she was failing her classes and we made a deal.

I mean, I ended up, she's a very good negotiator. She ended up negotiating for 50 a month. She'll stay off entirely. And we did that and her grades went right up right away. Interesting. So, um, so yeah, I'm not saying that they can never watch a video on it. I'm just saying really make sure that it's, um, you know, no posting at a tiny portion of their consumption.

Zibby: Okay. Good to know. What about the rise of eating disorders as well? 

Jonathan: I don't actually have good data on whether eating disorders are going up a lot or a little. Everything is up. Uh, of course, eating disorders was a big deal, you know, in the nineties when we, you know, when I was, you know, uh, in graduate school.

And so I haven't heard so much about eating disorders showing a huge rise the way anxiety and depression have, but we now see very clear evidence that a lot of girls get drawn into it because they're shown them. Anorexia content. So the thing to keep in mind here is that when you make the transition, you know, in puberty, all around the world, cultures help their kids make the transition from child to adult.

They guide them. They say, here's what you need to know. They give them role models and it's never the parent. It's always like, If it's a girl, so it's going to be a woman who is not the family. It's going to be an outsider as a mentor. And we don't do that anymore. We stopped that a long time ago. We don't really give them any guidance.

And then around 2012, when they all got on Instagram, we basically said, you know, how about we have random weirdos on the internet, be your guide. Like you can watch a thousand of them a day. And, you know, the ones that are most prestigious are obviously the ones you should copy. So why don't you just copy the popular ones, the influencers, and the results have been catastrophic, I would say.

Zibby: Yeah, I don't, I don't know the data, but I feel anecdotally this is, you know, younger and younger girls are having issues from, you know, the moms who are,

Jonathan: I think that's probably true just for some reason. I haven't found good data on that. Maybe the government doesn't track it as well as it does for depression, anxiety, but I'll bet you're right.

Zibby: There are Not to just belabor this whole social media point, but there are benefits to be feeling a part of a community, right? There are fine, but let's go through each and all of them. 

Jonathan: I'm very dubious. I'm very dubious of that. So let's let's okay for adults. Yes. Look, these technologies do a lot of things.

If you have a business, if you need to network, but 7th graders don't need to network with strangers. They certainly don't need to be talking to men in other countries. So let's talk about middle school. Tell me for a 6th 8th grader. Who's on Instagram? Tell me what the benefits are because I don't see them.

Zibby: Um, okay. I would say that there's, for the people who are authentic and who share their actual experiences and their insecurities and this, the notion that they are not alone in how they feel. And that there are people outside of their class or their school, or maybe they don't fit in at school, but they found a group of people who also love, I don't know, random sport, random thing, random interest, and all over the world that they can feel like, Oh, my world is not quite this small in this town, but I am not alone.

Jonathan: Okay. Yeah. For high school kids, I can, I can see that for six, seventh, eighth graders. 

I really don't, you know, to, to expose, to expose, you know, let's suppose you have this. You have a seventh grade dog who's very shy, a little bit anxious. And so she finds a community of people who are also shy and anxious.

This is a terrible thing to do to her. Do not let that happen. Because they will mutually reinforce each other's identity as shy, anxious people. So you won't overcome it. So, you know, we, a lot of psychological ideas that might make sense for adults. Are often just really bad for kids is to put Abigail Schreier has a book out called bad therapy.

I haven't read the book yet, but I've, I've listened to her, her podcasts. I think she's right about this. So yeah, a lot of the, everything that's put forward to me as a benefit, I just, if you look at it closely, you have to always look at the opportunity cost that is okay. So now your daughter is spending three hours a day watching videos of other people who share her disorder.

That's really bad, first of all. And the second of all, What is, where does that time come from? Um, since 2012, kids have very few hobbies. There's no time for a hobby. They don't do things. They don't read books. There's no time every available moment. If they're in an elevator, the phone comes out there on social media.

If they're in a car, right? The phone comes out social media or videos. So once you let them have a smartphone and social media. It's going to tape over almost every available minute for half the kids in the country. They say that they are online almost constantly. So even if they seem to be talking to you, they're not fully present.

They're thinking more about what's going on on the phone. What's going on on social media? What are people saying about the thing that I posted that I so that's why I say they're sort of taken away to an alternate universe. Which is completely unsuitable for human development, whatever minor benefits there might be, what you're giving up is so important that no, I just, I don't see, I just don't see the benefits of social media for children.

Zibby: Okay. Um, okay. 

Jonathan: I feel kind of strong about that one. 

Zibby: I'm just playing the devil's advocate. 

Jonathan: Please, go ahead. Play more. Playing devil's advocate. 

Zibby: That's all. You know. You've been out sort of touring and talking to groups of people about this book and blah blah blah. What Is there anything that you've learned?

Is there anything that's challenged what you thought at the outset or That made you, you know, surprised you and made you take note. Anything like that? 

Jonathan: Well, the, so there's been, so first of all, nobody in Gen Z, not a single Gen Z person I've ever found or heard of is saying that I'm wrong. Gen Z sees the problem.

They know the phones have messed them up. They do not like their childhoods. They do not like their phone based lives. My students at NYU, I say, so okay, you're spending four hours a day on TikTok. Why don't you stop this? I can't because everyone else is on. I need to know what's going on. So this is a trap and they recognize it.

So that's been, I was surprised that I expect, so I expected some pushback and I've gotten almost zero pushback other than from about six researchers who say that. I'm confusing correlations of causation, but I'm not, I've been writing about this for years. How do we know it's causation, not causation? I have a lot of articles on that.

If there's a section in my book. So that's been one big surprise is that there's, it's been not controversial. There's been almost no pushback. Another is that, is that it's become a global rebellion that is in Britain, started in Britain first in February in Britain, parents are up in arms. They are spontaneously getting together to delay smartphones, to try to keep smartphones out of their kids lives.

The government there is acting so Britain's a few months ahead of us, but here we are. We're now in May 2024. I'd say the parents rebellion is starting this month. I'm seeing, you know, wherever parents are constantly email me saying, I read your book. I bought a copy for all my all the. Parents are my kids friends.

I bought a copy for the principal. I bought a copy for the teachers. Parents are desperate for this all around the developed world. We've seen our kids become zombies hunched over screens and we've just, we knew something was wrong. So that's been a surprise is how quickly it spread. I don't have to persuade people.

I just, I just put the book out there and people say, Oh yeah, so this is what we do. Cause the book has a lot of specific suggestions and ideas for what to do. 

Zibby: Do you think that the phones will become like tobacco? Yes. 

Jonathan: Yes. Tobacco, they're much more addictive than tobacco. When in 1997 was the peak year of teens of high school students smoking, one third of high school students smoked, which means two thirds didn't.

Now, you could never get 95 percent of a high school to do heroin. Or, you know, or cocaine, it's just that you couldn't get that high, but with social media, it's that high and at a much younger age, because they have to want. It's a trap. It's a social trap. So now that we're recognizing, I think we're going to recognize, you know, like, an automobile is a wonderful thing, but you don't let an 11 year old drive.

Social media has all kinds of possible advantages for adults. It does nothing for 11 year olds to have them watch videos of beheadings, or to be contacted by Nigerian sextortion rings, or to be approached by strange men trying to get them to give a photograph of themselves in a bathing suit. Like, this just doesn't make sense.

And we're going to start, we're going to start seeing that. Oh, the biggest surprise to me is that the main obstacle that I'm facing is just resignation. Parents just feel it's too hard, that the phones are here to stay, the train's left the station, it's too late, we have to just accept it, we have to meet them where they are, people say, and I say no way, if my kids are playing down on the train tracks, I'm not going to meet them where they are, I'm going to take them off the train tracks.

Zibby: I love that. Okay. I know you've started a nonprofit or associated organization. Tell me about that and the work that you intend to do. 

Jonathan: Yes. So, so a few years ago, so in 2017, I started an organization with Lenore Skenazy, the woman who wrote Free Range Kids. She's brilliant. She's funny. And so we started an organization called Let Grow.

And so if listeners go to letgrow. org, we have all kinds of great ideas. For how you can restore play and independence in your kids at home and also in your kids schools. So this is very, this is, this should be stop one. If you've got, if you have, especially if your kids are under around 12 or 13. That's really our sweet spot is sort of elementary and middle school.

Do, do the Let Grow Project. It's amazing. If you do it in a school, it's incredibly powerful, but you can do it at home too. It's just, uh, the teacher gives you a hand, gives the kid a handout, you come home, kid comes home, you work out, the kid proposes something that she thinks she can do that she's never done alone.

Maybe it's walk the dog, maybe it's go three blocks to a store to buy a quart of milk. And so you agree with that as the kid does it. And when they do it, they're thrilled. It's so exciting. The parents are often really nervous, especially if the kid is out of the house. They're really nervous. And that's important because the parents have to get over their nervousness.

We all were out at the age of eight and nine going around our neighborhoods. We were all riding our bicycles around town at eight, eight, nine. And this was during a crime wave. A lot of us were doing a crime wave. But now things are so safe that there's the, the, the, the, I mean, the physical safety of our Children is so much greater than it's ever been in human history.

We're all terrified. We're terrified of our neighbors. We're terrified. Our kids will be kidnapped and that's just not going to happen. So we have to overcome our anxiety and let grow project helps you do that. A powerful part of it is if the school does it now you have the whole town. All the eight year olds are out getting a quarter mill and suddenly everyone sees that.

Yeah. Eight year olds are capable of crossing the street and eight year olds are capable of going from point A to point B and it becomes normal and none of us have seen that since the 80s. We haven't seen kids unaccompanied, unsupervised, unchaperoned. So anyway, Let Grow has really powerful ideas for how you or your school can restore independence and it really reduces anxiety, especially if you have a kid who is a little anxious.

Independence therapy works within a week or two it begins working whereas Prozac takes four or five weeks. So, so let grow up and then so that takes care of the play half of the story because my book is about how there was the loss of the play based childhood we've got to restore that and then there's the rise of the phone based childhood instead.

So, a lot of groups working on that. I'm not sure if I'm gonna start a nonprofit, um, for it, but I am, I, I, I, I, I'm a professor at New York University, and so I have research accounts and I have a, a way for people to donate to support, because I'm hiring staff. I'm, I'm overwhelmed. I can't read my email. I can't, there's so many incoming requests and like, I can't even say no to them.

I don't have, I mean, it's, it's overwhelming. So I'm, I'm trying to hire chief of staff and, but if you, but if you go to anxious generation.com, we have all kinds of resources, anxious generation.com. Click on take action. We have an action guide for parents, an action guide for schools, all kinds of ideas by which you can roll back the phone based childhood and restore a real childhood in the real world.

Zibby: Amazing. Any last tips for parents who have listened to this episode and they've bought in and they're like, I'm getting the kids off the train tracks. You're absolutely right. No, it'll be hard, but I'm going to do it. What's, like, the one piece of advice? Is there, is there a way to ease? 

Jonathan: Let me give you, let me give you two, because let's talk about, this is for the parent who, you know, you've got a 14, 15 year old kid.

His life is all ready. It's all online. Don't take him off and say, like, no, you know, you're not going to, because that's going to cut them off and they're going to feel that it's horrible. And rather, We're also always work with the families of your kids friends. So if, if you have four families, let's say that are doing this together, what you say is we're going to put some structure in place.

We're going to reduce the total amount of screen time, but we're all doing it. All four families, you're not going to be alone. And guess what? Our goal isn't to punish you. Our goal isn't to take away fun. Our goal is to give you fun. Our goal is for you to have the kind of childhood that people always have, that, that we had, that, that your grandparents had.

We had, we have a lot of adventures. We want you to have that too. So you know what? You're, you guys are 14. Here, here's some money. Take the subway to Coney Island, you know, here, go to, you know, go to the movie, take, take an Uber to a movie, but just, you Go somewhere where you're not being supervised by adults.

Have fun. So if you think about it more as restoring a fun and adventurous childhood rather than taking away something, it'll go down a lot easier and it'll be more fun for you. 

Zibby: Okay. All right. I'm equipped. This is not all self serving, I promise. I have four kids. We span, we span the age range. 

Jonathan: We're all, we're all facing it.

I mean, this is all over the world now. Family life is fighting over screens. Yeah. It's crazy. 

Zibby: Which is probably what they're doing while I'm doing this podcast. So anyway, I gotta go get them up. Anyway, thank you so much for coming on mom's no time to read bugs. Thank you for all your work. Thank you for your advocacy on behalf of the future generation.

I mean, it is super, super important and has long term consequences for the future. leaders of tomorrow and what we can expect them to do with our country and our world and the types of attention that need to types of, yeah, attention prowess that, that they can have, because otherwise what's going to happen to all of us.

Jonathan: So no, that's right. That's right. Well, thank you so much. Thanks for helping me get the 

word. 

Zibby: Thanks for the time. Okay.

more details
Jonathan Haidt, THE ANXIOUS GENERATION

Teddy Wayne, THE WINNER

Zibby speaks with award-winning author Teddy Wayne about THE WINNER, a dark, explosive literary thriller about an unemployed law school graduate who gets a summer job as a tennis pro at an exclusive, old-money community near Cape Cod, and gives lessons (and more…) to a divorced woman twice his age. Teddy delves into the real-life inspirations for the setting, his character development process, and his interest in depicting class and privilege in this story. He also reveals that he is working on the screenplay for a potential film adaptation (!), describes his journey to becoming a writer, and gives his best advice to aspiring writers.

Transcript:

Zibby: Welcome, Teddy. Thank you so much for coming on Moms Don't Have Time to Read Books to discuss the winner. Congrats. 

Teddy: Thank you. 

Zibby: I devoured this book. It's so good. It's, oh my gosh, it's going to be such a hit. I'm just, I'm just calling it now in case you were unclear that that was going to happen.

It's so great. Anyway, why don't you tell listeners what it's about and we'll go from there. 

Teddy: So the winner is the story of Connor O'Toole, who's a young law school graduate who finds himself unemployed in the summer of 2020 during the pandemic. To make money, he takes a job for the summer as a tennis pro at an old money wasp community near Cape Cod.

While there, he starts giving lessons to a divorced woman about twice his age. She soon starts paying him for services that are off the court. I'll use euphemisms here. Soon after that, he begins a more age appropriate relationship with a girl his his own age, and complications ensue. And I won't get too far into it, but it gets very complicated for him.

Zibby: Yeah. I could not believe some of these twists and turns and the, first of all, the setting itself, like, I feel like I know exactly, I feel like I would be able to navigate around this whole cotter's neck, it's called, right? Cotter's neck. 

Teddy: Cutter's neck. 

Zibby: Cutters. Sorry. Cutter's neck. Cutters, right? They keep calling it cutters.

So first of all, you, like, put us in such a place. And then, Your characters are so incredibly real and like flawed, but so real, like how did you do that? Like, where did Connor come from? Where did the story come from? And what are the secrets to creating characters that are so vivid and real? 

Teddy: Well, the setting was the easiest in that it's based geographically almost, almost identically on a place my wife's family, extended family, has a summer place.

And so there's a community much like that. There's a quote unquote yacht club, which is a place where people swim, there are no actual yachts. There's a very extravagant mansion at the end of the, of the point, it's called, which is what Catherine, the older woman's house, is based off. So that part was easy, and we'd been going there for years, and I always thought that would be a great setting and backdrop for a novel, but I never knew what that novel would entail.

Then the pandemic hit, And I thought this is a really good setting to explore socioeconomic inequality in America, the kind of paranoia and anxiety that the pandemic brought on, even though the pandemic is there in the novel, it's kind of in the background, but it's, it's always lurking. And so that the setting was, was, was the easy part.

The characters were, you know, a little tougher as they always are. You want to start with individuals rather than types. So even though Both Connor and Catherine, I think, could be boiled down to a certain type. Uh, if you start with that, with that universal type, you'll get a stereotype. If you start with individual characteristics of them, Connor is a sort of a classic Horatio Alger pull yourself up by the bootstraps young guy who's, Raised by a single mom, his dad died when he was young.

He discovered an aptitude for tennis when he was young and that enabled him to get scholarship to college and so on. But then thinking about other things about him that would distinguish him like yes, he's a good tennis player, but he's not your classic lead. overpowering tennis player and not to get too in the weeds of tennis for this podcast, but he's what's known as a pusher, a defensive specialist who hits the ball back safely.

And that's maybe against the grain of what you'd expect for a novel about a guy who's good at a sport. You'd think they'd just be incredible. But in fact, He's not that good. He's just placed safe and steady and conservatively, and he wins through that. So that's this kind of example of, I think, a detail that I hope sets him apart from to stock a character.

Same with Catherine, of course. There's other aspects of her personality that I hope set her apart. And sometimes it's, you know, certain lines that people have said in real life that you remember and hang on to, and that you put in the mouths of characters, and suddenly they become that individual that you said that.

Zibby: Okay. Who said what? Let's just fill right now. 

Teddy: I'm very, this, this is, she got it all based on this woman, but a woman I'm very fond of who's older. Once when I was there in, in the real life Cutter's Neck. Last summer, in fact, I was, I got impromptu invited to a wine tasting. Sorry, it just sounds so ritzy about it.

I was dressed in like, you know, shorts and a t shirt, but I was, I was invited along. It's casual, it's a casual place, more so than Cutters actually is. I was carrying a, a seltzer, a can of seltzer, and also wearing like a baseball hat, you know, looked a little bit unkempt, but again, it's a casual place. As we started to go in, the, the woman, she's about 70, said, Maybe don't bring the seltzer, it's a little middle class.

And I always thought that was a great, and she, she apologized later and sent me a long text about it and was very abashed about it. But to say, call something a little middle class, I thought was a funny line that I put in the mouth of Catherine. Catherine was not at all based on this woman, whom again, I'm very fond of.

Zibby: I understand. I understand that this, if this woman is listening, it's not you. How is this different than your world and your, where you're from and your summers or whatever? Like, how did your wife's how has that been? Like, what was your story? 

Teddy: I'm from New York and, you know, the main difference is I'm like a secular Jew and just went to summer camp in the summers and, you know, have been around plenty of, of privileged people in my time, certainly.

This feels like a different culture completely. This is old money wasps and it's, it's a very much, uh, A different set of customs again, I think that middle class line wouldn't come out in places. I I'm from necessarily and you know, from things like as, as basic as men wearing pink Nantucket red shorts, which, which when I, I first saw when I came to this place and was sort of surprised by to see men wearing light salmon, salmon, pink shorts to the, the bigger issues of, of, uh, You know, inherited money and knowing that your life is completely set out for you.

And I think the, the complications that, that, that produces in some people, it leads to a kind of maybe slackerly laziness. They don't feel like they have to earn anything and so others, at least this kind of guilt that the girl he starts dating, I think feels. and a desire to make amends for it and to prove herself in her own right.

She's an aspiring writer. So there are a number of, of differences from what I've encountered, even if, um, you know, I've been around spaces of privilege that are somewhat comparable, if not quite comparable to this. 

Zibby: Interesting. So, do you have a law background at all, by the way? 

Teddy: No, I get asked a lot of questions.

The research was all, um, both my sister in law is a lawyer, but then I asked a DA that I know a lot of criminal law questions. Again, without spoiling too much, there's criminal law parts of this novel. And then a New York police detective I also asked a lot of questions of. 

Zibby: Well I am, you know, I don't want to give anything away either, but I feel like you're, you're gonna, I, you know, I don't want to say anything, but I was going to make some joke about, you know, but I'm not going to, so. 

Teddy: Real life experience, maybe, or. 

Zibby: No, no, I was going to make a joke just about like how you could cover your tracks in such a way, you know, I wonder like all the things that you've secretly done, you know, in your life, you know, it seems very odd thought out and I wouldn't want to be, you know. 

Teddy: I now have an idea of how to do it. I get a lot of questions about cell phones and what cell phones keep track of for you and in fact again without spoiling anything, the DA I spoke to gave me the idea for pretty much the final twist of the novel. Wow. And the detective has confirmed that that works and he in fact Texted me a couple weeks ago about a real life case of them doing the same sort of thing.

Zibby: Oh my gosh. 

Teddy: So that's you know, that's I guess another example of how you make it sound about character. It's a plot idea but talking to people who really know these things inside out and The D. A. said that not many people even know about this thing. Certainly, civilians don't, not even all cops, I think, know about this twist that, that occurs.

Zibby: Interesting. Well, to your point also about the societal class culture, you know, inherited wealth thing, you know, you have a scene where a bunch of, you know, The children, grandchildren, you know, the younger generation, they're all like sitting around, you know, talking about how they're getting out of work and their internships and, you know, just totally messing around and whatever.

And, you know, Connor is just sitting there being like, I cannot believe this, you know, just one of many moments where, um, Like, why does their life, why do they get to just, like, slack off when here I am literally, like, hitting a tennis ball against a wall and, you know, doing everything in my power to try to change my station in life, whereas they've been handed this and they're not even working hard.

Tell me a little bit about that. 

Teddy: Yeah, I mean, again, the real life inspirations are not nearly as bad as the characters in the book. So let me make that clear. But I think class is a very important subject that seems to get underwritten about in contemporary literature. I think about 100 years ago, it was written about much more when America was kind of discovering itself, getting a lot of money.

People started realizing social classes, a sort of new thing we've kind of reckoned with, and a lot of novels from that time. You know, 1890 to 1930 or even 1940. dealt with it. What I really think is the case is that because so many authors and editors and people in the book industry at large are kind of from like an upper middle class white background, if not strictly financially, then in social signifiers, everyone who writes a book now or edits a book or publicizes a book probably reads the New York Times and listens to NPR and so on.

I could run through the list of things there. And so, That's fine. That's what I do, too, but we shouldn't treat it as the default. I think we should interrogate that and interrogate what it means to not have all that much money or what it means to come to have a novel set in a ritzy summer place like this and not treat it like it's standard to have this kind of summer house.

But so therefore, due to the eyes of the character for whom this is all novel, it would those kind of differences would be most. obvious and stark, I think, when he's seeing his own contemporaries, people around his age who had their lives laid out for him. I think ultimately, you know, you don't want to, his, his mentor when he's younger tells him you don't want to be ranked one, number one in the world.

You don't want to be the top of the, of the, of the ranking. You want to be just below it. And be satisfied with that. Be satisfied with what you have. That's real happiness. That's real stability. That's real security because the people on top are always actually wanting more and more and more because they are afraid of losing their perch.

And so you want to be ranked, you know, in tennis terms, ranked fifth in the world, but be kind of satisfied with being fifth because it's still a great place to be, but you're not going to kill yourself and, and, and be, you know, ruined with anxiety that you're not number one, nor will you fear that everyone's gunning for you.

So. That's really one of the bigger issues Connor grapples with over the summer is he starts getting a little corrupted and wanting to become that number one slot. 

Zibby: I mean, do we really think that the number five slot, like who is it now? Like Medvedev or something like he's really happy about that. You don't think he's done it.

Teddy: I think sports, I think they do always want to be number one. I think in American class terms, maybe it's okay to be, you know, 90. sixth percent of income. I think it's a pretty good life. And if you're happy with it and don't feel like you need to get to the 99th percentile, you might be happier than somebody who's always on top working themselves to death and, and afraid that they'll lose it all someday because it's, it's all per, you know, premised upon just this sort of insane degree of, of wealth.

And it's, it's hard to keep up. So I've always thought. You know, even in non monetary terms, it's good to be ambitious because it does drive you, but to be too ambitious is its own type of poison. 

Zibby: So what does that say about your own ambition? 

Teddy: I've, I've, it's tempered somewhat because I have two young kids.

I go a long way. One of them, my five year old son, Angus, is another room. Now he's homesick from school. Oh no. Yeah, he's, he's fine. But, When you, when you have to start thinking about other people and can't just think about your own life and own career and own success, it goes a long way towards changing your ambitions from, I want to write the number one ranking novel, which is never going to happen anyway.

Two, I want to be the number one dad and I got a coffee mug that says number one dad. But you know, you want to be, you, you start caring more about other things beyond financial or reputational success. 

Zibby: That is very sweet. Well, I hope Angus stocks your cabinet with lots of number one dad mugs. What is your relationship like with tennis?

Are you a big tennis player? 

Teddy: I played as a kid a lot. I was on the high school team. I peaked at about age 15. I think I was the number one rank on my ninth grade JV team. And then by 10th grade, everyone had had shot past me. Something happened that summer. I don't know what it was. So I played a lot as a kid.

I still play occasionally now. just really in the summers. And like, I don't really watch it anymore. I used to be a fan of the sport too. I kind of stopped watching most sports at this point, but have always enjoyed it as a sort of, there's a literary poetic feel to it. There's something very beautiful about literally the aesthetic background of a tennis court is usually something nice visually about it, but.

The game itself, the slices, the spins, the angles. Um, I've always been closer to Connor, more of a pusher, but really more of like a, I don't know what you'd call me, uh, sort of like a junk baller in baseball would be the term. Somebody gets by with like weird spins and slices that confuse the other, the opponent, rather than actually being good at the sport.

But that, there's something fun about that, more of a tactical approach and figuring out How to win at the margins rather than, um, winning through playing well. There's a book we, I read, I think when I was younger, our tennis coach in high school loved this book called Winning Ugly by Brad Gilbert and I adapted various stratagems.

Zibby: Brad Gilbert was Andre Agassi's coach, wasn't he? 

Teddy: Was, and he kind of changed his game and things from that book showed up in the winner. Like how to play, you should play aggressively when you're when you're down 40 love in a game and you're. 

Zibby: Yeah. 

Teddy: Typically you think I should play safely because I'm If I have to win three points, right, but he says play aggressively, you know You might as well give it a shot at this point.

You're already down a lot. So little things like that There's a there's a one of the epigraphs is a not Brad Gilbert, but a different tennis book that that Talks about pushers or dinkers, as they call it in the epigraph. And, uh, it kind of, Connor's tennis strategy has become his life strategy of playing slow and steady and conservatively, not making mistakes.

But that's also the thing that undergoes a transformation over his summer. 

Zibby: Yeah. And yet he ends up the winner, so to speak, maybe, maybe to be determined. Well. I love that. And even how you're quoting David Foster Wallace is in his essays, like bringing them in and Emily's giving him copies of that. That was, that was great.

Yeah. I love, um, tennis and books and I love tennis and I tried to write a novel called 40 love, but it didn't sell, but that's okay. 

Teddy: Was it also a pun on age? Was it 40 years ago? 

Zibby: Yes. I was falling in love again and. 

Teddy: You, if I can turn the tables, you were Married to a former tennis pro, right? 

Zibby: I am. Yes. I know.

I was like, I won't even go there, but yes, I am. I am married to a former tennis pro turned producer. So, um, yes, I think about and I played. I was like you that might like JV tennis team here in New York City. It's like not exactly sweeping the planet. But my husband grew up in Florida, you know, playing at Volataria and Bubba Lopsim.

Teddy: Yes. 

Zibby: That whole, that whole scene. 

Teddy: And he kind of had to, I mean, I think there's a reason the best players are from Florida and California. There's just, they have more access to courts there. They can play all year round. 

Zibby: Yeah, exactly. 

Also, my innate skill would not even be, I mean, if I were to have grown up in Florida.

You know, yeah, but that's funny. So this is going to be a movie. I read that, right? So what is the plan for that? Congratulations. 

Teddy: Thank you. It's in development. I'm, I'm adapting myself for Columbia Pictures and, uh, we are, you know, it's a very slow process. I finished the script or at least so far, but they are trying to get a director now.

And these things take interminably long times to, to come to fruition. 

Zibby: So exciting. Do you have casting preferences? 

Teddy: We have an actor who I can't mention publicly who's on board, but you know, again, these things perhaps it'll drop out, who knows, but we've got someone, yes. 

Zibby: Exciting. I'm picturing, well, maybe not.

I was going to say I'm sort of picturing like a young Topher Grace or somebody like that, you know, but maybe not. 

Teddy: You're not far off physically. They kind of do look alike. Yeah, it's very close. 

Zibby: Okay, good. Excellent. Can you talk a little bit about how you got to this point in your career and like how you became a writer and all of that?

What happened after your tennis career in high school? 

Teddy: My ignominious tennis career came to a close. I've always wanted to be a fiction writer. Um, also wanted to be a screenwriter in college, but fiction was always my, my love and didn't really start taking it seriously until I was about 24. I wrote a, a mediocre novel that did not sell, but fortunately, because.. 

Zibby: Around the same age, how about that?

Teddy: And I'm glad it didn't get published and you don't have to have that caring, toting around with you. 

Zibby: Yes. 

Teddy: But it got me an agent and it got me into graduate school for writing. And then in grad school, I started writing my first novel called Capitoyal. And, and that did sell eventually in my, published in my early 30s and have been writing ever since.

And, you know, that, that doing other things at the time for the first few years of being a copy editor, being a tutor, doing other odd jobs here and there. But now I'm a full time novelist and screenwriter. 

Zibby: So exciting. That's so cool. What are you working on now, aside from the script? Do you have a new novel in the works or no?

Teddy: I am writing a middle grade novel, which is new for me and who knows how it is. I have not really gotten much feedback on it yet, so it could be disastrous, but I'm trying my hand at one. I kind of wanted to write something that my kids could could read. Because they can certainly not read The Winner now and hopefully ever.

Zibby: No, maybe never. 

Teddy: And, um, and, you know, working on more screenplays and starting to adapt other people's work. My wife, uh, her name is Kate Greathead, is also a novelist. Her second book comes out in October. So we're, we sometimes collaborate on, on shorter things. Or we were thinking about collaborating on this middle grade novel, maybe not.

But, uh, there's always various projects in, in the stew. 

Zibby: Let me give you some advice. Not advice, but I have tried to write a middle grade novel recently and took it out on submission with my daughter, who is 10, which I think has a great premise. It's called The Diary Hoffers about a group of girls who can jump back into their mom's diaries.

I don't know. I thought that was good. Yeah, thank you. I think it's really fun. And we did a good job, but the middle grade market is not great, apparently, as people often say, and we are currently now adapting it into a graphic novel. 

Teddy: Interesting. I, I, I, Okay, that's good to know and discouraging to know, but I hope it works out with a graphic novel at least.

Do you know how to draw or do you?

Zibby: No, we hired an illustrator or we are in, I mean, he has started, we have a deal to hire. I mean, I haven't actually paid him or anything. I mean, I will, I promise. That didn't come out right. 

We have, we're in, I don't know, in talks, in contract. Anyway, an illustrator is working on it and we are, but adapting it has been kind of fun because.

It's so much easier, you just need really the dialogue and maybe like one little line for the graphic novel, and my kids are obsessed with graphic novels, so they're like, even if we finish this middle grade novel, we won't want to read it anyway. I'm like, well, I'm only doing it for you, like I don't need to write graphic novels for me, you know, so, so that's actually been quite fun.

But anyway. 

Teddy: And it's fun to adapt your own work into another medium, right? 

Zibby: Yeah, it's a challenge. 

Teddy: It's a challenge, but it's not too challenging, is it? 

Zibby: No, no. Yeah. Yeah. No, that's what I'm saying. It's sort of easier. Like, it's just, you just need the words, like, and they're already there. It's like, yeah, so, um, so that's been kind of fun, but, uh, yeah, I'm sure you'll have much better luck than me with your middle grade, but that was, that's been our, that's been our journey to date.

Teddy: It might be too, too dark, I think, for, for 10 or 11 year olds, but we'll see. 

Zibby: Got it. 

Okay. 

Maybe older middle grade. What advice do you have for aspiring novelists? 

Teddy: Oh boy, I mean, there's plenty of things to say, but I think the obvious one is just to read widely, to read beyond as much as you can beyond your, your instinctive tastes.

I think we all gravitate to certain kinds of books. And while you should get better at writing the, the, or reading the books you want to write, it helps to read and stretch yourself, but ultimately to write the thing that you would want to see in a bookshelf, I think is the best advice to the book that does not exist that only you could write or not to worry about.

market demands or what reviewers would like or even what your, your, your spouse or mom or best friend would like. But what would you like and want to see? And that will always be the best thing you produce. 

Zibby: Amazing. Is there anyone you're embarrassed to, like, show all these sex scenes to or anything? Like, did your mom read it?

Teddy: She has not read it yet. Not really looking forward to her. I've read some racy things in the past that, that I've gotten through. It's sort of like watching, you know, a movie. with your parents and a sex scene comes on. You don't want to be there. But at this age, I'm kind of OK with it. 

Zibby: You're like, I'm a grown up, Zibby.

What are you talking about? 

Teddy: My wife's extended family, when they read it, will be a different matter just because it is a dissection of their culture. I'm certainly not Connor, but I'm closer to Connor than than any other character in the book. And they're closer to the other characters. So we'll see how that goes.

If I could have it. I would want them all not read it, I would want that, but I think they will very much want to read it. 

Zibby: Well, you wouldn't be the first author to sort of blow up their summer community, I feel like. For the sake of a great book. So maybe it all, it all works out in the end. Well, thanks for coming on.

I really, really loved this book. It was just really fun and delicious and just kept turning and I don't know, you did a really good job. It's really good. 

Teddy: Thank you so much, Zibby. 

Zibby: Yeah. Really loved it. All right. Have a great day. 

Teddy: Bye. Take care. 

Zibby: Bye. 

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Teddy Wayne, THE WINNER

Elissa Strauss, WHEN YOU CARE

Journalist Elissa Strauss joins Zibby to discuss her bold, brave, deeply researched, and deeply felt book, WHEN YOU CARE: The Unexpected Magic of Caring for Others. Elissa delves into the profound impact of caregiving on personal growth and the importance of viewing it not as a burden but as an enriching part of life. She also discusses her journey from being a prominent voice in the feminist blogosphere of the 2010s—writing extensively about motherhood and societal issues like the lack of paid leave and affordable childcare—to becoming an author.

Transcript:

Zibby: Welcome, Alyssa. Thank you so much for coming on Moms Don't Have Time to Read Books to discuss when you care, the unexpected magic of caring for others. Congratulations. 

Elissa: Thank you. I'm so glad to be here. 

Zibby: It's nice to have a book that doesn't demonize sort of caregiving completely, right? That's not just like, there's too much on your plate, take it off, but that embraces the fact that this is something that we do and, you know, we are still people even though we care for other people, right?

Essentially. 

Elissa: Yes. Yeah. And in fact, we're sometimes more of people because we care for other people, right? You know, it adds, it takes away, but it also adds. 

Zibby: Agreed. So tell me about how you started writing this book. Tell me about your career before the book. Tell me about your caregiving. Just go, just go.

I'll just sit back. 

Elissa: Yeah, yeah. Listen, it's actually all one tiny story. So my career before the book, I've been in the kind of, of the, that was, You know, part of the great feminist blogosphere of the tens, which was a really fun moment in women's writing. And around the time I had kids, I wrote a lot about the intersection of motherhood and feminism, mostly focused on all the ways moms are left out, discriminated against in the workplace, the maternal mortality crisis.

The fact that we don't have paid leave, the fact that we don't have universal and affordable childcare, all these things that hold moms back that are so real, so very real. And I kind of wrote story after story. And at some point, um, actually there was a discreet moment. Where I saw a story in the New York Times in which a source was quoted about how poorly we treat, you know, new mothers in hospitals.

And it was the same source giving the same quote to the New York Times four years after I'd written about, you know, about the same story with the same source and slate. To me, it didn't mean like, Oh, everyone should stop writing about this. Like, absolutely. We need to keep, you know, banging on that drum as loud as we can.

But there was something in me that felt like, you know what, this is bigger than policy. We can say over and over again, Hey, we're the only industrialized country in the world that doesn't have paid leave, but. Like, it's not just politicians not figuring out how to make this work. There must be like something deeper underneath it, like cultural roots of the care crisis.

So that set me off. Meanwhile, the other kind of thread that led me to this book is When I became a mom, I felt very strongly. I had to almost protect myself from the colonizing force that I perceived motherhood to be. Now I want to be clear. I wasn't ambivalent about having kids. I grew up on a four. My parents seemed to just really genuinely authentically love being parents.

I always liked kids. So it wasn't the question of if I should have kids. And it also wasn't a question of ambivalence about my. You know, feelings for my kids. I was lucky to not have any real postpartum anxiety or depression. And that had relatively, you know, babies are kind of a nightmare. Even the, even the sweetest, cutest babies, easiest babies are kind of, you know, they're hard, but you know, a few years into it, like I was enjoying parenting.

I, I, it felt natural for me to be with Augie, my first son. But I felt very much like I had to keep motherhood separate from everything else. because it would make me unserious intellectually, uncool in creative circles, that it was kind of, you know, the part of me that I shouldn't talk about anywhere else except when I was being a mom.

So it took me a minute to realize that I had spent all this time being like furious at the world for not valuing care, but actually I didn't value care. I didn't see it as actually of a meaningful, interesting life in a deep way. And I, I, I, once I realized that I was like, Oh, you know, this, there's work to do.

Like this, isn't just about, Blaming everyone else. It's actually digging into myself and into our society and figure out like why don't we see parenting and caregiving as a hero's journey? Why do we view it as a footnote to life instead of the, you know, very material of life itself? 

Zibby: Mm hmm. 

Elissa: And so I began.

Zibby: It's funny because when I first saw the book, I was like, oh, this is going to be about elder care, which God knows why I thought that. There's nothing that. I was like, whoa. 

Elissa: No, it's, I think the word care is mostly associated with elder care and you know, that's part of like the challenge of the book is to really point out like cares everywhere.

We spend half of our lives in care relationships and some of us spend basically our whole lives on one side of a care relationship. So right. But it's, it's, it is. It's a tricky thing. We still don't have the language. I don't know. I don't think you're alone. 

Zibby: Interesting. Well. I mean, when you think about the importance of off putting, not off putting loneliness, stemming loneliness, right?

The importance of not being lonely. 

Elissa: Yeah. 

Zibby: Caregiving is the immediate antidote to that, right? And people live longer when they're with other people. I mean, you point, I mean, obviously you're the expert in all of this, but it seems like so fundamental to caregiving. Longevity, and life itself, and satisfaction, and all these basic things to be in a relationship in which you care deeply about the person, whether you have to, you know, brush their hair or change a diaper or, you know, wheel them down the hall in whatever, a wheelchair or a stroller, whatever.

Right. Right? Then you're, you've got this immediate protection against ever feeling that loneliness and, Isolation. 

Elissa: Yeah. And you know, and it can be like lonely too, right? As a caregiver, you know, I know new moms. They can have high rates of loneliness, but I think it's, but at the same time, like, right, when we kind of invest in our relationships and we see relationships as part of self actualization of learning who we are and what it means to be a human, and it kind of changes.

It's right. The whole experience and, and, and, and makes it a place of growth and excitement and challenge and struggle, but not one that only somehow detracts from who we are. One that brings us more fully into ourselves and into our connections with other people. 

Zibby: So when you approach this as a book, how did you conceive of this originally? How close is this to how you set out to write it? All of that. 

Elissa: Yeah. So I think originally it was, um, a mom book, you know, it was just going to be about my experience with motherhood and my agent thought that it would be interesting to expand it to care more broadly. And, you know, there's a challenge to that because caring for Kids is generally a more optimistic endeavor than caring for someone with terminal cancer, obviously, or Lewy body dementia.

So there is a challenge to it, but I still felt like I wanted to rise up to the challenge and really kind of dig into just the reality that humans depend on other humans, that we'd like to think of ourselves as these like independent beings that can always take care of ourselves, but that's just not the reality of life.

And so that's one way it changed. And then I think, yeah, the other way it changed was seeing that, like, my story really had to be part of it, that it's, at first I thought it would kind of just be in the introduction and then bow, you know, pass it over to the research. But it actually, and then, you know, the first pass with my editor, she's like, where are you?

And I was like, I thought you didn't want me. I was just another Brooklyn mom, like who needs to, you know, and then she's like, no, we want you. And that actually was a whole other layer of challenge. So we have a chapter on care and philosophy and care, you know, that parenting and caregiving is like a real philosophical awakening, but also one that Western philosophy ignored until like literally 1980.

The fact that, you know. We're not, we depend on each other in relationships. It's like, didn't occur to most Western philosophers. Um, so I had an, so not only did I dig into all these amazing philosophers who are digging into care and showing how it's this place of like real epiphany of what does it mean to be a person, to live a good life, to do the right thing, but actually had to think about like, what does that mean for me?

And the same with a chapter on care and spirituality or theology. And there's all these like amazing, right, kind of feminist theologians that are like, why isn't care at the center of the religious experience? Like what's more kind of holy and whatever that means to anyone, whether that there's actually God behind holy, or just the sense of like transcendence and otherness and being part of something bigger, that You know, what's really more holy than care?

It's like honoring that, that holy quality, the divine in another. And, um, and I had to think about how actually my experience with something, some days I call God, even if I don't know what it means, was totally changed by care. And I'm Jewish and it like deepened and enriched. Enriched my, my practice as a Jew and my, like, my kind of, you know, it sounds so big and mighty, but my, like, sense of connection with the universe, caring for my kids.

And also now I love Shabbat because it's like a Friday night dinner. We actually talk to each other. There's no sense of homework. And, uh, It's like that ancient technology on a practical level is huge for my ability to like appreciate and enjoy and grow from care. So that's, you know, that was like the second layer of this book was not just looking at how this is working for everyone else and all these really cool thinkers who are thinking about, you know, care and economics and care and psychology, but having to bring it to myself and really put myself to the test and be like, how are you Alyssa being changed by care?

And so how have you changed the most? Yeah, so I think the biggest thing for me, the first, my first big, like, epiphany by way of care came with, uh, Augie, my first son, who, he was always a very practical, reserved kid. He, he didn't, he wasn't your typical tantrum toddler. I had one of those, Levi, so don't worry everyone, I know what it's like, but Augie was always like, almost.

Too reasonable, too rational. If he, you know, had taken that, that marshmallow test that, you know, if you wait, you get a marshmallow. That's that there's this psychology test that teaches kids ability to like think of the future. And he would almost do too well on it. You know, he would, it's like, like, you know, he was the kind of kid.

You're like, just eat the marshmallow, eat the marshmallow, stop like thinking through everything so much. So I, this kid really wanted to understand the world who, who didn't actually rely on intuition and impulse. It's like most. Peers, uh, but really had this like need to figure it out. And at the time I was, you know, back in that feminist blogosphere, it was literally my job every day to send my editor six ideas of pieces I would write.

She would pick one and by the end of the day, I would turn out, you know, 800 words with a hard edged opinion on something that was happening in the world. I was just a little opinion machine. And I didn't realize until being with Augie and having to take a step back and not just know everything and, you know, like, I had this sense that I was just understood the world and I knew exactly where everything stood and like, this was good and this was bad and this was okay and this wasn't okay.

And we do this, but we don't do that. Yeah. Yeah. And then I have this Kiragi, who like Needs actually me to not be that way, needs me to make space for him, needs me to get him not to listen to me, but listen to himself and it really, you know, I joke like motherhood ruined my career, but not how people think I got really tired of thinking that way and it made me realize what a closed way of living that was, and that was actually, you know, thinking I understood everything and thinking I was getting everything right, but actually was just constantly like Slamming the window shut on other possibilities.

And it was really profound for me to, you know, we, I think we speak a lot about how do we be less certain and how psychologically healthy that is. But I rarely see caregiving and parenting as like a vehicle for that. You know, people go on meditation retreats and do all sorts of things. And for me being so close to another human and having to look at the world through their eyes, held this mirror to the self that was like, unlike anything I had ever experienced.

Zibby: Hmm. So interesting. You know, it's funny. My husband and I were talking, I have four kids and, you know, one of them is sort of going through, just like responding to things differently than the other ones and whatever. And, and he was like, you know, my husband's a big football fan. He's like, you can't call the same place.

Yeah. You know, like, every kid is different. Like, you have to change how you are parenting. Right. Because the same thing is not going to work. And I was like, I thought I was good at that, but actually I guess I'm not. You know? He's like, you like to do everything right away, but that doesn't mean your kids are all going to, like, get everything done right away.

And I was like, everybody doesn't like that, right? Like, let's just order the shoes. You know? But I think you're right. You know, you have to, if you don't look at yourself, you can't be as good a parent. Right. You know, and it's humbling because it never ends, you know, like just never. Right, 

Elissa: exactly. And it's, you know, I feel like we, people seek this kind of realization, self actualization all these places all the time that they get celebrated for, you know, if someone hikes Mount Everest and, you know, you go to a dinner party on one side of the table, there's a parent of a four year old.

three year olds and a six year old. On the other side of the table, there's someone who just hiked Mount Everest. Everyone's eyes are on, you know, Mr. Everest as the one who like learned a lot about what it means to live and be a human. No one's eyes are on the parent, but I feel like that parent, like they both should be on the menu.

You know, that parent's also learning a lot. Right. And it's constantly changing and it's, and it's just this like constant source of kind of growth and renewal and challenge. And sometimes it just sucks. I don't want to ignore that. Sometimes it's just hard and there's not this kind of necessarily positive growth, but I think so often the hard stuff is actually so bound up with this kind of expansion of self that's so meaningful.

Zibby: So where do you go from here? In terms of care or writing? In terms of, in terms of everything, like, is there, I'm waiting for you to say, like, and I've started a non profit, we're dedicated to, you know, like, are we doing advocacy, education, more writing, like, where, where do we take this message? 

Elissa: Yeah. I mean, I think for me, like, honestly, the, the most important thing I want people to get from my book.

Is real curiosity about care. If that is what we get, I think it's a win. I want people to in curiosity about themselves. You know, again, when I say as caregivers, parents and caregivers, like view what you're doing as a hero hero's journey view yourself on this, like. Oh, you know, I, I was, I, in December, George Clooney had the book, that's right, had the movie come out, the boy in the boat.

And it was kind of a classic Hollywood hero's journey trailer of the music kind of gets slow and then it's faster and louder and like, listen to that soundtrack for yourself as a parent and caregiver, like see it as this big, amazing thing. That's as important as anything else people do. And not, again, this footnote to life, but like life itself.

And um, and I really hope this book helps us understand that we're not going to solve the very real care crisis that we're in until we look at the cultural roots of it. You know, we see, right, in Christianity, for example, and so many cool Christian theologians I spoke to for the book, one points out that if you go and volunteer and care for a stranger, you're like literally a saint.

I mean, Mother Teresa, you're like, Actually, it can be, you care for strangers, saints, you care for it. As you put it, the naked and poor in your home, no, one's even interested in you. No, one's trying to make the religious community work for you. And it's like, these blind spots are so woven in to our culture.

When they were creating the GDP. Back in the 40s, it was something they created after the Great Depression, a female economist, Philistine, went with the group of economists to Africa to figure out like, how are we going to determine a nation's wealth? Like, what would this even look like? And at the time, she was like, I think you guys are forgetting something, like you're forgetting woman's work.

End. We still don't count as part of the GDP. And, you know, so that's, it's like these, these blind spots to care so woven. And if we counted care economically, it would be worth basically as much as the whole retail sector. It is a huge part of the economic engine, but we don't. And I think caregivers moms, we internalize that when I took, I've been, you know, I'm no economist.

Mathematician, but I did some back of the envelope accounting after I like learned how these economists like figured out the value of care economically. And I did it for my own household. And I was like, wait a minute, I earned as much as my husband. And it was so profound and not that we should feel like we only matter, you know, our worth in the world is connected to how much money we make or don't make.

But let me tell you, there's something of like realizing that if we actually valued care, if we, if we're able to put a dollar sign on it. Like I'm not, this is, I am not contributing to the wage gap. We're both contributing to the economy in equal measure. So I think we need to pull off all these layers of these cultural narratives that ignore care and put it back at the center of the human story where it belongs.

One more example, Charles Darwin. We all think like survival of the fittest, right? Humans are competitive. Actually, Darwin was equally invested in sympathy, or what we might call care today, as one of like the main reasons we evolved and we survived, survived as a species. But like, we don't, who learned that?

None of us learned that. We just think survival of the fittest, survival of the fittest, competition. So, That's the big objective with the book. Put care back at the center, where it belongs, see all the ways it's been kind of systemically like pushed aside over the years. And then from there, hopefully build a world that actually values and supports moms and other dads and all types of caregivers.

Zibby: I love that. On the writing front, how did that go? And then what advice would you give for aspiring authors? 

Elissa: Yeah, the writing, you know, I, I think because I've been writing on deadline forever, it's just been my job. It's that part is, you know, it was training. I had spent 10 years on, it's like a mostly online journalist again, churning out stuff.

So that part went okay. It's a slow process, which I think, you know, many people know, like publishing is much slower than online journalism, but it's also for me, such a gift to have time to digest, dig deeper and think. And I think we're aspiring authors. It's, it's so hard to like believe this was the, I think the big thing for me, right.

And to believe your story matters, to believe what you think matters. It's still something I'm undoing. I'm learning that, you know, I did something and I think it's, we can definitely attribute it to the patriarchy. As a woman, like that your ideas matter, that your story matters, that especially domestic care stories, these things that happen in our homes, they really matter.

And again, we've always seen them as somehow smaller than what happens outside the home. And they're not, they're just as big. 

Zibby: And a quick writing advice, any writing advice? 

Elissa: Writing advice. That is a good question. Why doesn't it write? Just let me think. 

Zibby: Or research. I mean, you did so much research. 

Elissa: Yeah. I think for writing advice, don't be afraid to take your time.

I think, you know, there's a sense that we're in a hurry, but like this book, you know, it's here now and it lives here and it's this bound object. And I'm glad I took my time. You know, I'm glad I started. Spent a year thinking of this as a motherhood book and then another year realizing it's a caregiving book and then selling it and then having these long breaks between edits.

We live in such a fast culture. We live in such a time of like, you know, it's either it happens now or never immediate gratification and a book is an object that lives on, you know? And so I think it just really enjoy that, enjoy the slower pace. of writing a book and let it be almost like the Shabbat of, you know, your, your writing career that it's a time to slow down and be just in that moment and, um, and have patience with it.

Zibby: Maybe that could be a new writing technique. Only writing on Shabbat, you know. 

Elissa: I have, I know someone in San Francisco who does Shabbat. 

Zibby: Yeah. Oh my gosh. Yeah. How many Shabbats would it take to write a book? 

Elissa: I mean, there's something to write, like you, if you can really, like, it just creates a one more tool to kind of push the noise outside, push the like hustle culture aside and just be in your head.

And it's a gift. 

Zibby: Plus wine. 

Elissa: The book's for you too, right? You know, it's not just for, it's not, it's for your readers, but it's also for you. 

Zibby: It's true. Plus, you know, wine, challah. It's a good deal. 

Elissa: Yeah, exactly. Fire. 

Zibby: Yeah, fire. Family. I don't know. Couldn't make it any better. 

Elissa: Yeah, exactly. 

Zibby: Well, Alyssa, congratulations on When You Care.

Well done and, you know, very important and really important for everybody to read and internalize and. You know, lots of marrow to suck out of this one. 

Elissa: Ah, thank you. 

Zibby: All right. Well, take care. Thanks so much. 

Elissa: Thank you. 

Zibby: Okay. Bye bye. 

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Elissa Strauss, WHEN YOU CARE

Katherine Center, THE ROM-COMERS

New York Times bestselling author Katherine Center returns to the podcast, this time to discuss her charming new book, THE ROM-COMMERS. The novel follows two screenwriters who co-write a romantic comedy… and fall madly in love with each other. Katherine delves into her writing process, touching on how she builds romantic tension and characters with depth. She also talks about how her happy marriage influences her writing and then reveals what she is working on next!

Transcript:

Zibby: Welcome, Katherine. Thank you so much for coming on Mom's No Time to Read Books again to talk about your latest book, The Rom Commers. Congratulations. Thank you. So exciting. Actually, listeners, you can't see this, but Katherine has a scarf that totally matches the bright pink awesomeness and orange and green and blue of the cover and also somehow has coordinated her entire wall behind her to match the cover as well, which is really pulling off a great feat.

Anyway. Okay, Katherine, tell us about the romcommers and what it's about. Please. 

Katherine: Oh my gosh. So the Rom Commerce is a romantic comedy about writing a romantic comedy. So it's a story about two screenwriters who are writing a romantic comedy together and they fall madly in love with each other. And that's not a spoiler.

That's just something to look forward to. My big sister is a huge reader and she's always like, no, spoilers. And I'm like, no, no, no. With a love story, it's not a spoiler. It's like a gift. It's a gift that you know they're going to get together. He's written a romantic comedy screenplay and it's terrible.

And she gets hired to come in and fix it as a ghostwriter. And he doesn't. want her there. He's actually pretty successful on his own, but he writes mafia movies, and monster movies, and shark movies, and stuff, and he's never tried to do a rom com before, which is a rather special category. So he doesn't know what he's doing and she comes in and teaches him a few things.

And of course, like a good man, he falls madly in love with her for all of her feistiness and smarts and, you know, goodness. And then, you know, that's really the story. I mean, each of the characters has a lot of things that they need to sort of overcome. There's a lot of growth and healing that happens in the story.

But at its heart, it's a, it's a love story. It's a rom com. 

Zibby: Amazing. And it's set up by her ex boyfriend, right? 

Katherine: Yes. Yes. 

Zibby: Which is a crazy twist in and of itself. 

Katherine: Yeah. 

Zibby: Like, I don't know that I would trust those recommendations. I mean, you never know. Would you trust a recommendation for a job from an ex boyfriend?

Katherine: Uh, I might depend on the ex boyfriend, but yeah, they've kind of become friends over the years. Like, it's from high school. And, you know, the ex boyfriend After high school, his life got better and better and better and her life got worse and worse and worse, you know, she had a family tragedy and then she had to spend the next 10 years like dealing with the family tragedy.

Zibby: Yes. 

Katherine: So she is a person who had a lot of potential that has not been realized. And I think, The boyfriend who, the ex boyfriend who cares about her, it bothers him that she never got to reach her potential. So he kind of just wants to help her. He's just a good person, but his way of doing that is a little bonkers.

That's true. 

Zibby: Yes. And she did have a sister who like stepped up to the plate finally, right? 

Katherine: Yes. Yes, she has a little sister who she, after their mom died, she wound up sort of looking after her little sister and being like a surrogate mom and sort of, and she's 10 years older than her little sister. So she, she kind of became the mom of the family.

And at the start of the story, the little sister has just graduated college and she comes back over and sort of takes over all the things that need to be taken care of at home. It just lets our main character, Emma, go off and, you know, take a stab at her dreams, which is kind of where the story starts, you know.

Zibby: Yes, which is amazing. And then, of course, we get to the banter and the guy, what's it, Kevin, not being like the nicest at first and, you know, all of that. It's so fun and like feisty how you write the characters. How do you figure out who they are? Do they, does it come to you, like, did you know what they would be like?

Like, just tell me more about that. 

Katherine: Yeah, I always I think I what I start with with characters is just kind of trying to figure out like what are they struggling with, you know, because I think our struggles sort of guide our lives and all these sort of funny ways. And so what is it that they need to overcome?

What is it that they need to figure out what wrong assumptions do they have in their lives about what really matters and who they are, that they maybe need to rethink that maybe the story can help them with is kind of where it starts. And so I, I always do have a sense of like, there's something for both main characters in a rom com because I always have a, I always write them in the first person and the sort of woman in the story is always kind of my main narrating point of view character, but I try to treat both of the people in the story in this little love story that's going to develop as equally meaningful.

You know, three dimensional and everybody has an arc that they need to go through, right? So I kind of figure out for both of those people and for the side characters too, what are the things that they need to figure out and what are the ideas that they need to challenge? And then I put, and then, and then somewhere in there, and it's different for every book, but somewhere in there, I wind up with some kind of a situation that they're going to be in together.

And then from then on, it's like, once I know what the situation is, and once I know like the sort of very basics about those two characters. Then it's like you just put them in that arena and you kind of see what happens. For me, that is kind of how it goes. So I sort of get to know them the way that you get to know real people in life by just kind of seeing the things that they do and hearing the things that they say.

And, you know, as you go along, you're like, Oh, so that's your thing. Like, Oh, getting that now. So yeah, it's very, like for me, it's kind of organic. I don't always know everything at the beginning. I have ideas and I have kind of a list of what I want to see happen. And I know that there will be at least a happy love ending by the end, but exactly what, how I'm going to torture them on the way to getting there.

Zibby: Do you feel like we can ever run out of characters? I mean, what number is this for you? What number book is this?

Katherine: This is 11. I'm starting to lose count myself. I'm not a math person, so it's daunting for me now. Yeah, it's, it's, uh, do I feel like we've run out of character? No, no, not for me. I have a big long list of stories that I would love to write if I ever had the time, you know, and I'm kind of a one book a year kind of a person.

And I also kind of write realistic fiction in the sense that, you know, all my stories take place in a world that is very much our world. I mean, there's no aliens, right? There's no time travel. But I have all these stories that come to me that do have aliens and time travel. Oh, okay. But I have them on a separate list of like, you know, maybe someday, you know, when all my children are long grown and I am, you know, bored and looking for things to fill the time, maybe I'll write these other stories that are kind of outside of my.

Wow. 

Zibby: So who knew? 

Katherine: Who knew? Yeah. 

Zibby: Or the alien novelist waiting to come out. The sci fi. 

Katherine: Maybe not alien. Maybe not alien. Actually, as I think about it, it's really more like time travel, I have lots of time travel stories. You know, I feel like a lot of fantasy writers have so much to work with plot wise. Like I feel very jealous that they're not strained by reality.

I mean, you could play with all kinds of things and, you know, and twist people into all kinds of fun pretzels. If you have magic. in your menu of options. Actually, it's, you know, I throw out aliens as the most kind of nutty idea that I could possibly mention, but I don't know that I have an actual alien idea, but who knows?

Life is long. 

Zibby: Do you read Romanticy? 

Like, it's now, you know, taking off. What do you think about that? 

Katherine: Um, some, yeah. I mean, oh my gosh, I read, uh, Fourth Wing last fall and, like, lost my mind. Crazy, like, barn burner, page turner, fun story that was. I read Divine Rivals last year, which is, you know, it's like a love story, but with magic.

Like, with a magic typewriter, which is, like, totally a sweet spot for me. So I do some of it, and I like it, you know. Also, um, I watch a lot of K dramas. And dramas have a lot of, like, magic and past lives and fun things going on that sort of mix it all up and give you great fun. So yeah, I mean, yes, I'm aware of this other world, but the, but the actual books that I write kind of, you know, just have to, like, people have to go to the grocery store and do stuff.

Yeah, all the things. How to make that exciting. I mean, that's a good challenge. How to make that exciting. 

Zibby: That's like a writing class exercise. Okay. Have this trip to the grocery store. Have meaning and intrigue and move the plot along. Oh my gosh. 

Katherine: Actually in the rom commers, Charlie and Emma go to the grocery store sometimes.

I mean, I didn't say that on purpose, but I then realized like it does actually happen in this book. And they cook together. I mean, they just do some ordinary, but, but because they have such a Like a spark with each other. And because there's so much like sexual tension and energy between them, it makes even these sort of ordinary things kind of sparkle a little bit.

Zibby: That's true. That's true. Well, I feel like I remember like going to the grocery for the first time with like someone you're starting out a relationship with. And it's like the most exciting thing because it has so much promise, right? Are we about to have a lifetime of grocery shopping? Like it feels so like domestic.

I don't know. It, I don't know. I, I it's a great point of energy. 

Katherine: I, I totally agree with you. And I think that there is something so magical about falling in love that it sort of makes the whole world just kind of shimmer with possibility in this way that it doesn't ordinarily. And so when I'm writing love stories, I'm always trying to capture that shimmer.

Like that's a, that's a really beautiful special thing. And it, you know, it doesn't happen all the time. So when it does, I wanna just like jump for joy and celebrate it. 

Zibby: Does writing love stories, like, help your own marriage? Ooh, that's a good question. 

Katherine: I think my own marriage is already pretty great. So I don't know.

I mean, we've been together a long time. We met the year after I graduated from college, and that was in the 90s. And, uh, we, I don't know, I just kind of thank my lucky stars every day that I wound up with this particular person because he's the funniest person I've ever met. His name is Gordon. He's a middle school teacher.

He wears crazy pants. to school to teach every day. He's got pants with flamingos on them and pants covered in flowers, pants with sharks. And, uh, you know, he's kind of like that teacher that all the kids. love because he's a goofball, but he's also very good at getting them to do their stuff. He's kind of, my husband is like, if Jimmy Stewart and Bill Murray were like combined in one person, that would kind of husband.

So, yeah. So I feel like I kind of like won the husband lottery or something with him. And so, yeah, we have a lot of fun and actually like, I credit like a lot of the banter in the books that I write. With the fact that basically for Gordon and me, there's like the Venn diagram of our interests is like kind of two separate circles in a lot of ways, but they touch right at comedy.

Like we are both funny and we both love to joke around and that's our main activity with each other. People are like, you should take up golf together. I'm like, mm. We're just going to joke around. So we, we drink coffee in the mornings, almost every morning that we possibly can. And we just crack each other up.

Like that's the whole goal of the morning is to make each other laugh as much as possible. And so I think my, he keeps my comedy chops very sharp and he, um, and the bantering that happens in the story, doesn't like whatever those neurons are, they're very strong for me because that stuff is constantly exercised.

Like, you know, I'm not really, I'm going for walks or working out, but I am exercising my, my bantering abilities. So yeah, we have a lot of fun. 

Zibby: That's awesome. 

Katherine: Does that answer the question? 

Zibby: Yeah, that was great. Thank you for the peek inside your marriage. Now that I feel like creepy that I'm like, tell me about your marriage, but I love it.

I mean, I think it's so nice to hear about successful marriages and what the secret sauce is. I mean, that's what we all want, right? To be happy. So

Katherine: I have thoughts on that, actually. Um, go ahead. Well, I, so my nephew asked me to perform his wedding last year, two years ago. And I, so I got certified online as a reverend for 35.

And then I went to Colorado and I married this young couple to each other. And I had to do some thinking about it, but I decided that, like, I think, I really think the trick to it all is, and this isn't me, I didn't come up with this. This came from John Gottman, the psychologist, John Gottman, but it's to create that culture of appreciation that he talks about, where you just like notice what your person is getting right, you know, because there's so much that anybody who's not you will be getting wrong all the time, right?

From loading the dishwasher to, you know, I don't know, pushing in their chair the wrong way. I mean, who knows what it is, but this is kind of how we raised our kids too, was like noticing when people were getting things right and like calling their attention to it. I actually think Gordon's a great middle school teacher and I think part of the reason that he is, is because he's able to kind of mirror back to the kids.

what they're getting right. Like, whatever it is that's awesome about that particular kid, he sees it and he notices it and he appreciates it and he kind of mirrors it back to them and makes them aware of it. And there's something so encouraging about that and so positive about that. And, uh, so he does that to the kids he's teaching, but he does it to me too.

Like, like we're all just kind of blossoming under that sunshine. So for, so yeah, so for me, I think, You know, my parents are divorced. I did not come into, into marriage, like super optimistic about the whole prospect of it. You know, my vision of what that meant was not great, but he's so good at just like getting you and appreciating you and being grateful to you for like all the nutty sort of sweet things that you bring into the relationship.

And the more I've watched him do that for me, the more, the better I've gotten at doing that for him right back. And so it's just kind of been this weirdly uplifting sort of. process of things just getting better and better. We've been together for a long time now and we have much more fun now than we did when we started.

Deep thought. 

Zibby: No, I love it. Oh my gosh. It's awesome. And it's doable. You know what I mean? Like you didn't say, like, you have to, to keep your marriage alive, you've gotta climb Kilimanjaro, you know? Like, you have to notice, like, what, what it is you fell in love with, right? You have to, like, remember and, be nice about it.

Katherine: And joke around a lot. That's our other big thing. Like, there's a whole thing with um, I think in the literary world sometimes we really divide stories out into like tragedies and comedies, like as if they are at far opposite ends of the spectrum. But that's not my view of it at all. That's not been my life experience.

I think comedy is like a Coping mechanism that we humans developed because of tragedy, right, because life is hard like squirrels don't need comedy because they don't know they're going to get run over, but like we know we know exactly how hard life is and all the suffering we're gonna have to do and have done.

We remember it. We can anticipate it. And so for me, comedy is like a Primary coping mechanism. And so for like for a funny book to be sad or sad book to be funny makes a lot of sense to me. Those two things are very much interwoven in my actual life. And so, yeah, my books are both of those things. You know, they're funny and sad at the exact same time.

And I think when I first started 1000 years ago, writing You know, writing these novels back in 2007, there wasn't really a category for that. And I felt like people didn't really know what to do with it. Like, well, what kind of book is it? You know, and I think there's more and more, there seems to be a space for that in the, in the book world.

I'm grateful for it. Because to me, it makes total sense that a funny book would be sad or a sad book would be funny. 

Zibby: Totally. They're intertwined. 

Katherine: Yes. Yes. 

Zibby: Totally. Highlight each other very much. That's awesome. I love this notion that you have a secret, like, private Katherine Center Goodreads, like, only on your computer.

And by the way, thank you again. You were so nice about the last love note by Emma Gray. So I've seen what happens when you actually really love something. So that was really wonderful to be tangentially related to that. Why keep it for yourself? Like, why, why do it? Why? Why keep a list of, you said, like you have private reviews on your own computer.

Katherine: Why? Because I, because those, in those reviews, I'm really talking to myself. You know, I'm, I'm looking at the stories that I'm reading. Like every book that I read, I type a little paragraph or five or six about what I thought about it and like what I can learn from it really. And of course, you know, when you first start writing, it's very easy to focus on what you didn't like about what the writer's doing.

You know, you can. Like, of course, we all do that. It kind of makes us feel good about ourselves, right? We're like, uh, this person's dialogue was so wooden. And you can kind of enjoy that moment of feeling superior. But what I have found over many decades of doing this is that that's not particularly helpful.

You know, you're never going to show yourself the path that you want to walk along by looking at what not to do. 

So the older I have gotten, the less I pay attention to what's not working. There's always stuff that's not working in people's stories. So what I try to train myself to do is to focus on what is working.

Like even if I didn't like the book, right? Even if it was a C or whatever, for me, my experience of it, I'm always trying to But what was working? You know, what can, what can I find? What can I learn from this? Like, what were the parts that, that worked? Because there's always something that worked. So, for me, that's why I write little private reviews to myself, and it's because I want to be sure to notice what's working, and I want to, you know, Like pay attention to it and I want to study it sometimes or break it down.

I mean, I'll type people's whole paragraphs of other people's work and then like do a little closer reading of like, why is this working so well? Like, what do I love about this? Like, how did this book hypnotize me in the way that it did? I mean, I do tend to spend much more time on books that I loved than on books that I didn't love.

But if there's a book that I didn't love and I'm like, rrrr, that book was terrible and I feel insulted, then I will give myself this project of like, okay, go in there and find something. That you can be excited about or something that you can learn from about it. So yeah, I mean, that's good advice for life in general.

You know, that's good advice for writers is like find what you love and pay attention to that because that's the thing that's going to guide you to being a better writer. But I also think that it is good advice in human life as well. Look for what's working, look for what you can get excited about, look for what's great in other people, and let that be the thing that guides you down the road.

I mean, I think it, it helps you live a better life in general. 

Zibby: And have a better marriage. All of it. See the good.

Katherine: For real, for real. And I am not naturally like perky or positive either. Like I've had to work on this stuff, and I think that's one of the reasons why I write about it and talk about it and think about it, because it didn't, like my husband just naturally like arrived on this earth cheerful and, and positive and hilarious.

Yes. I. That was not the case for me. I was sort of grumpy and bitter in lots of ways, but I'm working on it. You know, it's like a life project. It's a very fun life project. 

Zibby: Wow. Well, I, I think that your private, you know, assessment of the good and the bad and the ugly of, of books would be so instrumental in helping other writers.

Like, I think maybe at some point, if you get desperate for a project, you could use and do like a little writing manual or like, you know. Finding the good or put it on Substack or something because that's, that's helpful. Like I would like to see a breakdown of what's working in different books so I can copy it essentially.

Katherine: I mean, that's how you learn how to do things, right? It's not by looking at what you didn't like or what you can roll your eyes at. It's like, what, what does this person know that I don't know? That's how you get better. 

Zibby: What are you working on now? 

Katherine: Oh, I am. So my youngest child is about to graduate from high school in May.

Yeah, it's a weird feeling. And the very same week that that happens, I am turning in my 2025 book. So it's been a bit of a crazy spring for me. And, uh, it is a, it is a story about a woman filmmaker who has to write, uh, I mean, who has to make a movie about a Coast Guard rescue swimmer. And so those are the, like, the guys who jump out of helicopters with, like, fins on and land a ship in and rescue people.

So she gets this job to go and, um, do this documentary and you know, it's kind of a disaster, but it's a good disaster. That's my favorite kind of disaster is the good disaster. So I had to do a lot of research last fall with the Coast Guard. And I went and hung out at Ellington Field at Air Station Houston and I got to meet all these very intimidating rescue swimmers and pilots and, uh, I was quite terrified to go down there and they were all incredibly nice.

My husband has been teasing me about it so much, he's like, what kind of research are you doing exactly? Like, are you saying, could you cradle me against your six pack so I can see what that feels like? And I'm like, that's not quite the research, no, it's different research. But, um. You know, it's a world that I don't know very much about.

And so it's been really fun to kind of like take a deep dive in there. It also feels a little bit intimidating because I know I don't know very much about it. 

Zibby: Deep dive, no pun intended? 

Katherine: Yes, no, but well, or pun intended. 

Zibby: Maybe, maybe is that what it's called? Deep dive? 

Katherine: It is not called that. In fact, we, I keep changing the title.

I've been kind of undecided on what the title of it will be, but yeah, it's uh, it's gonna be, it's already very sweet and swoony. Part of me wants to call it good hearted man, but I don't know if that's really what it's gonna wind up being. 

Zibby: Well, if you want deep dive, I won't charge for it. 

Katherine: Thank you. 

Zibby: All right.

Well, Katherine, thank you so much. Congratulations on the rom commers. Well done. So exciting. I love your writing style so much. It's just awesome. And you're, you're just such a pro. And now we know why. So thank you. 

Katherine: Thank you so much. 

Zibby: All right. Keep laughing with Gordon. Bye.

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Katherine Center, THE ROM-COMERS

Craig Melvin, I'M PROUD OF YOU

NBC Today show co-anchor Craig Melvin joins Zibby to discuss I’M PROUD OF YOU, a heartfelt and lively picture book for fathers, sons, and the childhood milestones that inspire pride in every parent. Craig reflects on the moments of pride he has experienced as a parent, highlighting the importance of cherishing the small milestones—like when his son conquered his fear of jumping off a diving board. Then, he opens up about his difficult relationship with his own father, who struggled with addiction. He explains how writing his first book, POPS, was a therapeutic journey toward understanding and forgiveness. The episode concludes with the hopeful note that Craig might collaborate with his wife, an artist, on future projects!

Transcript:

Zibby: Welcome, Craig. Thank you so much for coming on Moms Don't Have Time to Read Books to discuss your beautiful children's book, I'm Proud of You, which I can't believe that there was no other book called I'm Proud of You.

It's such a like perfect title, right? I could give it to so many people. 

Craig: You're very kind. I was actually pleasantly surprised by the lawyers as well. 

Zibby: Right? 

Craig: Yeah. No, no. There it is. 

Zibby: Oh, it's great. It looks so good. I read it online, obviously. Tell listeners what inspired you to write a children's book. I know you said you didn't want to be an author originally, or you hadn't thought you would write a book.

Tell me about it. 

Craig: Well, you know, I mean, listen, you've got, you've got four children. You've been, you've been to the rodeo a few times, uh, when it comes to child rearing. And I think sometimes it's easy. To let the little things fall by the wayside in terms of those, those little moments where your, your child does something and you're like, wait a minute, three weeks ago, you couldn't even reach that.

Or, you know, a couple months ago, you couldn't even string words together. Now you're sharing complete thoughts and feelings. So I wanted to, I mean, perhaps the book is a feeble attempt to try and do what so many of us parents do. And that's like. Stop time, and I wanted to, to try to basically memorialize a lot of those, those little moments along the way that, uh, you know, he's, he's made me really proud and proud about little things that I never would have thought 15 years ago that I would care about.

Zibby: Like which one. 

Craig: You know, like jumping off the diving board, you know, like, that's just, I, I still get really, really scared to jump off a diving board. And I remember vividly the first time he saw someone do it and felt compelled to try it himself. And he approached the diving board and this was several summers ago.

And at the last minute he was, he was too scared to do it. And then just to. Few weeks later, with the help of some older friends, he conquered their fear and jumped off the diving board. He did it once, then he did it again right after that. And then next thing you know, he's jumping off the diving board 20, 30 times every time.

So it's, you know, but even, but maybe like just little things like tying the shoe, like I remember a couple of years ago, I, you know, I think a lot of parents worry sometimes. About really small things and we had tried teaching him to tie his shoe so many times and then I found myself thinking, Oh no, maybe my child will be the only freshman in college who has to wear velcro straps and then lo and behold, like a few weeks later, he's tying his shoe.

I'm like, Whoa. I mean, the whole book is just, it's, it's a collection of, of these little, these little small moments. But it's not just like him being able to do stuff. Like it's, it's, it's the kind of human being he is becoming. And you pour all of this time and all of this energy and all of these emotions into these little people.

And then some days you're like, oh, oh, I'm rearing a sociopath. But then there are other days you're like, wait a minute. He's kind, he's gentle, he is empathetic, so it's a celebration of his emotional growth as well. But it's not just, and I have to be very careful about this, because I have a daughter as well.

Zibby: And her name is Sivvy, which is so close to my name. 

Craig: Yes. There you go. Her name, her name's Sybil, we call her Sybil, and I'm actually probably the only one left that calls her Sybil. Everyone enjoys Sybil so much, it's just, it's just essentially become her name, but, but the book is a celebration of fatherhood.

It is a celebration of primarily my, my son and some of the things that he's achieved so far in his 10 years of life, things that a lot of parents can relate to. But my daughter is featured on every page except one. Very smart. Well, I, I thought it was. Yes. But Zibby, apparently it was not enough. Because when I showed her the book, to say that she was less than impressed would be a gross understatement.

Oh no. And I said, sweet girl, I call her sweet girl. I said, sweet girl, you're on, you're on every page. I'm not on the cover, dad. Well, that is, that is a fair point. And you are a very astute seven year old. There's power in being on a cover. So I'm going to apparently have to do another book after this. 

Zibby: Oh my gosh.

My kids are the same way. I, I wrote a children's book also and I dedicated it to one of my kids and then my kids are like, okay, which one are you dedicating to me? I'm like, how many books do you want me to write? You know, like they all want me to write. Anyway, you just can't win as a parent. And whatever you do, it's just not enough.

It's never fair enough. It's just, we do our best and it just backfires a lot, but you just roll with it and they forget. 

Craig: Yes. Or they end up in therapy. 

Zibby: Yeah. Or both. You know. Or both. 

Craig: Two things can be true.

Zibby: I think therapy is like a foregone conclusion. It's going to happen at some point. I don't know. 

Craig: I think you're probably right.

For all of us. But it's a good thing. 

Zibby: Yeah, it's a good thing. I think one of my favorites in the book was when your son was being a good older sibling because that is like the best thing to see is when you're being a, watching my older son be a great older brother to like his little sister, it just like melts my heart.

And I could feel that from the page in your book. 

Craig: It was, that page was aspirational. What was it at? No, it's one of those things. It happened. It happened once. I got so excited. I was like, Oh my God, I got to write this down. It may never happen again. You know, what's funny about that is I, and I, I gather it's because it does not happen as often as, as I would like for it to happen as a parent.

So when it does happen, I do take notice. He can be really hard on his little sister to be fair. Oftentimes she invites it. Like she knows the buttons to press. She presses the buttons and then runs to me or mom when the reaction she gets is probably what she deserves to a certain extent. That being said last week, My, my son is, um, again, that we didn't, we haven't encouraged this, he's taken to it on his own, but he's really gotten into like broadcasting and he has done some stuff with like nightly news kids and he's interviewed a few folks and he was selected to do the morning announcements and it's called, uh, Patches Productions and they have like two anchors and they.

They actually have like a little, little teleprompter and they, they, they talk about what's being served in the cafeteria, uh, the recess forecast for the day, whatever's being celebrated in, in, in the school that day, they toss to, um, to like some birthdays, like every kid has a birthday that day they get featured.

So he's like a. It's like a, it's like a news, it's like a news break, but, but he got to select someone to, to co host with him. And his buddy Jack, like, you know, his road warrior, Jack, obviously got the nod and he decided, and his, his little sister, she's only in the first grade and first graders don't typically get to do it.

She pestered him, Zibby, to, up to the point where he finally relented. And, and he let his kid sister sit next to him and, and co anchor the morning news at his elementary school. Oh. I, and I watched the video yesterday with, with my wife and I almost got emotional. I was like, what the heck is wrong with me?

Who have I become? But like, they're sitting there next to each other. He's, you know, it's, it's like, he's in a hostage video. So he's, he's like, someone's like paid him to be there. He's like, I'm Delano and this is my sister, Sibby. And she's like, I'm simple mama, mama. She crushed it. She's the natural, like he's the one that should have been honored to sit next to her.

So, so these, these little moments where they're not at each other's throats, it's, um, yeah, I wanted to make sure we celebrated that in the book also as a subtle reminder to both of them when they're older, that at one point they, they did get along, but I, I have a younger brother. I don't know if you have younger siblings.

Zibby: I have a younger brother as well. 

Craig: And it's, and my mother, sometimes I'll complain to her and my mom's basically like, what are you talking about? Do you not remember how awful you were as an older brother? And I'm like, well, it's, well, it's different because I'm, I was six and a half years older and he's a boy.

And she's like, no, no, no, no, it's not different. She's and my mom points out that the Delano. Actually is a far kinder older brother than apparently I was, but, you know, parents tend to revise history as they get older, as you know. 

Zibby: Yeah, I thought I was the perfect older sister, but apparently I did some.

Not very nice things. Allegedly. Yeah, allegedly we played hide and seek and I like never went to find him and then he came back out and was like, you didn't find me and I pretended like we had never been playing the game and I was like, what are you even talking about? And I was like, I did that? He's like, oh my gosh, scarred for life.

So you know. 

Craig: It's funny the things that siblings remember. Yes. Sometimes my brother will bring up like a story from like, you know, 1998. And I'm like, dude, you have two children. You're still carrying around that kind of baggage. Like you really still want to talk to me about that time when you were in seventh grade and I was like late to pick you up because like I was talking to a girl that's the story you want to tell?

Fine. Fine. Fine. Fine. But. 

Zibby: The things with our siblings, though, it's not just baggage. It's like melded to our hands. Like it will never come off. We will be holding it forever. 

Craig: It's like, like on our deathbed. 

Zibby: Yeah, exactly. 

Craig: I'll say to my brother, I'll see you on the other side. But do you remember all the time and blah, blah, blah.

Zibby: Did I read in some Instagram post or something that your brother is in the military? Is that true or no? 

Craig: No, no, no. No. No. 

Zibby: Okay. I thought there was some, you said something like his service or somebody in your family's in service. Nobody? 

Craig: My dad was, my dad was in the military briefly. 

Zibby: Okay. Forget it. I was, I don't know.

I thought I just read that, but I'll look up and see what I was talking about. No worries. Well, you did say in your authored letter that you had a more difficult relationship with your own dad and you didn't want to repeat that. Can you talk at all about that relationship or what made it difficult or, um, what made 

Craig: Yeah, no, you know, my first book that I wrote during the pandemic was if this one was a love letter to my son and my daughter, my first one was a love letter to my father.

It was a result of therapy closure, but it was also the result of this. This anguish that, that, that, that he had been feeling for years about our relationship. My dad was born in a federal prison in West Virginia in 1950 because my grandmother, she, she ran numbers. She, she was a, she was a bookmaker. She was a bootlegger.

She ran liquor. She was a badass. Back in the day and, uh, too much of a badass. She, she got picked up by the police on a number of occasions and ended up doing a couple stints in prison. And during one of those stints, my father was born. So he was born as a, as a, as a black man in West Virginia in the fifties in prison.

He had a lot of strikes against him. And I, and consequently growing up. He, he had, he developed this, unsurprisingly, this inferiority complex. He did not even know who his father was until he was a teenager. He was the youngest of, of, of the bunch and, um, didn't go to college, ended up doing a stint in the military and then took a job at the post office right out of, right out of that.

And, and so, um, You know, when I was born, I, I will, I was not, shall we say a planned pregnancy. Uh, I was a bit of a surprise back in the late seventies. And, and so my dad, uh, wasn't a very good father. And he wasn't a very good father, not because he didn't want to be, but because first of all, he didn't know how to be.

And secondly, he had over the years developed a terrible addiction to alcohol. He was, uh, he was an alcoholic functional for, for most of his life until he retired. And then, uh, he spiraled out of control, got into a car, car accident. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but we use that as an opportunity to stage an intervention, which, uh, long story short, saved his life and probably save the lives of, of, of some other folks who might've been harmed had he continued with some of his reckless behavior.

So I, I wanted to, to document his life for him so that he knew all was forgiven, that his life was worthy, and that there, there is, there was power in his story. It's, it's strange because I didn't know at the time, when I would go down to the basement and write and interview my dad for hours on end, I didn't know how large the addiction community was in this country.

And when I wrote that book. I'm telling you, even now, I, I get strangers who come up and are like, oh my God, I read your book and, you know, my, my dad was an alcoholic. My mom was blah, blah, blah. And we were estranged for years. And, and now we're back to, it was, I wrote the book for selfish reasons. Uh, it was, and it started out as I, I wanted to help myself recover.

I wanted to forgive my dad. And, but as I continued to write, it really, it also became this sort of love letter, not just to addicts, but, but, but even, even more to those who have to care for them and love them unconditionally and forgive them over and over and over again. And so it's, it was, people sometimes were like, Oh gosh, who was your, who's, who's been your favorite interview?

And for a long time, I struggled with the question because I've gotten to interview some really cool people over the years. But now, since I wrote the book, I tell them all the time it was my dad. I got to interview my father. I've got the recordings. It was probably six hours worth of recordings of me just asking him all of the questions that I'd wanted to ask over the years and, and he was honest.

I mean, now granted, sometimes after we talk, he'd come back and he'd say, now that part where I said, blah, blah, blah, maybe we don't put that in, but it was, it was, it was the most cathartic thing I've ever done. So after I did that, I needed to write a children's book. 

Zibby: Yeah. Palette cleanser before you pick on your mom for the next book or something.

No. Yeah. Yeah. Are you? Are you? Yeah. 

Craig: No, but, but, but make no mistake. My, my daughter was jealous. And, and my mother, after I let her read the, the galley from, from my first book about my dad, she felt some sort of way and yeah, I'll just, I'll leave it at that. And I, I, because the reality is my mom, I mean, she was for all practical intents and purposes.

She was a single mother because of my father's addiction, because he also worked third shift at the post office as a mail clerk. My mom was a school teacher. And, uh, my dad liked to pick up bad habits throughout his life. And at some point he picked up another bad habit, gambling and lost his life savings gambling.

And we were having a really hard time making ends meet. So my mom picked up a second job at one point, uh, she was a cashier at a drug store. And, and so I, you know, I would not be where I am without. God's grace and Betty Jo Melvin. And what I, what I didn't want is I didn't want my forgiveness of my father to in any way, shape or form diminish the role that she played in, in, in our lives.

Like my younger brother and, and, and, and, and myself, like we just, you know, and so I, I, I did sort of wrestle with, This weird dynamic that I had to navigate that I did not fully appreciate before I started to write the book. Does that make sense? Like when you, you know, you've written, but like you, you write something and you, you're, you've got like sort of tunnel vision and you think about how it's going to affect.

Like the main character in that story. Yep. You don't necessarily think about how it could affect ancillary characters. Yes. And I didn't do that. And I, I, I didn't do it. And all is, is well. All, but it, um, I had to, I had to make sure that she understood that my newfound expression of, of my love for my father, in truth, really only made me appreciate her sacrifices.

Even more because as I started to talk to him, I realized that a lot of what was happening when we were kids She shielded us from it. Like she she went out of her way to make sure that we did not see a lot of the demons that, that, that had consumed my father over the years. And he was honest about that.

He really was, uh, to, to his credit. So you could charge, you could charge the money for this therapy session that you didn't know you were providing. I hadn't, I, you asked me these, these short, simple questions and all of a sudden I'm like lying on, you know, The couch in your office behind you. 

Zibby: That's my side hustle, you know.

I just try to work it in when I can. Do you think that your mom has forgiven your dad? 

Craig: Um, that is a complicated question that I think she has forgiven him for some of it. I think that she has forgiven him for the addiction. And I, I think, you know, the way that we view addiction in our society now, and I mean just 10 years ago.

You know, if you were addicted to anything, you're, you're just, you're weak, you're a loser, you couldn't get the monkey off your back, you couldn't control your, it was lack of self control, whether it was food, gambling, women, internet porn, booze, drugs, like, The lens through which we view addiction, that aperture has expanded and it's actually happened fairly quickly, thankfully.

And so my mother, I, I, she's always been ahead of her time when it comes to understanding concepts and ideas. Um, so she understands addiction now more than, than, than we all did 20 years ago. I think she's forgiven the addiction. She understands that for what it is. I think that. I mean, listen, you know, I, I've been married a while.

You've been married a while. How long have you been married? 

Zibby: I'm on my second marriage, but I've been married this time for seven years. 

Craig: Seven years, first time, first go around? 

Zibby: First go around was 10 years. 

Craig: So you've been, you've been married for a while. My parents have been married for, for more than 40 years.

And I think when you've been married that long, the only thing, one of the only things that keeps you perhaps from, from killing the other person is that episode of Dateline that you both watched the night before. And so I think over 40 plus years, there's just a lot of, you know. Just, yes, yes. 

Zibby: This is the biggest advertisement for Dateline ever.

Well, Dateline is gonna come thanking you so much. Dateline, the marriage savior. 

Craig: It's, but no, I mean, it's, you know, they've figured out how to, they figured out how to make it work. Yes. And she's forgiven him for a lot of it, but, but not all of it. I get it. They're pretty honest. 

Zibby: I get it. Well, back to the children's book.

Any other? 

Craig: We're not talking about divorce, Craig. 

Zibby: I could, I could talk about this stuff all day. Are you going to write any more children's books to satisfy Sibi and, you know, put her on the cover? I feel like it's only fair and that you should. 

Craig: You know, it's interesting that you asked me that because I, I swore after the first book, I would never write anything again.

And then a friend of mine was like, you know, I mean, children's books are actually fun and it'd be really cool for your kid to one day be able to read the children's book about them to their kids. I was like, Oh, yeah. Oh, that's a no brainer. I'm sold. I was talking to Savannah, Savannah Guthrie, my, my, my co anchor and dear friend.

Zibby: I'm reading her book. 

Craig: I, so I hosted a book event for her last week in New Canaan and we always like spitball ideas. And, and she asked the same question and I was like, I don't know. I need to write something for Sybil and about Sybil and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And what you just honed in on. Was actually what Savannah suggested as well.

She's like, Craig, because our children are all of similar ages. She's like, what if you, what if you featured Sybil in a book where the book is about like sibling rivalry and how they join forces and overcome some sort of obstacle and they are only able to do it by working together and celebrating each other.

I was like, Oh my God. That's actually not a bad idea. And the other part of it is that I just called you zb, by the way. 

Zibby: That's great. That's what, that's great. 

We're we're in BFFs now. It's all good. Yeah, all good. 

Craig: I, I took Zibby without permission and shortened it to Zib and for that, I apologize.

Zibby: That's like what my close friends say. It's all good. 

Craig: Alright, well, so. If I were to ever do another one, I would enlist my wife as the illustrator. The illustrator for this book, Sawyer Cloud, is amazing. Just, I mean, really brought the story to life in a way that I could not be more thankful. We went back and forth over a number of different things.

But, um, my wife studied art in college. She was an art history minor. She paints. She draws. Um, you know, I, we actually met working together and, um, for a split second thought, maybe I would have her illustrate this book. And then I was like, that's going to be too close to home. But now in hindsight, again, thinking, okay, well, if I did it again, I would, I would have her as, as the illustrator now that could also lead to divorce.

I don't know. 

Zibby: Yeah. Um, go either way. 

Craig: Right. And it usually, it usually does. It goes. Yeah. Right. You know, the absence either makes the heart grow fonder or out of sight, out of mind. So I, I would, I would do it again if, if she would agree to, to sign on to illustrate. So we're, we're, we're in talks. 

Zibby: Maybe what you should do is call it, how I got on the cover of this book.

And the book is about Sybil's attempts to get on the cover and what she could do to stand out enough in front of her brother, who's taking up all the space so that she could get the cover. 

Craig: Oh, that's meta. 

Zibby: Right? 

Craig: That's meta. I feel like I should probably say for legal purposes here that if I were to adapt that concept.

Zibby: It's all yours. It's all yours. No residuals. It's fine. It's okay. You just take it. 

Craig: Thank you. I love that. I love that. I love that. That's a really good idea. 

Zibby: Thank you. Take it. I would love to read it. It would be funny. I'd read it to my kids. What advice do you have for aspiring authors? 

Craig: Oh, that's, you know what I like about your style, Zibby?

Tell me. I'm going to answer your question, even though I'm not remotely qualified to offer advice to a client. You do something that a lot of journalists don't do, especially in this day and age, especially on cable news. You know, a lot of people have taken the art of the question, and the art of the question really is the bedrock, the cornerstone of what we do as journalists.

They've taken the art of the question and they've turned it into this, they've, they've perverted the question in a way that they use it to either help the audience, reader, listener, just audience at large. They use the question to try and demonstrate how smart they are, how much homework they've done.

That's, that's what the question has become. The question has become this sort of thing that people have, have taken and, and really twisted. The, the question for, for true journalists, and I've said this for years and the, and the folks that I really like and admire, whether it's Anderson Cooper or Chris Wallace or Bryant Gumbel back in the day, The questions are short.

They are simple. They are actually used. They are designed to do what questions generations ago were designed to do, to introduce a new idea, a concept, to find, to find out why, how, when, or where. And that's, and so your, your, your short, simple questions are refreshing. And the shorter the question typically, the longer the rambling answer.

Evidence right here. Um, well done. You don't get a lot of that these days. The advice I would give and the, and the only things that I've ever written about are things that I'm passionate about. Things that are, are close to me, addiction, family. grief, loss, my kids. I write about, I've written, I've only written about the things that I care about the most.

You know, I, fortunately I'm not a professional. I think I, that's one of the luxuries that I do have. I don't, I don't have this. It's not how I make my living. So I'm, I'm afforded that opportunity to just write about the things that I'm, I'm most passionate about. So I, that would be the first piece of advice.

The second piece of advice, and this goes back to what we just talked about, uh, I continue to find professionally, the less I say, the more I listen, the more people are willing to share and offer up, which was the larger point to the, to the first part of my, my rambling tirade there, even with my dad, I, one of the early questions I asked him during our interview, and this was, I actually stole this.

From a workshop many years ago It was one of these workshops about interviewing and blah blah blah and and there were all these hacks that these professors and journalists were providing and I I can't remember who it was. It may have been harry smith. But anyway, nonetheless the question asked was what was the most money you ever wasted and the thinking was the uh, the journalist who posed that question they were like You ask anyone that question, it's going to conjure up some fantastic memories, which will lead to inevitably some pretty impressive stories.

So one of the first questions I asked my dad when I was interviewing him for my first book, I said, I said, pops, what's the most money you ever wasted? And without missing a beat, my dad, who is notoriously cheap, by the way, my dad said it was 1, 400 in 1986. I was like, wow, that's, uh, very specific, very specific.

Okay. We'll just spend 1, 400 on a night. And by the way, for the record, I had never known my father to spend 1, 400 on anything other than like our college education and, and some help with a down payment for my first house and a car. And he's like, 1, 400. That's how much it's spent. That's how much I've spent to put my father in the ground for his funeral.

I'll never forget it. Right in that check. I was like, wow. 1, 400. And, and he, and, and Zibby that led to about a 20 minute conversation about how my dad was, was so bothered by it because in his lifetime, his father had never given him 1, 400. If you'd taken all of the money. Never. And here he was, when his dad died, his estranged son was basically the only one who was even in a financial position to help with the funeral.

Steps up, steps up, and is like, fine, I'll buy the cheapest pine box, we'll rent the funeral home. And he remembered it 30 years later, 40 years later. And even now, every now and then, if I find myself in an interview and it's not going well, I'm like, what's the most money you ever wasted? And there's always a great story.

Zibby: Interesting. All right, well, next time I'm stuck on a question, maybe I'll, uh, I'll throw that in the mix. 

Craig: You don't strike me as someone who gets stuck on questions. 

Zibby: Craig, so much. Congratulations on I'm So, I'm Proud of You. And uh, I can't wait for your next book, which I inspired and good luck. 

Craig: No, thanks for letting me in the Zibby verse.

Zibby: You're so welcome. 

Craig: Thanks Zib. 

Zibby: Thanks. Bye bye. 

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Craig Melvin, I'M PROUD OF YOU

Elizabeth Comen, ALL IN HER HEAD

Zibby is joined by Memorial Sloan Kettering oncologist and medical historian Dr. Elizabeth Comen to discuss ALL IN HER HEAD, a groundbreaking and fiercely entertaining narrative of women’s bodies, and a call to action for a new conversation around women’s health. Dr. Comen delves into the egregious treatments women have endured for centuries, the systemic neglect of women’s health issues, and the need for women to ask questions, seek second opinions, and support each other. She also talks about balancing medicine and writing and shares her excitement for her new role at NYU.

Transcript:

Zibby: Welcome, Dr. Komen. Thank you so much for coming on Moms Don't Have Time to Read Books to discuss all in her head the truth and lies early medicine taught us about women's bodies and why it matters today. Congratulations. 

Elizabeth: Thank you for having me. 

Zibby: My pleasure. And as we were just discussing, I know your background as a doctor is just so amazing and you've helped So many girlfriends of mine and people saving lives, saved their lives.

So thank you for that from the bottom of my heart, honestly. 

Elizabeth: Thank you. 

Zibby: Okay. The book. Let's go there. Let's do it. Let's do it. Okay.

Elizabeth: I'm an open book. 

Zibby: You are an open book. I feel like I will never be able to ride a bicycle again after reading this story. Like, hearing what women do to their bodies. Oh my gosh.

Okay. Tell listeners what your book is about is about and when you decided to write it and all the backstory, everything. 

Elizabeth: The backstory. So I'm a breast oncologist, which means I take care of breast cancer patients. I've taken care of thousands of patients over the course of my career, also majored in the history of medicine.

And I've always been passionate about understanding the experience of illness. And then in my professional world, really the experience of illness for women. So the book is a walk through women's bodies. In history and by organ system, really tackling, I think one of the biggest myths, which is that women's health, women's healthcare is just our breasts and our, our uterus.

When in fact, we are head to toe different from men. We are not small men. So it is a walk through your body by organ system, told through stories, really gripping egregious stories from the past, but all the way through to the present interviews with expert physicians in every specialty and my experience with my own patients.

Zibby: And when did you become so interested? Were you a little girl who like loved medicine? Like where did this come from? 

Elizabeth: You know, my dad is a litigator and my mom is a therapist. And so I think I've always had an interest in questions and narratives and the stories that we tell ourselves and what's the facts, what are the, what's the evidence and science and history of science really tells us that it.

Nothing we do and think is about finding the truth is really just that. It's all the perspectives and science and medicine is inextricably linked to everything, culture, history, religion. And for me, I think as a little girl, I wanted to have some sense of authority in a home where Lots of other people had authority, but no one knew about science.

When I was a little girl, I loved Halloween. I still love Halloween. And I remember my mom, I grew up in Boston and she always would make me wear like these huge coats over my fabulous costumes. And one day I was about six years old and I'd read this book that germs cause the cold, not the cold. And I said, you know what, mom, I don't need a coat today.

I will not get sick. I'm going to go out in this bunny costume and I don't need a bigger coat because it's the germs, not the cold. And I, and I remember that moment as being like, wow, science is really powerful. Maybe I could do something with this, but no, in all serious, I've always, I've always been fascinated by the body, but equally by the humanities and.

And drawn to this extreme sense of how do we engage in the human experience and how could I be part of that? 

Zibby: I had one experience where I convinced my parents through data, but it wasn't through science. But I was trying to get my, this is totally irrelevant and I can cut this out later, but I was trying to get my curfew raised and all my friends had later curfews, like literally they did.

And I went through and like made a whole chart of all my friends names and their mom's names and their mom's names. phone numbers and their curfews. And I gave her like this whole presentation and I was like, this is why I need a better curfew. And it 

worked. 

So anyway, yeah, brilliant. 

Elizabeth: We all have these pivotal moments in our lives where we have to find some sort of power within and figure out how we're going to use it for hopefully good in the world.

Zibby: Exactly. 

Elizabeth: What'd you do with your late night curfew? 

Zibby: Oh, I don't know. I just, like, sat in somebody else's living room for longer and, like, hung out. I was, I was pretty tame, to be honest. Well, I don't know. Whatever. I don't know. Not much. I mean, I don't know. Honestly, the problem with curfews is that you're, you go home alone.

Like, I was having to go home alone versus with all my friends. Anyway. Yes. Anyway, all to say, harnessing data, very important, especially as a child who feels powerless. And now as, also as women, we can feel equally powerless when we are not getting the healthcare that we need or the advocacy that we need.

And you are, outline all of this and show us, like, all the things that we should know, that where this has come from. And it's empowering. The book is super empowering. How did you get started? Like, which organ system. Like where did you, how did you think to organize it this way? Tell me about the book writing process.

Elizabeth: So I'll tell you about the organization first and then I'll tell you what really sparked it. I was really struggling with how to organize it, how to structure it, because it really is a whole takedown of the body and what we know. And then I really thought Do you want me to repeat this? Do you hear the Siren in the background.

Oh, all right. Let me start over again. Sorry. It's my apartment. So I'll answer your first question or I'll answer the first part in why did I decide to structure it by organ system? And in all of my reading over really the past couple of decades about history of science and women's experience, The, one of the things that really struck me was how much our bodies are fragmented.

We all are seeking this holistic healthcare and this massive wellness industry, because we want to feel whole and well and seen and validated. And a lot of this made me think about, well, where did it all begin? And with the rise of medical science in the 19th century, that's really when you saw the rise of these medical specialties and experts in cardiology, gastroenterology, neurology, urology.

And for me, I wanted to go back and unpack the legacy that exists in our healthcare system today of these extraordinary specialties, but they've also fragmented our bodies in the process, in particular women's bodies, and many of our needs have been lost in the process. If you think about the field of urology, how many of us, me included, thought about women?

And the fact that we don't need to be jumping on a trampoline and peeing in our pants after we have a child, like that's not normal and it doesn't have to be, but yet there's this whole field that many women don't even know exists because he's accepted a certain level of suffering, accepted a certain sense of, well, this is my new normal when it doesn't have to be.

And I think that's part of the legacy that we've all inherited in terms of really what got me started. I always knew I wanted to write this book, but I didn't have. The courage to include the history, even though it was, it is my passion. I'm not a PhD in history of medicine. I'm not a professor at Harvard in history of science.

And I had a lot of imposter syndrome, but I stumbled upon this book, Nymphomania. And one of the cases in the book is about this man, Horatio Storer. Horatio Storer was 26 years old. He also went to Harvard med school. He had a penchant for sticking pokers up female cadavers vaginas. Because that's just what he thought was normal.

And there was this one case of Mrs. B. Mrs. B was married to an older man. And he wrote about this in a famous journal in which he titled her diagnosis, Nymphomania. Mrs. B. Was brought to Horatio store who became the founder of the Boston gynecologic society. And what was the problem? The problem was she wanted to have more sex with her husband who was older than he did.

He claimed that there is an obstruction somehow in her vagina when really clearly if you read this, he probably had erectile dysfunction. And in the course of this, Horatio store examines her pretty quite brutally and says, well, if, if, if, Your desire doesn't stop, you're going to have to put a chemical on your clitoris, replace your pillow with horse hair, I mean with needles, you're going to have to stop eating certain foods, not read romance novels, and if that doesn't work, we're going to send you to an asylum.

Your husband and I have agreed we're going to send you to an asylum. This was a little over a hundred years ago, it is not that long ago. And then I've read, well, Horatio Storr sent his own wife to an asylum at age 39 in Worcester, Massachusetts, where she died. This same man went on to found the Physicians Against Abortion Crusade.

And I thought, and this man is still lionized by certain groups in society today. And I thought, you know, I didn't know about this man. I didn't know about this history of the Boston Gynecologic Society. And I've taken care of thousands of women. What else don't I know? And once I started on that path, I just.

Did not stop with the rabbit holes. It became a complete obsession. What do we know about exercise? What do we know about cardiology? Why is heart disease the number one killer in women? And yet we've got all these women dying and not realizing their symptoms of a heart attack. And it just became absolutely compulsive.

Zibby: Wow. So when are, were you doing all this? You're seeing patients, you have your whole life where, when, when are you doing this? 

Elizabeth: So another pretty courageous move was there had never really been anybody in my hospital who'd worked part time in the type of department that I was in, and so it took a lot of courage for me to ask to cut back a little bit on my clinic time.

Take a massive pay cut and, and really commit to this project. So there were a lot of, I know you write about this too. There were a lot of four 30 in the morning wake ups, but you know, a lot of people asked me, was it hard to write this book? I think cancer is hard taking care of young women. Really, really, really sick is really, really, really hard.

Writing this book was the, one of the greatest joys of my life, if not the biggest intellectual joy of my life. 

Zibby: And how do you get through taking care of women, young women, and seeing all the sadness and things you can't maybe fix? 

Elizabeth: Yeah. So when I went into the field of oncology, my mom especially was really worried about me.

She said, you know, you have to be willing to be part of the process of caring for someone no matter the outcome. And you and I both know that there's only so much that we control about cancer. We've all been affected by it personally or, you know, physically. In in some greater way in our community, and I don't think I've fully comprehended that what it would be like to become a mother myself to become.

A daughter taking care of her parents and, you know, I take care of women of all stages of disease. And it is a huge privilege to be part of their lives, to hear their stories, to hear what they wish for themselves. But I don't think I fully grappled with what that would be like for myself. I'm a huge empath.

I don't have boundaries. I don't compartmentalize well, and I absorbed a lot of that over time. And I've had to really. And I'm still learning how to process all that. Writing this book was part of my own love affair with medicine again, with the whole person, with sometimes realizing that I've been in the valley of death a really, really long time and you have to see the sun too.

And that's what fills you with the courage to take care of the next patient, especially in the imperfect healthcare system where we exist today, where you might be compressed with time. You might not have the hours to. Find out that your patient's dog's name and everything that they love and everything that they want for themselves.

But what can you do with the time that you have? So I've had to learn a lot of new skills and I'm, I'm still learning, but that's part of why this book really saved me. Right before I wrote this book, one of my colleagues died at age 39, suddenly in, in my arms, really in the middle of clinic, he died of sudden death.

And it was right before I Really committed to writing this book, and sometimes you have these pivotal moments in your life where you also realize you're helping everybody else live. But what are you doing for your own life? And what will it take for you to thrive in it? And so as much as this book is about helping, you know, changing the legacy of women's health care personally, this was also a book that saved me.

Zibby: I'm so sorry that happened. Oh my gosh. What does that mean? Died by sudden death. 

Elizabeth: He, you know, in the interest of privacy, he, he, he was 39. He had an underlying condition that he did not know about, but he was walking towards me in distress and collapsed and everything was done to save his life. He had cardiac issues that were undiagnosed and that he would never have known, but it was horrible to do CPR on your friend too.

Oh my gosh. The awful, but I will tell you that right before he passed away, the last conversation, I confessed to him that I wanted to write this book. And he said, Elizabeth, you got to write the damn book. You have to write this book. And it was one of the last things he said to me next to saying that he liked my sneakers, which were leopard print.

And, you know, you think about, well, how do you, how do you honor someone's legacy? How do you do things that you feel like you were meant to do in this world? And that this is one of them. 

Zibby: Oh my gosh. Yeah. It's the ultimate, if not now, when, you know, kick in the pants type of thing and like the, in the most tragic of ways.

Um. 

Elizabeth: Yeah. 

Zibby: Exactly. Oh, my gosh. I feel like I would be replaying that in my head all the time. That scene. Do you do that? You know? 

Elizabeth: Do I replay that scene over? I did for a long time, and the thing is, is that my clinic, so where I practiced my whole career, is the same place where he died. That never changed. So every day it's walking by that same place, but you try to do the best with, you know, the experiences that life throws you, I guess.

And he was a champion of women, a huge champion of women and of joy and of thriving and in patients loving him and helping them and And my hope is that this book helps change the stories for so many women and, and be part of a larger mission to improve the healthcare in this country, which I think is woefully lacking when, with regard to women's health.

Zibby: Do you feel that there is something we can do about it? I've been feeling very down lately about all the things that are not able to be changed, but have been identified as lacking. 

Elizabeth: Yeah. And I think that I, I didn't want to write a book that was just a Debbie Downer, but I really did want to say. You know, we can, we can fight for all these things today, but unless we know where it's come from, I really don't think we're going to, we're going to change the story all that much.

I think there's a couple of different things. First, as an individual woman, and I needed to do this myself. It requires a lot of thinking about what are the stories you've been told about your body yourself. Know that when we think about the experience of illness, two people can have the same diagnosis, but what they go through.

What their lives mean to them is so uniquely specific to who they are and all the things that go into the ineffable qualities of what it means to be an individual. And I think in that, my hope for women reading this book is that they think about the stories they've been told themselves, their experiences with the doctor, and And does this empower you just a little bit more to ask the questions you've always wanted to ask, to not feel shame about whatever it is you feel shame about, to get that second opinion, to have somebody go with you and say, you know what, I felt so dismissed about X, Y, and Z, something is not right.

Please explain to me what's going on. And if you don't know, help me find somebody who will. So there's individual story and then. As importantly, I think there's that collective sisterhood. So much about what we say about women is we cut each other down and we don't support each other. But I think that's ridiculous.

I think in writing this book, you see, I've seen how much women are our greatest hype party. And I think the more we can come together with the type of honesty and authenticity that you've shown so many people in your life, the more, the more. Yeah. My hope is that women will feel less alone and say, this is what I've been through.

These are the experiences that I've had. There's so much front facing in society with social media and certainly where we both live. But in reality, we are all simply human. And I think women need each other. And I think women need each other more now than ever. And as much as there seems to be support, I think there's always more that we can be doing.

Zibby: I recently did an event at my bookstore with Dr. Mary Claire Haver about menopause and women's health. And so after that, like, she's kind of opened my eyes to a lot of the things I didn't know about in terms of, you know, the second stage of life altogether. And that I feel like has been Just so obvious of an example of where the healthcare system is lacking and, you know, the, the data that we don't have and the dismissal of a bazillion symptoms and all of that.

Like, can you, can you speak to that for a minute and how like menopause is just, it's, and it's way more than just menopause. It's women's health basically age 30 and up.

Elizabeth: Yes. Yes. I think it's at every age. I think at every era we have been dismissed throughout history and in, in some measure it's getting better.

But, and when you talk about. Dr. Haver, I think it's fantastic that you have this groundswell of so many amazing doctors and Halle Berry talking about menopause and Maria Shriver and all her initiatives with Dr. Biden, the women's research initiative. But from my perspective, and I'd like to think I'm not that old.

I will tell you that I never learned about medicine, menopause, nothing in medical school, nothing. When it came to hormone replacement therapy, everything I heard was this would cause breast cancer. And this is my field. So only very, very recently are we starting to. Think about these issues. And it really reflects society though.

It's a perfect example about how society has historically neglected the aging woman. We become powerless. We are not as attractive. We are not as capable, but it's like damned. If you do damned, if you don't, if you have your period, you're too mercurial, you're too hormonal, you could never be president. And if you're menopausal, well, you're just too old.

So where is our chance to be our best? Never. Right. But I think that's just one example of how far we have to come, but yet the power of women coming together because there are so many doctors now that are really not just banging against a wall, but collectively banging a drum together and I think medicine and society is hearing it.

Zibby: I love that. It's amazing. This is going to sound like a stupid question. I know you are an amazing. 

Elizabeth: No. No questions. Come on. Not at all. Ask me anything. This is your right hand. This is your left hand. What do you got? 

Zibby: You are like an amazing oncologist. What makes, how are you an amazing oncologist? How does one, how is one oncologist better than another?

Is it the information? Is it the? Yeah. bedside manner? Is it, how do you get better results than the next oncologist? How does that happen? Like, what does it mean? 

Elizabeth: I think there's no perfect oncologist at all. There's different types of oncologists for different types of people. And sometimes you need a team of types of doctors to take care of you.

Just like you don't have that one friend, or maybe we do, but we, we all need a team. So I think. I don't know, I can't tell you what makes me good for everybody else, but I can tell you that when I thought about what field of medicine did I want to go into, like I love sports medicine, I would be a terrible orthopedic surgeon because I'd be like, Oh, it looks good enough.

Like I'm a little messy. It wouldn't have worked. But I thought when shit hits the fan, that's where I'm good. I'm really good in that existential crisis, and I'm, I'm pretty good at biology and chemistry and all those things, but how it all comes together. That's, that's, I think, where my strength is. I didn't anticipate the toll it would take on myself, but that's where I'm good.

So I think I am empathic. I think I really, really care. And I think the secret is you don't have to be a savant in biology to be a good oncologist, but you have to know who are the people that have that skill and to be humble enough to say, I have this really challenging case to somebody in the lab, like who may never talk to a person, but can you, can you look at this sample?

Can you tell me what you think about it? I think it's the humility to know what you know really well, what you do really well, and know what you don't know well, and to never think that you can do it all for every patient, and to use the power of the people around you to be even better for your patients.

And I think it's the humility, I think it's the compassion, and I think it's the willingness to never give up, no matter the outcome. And a lot of, The sadness of what I do is also being present for extreme suffering, and that includes the palliative care of medicine, and I don't know that we do that so well in our society because we, we give so much credit to the first breath of life, less so to the last.

Zibby: Hmm. 

Elizabeth: So for me, I think it's part of a willingness to be present no matter what. 

Zibby: And how do you feel now that the book has come out and been such a wild success? 

Elizabeth: It's been life changing. It's been life changing. So a little piece of news is I've only had one job and that's, well, one professional job as a doctor and that's working at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, which has been an incredible experience.

When you talk about working with experts and excellence, that's That's where it has been for me, and I'm so proud to have worked there, but I'm really excited to also share that as a result of this book, I'm moving to NYU to help them build a women's health program there really devoted to tackling the issues constructively that I talk about in the book and I'll continue to see breast cancer patients there.

Zibby: That's amazing. Well, I'm actually kind of sad about that because I'm on the board of Mount Sinai. So I feel like I wish they had, uh, stepped in and, you know, snatched you up if you were leaving. But anyway, that's great. Good for you. That's really amazing. Congratulations. Do you see more books in your future?

Elizabeth: Oh, what a gift it would be. I have some ideas for the next book, but from an intellectual standpoint, nothing has been a greater joy. I'm sure you know how hard it is to write a book, but how, what an incredible life fulfilling process it can be to have that time. And I would love, I would love the opportunity to write another book.

Zibby: And what is advice to aspiring authors that you can share? 

Elizabeth: Be brave. Go for it. Don't try to do everything all on your own. Ask for help. I was lucky enough to have a great agent, and I have a great publisher, Harper Collins, and uh, today's the first day of the rest of your life. Put pen to paper. 

Zibby: I love it.

Amazing. Dr. Komen, thank you so much. Thank you for coming on. Thank you for advocating for women's health, and there is, I mean, there's nothing more important. It's like, this is it. This is all we have is our bodies. So thank you. 

Elizabeth: Thank you so much. I really appreciate your having me. 

Zibby: Of course. Thank you.

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Elizabeth Comen, ALL IN HER HEAD

Jane L. Rosen, SEVEN SUMMER WEEKENDS

Jane L. Rosen returns to the podcast, this time to discuss SEVEN SUMMER WEEKENDS, a charming, heart-tugging romance about a woman who inherits a Fire Island beach house and its revolving door of weekend visitors... and then meets an irritatingly handsome neighbor. Jane delves into her creative process and inspiration, revealing that the big family secret in the story is based on her own family history. She also talks about her love for Fire Island (where she met her husband!), her best advice for aspiring authors, and the books she’s excited to read this summer!

Transcript:

Zibby: Welcome, Jane. Thank you so much for coming back on Moms Don't Have Time to Read Books to discuss your latest Seven Summer Weekends.

Congratulations! 

Jane: Thank you so much. I'm so happy to be here. It's always like just chatting with a friend. 

Zibby: Amazing. I read your whole book yesterday. That was my, you know, Mother's Day treat to myself, which was amazing. Tell listeners what Seven Summer Weekends is about.

Jane: Well, it's, it's basically about a girl named Addison Irwin, whose life is completely uprooted with, by a Zoom disaster. Loses her job that she's been vying for, which is the art director at an ad agency. She's been working towards it, you know, ever since college, 10 years later, loses a job and just has never really even experienced failure before.

Her friends come over, scooper up and, um, Next thing you know, she's inherited a house from an estranged aunt on Fire Island. She figures she'll sell it, she'll take the money, buy a fabulous apartment in Manhattan, and, you know, things don't always go as planned, and she goes out there. The house comes with seven weekend guests, most of them from her aunt, and her life changes.

In a lot of different ways. And it's a story of growth. It's a story about, you know, when you were young and it was like, the summer was so defined, summer had like this magic that anything could happen. And it was this like defined time. And then you graduated college and you're like, Oh, summer, what's summer now?

Like, is it just two weeks vacation or, you know, something you don't have that kind of freedom in your life. But when you come to Fire Island, you kind of get it back. It's very much like camp. And here she is, comes, she comes to Fire Island, she lost her job, she's nowhere to be, she has to find another one, but no one's hiring over the summer.

And she gets that magic back of summer, where you really could discover yourself and different things and pivot. It's a great escape, I'll tell you that. 

Zibby: It is, very much. And so funny, by the way, that you continually referenced On Fire Island in this book, which was your last book, which is great. 

Jane: Yes, I, I did.

And then the funny thing is, this is one of, Three. So the next one is called Songs of Summer and these three books, they're all standalone novels, but you could kind of read them in any order. You know, you read them and be like, Oh, wait, I want to learn the backstory and read on Fire Island. Or you could read the next one, Songs of Summer and say, wait, which is focusing on this adopted daughter of a character named Beatrice.

So it starts with her and you could say, Oh, I want to read the backstory on that. So it's all connected yet all separate. 

Zibby: Interesting. 

Jane: Yeah. 

Zibby: And so how did you come up with the idea for this one? 

Jane: It's funny. I came up for the idea. I didn't come up. I came up with an idea of Seven Summer Weekends. And as you know, you like pitch your next book.

And I said, I would like to write a book called Seven Summer Weekends, where a woman whose life is upended, goes and visits seven summer weekends. Seven different places that summer, like, you know, like the different New York beach towns and lake towns and all of that. And they said, we love it, but could you put it all on Fire Island again?

And I said, okay. And it was actually really a fun experiment for me. It was almost like kind of an assignment that I just went off with and it was fun. I loved it. I've never done something like that before where someone actually said, you know, could you write this? 

Zibby: Well, it's interesting because for The Weekends, I was wondering why, or not wondering why, but I noticed that when different people would come to Fire Island, you set them first where they were.

were coming from, right? So we got to see Peaks at other places before they got to Fire Island. And I was like, I wonder why she's doing that. I mean, I loved it, but just the writerly, you know, like, why do we see them here and there, you know, where they began versus just having them appear on Fire Island?

Like you gave us the backstory of the guests. 

Jane: Yes, I started doing that. I didn't do that for each one. And then my editor was like, you really have to go back and do that for each one. There was some guests where I really wanted to just show you, you know, who they were before they walked through her door.

And it was, it was fun. Like there's a, you know, there's one from India, I guess, from India. And he really explained how he met. Addison's aunt, and there's her childhood friend, but then there's also her friends. And I loved writing her friends. It felt like very, you know, Carrie's friends kind of thing. And I really honed in on one woman who was going through her own changes, as you know, and just seems like a great way to, you know, to enter each weekend by telling who they were.

I mean, even though there's two bookstagrammers.

Zibby: I was about to say that. I was about to say that two bookstagrammers are hilarious. 

Jane: You know what's so funny? I don't know what it is, but every time I write a book, I slip in the word slut and every time they make me take it out. So this time, I think I got it next time, by the way.

And I don't know why I've now become obsessed with slipping the word slut in. You know, you're not allowed to say slut. Like, you're not allowed to say so many things. So I called them the book sluts first, and they were the book sluts the whole time I wrote it, and then I waited for the editor to say, you know, I love my editor, you know, she's not a prude or anything, but she's like, oh, you know, you can't say slut.

So I'm like, oh, I do know that because I've tried it every time. So I changed it to the Spice Girls. 

Zibby: You know, I, I recently just watched, do you remember Overboard with Goldie Hawn? 

Jane: Yes! It's one of my favorites. 

Zibby: It's one of my favorites too. So I was just actually watching it with my kids who hadn't seen it.

And there's, there's the part, you know, where Goldie Hawn is like, 

Jane: You fat, ignorant slut. Is that it? 

Zibby: Yeah, she was like, she was like, I was a short, fat slut. 

Jane: That's the funniest line in that movie. 

Zibby: Oh my god. 

Jane: I could tell you every line in that. If anyone hasn't seen Overboard, everybody. Watch it tonight, because what a gem that movie is.

Zibby: I know, it's from like 1987. I was like, how could that be? I feel like I watched it yesterday. But anyway, I mean, I did. I feel like the first time was yesterday. But yeah, I loved your books to grammars and really all the all the visitors and how you How it, it's like, it's almost like, episodic, right? It feels like seven episodes of a, of a limited series, which, you know, maybe it will be.

Jane: Go! Hollywood! 

Zibby: But one of the, well, there are two sort of, uh. beating hearts, I feel like, of the story. One being her relationship, Addison's relationship with Gicky, her aunt, and the relationship, the big terrible thing that happened between Gicky and the parents and why they were estranged. And then also, the potential love interest and how that, you know, affects her life and, and all of that.

So tell me, tell me more about that and why you set it up that way with the aunt and the parents and did you know the Big Terrible Thing when you started or did it come to you later? 

Jane: The Big Terrible Thing was, we can't say what it is, but the Big Terrible Thing was something that happened in my family.

Zibby: You're real, oh my gosh. 

Jane: I was so shocked. I was, I had dinner with a cousin, like, that I see maybe once every five years. Her aunt, her mother, I mean, was my great aunt. She was, she lives on, on, um, Central Park West. She was, she was the last in the last boat out of Poland when the Nazis came in. She built this beautiful life for herself with her husband, who was my uncle.

And she was like a princess and she, they had this cousin. And my mom said, they have, you know, they haven't spoken in 30 years. No one will say why no one will say why. And I don't know why. And then I was like, everyone's already deceased. And I having dinner with my cousin and I'm like, what was the big reason?

And she goes, Oh, I know the reason. And she said the reason. And that was the reason in the book. And I was like, what? I couldn't believe it. So it's true. 

Zibby: Oh my gosh. That's hilarious. That is hilarious.

Jane: I mean, of course they embellished it, you know, a bit. 

Zibby: Yeah. 

Jane: It was the reason. 

Zibby: I liked the physical resolution, if you will, the, you know.

Jane: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. 

Zibby: The love interest. I don't know what I can say about that to not give things away, but that was also wonderful. 

Jane: Thank you. I really wanted to after on fire islands, which is the story of someone, you know, in, in the depths of grief, I really wanted to give the audience a little rom com.

My audience, my readers. So hopefully I did. 

Zibby: And what is it, I know you love Fire Island, and I feel like I got a particularly great sense of it here with the sandwiches and white paper and, you know, all of it, the carts and, I don't know, you just like really brought us here. there so much so that I was like, I think I'm just going to have to get to Fire Island at some point.

Like I haven't been to college or something. 

Jane: It's right on the way to the, to your house. You should stop by, jump on the ferry. 

Zibby: What makes you love it so much? And when did you fall in love with Fire Island? Like what is it about Fire Island that sings to you? 

Jane: I think that a great deal of people that love Fire Island because Not to sound like a spoiled person, but it's not easy.

It's not, you can't drive your car there. You have to, you know, unload everything, ship it over. You sometimes can't get it the same day. You certainly can't get, you know, all the luxuries of life there. There there's nothing there. There's a market and a liquor store and a flower shop. Like, so. Like I once had to get a Verizon help and it was so funny because the woman's like, just go down to the Verizon store.

I'm like, listen, lady, there is no Verizon store. Yes, there is. It says there's one at ocean beach. I'm like, no, I promise you there is no Verizon store, but anyway, so it's a, you know, it's not an easy place to live, but it's a wonderful place to live. Leaving all of that behind, leaving the cars behind, leaving the Verizon store behind, leaving all of that.

And just walking around, pulling a wagon, your belongings, or riding your bicycle to the market before each meal is just something you really can't find anywhere else. Well, I've never found it anywhere else. But that being said, I fell in love with my husband on Fire Island and I think the romance of it kind of stuck with me.

And I think that that happens to a lot of people. When you walk around and you say, when was the first time you came to Fire Island? People will say, oh, I met my husband here. They'll say that, or they'll say, my grandparents bought this house, you know, a hundred years ago because no one really gives up their houses, you know, because it's just so wonderful.

Zibby: And is it a big deal to sell? Like, is it, is that the thing you're not supposed to do. 

Jane: Yeah, it is a big deal to sell, especially now that people have been building these big houses. So if I were to sell my house tomorrow, someone would probably knock it down and build, you know, something huge. And then my neighbors would be sad because it's like you have a tiny house just shrinks when the one that goes up next door to you and my particular block has somehow been immune to this situation.

And, um, even when someone passed, the, the kids kept it and we were so happy that the kids kept it. And now I see the grandchildren and the great grandchildren, actually, there's a great grandchildren on my block of the owners that I first, when I first bought the house, those people's great grandchildren are toddling on my block.

Pretty wild. 

Zibby: Wow. It's like a, It's like a club or something, like a resort of simpler times. 

Jane: Yeah, and CJ's kind of the same, which is nice, especially from the city, like the dichotomy of it all is just, it's amazing. It's a great place. 

Zibby: Oh, I love it. 

And what about the cringe inducing thing that gets Addison to lose her job.

Where did you come up with that? And has anything like that ever happened to you? 

Jane: You know, I think every time someone goes on Zoom, or started to at the beginning, right, there was just so many disasters. You weren't, you had no idea what was going on behind you, you know, and I've, I've personally, I don't know if you've ever done this.

I've personally like forwarded an email to someone like, look what this person said. And then I replied instead. So, you know, that kind of feeling of like that thing, you can't get back. World is filled with that stuff. You can't get back. Right. It's not like when we were kids, you could do whatever you wanted.

No one was recording, you know, you know, it was, and now all of a sudden you're on a zoom meeting. I mean, you know, there's, uh, Show people, like, naked walking across the background, and I just thought this, this would be fun to, you know, figure out how she could really mess up. 

Zibby: I was on a FaceTime call. It wasn't Zoom, but I was on FaceTime with my kids allergists, like, having a Zoom appointment with them.

Not Zoom. Well, whatever. An appointment. Video appointment. Mm hmm. But I had my headphones in. In the phone. So my Kyle didn't know I was on the phone and he like went to go get a cup of coffee. He was wearing pajama pants, but he was not wearing a shirt. Anyway, so he comes up from behind me to give me the, the coffee and, and like his whole, you know, just the top of him appears the thing.

And I was like, I promise he's wearing pants. 

Jane: That is so funny. 

Zibby: Oh gosh, all in a morning. You know, anyway. So you're writing books so quickly. How are you doing this? Like, how long did this take? And how are you doing it? Like when and how are you doing it? 

Jane: Okay. Well, first of all, I'm an author and a mom whose three children are out of the house.

You are an author and a zillion other things. So if you think about like your day and what it's spent doing, and you just put that all into writing as if it was a job, you would be doing the same thing. Do you understand what I'm saying? It's just time. I wake up in the morning and I write. And then I go about my day in the afternoon, or sometimes I could write for six straight hours.

And I really don't write on the weekends. I try and take off as if it was a regular job. And I write that being said, I think I'm thinking of going back to this every two year situation, because I think, especially what I have in my head for my next book, I think to do it justice, I'm going to have to give it more time.

So we'll see. 

Zibby: Okay. So you don't have a deadline. You have to hand it in by. 

Jane: Well, I don't, I didn't even sell it yet. So, you know, I'm hoping to really delve in to something and put some more time in it, but yeah, it's been, well, Fire Island on Fire Island was a script. I was a screenwriter first before I was a novelist.

So that was particularly, even though it was the book closest to my heart, really, it was easier to write quickly because I had like this giant outline, a 90 page page. Outline, add all the dialogue, you know, so that was easier and Seven Summer Weekends just flew out of me. I don't know. 

Zibby: What's going on, by the way, with Eliza Goes Off Script and the TV adaptation?

Jane: That's Nora. 

Zibby: I'm sorry, Eliza. I started a rumor. 

Jane: But that would be great. Eliza goes off script while Nora starts a rumor. 

Zibby: Oh my gosh. I'm so sorry, Jane. How could you possibly? Let me do that again. 

Jane: Great. 

Zibby: Let me do that again. What is going on with Eliza starts a rumor and the TV adaptation of that? 

Jane: Okay.

Well, I'm happy. Well, first of all, everyone who's listening to this podcast, please cross your fingers right now. They crossed it's being pitched right now to all the streamers. Yeah. The pitch is fantastic. Really fun. Really fun. And we'll see. 

Zibby: Oh my gosh. Have you attached a star? 

Jane: No, I'm not. You know, it goes the other way.

It's like, they don't want the star attached, they do want the star attached. You really can't gauge what's going to be your best bet. Yeah. But for me, if it happens, like, part of me got into novel writing. Or a great deal of the reason I got into novel writing was because I was writing screenplays that no one was reading.

I sold them, but only the executives were reading them, and my family. And I was so tired of that, so I wrote Nine Women One Dress. In the hopes that, you know, that it would become a film and then I just got hooked on writing novels. So my point is, I'm just so excited for the thought that I could see it on the big screen or the little screen, the little screen, actually.

Zibby: Oh my gosh. Keep me posted. I'm so excited. Well, I hope I have high hopes. I have high hopes. 

Jane: Thank you. It was really fun. They really did a great job with it. I'm not writing the script, and Wendy Stryker Hauser is, and she's amazing. So, we'll see. We'll see. You can open up your fingers now, everybody. 

Zibby: Yes, they're crossed, crossed, crossed.

What do you like to read in the summer, like, when you're on Fire Island and relaxing? Or do you just hold up your own books the whole time? 

Jane: No, no, no. I'm so excited to read. I'm actually, I've been in a group of, with the June 4th authors. 

Zibby: Mm hmm. I saw that. 

Jane: All publishing on the same day and we've decided to band together and support each other.

And I'm hoping to read all of their books. They're going to send, we're all going to send each other the books. It's Susie Orman Schnall and Julie Sato, Annabelle Monaghan, Olivia Munter. I don't know if I'm saying it right. Gosh, I know I left someone out. But anyway, oh, Brooke Foster. So I'm going to read all their books.

That seems like a good list. 

Zibby: That's really great. Oh my gosh. And what advice do you have for aspiring authors? 

Jane: Do not give up. That seems like a very, you know, nothing advice, right? Do not give up. You've already heard, you've heard that your whole life. But the truth is if you, if you don't keep the passion burning and you don't keep writing, you're never going to publish.

Obviously. So when you get a million rejections on one book, put it away and write another book and just keep going. Something's going to hit if you have that much passion for writing. 

Zibby: Wow. And my last thing I've been really curious about, because I know the story of this comes, you know, whatever, but is this an actual painting?

I'm talking about the cover. Do you have this as a painting, the cover? 

Jane: No. I should ask them for it. I'm going to get one because it looks like it's on watercolor paper. Is it artist? I know. And the next one, but look on fire island was the same. Could you see it? Yeah. Yeah. Yep. Yep. And the third one. Is just as gorgeous.

It's really beautiful. It's a woman on the ferry with headphones on and it's the same watercolor look. Yeah, it was an artist, you know, that they mock it up and then they put the colors in and you say, Curly hair, straight hair, the dog's too big, the dog's too small. And then it comes out as a cover. Voila!

Zibby: You should do like, even without the titles, you know, just the three of the watercolors. Like a triptych. 

Jane: I should. 

Zibby: Yeah. Could sell them. Anyway. Amazing.

Jane: Always thinking. 

Zibby: Jane, thank you so much. Thank you for taking me away with you to Fire Island over the weekend. I feel like I had a total vacation and I really enjoyed it.

Thank you so much. 

Jane: Thank you so much. I'm so glad you enjoyed it and I hope to see you soon. 

Zibby: Okay. All right. 

Jane: Thanks.

more details
Jane L. Rosen, SEVEN SUMMER WEEKENDS

Annabel Monaghan, SUMMER ROMANCE

Zibby's Book Club pick for July! Zibby chats with bestselling author and repeat MDHTTRB guest Annabel Monaghan about SUMMER ROMANCE, an unputdownable love story about a newly single mom and professional organizer whose life is actually a mess—and the unexpected summer fling that turns things around for her. Annabel reveals how her own messy house inspired her protagonist and then delves into the themes of motherhood, grief, and self-discovery. She also talks about her novel’s evolution (the love interest wasn't originally a skateboarder!), her disciplined writing routine, and the influence of her late mother on her work. Finally, she teases her upcoming book!

Transcript:

Zibby: Welcome, Annabelle, thank you so much for coming on Mom's Don't Have Time to Read Books, my Zippy's Book Club pick, but your amazing, amazing, amazing novel, Summer Romance. So good. Loved it so much. Congratulations. 

Annabel: Thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you for reading it, and thank you for having me. 

Zibby: Oh my gosh. It's so good.

It's just so good. Okay. Tell everybody what it's about, first of all. 

Annabel: So, it's a book. It's about a professional organizer whose life is a total mess. Her house is a mess. She's grieving the loss of her mother. Her husband has recently left about a year ago. And she is completely stuck. And she gets it in her head.

That maybe having a summer romance with this guy who's just going to be in town for the summer might be just the thing to get her unstuck. That's the premise. 

Zibby: Okay, I think that's a good one. I mean, I think that's a good summary. It's a long elevator ride if that's the pitch, but yes. 

Annabel: Where did this come from?

Uh, it really came from, like, the deepest place in my heart. I thought I was going to write a book, I wanted to write a book about a professional organizer whose house was a mess. 

Zibby: Is your house a mess? 

Annabel: My house is a total disaster, yeah. And I mean, I'm working on it, but like, I just don't, I'm not a person with like baskets in my pantry.

No. 

Zibby: Have you ever had an organizer come to your house? 

Annabel: Yeah, one time, I think she died on the way out. I think she was like, I don't know how to help you. But I think it's so interesting sometimes how our external lives, uh, look a certain way and our internal lives look so different and we're just trying and we have so much stuff.

Yeah. Like I wanted, I kind of wanted to write a book about all the stuff, our emotional stuff, our clutter, all of those things. And then I was going to have her. Get a divorce and fall in love with her divorce attorney. Cause I thought that was kind of interesting. Like it was an, it's an interesting way for someone.

They find out a lot about you. Like...

Zibby: I'm imagining in my head, my divorce attorney's reaction. Should he open up a book written by you? 

Annabel: Be like, Oh, but then I got so bored by the idea of a divorce attorney. I just thought that, so anyways, it evolved into, do it. The guy she actually falls in love with is pretending to be her divorce attorney, and he is a very very loose Skateboarding guy.

Zibby: Yeah. What was with the costumes? The divorce attorney costumes in the, in the legal settings. 

Annabel: He was loose. 

Zibby: Yeah. 

Annabel: He came from a loose family and he was so angry at her husband. 

Zibby: Mm-Hmm.

Annabel: And sort of the control that he had over her that he wanted her husband to keep thinking. That he really was incompetent when he was actually rather smart.

But one way for people to think you're clueless is just to always wear a costume. You know, dress crazy and they won't take you seriously. So I had a lot of fun with him. 

Zibby: He's great. And why the skateboard storyline? I like that. Have you ever been on a skateboard? 

Annabel: No. If I was on a skateboard, I... 

Zibby: you haven't even tried?

Annabel: No, I'd be dead. I'd be da I'm not a coordinated person. I've never been on a skateboard. I'm not balanced. 

Zibby: Annabelle, I see an Instagram reel in your future on this. 

Annabel: You do? 

Zibby: Mm hmm. 

Annabel: Alright. 

Zibby: Yeah. 

Annabel: Alright, I'm just gonna check my health insurance. 

Zibby: Yeah, put a helmet and, you know at least one helmet. Full body armor.

Annabel: Yes. Of some I don't know where Oh, you know where that Actually, I do know where. The whole skateboard idea is I, for some reason, was thinking of him as Spicoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Mm. But super attractive. I was thinking of him as that kind of, like, playing that kind of a role. And so I thought, for some reason, that guy had a skateboard.

And I dug into skateboarding, and it's actually very zen. There's a lot of, like, spiritual thought behind skateboarding, and letting go, and balancing, and letting go of your fear, and doing something that absolutely looks like it's impossible, like it defies gravity. And, um, I don't know, I got into it. It was fun.

Zibby: I feel like, are there any skateboard championships or something? Have you watched that? There should be. Aren't there? John White or something. I don't know. 

Annabel: Maybe he skis. Not sure. 

Zibby: Okay, so these are just like, some of the decisions you make on characters and setting and plot and blah blah blah. As I go. As you go.

But the heart of the book is not about these things, these are just like the drapes on the house, right? Yes. The heart is the loss and the love and the finding your voice and finding your place and having the relationship that you deserve and all of that stuff. Yeah. Where, tell me more about that. 

Annabel: It's a lifetime.

That's like a, it's like 54 years of thought about things sort of went into this book. There's a lot about being a woman in this book. And the, at, at first, you know, the decisions that we make, the things we let go of for other people, to care for other people, the dreams we sort of release. There's a lot of that in this, this book.

There's a lot of motherhood and the complexity of motherhood, which I, for me, I find that the hardest thing about being a mother is letting my children fail. Letting them struggle, letting them do something that I know is going to be a disaster so that they can feel the disaster and learn and move on. I talk a big game about that.

I have a really hard time doing it. Me too. I mean, I will call and remind my children about things a hundred times when the right thing is, like, they don't file a tax return today. I know, I saw that. You know what I mean? Like, you just, like, Like, it's just gonna happen. That's very difficult. And I think that as we grow as people, and certainly after we lose our parents, we have a different perspective on our parents, where we thought maybe they were just nagging us all the time.

But then we come to understand that that was the love they were showing us. And how, how lucky were we to have people who were stepping in in our lives like that? So, it's, there's two sides of it. It's too much, but also it's so beautiful, the way we mother. 

Zibby: True. You had a line in there that I was like, yes, exactly.

When you said something like, the phone was ringing and you're like, well, I have to, I always have to pick up. I'm a mom. Like, I have to pick up. Like, of course. 

Annabel: Yeah. No, there's no like, oh, just turn my phone off for 24 hours. 

Zibby: And then you have one scene in the car, not giving anything away, but she's on her way somewhere she wants to go and is almost there and then something kid related happens and she literally has to turn around, which is such a perfect sort of metaphor, right?

For like, as we get closer, sometimes then we just go right back where we started. 

Annabel: Yeah, exactly.

Zibby: To try and try. 

Annabel: Exactly. Cause you're never going to not. Be there for your kids. Of course, yeah. And my mom was super hands off. She was very much a 1970s, like, hope this works out. You know, and I was the baby, so it was like, she was kind of done by the time I was growing up.

And that, in and of itself, was such a gift. Like, the fact that I, I kind of tread water a lot on my own. I learned so much, and I kind of worked that into the book as sort of a contrast to Allie's mother who is like always stepping in in her marriage and always trying to make things seem like they're actually better so that Allie doesn't really feel the reality of her situation.

Zibby: Yeah. And then I was surprised she gets to a point of almost like this little sliver of resentment Like, why did my mom make it okay? Like, why, was that even the right thing? Was my mom doing the right thing?

Annabel: And, and, I would argue she wasn't. Mm. You know, I, I think that once people are adults. This is a big thing to say.

I think we kind of have to leave them alone. You make your decisions. I'm going to make my decisions. If you ask me for my opinion, I'm going to give it to you. But we just have to let people's lives play out. There's a certain amount of control that goes with loving somebody. You know, you just want to keep them safe.

And I, I, I don't know how healthy that is. 

Zibby: I mean, in thinking about it, if you're a type, if you're the type of parent who thinks you have to make the best of this relationship, right, you're, you're assuming that divorce is not really an option. 

Annabel: Right. 

Zibby: You go, you come at relationship problems with a different point of view.

Annabel: Yeah. 

Zibby: Than if you think it's sort of on the table. 

Annabel: Yeah. That's true. 

Zibby: Right? And I feel like her mom was more of the like, well, this is, this is what, this is your lot in life and here's how we're going to make it better. 

Annabel: No, you made a decision and we're going to, we're going to make it the right decision.

Zibby: Yeah. 

Annabel: But I think sometimes you need to let people like step back and let people actually feel the situation that they're in. And find their voice. I mean, if, if I write another book about a woman finding her voice, it's like I'm beating a dead horse. You're not. But I am. It's like, it's this, this idea that we really, we say so many things that are not the things we mean, and we don't say so many things that we need to say, uh, so.

Zibby: I think there are never enough, and I say this because I feel like this is what I tried to write about. There are never enough books about trying to find your voice because so many people don't. Know who they are, they feel like they can't speak up, and then they're not happy. And life just passes them by.

Yeah. And like, that's sad. 

Annabel: And all you have is your voice. Yeah. You know, all you have, I mean, I'm thinking about Blank also, it's like, all you have is, is this ability to tell your story. Mm hmm. And if nobody's gonna hear it, It's the point of what we're doing. 

Zibby: I agree. I agree. And we are literally writing.

Yes. You are writing, it is. Go back to your mom for two seconds. 

Annabel: Yeah. 

Zibby: So you said she's just okay to sort of let you hang out there, but you're obviously have, you have so much love for her as evidenced by this book. It's just, you could feel it. Like you could, you could. I could read it and be like, okay, she misses her mom.

Like, what is going on? This is like, this is the front. Yeah. And this, where is the real story? So just tell me about her as a person and your relationship together. 

Annabel: Oh my gosh. This Barbara Walters. Hello. Um, no, I, my, so my mom's been gone for 15 years. My mom was, It's this just unbelievably vibrant, beautiful, funny, smart person.

She had tons of fun. She was like the most fun person in the world. And she, she had a bit of a faith in me as the much younger, youngest of her children. And how many kids? We're, we were three. We're all five years apart. Okay. Although my sister says we're four years apart. We're five years apart. Okay. I think you can look that up somewhere.

Zibby: I, I, I bet you, I bet you can figure it out. 

Annabel: I've got documents. Anyway, so, you know, I was the baby. She was doing other things. She had a faith in me. She was not hands on in a practical way, but she was very hands on emotionally. Like she always knew what was going on. She always, you know, was tuned in and available.

She was an amazing person. And as you'll see in the book, Allie talks to her mom in the car. I talk to my mom in the car all the time. Out loud. Out loud. And there's, there's an author's note in the back of this book just to explain to the reader that I'm not completely insane. I, I'm not hearing voices of my mother, but I do think that if somebody's loved you for a really long time, you sort of internalize that love.

And you know what they would have said, you know, you think, I mean, when we're 100 years old, we're going to know like, oh, you know what my mom would have said in this situation because they've said it enough times and that is still sort of alive. And so I feel my mom around me all the time. 

Zibby: That's such a gift.

Oh, it's just wonderful with our kids. You know, when we're not here, if, when, you know, that they would know what we would say and it could comfort them, even if we're not there. Like, wouldn't we want that? 

Annabel: Yes. 

Zibby: Like, I'm sure that would make your mom happy. 

Annabel: Oh, I, I'm sure. I'm, yes. I think the whole thing would make her happy.

I think everything that's going on right now, including me sitting here with you, would make her

Zibby: Talking about her? 

Annabel: Oh, she would just, she would just be so happy. And, you know, the flip side of that, not to turn it dark, but there are things that your parents say all the time that they probably shouldn't have said. 

Zibby: Mm hmm.

Annabel: That you will hear in your head forever. So, which just also adds to the responsibility of family. being a parent. 

Zibby: Yes. 

Annabel: Don't say the wrong thing. 

Zibby: Yes. Everything your parents say, there should be like an asterisk saying, but I am from a different generation. 

Annabel: For sure. 

Zibby: You know, like for sure. This is the best advice.

You know, I remember my, my parents give me advice. I shouldn't even talk, but you know, like, actually I'm not going to say it, but it was just like very antiquated. Yeah, of course. You wouldn't say to a friend today. No, of course. But that's what, that's what they knew. That's how they grew up. So. 

Annabel: Yeah. And then there's some advice that's timeless.

Zibby: That's true. Yes. And you don't have to say, but how did your mom pass away? 

Annabel: Breast cancer. 

Zibby: Oh, sorry. Well, the love of, the mother's love, it's like a 360 mother's love in the book. But then there's so much, like, sexy fun as well, right? It's like the two things. Best of all worlds. The best of all worlds. Um, I'm also wondering, I haven't met your husband, but how is he feeling about all of this romance and longing and lust and everything going on in your books?

Is he like into it? 

Annabel: That's a great question. My husband is probably the most private person you'll meet. So, my doing what I'm doing right now is literally his worst nightmare. So, if I get up in front of a crowd of people to speak, he's sweating in the back. Like, oh God, please don't let her have to do this.

Like, it's, it's, it's It's horrible. On the other hand, I think he thinks this is really fun. And he knows that this is the dream that I've had my whole life. This book and Nora Goes Off Script, he read them both and he said, Oh, I'm feeling really emotional. Like they, there, there are a lot of inside jokes about our marriage in this book.

So I think he thinks it's fun. I think he connects to it. 

Zibby: What's an inside joke about your marriage that we didn't know was an inside joke? 

Annabel: Uh, the pantry. Okay. I mean, I honestly have like six boxes of cornstarch in my pantry. I just keep buying it because I need a tablespoon every year. I just, I'm not organized about a lot of things.

He's also messy, so it doesn't bother him. But, yes, no, there's, there's tons of them. 

Zibby: Also, maybe cornstarch goes bad. Maybe you're being too hard on yourself. 

Annabel: First of all, maybe it's not good for us at all. 

Maybe we should just get rid of it. 

Zibby: Yeah. 

Annabel: Get rid of it all. 

Zibby: Yeah, and then, but then it wouldn't be funny in the book.

Annabel: No, I know. I know the pantry. 

Zibby: When you're writing because it makes me laugh when I'm reading your books Like it is always like I know I will get I like I feel like you have a recipe going and I reliably know I am going to feel moved. I'm going to chuckle. There's going to be some sort of relationship thing.

That's very exciting and There's like a bigger meaning to it too and that I will leave your books feeling oh so satisfied in every single way So tell me about The laughter factor and the jokes because you have this kind of dry sense of humor, but it's so funny and all your characters have it because it's, you know, that's your funny voice and even your Instagram comments, like, they're funny.

You're, you're, it's, and it's such a you thing, like nobody else is. jokes in the same way. It's so distinctive. So tell me about that. 

Annabel: Wow. Well, that's a really nice compliment. Thank you.

Zibby: I mean, I really, really mean it. 

Annabel: I really wish there was a recipe. I think that when humor lands in my books or something that I write.

It's because I haven't thought it through if I stop to think about if I'm typing really fast The humor is better. Huh? If I try to be smart Everything kind of falls apart. Interesting. So maybe some of that just I don't know. Maybe it comes from my my subconscious Or, or something, um, I really wish there was a recipe, though.

Um, I'm writing a book right now, and I'm trying to get the recipe right. And I'm, I find that sometimes I'm laughing, and then I'll start writing a chapter, and I'll get really bored. Okay. Which I know for sure means that the chapter I'm writing is really boring. So then I have to go back and delete that entire chapter.

Zibby: Oh, no. 

Annabel: And start writing something that I start getting that good feeling again. 

Zibby: Okay, tell me about the next book. 

Annabel: Uh, so, she's a child star. Okay. And she's trying to make it in Hollywood as an adult. Huh. Yeah, huh. I like that. Huh. I like a lot of things about it. A couple things I don't like. But I don't have to be finished till August, so.

We'll get there. That's not so far. No, it's not so far. And I have a few things to do between now and then. 

Zibby: Like launch this entire book. 

Annabel: Like launch this book, yes. 

Zibby: Yeah, so when are you going to do that? Are you stressed? 

Annabel: No. Not stressed. 

Zibby: You know it'll get done. 

Annabel: It'll get done. 

Zibby: Yeah. It'll get done. 

Annabel: It's actually something, I really like writing.

Zibby: Mm hmm. Convenient. Convenient. 

Annabel: Which is great. Yeah. Yes. I mean, it's such a blessing because if there's something you have to do a ton of, um, it's nice if you like it. So, I will, you know, and the, it'll, it'll start taking on a life of its own. It's just started to take on a life of its own and then it gets fun.

Zibby: Mm hmm. 

Annabel: And it'll get done. 

Zibby: Okay. 

Annabel: This is my mantra. 

Zibby: I know, I just, I'm trying to write another book, and at the top I had to put something like this is all blank, but it will be filled with words, it will be a novel, and I can do this. Because every time I open it, I'm like, I don't think I can do this. 

Annabel: Yeah.

Zibby: You know? Like, somehow, where are the words gonna come from? But they're all gonna land there. They're gonna, like, fish in a net, like, in the brain. They're gonna come. Just, like, swirling up. 

Annabel: Where are they? Yeah. I really, what did Carly Fortune, what was the word she put on her computer? It was, like, joy or fun or something for her last book.

And every time she sat down to write, she just focused on that word. Huh. Like, this isn't gonna be work. This is gonna be fun today. Great. And then she wrote a really great book. I hate her. No, she's the worst. 

Zibby: Oh my gosh. You've said in the past you have like a whole routine of what you do for your writing day.

Are you still upholding the routine and can you share it again? 

Annabel: Here's my ideal routine. It's like when people talk about their exercise routine, you know. My ideal routine is I get up really early. And I get up. before my brain kicks in and starts thinking about sprinklers or whatever my brain thinks about, and I write until my household wakes up.

And then I engage with my household, I walk my dog, I walk my body, and then I sit back down to write. I find that if I can have a huge chunk of time to write, I'm a lot better off. This weekend, my family was gone, and I wrote for three days straight. Wow. And I Crack the code. I was like, oh, I think I understand what this story is I have a really hard time getting there in an hour or in 90 minutes And I have friends who write in coffee shops or you know in the car between things I just I can't I can't focus the way I like to focus in that short of an amount of time 

Zibby: But I wonder how good it is in the coffee shop.

Do you think they keep those words? 

Annabel: I don't know. 

Zibby: I don't know. 

Annabel: I don't know. 

Zibby: I mean, if I can't do that either. That's why. 

Annabel: There's nothing more personal than writing. I really think, people do it in such a 

Zibby: No, I'm kidding. 

Annabel: Totally different way. And you know, I have, I have friends who write a chapter and then they perfect the chapter before they get to the next chapter.

I write garbage to get to the next chapter just to get 

Zibby: Words. 

Annabel: I write all the garbage. And then I go back and I'm like, woo, let's clean up the garbage. It's just a different process. 

Zibby: When did you know that you were finally going to achieve this lifelong dream of doing what you're doing right now? When were you like, okay, like actually this is happening, and I might be able to keep doing this, and this is really cool?

Annabel: I think when I sold Nora Goes Off Script, and it was enthusiastic, like it was a, we want this book! And then I talked to my editor for the first time, and she was just like, a genius. And I thought, huh, is this the person I've been waiting for my entire life? You know, it's like you meet the man at the bar.

I was like, she's the one. And I just couldn't believe it because I, I wrote that book during COVID. I've told you this a hundred times. I never thought that was going to get published. I thought, you know, I'd probably be dead by the end of the summer. I might as well write this book. And, um, So I, I, I just didn't have this, like, that wasn't part of my career plan.

Zibby: Mm hmm. 

Annabel: I was just writing a book because I liked to write. 

Zibby: Well, that's it, right? Isn't that the secret? Like, if you don't like doing it, I don't know. 

Annabel: Yeah. Don't tell my kids. You know, they're all, like, in calculus. You can't tell kids, like, just follow your bliss because there's so many things you have to do that you're not going to enjoy.

But hopefully you're going to end up coming back to the thing that you loved, whatever that is. 

Zibby: And your kids are still in the house? I thought they were older. 

Annabel: No, they are. So, two live in the city. 

Zibby: Okay. 

Annabel: They're out of college. And then one is a senior in high school. So, I almost have everybody out of the house, which is another thing to do this summer.

Zibby: Ha ha ha. But then you can go back to the organizer. 

Annabel: Yes. Yes. 

Zibby: I think you are going to have organizers, like, throwing themselves on you volunteering to clean out your pantry. 

Annabel: Okay. Okay, well just Mark my word. I will pray for all of those people. And for their sanity. 

Zibby: I mean, one last thing with all of the stuff and it's on more of like a, you know, a bittersweet note is this notion that all of our stuff is going to have to be cleaned out, right?

Whether it's the couple that's moving down to Florida. For a while and you have to dismantle their whole house and sell it and like piece by piece or if it's just the belongings of somebody you love or the Phyllis next door and all of her stuff and the books like that is the condition of all of us that we choose to not think about every single day.

But if you've ever packed anyone up after they've gone, you know that the stuff becomes a big deal. And it will happen. And I, I think about that whenever I, something comes in, I'm like, this is just one more thing. Like, what are people going to do with this? Yeah. You know? No, that's right. How do we live accumulating stuff and keeping that all the meaningful stuff with the time we have to like go through the memory boxes and all of that.

So I don't know. I feel like there's a little of all of that. 

Annabel: And I think that you also hit on, The basic question of this book is you buy something and eventually it's going to go into a landfill, right? You get a dog. That dog's gonna die someday. You have a summer romance, it's gonna be Labor Day, you're gonna have to say goodbye.

So our life is so much about the gathering of things and the letting go of things. And, you know, maybe the secret is the joy that we hang on to in, you know, in the interim. But it, yeah, it's a lot of stuff that we accumulate. 

Zibby: Well, it's better to have loved and lost, we say, as I'm staring at my dog, so... 

Annabel: yes, no, God, the dog thing, I mean, I really, like, it's 

Zibby: The dogs, but the dogs played a big role.

And the whole thing of, are you willing to give your love for something that you know won't last forever? 

Annabel: That's right. 

Zibby: And we have to. That's right. We just have to. 

Annabel: I have a friend who adopts dying dogs. 

Zibby: Oh. 

Annabel: She falls in love with them and she ushers them, you know, for the last couple of years of their lives.

And it's joy. It's really beautiful. 

Zibby: It's really beautiful. Any last advice for authors who are trying to do what you do? I, 

Annabel: yes, you know, I've been thinking so much about this and I've probably been saying this forever but I'm really thinking about it now. Don't write the book that everybody wants to read.

Don't try to write the next Taylor Jenkins read. Don't, don't write that book. Write the book that you're supposed to write. Write the book that, uh, that you're dying to read or that feels, that gets you up early in the morning to start writing. Because that's the book that's going to connect to you and it's going to ring true to people.

We can't just have one voice out there. We can't all be mimicking each other's voices. So, you gotta write your own story. 

Zibby: This is going back to what we were just saying. Yes. Stories about women finding their voices. 

Annabel: That's right. 

Zibby: Full circle. 

Annabel: That's right. Boy, I'm a one trick pony. 

Zibby: God, Debbie. Well, congratulations.

I am just This book is so good. 

Annabel: Thank you. 

Zibby: Oh my gosh. Thank you. I don't even know what to recommend more. I love Nora so much. 

Annabel: Thank you. 

Zibby: And obviously your other book too. Anyway. 

Annabel: Thank you. 

Zibby: All right. Congratulations. 

Annabel: Thank you, Zippy.

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Annabel Monaghan, SUMMER ROMANCE

Ann Leary, I'VE TRIED BEING NICE

New York Times bestselling author Ann Leary returns to the podcast, this time to discuss I’VE TRIED BEING NICE, a light-hearted, vulnerable, and wise collection of essays about being a people-pleaser—and Zibby’s September Book Club pick! Ann reveals the origins of her essays, many of which were inspired by past blog posts and memorable personal experiences. She discusses the challenges of people-pleasing and standing up for herself and then shares anecdotes from her life (including gardening, alcoholism, ballroom dancing, a home bat invasion, moving from a beloved family home, and being an empty-nester.)

Transcript:

Zibby: Today we have Ann Leary. I'm so excited. This is a book club pick of mine. I'm obsessed with this book. I'VE TRIED BEING NICE essays. Congratulations. Thank you, Sophie. So awesome. 

Ann: Thank you so much. I really appreciate it. so much. I'm so excited that you picked my book for your book club.

It's awesome. And it's very exciting now to be on your podcast. This is my first actual interview for this book. So what better person to do it with? 

Zibby: Perfect. Thank you. So what, first of all, I just, I saw the cover and the title and all of it and I just got it right away. I was like, I'm going to love this.

This is, this speaks to me as it will for so many other people. Tell listeners what this is about why. 

Ann: Yeah. So this is an essay collection and I usually write fiction and so, but these are some essays that have been previously, a few have been previously published and a few were actually prompted. I had a blog years ago that is, doesn't exist anymore, but.

I, I still had, you know, so I had some of the things I blogged about, I used as prompts for these essays, but the title comes from the title essay, which is called I've Tried Being Nice. And it's about a little dispute I had with one of my neighbors and her, her dogs coming on our property. And, you know, I, it's a, and I'm a lifelong people pleaser, as I think a lot of women are.

And I finally reached a certain age where, you I realize I don't have, everyone doesn't have to love me more than anyone else. They can actually, I can live with people being like slightly fond of me or even wholly hating my guts. I don't know. That I don't know if I can live with. But I did have a dispute with my neighbor one day and it ended up, I had, I drove up to her in my pajamas in my car while she was walking her dogs, rolled down the window, and after many encounters with her where I was like, oh hi, it would be so nice if you didn't, if your dogs weren't on my property, my dogs, finally I rolled down my window and said, look, I've tried being nice.

The response from this woman, it was as if I had, like, pointed a gun. She was kind of staggered backwards and she started, you know, panicking a little. And I realized what a powerful thing it is to suddenly stand your ground. But the rest of the essays, there are that theme of, you know, kind of, trying to get along with the people, trying to have everyone, you know, pleased and, and also reaching a certain age.

They're kind of throughout the essays, but the essays touch on everything from, you know, taking ballroom dancing lessons with my husband to, uh, empty nesting. And, uh, you know, I write a little bit about my childhood, about my growing up. And so, you know, I had fun, I had fun writing the essays. And so I'm so, I'm so glad that, that you like them and that I'm hoping others will too.

When they read. 

Zibby: You have, so you start off with this scene with the dogs and being nice, and then at the end of the collection, you get to a point where you're, you and a friend are sort of talking about this tennis, this tennis companion, you're doubles, oh my, you're so funny, and I play tennis, and this was like the funniest scene ever, and then you're walking with your friend and you're like, I think I've realized the problem, I'm just too nice.

Ann: Yeah, and I totally believed that. I had been, you know, at first I had been savaging this other tennis player to my friend as we were walking. What are you know, she's a cheater. She's a poor sport. And then I said, you know, Kate, my, I think my problem is I'm just too nice. And she, for some reason just was doubled over in laughter.

I couldn't breathe. And I, I, I was like, what? I thought something crazy had happened that I hadn't seen. scene. And it turned out she was laughing at me because she was shocked that I thought I was too nice. That I, apparently, one of my, I have problems, one is not that I'm too nice according to my friend.

But, yeah, that was, that was funny. I do, there is. I wrote a tennis essay for Modern, the Modern Love column, and that's in this book in a longer version, and I do write a little bit about tennis. And I do, I do think you can find out anything you want to know about a person on the tennis court, probably on the basketball court, you know, any kind of area where you're, you know, In competition, you kind of see who a person really is.

Zibby: Totally. Right? I fell in love with my husband on the tennis court. Oh, how sweet! Oh, I love that! He was actually my tennis pro. Oh! We can go into that. 

Ann: Oh! I bet you're really a good tennis player. I will never play you. I'm not, I'm a, I play all the time. I'm the worst tennis player you've ever seen.

Zibby: I can't. I can't. If you're playing that much, you can't do that bad. 

Ann: I just can't get better at tennis. 

Zibby: I disagree. I'm sure you've gotten better. You have another essay in here that I literally laughed for, I was like crying laughing about your empty nesting. 

Ann: Right. 

Zibby: So, in most literature and contemporary fiction and memoir, I mean, I'm not going to lie.

Empty nesting is presented as this like horror, like I've been, you know, this, I have this ticking clock, right, like, oh my gosh, the sadness and all of this stuff, and you have turned that on its head and made it so fun and so So full of personality. Talk a little bit about how empty nesting has been for you.

Ann: Yeah, so I mean, I've been an empty nester now for a few years, but when, yeah, yeah, probably, you know, you might be going through this already, but like leading up to, especially my, I have two children, a son and a daughter. And when my son was, you know, close to graduating from high school and going off to college, I really had a hard time.

I was very, very sad. And, um, worried and, you know, I, I then in this essay I write about dropping him off and then, you know, two years later dropping my daughter off at college and, you know, it was very, I actually was, you know, crying when we left her and then I, my husband pulled over, I thought, because I was crying and then finally I was like, I'm fine, I'm fine.

I heard this noise from him and I looked over and the man's head was buried in, his face is buried in his hands, he was sobbing so hard. So anyway, we got home. I was making dinner, I had the TV on while I cooked, and he came in and did his automatic shut the TV off it's dinnertime and I said the words my husband had been waiting 20 years to hear which was Let's watch TV while we eat.

Because when the kids were growing up, you know, we didn't watch TV even on school nights because they had so much homework, but we had family dinners, and so the essays about all the other things we found out we had changed about ourselves to be good parents. And, you know, I'm sure many people are born, uh, or naturally very conscientious and polite and have excellent manners and don't swear and Don't gossip But we're not really like that but we had to act like that for 20 years because We knew our kids deserved better than us the minute they were born.

And so no we didn't swear in front of them. And we, um, you know, had nice meals and family meals. And then within days of them being gone, it was like, like a hedonist temple. We were like eating in front of the TV with our hands. Like we didn't say, could you please pass the butter? We'd just like lunge for it.

And you know, we, our kids couldn't bear, I'm sure your kids are the same, like, If my kids saw me in my underwear, they would, you know, make throw up noises. And, you know, I, I, the first couple of weeks, I, if I'd go to the laundry room to get my clothes, I'd be like, Oh, you know, covering, covering myself. But, um, you know, I realized the one person in the house that liked to see me in my underwear was like running up the stairs.

So pleased. And so it's just about that, about like, um, you know, finding out there was this bright side to the To that, that transition in my life. You know, it's, I didn't see it as it was coming up. I didn't see it as a transition. I saw it as at the end, the end of this. You know, wonderful family, the stage, and it wasn't the end.

And during COVID, and I didn't write about COVID, really, in these essays, but we had three adults in our house for a year and a half. They came back, and so we were like, where's that empty nest? That we loved so much. 

Zibby: No, you were so funny. You were like, When they come back again, we stop being, like, naked and swearing and, you know, all this stuff.

But, uh But they kind of know that while they're not there, You're having like this alternate lifestyle. 

Ann: Yeah, we're being ourselves, which is not very, you know, not the most commendable way to be. 

Zibby: But do you think maybe your kids have some of all that in you and would think it was hilarious? I mean, they are your kids.

Ann: Yeah, yeah, I mean, I mean, certainly as they got older, as we all do, you know, you do start not worrying about your language and then they stop worrying about theirs. Everyone starts kind of becoming adults together, you know? Right. So, but I think, yeah, I do, you know, I think I mentioned in the essay, I was, You know, if I was on my, on the phone with my sister gossiping and my daughter walked in the room, I wouldn't, I'd stop.

Not just because I didn't want her to hear what I was saying, but I didn't want her to hear me saying it because gossiping isn't nice. Yeah, I didn't want to set that example. And then, you know, when she was gone, it was, you know, full bore ahead. 

Zibby: You write a lot about homeowning, which many people can relate to.

The raccoons who took up residence. The bats, bats that took up residence. Bats or raccoons, both. You had bats on you, right? In one of the houses. 

Ann: Oh my gosh. Yes. So we had this, so we lived on this, you know, our kids were raised on this little kind of a farm cause it was, you know, we had some acreage up in Northwestern Connecticut and.

But we're not really, you know, we weren't, we didn't know about the bat situation. We had no, if you live in the country and you have a chimney, close it in the summer and also get a cap on it. But anyway, we had a series of bat invasions. It was embarrassing how many times bats came in our house and it turns out.

You know, my husband, I, is really pretty brave in most situations, but if you've ever seen the African Queen, and you know, the main character is afraid of leeches, he's in the water, like, my husband is terrified of bats, I didn't know that until we had one fly in our house, and he tried to trample our children running away from it, and so, yeah, I did write about, one time, I was sitting at a table where we think the bat must have spent the night, like, hanging upside down on the table.

But I was wearing, like, these paper thin pajama bottoms. And when I stood up, my daughter, who was probably eight or nine, said, Mom, Mom, there's a bat on your pajamas. And I, it's so weird, because afterwards, we, we played this over. And for some reason, I didn't look down. I was so terrified. And I said, looked in her eyes, and I said, Is it real?

And she said, Yes. And then we screamed it. I looked down and, like, Bats, they have this like half human, half pig face and they kind of smile in this like maniacal way and they're horrifying. And so I, you know, ran through the house and, you know, oh my gosh, yes. So I wrote about that and, and then, oh, it also kind of, yeah, there, there was sort of a, a gray gardens component to that.

Zibby: Yes. And then when you, and then when you left that house and you were moving out Yeah. That was also sort of this bittersweet moment. 

Ann: Yeah. It's so funny. So I usually have, since I write fiction, usually. Actresses narrate my books, but I was the narrator of this because, as you know, you know, if you write a memoir or, uh, you know, you write, it's better to have the author read it.

But, uh, embarrassingly, I kept getting choked up, actually, with that chapter and another one, and the poor guy who was producing it, he was like, not moved at all. He was kind of like, can you stop doing that? I was like, why am I getting choked up with my own thing? But yeah, it was leaving this. You know, we, we, we needed to downsize and we wanted a smaller house and we sold it and it was kind of bittersweet, but the great thing was then we love where we live now so much more.

And I wrote about that too. I, I, we bought a house from a woman who's a big gardener and she had a little lean to greenhouse. In, uh, attached to the house, and I've never known anything about plants, and now I truly have an indoor jungle, my kids and my husband think there's a problem, it's, I'm a whole animal, I'm a plant hoarder, but, you know, the house kind of made me want plants, and made me find another thing I love, which I have many things I love, many hobbies, but that's a new one.

Zibby: The end of that chapter actually, like, made me cry. Oh, yeah. When you end it with Edelweiss. Let me see if I can. 

Ann: Well, the father of the woman we bought the house from is Richard Rogers of Rogers and Hart, Rogers and Hammerstein. Yep. Yep. Heard of him. Is it Hammerstein? Hammerstein? I thought it was Steen, but I could be wrong.

So the, yeah, so the father of the woman who we, well, she was dead, but The father of A member of the family of the person we bought the house from, uh, wrote Edelweiss and wrote many, many famous, uh, songs for musicals, so. 

Zibby: Okay, so this is the end of that chapter. You said, I had googled Mrs. Emery when we first moved here and was pleased to learn that her father had written the song My Funny Valentine, which our friend Julie sang for my husband and me at our wedding.

But now I wanted to know about Linda Rogers Emery, not her father. I read a few interesting profiles written about her and her obituary. Okay. Bye. I discovered that Mrs. Emery was loving and giving. She was philanthropic and creative, but she also struggled, as I have, with shyness and bouts of severe depression.

Some quick math revealed that she moved here when she was about my age. The trees, the flowers, the gardens, and the greenhouse that lift my spirits each day had created, had creating them lifted hers? I'm not into musicals and show tunes, but I heard the Rodgers and Hammerstein show song Edelweiss around Christmas time last year.

I was in my happy place, the local plant store, just browsing. The tune stuck with me. It's one of those songs that takes root. Later, I was singing it as I tried to rearrange some plants on my greenhouse deck to make room for my laptop. Like I said, I'm not really into spirituality or show tunes, but I got a little teary as I hum sang to all my green darlings, my tender foundlings, and to the spirit of Mrs.

Emery too. Blossoms of snow, may you bloom and grow. Bloom and grow forever. Oh! My mom used to sing me that song going to bed. 

Ann: Yeah. It's such a, it's a really beautiful song, so yeah. They were playing, when we were looking at, you know, the real estate, I'm a real estate junkie. One of my books is about a real estate broker.

And I, I love real estate. I show up at open houses. We're not in the market. I just. 

Zibby: That's literally part of my novel. I have to say, yeah, she has like a whole secret Instagram. thing because she goes to open houses all the time. Yeah. Open house bandit. I'm like obsessed with going to open houses. 

Ann: Yeah. Yeah.

No, I just, I don't want 

to move. I just want to see everyone's house. too. Like, I, you know, I, you know, when I came in, I was, oh, so excited to see your house. But, um, yeah. So, but when we were looking at this house, the brokers had, they had like a little speaker and they were playing, you know, Songs from the Sound of Music, and so we'd know, and then they could lay that into the father of the woman who owned this place was this famous composer and, um, it didn't enter into our decision to buy the house at all.

But it does, you know, once you know something about that, it does kind of influence you. And I did write one thing that was, you know, exciting about this house is we moved in in the winter and in the spring she was such an avid gardener. This, these, these beautifully planted perennial beds started to bloom and she had orchestrated them, you know, and almost like a choreographer, you know, it was like in the early spring we had the daffodils and the little other little early, what are they called?

I don't know. Daffodils? Um, there's like snow, snowdrops? 

Zibby: Okay. Daffodils. This is beyond my pig right here. 

Ann: And then when those would start to die off, these irises would bloom and it was almost, you know, it was like, you know, enter stage, right, the lilies come and then these go. And there was this crazy, there were these beautiful big pots on the patio full of dirt.

And I thought, you know, they should have really, why did they leave us pots of dirt? I don't like, now we have to move them. But I'm glad we didn't, because she had planted even those with beautiful perennials that, you know, it was like a beautiful surprise. She was, she had died before the estate sold the house.

So I just felt a connectedness to her through that. And, and that kind of inspired me to explore, you know, gardening and planting.

Zibby: Oh my gosh. So your novels. I can get the word out. Your novels, The Good House, which you referenced already and which became a movie, which I saw, which was amazing. Oh, thank you.

And also The Foundling, which we talked about on this podcast before. Yes, Your process for writing novels versus essays. Tell me about the difference and all that. 

Ann: Well, it's interesting. I, I'm usually working on a novel. So I'm often, and you probably have experienced this too, where you're, if you're writing fiction, you are in another world, especially writing historical fiction.

And The Foundling is my one historical novel, and it takes place in 1927. I just, and I spent a lot of years working on that. So I was always in this, I like to be in a happy, in a way place, in a fantasy place. And I do write in this book, I moved a lot as a child. I think that's why I had to move, changing schools a lot.

I often didn't have friends right away. And I just was very much into go, kind of escaping into fantasy. And so I like, right now I'm working on, Trying to get a new novel started and that's a hard thing for me I don't know for you what your process is, but I usually at this point and kind of auditioning narrators So I know the story of you know, I don't know completely the story, but I have an idea of the story But I'm not sure who should tell it and so for example the good house originally There was a different, the main character was supposed to be this woman, Rebecca, and I would write it and the only time the, it wasn't working, the only time the book came alive when I was, when I was writing about this, who was once a peripheral character, this Hilde, this real estate broker.

Who was this kind of real New Englander and real townie and I knew this character very well and I actually really every time I was writing about her the book came alive and then finally I realized she had kind of hijacked that book. I was like, okay, you, you tell the story. 

Zibby: Whose point of view was it from originally?

Ann: It was actually kind of a close third person. So it was about this other Rebecca, who is the one who was married to the rich man. And, um. So anyway, yeah, so then the story became about Hildy. So I'm hoping right now I have many failed auditions of characters. And that's how I see it. It's sort of, I know whose story it is.

If I can find that, I understand a character well enough that they can, you know, do anything. And I would know how this character would react kind of thing. You know, I felt like I told my editor at the time when I was working on the good house, I felt, I, If Hildy, if my editor said, you know, we need to see with Hildy on the moon, I would know exactly what Hildy would do in space.

So I think that's a really important thing. With my writing, I like to develop, really fully develop characters. Then the plot kind of comes from that. What about you? Do you, do you write, like, do you, do you plot out? Do you, like... 

Zibby: yeah, because I've, I've had sold the last two novels on proposal to my editor.

So I have to do like a 60 page thing with like,... 

Ann: Oh, it's hard to sell novels on proposal. 

Zibby: I don't know. It's I need the, I need the, but then I go off the outline. 

Ann: Right. Right. 

Zibby: But I always, but I start with the person. 

Ann: Right. 

Zibby: And the story is sort of, actually, that's not true. Is that true? No, it's not true. You start with the plot.

But the idea and the person are like interlinked. 

Ann: Right. 

Zibby: And I guess you could tell the story from some other perspective, but. 

Ann: Do you outline? And then, do you like, do you know how it's going to end usually? Okay. Yeah. That's key. I think. I often don't. You don't know how to do it. That's what I struggle with.

And it's good to know where it's going. I know at some point, but I often, when I'm starting, I don't know. And sometimes I, have an idea for an ending that ends up not being the end. 

Zibby: Well, I changed, I changed it too. Yeah. Sometimes it changes. Yeah. Sometimes. I mean, I've only, you know, I haven't done, the books that didn't work didn't have an outline.

So I've just said that having an outline is probably helpful. Yeah. Yeah. I think it's very important. I think also, you know, I'm not, I haven't written 8 million novels like other people who are like know how to do it, like the back of their hands. So I feel like I need these color by numbers sort of things.

Ann: Yeah. Yeah. You have to feel your way. And each one, I think you get a little better and things that were hard get easier, I think. 

Zibby: And where do you like publishing essays the most? 

Ann: What do you mean? In like, my, which magazine? 

Zibby: So, so when you're writing essays now, like what is the best place for you? 

Ann: Oh, where do I work?

Zibby: Like, where should people find your essays? 

Ann: Oh, okay. 

Zibby: Where, uh, you know, yeah, where is. 

Ann: Yeah. Well, so these, some of these essays were previously published. I have a couple were in Real Simple. Hell. Yeah. I don't know. Do they still have great essay? They used to have people. I loved real simple essays because it's a beautiful magazine, but they, the personal essay was, it was the only one.

I don't know. I always liked that. So a couple of them were in real simple. There was the modern love piece. There were a couple that were in anthology. Somebody just asked me if I'd write for an anthology. And so, you know, I got permission to reprint those, but most of them are original and they really were.

Um, kind of, I wanted to keep them within this kind of theme, not really, you know, too closely connected as a theme, but just of, you know, reaching a certain age, finding out who I really am and, you know, feeling I can, you know, claim this space as my own and I hope you like me. If you don't, I will die. No.

Zibby: Are there any, like, germs of ideas for stories that almost, that could be part of the, like, Collection, but you didn't write or that you decided not to include. 

Ann: Yeah, I actually have, you know, one chapter about my dogs I mentioned my dogs But I I've always thought I should just do a memoir of all our animals because my husband and I are and my kids We're all just animal nuts.

We've had a lot of pets right now. We have four dogs We have that's about three too many for right now. We have two on very unhinged rescues and but they're kind of our life. And so, but I, I do like, I'm obsessed with animal behavior. And so I thought I'd like to do a whole collection of just that. But, um, there were essays I wrote that just weren't right for this, this collection that I might put in another one.

So, yeah, but I tend to, um, as far as where I'm writing this, so I usually write on my bed, like propped up like an otter, like my computer on my, on my bed. And I just find it comfortable to write like that. I like to write really early in the morning, so I get up between 5 I'm really the brightest then, and then, and the most confident, and then, you know, As the day goes on, my confidence wanes until I actually, if I look at something I wrote, my face turns scarlet and I want to die.

And then the next morning, it looks fine again. So I write at home. But this book, I wrote in my local library, much of it. I, um, we have a great library in my town and, you know, I wrote there and one to be, to have quiet, but also, um, I don't. They do have internet there, but it's very embarrassing to be shopping on Amazon in the library, like, you know, the people who work there, I've done events there, so they know I'm an author.

So, so I just don't, I just work, because I don't want to be seen, like, buying, you know, sneakers. Or like, or like just swallowing in stupid places that I like to go on the internet. So I think that's why I liked writing this in the library. And I love libraries. 

Zibby: Plus now you can say you wrote it in the library and that sounds good.

Ann: Yes. Yeah. 

Zibby: So you sound very scholarly and literary. 

Ann: It does. 

It actually makes the book sound smarter. Yes. Instead of writing it, you know, in my bed. Like an otter. Not quite as literary as one might think. 

Zibby: So for the book club members and people out there who are reading the book, what should they know going into it?

Let's just say they haven't started it yet. Is there anything you want that, like, what do you want them to take away at the end? 

Ann: I think, I hope people will find it relatable. I think that it is, I try, you know, I hope they'll take away, well, many things, but one thing I think. The people pleasing is something I kind of go back to.

Um, some of it comes from, you know, just growing up a certain way or during a certain era. And also there's a lot of alcoholism in my family and I have in, I'm in recovery and I've written a lot about that. I actually write an essay about that in the book. But, um, a lot of people pleasing is about, you know, alcoholism.

And when you're actively drinking, you just, you know, you're kind of in this Spiral of or in the cycle of like shame than wanting people to like and it anyway So just kind of vestiges of that remain when you stop drinking and so that was part of it And I think people I think anyone I talked to about it people relate to that especially women I do think And I actually have read that women, we are kind of wired from primitive times to want to engage with other women.

And, you know, that's why women like look in each other in the eye because in, you know, very, when we were kind of tribal primitive people, we would need the other women to, to like us because our children would be safer and men needed to go and hunt and they didn't need that. So. I think some of it just is natural and then, but once, in our modern world, it's, it's like one of those many things in human behavior that we, you know, it's like, it's, it's like why we don't have a tail anymore.

Like, we need all the women to love us so much, but we do, I think. It's even goes back to tennis. When I play tennis mixed doubles, I've noticed men. I, I'm always like looking at the people's faces, right? Across the court. Yep. And I should be looking at the ball, you know? Men look at the ball because they're kind of hunting and motivated.

So anyway. 

Zibby: You mentioned about women saying sorry. Like I'm always like, sorry, sorry, sorry. And men are just like, whatever. 

Ann: Yeah. Yeah. So there's this, um, thing. I don't know. And then I, and I didn't touch on Karen's at all cause I would, you know, but there's this fine line, you know, you want to, you don't want to be a total like kick me Charlie, you know, here, but like there's got, there's so much, And maybe because of the internet, it seems like there's so much more, but there's so many very entitled people who are, should be more people pleasing, more considerate.

You know, there's a fine line, so. I certainly wouldn't want to be a person who isn't considerate, but I want to. It's kind of a waste of time when, you know, one does apologize too much. It kind of, it can be, it can get in your way a little bit and people find it like, can you just, you know, it's like the dog that is always kind of trying to get you to pet.

Zibby: And, uh, yes, yes. And I should have mentioned the whole section on, you know, when you went to the resort and you had the drink with a little bit of rum in it and you're like, maybe I can do this now after all that time. Maybe we should stick with Colts and, you know, blah, blah, blah. And then you're like, oh, no, wait, this is why I can't do this.

Have you read Drunkish by Stephanie Wilder Taylor? 

Ann: No. Drunkish? 

Zibby: Drunkish.

Ann: I can't believe it. I usually read most drinking memoirs, but no, I didn't. 

Zibby: It came out this past year. Okay. I'll see if I have a copy here to give you. But it's sort of similar because she's like, oh no, I can do it. 

Ann: Right. 

Zibby: Like, I can get away with this.

Ann: Right. 

Zibby: And it wasn't until she's like, well. 

Ann: Yeah. Now I remember. Yeah. Yeah. It's funny. So my editor, when. This book was, you know, in the process of being edited and she said, you know, there's a whole thing now of it cracks me up to even say it, of people being sober curious. I know, it's so funny. And I was like, wait, what?

I'm, I'm, I'm like social drink curious. I want to be a social drinker and that's all I've ever tried to be. And most alcoholics, we want that. And it's, you know, most people, you know, get drunk every now and then, like they have their evening drink and we want to be like you. But I, you know. Just, I was born, you know, the first time I drank, I had a full blackout.

It just, you know, so, yeah, but that essay was, I did try to become a social drinker after 14 years of not drinking. And then, that was a failed experiment. And I don't drink anymore. No, it's been another 14 years of me not drinking, or longer of me not drinking again. Which, I'm a very happy person when I don't drink.

You know, day and night. I'm just, yeah. 

Zibby: Yeah. Excellent. Okay. Well, Anne, thank you so much. Thank you. I've tried to be nice. One of my favorites. Laughed so hard.

Ann: I'm so glad. 

Zibby: So, I mean, everyone is going to love this book and people will be passing it around. I can just feel it, you know, like, like a deck of cards.

I hope so. 

Ann: Thank you, Zibby. 

Zibby: You're welcome. 

Ann: Thank you.

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Ann Leary, I'VE TRIED BEING NICE

Kate Bowler, HAVE A BEAUTIFUL, TERRIBLE DAY!

Zibby is joined by podcaster, Duke University professor, and New York Times bestselling author Kate Bowler to discuss HAVE A BEAUTIFUL, TERRIBLE DAY!, a book of witty, honest, and wise spiritual reflections that invite us to embrace the bad—not just the good. Kate shares how her experience with chronic pain and stage four cancer inspired this book and her outlook on life—one that is based on resilience and transforming difficult days into beautiful, terrible days. She shares her strategies for coping with those difficult days (including a “wall of dubious achievement” where she celebrates even the most minor accomplishments with her family).

Transcript:

Zibby: Welcome Kate. Thank you so much for coming on Moms Don't Have Time to Read Books to discuss Have a Beautiful Terrible Day. 

Kate: Thank you. I'm glad to be here. 

Zibby: As a fellow podcaster, you know how this goes.

You know how much fun it is to chat with people who's working. You admire and I have read all of your books and just love everything you have to say and do and follow along and subsequent, I mean, all the things I'm just, you know, so impressed by you and your authenticity and openness and just all of the ways that you've shared your, I hate the word journey, yourself and your experience.

Kate: I find myself almost saying journey all the time, but it's so true. Like we find each other on these weird roads that are just like big surprises always around each bend. 

Zibby: Yeah, exactly. Okay. So for this book, tell listeners a little bit about it. When you came up with the idea for these sort of meditations, how you even narrowed it down to the ones you included.

This is great. I was taking screenshots one after another. I'm like, oh, I'm gonna send this person. I'm sending this one to that person. So. 

Kate: Oh, that's nice. Last year, I really just got stuck in a loop. I was going around and around the same problem with chronic pain. And it really kind of brought me back to that feeling that you get sometimes like in a health problem or in a relationship breaking down.

But like you, You just like, you were having the same problem over and over again, and there's not a way out. And you're a smart person. So if there was a way out, like you probably would have figured it out by then. So I was stuck with this really narrow set of choices. I only had about an hour every day where my brain worked because I was so physically uncomfortable and the meds just weren't working.

And so I thought, well, if this is how I need to practice living, which is inside of An hour, then how can if it's if it's probably going to be a maybe a terrible day, like how could I learn to make it a beautiful, terrible day? And are there habits of attention or reflection or maybe things I need to get rid of that I can do inside of this?

Inside of these 60 minutes and it was as much for my own sanity as it was just to be able to hopefully be there with other people who also have problems that we get stuck inside of and can't always find our way out of. Are you experiencing that level of pain today? Yeah, it was, that one was about a nine month problem.

And one of the, one of the, I mean, most ridiculous things about any like tar pit is that you're positive it will never end. Like if we talked about this last year, I've been like. It's, I mean, it's, it's genuinely impossible. There's no solution to this. And then just like little bit by bit, tiny little moments of possibility opened up.

And I'm doing so much better. But at the time I was, I would have called you a liar. 

Zibby: Okay. I'm glad you didn't have to do that. Thank you. For listeners who backstory and why you ended up in pain and what you've Sure. Could you give the Sure. Or the long version, whatever you want. 

Kate: I, yeah, well, I was a very lucky person for a while.

Things were really going my way. I, um, got like my dream job at Duke University when I was just a little, little baby grad student and all I wanted to do was, Do this, which is be a historian about, like, cultural scripts and, and then I got very, very sick and I had stage four cancer when I was 35 and really spent most of my 30s trying to stay alive.

Which is very time consuming, as it turns out. And I'm doing so much better. But it's just one of those, uh, but because I had so many abdominal surgeries, I just had a lot of lingering chronic pain. So I guess that was kind of the mental shift I was trying to make between sort of life as a crisis where everything is sort of very bright and clear.

And in a way, you almost become more wise when you're having these sort of apocalyptic experiences. And then you're like, Oh, crap. Now I just have the garbage rusted. Of my life where I have to sort through life as a chronic condition. And like, what do you do with the things you can't solve? So those are the questions I guess I think a lot about like personally, emotionally, and historically.

Zibby: Oh my gosh. 

Well, you know, I'm so sorry that was your path, but the way that you have used it to sort of help humanity, divinity, I don't know. Can I read a couple of these and like see where they came from or whatever? I particularly like, for whatever is on the calendar, I'm gonna read this one. Let's see.

I'll just read like the first page. Every, every time I do something really difficult, I make an award chart. I know it is completely ridiculous. Truly, it's so dumb. But picture me attempting to get a doctoral degree from a fancy university with a lot of stone gargoyles and leather bound books. But then I needed to read about 350 of those leather bound books in a short period of time.

So what did I do? I made an enormous chart with a point system. Three points for a book I had never read. Two points for a difficult article in a journal. One point if I could simply recite the argument without having finished the book. And then I bought reams of stickers shaped like stars and made each point a star.

If I could have done something similar with chemotherapy when I was diagnosed with cancer, I would have. When life is hard, I secretly wish someone out there is keeping score and clapping. I wish you could get an award for everything you do for others. I would build the podium myself. We could have a whole point system.

Make a horrible appointment? Two stars. Loved an enemy? Three stars. But instead, most of the difficult and painful choices we make to love others and get up again after being knocked down will have no audience, no clapping. At most, we will get a small sense that we are moving in the right direction. So today, let's consider the things we do and what they cost, even though we probably won't get a medal for whatever happens.

I love that so much. I love that. 

Kate: It's funny, too. I started this thing at home just because of the depths of my ridiculousness, which is I now have a wall called the wall of dubious achievement where like everything that I do that like probably in no way deserves to be celebrated like when I was a very mediocre waitress at Perkins Family Restaurant.

I like, I put it on the, I, I make the award chart and everybody else gets to be on it too. So like safe, safely using the crosswalk, do you want an award? I'm going to give it to you. I need to. 

Zibby: I remember this reminded me of my time in Weight Watchers, like back in another lifetime where like I got a, a you lost five pounds bookmark and it like changed my life.

I'm like, Oh my gosh. I won something. Like I actually got an award for doing like the hardest thing in the world, which for me then was losing five pounds, which seems so vain and stupid, but whatever it was the thing I was trying to do. And I put it on the fridge and I'm like, wow, this is life changing.

Like, oh my gosh, could I get to 10 pounds, Jeri? 

Kate: Is it true? I feel like our phones know that about us because every time there's a sound that's like ba do do do doop, we're just like, that's it. I could live for that sound. 

Zibby: Did you know that in Instagram there are all these badges that are just in there and you get badges for all these milestones?

Yes, I found them. I am all about the badges. It's really exciting. 

Kate: Oh my gosh, you've opened up a new world for me. 

Zibby: Yeah, I know. You're going to be like, I need 16, 000 more reels. I'm just going to keep doing reels. No, I think though, I mean, we're poking fun, but external reward and some marker that, like, the effort is noticed, because we are all expending so much effort every day, whether it is, like, in your case, just to live, or just to get through the day, or whatever it is, and there are no external prizes for most of the stuff, and, like, why the heck not? It's funny, because, like, I don't know. 

Kate: I mean, we have so little language for the feeling that we're all hoping for, which is like an experience of transformation in our lives and like, theologically, there is a lovely word for it.

It's called sanctification, but we never use it because we never think about it that way. Because mostly when we're doing something lovely, those are especially the things that, like, there's very few. Like, trying to create a more loving relationship with a person in your life. That's incredibly difficult, like, it's unlikely that our culture is going to say anything except for like, well, I guess that's what's good for you.

And you're like, no, no, no, transformative, like soul changing stuff, the things that make virtues, like those are, those are hard things to even like congratulate ourselves for because they mostly just feel awful at the time. 

Zibby: Yeah, pretty much. Okay, let me read another one. You're being too productive. I like this one, too.

I'm like, oh, yeah? Okay. We even have a little poem here. God, it's time to call it. My productivity is out of control. I'm filling every second with a task that will make the next one work. And even my down times are planned so far in advance, they can't anticipate what life will actually look like. I was literally sitting here reading this at like two in the Kate.

How are you here? Having an issue here. Thank you. 

Kate: It's so funny. I think I, yeah, I think I was ruined by my first reading of the book, Getting Things Done. Remember when it first explained to us that if something could be done in less than two minutes, then we have to do it. And it turns out that that's like 99 percent of available tasks.

So then like, what? What is, what does that do? Who have I become?

Zibby: I know. I was doing something, I was like, oh, it's so much faster for me to just like pay this quick bill. It's only like 34. Yeah. You're like. Not that that's nothing, but you know, it's not like I'm like having to, like I can pay this bill. So I was like doing it and then they, they kept having more sections and I'm like, this is like, I looked at the clock on my computer, I'm like, oh, this can't take more than two minutes.

I'm allocating two minutes for this. I start doing it. Okay. Da, da, da. Now they need this. Now they need this other contact form information. Then they started asking me all these other things and now I need invoice numbers. I'm like. Oh my gosh. Now it's like become like a ten minute thing. Cheers. Like, anyway.

So. 

Kate: I think that's, that's definitely life is like the avalanche effect, and especially two of, I think we're hoping, I feel like nice moments last about like, 10 to 12 seconds, you know, like those mountaintop beautiful. Everything is amazing. I can't believe I got here like 7 to 12 and it's over Bad things or even like the things that will measurably help us like making a stupid health care like phone call Yep I mean that that will be that will never end I feel like it's just like if there was a quick cut montage of me being like hi Linda.

Yeah You No, I'll hold. Hey, hey, Joanne. No, that's And that's the part where... 

Zibby: you should do that. That would be so funny. From now on, anytime you make an appointment, like, throw the phone up in the tripod, and after a year, put them all together. And I don't know what prize Instagram will have for that, but it'll be a big one.

Kate: Yeah, the endless, the sprawl, the sprawl is so real. And I think we think that our lives are going to be, I don't know, I guess that's why most of those cultural stories that we hear really just, they're really crowded onto the super positive side of the spectrum where we do imagine we should be having more mountaintop yoga experiences.

I do think it's more like, Trying not to murder anyone in traffic. Trying, trying, trying to keep a certain tone of voice when you're talking to your kid when they're complaining for the 200th time about a thing that cannot be changed. Like, these are the ways we're being changed. It's just really, it's just difficult to see how we're being changed while we're doing it.

Zibby: When somebody, like some expert at one point said, if you're really furious, whisper. Try it. Like when your kids are like, when you're like ready to like throw something instead of you're like. You guys, I'm ready to kill you. You know, like, just try it. It changes the mood because then they're so surprised.

You know, it changes everything. It works. It works. What's like your last mountaintop amazing eight to ten seconds that you've had? 

Kate: Oh, yeah. Well, actually, to be honest, last night was really fun. Kids have this weird thing, right, where they can make time elastic, and I spend most of my time avoiding it, because they're gonna make me super inefficient, like, I got stuff to do.

But last night, my son really, like, sucked me into his time vortex. And before I knew it, Like drawing became a, like a game of pretending to be Mario Karts, but became me throwing things at his head as hard as I could. And like, that, I don't think I've laughed that hard in a really, really long time. So yeah, and I didn't know what time it was.

And that's always how I know something is kind of magical, is that I'm like, wait, what's that? Oh, sorry. Bud. Buddy. Yeah. We forgot about bedtime. We gotta shut this down. Yeah, it doesn't happen to me that often because I'm just too, I get too aggressive about trying to keep everything in order, you know, but it's always lovely where you kind of fall off the side and then to a big kind of bubble pit.

Zibby: And where do you, where do you think you get that? Your need to have everything in order. 

Kate: I think it got worse with illness. I'm sure I was a productivity monster before, but the tick tick of being scared kind of cranked it up. So I, I kind of have to work against every time they're like, consider the lilies.

And I'm like, I don't have time. I'm really, I think I've just trying to work against my own nature and it's like my, my growth edge.

Zibby: I was on my way to it. Like a book event or something and I was in this car service and the guy's like, well, we have like 10 minutes. You want to like get out here, walk around, kill some time.

And I was like, kill some time? 

Kate: Who do you think I am? What do you think I can't do with 10 minutes, sir? 

Zibby: Yeah. I was like, that's like against everything I'm trying to do in my life. So you have these like, Fun, not fun, but like, you know, poking fun at the craziness of life things, but then also like very serious things, you know, when you're certain today will be too much, not drowning in other people's problems, and then you have this one, number five, when it's not fair, it really isn't.

This is the one I was sending a few people. In the midst of the, can I read one more thing?

In the midst of the worst things that have happened to me, I realized that no one was going to show up to apologize. People who have heard us rarely apologize, natural disasters and disease will most certainly never say sorry. And even though it felt silly to say I want an apology about my cancer diagnosis, I really did.

So if you need one too, here's a blessing for when life isn't fair. And for what it's worth, I'm really sorry that happened to you. It literally makes me want to cry. 

Kate: It's so funny. It's like, oh my gosh, the like deep, the deep need we have to like, for someone to be keeping track of what it cost. It's such like, it's such a deep need in us.

And that's part of the, My favorite kind of love is sometimes I have really scary friends, like, just like, I find that I'm always friends with these terrifying people. And, and it's because they're so formidable in their love. And when they look at me and they'll be like, I am so sorry. And also, I wish I could murder everyone that's ever, anything that's ever hurt you.

That it like, confirms in me a thing that I didn't realize was, was missing until they said it. It's like, thank you for, thank you for counting. What? The loss. Oh my gosh. 

Zibby: So how and when are you doing all of the things that you are doing? Like, you're a professor, right? You're a professor? 

Kate: Yeah. I profess. 

Zibby: You profess?

You must have to prepare a little bit for that. 

Kate: I think you can tell that I'm a monologuer, so I'll be like, hey, thanks for coming. I have 40 minutes. on this, on this idea that I'd very much like to share and you're contractually obligated to listen to. Yeah, I do have that job. 

Zibby: You write best selling books.

You host a podcast. 

Kate: I have a podcast. It has been a lot of jobs. And also, I probably have still about like 10 hours of health appointments a week. And so that's, that takes up a lot of my time, which I don't love. But the, My favorite part is that the research and teaching part lets me stay really curious about new questions because the second I'll kind of give a lecture on something, I'll realize the 200 things I genuinely don't know and kind of made up in Q& A, so I'll have to go back.

And that's kind of created this like cycle then of being able to research and then test ideas and then talk about them with other people. Because before the podcast and before all the other stuff, I really didn't ever have a chance to talk to people out of my own expertise. And that has been really great.

I mean, beautiful, because it turns out that I'm always just interested in the same thing. Courage? How? How? Hope? How? Love? And then interdependence. How do we get out of this absolutely insane individualism we've been boxed into? So kind of playing around on those themes has Sort of like fleshed out most of the ways that I work and think now.

But it does. I think it is probably too many jobs. 

Zibby: Don't you need, do you find you need to rest? I mean, I know from these you are not letting yourself really rest or it seems that way if I can read into things. 

Kate: I do have, I have pretty firm cutoffs for um, like I stop work at a certain time and I don't work on the weekends just because I got a, I got a mom hard with that one.

Yeah. 

Zibby: Wow. Do you find solace in other books? Like, do you carve out time for that? 

Kate: I love, yeah, especially, man, memoir is, memoir is just earth shattering. I mean, it's, it creates awe every time. Mm hmm. So, and there's like such a bizarre intimacy of having read like 250 pages of somebody else's inner thoughts.

So yeah, I read a lot of memoirs. I, I'm a little topped up on, cause I read so much theology and spiritual thinking for my job. I'm like, oh my gosh, if this becomes one more lesson, I'm going to throw myself, throw everything off a cliff. So I am a little bit more into the, like, I love comedians. I'm obsessed with like comic memoirs.

Zibby: What's a good one? I need a comic memoir. 

Kate: Okay. Well, honestly, Samantha B. 's memoir is. hysterical. She's probably the best comic writer I've ever read. It's upsetting. Her, like, granular attention to, like, the weird way her grandma does something will never leave me. It's, she's perfect. She's God's most perfect creature.

Zibby: Wow. Okay. I'm gonna, I'm gonna get that. I have not had her on the podcast. I'm gonna read it. I feel like the gift of laughter is Such a, such a joy when I'm literally like laughing. I was laughing so hard on a plane, this book that was a submission or whatever. And I was like covering up my mouth. And I'm like, I am one of those people right now who like my shoulders are shaking because I'm laughing so hard.

I'm like covering up. But, but that's wonderful. Are you reading anything that I should read right now? Oh, what am I reading? Well, speaking of memoir, I am about to talk to Katie Arnold. I don't know if you've read any of her stuff. She's, this is her second memoir. It's called, Brief Flashings in the Phenomenal Worlds.

Oh, wow. And Running Free. And her first book was called Running Home. And it's, it's not just about running, but she lives like in, I think, Santa Fe. And it's very much about like the nature, but it's also about the loss of her dad. And in this book, she has like a whitewater rafting accident. But I love stories like that where people have to recover from something.

You know what? 

Kate: Me too. Me too. 

Zibby: Like, take me to the bottom, and I will rise with you up to the top. It's so true. That is where I want to go. 

Kate: Yeah. I want to see everybody in a Rocky montage. I really do. 

Zibby: Yeah. Yeah. And then I will feel better. Then I'll close it and be like, okay. I can, I can get through this.

Whatever. 

Kate: Yeah. You did it. You did it. 

Zibby: Right? Yeah. 

Kate: Exactly. 

Zibby: Oh my gosh. Well, in all the people that you've met, and the events, and all the things, because of the books themselves, what's been like the greatest gift of a moment? 

Kate: Ah, well, I think there's always a moment in a conversation. Because, you know, you do so much preparation, you kind of know what somebody's going to say.

But then there's always surprise, like, and it's the same feeling you get in the classroom where you like, structure a topic, and then two thirds of the way through you're like, oh my gosh, I genuinely don't know what's going to happen. And I, like, there's this little lift in my heart, and then someone just sort of punches me in the face with their idea.

I mean, I remember the last time I felt that way was. I was talking to this lovely pastor, his name is Jerry Sitzer, and he, he was coming out with a 25th anniversary edition of this book that people had, that had been really formative for a lot of people. And it was, it was the story of this tragic car accident that ended the life of his wife.

wife and child. And it's like an absolutely devastating story. And then, and it was so beautiful to see him 25 years later and to see the incredible, the like truth of his life be played out in all these years. And then I was like, but Jerry, like, so how do you then think about like hope and, or like, what, what does a miracle feel like for you?

And he goes, and he was like, Oh, but Kate, like, I mean, the dirty little secret about miracles is that they never last. And when he said it, and he was like, like, okay, even Lazarus, who was raised from the dead, like, died again. It was, it could have been the most depressing thing someone had ever said but I felt the wind knocked out of me and I was like, from a man who has like, kind of come up from the worst, like come up from the grave a bunch of times, I thought, you're totally right.

Every beautiful thing is a flash and a gift. But like, the idea that I could hang everything on some like, durable, endless, everything's always gonna work out. Like, I can't, I can't and shouldn't live that way, but only because he said it. I was like, I believe you. I believe you and I have changed my mind.

Zibby: What advice do you have for aspiring authors? 

Kate: I'm very clear about not being very special, and that really helps me. I don't think I'm, uh, I'm not wonderfully insightful. When I sit down, nothing incredibly magical will happen, and that is A OK. I just know that between certain hours, I think more clearly, and I just, Keep my bum in a chair, and I light a candle because I'm terrified of leaving an unattended flame.

And so having a lit candle forces me to sit there and have my non special thoughts. And then eventually, they will become better. But like, having a low view of my own abilities and a fire hazard has probably been the key to my writing ability. 

Zibby: Who knew? 

Kate: Yeah. 

Zibby: Low self esteem. It really gets you over the finish line.

Kate: Yeah, it really. If you think you're all that wonderful, gosh, I'm happy for those people. I just don't know how I would come up with something if the bar were that high. 

Zibby: So funny. Thank you so much. Thank you for talking to me today, for coming on my podcast, for all the books, and all the joy and, you know, just letting us go along the ride with you.

And I really love it. So thanks. 

Kate: I'm so glad to see you again. 

Zibby: Okay, take care. 

Kate: Thanks so much, hon. 

Zibby: Okay. 

Kate: I'm sure we'll see each other soon.

Zibby: I hope so, thank you.

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Kate Bowler, HAVE A BEAUTIFUL, TERRIBLE DAY!

Nicole Avant, THINK YOU'LL BE HAPPY

Philanthropist, filmmaker, and former US ambassador Nicole Avant joins Zibby to discuss her raw and relentlessly optimistic memoir, THINK YOU’LL BE HAPPY. Nicole delves into the tragic event that inspired her book—the murder of her mother during a home invasion—and shares how she has tried to turn her pain into something that can help and inspire others. She also talks about the lessons her parents taught her, her healing process after the tragedy, her experience as the first black woman and the youngest US ambassador to the Bahamas ever, and her decision to prioritize family over career.

Transcript:

Zibby: Welcome, Nicole. Thanks so much for coming on Moms Don't Have Time to Read Books to discuss your beautiful memoir.

I think you'll be happy moving through grief with grit, grace, and gratitude. Congratulations. 

Nicole: Thank you. Thank you. Happy to be here. 

Zibby: It's like a happy sad moment because I wish you didn't have to write this book because of the events that precipitated it, but you turned it into something beautiful for other people to help them through their journeys and inspire people and all of that.

So thanks for that. 

Nicole: Thank you. That was the intention. You know, I was like, well, this terrible thing has happened and I'm all about transmuting as much as possible. It's always my intention, just whatever it is, if I at least try to transmute it into something good or that some good come out of something tragic or sad or could be betrayed, whatever it is, and any type of negativity.

And I, I really didn't want people to feel alone. I felt so alone and I thought, you know what, if I can write this book and give it as an offering. To the universe. And I just literally said to the universe, just whomever needs this book, may it reach them in divine order and divine time, may it reach them.

And I'm so happy that it has, you know, I'm so happy that people don't feel alone in the letters that I receive. And, you know, thank you for. Seeing me and hearing me and understanding and just giving a different perspective or giving a different mindset. So, so I'm, I'm happy that the transmutation energy kind of worked out.

Zibby: Yeah. Worked its magic. 

Nicole: Yeah. It worked. It worked its magic. 

Zibby: Can you tell listeners what happened with your mom? 

Nicole: So on very early morning on December 1st in 2021, There was a home invasion at my parents house. My parents have lived in the same house in Beverly Hills for over 52 years, 53 years. And unfortunately, my mom and the intruder had an encounter and he shot her.

And then fled. And my mom was rushed to the hospital and she, you know, died shortly after she arrived. There was no way they could perform the surgeries that they needed to. My mom was 81 years old, you know, so she wouldn't have not been able to, I mean, she would have had so many surgeries and she would have had a miserable, miserable life after that.

So from that, in that moment, you know, my 92 year old father, uh, he was 91 at the time actually came to live with us. immediately. I just brought him home from the hospital and tried to create a safe environment for him. And all of a sudden I became a caregiver in a way that I was not prepared for. I didn't have a manual.

I didn't have anything, but really I, what I realized is that no one does. I mean, we do and thank God for, you know, you know, people's different faiths, you know, I understand that's what it's for in religion, but it really was, we just have to figure it out as we go along. You do have to take it one day at a time.

Sometimes it's one minute at a time. And my intention was always, I want to do the next right thing. Whatever needs to be done, that's what I'm going to do. And I'm going to do it with as much love and as much integrity as I possibly can. 

Zibby: And isn't it one of your parents, didn't your dad, was it your mom or dad who always told you that just to do the right next, the next.

Nicole: Mom always said, when you're ever, you're confused and you don't know what to do, just say, I have this moment.

And in this moment, I'm going to do the next right thing. Cause that's really all you have. Five minutes ago was five minutes ago. It's never coming back. You know, she'd always love to say to me, you cannot unscramble the egg. Everybody wants to unscramble the egg and then we torture ourselves trying to make something that's happened that you can't change and we want it to be fixed.

We want it to be different than what it was. And that's the power of letting go. That's what I've learned in my lifetime of, oh, this is what it means about forgiveness. This is what it means about letting go. It's letting go of what you were hoping that didn't happen, or you wanted a different circumstance or you wanted a different outcome, but you do have to accept what is before you can even make a change of where you want to be.

And the acceptance doesn't mean that you, you know, you don't have to like what it was, but, but whatever it is, it could be a betrayal. It could be a disappointment. It could be somebody walking, whatever it is. The acceptance is really the key to freedom. 

I have found, because that's a healing journey can start once you accept.

Zibby: Hard to accept something that you just so desperately don't want to have, have, have had happen. Yes. Yeah. I think in life, we're always in the mindset of like, we can fix this. We can do something about this. Like death is the one thing like that. There is literally nothing, there's no way you can fix it.

And I feel like, Once anyone gets to that point and they're just like, Oh my gosh, I am completely powerless in this, you know, and nothing I do matters. I just have to find a way to live with it. I think that is a total shock to the world order and the system. 

Nicole: It really is. And you made a very good point of I just have to find a way to live with this and deal with this.

So many deaths are different. My father's death, for example, was very different from my mom. It was peaceful. He was at home. He was in his room around his books. We had his Frank Sinatra and Duke Ellington playing for him. And, and also he was 92 and a half. I mean, I wasn't in denial. It was like his life.

He lived a life. A full life and the blessing of living a full life and not being sick, you know, he wasn't in diapers. He didn't have to, you know, I mean, it was really, it was such a blessing to at least have been given that where I could walk him to the other side, so to speak with dignity and with love and, and him knowing that he was so loved while he was crossing over. But death is, you know, it's the hardest thing we all go through. Yet it is the one thing that is for sure, 100 percent guaranteed that we are all going to, we're all going to leave and everyone that we love is going to leave. And everything around us is going to leave. Dog.

Zibby: Let's just, let's just leave everybody in a great mood, Nicole. You're going to die and you're going to die and everyone is going to die. 

Nicole: Here's the transmutation of that. Because we know that, that gives us the license and the freedom and the intention to really live. Life is a privilege. It is a gift.

When you know that, you know, my dad used to say, you come with a number, you end with a number and your dash is your life. The dash in between your two numbers is your life for you to live it and create it the, to the best of your ability. And I think that, that we have forgotten. Really to live and how to live and live.

And that's why I wanted to put grit, grace, and gratitude in the title, because we need the grit, grace, and gratitude to live because life is as beautiful as it is. And as much of, you know, it's a, yes, it's a gift and yes, it's beautiful, but it also comes with challenges and trials and tribulations and things where we have to pivot.

And think new and, but the one thing that I try to remind people is, you know, it's hard not to have a lot of regrets, but my God, if you have the power to tell people in your life, how much you love them and how much you appreciate them and, and how much you need them, that's everything because at the end of the day, that's all people really want to know is that they matter to somebody and, and, and a meaningful, significant life is my intention for myself.

I want to be able to leave this earth and be able to feel in my heart that I lived a meaningful and significant life, that I made a positive impact on other people's lives, but that more importantly, that I told the people that I love and that I care about. That they knew that, that they really know that, but don't take that for granted.

Zibby: So what people might not know about you, and I have to admit, I was debating if I should even admit this, but I didn't know anything about you when this book came out. It was just another book that looked really good to me, and all of that. I didn't know your background, your father being a legendary, you know, Like, I didn't know that there would be scenes, like, hanging on the couch with the Obamas in this book.

Right. You know what I mean? Like, and I was like, oh, you wouldn't know from looking at it. You know what I mean? Like, there's nothing to distinguish it. I've heard you speak a few times. Like, you wouldn't necessarily know That your life was so, at times, glamorous and full of really important people. The history of music has, like, coursed through your home as, like, the hotbed of creativity and, like, the, uh, like the, the salon of Beverly Hills, right, for a particular group of people who, like, produce some of our culture's greatest gifts, really.

So, talk a little bit about that and how Your own sort of circle, if you will, or being a more public person, or just if that changes anything, do you, did you feel any sort of pressure, not to say, you know, you're like, you know, acting or, you know, not to say you have to be public, but there, there comes with that an added layer of public persona, perhaps.

Anyway, discuss. 

Nicole: Yeah, I think yes, you're correct. And I, you know, that's why the book kind of turned into, you know, I was originally writing a book on, on grace and gratitude. I, I had produced a documentary on my father's life called the black Godfather. And we, it went up right before COVID, thank God. And then during COVID, it really just took off.

And, and, but it was, I made the movie, the same reason I wrote the book is because there is such, it's about so much, my father's life is about so much, it's so much American history, and because he was 92, there's a long history there, so America for him, when he was born in 1931, was obviously very different when I was born in 1968.

Completely different. And there was a lot of progress, and I, I'm a big believer in celebrating progress and talking about it, even when it was traumatic. But what I, what, and when my mom passed, I thought, well, my God, to your point, I'm going to be writing about, Well, what my mom has taught me and what my father has taught me, but really no one knows who really I am or no one really understands my whole full life.

So I've got to explain everything in this book. And so that's why it's more like a tapestry. There's the book is about the American dream. The book is about the record business. The book is about black culture and Beverly Hills. The book is about, it's so many layers. And then the book is, I wanted it to be a celebration of life.

I wanted people to remember my mother. I wanted people to, there was no way to me that I was going to have my mom's legacy be her death. 

That was not going to happen. I was like, Oh no, no, no, no, no, no. Jacqueline Avant did too many things for too many people for her legacy to be how she died. I want to focus on how she lived, the lessons that she taught me, the way she raised me.

She had very high standards. And now I look back and I thank God that she had high standards better than not having any And you know, she expected a lot but because she loved her country and because she honored her freedom And because she wanted to be an editor, a book editor, she wants, she was the editor of her high school yearbook, her college yearbook, all of it.

And she wanted to go into this world of publishing. It wasn't really open for her at those times. It was the fifties and sixties. It just, the doors were not open. So for her having me being born on her birthday, on her 28th birthday, she said, there are doors and opportunities that are open for you that we did not get.

And I cannot raise you to sit on the couch and do nothing because These were hard fought freedoms, but really sacrificed. And so she loved teaching me history, all history. So, you know, it was, we're going to read Anne Frank's diary. We're going to read that over and over again, and you're going to understand the suffering and resilience.

Truth. And then you're going to read about, you know, Harriet Tubman and Ida B. Wells, and you're going to love Frederick Douglass. And you're going to appreciate what has been given to you. And that is what I wanted to put into this book of yes, we had a very, very big glamorous life, but it was rooted and grounded in very deep intention to honor the people that came before us.

Who knew that they would never, ever, ever see the harvest from the seeds that they planted, but it was such an unselfish thing to do, right? I know I'm never going to be able to vote. I know I'm never going to be able to own a house. I know I'm never going to be able to do this, but I'm going to continue to fight and march and sow seeds for the next generation and say a prayer that it works.

And that is the greatest gift that my parents gave to me. 

Zibby: Yeah, it's like the book is like, uh, hey, look what happened.

Fast forward a little time capsule here. FYI, you know. Yeah, FYI. Yeah, exactly. So as you said, it's, it's almost like a tapestry of sorts because you weave in so many things. So you do have that. whole piece of your life as daughter, right? But then you also have you as career woman and all that with taking an ambassadorship.

I mean, that is also a very rare thing. I mean, how many women ambassadors are there? Like there must be not a lot, not a lot, not a lot. 

Nicole: No. And, and, and I was, you know, I was four, I'm in 53 now. I was, I'm 56 now. I was 40 at the time. So it was, The youngest ambassador as a female and the first black ambassador, female ambassador in the Bahamas.

And I thought, you know what, you know, Obama was a young president and that's what I loved about it. It was just like John F. Kennedy. They had young ambassadors because they were young themselves. 

Zibby: Yep. 

Nicole: You know, Obama and I were seven years apart. I mean, he's 47 at the time. So it was, you're going to have.

youthful ambassadors that are hopefully going to go out and bring a different perspective and, and it was the greatest honor of my life to serve my country and to meet different people. I would have never met anyone from DEA or the Coast Guard or ICE or CBP, all these great organizations that help keep us safe and And really, you know, push our agenda forward.

These men and women changed my life. You know, I would have never crossed paths with them. And I loved getting to know what they did, what made them get up and serve, what made them join the army, what made them join the Marines, what made them become a DEA officer. I mean, I would never get to have those conversations.

Zibby: And yet you realized that your ambassadorship was hurting your marriage and decided to come home, which I thought was also really amazing. And that you're open about that. And like, we can't all do everything and have it all work out all the time. 

Nicole: No. And I think that's the thing. Everyone says you could do everything you want.

I said, yeah, but not all of it's going to work out all the time because something hard to give. Your energy can only be so many places. And I really had to decide as much as I love Ted and he loved me. It was a very new marriage. We dated for a year and we were off to the races. I moved to a different country.

It's like we got married in September and October. I was away and he would come and visit every couple of weeks. And after two years and with two teenagers, you know, my stepchildren with Ted, it was Oh, something is breaking here actually really loving this job so much that I want to stay and I found myself not wanting to come home found myself thinking about my future and then well, I don't know, Ted will have to figure it out how he's going to get to D.

  1. If I did. And all of a sudden I realized, Oh, this is actually not going to be sustainable. And I have to choose what is the most important to me. And Ted and my family was the most, and my parents were getting older and I thought, you know what? I need to go home and it's okay. It's not a failure. It's a bummer.

And I was disappointed and I was a little depressed about it, but I'm not anymore. I look back at the choice and I'm glad that I chose my family. And I'm glad that I was honest with myself because I was getting physically sick and things were in my body where I'm like, Oh man, I have to have an operation because it's just too much stress and trying to figure everything out and make everyone happy and be there for everybody.

And something's going to give. And I was like, Oh my God, now it's my body. Physically kind of saying it's too much. 

Zibby: Yeah. Funny how the body does that when we refuse to listen to everything else, including common sense and reason. It's like, Oh, it's coming out somewhere. 

Nicole: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. So, you know, you can only run on empty for so long and I just didn't want to run on empty.

Zibby: Your mother's life was so interesting and I know I, she wanted to be an editor, whatever, but wasn't she a phlebotomist or was that right? Yes. I'm like, I was like, really? I know. That's amazing. Amazing. And she's obviously brilliant, amazing. You know. 

Nicole: Beyond.. And I love that you said that 'cause you're the first person that's brought that up in six months.

And I love it because my mom was so proud to be a phlebotomist and she's like, I know how to draw blood study blood. I can tell you what's in the blood. It was fascinating, but it was her part of that. She found something that she loved. She was like, I was also, you know, she wanted to be an editor. Like you said, she wants, she did that.

She said, I also wanted to be a nurse and to be in the hospitals and help people. And she. And that's what I loved about her is that she tried everything. If a door was open, she's going to walk. If she was interested and the door was open, she was like, I'm just going to try. Why not? You know, and she still has all these newspaper articles that she saved for me where, you know, for a 1 and 69 cents an hour, you know, you could work at this hospital for 5 an hour.

And it's just so great of, you know, women needed. And, and it just, okay. It just was such a different time, yet she was so proud to be alive and to live and to try different things. And that's one of the greatest gifts she gave me. It's like, you know what? Walk into different arenas. You're going to find out what you like, and you're going to find out what you're good at, and then you're going to find out what you're not good at.

So that you could, you know, she's like, people are always chasing their passions, and she's like, you need to chase what you're really good at. Find out what you're good at and you'll be passionate about what you're great at. 

Zibby: That's so true. 

Nicole: Right? You know, and I think we're all, she said, instead of being so scattered, whatever you're naturally good at is, is the hint from the universe that that's what you should be.

Do it. You know, I have friends who were, I grew up with and they were so organized and so OCD and people try to make them bad and problem children. There are two OCD. Now my friend is one of the greatest event planners literally in the world because she has this OCD personality and loves serving people, loves making people happy and she can organize anything.

In five minutes her brain can just organize but it's a gift. But have we taken that away from her? You know what? I mean? It's she's fine She she found what she's good at and then she's gonna put those skills into a into something creative and good for her. 

Zibby: Yeah, I find often what people struggle with The most is what becomes their superpower later in life.

Nicole: Yes, absolutely. 

Zibby: So hopefully that will inspire people struggling, especially people's kids or whatever. So yes, you know, you know, another thing you did with your career is you decided on the day of the sentencing that you weren't going to go to the courthouse, but instead you were going to show up at your board meeting with a full face of makeup and just be like, I am not letting this take me down.

This is the life I want to live. And everyone was sort of shocked being like, what are you doing here? 

Nicole: Even, even Ted that morning was like, you know, they'll understand if you don't show up today. And I, I just said to Ted, you know what? I have a life and I love my life and I have a very blessed life. And yes, my mom's life was tragically taken, but I'm not going to, if I stopped showing up for myself, Then my life's going to be taken too.

So I have to make a decision here. So I'm going to put on my makeup. My heart was, I mean, the anxiety I had that day of not knowing what the sentencing was going to be. And it was all while I was driving. I knew it was going to happen. I knew my lawyer was going to be texting me and I walked in and as I walked in, like I say in the book, my friend Sherry was reading like, Oh my God, you're being sentenced right now.

And I said, and this is the craziness and the beauty of life. Okay. That two things that are so opposite are happening at the same time. He's being sentenced and I'm showing up for myself and I knew that my mom would want me to show up. I got dressed. Like I said, I did my hair, I put my makeup on and I just thought I am living my life and I'm not going to allow this person who's already taken my mother and already shattered our family to take anything else.

It was a very hard decision and it doesn't mean it was, it wasn't an easy decision and it wasn't easy walking in the office that day. But it was important and it, it honored my soul. It wasn't easy, but it honored my soul. And I, I look back and I, I'm so grateful that I can say, wow, I don't have that regret.

I'm so happy. I didn't, I'm so happy. I didn't stay. And my dad was able to watch me. Like I went to his room to say goodbye and I said, don't turn on the TV. I put on a movie for him and I said, and I'm going and I'll be home in a couple of hours. And then, you know, we poured a glass of wine, had a bottle of wine together that night and, but it's one of those things where it was, right.

You know, sometimes in life we have to make decisions and as hard as they are, as uncomfortable that they are, you never, I didn't want to betray myself. 

I just was sick and tired of betraying myself. 

Zibby: So you seem to Have it all sort of together with the book and your sayings, and you're so eloquent about grief and loss, and you could fool people into thinking you were okay, and that grief is something you dealt with, but that is obviously not the way grief feels.

Works. Right. So tell us about a time when, you know, like what is, what happens when you just lose it? Like, I heard about the time when you were banging your Oh yeah. The hat fist. But like what, where do you do are, do you, are you like, I'm a bathroom floor crier. That's where I like you do. Okay. 

Nicole: I go to the closet.

Zibby: Okay. Closet. 

Nicole: Yeah, the closet. I clean the closet. Every time I'm angry or frustrated, I go to the closet or the bathroom. 

Zibby: Mm-Hmm. . 

Nicole: And I'm a bathroom crier. I go into, I go into that bathroom, shut the door, and I'm on the floor in fetal position. And I wail and I also love to get into the bath at times because it grounds me and I talk it out and it could be sometimes I talk to my mom.

Sometimes I'm just talking to myself. Sometimes I'm talking to the universe and I just get it out, but it is. I know it seems like I, you know, the way, the way I show up, everyone's like, Oh, wow. Wow. She just got over that. I did not get over anything. My heart is, is in repair. My heart, I'm sure will be in repair till the day I leave this earth.

There are days where grief comes in waves and it hits you. It's like getting, you know, it's like a bad, it's like a breakup. We've all had these terrible breakups. And, You grieve that. There are days where a song will come on and I'll think of my mom and I'll either laugh and have a really great memory from summer camp, or I will have to pull the car over.

I can't drive because I'm crying so hard that I can't see. And you just don't know when it happens. But what I have learned is when grief does show up, let it show up. You know, if you have to excuse yourself from a dinner, just excuse yourself from a dinner for a second. Like I don't. Because I used to try to shove it down, and then it just is going to sit somewhere, and, and it's going to show up again.

So. Grief comes in stages. I don't think that there's these five steps or eight rules or this. And I think that is messed with everyone's head because then all of a sudden it's like, Oh, I'm supposed to be this, but I'm not feeling that. And what helped me, and I know it doesn't help everybody, but for me, grieving while doing things and being productive helped me a lot.

It didn't mean I wasn't grieving and it didn't mean I wasn't sad. And it didn't mean I didn't miss my mom, but I also knew that being productive was going to help me. Being creative was going to help me. A film had come to me right before my mom passed away and my friend Carrie sent me the sizzle reel and now it's turned into a Tyler Perry production.

And it's called 6888 and it's a true story. And it's about an all female, all black battalion in World War II helped us win the war. And Kerry Washington is starring in it. It's a beautiful film. It's a beautiful film. And I said, yes, I continued to just, I needed to be creative as I was grieving and that helped me, but in no way, you know, I, I, I always tell people, you know, there's a, there's a very fine line where I sometimes felt that I was drowning in quicksand.

And I knew if I didn't get out that I was really going to drown in life and that I was not going to. I would survive, but I wasn't going to live. And so again, the intention of looking at myself in the mirror and doing a lot of mirror work and saying, I really want to live and I want to live the life that I meant to live.

And I don't know how long I have, and I want to live the greatest life that I can. And I need help and I need encouragement and I need support. And I need inspiring people and inspiring projects to help me get, give me a reason to get up every day. 

Zibby: Wow. 

Nicole: You know, without my friends, I could have never finished this book.

I could have never, I wouldn't be sitting here talking to you. I mean, my friends really showed up and, and supported me in a way that I've never felt before. I didn't even know what it felt like to be that supported, to have like these, these boats beneath me that were going to make sure that I did not drown.

Zibby: It's amazing. It's amazing who shows up at the times who need them the most. 

Nicole: I need them the most. Yeah. And that's the big thing that I've learned. My big takeaway from this. Full experience is really showing up for people. Even if you don't know what to say, it's not about having the right thing to say.

It is just about showing up. And when I saw people, they didn't have to say anything to me, but when I saw them in my house. 

Zibby: Yeah. 

Nicole: In the living room, talking to my father, waiting for me, waiting to give me a glass of wine and or a hug. It changed everything. 

Zibby: Yeah. It's really okay when Michelle Obama doesn't say a specific thing.

It's just when she hugs, it's just when she hugs me that I feel so much better.

Anyway, all right, so, so now here you are. Like moving in phase two, right? Your life, I'm sure, is now forever bifurcated, right? Before and after of this moment. If you had a dream, not a dream, but like a, you know, a hope for what you want for this next part of your life to look like. 

Nicole: I want my, I definitely want to be, I would need to streamline a lot.

I really do and I know that. And I really want to, my intention is now to focus on the things and the people that I love and give it the most attention versus saying yes to everything and everything I'm interested in. Oh, cause you only have one life. You should do it all. Yeah, no, I'm over that. I'm so over that.

I don't care. And I'm saying no. Thank you to a lot of things. I think the reason that all of us have a problem saying no is because it just, I said to my friend ago, if you just tag on, no, thank you. No, thank you. Thank you so much for the, for offering me that wonderful, you know, event or thing. But when you say thank you after 

no, you said it a lot easier with it, but it's like, yeah, you know what?

Thank you so much. I really don't have the time. I wish you the best of luck with your event. Who's gonna say anything? That's it. 

Zibby: I'll be, I'll, I'll wait for that email to come just like that, if I ever ask you to do anything. It's ready. You can save it as part of your signature in your, in your email. You can just have it ready.

Nicole: But I just realized that, you know, the more complaining I do and the more venting I do is, is for me to be aware that I'm obviously doing too much or things need to change and I need to pivot. And it always comes back to ourselves. I love to blame other people. If they would only just do this, if they would only just, well, no, just I'm responsible for me.

I'm responsible for the energy that I bring to the world. I want to be attentive and I want to be focused and I want to be creative, but I just can't say yes to everything. I just can't. And I actually just have no interest in it anymore and it's okay. And it leaves room for other people. 

Zibby: It's amazing what sometimes it takes for us to actually live our best lives, right?

Yeah. Yeah. If only it wasn't. 

Nicole: Yeah. 

Zibby: Extreme. 

Nicole: Right. But we have a lot of opportunities and we're really fortunate and to live in this country and have the opportunities that we all have as women in this country, even though it's not exactly, it may not be where we all want to be or there's still so much that needs to be done.

Whatever. True. True. But. We're so fortunate. And there's just things that I've seen that I've missed out on or friends of mine that are, you know, they now have emptied, they're becoming empty nesters. And they're like, wow, that's never coming back. My child is actually going to college and I don't get that time back.

That's never happening again. Yeah. It's over. Which is why there's grief with that. That's over. Yep. And his girlfriend was like, and I worked so hard and I don't, I'm never going to get them back as teenagers. Like now they're going to go create their own lives and I cannot unscramble that egg and I cannot change it.

And she said, and I really just chose work and at least she's owning it. She's like, and I own it, but she knows that she's not getting it back. So she's going to do whatever she can now to, you know, make up for it. But I think it's important for us just to have awareness. All of us have to be aware of.

Zibby: Agreed. Agreed. Yeah. Well, I think you'll be happy. I'm hopefully thinking I'm going to be happy. So, this is a good, uh, good book to keep around as a reminder of all the, all the ways we can be happy and sort of self actualized and all of that. So.

Nicole: Yeah. 

Zibby: So your mom, your mom is giving us lots of gifts. So Jackie Yvonne's gifts live on, you know. 

Nicole: She lives on and she's very happy.

And like I said, she wanted to be an editor and want love literature. So the fact that there's a book and it was because she helped create this, that there's, you know, there it is. There it is. There it is. Thank you so much. To you. 

Zibby: Oh, thanks. 

Nicole: Success with your book. Congratulations to you. 

Zibby: Thank you so much.

Nicole: Thank you. 

Zibby: Bye, Nicole. 

more details
Nicole Avant, THINK YOU'LL BE HAPPY

Kathleen Dorothy Blackburn, LOOSE OF EARTH

Debut author Kathleen Dorothy Blackburn joins Zibby to discuss LOOSE OF EARTH, an arresting memoir and bold exposé of love, unbending religious fanaticism, disease, forever chemicals, and one family’s desperate wait for a miracle that never came. Kathleen describes her childhood in a conservative, evangelical family in Texas and the diagnosis and eventual death of her father. She touches on her family’s obsessive quest for faith-based healing over conventional medicine, the broader environmental issues tied to her father’s illness, and the responsibility she bore as a young caretaker. Finally, she describes the challenges—and cathartic power—of writing about such a painful past.

Transcript:

Zibby: Welcome, Kathleen. Thank you so much for coming on Moms Don't Have Time to Read Books to discuss Loose of Earth, a memoir. Thank you. 

Kathleen: Delighted to be here. I've just been so excited. I love the podcast and I'm, it's sort of a dream just to be in conversation with you. And I'm so grateful for all that you do for books and Love your work.

So thank you for this conversation. 

Zibby: Thank you for saying that. I read your book in basically one sitting and at the end, I was crying and my kids like came over and were like, mom, are you okay? And I was like, I just had to sit there. And I was like, you guys, I just read this so sad. I mean, it's happened. I was like her, you know, or, I mean, it's not a spoiler to say your dad died and that's part of the book, but it was so moving.

I just, I haven't cried, like physically cried at a book in a long time where I just had to sit there and like kind of recover and not to say it was all tear, you know, not to say it was like, Okay. you know, an unpleasant reading experience. You know, it just was so moving. Anyway, you're a beautiful writer and the book was so moving and oh my gosh.

Anyway. 

Kathleen: Oh, that means a lot to me. Thank you. You know, one of my writing heroes and teachers was the great writer Dennis Covington. And he said when he would lose kind of hope in a manuscript he was working on, that if he picked it up and it made him, it still could make him cry. There was something there.

So, so I think of tears as one of the, um, it certainly wasn't, I, I didn't want to manipulate, you know, in any way, but I do think I take tears as a compliment. If I can see you. 

Zibby: Yes, it is a compliment. It is a total compliment. And your writing is so beautiful. I mean, I know I just said that, like maybe I could read a few passages as we're talking, but just the way that you explain even the most.

Like, I was thinking about it after. Like, what did she do? Basically, you told the, well, you should describe it, but the way you told about a period of time in your life, which could have been told in 8 million different ways, right, but you told it through like the beauty of language and English. All these specific little details and moments, but then you used words to make it like art.

Anyway. Wow. That's beautifully said. Thank you. Tell everybody about the book, and I'm sorry for just, you know, dumping this. I just, it was just very, very moving. 

Kathleen: Oh, oh my gosh, no. Every word you've shared is a gift. I'm grateful to you. You know, I'll talk about what the book is about, but I also just. I just want to quickly say that I feel like The only way I got through writing it was just by holding on for dear life to the language and to the sentences and the craft of working on those sentences.

Um, so it means a lot to hear you, you say that. This is a memoir about growing up in West Texas. I was 12 years old. It's the oldest of five kids. My family were white evangelical conservatives. My parents homeschooled us and they extended that skepticism of public education to a lot of institutions, including the medical industry, even though they themselves had backgrounds in the sciences.

My dad was a pilot, a former air force pilot gone commercial with him. Bachelor's in civil engineering and my mom was a veterinarian. Um, my dad was also really robust, a marathon runner. And about six months after he completed actually the New York City marathon with an average of an eight minute mile pace, he was suddenly and shockingly diagnosed with late stage early onset colon cancer and given a very short time to live.

And this diagnosis kicked our beliefs into high gear rather than. Following the medical advice to start rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, which the doctors said might extend his life a little bit, but we're talking at the month's level, my parents wanted a cure. And when the doctors couldn't offer that, uh, we, Started seeking out faith healers all across West Texas, of which there were no shortage.

And what we didn't know at the time was that my dad, like I said, he had been in the air force. He was third generation air force. He had grown up in and around military sites most of his life. And in researching this. Book and writing it, I discovered that the groundwater, which was the source of the drinking water at most of the military sites where he lived and worked, um, have been contaminated by really dangerous amounts of carcinogenic chemicals that don't break down once they enter the environment called PFAS or forever chemicals.

So this is a story about my family's desperate attempt to save my dad's life. But it's also about this environmental context that we had no idea about and sort of, you know, I think doing what a lot of us do as we, uh, become adults, we, we, you know, try to make sense of a past that didn't make any sense at the time.

Zibby: And the environmental element to the story was just the, like, the, the, the straw that broke the camel's back, you know, that this could have been prevented and then to extrapolate and think, Oh my gosh, how many families. Went through exactly what you were going through with this 38 year old dad. I mean, she was so young.

Kathleen: Yes. Yes. I know. I'm, I'm 39. And in that age, I was talking to my aunt, my dad's sister, who was really instrumental. And she's a character in the book. And she was very instrumental in me kind of finding this larger context of my dad's life and story. And I said to her the other day, The older I get, the younger he gets, he just turned 70.

And she said, tell me about it. You know, yeah, it was, that was part of what was shocking was that he was 38. I was 12 and our, my youngest sister at the time of his diagnosis was just one year old, you know, this was not. How he saw his life going and you're right that, you know, part of the really overwhelming at times and troubling part of the PFAS story is that we, I mean, this is, you know, there's a lot of more coverage of this now, but there are millions of people living in the U.S. who have been exposed unknowingly. PFAS that have been released into the environment with impunity. And so there's, you know, there, there's a lot of work to be done, address the issue. 

Zibby: So one thing that you did in the writing was from time to time, you would take your dad's perspective, even though it was a memoir, right?

So you have scenes like where he is looking at himself in the mirror at his, at your grandparents house and reflecting on. You know, why is he bleeding and, you know, what are these symptoms? Could he keep ignoring them and realizing that, you know, his His sometimes even verging on, you know, husky, if he didn't watch it body was actually for the first time thin and realizing, Oh my gosh, I think something's actually wrong with me.

And you're not even in that moment. Like that's just a moment with him himself, like, and yet it becomes a piece of the narrative that deepens sort of all of the suspense, because even though you tell it from you as a child, there are so many scenes where we have this sort of. older person's narrative and, you know, different viewpoints.

So talk a little bit about that. 

Kathleen: Yeah. Oh, I'm so glad you asked about that. So, you know, one of the challenges of writing about him is that, uh, he had been gone 19 years when I started this book, it's now been 25 years and I wanted to The reality of his life. You know, I think sometimes grief can create a sort of glowing nostalgia around a person.

They can take on sort of mythic proportions. And my dad's. Did he was, you know, talked about as almost like an angel, um, and he, and he was a very gentle, kind person, but, um, certainly had his flaws, but one of the ways of, of exploring him on the page was. I thought, I became so curious about just the reality of living in his physical body and what was it like for him to feel physically and witness in all the ways we are aware of our own bodies, the changes that were happening, even as he was claiming, God is going to heal me and I'm not dying, which was the dissonance.

That he was living in because of the way my family had decided to pursue like this idea, honestly, of a literal miracle. So, you know, I don't know about you, um, Zibi, but when you have a family, sometimes the only private place you can find is a bathroom. When I was, you know, I have a two year old now and, and I was the oldest of the, all those five kids.

And, you know, sometimes my only, the only alone time anyone in our house had. Was in a bathroom if you're lucky, you know, the toddler didn't follow you in. And so I, I wanted to, I thought, what, what were those moments in the bathroom? Like for him, where he had to face the symptoms of his cancer and look in the mirror and see the changes that were happening.

What did he tell himself in the privacy? when he didn't need to be strong for my mom or for my siblings and me. And I gave myself the creative license that a fiction writer gives themselves to use the imaginative act of storytelling to empathize with my father, to think about it. And I definitely let the reader know, you know, this is something I'm imagining, but I felt that it was one of the Ways I could honor the texture of him actually having been alive and not just this golden boy memory was Physicality of being alive and inhabiting a body and I am I'm just I'm just thinking about those ways we are in private where the contradictions we hold can really surface and I I think that I Can't help but think that must have been happening there and my his sister You Told me that occasionally he would call her privately while he was looking in the mirror and say, you know, I can see that I'm changing.

So that helped to give me a window into exploring that, you know, even though I can't verify that's, you know, exactly what was going through. 

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, you had one passage where you say that until you wrote about it, You hadn't even thought about it. And this is the whole codeine scene, which I know is just very powerful for you and everything.

Can I just read these two paragraphs? Is that okay? 

Kathleen: Oh, I'd be honored. Thank you. 

Zibby: You wrote, I will never know if my father took the codeine again. I hope that he did, though when I think back, remembering signs of his physical discomfort, I doubt it. The answer is locked within the privacy of my parents marriage, where I wish the question had stayed from the start.

Within an hour of my calling her, that wretched afternoon, my mother came home. I remember seeing her stand next to Dad, and I can recall the two of them murmuring together, my father nodding wanly, though who was reassuring whom is unclear. As adults, my sister Carson admitted to me that in her memory, Mom once told her that Dad asked her to hide the codeine from him, knowing his temptation would become too great.

The two versions don't seem irreconcilable to me. Twenty years passed before I could put language to that afternoon. My shame has been so great. I was at work on this memoir for a year before I could write about it. I can look back now and see that denying my father relief from his pain was an inevitable consequence of my beliefs at the time, though this recognition offers little comfort to me now.

It is ironic, though, that by completing a test of my faith without wavering, I felt the first cracks in my identity as an evangelical Christian, though the fissures were subtle and the breach would widen slowly over time. When my father was not healed that afternoon, I began to view the reality of my situation with dual vision.

Seeing that he was dying allowed me to recognize he was full of life. I should have been filled with fear, but instead I felt, for the first time in a year, the comfort of my father's presence. Though I continued to speak the script of healing as needed, mystery found room next to certainty. Oh, so good.

Thank you for sharing that passage. So good. So interestingly, not only did you decide to put this in, and you can talk about the scene with Cody and why this was, you know, a point of shame for you, but then you reflect in the memoir itself about thinking about it in the memoir in this, in this very sort of meta moment.

Talk about both sides of that. 

Kathleen: Yes, I will. You know, I think that, I think it was Freud that said that, you know, when in dream interpretation, the interpretation that you most resist is the one that holds the most truth. And this memory around denying my father coding, because I loved him, you know, he was my safe person.

We had a good connection. One of the things that filled me with a kind of terror about this story and about myself was the ways in which there are moments of, of tenderness in the story, but there's also, there are also moments where we see people denying the people they love the most. Acknowledgement of what they're going through and relief from their pain.

And so like, you know, the passage that you just read, I can, what I believed, what we believed was that the cancer, the cancerous symptoms were actually symptoms of like a spiritual test and that we just had to face. and deny them and it would, it would save his life. So I was, as I wrote the story, I could feel the gravitational pull.

Absolutely. The narrative was heading toward this moment that I Least wanted to go. I, this is the place I least wanted to go. And then, as I say, it took me such a long time to write or to even talk about, but it was crucial. It was crucial for making sense of what, what was happening at that time. And it also like, just, it happened, you know, it was, it happened and it belonged in the story.

That was part of my contract in honesty. Embarking on this memoir in the first place was being willing to go anywhere it took me. So, the meta sort of quality, that reflective quality, the most interesting tension to me in any memoir is the tension between the past and the present. I, uh, you know, I'll read something that has the most dramatic material.

But what I'm looking for is that tension and I'll read quiet memoir. And I, that's what I want is that they want to know, how are you making sense of the past in the early drafts of writing this, I didn't have the reflection. I just had to write the scene and spend kind of some, you know, sit in it, see how long I could sit in it.

And with each sort of I revise a lot. And so in each sort of revision, I'd expand the scene more and more for me revision and for a lot of writers. It's a process of discovery. So it wasn't until I got that coding chapter fully on the page that I could even know what to reflect upon. Oh, so that reflection came in really much later in the writing process.

And it was not a reflection that would make everything that happened, okay, and easy to live with. And it was my editor, the brilliant Casey Cottrell, who, who invited me further, he said, you know, can you talk about what this memory means to you now, because I was only doing that at very key moments and then a little more.

So not only did I sort of flinch at writing the original memory, I was really uncertain of where, What the reflection would be, but that's what that's, that's what the page is there for. And uncertainty is part of memoir, you know, we don't have to write, we don't have to write with certainty, um, you know, so, so yeah, that's how I thought about that part.

Zibby: Another piece of the story that I was struck by continually is how much responsibility you were given at such a young age for all of your siblings and when your parents had to go to the hospital for the diagnosis and when they were in the NICU with your sister and just all these periods of time when they're like, okay, you're in charge age 11, you know, like, oh my gosh, you guys here, like my, I have a 10 year old.

I'm like, yeah. Asking me for cheerios. I'm like, seriously, like, get your own. I'm not getting you cheerios anymore. That is, I'm laying down the law. You can do that yourself. And you are taking care of an army of, of children and, and they're not listening to you. And you're so frustrated and you're just like, I can't.

And you keep calling the NICU to be like, Ratting on your siblings because you're a kid. So the contrast of, of that. And like putting such an out sized responsibility on someone so young and bearing the weight of that, and then also contending with the fear and, and, and. unknown of all the big deal grown up things that were first in the hospital and then literally brought into your home in a way where you experienced it so much that your sister became a nurse.

I mean, it's a lot. I mean, how do you, how do you, how do you, how do you think about that now? And I know you, you reflect on it in the book, but. You know, now you have a kid. Like, how are you thinking about that? 

Kathleen: Oh, wow. Well, I'm going to be completely honest. Having a kid at the age of 36 and actually being his mother has been a lot easier.

Zibby: Watching five kids at age 11. I can't imagine why. 

Kathleen: No, uh, you know, there was just It was so interesting. I felt, and I know, you know, talking with so many women who have kids or, or care for someone else, I know that this is not a unique feeling I felt. Like I was failing at every turn as an 11 year old and 12 year old with, with my siblings in terms of just, because I wasn't their mother.

And, you know, I now know that even if I had been, they wouldn't have listened to me, but at the time, and it was, there was no way to succeed. There was no way to. Give them everything that they needed. And before I had my, my son, I started to feel a lot of fear. The failure that had, that I had experienced as having such a large caretaking role in my siblings lives extended into what kind of mom am I going to be?

And it was really strange. It was like, I had this thought, like, I'm going to fail again. I now know like that accompanies motherhood, this fear of failure, this. Endless and bottomless love for another person that it, again, it goes back to this theme in a way of like, how can we love someone so, so much and still be inadequate in moments for them?

And that to me, this is one of the conundrums of, of motherhood, but I felt it pretty early. With my siblings that said they were the best part of my childhood to, we were friends. I had just, you know, three sisters and a brother and we played together. We also seriously bonded and we lived as a kind of by comparison with some isolated life, you know, we were all homeschooled and we learned everything together.

Writing about them in this book was such a joy. I loved remembering, I laughed thinking about my sister, who's two years younger than me, telling me she was not going to help set the table. Because and only because I asked her to, you know, and I loved remembering what it felt like to sleep next to them at night, their warm bodies.

So it was really, it's really been an, it was really interesting to kind of hold the fact that this was a, it was hard and I, I wouldn't raise my kid this way. And yet some of the most sacred, beautiful memories I have. are from the closeness and care we had for one another, you know? 

Zibby: What has happened in your life between then and now?

I mean, there's kind of some blank spaces, you know, in the narrative. So what happened after, you know, in the, I mean, in the immediate aftermath, I feel like we get a glimpse but what did you end up doing? 

Kathleen: There's such, I mean, there's a, there's such a, that's such a good question. And the original manuscript actually went several years beyond the point where my father passes away.

As you say, I have like this epilogue that leaps forward to the present day and I try to catch people up to speed. To an extent, but there is, you know, I do think that the story raises this question of what's going to happen to this family now, it doesn't feel auspicious, you know, feels it there's, um, what does a family do when they have completely built themselves around a belief system and that thing they were believing for.

Doesn't come through. So I am working on the next memoir that is about that aftermath about grief. What it did to my family. You know, that there's a, the first line of the last chapter is when does faith turn to grief, it's thinking about that. It was hard, you know, the, we, we clung to each other. My, I, like I said, I'm the age that my.

Dad was when he died. I'm the age that my mom was when she became a widow with five children and she lost the love of her life. And, you know, I was traveling with my two year old and his dad couldn't come. And he kept asking, where's, where's dad. And I thought so much about my mom, the grief, it was an unbelievable blow.

So, and, and just like in this story, there were moments, I think, Profundity and there were moments of, of, uh, of brutality. I know that's a little vague, but that's, that's sort of what happened. We're all in touch now. We love each other. We have varying degrees of relationships to the past. I left West Texas when I was 25 years old for graduate school.

My sisters felt like I was abandoning them. I felt like I was abandoning them. And that was at the age of 25. I mean, the, the, the bond. It was complicated, but very strong. I will say this, my father has felt closer in the last six years of working on this book than in the 19 years prior.

Zibby: So you left West Texas, you went to grad school for writing, I'm assuming.

And then what did you do? 

Kathleen: I went back to Texas. Okay. I was homesick. And I thought, you know, I thought I, you know, to evoke a cliche, I thought I could go back. So I moved back to West Texas. I moved back to Lubbock. There was a man in my life at the time that gave me a good reason to do so. But the reasons were way more complicated than just a bad relationship.

They were, they were, um, They were about, that was the beginning of kind of sort of feeling the true severing of my present self from my past self. And when I moved back to West Texas, I felt like I was inhabiting the ghost town of my childhood, if that makes sense. I could like, I could remember parts of myself that were attached to different places, but I myself Was changed to some extent.

I didn't feel that I belonged there in the same way. I still think of it as home, but yeah, and then in a purely practical sense, I lived there for two years, met the person who is my husband now. And then we moved to Chicago and we've been there for eight years writing and starting a family together.

Zibby: Well, I could talk to you all day about this book. There's so much. I feel like we just scratched the surface and, you know, congratulations on writing it. I hope it was helpful for you. It's going to help a lot of people. I didn't, I couldn't find you on Instagram, but I, there is a book. By Genevieve Kingston about losing her mother at age 11.

And I want to put the two of you in conversation together because you have very different perspectives, but both had to deal with terminally ill parents. And it sounds like a walloping good time, but I really do think it would be an interesting conversation that the two of you would have. 

Kathleen: I would love to be in touch with her.

Um, you know, I, I think it's amazing. I know you've been experiencing this with your movement through the world, that the way that when you tell a story, You hear other people's stories. Our stories start to resonate together and form a more complete picture. And that's the power of it. So yeah, I would, I would love to meet her.

And then I'm at the quiet wildlife. That's my Instagram handle. Yes. Yes. 

Zibby: All right. I will find you. All right. Well, thank you so much. And we'll be in touch.

Kathleen: Thank you so much. 

Zibby: All right. Bye. Bye.

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Kathleen Dorothy Blackburn, LOOSE OF EARTH

Jessie Rosen, THE HEIRLOOM

Zibby speaks with debut author Jessie Rosen about THE HEIRLOOM, a cinematic and utterly charming novel centered on a deeply superstitious woman and the international adventure she sets out on to uncover the story behind her vintage engagement ring. Jessie reveals this superstition comes from her own Italian family (who think vintage rings carry the karma of previous relationships), and Zibby shares the story behind her own engagement ring. Then, Jessie talks about her career trajectory—from blogger to screenwriting to fiction.

Transcript:

Zibby: Welcome, Jessie. Thank you so much for coming on Moms Don't Have Time to Read Books to discuss The Heirloom.

Jessie: Oh, thank you so much. 

Zibby: Old, someone new. 

Jessie: Yes! Thank you so much for having me. I'm a fan, and I'm just excited to get the chance to talk about it. 

Zibby: Oh my gosh. I have to tell you. So my, well, you know what? You tell what the book's about, and then I want to share this with you. Okay, 

Jessie: so the book is about a woman who has a very strong superstition around vintage engagement rings, meaning they hold the karma of the relationships in which they have been worn in the past.

And I should confess, this is a family superstition for my Italian relatives. So of course she gets proposed to with a vintage ring and she insists on knowing everyone that's ever worn it before. So, so begins a whirlwind adventure around the world and throughout time to discover the origin of the ring, but really to uncover her feelings about why she's so anxious to be married and what that really means for her.

Zibby: So cool. I have thought about this so much because I originally found my ring to my wedding to Kyle in a vintage store in Charleston, South Carolina. And I saw it and was like, but what about the person? What's the story? Right. And I couldn't get it out of my head. And we ended up bringing the ring to New York to have it, you know, looked at or whatever.

Turns out it was totally cracked. So I copied it. So this isn't the original. We sent the original back to the store. But, in the store, and in every vintage store I've been in, I'm just like, surrounded by ghosts. Like, what is the story? And your book is like, It's like what my brain wanted to know the answers to.

You just like went ahead and did and I'm like, thank you very much. I love this. 

Jessie: Me too. Well, you got the best of both worlds, but I feel like I have to promise to readers because of course readers are going to fall in the spectrum in terms of superstitions. That's why I felt like I had an idea in this book because when I was pre engaged and I had this superstition and it came up.

people wanted to debate me non stop about it. And so I just, it felt like, you know, fodder, but I promise to readers, no matter where you fall on the spectrum, you will feel comfortable with the choice of your ring at the end of the novel. Do you think that's fair to say? I think that's fair to say. 

Zibby: I love it.

Yes. It is with everything vintage though. Don't you feel like, like, I feel like a great writing assignment is just like go to a vintage store and make, like, look at a piece and just like tell the backstory of the piece. Go. 

Jessie: Yeah. And that's, I think that's the beauty of it, especially when you feel like, I love that you went into the store in Charleston, you saw the ring and you felt what sounds like deeply connected to it.

Yes. Yeah. I mean, you can't deny that. And there's a bit of that in the book too, really. This idea that, hold on, this feels meant to be, how do I resolve this other feeling I'm having? Yes. And yeah, I'm there all the time. I'm a huge vintage collector. I also come from this very superstitious Italian family.

So there's, you know, resolving those things has been, continues to be a lifelong battle as I sit here. wearing a vintage scarf. 

Zibby: And as I said, you're wearing vintage nothing, but that's okay. But you, uh, in the book, not you, your character in the book, uh, it's very clear that there are things, right? You, this is like how you come out of the gate strong with your character being like you're, I mean, essentially it's like the, her fiance is just not listening to her.

Like that alone would be a warning bell. She outlines very early on that there are four non negotiables. And the fourth one is that you can't. Like, I will not, which is a random thing to have as one of your non negotiables, but like no vintage wedding rings, geisha rings. Yeah. So, even though he has this great reason and it's romantic, you know, blah, blah, blah, it's still a complete, completely defying what she wanted, which is never a good thing.

Shoe to start the right foot. What's that expression? That's the right foot to start on or whatever. 

Jessie: Yeah. And that was one of the huge things that when writing this, I had this idea and of course I had to, you know, have this premise going in that I had to figure out how to resolve. So I had like this story that I wanted to tell as a writer, but then of course it had to follow logic.

So earning that decision from the fiance, whose name is John, but then also using it as a red flag for my main character. That's kind of what I wanted. You know, what is she, what's going to be the thing that kicks off her idea that this really beautiful and perhaps quote unquote the one relationship might not be.

Zibby: Yeah. 

Jessie: Which is terrifying. 

Zibby: It's never good when you have to drag your sister into the bathroom two minutes later. 

Jessie: Yes. Another real life example. Yes. We'll have a bathroom confessional in my family. 

Zibby: Your family sounds awesome. Like, I don't know, what you've said so far in two minutes is like, this is a party I want to go to.

Jessie: Oh, I love it. I love it. Yes. Good food. Very good food. 

Zibby: Great. Kyle, my husband is Italian, so. 

Jessie: Yeah. The best. 

Zibby: It's the best. Yeah. He's such a good cook. Anyway. Okay. You've had the most interesting career to date. I am obsessed with the whole thing. Tell listeners about it, how you started the 20 nothings, how you've transitioned this to this massive thing career and screenwriting and pretty like all the stuff. It's so cool. 

Jessie: Thank you. Yeah. I mean, like many things, there have been these really interesting nudges, both kind of intuition nudges and then really helpful nudges and guidance from people along the way. So my blog, 20 enough things, which was started and listeners probably remember there was like a blog boom around 2004, 2005.

I was against it. Meanwhile, I was writing about my experience of having moved to Manhattan and struggling to be a 20 something as emails and sending them to my friends, who were sending them to friends of friends of friends until someone finally said, really now, this should be a blog. So I think that that fear of kind of exposure and the exposure of writing has always been with me as a confidence issue.

And so again, it took a friend saying, when I read your blog, it's so dialogue heavy. Have you ever considered? So, um, you know, when you grow up on the East Coast, as I did, we didn't have friends in the film and television industry. It was a huge dream. And I was a huge lover of that form of writing. I just never thought it was possible for me.

So all these steps required me to kind of. Take a class at the new school when I lived in Manhattan and buy that book on screenwriting and really very slowly build to the point where I was ready to move to Los Angeles and secured a manager who left the business, secured a second manager who left the business.

Oh no. So, you know, these, there've been these long, these long steps and processes and finally landing with reps that helped guide me to some original content in film and TV, some staffing, but. I think it was five years in Los Angeles before that really started to churn for me. And again, I was really lucky to be with reps that said, we think you should try your hand at prose.

You know, we think that it's an interesting, expansionary voice and very wisely, as I'm sure you appreciate the IP of it all. Owning your content, having that book turn into a film or a television show is just a business model that's become, you know, who knows if it will happen with this novel, but at the same time, just the idea of ownership at all of your property, it's very different in the book world and not.

So with that support, I, I expanded into that kind of work and yeah, it's been, I mean, really, when I look at it, it's been, Almost 18 full years of pursuing different things along the way and never not also dabbling in a little freelance writing to support myself, also doing a little writing coaching, speaking at retreats to support myself.

So it's such a, um. It has to be diverse, I think, to maintain it and your energy around it. I like my brain getting to go between different formats. 

Zibby: That's so cool. So you went to L. A. and then when did you do the Bratz? Right. 

Jessie: Yeah. Yeah. 

Zibby: Tell me more about that. That's so cool. 

Jessie: I was probably about five or six years into really turning on the television writing front and I got approached by, uh, Studio that was looking to almost in the old studio system of we hire a team of writers and this full team is going to be creating content in house for young adult audiences.

And it was so interesting because I am an oldest sister. I have three younger sisters and I think that one of the reasons that I got that job is because they were looking for a showrunner, but really this auntie big sister mentor energy that could come into the room and say, okay, team, this is how we're going to get this done.

And yes, it was about the writing and it was about churning the content, but it was really about setting up systems and about. leadership and about figuring out how to really get a ton of work out of a young cadre of writers and make sure everyone felt okay doing it. And I have to say the one thing I miss in these years I've now gotten to spend writing novels is that dynamic.

I love it. I love being in the mix of this was a group of young women, which is especially, you know, important to me and getting to figure out how we make writing productive. And it's fun how we are nice to each other in the process inside a system in, in Hollywood and Los Angeles that can be very cutthroat.

So I really love that time. 

Zibby: So you're the big sister of Los Angeles, essentially. 

Jessie: A grand title. I don't know. 

Zibby: I don't know. No one else has it. So you might as well grab it. 

Jessie: I'll take it. I love it. 

Zibby: So when you went from, sorry, I'm in New York, so you're hearing lots of sirens. When you went to pros. Like, it doesn't seem like you're just testing it out, like you're really good at it and you have voice obviously down, dialogue down, but that's, you, there's so much else to making a book a good book, right?

Like, so how did you, did you learn that or was it just, did it feel instinctive to you? How to structure it? How did you go about it? 

Jessie: I think three things. First, I had first envisioned the heirloom as a film. So I used that classic beat sheet, save the cat book structure. And I think that helped because I had really clear structure.

Of course I had to expand upon it. So like all that teaching in that style of plot and story development, I think really helped me. But then two things, I have amazing guidance from my literary manager. And then Um, we brought in a book agent for this project and really, truly excellent notes, even direction in terms of, okay, I know you're a reader of this and this, you need to go read this, this and this to hear this and see this, you know, I chose to write this in first person.

That was a huge learning curve for me. So the journey from zero to a manuscript that we sent for submission on heirloom was over two and a half years of really me. really honing the pros of it all and hearing that and getting that right because it was, it is such a different thing. I can't believe how many words you have to put on a single page in the book.

They just, they just go down the middle when it's a screenplay and then, and then it's done. So yeah, such a different thing. So I think it's a testament to people believing in me and giving me really good notes and then me kind of resourcing from it. Absolutely everything I could find to just learn the, learn the craft and to say like to begin to learn the craft, you know, I hope that this is something that becomes a lifetime of, of work for me and I am a beginner.

Zibby: Well, I mean, beginner's luck. I don't know. It works. When you were working on The Heirloom, were there books you looked to that you were like, oh, I want it kind of to feel like this, or these are the comps, or sorry, there's even more sirens out here. There's probably, my, my building is probably, something's probably happening, but it's fine.

I'm not going to stop the podcast no matter what. Were there books you looked to or voices you love that guided you along the way? 

Jessie: Yeah, I feel like I have these three biggest influences, which may seem like such a weird combination of people, but it's always for me, Jane Austen, Judy Blume, Nora Ephron.

And it's, it's, I think that that does make sense. Maybe when you read my writing, there's always like a little social commentary, a little culture commentary like Jane Austen. And then there is some. Yeah. Personal journey stuff, like confronting a big thing like Judy Blume always gave us. And then Nora, I mean, for the rom com of it all.

And for, and you know, I think of Nora's films a little bit more than her books, but Heartburn is a beautiful book. And I of course read it before getting ready for this. So those are kind of the, the elder influences. And then I would read my Rebecca Searle, you know, those kinds of voices that I think had a little bit of what I was trying to achieve in a lot of romance.

and always comedy, but really giving readers an in depth look at this relationship between a woman and herself. Her love for herself and how is she going to tap into that and honor that. So that was something I was always looking to find influence on. 

Zibby: That's a great answer. I also love Judy Blume and Nora Ephron.

I should give those as answers myself. You're welcome to them. I posted recently about Irma Bombeck, who I love. 

Jessie: Oh, yes. And I saw that you were at one of her, um, conferences. They're so good. I've got to get there someday.

Zibby: I also love Anna Quinlan. Yeah. Anyway. But yes, I love the humor that, and just that real, you know, no artifice, right?

Of Judy Blume and Dora Ephron. They, it's their interpretation of the way things are and the funny in the everyday, which you obviously do in the heirloom as well. So that's great. 

Jessie: Thank you. 

Zibby: I love that. 

Jessie: Thank you. 

Zibby: Did you have a cover in mind, and was this it? 

Jessie: Well, I had a dream for what the cover wouldn't look like.

Zibby: Okay. Okay. 

Jessie: Which may be a strange answer, but I really wanted this book to have a chance to differentiate a little bit from the visuals that I think are very strongly rom com oriented, which are of course, and rightly so, images that contain a couple. In any way, shape or form. And of course, that is such a huge part of the book.

But I wanted a cover that made you say, I want to get inside that book. Yeah. I want to go there. I want to feel that. And when we talked about the originally with my publisher Putnam, they were so in support of that. I was thrilled. No, of course, this is a book about an engagement ring. I envisioned a pitch that was.

an engagement ring on the cover. Yeah. But I think we all felt like we wanted to give readers a chance to understand that this was more than that. And that like vibes are going to be heavy. I think that's it. And it's so funny. I gasped when I saw the first draft of the book, because those are the colors of the book, which is this sunset ombre is, is like the colors of my entire closet.

Zibby: Really? 

Jessie: It's like the colors of my soul to me. 

Zibby: Wow. It is absolutely gorgeous. 

Jessie: Yeah. Such a lovely thing. And we need, we need a few, uh, adjustments along the way. So there's a little image of a woman that you'll see gazing out across a distance. And that was something that we decided to add in like a little characterization just to say, you're about to go on this journey to this, take me their place with this woman.

Zibby: I did not even notice the woman. 

Jessie: Yes. Okay, good. She's a, she's an Easter egg. 

Zibby: I had to just put on my glasses to see that, but now I see her and that's awesome. Yeah. Very cool. Oh my gosh. We have like a section. Well, you'll see because you're doing an event at the bookstore, but we have a section on rom coms abroad.

So many people come in wanting that. 

Jessie: Yeah. Yeah. You want that. And I think you want to be transported. I wrote this partly during the pandemic and some of the locations I chose just because I wanted, I wish I was there instead up in my house. Relatable. 

Zibby: Are you working on another book and will it take people lots of other places as well?

Jessie: Yes, I am and it will. So I was really lucky with this sale for it to be part of a two book deal. And the second book we decided not to be a true sequel, but we're calling it A Spiritual Sister, which is you know, you're going to get journey, you're going to get a confronting question that a woman is going through and yeah, we're going to hit the road.

I feel like right now that's just a vibe that I really enjoy of. I know, I think I like a woman and a character that just says, well, If it takes going, I'm going to go, I'm going to get on the plane. I'm going to take the journey. I think that's fun. And I think that it's aspirational. So yeah, we're going, there's some tonal returns to some places and then there's some totally new stuff in the mix.

Zibby: Very cool. I feel like you need to do a trip around these books for other people, like retreats and stuff. You working on any. 

Jessie: Funny you should say that. I mean, it's a very big dream. I'm so focused on this right now. But yeah, I mean, your retreats are a really good example of just when you bring bring people together in.

Beautiful. The beauty of the place and the vibe of the place and the energy. That's why you go on retreats to places instead of having them, you know, in your hometown. Every retreat is worth it but yeah, location. 

Zibby: Yeah. Okay. Maybe we team up for an internet. We'll talk. We'll talk. We'll talk later. Okay.

We'll talk later. I would love to do that. I know I'm like 2025. It's going to be my international year. We can move things. 

Jessie: Yeah, yeah. I love it. 

Zibby: Do you still do? I'm sorry, and I should know this, but are you doing stuff still in the TV screenwriting studio world at the same time?

Jessie: So for the past year, I've been totally focused on getting book one and now developing book two ready.

There is a plan to pitch book one, the heirloom. So that will happen and I'll be out in that world in that capacity, but no, in terms of. Writing in a writer's room or show running a show. It's been about three years since that. And yeah, I miss the people, you know, I miss the connection. Writing is so solitary.

I'm constantly trying to find ways to just bring people into my physical space. Like, do you want to write in my living room and I'll write in my office or vice versa? Just because the social nature of film and television work is great, the collaboration. And so I've been, I really want to stay with prose and stay with novels for a bit and really try to grow this piece of, of my life.

But I also need to find ways. I think that's where the retreats come in. See? This is sounding better and better. 

Zibby: Okay. I'm with you. I'm with you. 

Jessie: Yeah. Yeah. So that's the plan. 

Zibby: That's so exciting. Well, having just taught yourself how to write fiction easily, as it turns out, what kind of advice would you have for somebody who's embarking on a novel?

Jessie: Yeah, I think you have to be a reader to be a writer. I think it's the very first thing is just to consume it. It's almost like you have to get the rhythm. This is, I think, why I struggled because I had a rhythm of television and film writing in my bones and in the way that I approach things, the rhythm of the structure of what it sounds like and how like single paragraphs or chapters flow is so important.

But then I think the other thing you have to do Go like almost like do that and then erase it from your mind because the idea is what it's about You'll figure out the structure. Someone will help you. There are so many people between one more time retreats coaches and You know amazing places where you can go to learn the craft I am often so frustrated for writers when I hear that they think they can't do the prose Oh, I can't I write this, I could never do that because I think that's important, but also forget about it.

You will, you will learn it and consider yourself a beginner because then the pressure is off for it to, it to be perfect. Go with the idea, find the character, start to let it flow, and then you'll fix all the rest. I mean, that's how I did it, certainly. 

Zibby: So why would you not just take the heirloom and write the script yourself?

Jessie: Yeah. So when we pitch it, I am, it is my dream to attach myself as the, uh, to do the adaptation and that process, we'll just kind of see how the cookie crumbles. If there is interest in, you know, someone, a producer or a studio kind of taking that on, or if it turns out that I need to spec it or write it on spec, we'll see what happens.

Zibby: So you wouldn't just do it on spec to have it to pitch. 

Jessie: Not at this juncture. And a little bit of that is just, I wrote the manuscript, the book manuscript on stack instead of trying to sell off proposal. And that was kind of that process. And now I think it may be just the way that, and all writers should know this.

The. The market for interest in books and IP is just huge. It's bigger than ever. And I think that allows writers, you know, my goal for every writer is to get paid to write the work and that's not always possible. And it has not always been possible for me. And so there are moments when you say to yourself, the wisest investment is one of my own time in writing this on spec and not getting paid.

And then there are these moments when you say, I wonder if we could take this out and we could sell this and I could be paid to write the first draft of the script. And, you know, it's a, it's, it's always an in and out with that. It's hard to know, but yeah, that's the goal. 

Zibby: Excellent. Wow. Okay. So what are other superstitions of your family that might be?

Might or might not make appearances in fiction. 

Jessie: Right. We have this very weird one that you cannot enter from a door and exit from a different door. So it's this huge superstition around houses. And entering a home and being in a home and then exiting a home. So that is one that always comes to mind. I don't know if it's fodder for a whole book, but that's a big one.

And then there are a lot of superstitions that aren't so much don't do something, but do do something. So like, Line up the plastic statues of the saints and each one of them has a special if you bury this one in the backyard upside down you sell your house. If you wear this one around a necklace while you're pregnant, you have a beautiful pregnancy like all these sorts of things.

So I think it would be fun to play with one of those almost like an inverse of the heirloom. The heirloom is kind of a don't do this or else superstition. And I think it would be fun to play with the superstition that's like, Oh, If you do this, this will happen. 

Zibby: Wow. I love it. So what part of Italy is, are all your family members from?

Jessie: They're all from kind of, if you go like down to Naples and then go a little bit, I guess that would be east into the countryside. So some really small towns, the biggest town is Salerno, which is actually on the coast, but then there's some teeny towns in the, in the middle towns. I have not been to, which is.

potentially even more fodder for some future work because I'd love to get there. Yeah. And just see if there's any of the last names of the family still in the mix. I don't, I think I strayed, if I remember correctly, I don't think any of the last names in the book are exactly the last names of my family, which was also kind of a different version of a superstition, you know?

Let's just take a one vowel step away from this. 

Zibby: Interesting. But close. Close? 

Jessie: Yeah, exactly. 

Zibby: Not exactly. 

Jessie: Honoring, but not, uh, yeah, exactly not easy. 

Zibby: And when you're not writing, and in LA and all that, what are some of your go to things to do? Are there restaurants you love? 

Jessie: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. My husband and I are big, both big restaurant foodies and also just people that like to cook for others.

So having dinner parties and having people over in our, in our little house, I'm a dog mama, so I've got, you know, dog hikes and fun things like that. And then we love to travel. One of the things, as much as I miss living in New York and on the East coast, one of the nice things about Los Angeles is you can hop in your car and get up to, you know, a wine country in two hours, you can get east to Palm Springs, you can get down to San Diego.

So we like to kind of pop in the car and go up and discover somewhere. Our current favorite is the San Ynez Valley. And I feel like, I feel like you may have done a retreat there. There's like the Los Olivos area and just discovering new wines and food there. 

Zibby: Oh, uh, California is great.

Jessie: I mean, I go two hours.

Zibby: Where am I like Philly or something? Anyway. 

Jessie: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. 

Zibby: No, no, nothing, nothing wrong with Philly. In fact, I'm doing that drive soon, but it's not the wine country. Let's put it. Yeah. Yeah. Natural beauty.

Jessie: Exactly. 

Zibby: And I know you have your favorite authors, but are you reading anything that you can't put down?

Or has there been something lately? 

Jessie: Yeah. So I'm writing fiction. So I'm writing book two right now. And so it's really hard. It's hard for me to read fiction in the middle of writing fiction. That is to say, I do have Rebecca Storr's expiration dates on my bedside right now because I just, I couldn't resist.

But I'm actually reading something so interesting. It's called Burnout by Emily and Amelia Nagoski. I think it may have been about like a year or two ago. It's fascinating about the process of like unloading stress, how you do it, what it looks like physically, why you do it and you know, what better time than when I'm launching a book and trying to write a second one.

I just felt like I needed tools and this book is fascinating, so I highly recommend. 

Zibby: Interesting. Okay. Amazing. Well, Jessie, this has been so much fun. I really hope I get to meet you perhaps this weekend, perhaps another time, but this has been great. 

Jessie: I appreciate it. 

Zibby: Yeah. 

Jessie: Thank you. 

Zibby: Thank you. 

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Jessie Rosen, THE HEIRLOOM

Lisa Barr, THE GODDESS OF WARSAW

Zibby is joined (for the third time!) by New York Times bestselling author Lisa Barr, this time to discuss THE GODDESS OF WARSAW, an utterly gripping WWII story about a young Jewish actress turned assassin. The protagonist, Bina Blonski, uses her looks and talent to escape the Warsaw Ghetto, ultimately rising to Hollywood fame—and continuing to fight against Nazis. Lisa explains how her own family history (she is the daughter of a Holocaust survivor) influenced this book and then delves into her research process and the novel’s relevance to today’s current events. She and Zibby touch on the ongoing fight against antisemitism and the importance of standing against hate.

Transcript:

Zibby: Welcome, Lisa. Thank you so much for coming back on Moms Don't Have Time to Read Books for, what, the third time now? Third time?

Lisa: It is the third time, and, and I was one of your original anthology writers, like, way back, way before Zippyverse. 

Zibby: That's true. Way before the Zippyverse. Uh, you were OG member, I feel like one of the first to come to events here. 

Lisa: Totally. I'm so proud of you. 

Zibby: Oh my gosh. Well, you've been an integral part of the whole thing.

And I swear, the day you hit the New York Times list, like, I was jumping in my kitchen. I was so excited. So excited for you. That was just, I don't know. I feel like it happened to me. It was so exciting when it happened to you. 

Lisa: So exciting. And it was, I think you called me, it was like 11 30 at night and you're like, I'm crying.

And I was just, it was a big moment. Yeah. 

Zibby: Oh my gosh. 

Okay. Let's go to the goddess of Warsaw for a minute. All right. The goddess of Warsaw. Please tell everyone what it's about. Your latest book. Congratulations. 

Lisa: Thank you so much. So the Goddess of Warsaw is about a World War II assassin, but this was not a woman born an assassin.

She was born an actress, a young actress from a prominent family who did not, so to speak, or quote, look Jewish. She actually was blonde, blue eyed, a beautiful young woman, and really at the beginning of her career. And, Then the Nazis attacked Poland and her family. They, with the rest of Warsaw's Jews, which was the biggest Jewish community in the world, was, uh, in Poland, were sequestered and killed.

Trapped inside a ghetto, and so she very quickly had to survive with those who were there that were left and needed to survive. There was no food, there was, you know, medicine, everything that we take for granted was gone. And so she had to use her looks, her appearance, her acting ability, her intelligence in order to get outside of the ghetto.

And blend in and smuggle. So it began with smuggling, then became, uh, she became an assassin. And through twists and turns, she makes her way to America and rises to become Lena Browning. So she went from Beena Blonsky to Lena Browning. leaving her past behind but not really. So basically she rises so high as a Hollywood actress that she uses her sets in order to continue her war against the Nazis who came to America and were living free and easy and hiding and she was an assassin.

So her job Never ended throughout her career. And so it was for me. I literally threw in the whole kitchen sink. Everything I love to write and read and was probably the most personal book. Um, as you know, I'm a daughter of a Holocaust survivor. So it was, uh, very intensive writing this book for sure. 

Zibby: Oh my gosh.

Wait, Lisa, can you share? I know because we're involved in all sorts of Jewish advocacy and just like, you know, and we're friends and whatever, but can you share with everybody else, your family's history and how this is so personal for you? 

Lisa: So it's crazy and I'm sure I'm not the only author who says this, but given this book is really a David versus Goliath, you know, Jews versus Nazis and really centered around the greatest uprising in Jewish history.

It's crazy when I was editing this, and I'm going to get to your question. How eerily, and I started this book over two years ago, researching eerily relevant this book. Is to today's events and I would read through and literally words and events that were happening were happening right now. It was like 1944 was 1924.

And so for me personally, as a daughter of a Holocaust survivor, my, my dad was 13 years old when he survived with his immediate family, his grandparents and aunts and uncles. Everyone perished in Auschwitz. And his immediate family survived because they were from Poland and they refused to become Russian citizens.

The Russians sent them to Siberia and very much like the, I'm blanking on the, the Netflix series that's on right now, but very similar story to what's happening. So. They came here and, you know, with nothing and he rose to become a prominent ophthalmologist and, you know, selling socks on Maxwell Street to put himself through medical school, you know, all the stories.

And, you know, my grandma actually, I will always say she's my, was my very best friend. So she lost everything, but such a fighter, such a woman filled with joy. And she is the voice in my head, I'm sure. You have a voice in your head. She's my voice, and she's the reason I write what I write and fight for what I fight for.

And so this book is a little bit of a swan song to her, you know, just, I don't know, that fighter in me. And, you know, now more than ever, I feel happy that at least I can go on the road with this book as my book to take to, you know, wherever I go because my head space is all over the place right now. And um, so this, I, for me personally, this is very meaningful and important.

And uh, this is where we at it, where we're at. It's a new crazy reality. That's happening. I think so. 

Zibby: Well, there, there's nothing like specificity in storytelling to make you feel and understand what other people are going through, right? I mean, you have people, you can feel people. Like, you know, wandering through sewers, or like, you can feel and smell and the way you write is so, you know, place specific, so you're like, oh, wow, you know, and even that you have characters with regular, quote unquote, regular feelings, right?

Like, even though people were there. Yeah. trying to escape and trying to survive. They still had crushes. They still had longing and, you know, all of that was still part of it. How do you, how do you even deal, like, where does that all come from? And tell me about that. 

Lisa: Okay. So, so interesting when you, when I was deep diving into the ghetto, you know, you just picture, picture like people starving, laying dead on the Street, you know, just the images of dark gray and black.

But I mean, the movie cabaret, this was happening in the ghetto. There were five, there were symphonies, there were a cabaret, there were a standup comedians, there were bars, people were meeting, people were getting dressed up, they were living normal lives. And in fact, I found that one of the A woman that I interviewed who survived the ghetto and who was in her 90s, she came from a very prominent family and she said her father, until he was taken, in the end, he was giving her French lessons.

French lessons! What, why would you possibly have French lessons in the ghetto? But the reason is, to give her a vision that she was going to live a vision of the future of you know, that she was going to be part of the world, not trapped in this desolate, you know, disgusting ghetto where, but that there was going to be a future for her.

And she survived five concentration camps at a. Beautiful family, all of those things, but really she never forgets, forgot the French lessons her father made her, you know, learn. So, so I think to your question, people have crushes, people were having sex, people were, you know, girls were, you know, in love with, you know, the boy who was selling whatever the newspaper, it was just, And they were trying to forge a real life amid hell.

And so, you know, I, I wanted to capture that as well. You know, it's, it's, was the reality of what was happening there. And as I wrote the book, there were a lot of things that people will ask me. I mean, I have an author's note that I discussed some of the real life events that were captured in the book, but a lot of people would say, is this even real?

Did this happen? Um, And, yeah, because, as we know, if you survived, it's surviving through extraordinary experiences. It's, it's not anything that's ordinary. The ordinary people achieved extraordinary experiences of survival. So, it was, it was crazy, but it was very fascinating to go deep, to deep dive into that part of history.

Zibby: I mean, looking back, we know that it was, a step on the way to sort of mass extermination. But they didn't know that then, right? Like they, like, imagine we were all taken somewhere. Like, would, would our thoughts and feelings, would we stop doing work? Like, do you know what I mean? 

Lisa: No, you, so that's exactly right.

So they were told that these trains were, you were going to a beach town. Like they thought, a lot of them thought they were going like vacation, you know? And, and so, and they, and the Nazis. The Nazis were brilliant at compartmentalizing and keeping it quiet until, you know, because no one survived basically to, you know, but there were people who escaped and then the story got out and that was the really important having couriers to deliver the message to the world.

Unfortunately, very similar to what's going on now, a lot of the world, you know, they were anti Semitic and they did not care, you know, but. There were good people. There were, you know, wonderful, caring Poles who did save a lot of people and, and did go the extra mile at their own risk. And, you know, it's, you know, I, I, I know we've talked about this through different groups, but, you know, being this author that I am, historical fiction, Uh, or historical suspense writer with a Holocaust type of brand.

It's been tough. I mean, there have been review bombings going on, which we've discussed. I had to, and this was very hard for me. I had my launch at my favorite bookstore that I've done over 30 events with, and they canceled another Jewish author. I'm not going to out names or anything like that, but I had to make a decision.

How could I with this book launch at this bookstore? And I did give them the opportunity to apologize to the community and it did not happen. So, it was, it was, it's things that you cannot believe. Like, I'm picturing my grandparents and my great grandparents, I'm like, you know, And how is this even possible, but it's happening.

So you know, it's, it's tough times, but I think I always say the silver lining for the Jewish world right now is the Jewish world is coming together in ways that we haven't before. So what I'm excited about with this book is that I'm touring in and not just specifically Jewish book. You know, council or areas, a lot of places that my readers are going to feel, you know, are not going to know my history.

So I'm, I'm very excited to share this. with readers out there. Do you ever feel scared? Like, are you worried? I don't feel scared. I, I get nervous, like I get butterflies, but then once, you know, it's like, I, I think you pinpointed it exactly. I, you had, um, something you posted and it's that sickening feeling when you know you're about to post something that's going to be very important and resonate with people.

And, you know, you sort of have that. Where you can't breathe for a minute and then you hit send and then you see that it resonates and it's like this feeling so I feel like there, you know, yes, there could be protesters and various things, but I'm not going to stand down. I mean, you know me. I'm, you know, kind of a tough chick that way.

But I mostly worry for my kids, not for myself, if that's, if that makes any sense. But, you know, we'll see what happens. But I'm, the thing about this book, it really is, I, there's a universal theme of, you know, how, like, what is, The, you know, the fine line between the, the pursuit of justice and the hunt for revenge.

And it could be anyone or anything. And, you know, and just as a person, when you do, when someone is paid back or we have our, like, Oh, karma's a bitch, you know, it's like, and then, you know, something bad happened to a bad person and you're like, okay, there's justice. So. The question is, is there an expiration date when justice is done?

Is that person who's seeking justice, is there an inner peace that happens? And usually there's not, you know, and so that is sort of explored. As well, and the price tag of survival. So if someone is, you know, in a terror attack and someone is not, what is the guilt, the feelings, the price tag of survival and going on, that's explored as well.

So there are universal themes that are pretty powerful in the book. 

Zibby: I mean, we're, we're, this will air closer to your launch date. But as we're talking, you know, in our group chat, people are posting about the 50 people who have committed suicide, who were part of the survivors of the attacks of October 7th.

It was just, I mean, it's like, how do you glance at your phone, read a thing like that, put the phone down and then just like, okay, back to emails. Jeremy, it's like the effects of everything today are so far ranging And a book like yours coming out now is so incredibly important because the survivor effects have, I mean, this is going to reverberate for generations as well, right?

I mean, it's. 

Lisa: Yeah, it is. It's the world is, is changed and you know, the world is We know it is, is very changed. And, you know, obviously there are people who you could say, they say, you know, I can't look at the news. If I want to function during this day, I need to shut it off. Or you have someone like me where I'm, you know, checking four newspapers an hour just to see.

And, and I also know that that's not totally healthy at all. You know, because you feel like you have one foot in this world and you know, your, your kids are saying, Oh my God, I need this new bathing suit. And you're like, Oh my God, you know, you know, there's hostages there, you know, whatever it is, you know, where, and yet you want.

Your family and your kids to go on is normal, but I do remember when I was in Jerusalem and I, this is when I was a young reporter and there was a war going on and my friend who was serving was out, you know, having drinks and having a good time. And I said to him, I said, how can you possibly like enjoy your life and, and do all these things when your, your, your friends have died?

And he said, They died so I could do this. So I have to do this. I have to go out. I have to dance. I have to sing. I have to have fun because that's what they lost their lives for. So we could have a normal life. And I, you know, I was, I, that just always goes through my head all the time. You know, you have certain voices or things.

Along the way that's one of them for sure. So as as we were saying like I'm happy My kids or my family are thinking about normal types of things, even though I'm like all over the place you know. 

Zibby: It's like they're still learning French, right? 

Lisa: Yes. Yeah, exactly Yeah. 

Zibby: Tell me more about the writing of this book and the research involved I know you mentioned some first person interviews, but what else did you have to do and did you Did you go to the ghetto?

Have you been to the Warsaw Ghetto? 

Lisa: No, I have not been to the Warsaw Ghetto. I, you know, just, I did a deep dive. I read through fabulous books. I did a lot of interviews. And, um, I, really, you know, as we're, when we know our story, we sort of know what we need for a story. But I did have, you know, I worked closely with the Illinois Holocaust Museum.

And so they gave me great, you know, background and testimonials and piles and piles of stuff. And I'm sort of a geek that way, old school, like I love all my research books and my, you know, You know, highlighters and my papers and old, like, my, you know, microfilms, you know, all those things that are very old school.

So I was sitting at the Holocaust Museum in the library by myself, surrounded literally by the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, and Really, you know, there were, you know, 400, 000 Jews were in a space like a, and not even 11 miles space. I mean, we're talking seven people minimum crammed in one room, and the wealthier people had maybe three in a room.

Like, even though they lost everything, there were still hierarchies of things that went on, but I Surrounded myself in the Warsaw ghetto uprising and, and, you know, having had, as I said, you know, a family that came from Poland, I had a lot of background and there are a couple major stories in Jewish history that I've always connected with.

And one was Masada, the whole story behind Masada and Jews who stand strong in the face of hate and evil and persecution. and the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. I always knew, even as I was doing in all my other books, Nazi looted art, that I was going to get to this. This was the one. And, you know, I feel like this is my strongest book.

You know, I don't know what's going to be with it, but it is for me. I, I, I feel like it, it says everything. It's, it's who I am as a and as a woman and as, you know, having my background. So, You know, it's, it's going to be interesting for sure. 

Zibby: And you even get in a little bit about aging and what it is to be a woman here.

You know, when you have an aging beauty and like, what is that? I mean, you know, you're really getting it all. We're getting it on all sides here, you know, possibly be worrying about. 

Lisa: Yeah, no, it's and really like it is. It's like that whole old Hollywood actress still hanging on, but she she's got sort of the Margot Robbie actress who's coming to interview her and everything and they forge.

Later on in the book, a beautiful friendship and sort of the mother daughter situation that each one of them needed, but this old broad Lena Browning is going to have the last act and that's what I even when I set out to write this book. I knew that she was going to have the last act last word. So, you know, it's always fun when you have a target.

I mean, I'm sort of a writer where I am a hybrid of our plot or pants or situation. You know, we always talk about. But that was one plot point that was going to happen, for sure. 

Zibby: So I know you are already working with the one and only Sharon Stone on adapting your, your previous work. But what about this one?

Has, has she taken this up? I mean, she could be this older.

Lisa: I, she, she really, really could. I mean, you can picture her doing this. I, you know, I think Sharon, interestingly, through COVID, she's taken a huge, right turn or left turn, whatever you want to call it into painting. So she's finding her new like mode of expression.

And I think she's in love. So with that, and I'm happy for her, you know, it's, you know, she's the typical Hollywood it girl. And when you age in Hollywood, either they grab you later or they discard you. And so, you know, this is a type of woman who will never, Go down, you know, she will go her way all the way.

And so she's, she's, she's funny. She's nice. I like really nice and very much of a cheerleader, which is, you know, you don't always see that and she really is. So we'll see what happens with that. 

Zibby: Oh my gosh. What is your next book? You must have said yes. 

Lisa: So interestingly, I had a book that I was working on and this is again before October 7th and had to do with hostages.

So I kind of had, so I, I had to put that aside because it's just, it's too much. Yeah. But this one is on. It's also, it's just beginning and it's, it's also World War II, a part of history that even my editor who's kind of specializes in World War II history had never really heard of it. And there's art, there's intrigue, there's deception.

You know, there's going to be some great passionate scenes, you know, because you got to go war and you got to go passion, put it together. That's kind of, uh, you know, what I enjoy. And so I'll tell you more details once it finalizes. Our art is really a big part of it, but a very different angle. 

Zibby: Wow. How do you, I know you're so focused and so helpful and so, so much of just a warrior when it comes to fighting all of the current day antisemitism and everything.

And often people say, well, like, what can we do to help? Or is there anything we can do? If there are people listening who just, their heart is going out to Jewish people or they don't agree with anti Semitism or, you know, whatever, is there anything that you want to say to them? You know, for how they can help, aside from by the Goddess of Corsa, which is, of course, very helpful.

Learning history and all that. 

Lisa: I, I, I think, you know, you know, I've used my social media platform to write, to, as some opinion types of pieces, and obviously to stand strong and to fight, but I think Most people are against hate. Most people like despise what's going on. I mean, we're talking people who are not Jewish, but maybe have Jewish friends, Jewish, what, it doesn't matter, but overall.

So when you see they are taking a message you write and they are putting it in their own stories and they are supporting it and they're standing up and. Even in the smallest way, even if it's just a personal call where I've had people reach out and say, Hey, I, I see what's going on. I'm with you and I'm here for you.

If you need me, it's any sort of small voice, big voice, you know, helps. And, you know, there's no magical solution to stopping antisemitism. And obviously so many parents are seeing what's going on in campuses. And it's, it's. Disruptive. And, you know, I'm all for freedom of expression, but this is a new level of hate.

You know, it's, it's next level hate. And so I think when people are standing up, whether it's to their university president to say, Hey, I'm not Jewish. My kid is at your school and I'm seeing what's going on. You need to do more or something like that. Every small message helps and reaching out to your Jewish friends, letting them know, Hey, we see you is probably the most important advice right now.

Obviously, if we were in a true Holocaust situation, we would need them in a different level. But this right now, uh, is You know, the we see you we are here for you. We stand against hate all kinds of hate and that's really important. I think. 

Zibby: I think so too. Um, well, you know, it's crazy to do this in mid April and know this is, you know, by the time this comes out, what will have happened when we're in the middle of attacks and who knows.

So saying a little. Prayer that by the time the message of your book comes out things are better and that works like yours are just so important and you know the fun with which you tell your story is in that little dash of Sexiness and whatever, you know, you always keep everyone's attention And that lust and you know, like you said passion and pain, you know interwoven in this like delicate beautiful braid so kind of like a holla.

I'll just Throw that out there. 

Lisa: Exactly. No, I just think that no matter what's going on, like, we have those human needs. And just really briefly, I remember doing research, uh, for a book, someone else's book, and they asked me to write a chapter on Rwanda. And um, I had done some research. some work when I was a reporter and interviewing a psychiatrist who was who was dealing with refugees and kids who saw horrible things.

And she said, the psychiatrist said to me, she was the most surprised that people weren't talking about the rape of their sister or their anything they were talking about. That boy doesn't like me. He likes another girl here. And it's just, it's the basic human need. And so you, and, and I just, and that, that's in the book.

And I just remember how important that is in times of war, in times of peace. You know, we just, we have love. We, we have needs for passion. We have needs to feel liked, respected, all those things. And it doesn't change. In any society, it's the same thing and so that universality is such that message is so important.

I think. 

Zibby: Amazing. 

Lisa, congratulations, the goddess of Warsaw. 

Lisa: Thank you, Zibby, for all that you do. All that you do for authors, for books, for your friends, your family, it's amazing and we love you and appreciate you and I'm so glad that I get to call you friend on top of being a colleague and I'm really proud of you.

Zibby: Thank you! You too. Bye. 

Lisa: See you later. Bye. 

Zibby: Bye.

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Lisa Barr, THE GODDESS OF WARSAW

Dr. Mary Claire Haver, THE NEW MENOPAUSE

Pioneering women’s health advocate and New York Times bestselling author Dr. Mary Claire Haver chats with Zibby about THE NEW MENOPAUSE, an enlightening guide with everything a woman needs to know to thrive during her hormonal transition and beyond. Dr. Haver shares her journey to becoming a leading advocate for women’s health during menopause and then touches on her own struggles with it, including weight gain, night sweats, and joint pain. She also discusses hormone therapy, which she endorses, and then delves into the importance of better medical education and personalized healthcare for women.

Transcript:

Zibby: Welcome to Zibby's Bookshop. We are so excited to have Dr. Mary Claire Haver here. Number, this is her second week at number one on the New York Times bestseller list.

Amazing. So I'm sure she needs no introduction, but is the foremost expert on menopause, changing life for all of us who has had their lives changed already. Oh my gosh. Amazing. Okay. Dr. Haver, kick it off. What does everyone need to know and why did you decide to dedicate your life to this and write a book about it?

Dr. Haver: So I was a basic OBGYN, very happy for most of it, you know, in my practice, delivering babies and doing pap smears and, you know, taking care of us through multiple phases of life. I didn't have a ton of menopausal patients. When I was younger, getting started, you tend to have babies with your patients and we're aging together.

So we're all kind of, in general, going through this phase of life together. And I was telling them things like, Oh, just work out more and eat less. And, you know, when they'd come in complaining of weight gain, and I was really terrified of hormone therapy. I didn't understand that the Women's Health Initiative had been Walked back.

So many of the, you know, claims have been overestimated and the actual protective benefits had been, you know, undersold and I was going through a really rough time in my own life when I was going through menopause. I'd lost my brother and I was grieving and I was having horrific, horrific joint pain and night sweats and brain fog and not able to sleep and sleep disruption and pain.

I gaslit myself, so I was grieving and I just kind of attributed everything, which there was definitely a part of it, but it took me months and realizing my grief was getting better, that I was still feeling horrible and not sleeping. And, and when the hot flashes just were just unbearable, I kind of treated.

Hormone therapy. Like I treated an epidural, you know, for myself, like we'll see how we do, you know, and get the active, getting an epidural was like throwing in the towel. Like I wasn't strong enough and it was the best fricking thing I've ever done in my life. If you've ever had one. So yeah. Um, I was three centimeters, by the way.

So three, when I got my epidural, like you weren't supposed to get it till four, but we lied. The nurse lied for me and then we got it. The anesthesiologist to come in. So that was me. So. Just that whole experience and transition, you know, I really, really struggled with the 20 pound weight gain through the menopause transition.

It was all in my midsection. I had been a thin person with twin privilege most of my life, you know, most of my adult life outside of pregnancy and college stuff, you know, and could not get the weight off. And like, that was, if anybody ever read Galveston diet, you know, that was part of the initial part of my journey.

But so I kind of took to social media to talk about that experience. And then that led to more and more questions about menopause in general. So instead, I'm a curious person. So instead of being dismissive, I was curious and I would go and look things up and be like, Wait, frozen shoulder actually is related to menopause.

So I'd find an article and post about it and a million people would go crazy on the internet. So most of what is in this book, like in the toolkit in the last section, was informed by you guys. It's telling me what you were going through and the symptoms that you had that led needed to go find research to support what you were saying.

And the saddest part, you know, really the crux of why I wrote this book is no one taught me this. And I, I know a lot of stuff. I'm really smart and no one in the American Board of OB GYN that recertifies us every year was saying, Hey, this new menopause information is important. We spend a third of our lives.

as menopausal people. And it's like our value in medicine plummets after reproduction. You know, I love my children. I loved being pregnant and the whole experience and, you know, the miscarriages. And that was such a beautiful part of my life, but like, I'm not dead, you know, and I want, you know, and I thought after, as soon as Galveston Diet was like birthed, I was immediately pregnant again, trying to get this book and into the world, because that is what I felt like everyone was telling me, you know, you know.

On social, write a book, write a book. There's too many videos for me to go through. Can't you just get it all together in one section? And so, very long answer to, you know, your very simple question. 

Zibby: That's what it's for. That's good. I went through the line really quickly before and asked what the best part of this stage of life was.

And I would say 75 percent of this tiny little sample size here said not caring as much what people think. What does that have to do with menopause? Tell me what the link there. 

Dr. Haver: I think, and this is, this is opinion, but just talking to so many people and now I have a menopause clinic and like, we get to this point in our lives where if we don't take care of ourselves, we're going to fall apart.

And, and you learn how to prioritize. Like I have boundaries now that I've never had in my life and I've never had a healthier relationship. You know, like, like it's so healthy and I prioritize my own health. Like I'm not, I'm putting my own oxygen mask on for my kids can make a meal. You know, they can, whatever.

I mean, I love my children, but, you know, they, I, I just, and you're, you're like, give a shit factor. And the weight of other people's expectations just kind of like goes out the window. So, and that's really been the best part. I mean, I fit, so I'll be 56 in a couple of months. I'm the happiest I've ever been.

This is the best part of my life. And I am healthier, better relationships. wealthier, better, entrepreneur, badass, you know, like, and I couldn't have done this at 40. I wasn't in that place in my life where I could have made that happen. And I want that for everyone. And whatever that looks like for you, like, this doesn't have to be the end.

And when I realized I was menopausal, it was like the world, was dark for a minute, you know, I was not excited about it. I was like, Oh my God, Oh my God, ew, you know, I like, and I thought, and, and that was based on the old menopause. And this is the new menopause. This is a celebration. This is the best time of our lives, but it is a, this is a biopsychosocial upheaval for us, for a lot of us in multiple different ways.

And if, you know, but we can take control of this and hopefully this book will be a guidebook for you guys at this part of our lives. 

Zibby: I didn't know until I read the book that there was even such a thing called post menopause. That we should be aware of. Like, was this, was a thing. It was just perimenopause or menopause dot, dot, dot, right.

Dr. Haver: Well, menopause medically is one day. So one year, one day, the one. One year past your last menstrual period, that day is your menopause day. Happy birthday, you know. And everything after that is post menopause. And so forever, people only define menopause by having hot flashes and symptoms. But like, our bones are not doing well.

You know, our muscles are starting to deteriorate forever. And you know, part of that is aging. Yes, we're all aging. But these things accelerate in menopause. And like, Knowing this, you know, and I just think menopause should be optional. Have you figured out exactly how to do that? There's some really, like, so my daughter's here, poor Maddie.

Hi, she's 20. So, you know, it's, my ovaries are dead, and so they're not, there's no way to resuscitate them. But I'm hopeful that for this generation, that they will, they're working on pharmacology to extend the shelf life of the ovary. Not for pregnancy, I mean, if you want that, but you know, but for enough estrogen production to continue to keep your bones, your brains, and your hearts strong.

Zibby: So hormone replacement therapy, as you mentioned, got such a bad rap for a while, but in the book you extolled the benefits. Tell us why this is something we all should consider. 

Dr. Haver: So I don't think every woman will choose it and, but I think every woman deserves a conversation and that's not what's happening in most of your offices that you go to when you're looking for care.

You're being dismissed, denied, and it's really a lack of education in the medical training system and that is where on the like advocacy level, this is where the menopause is working. It's to demand that the American Board of American College of OBGYN, but. This should not be dumped in the lap of the poor, busy OB GYN.

We got to deliver babies and do pap smears and all the things. Like this is an all medicine problem. This is internal medicine and surgery and orthopedics. And, you know, so the menopause is made up of psychiatrists, cardiologists, you know, all, and all of us have bonded together saying this isn't right and that we deserve more and better and the funding and the research and the dollars and the brain power to, to come to us.

So, so hormone therapy. It's simply replacing the hormones that your ovaries used to make. And why would we do that? Well, one, the acute symptoms. The hot flashes, the night sweats, the sleep disruption, the mental health changes, that, that stuff. So, so then we tamper down the, you know, the immediate problem.

And then you feel like you get your life back. Now we're going to try to protect you, the protective benefits. for the next 30, 40 years. So to keep your bones strong so you don't fall and break that hip. And then you die. You know? So that, you have decreased your risk of dementia. But it turns out we have, and you don't have a heart attack.

You have a heart attack later than you would have otherwise. So we're all gonna die. We haven't fixed that problem yet. But the fact of the matter is, Females live longer than males, two to four years, depending on which study you look at. We all know this, but we live 25 percent of our lives in poorer health than our male counterparts.

And we're three to four times more likely to end up in a nursing home and requiring long term care. So that last 10 years tends to be marked with this. deficiency and decline and you not being able to take care of yourself. And so when I have patients in clinic, that's what we're talking about. HRT is one tool in that toolkit, but it's not for everyone.

So if that's not an option for you or you choose not to do it, then we have to double down on the other pillars of health. And that's what the toolkit is about. The nutrition, the movement, the, you know, who's got a way to vest. Yeah. 

Zibby: So, you know, little hacks and tools and things that we can do to stay healthy longer.

Is this not the time to reveal that I only walked 254 steps all of yesterday? 

Dr. Haver: We all have that, you know, we all have better days. 

Zibby: Like, did I even go to the bathroom? Oh my gosh. What did I do? Anyway. It was, it was a, it was a rough day. Anyway. But I know that exercise is one of the things that you recommend.

So. I was also really taken in the book when you said, just as you were starting to talk about now, about breaking your hip, that you can die. Yeah. Within three years. 

Dr. Haver: The stats, if you're over the age of 65, which is nine years away from me, okay, and I fall and break my hip but even with surgical repair, I have a 29 percent chance of death in the first year and within the first year.

If I'm not healthy enough for surgery, which happens to a lot of women, go follow Vonda Wright, then I have a 79 percent chance of death. And that year is marked with horrific decline and horrific, you know, just a really, really tough last year of my life. So, we can prevent probably 50 percent of that with really aggressive.

You know, HRT is definitely preventative, and I don't know why the U. S. Preventative Health Task Force has not recommended it, and I think it is a crime. You know, it is preventative for your bones to, to, you know, decrease the deterioration. But there's other things, you know, the weighted vest, the resistance training, the protein, the creatine, we talk about all this in the book, you know.

These things are, we can make them much less likely with intervention, and the earlier you start, the better. 

Zibby: There are so many things, though, that are recommended for all of us. And we're all already busy doing all the things that we've been doing the rest of our lives. So, of all these things to do and to start to make sure that we don't end a horrible life.

The rest of our lives. How do you know which ones to prioritize and which to make time for? 

Dr. Haver: When I have a patient come in, we look at her, first of all, we look at her family history. What did your mom have? What did your aunts have? Like, what are, what are your, what is your, your grandmother's, what are, what is genetics pointing you towards?

And we start working on those things first because it is overwhelming. The book's filled with 9, 000 things and a hundred supplements and whatever, but like what is bothering you? What's keeping you up at night? What acute things do we need to address so you can sleep every night? So, you can mentally function at work.

So, you know, we, we fix the acute first and then we start looking down the road at what are your personal risk factors and how are we going to address those. 

Zibby: Okay. That works. We'll start there. And as you said before, you are not everyone's doctor. You are. I'm not licensed in the state of California to practice medicine, so yeah.

How does it feel at this stage in your life, which you, really at any stage in life, to become a celebrity in your field? What is that like to have, like, over a million followers hanging on your every word and knowing that you're, like, a leader in this whole thing? How do you feel? 

Dr. Haver: So, it's, to be a social media person who becomes famous on that route, it's very lonely because I am literally sitting in my bed like this.

with a research article that stimulated me that morning trying to, like, make something. So it's not like I'm in a room full of people or I'm on a stage talking. I mean, this is rare for me, really. Not this week or last week, but, you know, with the book launch. But in my everyday life on social, I am alone, doing this alone.

And I don't, I'm sending stuff out into the world and I don't know what's gonna happen to it. So it's a little bizarre, you know, to, like, all of a sudden walk into a space or walk through the airport and people recognize you. So, Annabeth probably does it She's an actress. So, you know, it's, it's just kind of really surreal.

And it's, it's funny when my husband, he tells me for all the women who were brave enough to walk up to you at the airport to say hello or, you know, wherever we are, there's 10 more who are too scared to do it. So watch what you do in public, you know, like people are watching you. So it is kind of surreal.

To have a book come out as the number one bestseller in New York Times, I was so anxious and nervous. My husband took me to Mexico. Plus we were trying to detox from New York and all the pre launch stuff we were doing. If you followed me, I was in Vegas and New York and then Chicago and then I got to go home and then I got sick.

So we, you know, I put a mask on and we went to, to, to the beach in Cancun and it was there that I found out that, and it was my friends, the Holderness family, Kim Holderness texted me the like secret list that comes out from New York Times. She's like, did you see? See it and I was sitting, you know, having sushi with my husband at a, at a hotel.

And I saw it and it was just, that was like the moment that I was like, I, it's making a difference. You know, like not, I don't care how many books we sell, but like, this is a message that this is important. This message is important. And that, you know, the, the editors of the New York times also thought it was important to put us on the list.

So, you know, but that we'd sold enough books to be able to do that. 

Zibby: It's amazing. What do you think your brother would say? 

Dr. Haver: So you know, I've lost three. So the oldest one, I was nine. And I have very cloudy memories of him. And then Bob in 2015, and then Jude in 2020, and then my dad in 2021. And, um, so a lot of this is all part of that journey as well.

And I talk to them all the time. You know, when I was in Mexico, like, sitting there like, oh my god, this happened, and wow, and you know, I could just feel them with me. And just so proud. You know, Bob, the one who was like, over the top, and he would have been fussing over my hair, my makeup, and my outfits, and you know, and you know, Jude would have just been screaming from the sidelines, and you know, my dad.

So, it just, you know, I know that they're there, and I know that they're proud, and it just, it's a little sad, so. 

Zibby: It's amazing what you're doing, so. Yeah. It's amazing. So then how do you know, how do you know that it's not grief? I mean, I know this goes back to the beginning of the book, but you know, grief and trauma therapists would say that a lot of these things that you described are also grief.

So how did the rest of, how do we take it all apart? 

Dr. Haver: So when my patients come in, so for me, it was sorry. I am so sorry for your loss. It's okay. My, I knew the grief was getting better. But I was not getting better. Do you know what I mean? Like I could finally, it took six months to realize that I wasn't crying every day on the drive home from work.

And I didn't get therapy and I didn't do all the emotional work throughs that I did later. But I didn't do the work I needed to do. But I was getting, you know, I could feel the grief lifting and I was still feeling so terrible. So, you know, when patients come in, the first question I'm like, when's the last time you felt good?

You know? And, and when's the last time you felt, because a lot of the times they're like, I just don't feel like myself. I just, I can't put a finger on it, but I just don't feel like myself. And, or I'm just not as resilient or I'm more anxious or more irritable or whatever. I'm like, let's go back to when you felt good.

And when you had the world by the horns, you know, and like you, you could handle the stress, all the things were okay. And so we walk back to that moment and I'll tell me what's happened since then. And we go through, has anything changed? You know, I have the usual stress, nothing new. Or sometimes they have had something tremendous happen in their lives, and we kind of work through that.

Hot flashes are pretty diagnosis, you know, diagnostic. And that's kind of why we've always defined the severity of your menopause by your hot flashes, because we really can't blame it on anything else. A fever you'll have a hot, you know, you'll get hot. And tuberculosis, and we can rule that out pretty easy.

So, but, you know, there's very few things that give you the very characteristic hot flashes at this age. And that is why we've really defined menopause. By that in all, uh, 90 percent of the, of the very small amount of research that we had has been in pharmacology. To stop a hot flash and nothing else. 

Zibby: I wrote this book blank about a menopausal woman who is not exactly me, but we are very similar.

And in it, there's a store that she wants to open called flash where she would just hand out like chunky necklaces and like waistless dresses and towels. So if anybody wants to start that store, go ahead. You can take it. Flash. That's cute. What is your vision for the future? of a life where menopause is something we control, where we don't all have dementia and need that extra care being taken, that 30 percent of our lives or whatever.

Paint a picture of that sort of Barbie esque alternate world. 

Dr. Haver: I, I, I dream about a time when everyone is menopause informed. Your partners, your loved ones, your whatever. We know much about menopause as we do about puberty. And everyone is prepared and they know what to look for because what's happening now is that The gaslighting and the blind being blindsided.

And how many of you said, or who have read the books that I wish I would have known, I wish I would have had this at 35 so that, that there's this, everyone is not scared and ready and you know, it's not hitting you like a truck and you're so scared and you go through months or years of questioning yourself and your, your motivation and, and is this really real or am I going crazy?

Which is what's happening now, and so you have you get start getting screened at 35 at your health care provider. Are you having these symptoms? Just check these boxes. These are little sheets all that we fill out. We know the doctor. I have to fill it out, too. You know what? There should be a perimenopause menopause screening.

Check, check, check, check, check. Easy, you know, because we don't have good blood work to diagnose perimenopause. 

Zibby: And you have it in there. We can, we can what, just like rip it out. Yeah, rip it out. You'll have to get another book for every doctor appointment. 

Dr. Haver: We have them online. 

Zibby: Which is very smart too. Why not just like kick it?

Why not just say, okay, I'm done. I'm going to just go back to being like, why, what is driving you to do all this? 

Dr. Haver: Because I can make a difference in the world and it's so powerful. And I, I just feel like this is where I'm meant to be. I mean, I loved delivering babies and I swear to God, if they came between eight and five, I would probably still be in the hospital.

And my babies came in the middle of the night. So, you know, my doctors were as victim as much as anyone, but this is, I'm more effective as a healer. now than I think I've ever been. I'm touching more lives now. And, and this is a generation that has been dismissed medically for most of our stuff, unless you have a heart attack or you break a leg, you know?

And so just being able to have any influence in this space and realize I'm not smarter than I'm very smart, but I'm not, you know, like there's way smarter people getting PhDs and all that, you know, but like the, this is my gift. This is my unique set of gifts. I didn't predict it. I did not see it coming, but this is what happened.

And I'm, I'm going to go with it. I'm going to run with it. So. 

Zibby: And we are all going to follow. Except maybe we're not going to go so fast. We're going to, we're going to be in there with our weighted vests, dragging ourselves by. Anyway. Does anybody feel better than when they got here? Yes? Okay thank you so much.

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Dr. Mary Claire Haver, THE NEW MENOPAUSE

Kim and Penn Holderness, ADHD IS AWESOME

Award-winning content creators and New York Times bestselling authors Kim and Penn Holderness join Zibby to discuss ADHD IS AWESOME, an engaging, hilarious, and uplifting guide to rocking life with an ADHD brain (which Penn has and Kim does not!). The two describe how Penn’s ADHD has impacted their lives and the steps they’ve taken to protect their relationship. They discuss the importance of a proper diagnosis and share practical tips for managing ADHD—for individuals and whole families. They also talk about the viral Christmas video that launched their popular online presence and how they've built a successful business from it.

Transcript:

Zibby: Welcome so much. I'm so excited you're here. Penn and Kim Holderness. ADHD is awesome. Thank you so much for coming. Moms don't have time to read books. 

Kim: We are so excited to be here. Thank you for having us. 

Zibby: No, this is great.

I know. So I have a special guest. Kyle is here. 

Kyle: Special guest today. 

Zibby: Today. Because he just has to be here. I mean, 

Kyle: husband and wife come in, we get to do a little husband and wife thing. It's great. 

Zibby: I love it. He was in the house, so you know. 

Kyle: Yeah. And I'm constantly recommending books that I've never read before.

So. 

Zibby: It's tracks. That's true. He's good at that. 

Kyle: If you're listening in D. C., you didn't hear that. 

Zibby: Even on your social, the one video you did where you're making fun of how surprised she gets, she hears, and she's like, and you're like, because I always do that.

Kyle: I had to stop reacting to it after a while. After about a year of living with Zibby and thinking just the world was ending.

I'm like, my heart starts pounding. Oh my God, what is it? And then yeah, it's just. I

Penn: think we all do that. I, I'm also guilty of doing that. We just get so fixated on our phones that like we assume that there's nobody else here. And so the reaction is always way more than it should be. Right? Like, Oh, 

Kim: And then he just, 

Penn: There's a sale at Penny's.

They're like, what are you doing? No, that actually was a quote from airplane. 

Kim: Okay. Okay. Sorry. 

Zibby: There you go. Yeah. Okay. 

Kyle: Pennies for our older listeners. 

Zibby: Why is aDHD awesome? 

Penn: First of all, the definition of the word awesome is twofold. It is awe inspiring, which is in the word. It is wonderful. It is worthy of admiration.

And it's also scary, terrifying. When people describe things as awesome in the days of yore, they were talking about volcanoes and comets and things coming, hurtling toward the earth. So I believe that ADHD is both. I think it's, it is terrifying when you leave. the stove on and you leave the house or you leave your keys in the car and someone can break in and your family could be in trouble or or you lose train of thought and you don't know where you just drove and you look around and wonder why you came into a room but it's also it's also a brain that is wildly creative innovative outside the box thinking and capable of things that neurotypical brains capable of things that people with neurotypical brains can't do so it's both. 

Kyle: Would you say it's a superpower, almost?

Penn: For me, it has been. For me... 

Zibby: You don't get to ask the 

Kyle: question. Just hang on. 

Penn: Kyle's doing great. 

Kim: That's a great question. 

Kyle: I was like, you know what? I'm looking for an opportunity to jump in. I'm gonna jump in. 

Penn: Yeah. So, for me, my job depends on innovation, creativity, and being receptive to inspiration.

And the ADHD brain is set up pretty nicely for that. You have to get the systems in place on the other end so that you can get to that point. But for me, it's, I believe that I am a songwriter and a skit writer and a comic and a book writer and all of these things because of my ADHD, not in spite of it.

Zibby: I love that. And for listeners, you have ADHD, Kim, you do not have ADHD. You've lived to tell. 

Kim: I lived, I've lived to tell the tale. I mean, my, I, my brain is wired in a funky way too. I mean, I deal with, I've been very open about this anxiety and some fun OCD occasionally. So, I mean, it's not like we are, neither one of us has a neurotypical brain, I guess you could say, but no, I do not have ADHD.

Zibby: So for the people living with spouses who have ADHD, and I know you write about this in the book. What is, what should they know? How do you, how do you enjoy the quirks? 

Kyle: How do you enjoy it all? I would say Embrace it. 

Kim: Embrace, well, here's the first thing. For a long time, I did not enjoy it all.

I will say when we first started dating, I think all of the things that he mentioned, I mean, the spontaneity and the comedy and all, that is why I fell in love with him. So his ADHD brain is what I was attracted to. It's once we got married, and I think, if I can be honest, once we had kids, And all the plates start spinning and then falling.

And then that is when I think his ADHD really, I'm not, I don't want to put it on you that it became an issue. It just became. 

Penn: I'll say it. It was an issue. I was letting people down. Like things were falling through the cracks. 

Kim: Yeah. 

Kyle: So let's talk like Penn's not here. 

Kim: Let's talk like, okay. So people would say, Oh, it's like you have three kids.

And that is not, I never laughed when people said that. I did not think that was funny. And I will give, All the credit in the world to my husband, that when we went to marriage counseling and when he saw that there was ways that, you know, things could improve, he, he like five years ago, really did a deep dive and trying to understand his brain and why it works.

And. In turn, I mean, that started the research for this book. And then in turn, I learned so much about the ADHD brain. And so now I, I know, for example, when he is getting, you know, backpacks ready, putting snacks in the bag, water bottle, making eggs in the morning, doing all this stuff, him turning on the stove doesn't even enter his working memory.

So leaving it on. It didn't, it didn't even, it didn't even enter his working memory that he left, he turned it on. So it wouldn't even occur to him to turn it off. Whereas my brain, I can, I can do all the things. So now I know when you ask like, what's it like? And I know he's not doing it on purpose. And so that changes.

the tone of our marriage, that I know he is showing up. He's doing the best he can. He's, he's also feeling great shame if he screws up. So if I know he's not doing it on purpose, it can bring it, the boil to a simmer, you know, it can just like the temperature. It's just like, it's much as much, there's much less tension in our house.

Zibby: This is good marriage advice for anything. 

Kim: Yeah. Just understanding why it was, ...

Kyle: it was recognizing how you were reacting as well.

Kim: Yeah. Yeah. And I was, I mean. 

Kyle: How are you going to choose to react to this? 

Kim: Me nagging and me constantly reminding like me being the person that reminded and nagging made him feel shame. 

Penn: And neither of us knew I think the biggest issue was neither of us knew what was going on in my brain Right once she learns that, you know through this research of this book once she learns things about working memory And the emotional flooding and all the other things that come with adhd It makes it easier for you to You know Forgive that person, give them grace.

For me, once I know what's going on in my brain, a weird phenomenon, and it's, I've heard about this with other people with ADHD. Once you learn more about it, it makes you more likely to want to get to work on the things that you can improve because there's less shame in it. 

Zibby: Right. So, you have the song where you have to remember your keys and all that.

Penn: Yeah. 

Zibby: Can you just sing that? 

Penn: Sure. 

Zibby: You want to spontaneously sing? 

Penn: It's glasses, wallet, keys and phone, keys and phone. Glasses, wallet, keys and phone, keys and phone. Make sure to take them all before you go. Glasses, wallet, keys and phone, keys and phone. It's head, shoulder. It's head, shoulders, knees, and toes.

Zibby: Yeah, but that's an example of one of the many systems that you've put into place so that you protect against the shameful things that happen as a result of just the way you think. 

Penn: Yeah, there's quite a few of those and there's, but there was a barrier to starting With those when I didn't really know what how my brain worked It was like I'm being treated like a ten year old.

Zibby: And your mom did not know you did not know Early on just your mom would like stand over you and help you through and give you all the things So when did you realize this was what it was and how?

Penn: Yeah, so shout out to my mom because adhd i'm 49 and so adhd wasn't a thing when I was growing up Children were not being diagnosed with it At least not that I know of because doctors weren't aware of what it was And so shout out to her she kind of in inherently innately figured all of these things out Um because she loved me and she wanted to positively reinforce me for the most part So like she put lists all over the house, which is one great thing tool that you get as a ADHD adult or a child.

She found creative ways to teach me musical ways to teach me. She taught me music visually instead of through sheet music. And she knew that I had a near for it. So all this crazy stuff that decades of research is now realizing it works for this brain. That got me through high school. Then I went to college and I didn't have my ADHD whisper with me and the classrooms got a lot bigger.

So there were lecture halls instead of, I went to a state college. So the lecture halls were there instead of small groups of students and my grades dipped. Big time. Uh, I also gave in very much to, to distractions that I didn't, what wasn't really privy to when, sure, yeah, beer, beer, all the other stuff. 

Kim: He had a great time in college.

Penn: I had an awesome time in college. I'm not, I'm not complaining, but. 

Zibby: That's the next book. College is awesome. Right. 

Penn: College is awesome. That's all it's going to be called. There was one specific moment where I was a senior in college and my grandmother died. We were at her funeral and we were talking about, there was this like beach trip that she always organized for all the cousins and we were having this tough conversation like, what are we going to do about this now?

And um, I got, I started like thinking about all these great times we had and how they might go away. And meanwhile, they're having this very important like fiscal conversation and my aunt Zell I'm sorry, Penn, I cannot focus on this conversation because you have a fly swatter in your mouth. 

Kim: He was just,. 

Penn: I had taken a used fly swatter.

This is Eastern Carolina. So I'm sure he'd caught a lot of flies. And I was chewing on it. No knowledge of how it got in my mouth. Wow. No knowledge of why it was there in the first place. And that felt weird and wrong. And that, that was sort of the tipping point. Like what is going on? And so I went to a doctor at that point in the nineties.

It was a medical model of diagnosis, right? Where they look at a symptom, they look at a problem and they try to treat it. And that was about as far as it went. I mean, medicine took the medicine, got better grades, graduated from college. That was the, that was the solution. And then I took myself off of the medication because I didn't recognize the person that I was.

I wasn't a bad person. I think maybe people around me might've liked me more. I don't know, but I just didn't, I, for me, medicine made me feel like a different person. Medicine is great for most people. So I took myself off it and learned how to try to cope with it without really understanding all of the things that I understood in this book.

I just, I found band aids I think for a long time, like a job that had deadlines and was super stimulus heavy. Like I was a local news reporter. Reporter and sportscaster married a girl who somehow thought some of this was charming And then like she said i'm answering your question by giving you the entire story

And then realized to her point once kids came in to play and once starting a business came into play that my executive functioning was Redlining things were falling through the cracks and I needed Real help and that's when I discovered that people are not using that medical model You Anymore as much they're using a strengths based approach. 

Kyle: And how are you as a sportscaster because I feel like you'd be great. 

Kim: Oh, he was great.

That was pretty good. He was, he was very, he had some really cool franchises. Like he had some of the most creative ways to tell a sports story. You would have loved it. Like he did, he highlighted like the PB football kids, but he called it like NFL films. It was amazing. It was everybody's favorite. He was everybody's favorite.

Penn: It was fun. Um, I, uh, I definitely would still do it if it was a thing anymore. There's like three sportscasters left. And so, yeah, it was fun. 

Zibby: So I think people listening or watching or whatever are thinking, okay, now I have some tips. Well, this is what I would imagine I would be doing. I have some tips if I'm the spouse, but what if I I have ADHD.

Like, do I have ADHD? I don't know. I'm distracted. I lose my stuff all the time. I think people wonder that about themselves because all of our attention is all over the place. And we have sort of, as a society, adopted a lot of those traits. And, and then also, what do you do when, if your kids have ADHD, kid, kids, then what?

Penn: Well, it's a really good question. And there is a thing called acquired attention disorder. They don't. So the psychologists that we know, they don't say you don't have ADHD. You have acquired attention disorder. 

Kim: It's not an official diagnosis. 

Penn: But we talk about it in the book. It's essentially what you said.

It's like, there's a new influx of distractions over the last few years. Like it's been tough to concentrate. COVID zoom meetings are the worst. Like, Oh, maybe I have this because the things you're describing sound like me. So it's, it's important to know that doctors are the ones who diagnose you. Not this book, not me.

The cliff notes of it is. If you think you might have it, think back and, and ask yourself, like, did these problems present themselves as well in childhood? Because it always starts in childhood. You might get through it to adulthood, and it happens in more than one place. Like, it happens not just at home, but it happens at home and at school, or at home and at work.

And that's one of the big delineators that psychologists use when they're trying to assess what's going on. As far as kids. Same thing. It's it the doctors definitely know what they're doing and they've done this enough that they look for for the actual signs. 

Kim: For example, we've had we had both of our kids tested.

And we, we live in a community where there are a lot of universities. So we went to like the university route that just like three days long. It's like a really exhaustive test because we wanted to be sure. And I would have bet that both of my kids had different presentations of ADHD, but one does not and one does.

And so they were able to piece out what was just some basic inattentiveness and one that was like, Oh yeah, super ADHD. 

Kyle: And is this something you generally inherit from a parent? When you look back on your childhood, do you go, Oh, Hey, you know, actually my dad was kind of like this too, or? 

Penn: Yeah, scientists have identified, I think, seven genes that are connected to ADHD.

And so, yes, I mean, again, it's hard to tell because Like, my dad probably had it, but no one was testing people in the 40s and 50s for ADHD. The bigger sample size you have, the larger that percentage of hereditary, you know, passing down is getting. 

Kim: Your dad super had ADHD. I mean, he was great. 

Penn: Yeah. 

Kim: He super had ADHD.

Yeah. Yeah. 

Zibby: Yeah. Interesting. So you two are doing a podcast. I listened to one of your episodes, which is great. And I was like, I need to get you guys to sing a song for my podcast. Oh, can you do that? Can I like hire you to sing a song? I was like, it makes it sound so great. I only have music in the background.

Penn: You mean like as an open? 

Zibby: Yeah. Yeah. 

Kim: Oh yeah. 

Penn: I mean, I feel like Zippy could rhyme with so many things. 

Zibby: I need a jingle. 

Kim: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. We're on it. on it. 

Zibby: Okay. 

Kim: Yeah. It says the person who does it, the person who doesn't write music. I'm like, yeah, he'll do it. He's already thinking about it. 

Penn: It's called moms don't have time to read, read books and it's Zibby. Do you call yourself Zibby or Zibby Owens? Like what are the components? Okay. It depends how formal it's. Do you want like an original song or do you want a parody of a song that you really like? 

Zibby: Whatever you want to do. 

Kim: So now his brain here is,... 

Penn: I'm not going to be able to pay attention.

Kim: He's not going to pay attention by the end of it. 

Kyle: He's leaving the room. 

Kim: Now he's leaving the room and he's going off to write it. 

Zibby: I did this as a challenge to show you all what an ADHD brain looks like. 

Penn: If you have a piano or a guitar, I can probably like knock it out right now. 

Zibby: I'll go grab my daughter's.

Kyle: So speaking of, speaking of all that music, I want to know, how did you guys start the initial sort of your, your viral Instagrams and TikTok and what sparked that to come to fruition. 

Kim: Such an accident. We both worked in local news. I, we had kids, it was like a little too much. So I stepped out to start a, you know, video production business because I think, you know, put those skills to use.

We created a Christmas video. About how long ago was it? 10 years. And we created this, uh, Christmas video called, and we were just going to send it to our family and friends. Our kids wouldn't sit still for Christmas card. And so it was a parody and we were in our Christmas jammies. And so we danced around in our front yard to a parody of Will Smith's Welcome to Miami, but in my Christmas jammies.

And over, you know, over the three days, it got like 17 million views. But more than that, it was on every morning show. I think it was like a slow news week. It was on every morning show. It was on every, you know, 24 hour news cycle. So it just went everywhere. And what platform was that on? YouTube. Okay.

YouTube. Then we just, and Penn was quitting his job at that time. We, it took us a while. We were not fast learners. So we started doing work for other people. So we would write jingles for other people and we would do work. I'm pulling you back. Pull us back. Pull us back. No, but it is. It is interesting. We do want to, it's so funny.

I say we, it's him. I he's the songwriter, but It took us a few years before we started just doing our own stuff. So it took us three or four years after that. I think if somebody who had a business degree instead of a journalism and a philosophy degree had looked at our business, they could have said, no, this is what you need to do.

So yeah, we just make these silly goofy videos, write books, have a podcast, a blog. I mean, it's a lot, but it's so fun. It's so fun to get to do this. So I don't know if that answered your question, but it's all by accident. There was no business plan, still no business plan. 

Kyle: Just going for it. 

Penn: Yeah. We got a little bit of a business.

Kim: We have a little, we have some goals. 

Penn: We have, so we, I want to interrupt here. We have a team of people who help keep us on track and they helped with the book and they helped with all of this. They helped with the podcast. So I think they get a little.. 

Kim: Offended when I say there's no business plan. 

Penn: Yeah.

Kim: Yeah, because they're like it's our we are the because freaking job. 

Zibby: They haven't shared it with you. 

Penn: Um, yeah, no, they have 

Kim: They're way smarter than we are. 

Penn: Here's the like here's the crazy thing. We can't do it without them But also sometimes we just have to go rogue And just do something incredibly spontaneous and they have actually learned to like roll with that which is incredible because we're asking them To keep us on track and then we're like, oh we're going wrong.

Kyle: So what's the perfect example of something completely spontaneous? 

Kim: So we the eclipse happened recently, right? And so we, we do have, we have this, you know, we have a Sam and Emery, this, they, you're like, okay, we need to do something about the eclipse. Maybe we share a video we had done the last eclipse, something like that.

And Penn is taking my son to school and he's like, I got it. And I, you see him like take a, like a pan from like underneath the stove and he's taking my son to school. I was like, okay, whatever. And then I check Instagram and he, he had recorded. Total eclipse of the heart with the recorder. So it sounded real terrible.

It sounded really trashy And it was basically an eclipse reenactment And he just did this and he in front of the Sun just put like the pan and it's I'm really not describing it well, like the pot in front of the Sun and It was like, for those not in the path, this is a reenactment of the eclipse. It got something like 20 million views over a couple days.

And, and they,...

Penn: well, the reason, remember the reason why we started doing this, because we weren't even sure if we were going to worry about it, but all of these, we, we, we, social media was like, like flooding with people saying, oh, it's going to be cloudy today. And so our thought was, well, no one's going to see it.

So let's give it to them with this. And, and so for that reason, it had to be spontaneous. Like it's not something that we could have thought of before. We realized that there was the need for that in the world. And you know, the best, I think best spontaneous things are reactive to something that's going on right that moment.

And so again, our team was like, wait, so we're planning this and now. 

Kim: And then we even, we had, we had, I won't say their name, but one of them uploaded it and put a, there was like a spelling error on it. Um, and, and she's like, oh crap, because it was already within the first 30 minutes had something like.

500, 000 views. She's like, well, I can't take it down now, but there's a spelling error on it. We're like, let's just let it ride. So it's really fun. There's like a big, glaring misspelling on it. But that's fine. It's, but it's the internet and it'll go away. It's, you know, if there was a spelling error in this, it would be a little 

That would drive me That would drive us insane.

Kyle: That's like Zippy's biggest pet peeve.

Zibby: It is. 

Kim: Same. 

Penn: Same. 

Zibby: Same. Because sometimes I do it and then I only catch it later and then I feel so bad because I'm like, oh I get so upset when other people do it. I know. 

Penn: Do you have trouble misspelling misspell? 

Zibby: Yeah, two S's. 

Penn: Yeah, I have a tough time with that too.

Isn't that weird? 

Zibby: Yeah. 

Cancel two L's. I don't know. 

Kim: But honestly, I think that's a cultural is I think because in the UK is it just one L. 

Zibby: Thank you for it. 

Kim: So I think that so you could do. 

Zibby: Appreciate it. 

Kim: Do it any way you want. 

Zibby: It's barely a typo. Yeah, it's when I'm like falling asleep and I'm like just one more post.

Yeah, I wake up and I'm like, oh my god you know, my eyes were closing like.. 

Kim: What were you thinking? 

Zibby: Yeah. 

Penn: No good post happens after midnight. 

Zibby: So do you, just from a technical side, do you plot out all your content? Like with this team and going rogue, like, do you have it in a grid? Like, you know, it's coming up.

Penn: Thank God they do. 

Zibby: They do. 

Kim: Um, but, but we also will then say, no, we're doing this. And then we'll So, but going rogue means not doing what? So there's a framework for it. And by the way, for the next week, not the next Got it. Month. Right. Yeah. So I think ideally it would be for the next month, but I, to Penn's point, we don't really know what's happening in our lives in the world next week.

So we leave, we don't know what we're posting next week. So. 

Zibby: Got it. 

Kyle: Got to keep it relevant. 

Zibby: Yeah. So, but, do you sell ads? So, you're an ACAS, like we are, which is great. 

Kim: Oh, yeah. We. 

Zibby: You're now a part of my team. 

Penn: Let's go, Kyle. 

Kim: Let's go. 

Kyle: Thank you. 

I didn't see this coming. 

Zibby: Like, in terms of like, monetization of your whole platform.

Penn: Okay. Alright. 

Zibby: Like, what do you, you know, and you don't have to share. I'm just as a. 

Kim: No, let's do this. 

Penn: We can tell you. So the podcast is one thing a cast to your point. They, um, you know, you have an agency or some sort of in between, they put it on their platform and then they sell either dynamic ads or ads that get laid into wherever they are.

You have a certain monthly amount for that, right? On Facebook. And YouTube and much smaller senses, Instagram and TikTok. There are micro profits that you make off of monetization. So if your video gets a certain number of views, it matters to a lot of those platforms, how long they spend viewing Facebook, you have to have a three minute ad to really... 

Kim: Three minute video.

Penn: Sorry to get the most out of that monetization YouTube. They do pre roll ads. So it's different there. And so that's the second source of revenue. The third, and it's this one, ebbs and flows, but our brand deals. So that's when you make a video and a brand wants to sell one. 

Kyle: I think you guys did with like pickleball and maybe target 

Kim: Target's been great.

Penn: So those are, those are great. If you can find people who are willing to make. Truly entertaining videos that align with their product and target does a great job of that So target and in that case was prince. They do a great job with that And so that when you get a just a here's here's the amount of money we are willing to give you Would you please put our um product in your video?

Kim: And and so I will say it's a there's there's more so we also have a blog that we love because we both love to write and books as you and it's like You know To be profitable in the book business is you know,...

Penn: The dollars per hour is less than everyone. Yeah, how many hours? 

Kim: How many hours but we we love that not including the publicity Yeah, and then we also sell we have two games that we created.

We have like silly little, yeah, we have two games that we've created. 

Kyle: That's so cool. 

Kim: Yeah. 

Penn: One's more for kids. One's a little more for adults. 

Kim: Yeah. And then we have like, you know, t shirts and sweatshirts and stuff like that. So we have a lot of plates spinning and our, we have this whole, I think it's seven revenue streams, but like we have this little song we sing about it because I, I.

Zibby: I want to know the seven revenue song. 

Kim: Well, it's just like seven revenue streams. Seven profitable revenue streams. Like he, he sings it better, but yeah, it's because I, I think because we live in fear because we are really building our house on somebody else's land, right? So we're on Instagram, on Facebook, TikTok, all these algorithms change.

I mean, is TikTok going away? I haven't, I have no,..

Kyle: When things randomly happen, like they do, I feel like in the last couple of months when suddenly it's like Instagram's down.

Kim: Down that we have another like, 

Penn: We move. We pivot. I mean, we were, Facebook was our main. 

Kyle: I thought you meant like you actually move.

Kim: We're gone. 

Penn: We leave the country. Um, no, I mean, Facebook used to be our absolute bread and butter. And it is, Facebook's still great. We still put our stuff on there. But I just think it's, uh, the atmosphere has become a little more, Like, are people actually enjoying themselves in this platform anymore? And also, it has to do with what are they rewarding?

Is Facebook rewarding creators? Or are they rewarding people to go to meta, which is their kind of new VR marketplace area? So, we're at the mercy of these billionaires who are rewarding certain things. 

Kim: Yeah, so that's why we're trying to build an email list. Like, all of those things, you know, that everybody's trying to do.

Yeah, so, just because we, we're building, you know, Yeah, something on land. We don't know. 

Kyle: And are you pivoting into like sort of that metaverse landscape and how do you feel about that? 

Penn: No, not yet. I Instagram is owned by meta. So like we, we've definitely started like our audience before we even went, we were noticing our audience was like migrating to Instagram for whatever reason that interface was working more for them.

So we started focusing more on vertical videos instead of, and of course, then Facebook comes back and says, we've got vertical videos now too. So, so yeah, I mean, the answer is. We like when those things happen, we try to get to where we try to meet our audience where they are. 

Zibby: Yeah. So unless I missed it, there is no TV show or movie or something.

You don't want to do that or that's not part of the plan. 

Kim: It's so funny. Since the pandemic, we've been involved in this pitch process for a game show, and it's I think the concept is hilarious, but it, the process, it is just, I, I admire the production company. Well, no, they're great. I just don't know for TV people.

Yeah. I don't know. I don't know. 

Penn: We did two pilots for cable, like reality is shows one for up television, like very, very early. And then one for the food network. Both were a lot of fun, a lot of work. 

Kim: And not a lot of money. 

Penn: Not a lot of money and, and success to them is interesting. You know, like the, the people who we put on Facebook live to like promote the fact that the show is coming on, had more engagement and more views than the actual show itself.

So getting our audience to go and turn on a television, Is a harder ask than we think. Also, when you do a television show, you deal with an agent, you deal with a production company, you deal with a network that are all taking pieces of the pie. When it comes to ad dollars, when we put a video on Facebook or YouTube, we own all of those ad dollars.

Kim: I will say if they come tomorrow and they've green lit this TV show, we're going to be so excited because it's fun. 

Penn: Cause they, like, they have an idea on how to like take our stuff and put it on steroids. Like what we've never done before. 

Kim: But you're correct. There's not at this point. 

Zibby: I feel like the TV thing would be a different audience.

Like, it would be harder if the goal would be to reach people who are just watching TV and not. 

Kim: Right. And that's... 

Zibby: we know this. I mean... 

Kim: No, no, no. But that is why I think it's so tough to get these internet people. It's a tough sell to get internet people. Because it doesn't really convert in the way people think it does.

Zibby: So, how does it affect your marriage to have your marriage also be a brand? 

Penn: It affects it. 

Kim: It's a good question question. 

Penn: Um, it's so you coming in. Yeah, that was our last book, which was called everybody fights. So why not get better at it? Um, yeah, I mean, let me just start with this. I was in local news and Kim was in local news and we decided to quit our jobs and bet on each other and start this business.

And the romantic notion of that was enough to carry us a long way. But I also am completely guilty of not. Doing any sort of HR training about how to work with my wife where I'd spent 15 years in a fairly high energy and sometimes like a little bit abrasive newsroom where people are very direct and talk to each other in a different way.

And pretty quickly, I'm glad I had a wife who's patient and understood. And, you know, I, I think I was the way, the way I was talking to her as an employee was not okay, even if it wasn't my wife. And so. That was our first deep dive was, was, uh, counseling to kind of work this out. 

Kim: I would say we've said this, that we'd rather be married than have an Instagram page or TikTok, whatever.

Like we'd rather be married than do that. And I think we have been pretty. protective as much as we do these little skits and stuff. We don't share everything, you know, we're not live streaming, you know, every single thing. These are like three minute kind of hyperboles of what's happening in our day, but it is life has changed a little bit since like when we, it's great to go out and meet people and have people recognize us.

It's great. But then that does. Like it creates like if we go on date nights, it's not really private, you know, it, it said like that has changed it a little bit. And we didn't really think about that when we started this. Cause we had no idea that this would be this. 

Penn: Yeah, we were just doing this so that I could get off of the local news schedule and be able to see my kids.

Kim: Yeah. 

Penn: And so it's, uh, the way it's developed has been nice. So Cliff Notes, the answer to that is we learned how to talk to each other and not bring some of our, you know, personality quirks into the workplace. We've learned how to create some boundaries, which I think they're not always successful, but they are most of the time.

And like our marriage is getting stronger because of the work that we're doing to get better at that. It doesn't, it doesn't work itself out. It takes work. 

Kim: But we did go on a date to celebrate our anniversary and we were like, let's not talk about work. And so what it was like,...

Penn: Where do you think knives come from? 

Kim: Yeah. So it gets kind of hard. 

Zibby: Um, and then how did that translate into co authoring a book? Cause that's a stressful thing in and of itself. 

Kim: I will say for this book, first of all, the two books, but no, but for this one in particular, it is, I would say 80 percent pen and because of the really great outline he came up with and everything, I had my assignments and I could go into my corner very, so we were, this was a very separate writing experience and I could kind of hand mine in like a book report.

So it was, there was no clash on this book. 

Zibby: That's great. 

Kim: Yeah. 

Zibby: Very smart. 

Penn: Yeah. So look, the only clashing is I wouldn't call it clashing, but you have to take inventory and be a little vulnerable when you hear, Oh my God, I like, she's really taking her time to write this. I am affecting her a lot. Like I've done some stuff that I probably didn't even think about that.

Um, and again, the books, Tells you this, I can't help it sometimes, but boy, I've got some work to do. And I'm glad that you were honest and open about all those things. But I think the same way she read some of my excerpts. 

Kim: Serpts excerpts. 

Penn: Yeah. She told me I like, I've always made the 

Kim: P silent

Penn: I made the P silent .

Okay. Excerpts. 

Kim: Yeah. 

Penn: And. And I think a light went off in her head saying, Oh, he didn't mean to. He's not trying to disrespect me. You know, he's not letting me down as a partner. He's got a, his brain needs help and systems. 

Zibby: Well, I think you two have gotten the communication down. This is like a model thing here.

Penn: Yeah, do you want us to record next time we get in a fight so we can just send that to you? Because it's still going to happen. No, I believe you fight. 

Zibby: I mean, you're regular people. I mean, everybody fights. But I'm just saying, you're coming at it from a place of understanding and compassion and respect.

And you can just see it. 

Kim: Yeah. 

Zibby: He was like looking at you so nicely when you tried to sing. 

Kim: He was like, oh, my poor tone deaf wife. 

Penn: She's actually got a great voice. 

Kim: No, I don't. 

Penn: It's fine. 

Kim: Wait, wait. I have many guests. Kim, you 

Penn: have a great voice. I've heard you in the shower. It's just, I think, I don't know that you want to do that.

Kim: Yeah. Well, no. I did. Yeah. 

Zibby: Yeah. Okay. So, last thing on the ADHD front. Is there a piece of it that you are super grateful to have as part of your makeup and is there a piece of it that you're like, thanks, but no thanks, I'd just as soon get rid of? 

Kim: Good question. 

Penn: Yeah. So I'll start with the one that I would like to get rid of.

still struggling with because I'm, I'm getting better at picking stuff up, not leaving things in places. Those are, those are systems that you can use checklists and Siri and all these like wonderful, wonderful things to help keep you on schedule. I have the toughest time listening. I feel like I am so eager to jump in when, when there's a, especially if there's, if there's one person, And that person is okay with some kinetic interruptions, then that's okay.

But if you're at like a dinner table and someone says something and you have an idea, you, I mean, you really should wait in line and make sure everyone else has, you know, what they want to say. I am still struggling, not just jumping in. Yeah. My wife has become a nice. Governor. Oh, just interjected.

Interject. But that's a lot. That was kinetic. That was good. That was good though. That was, yes. 

Kim: And that was a yes. 

Penn: And so the non-kinetic ones are the ones that are the most trouble. And Kim is so used to this now I just like that I will take a breath and she's like, here it comes. And she will put her hand on my leg.

Kim: Yeah. 

Penn: And I will. So here's what it is. I'll go, yeah. 

Kim: At dinner last night, , because somebody was starting to tell a story and I know he had a story on top of that, but I was like, not yet. 

Penn: And I got to it. 

Kyle: Well, at the risk of interjecting again. Yes. Anything. You're good. Just wanna clarify though, would it be.

So I interjected, but it was relevant. 

Kim: Relevant. And you weren't. 

Kyle: So you're saying, maybe you're at a dinner party, people are talking about something, and you have an idea that pops in your head, you went, Is it not relevant to the conversation at hand. 

Penn: Where did you get your, um, your hair gel? I was like wondering where, cause it looks really nice and I would love to like find out where you get your hair gel.

Kim: That's a left turn. So you're telling a story about your summer vacation and he's like, I went on summer vacation and takes a right turn and kind of takes ownership of that conversation and hijacks it. 

Penn: But I have done the hair gel thing too. Like it can be really bad. Like it's, yeah.

Kim: And I think it also depends on the, you know, the setting, of course, your level of comfort with people, right?

Like that whole thing. But he's gotten very good at that. 

Penn: Yeah. I will never trade the type of receptive creative brain that comes with having a DHD. And that is, I'm gonna give you a metaphor that Marcy Caldwell gave me, who's, she's all over this book. She gives, she's the one with the mixing board and the fishbowl, and all of these things are great metaphors.

The neurotypical brain is like a VIP party with a bouncer who will. expertly let in thoughts when they are supposed to come in. It is why they are better at listening and better at not interrupting. Okay. My brain is an open air concert. I can feel the wind. I can feel the rain, uh, the temperature. Uh, there's a bunch of people, everyone gets in.

It's very noisy. And all of this, all of this comes to me, right? That makes it hard for me to listen because I'm getting these ideas. But when you want to create something new, um, Inspiration and creation is nothing more than finding things that are out there waiting to come to you. That's a, that's a firm belief that I have and I feel all of it.

So when I'm in a space of creation, things, and I want to say, well, things just come to me. No, that's my brain. That's the way that my brain is built. I'm, I'm able to take all of the stimulus in the world and put it into something new. And that's ADHD. That's, that's spontaneity, creativity, outside the box thinking.

All of that comes from having that sort of brain that causes problems everywhere else in the world. But if you can find a way to channel that into, it could be music, art, writing. It could be a new solution to a problem that you have in your company or your business. If you can harness that, it's. 

Zibby: Might even say awesome.

Penn: It is, yeah. And that concludes our interview. 

Zibby: For joining us. 

Penn: You don't have to do that. 

Zibby: See you back here next time. 

Penn: We have so much time, but it just felt like a good button. 

Zibby: No, no. 

Kim: And we're done. 

Zibby: We're done. And we're out. 

Kim: And we're out. 

Zibby: So much for coming on. 

Kim: Oh, thank you. Thank you. That was so much fun.

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Kim and Penn Holderness, ADHD IS AWESOME