Amelia Morris, WILDCAT

Amelia Morris, WILDCAT

Zibby is joined by Amelia Morris to talk about her first novel, Wildcat, which was inspired in part by a fight with her own mother and the desire to call out unrealistic expectations placed on mothers. The two discuss how Amelia got her start with her Bon Appétempt blog and food memoir despite always wanting to write fiction, as well as how her husband helped her find time to craft this project during the pandemic. Amelia also shares what she is working on next and how Normal People and Fleabag play a role in it.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Amelia. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Wildcat: A Novel.

Amelia Morris: Thank you for having me. I’m excited.

Zibby: It’s my pleasure. I have to say, I listened to your final episode of “Mom Rage” last night, with Edan, who was on my podcast or my IG Live during quarantine, something about her book. That was really fun. It was very calming. I was listening to you guys reading poems. I was like, this is so lovely. I should do this more often.

Amelia: I know. We went out with a bang with poetry.

Zibby: If you don’t mind, start with the podcast piece and the blog and everything. Then we’ll get to how you ended up writing this book.

Amelia: The podcast was Edan’s idea. I was a little hesitant. We talk about it in the very first episode, which was way back in 2018, I think. “Mom Rage,” I didn’t really want to have a mom podcast. Why am I cagey about this word mom and mommy? I just feel like it throws you into this realm of domesticity that people don’t take you seriously. I didn’t have a lot going on at the time, so I was like, okay, let’s do it. Actually, it was a really good experience. The pandemic kind of ruined it and our workflow. Edan had a third baby. It was really great. I learned so much. We interviewed so many people. I read so many books that I wouldn’t have read. It was really good.

Zibby: Amazing. Then tell me also about starting your blog and how that ended up becoming a book too.

Amelia: Bon Appétempt, my food blog?

Zibby: Yeah.

Amelia: That, we got to go back to — was it 2007? I was in grad school.

Zibby: Wait, you know what? Let’s go back to the beginning. Give me some context. Where did you grow up? Were you always into all this writing, food? Where’d you come from? The whole thing.

Amelia: I was a baby. I was a small child. I grew up in rural Pennsylvania. Slowly, slowly, slowly discovered I wanted to be a writer in college. I accidentally went to a school with a really good writing program. I was trying to be a writer, not getting anything published. Got into an MFA program, UNC Wilmington. I was twenty-five or twenty-six. It’s funny looking back, but feeling like a failure because I couldn’t get anything published. I started cooking because I was hungry for real food. I don’t know if you went through the phase in your twenties where you were — I was just eating frozen Amy’s pizzas for every meal.

Zibby: I was eating frozen yogurt, but yes.

Amelia: None of my meals were real. I started cooking. I think I was just frustrated with the way that our world is obsessed with results and the shiny, finished product. I got the idea to do a food blog. Everyone was blogging. Bon Appétempt was born with this idea that every post would be the food magazine’s version and then my version. It started, I tried to make this layered cake that was on the cover of Bon Appétit. Mine had toppled over. Matt, my husband — I don’t know if he was husband. Yeah, I think he was my husband at the time. Anyway, he took all these pictures. We had all these funny pictures of this layer cake that toppled over on Christmas day. It was funny. I wasn’t invested in being a good cook, so I could have fun with it in a way I couldn’t with writing where I wanted to be a good writer. My identity wasn’t wrapped up in it. I haven’t thought about this in a while. That’s how it all started. That was the first post. It was Bon Appétit’s perfect version and my fallen-over layer cake.

Zibby: Then when did you turn that into a book?

Amelia: I did it for a few years before it gained any traction. It slowly started gaining traction. At the same time, I graduated from my MFA program with a novel. That was my thesis. The novel’s growing. I’m also trying to get an agent for this novel that I wrote. I got a few people that were sort of interested, but nobody wanted to be my agent. Then I finally got a response from an agent who didn’t want to represent the novel but was like, “I like your food blog. What about a food memoir?” Molly Wizenberg and Luisa Weiss, they had done the food blog to memoir path. I was so stoked to have anyone recognize me that I was just like, “Okay, let’s do the food memoir.” I made a book proposal. Is that what you did with yours? Did you do a book proposal?

Zibby: I’ve done so many book proposals for my memoir. It’s embarrassing. I could publish a five-hundred-page book of book proposals that I have written.

Amelia: It was a really long process.

Zibby: I’m like, I think I’ll write about this. Let me try it as a book proposal. Let me see how this — I have books about podcasting. I have all these different proposals. Basically, yes, that’s how it started.

Amelia: Eventually, the proposal was finished, and somebody bought it.

Zibby: Great.

Amelia: The novel, nobody ever — it lives on my computer somewhere.

Zibby: With everyone else’s first novel.

Amelia: Totally.

Zibby: This then became your first published novel, right? No? Did I get it wrong?

Amelia: This is the timeline. My MFA thesis is nothing, but it did lead to my food memoir, which is Bon Appétempt. Then Wildcat, it kind of plays — there’s some autofiction elements. The main character, Leanne, is coming out with a food memoir. Does that make sense?

Zibby: Yes. Got it. Amazing. Then do you feel this huge sense now of relief that it’s out or not?

Amelia: You’re in the run-up to your first book coming out, yeah?

Zibby: Yes. I have a children’s book that just came out, which is an entirely different audience. Then I tried doing these two anthologies. At least I’ve gone through the process, but this is the first pride and joy, personal, super personal —

Amelia: — The most naked, right?

Zibby: The most naked, yes. I’m getting a little nervous about the whole thing, to be honest with you, but yes.

Amelia: I felt so much relief when it sold because it took a while. I went through a big revision. It was just a long process. When it sold, I definitely felt a huge relief. Then when it came out, it was great, but it’s an emotional, trying process.

Zibby: It’s not easy to sell a book.

Amelia: No.

Zibby: I feel like I really need to write an article about this because it’s all I’m talking about these days. When you don’t have a book deal, all you want — my whole dream was just to get a book deal. It would be a book. Somebody would recognize it. I would really be a real writer and a real author. Oh, my gosh, I’ve wanted this for my whole entire life. Then it quickly becomes, how many did it sell? How is it doing? Then it’s like, I’ve got to make it sell better. I’ve got to make it this. It becomes very pressure-filled. Outside metrics end up making so much of a difference. It’s so hard. It’s just so hard. That’s my experience, at least.

Amelia: The thing that I always think about that gives me some solace is — there are so many good shows on all these different streaming networks. There’s so many good books. There’s so much good content. You can barely get your friends to watch the show you’re watching, let alone the book you’re reading.

Zibby: You’re right. You’re so right. That’s such a good point. I know. People have less and less time. Then they have less and less attention. I feel like the first step was to sell everybody back on reading. Let’s go back to that. Let’s just go back to that as a category. Then it’ll open up some more doors.

Amelia: I know. Lots of people, they only read on vacation. I’m just like, how do you process the world? I don’t understand.

Zibby: That’s how I calm down. I can be so frantic. Then I can just sit here and read part of your book, and I’m like, oh, okay. My shoulders go down. Maybe other people are just better at self-regulation than I am. I depend on external books. Let’s talk more about your book and how you came up with this whole plot for it. Tell me about the cats in your life. What is going on with the scampering cats and all of the rest?

Amelia: I actually don’t have any cats. I’m slightly allergic. That theme just kind of kept growing and growing. The origins of the book, I started writing it when I was pregnant with my second kid. He’s now six. I had a lot of angst. I was in this huge fight with my mom. I felt so unsupported by the world and personally. I just poured it all into this book, all of my agita. I was writing towards this scene where a mom is having a breakdown, but it’s not by herself. It’s a public breakdown. That’s the big cat scene. I don’t know if that gives anything away. I don’t think so. That was the scene I was working toward. I wanted Leanne to kind of call bullshit on everything we put on moms. I don’t know if that makes sense.

Zibby: With the mom stress, I feel like it could go in eight million directions. Is there an area that you are most plagued by? Is it the scheduling? Is it just the constant neediness? I’m going to just project, so you tell me.

Amelia: The hardest thing for me to deal with — oh, god, there’s so many things.

Zibby: You have two kids now?

Amelia: Yeah, I have two.

Zibby: Six and what?

Amelia: Six and eight. They’re almost exactly two years apart. I have boys in January. That’s what I do. So many things hit me. I think it really revealed to me how much space I need. As a writer, I already needed space to myself. I needed space to think. I needed space just in general. I remember getting really frustrated with trying to get work done while they napped and then eventually deciding to take that off and just be like, don’t try and get anything done when they nap. That helped a lot. I need them out of the house. I need to be away from them in order to give them my best self when they’re here. I think you really have to know yourself. That’s the conclusion I’ve come to. I really need to know myself so that I’m not thrown when I see somebody else doing something differently. I need to be secure in that I’m doing the best for my family. It may not look like other people’s families. I think that takes a while.

Zibby: Then how did you deal with the pandemic when you had no space?

Amelia: Oh, my god. I thank Matt, my husband. I always say I’m somebody with a lot of boundaries. Matt has no boundaries. He just lets the kids in in a way that I can’t. Teddy is my oldest kid. His first grade was almost entirely on Zoom. We definitely had a breakdown at the beginning when I realized — it was September. It wasn’t working. He needed to be monitored for the Zoom. He was a one. He couldn’t do it. I was trying to be there, but I couldn’t do it because I need two hours in the morning. That’s my time. I had a total meltdown. Then Matt was just like, “I’m going to do it. I’ll sit in.” Matt saved our lives.

Zibby: That’s amazing.

Amelia: He’s really great. I say Matt was the best decision of my life often. He gets it.

Zibby: That’s great. There is no timetable for kids. There’s no, I’m going to let you chill out. I’ll be back later when you’re ready. That would be nice. I know, I’m so grateful for literally every single day of school when they go. Today, I don’t have a kid home. I’ve said it twenty times. I’m like, I don’t have any kids home today. This is amazing. I mean, I love them, and blah, blah, blah.

Amelia: Of course. Your youngest is how old?

Zibby: Seven. I have seven, eight, and then twins who are almost fifteen.

Amelia: Wow, teenagers. Exciting.

Zibby: I’m already bracing myself for when these little guys are teenagers. I think that’s going to be even more of a wild ride. Then when do you get your writing in now? While they’re at school?

Amelia: Yeah, they’re both in school. I have found that, really, I’m happy with one to two hours a day. Before kids, I was like, a thousand words a day, a thousand words a day. I think that’s kind of stupid now. I need to be more flexible and chill.

Zibby: Was your mom flexible and chill with you?

Amelia: Oh, god. You asked about my mom.

Zibby: Yeah, I want to know. I want to know about this fight. What was going on?

Amelia: Oh, my god. She’s a pediatrician, so she worked a lot. I didn’t live with her for a lot of my childhood. I grew up with my dad and stepmom for a lot of it. Girlfriend wasn’t really there. I would not say she’s chill. I would not. I think she’s one of those people that never — she’s never done therapy. Let’s put it that way. She doesn’t really know why she does the things she does. She just does them. The fight, it’s too inside baseball, but a lot of it is around her being a Republican and just cruelness, general cruelness. It’s a whole ‘nother book.

Zibby: All right, I’m ready for that.

Amelia: Do you get along with your mom? Not for the podcast?

Zibby: Yes. I feel, like many mother-daughter relationships, we have definitely had our challenges. I’m not sure that we have the relationship that she wants us to have, but I’m happy with where we have ended up now.

Amelia: Nice. You have at least one daughter, right?

Zibby: I have two daughters and two sons.

Amelia: Does that bleed into your relationship with them, your relationship with your mom?

Zibby: Some things. No. I don’t know. Maybe it did more when I was younger. Now that I’m ancient, I feel like I have everything sort of where it needs to be emotionally. All I can do is be the type of mom I want to be to my kids, taking the good from what she’s done and what I’ve seen and the good from my dad and all the rest. That’s all we can do, is do our best. Sometimes, though, I find myself doing — I’m going so the opposite of something that I’m like, well, this is ridiculous. It’s almost as bad as — to flip the switch so completely, I have to just ignore and move on and make my own decisions. Do you feel like that?

Amelia: Totally. I get it. I remember I wanted a girl. I ended up with two boys. Now I just feel so grateful. I love that I got two boys. I am so glad.

Zibby: Boys are so cute, oh, my gosh.

Amelia: They’re great.

Zibby: What are you working on? I’m assuming you’re not working on a memoir about your mom. What is in the pipeline now?

Amelia: I’m working on something that I do think — my first book was a memoir. The second book has some autofiction. I feel like this book that I’m working on is much less autofiction, but I would say that I’m working out some mom stuff still. I was really inspired by Normal People, as was everyone, maybe. I don’t know. I was like, I’m going to write Normal People fanfiction. That’s kind of where this next project started out, just trying to set up — did you read Normal People?

Zibby: Yeah, and I watched. I watched probably half of the show.

Amelia: Just half?

Zibby: Yeah. I know. We never finished it.

Amelia: Oh, my god.

Zibby: I know. My husband finished it without me. Then I just never went back. I’m going to blame him.

Amelia: I watched it twice, at least. It’s so good. I couple it in my mind with Fleabag, the second season of Fleabag. Did you watch? It’s so good.

Zibby: I know. I know I’m supposed to watch it. I don’t watch a lot of TV. I know I have to.

Amelia: You don’t have to apologize. It’s like people that apologize for not being on social media. I’m like, oh, my god, congratulations. I wanted to set up this intense longing, this couple that can’t quite be together. I’m enjoying it.

Zibby: That’s awesome. That sounds great. Amazing. What advice would you have for aspiring authors?

Amelia: I listened to your episode with Chelsea Bieker. I really liked her episode. Her advice was, thirty minutes, use it. I feel like a lot of times when I only have thirty minutes, I’m like, it’s not worth it. I would say just be patient. Just be patient with yourself. Going back to my pre-motherhood self that wanted to write a thousand words a day, that’s totally one approach, but it’s not the only approach. Having kids, I would go for weeks without even opening up my Word document. That doesn’t mean that it’s dead. Eventually, you just have to open up the Word document. You’ll get there. That’s what I would say.

Zibby: Love it. Amazing. It was great getting to know you.

Amelia: Thanks. You too.

Zibby: Thanks for coming on. Thanks for discussing Wildcat. I love this little baby, oh, my gosh. So great. Thank you so much for all of your time.

Amelia: Thank you. Good luck with your pre-pub stuff.

Zibby: Thank you. Thanks. Appreciate it.

Amelia: Cool. Thank you.

Zibby: Thank you. Buh-bye.

Amelia: Bye.

Amelia Morris, WILDCAT

WILDCAT by Amelia Morris

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