Alyssa Milano, SORRY NOT SORRY

Alyssa Milano, SORRY NOT SORRY

Actress, activist, and author Alyssa Milano joins Zibby to talk about her latest book, Sorry Not Sorry, which she hopes will serve as a timestamp when people reflect on this period in history. Alyssa also shares how she wrote all of the essays to rhythm, the ways in which her mental health over the course of the pandemic inspired a sizable amount of the book, and what changes she wants to see in the publishing industry to help authors like her feel more comfortable promoting their stories.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Alyssa. Thank you so much for coming back on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Sorry Not Sorry.

Alyssa Milano: I’m so happy to be here. Thank you for having me.

Zibby: It’s my pleasure. How did you decide on the outfit for this cover? This is the least-important question ever. We’re going to get into the nitty-gritty of really important topics, but just wondering.

Alyssa: The picture was actually from a photo session that I did. I think it was for The Washington Post. We used it because it’s kind of perfect for that. It was just my leather jacket that I had. We did the photo session at a hotel in New York while I was doing press for other things. I was like, oh, I’m going to just put on my black jeans and my leather jacket, and there’s the picture. It has kind of turned into my activism picture.

Zibby: Yes, activism uniform or something. I love it. It’s really cool. You have so many ideas in this book about basically everything going on in the world right now, you have distilled down and have an opinion and a strong point of view about, which is amazing. You write it really clearly too, which is awesome.

Alyssa: Oh, good, with a lot of help from the editors.

Zibby: Really?

Alyssa: Oh, yeah. Some of the issues that I talk about can be incredibly not only complex and have a lot of moving parts, but also have a lot of feeling behind it. It was trying to balance that line of giving a lot of myself, because I wanted to give the readers a glimpse into who I am, but also to be historically correct and to push the envelope in a way that I feel like needed to be pushed.

Zibby: There was this groundswell of support or encouragement by your use of repetition. In the first one where you’re just saying what’s messed up — I’m not sure if I can curse. It’s my show. I don’t even know if I can curse on it or not.

Alyssa: F’d up, about being unapologetically f’d up.

Zibby: You said, this is an example, and here’s why. This is an example, and here’s why. Even later when you were talking about men — what was the phrase you used all the time? The sickness in men. The sickness in men is, this is the sickness. This is because of this tweet. This is because of that. It’s like an inculcation of trying to reverse indoctrination, if you will. Tell me about that. How did you harness all of these feelings? Tell me about the writing and the passion and all of that.

Alyssa: The cool thing for me was this — I’ve written books before, but this format was a lot more aligned with how I normally feel good about my writing. I write op-eds. That’s what I’ve been doing for the past five years. I’ve been published everywhere from The New York Times to The Washington Post to CNN opinion pieces. For me to be able to take a topic and really emerge myself in those five or six pages rather than an entire book allowed me to give issues time to breathe, but also to move away from them quickly. I don’t know if you could tell while you were reading it — I’m recording the audiobook right now. There is this gradual, slow rise to almost hysteria. The sickness of men is a good middle place where you go, oh, okay, this is going to start getting deep. Also, things that I’m so passionate about like my family, to be able to write a book about activism plus my personal life, I really felt like the essay format really leant itself to both of those things. It was really fun. People talk a lot about, it was so cathartic to go reexamine my life. I wouldn’t say it was cathartic because it’s tough to go back and take inventory of why you are who you are. I will say that we talk a lot about, right now, especially in my family but also with my therapist, we talk a lot about trying to find the blessings in this time in history even though it feels so heavy. It feels so completely out of our control. This book and being able to write it without having to leave the house to go pick up the kids from school or whatever it was, to be able to write it in a concentrated way when there was not much else going on was great.

That’s one of the things I come back to when I think about this really chaotic time, this chaotic time in history politically, this chaotic time just in public health, in global health, even in international relations. To be able to do that, it was really a blessing. When I think about the things I have gratitude toward, it’s that I had this time to be able to really focus on this book and make it something that I wanted to share. It was a process, though. It was definitely a process. It was writing and then rewriting and then going back through and then getting notes from my editor and rewriting. It’s interesting because some of the essays came really easy. Then others, I knew what I wanted to say. I knew what was important to say. I think a lot this might sound crazy, but I think a lot of this is because in the past five years or whatever, I’ve worked with so many organizations and advocacy groups about the issues that were going on in our country that I had to remind myself how I felt about them. So often when you work with these groups, they’re sending you talking points to build your tweet around or the way in which you speak to these things. It was an interesting exercise to sort of throw all that away and really just figure out, what do I want to say right now about this? I’m really proud of it. As I’m doing the audiobook right now, it’s spurring even more ideas. The other day, I was like, I should take some of these chapters and do them on stage as a performance, like a one-woman show. The book is really like a timestamp. When you read this book twenty years from now, you’re really going to get a glimpse of exactly where we are or were as a country.

Zibby: I was just talking to somebody right before I was going to do this. They were asking me two questions. First, she was like, “She must have had a ghostwriter, right?” I was like, “Oh, no, I don’t think so. I think that was all her,” which by the way, I might have made up. Not that I know you that well after our one other podcast interview. I was like, “This is so much someone’s voice. You can’t make this up.”

Alyssa: No, I did not have a ghostwriter, but I did have a lot of help from my editor and Dutton Books. They were incredible. I think you can tell it’s my voice.

Zibby: Yes, I can tell.

Alyssa: It’s consistent.

Zibby: That’s true too.

Alyssa: What you were talking about before about repetition and maybe why — as I’m reading this for recording it, I think the inspiration where I was like, this would be a great monologue to do on stage, is because of that repetition, because there is something rhythmic. Some of them read as if I was at a protest, right?

Zibby: Yes, that’s true.

Alyssa: That would be a stump speech or speaking somewhere about something that I believe in. I write very, very much rhythmically, so much so — here’s an interesting thing. I wrote a pilot script. My dad’s a pretty famous music editor for films. I did this mood board on Instagram. I sent him the mood board. “Just take a look at this. If there’s any type of music that you think would be a great companion for these visuals, just send it my way.” He sent me this amazing Icelandic group. As I pressed play, I just started reading the script. The inflection in the script is the inflection in the music that he sent me. I’m a very big believer that synchronicity is a real thing. Everything has a rhythm. You know when you’re in your car and there’s a song playing and maybe it’s raining and then all of a sudden, the windshield wipers start wiping in the same rhythm that the song is in? I think everything has a rhythm. For me, in writing the book in those moments where I am using a phrase over and over, it’s a callback to my days protesting and being on a stage. Also, it’s just, I write rhythmically. For me, that is the rhythm.

Zibby: I love it. Take it to the stage.

Alyssa: It would be cool, right?

Zibby: It would be totally cool.

Alyssa: I’d have to find another writer to really…

Zibby: Adapt it.

Alyssa: Yeah, make it for the stage. I think it could be really interesting.

Zibby: I’m sure there are people who would be dying to do that job.

Alyssa: I think it could be really interesting and an interesting way to express what I’ve written in a different format that still allows for me to be me. This is my sixth book that I’ve written. I always say to the publishers, I’m like, “Can we please, please try to find a different way to sell this book other than going and doing signings at a bookstore or readings at whatever?” First of all, I’m dyslexic. Second of all, I have social disorder. Be in a small bookstore and sign hundreds of autographs, it just makes me nervous. Also, the dyslexia and having to read an excerpt at Barnes & Noble in front of hundreds of people makes me so nervous. I’m always like, how can we do something interesting with this book?

Zibby: I actually just announced that I started my own publishing company.

Alyssa: Congratulations.

Zibby: It’s to counteract some of these very things that you’re saying. How can we do things differently? There must be better ways. All these complainants, not complaints, but just things that could be optimized by so many people like you and that I’ve had on the podcast, I’m trying to do it. Wish me luck.

Alyssa: Good for you. I wish you all the luck. You deserve it.

Zibby: Thanks. I’m excited.

Alyssa: When you think about how writers are mostly incredibly introverted and very complex in their thinking and their ability to communicate, the fact that we’ve decided that going into a bookstore and signing autographs would be conducive and show them in the best light, you’re right, it doesn’t really sync up.

Zibby: I feel like especially post-COVID. I also have a lot of anxiety. Now it’s found new ways to manifest itself, which is lovely. I discover them every day. I’m really having a hard time being in crowds after so much time in my room, in my house, and all of that.

Alyssa: By the way, I didn’t love crowds to begin with.

Zibby: No, I never liked them. Literally, I had a panic attack the other day. I was crying. I was like, this is ridiculous. I have to get through the street. I have to drop my kids at school. I don’t know if it’s the same for you. I just feel like even being in party-type situations, I’m so drained. I have to recuperate for so long afterwards now.

Alyssa: Emmy weekend is coming up. I have the list of parties that I’ve been invited to. My husband, he owns his own managerial company now, and so he kind of has to go to those parties. I just feel like I’ve paid my dues. I’ve done it now for forty years. Maybe I get to just stay home and be cozy. The whole kids in school thing, it is so nerve-racking. I talk to my therapist quite a bit. I really want to destigmatize the whole mental health aspect because I think it’s really important right now that we not only take care of ourselves, but have someone to talk to that doesn’t feel burdened with our quirks and the things that make us special. His name is James. He was like, “You know, you’re doing well.” I said, “Yeah, and I don’t really understand why.” He said, “Oh, I know, because everyone else is operating at the same frequently that you usually operate, so you can go, see what I mean? Everything’s fucked up. See it? Told you. I told you this for years. Now we’re all there together in this place of panic and hysteria.” I think because my anxiety disorder has so often been about feeling something physically and then piping in why I’m — of course, I feel this way because I haven’t had a second to myself for whatever. I feel this way because it’s going to rain tomorrow. It’s going to rain. That is giving me my anxiety, whatever it is. We just plug in mental reasons for the physical manifestations. There’s enough to be substantially upset about now, so I’m not plugging in any false emotions to —

Zibby: — No lack of material.

Alyssa: Just go into the supermarket. I went to the supermarket the other day. I’m in the produce section. Someone was wearing a mask. They pulled down the mask to sneeze and cough all over the tomatoes. I was like, oh, god, just slowly back away. What do you do in that moment? I want to go, just keep your mask on if you’re going to sneeze on the tomatoes. Just keep the mask on.

Zibby: At least sneeze on the packaged goods.

Alyssa: Or processed. Not the tomatoes. I’m Italian. That’s sacrilegious. You don’t sneeze on tomatoes, for the love of god.

Zibby: Sacred ground of the produce.

Alyssa: Sacred ground of ancestors forgotten. It is really something.

Zibby: I was so happy to see in your book that you talk about anxiety and how you felt about it and even your experience with COVID and just all that stuff that so many people are feeling now. It’s almost like you were a minister getting up and giving a sermon or a speech or something about it. Yet then we get these glimpses into what’s behind that. That was almost comforting, in a way, in the midst of your justified rage at so many things that’s going on. I thought it was such a nice balance that you struck.

Alyssa: That was the challenge of writing this book. I didn’t want it to be me getting up on my soapbox and preaching how people should feel. I always give sermons, but it’s more about, this is where I am right now. Come with me if you’re also on that journey. If not, you can be troll-y and troll me on the internet. It is what it is.

Zibby: This was amazing. Aside from turning this into a one-woman show and knowing the constraints of what makes all of us want to have panic attacks or whatever, what are the plans for how you can promote this book? Have you come up with anything?

Alyssa: I’m going to do the New York morning show circuit. I’ll be on GMA and The View and all of that. Then we’re going to do a lot of virtual things. I just signed, I want to say, 2,500 books.

Zibby: Oh, my lord.

Alyssa: It took me six days.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh. I don’t even understand, honestly, autographs. I don’t understand it. Why is it so great? I’d so much rather take a picture or have a conversation.

Alyssa: There’s probably some interest in history about autographs.

Zibby: I’m going to look that up. That’s a good point.

Alyssa: I remember being little-little and having an autograph book.

Zibby: My kids at Disney World, they run around like crazy people.

Alyssa: Yes, that’s what I was just going to say. That’s exactly what I was just going to say. I would take my little autograph book when we’d go to Disneyland. I would get Mickey’s autograph. Snow White, I remember she kissed one of the pages with her red lipstick. I do that sometimes if I’m wearing lipstick. I’m just like Snow White. I kiss the page where I sign it because that has got to be more interesting.

Zibby: There must be some parody where people are licking autograph pages or taking it to a full-on extreme.

Alyssa: Using it as toilet paper, some ridiculous thing.

Zibby: Thank you. Thank you so much.

Alyssa: I don’t know. I don’t know what that is. I am going to try very hard to push myself to do some in-person events too because I really believe in the book.

Zibby: In smaller settings, it can be so powerful to connect with authors and readers. It’s amazing.

Alyssa: And outside. If we can figure out a way to do it outside a bookstore, that would be good.

Zibby: That’s true. I have to warn you before you come, New York is really crowded right now.

Alyssa: Is it?

Zibby: Last year, it was empty here. Now it’s just really crowded.

Alyssa: I think that’s good.

Zibby: It’s probably good for the city.

Alyssa: My family who still lives in Brooklyn, they have been talking about how sad New York seems and how the buzz that was so prominent and such a huge part of New York’s identity didn’t feel that way anymore. Maybe what you’re feeling is maybe that’s coming back a little bit. I think we need to celebrate that.

Zibby: You’re right. I will reframe. I’m going to take James’ advice through you. I can send you a little piece of the bill or something like that. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Alyssa: Write every day. Just write. It doesn’t matter what you write about. It doesn’t matter if you’re working on a specific project. Just write. Then the other thing I would say is don’t be afraid to put a lot of yourself in the book. Even if it’s not a memoir or a book of essays about how you feel, even if it’s a total fiction story, what will set it apart from the other authors and the other books is that there’s part of you in there. And just to be patient. It takes a lot of patience to be a writer. It really does. The process is not immediate, right?

Zibby: Very true. It’s kind of like being a parent.

Alyssa: Right. You put in the work. Then you hope for the best.

Zibby: You hope it’ll turn out okay, but sometimes you have to throw it out. I don’t know what that equivalent would be.

Alyssa: You can’t throw out your children.

Zibby: I’m not advocating that. Maybe try a parenting technique that someone else said was good, and it’s a total disaster. Then you move on, but you have to try it to get to where you feel better. Something like that.

Alyssa: I love that your books behind you are color-coordinated.

Zibby: You’re welcome to come when you’re in New York. You can come hang out.

Alyssa: That is so cool. I need to do that with my books.

Zibby: After COVID, I took every book in this whole room and put it on the floor and redid it.

Alyssa: It’s awesome. I love it.

Zibby: If you ever want to talk more about the publishing stuff and any ideas or whatever, we launched on Monday.

Alyssa: Yes, I would love to hear about that. Good for you.

Zibby: It’s very exciting right now. We have a great team of people, and acquiring books and stuff. I want to help people get their books in the world in the best ways for them too.

Alyssa: I love that you’re doing that. It’s so awesome and needed. To continue to do something one way doesn’t mean it’s the right way. It’s one way of doing it. Let’s set up a Zoom where you can fill me in.

Zibby: Perfect. Love to. Awesome.

Alyssa: Thank you so much.

Zibby: Thank you. Start talking about the book.

Alyssa: Thanks for your support. I really appreciate it.

Zibby: Of course. Now I have to go find myself a jacket.

Alyssa: Take care.

Zibby: Take care. Buh-bye.

Alyssa: Bye-bye.

SORRY NOT SORRY by Alyssa Milano

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