Zibby Books author alert!!! Zibby speaks to Andrea Dunlop about her latest novel Women Are The Fiercest Creatures, a wildly addictive feminist family drama about three women who take on the charming, manipulative tech CEO who wrote them out of his startup’s history. Andrea discusses her book’s striking female protagonists, touching on their motherhood, entrepreneurship, and sacrifice. She also talks about writing this book through two pregnancies (and mid-pandemic!), her Munchausen-by-proxy-themed investigative true crime podcast (and the personal experiences that inspired it), and what being a fierce woman means to her.

We’d love to see you at Andrea’s Fierce Book Tour this week! Visit to learn more about an event near you!


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Andrea. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Women Are the Fiercest Creatures, which just happens to be the first Zibby Books novel. Congratulations.

Andrea Dunlop: Thank you so much. Congratulations right back at you. You just launched a publishing imprint and a bookstore. It’s very, very exciting. It’s exciting to be a part of it. Thank you for having me on the show. Thank you for publishing my novel. It’s been so much fun. I’m so excited.

Zibby: Andrea, why don’t you tell listeners what your book is about? By the way, I watched your interview with the Thursday authors, the interview you did, the sixty seconds, whatever. I loved the way you described the book where you said — what did you say? Fierce feminist family drama.

Andrea: I think I said fast-paced feminist family drama.

Zibby: That’s even better.

Andrea: I decided to go for the alliteration.

Zibby: I loved it. I literally wrote it down. I was like, why are we not putting that everywhere? That’s what we have to be saying.

Andrea: They asked me for three words. I was like, all right, what are my three words? That was kind of a fun challenge. Women Are the Fiercest Creatures is the story of three women who are sort of what we would think of as the women behind the man of a big tech CEO who’s about to take his company public. The women in the book have made major contributions to this company, but they’ve basically gone unrecognized. This man’s past comes to haunt him at the worst possible moment. The lives of all three of these women converge in a pretty dramatic way. It is about motherhood. It is about technology. It is about being a woman our age, an older millennial, Xennial, if that’s what they’re calling us Gen-X women where we were really raised to think that we were going to have everything equal, and then maybe that’s not exactly how things shook out.

Zibby: Interesting. Tell everybody a little bit more about the three women.

Andrea: I have two main characters. You are hearing the book’s perspective from them. That is Sam Flores-Walsh — she is Mexican American, incredibly smart, one-time programmer turned fitness guru who now owns her own very successful yoga and fitness studio. She is a single mom. She moves to Portside, Washington, which is fictional town that is somewhat based on the town I live — if people are familiar with Seattle area, I always say I kind of meshed up Edmonds, where I live, and Mercer Island to make Portside, Washington. She moves to Portside, Washington, to open a new fitness studio and to deal with some past business that she’s decided it’s time to take care of. My other main character is Anna Sarnoff. She is the ex-wife of the aforementioned tech CEO, whose name is Jake. She has just had a quick divorce from him where he did the most cliché thing possible of leaving her for a woman fifteen years younger. They have two sons together. She has sacrificed her career and her talents to put into the business that he was building. She finds herself, post-divorce, still very enmeshed with Jake and his life and his company and trying to figure out where she belongs and how she can best move forward. Then there is also Jake’s new wife, his young wife Jessica, who is pregnant during a lot of the book and has a new baby in part of it. She is dealing with being a much younger spouse and dealing with all of the changes of identity of going through your first pregnancy and postpartum period, which were things that were very much on my mind while I was writing this book, even though I am going through a much more senior age than Jessica is. Jessica’s twenty-five. I was pregnant with my daughter, who is now four and a half, when I started writing this book. I finished writing it when I was pregnant with my son, who is now eight months old.

Zibby: I feel like he was just born.

Andrea: Me too. I always kind of forget. I mean, I don’t forget, but there was a whole entire global pandemic in between those pregnancies. Time is warped beyond repair for me at this point. I’m just like, when did that happen? Where am I? What year is it? All three of my characters are dealing with motherhood in different ways. That certainly is a huge theme in the book.

Zibby: Take me back to you pregnant with your daughter and wanting to start a new book and thinking, what should I do? How did it happen? Then the moment you started to write, what happened in between there? How did that all start?

Andrea: Oh, my gosh, I’m trying to remember. Again, it feels like I’m sort of spelunking through the cave of my memory of the last few years. While I was pregnant with Fiona, which was 2018, I finished writing We Came Here to Forget, which was my last novel that came out in 2019. I finished writing that while I was pregnant with her. For me, I always have to start a new book as soon as I possibly can because it is my way to move past the last book. You know this. You get so enmeshed in a book when you’re writing it. You get so attached to the characters. You get so in the world of it. Then there’s sort of a void when you’re done writing it. It’s very exciting to be done writing it. Especially when I’m talking about a completed, completed book up to publication, at that point, I’m usually pretty sick of it. There’s part of me that’s just like, get this thing out of my face. I never want to see it again. I have a little bit of that feeling, but I have that void. I really love to have something to be working on. I really have found that as I’ve gotten into my publishing career — this will be my fourth book coming out in two weeks here. I sometimes really miss before I was ever published.

Of course, before I was ever published, all I wanted to do was get a book deal and be a published author. I get nostalgic about writing just for myself and not talking to my agent about it or thinking about deals or not having the business side sort of encroach on that. I find that if I get a book off and, okay, that’s done, then I have this little window before I have to start thinking about business again. I really like to start writing while I’m still in that window. I can just think of it as, this is a book I’m writing, and I don’t have to think about what’s going to happen to it. I started writing this book. It went through many iterations. There was always Sam. Sam and Jake were always at the center. There was a lot of other characters and different perspectives in there at one point or another. This went through a lot of revisions, which is pretty typical for me. I tend to write hundred-thousand-word bloated first drafts and then just cut massive sections and whole characters. I honestly like that. I like to just let my imagination really go bonkers and not think about, is this really where I want the story to go? I’d be like, maybe not, but maybe I’m telling myself something crucial about where the story is going or is not going. I just need to write it to see. That’s how I started the book. I knew Sam was going to be a big part of it. I knew she was going to be a mom. I knew she was on a mission to deal with some past business. That’s where I started.

Zibby: I love that. Did you always want to be a writer? When did you know you wanted to be a novelist? Take me back there.

Andrea: Oh, gosh, I think five. Yeah, I did always want to be a writer. My mom always talks about that she would find — first of all, the way that I played with toys was that they always started talking to each other and going off on adventures. I always clearly had that sort of narrative running. As I got old enough to write, she would find little scraps of paper all over the place with bits of dialogue on them and little scenes. I always loved that part of school where we were writing and writing stories. That was just something I was always super drawn to. I consider myself really lucky that I’m here because I didn’t really want to do anything else with my life. Now I am doing some other stuff with my life. I’m a podcaster. I’m doing some work around child abuse advocacy. Those are not, obviously, things that — first of all, podcasting didn’t exist when I was a kid. Those are also very rewarding. In terms of the job that I wanted, this was it. This was always it.

Zibby: That is so cool. Tell everybody more about your podcast.

Andrea: My podcast is called “Nobody Should Believe Me.” Our first season is out now in its entirety, so you can go binge it. We are getting our second season out, hopefully, in May. That is coming as well. It is an investigative true crime podcast about Munchausen by proxy, which is a form of child abuse where a caregiver fabricates, exaggerates, or induces medical issues in their child for the purposes of attention. It’s something I think people have become more aware of in the past few years. There’s big shows like The Act and Sharp Objects. We really tried to bring a lot of humanity to the topic. It’s something that’s really close to my heart because we had a situation in my family that I talk about on the podcast. Interestingly, these two projects, the book and the podcast, came together during the same time period. I think that both of them really had a lot to do with me becoming a mother. I think one of the best things that can happen to you as a creative person is to have something that dramatically shifts your perspective. Nothing, nothing shifts your perspective like becoming a parent. At least, for me. It’s interesting how these projects play into each other. Although the other project is obviously very serious and you’re talking about people’s real lives, I think, actually, that my experience as a novelist, even though I was a newbie podcaster, really helped me figure out how to put myself in someone else’s shoes, how to be empathetic to people who are opening up to me about the worst thing that ever happened to them. Working on storytelling in that audio format was really, really interesting. It’s been really interesting to work on the two projects simultaneously. Sometimes I think, did I really need to take all this on when I had two really little kids? I don’t think it happened by accident. I think that these projects really came from that experience.

Zibby: Can you share a little more about your personal experience with Munchausen by proxy?

Andrea: Yes. I have an older sister who has been investigated twice for Munchausen by proxy abuse. She has not been charged with a crime. There is a lot, actually, that has come up about her case since I started researching the podcast. I’m going to talk about it in season two. Because of that situation, which was with her younger child the first time it happened, my entire family is estranged from her for the last twelve years. That’s been a really hard thing. It took me a very, very long time to be able to talk about it publicly. The first time I ever talked about it publicly was after my last book, We Came Here to Forget, came out because that was partially inspired by my family’s story. I started doing press about it. That’s how I met these experts. Now I’m on a committee with the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children. They have a Munchausen by proxy committee. I’m on it with a bunch of experts. Everyone else has a PhD other than me. It’s taken me in such an interesting path when I started talking about it. I kept thinking, okay, I’m just going to talk about this part of it this time, but it’s evolved. Putting the podcast together and putting that into the world has been a really positive experience. Obviously, it’s a very negative thing. It’s the hardest thing that’s ever happened to me in my life. It continues to be the hardest part of my life because it’s not really over.

It’s been really wonderful to connect with other people who’ve been through it. Everyone else I’ve talked to who has a family member or is a survivor, that was their first contact. It’s just very, very isolating. Many people think it’s rare. It’s often described as rare. I have really come to strongly believe that it’s not rare from having talked to all of these experts and just my anecdotal experience of putting the podcast out and having so many people reach out to me. I think that this phenomenon is happening a lot more than people realize, and so anything I can do to help raise awareness for it and to do it in a really respectful, humane way. A lot of the coverage of cases in the media is problematic, to say the least. You see a lot of cases that are about “falsely accused parents.” Reading them, I have a lot of questions about whether that’s true or not because I know the system is very broken in terms of holding perpetrators accountable. You see a lot of cases about children who die. It is the most deadly form of child abuse. Obviously, we don’t want to over-fixate on the worst-case scenarios because we want people to intervene before that happens. Then the coverage of these cases often gets very, very caught up in the medical horror of it all, the number of surgeries the child went through, the number of procedures, and those really overwhelming and pretty dehumanizing details. A lot of times, coverage includes a whole bunch of pictures of the kids in medical settings, which is not a thing you should put out there without someone’s consent. Obviously, children can’t consent. The media coverage around it so troubling.

I think that’s really what pushed me to want to do a podcast about it and have something that I could really put together the way that I thought it should be and that was focused on the humanity of everyone involved, including the perpetrator. We talked to a perpetrator in the finale of season one. That was a really fascinating, disturbing, interesting conversation. These are human beings that go through this. No one who comes into contact with one of these cases, whether it’s a doctor or a CPS worker or a police officer or a family member or whomever, is ever the same. These cases just stick with people. I really wanted to talk about all of that. In season two, we’re going to talk to some more survivors. I’m really excited about that. As I’ve met some survivors, I’ve been just blown away by their resilience. Humans are incredible. They can put themselves back together after the most horrific childhoods, after the most horrific experiences. It’s interesting. It started off in a dark place, but it’s also been a really positive thing in my life.

Zibby: Thank you for being so open and sharing about that here and everywhere.

Andrea: Thank you for asking.

Zibby: I didn’t realize it was so recent that you started sharing about it because you had been sharing when I met you.

Andrea: I really thought, I’ll write this book. With We Came Here to Forget, I thought, I’ll write this book. I’ll have my moment of novel catharsis. If you are a novelist, you are going to write about whatever your big thing is eventually. I remember when the idea for that book came. That was so different than my other books. It just came out. I did not write a bajillion versions of it. It came out, and I revised that version of it a bunch of times. It was very different. I just thought, okay, I guess I’m doing this now. I guess this is the time. It was because we were thinking about having children. I was like, it’s time to deal with my big family demons. I thought, I’ll write this. Obviously, want to make it a good novel and readable and fast-paced and all those things I like to bring to my novels. I’ll have my catharsis and my moment. I’ll try and raise some awareness about this. That will be it. I will be done with this. I will put this away. I will put it in a box. That’s not what happened. Everything that’s happened since then has happened one thing at a time. I met this person. I met this other person. These all comes together. That’s always something that makes you feel like you’re on the right track.

Zibby: In knowing all of the backstory, I feel like it brings a different understanding to Women Are the Fiercest Creatures and the different ways that the different women mother or parent in the story. I’m wondering, is there some message with each parent, each woman that you’re trying to get out? Is it overall more an examination of the different ways that we all can muddle through? What are some of the takeaways about parenthood that come out of the book for you or that you intended to put in?

Andrea: For me, we have a real hard time in this culture seeing mothers as human beings with all of their flaws and good qualities. This obviously is in a lot of your work too. There’s such a standard of perfect motherhood. If you’re a stay-at-home mom, then everyone’s condescending to you. If you’re a working mom, then everyone makes you feel guilty about being away from your children. There’s just literally no way to win. Don’t try because there’s no way to win. You see all these characters who are moms in the book — actually, even four because there’s Jake’s mom too. She’s making some questionable choices but also is trying her best. All of the women who are mothers in the book are trying their best, and trying their best in a society that doesn’t support them and doesn’t really respect them. One thing that really came through to me when I was pregnant and postpartum and having my first experiences with mothers is, wow, people talk to you like you’re a child when you’re pregnant and when you’re a first mother. I’m like, I just brought a human onto this earth. This is the most grown-up thing I have ever done. I have never been more of a grown-up than I am right now. I just took responsibility for someone else’s entire being. Why are you talking to me like I’m five?

People are so strange about it. They treat you like you’re fragile. It doesn’t make any sense. It is a fearsome thing. Everyone has different experiences with childbirth. My experiences with childbirth were really positive. I think that is where some of the energy of this book came from, that fierceness. I was just like, oh, holy cow, men don’t even know. Men don’t even know what goes on here. This is such a powerful thing to go through. Then you go through all that, and then you get treated worse. Then on the other hand, a huge theme of the book is the way that we treat working dads, a phrase no one ever uses, differently than working moms. I thought a lot about two entrepreneurs that are famously bad fathers. I forget their names. Steve Jobs, if you’ve ever heard of him, and Elon Musk. Steve Jobs, he let his daughter grow up in poverty. She wrote a memoir about it. It’s a very good memoir, actually. What is the name? Do you remember the name of her memoir? Small Fry. I almost called it Sweet Pea.

Zibby: I was going to say Small Jobs. I’m like, that’s not what it was.

Andrea: Small Fry. It’s good. It’s very well-written. Then Elon Musk is famous for, ha ha ha, having all these kids with all these different women. Can you imagine if a female entrepreneur or female anyone did either of those things? That is the only thing people would ever talk about ever again. With them, it’s kind of an asterisk. It’s always an asterisk. It’s whatever they’re doing in their work. Look at them, they’re inventing. People love them or hate them for their personalities and whatever. It’s not that I don’t think women should be judged on how they parent. I think we’re judged too harshly on how we parent. I think that it is a huge responsibility. If you are going to be a parent, nothing says more about your character than how you treat your children. I think that’s fundamentally true. For women, it’s the sliver of no room for error. You’re a bad mom if you gave your kid a weird breakfast. Somehow, you’re a bad dad only if you completely abandon your children. Even then, people maybe don’t care that much if you do something else cool. I think that double standard really came into focus for me.

Also, I thought a lot about entrepreneurship while I was writing this book. It’s a very strong American obsession. My dad is from another country. He’s British. He’s a successful entrepreneur. It’s a real type of person, I say as I’m talking to you, an entrepreneur yourself. It takes this huge drive. It takes up a lot of space. A huge part of the reason that he was able to be successful was because of my mom. Theirs was not a toxic dynamic like the ones in the book. It was a dynamic that worked really well for them. She’s always taken on all the home-front stuff, all of taking care of him. It is easier to be a successful entrepreneur if you have someone just having your back one hundred percent of the time. That gets very erased in our conversation about entrepreneurship, how you can’t really do it without a strong partner. Most men are not willing, even now, to be that behind-the-scenes partner. Some are. Some are wonderful at that, or you take turns. That was something that was really on my mind too, just the way people talk about entrepreneurship like it’s a hundred percent positive. There’s a lot of sacrifice that goes into that. There’s a lot of sacrifice. It can be very hard on a family. It’s a different deal than having just a nine-to-five job.

Zibby: That is true. How does your husband deal with everything? I feel like writing — I know it’s not exactly entrepreneurship, but it kind of is because you’re creating a product by yourself which you run. Then you have to market it. Like you were saying at the beginning, all the business stuff of marketing, you do have to market the words to get them out there.

Andrea: It’s funny. It’s sort of somewhere between owning a company and having a job that you go to. For me, the sweet spot is that I want to work for myself. I don’t really want anyone else’s livelihood to depend on me. I don’t really want to do a lot of managing or a lot of meetings or that kind of thing. That, to me, is a distinct difference.

Zibby: You’re right.

Andrea: To your point, it is a demanding career, especially as I’ve had these things closer together. This year, I’ve been working on a nonfiction book and have this and have the podcast. Now we have two kids. My husband, he works a full-time demanding job as well. He’s a mechanical engineer at a space company. He is an amazing partner. I fully could never do it if I had a husband that didn’t think it was also his job to help out with — my husband keeps the trains running around here. I will fully cop to, my husband makes dinner most nights. That’s partly because the children will cling on my legs if I try and make dinner, so it becomes unsafe. He is a full partner in every way. I think that shouldn’t be hard to find, but I think it is hard to find. None of the men I have written about are anything like my husband. It’s hard. Just the full plate of having two working parents is really challenging, especially when you have two little kids. We are really lucky, also, because we have family close by. We have a lot of people around to pinch-hit. We’re very lucky. It’s unfortunate that there is absolutely no safety net in this country other than that. I saw something the other day, some internet meme where someone said, the only true parenting hack is living close to grandparents. I was like, that’s it. That’s right.

Zibby: It is definitely helpful to have active grandparents on the horizon, in the area. You know what I mean. When you think of a fierce woman in this way, Women Are the Fiercest Creatures, what does that mean to you?

Andrea: What a good question. In this way and the things that Anna and Sam in particular, and Jess, are striving for in this book is to be self-actualized. From the moment that you become a mother — I think fathers experience this also, or non-birthing partners, if you’re not the one in the couple that actually gives birth and is doing the mother role, I should say to include all couples in that. It’s a huge shift in your identity. When it is happening in your body, to your body, going through breastfeeding, going through that recovery period, it feels like your identity is in danger, almost, when you become a mother. It sort of feels like it’s being snatched away from you in little bits. If you’re not careful, it’ll just disappear. I was like, this is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever been through. I love my kids so much. It’s this complete, all-encompassing, all the cheesy things people say about, oh, my god, you just have never felt love like that. It’s almost because of that that you’re like, oh, I could just disappear into this and absolutely lose myself in both the enormity of the feelings about this and also the day-to-day tasks of being a mom. Your self could just get completely blown apart.

Society would kind of condone that. Society would do nothing to be like, no, you need to, whatever. For me, that meant continuing to work and staying attached to my work. Even though it’s been stressful to have these projects so close around pregnancy, it’s also been psychologically helpful. With the women in the book, they are in the process of trying to do what’s right for themselves and their children, but also themselves, and think critically about the ways that the world has tried to take things away from them and trying to take them back. As the woman in this world, you have to fight back. You’re always going to be trying to fight back. I guess you give in to the oblivion or you fight back. All three women are fighting back. In that way, they’re also fighting for their kids. I think it’s really important to have kids see their moms be doing other things. I’m sure it’s amazing for your kids to watch you doing all those things, especially if you have daughters, but I think it’s equally important for sons. I have one of each now. You want them to know that you get to be a whole person too.

Zibby: Very true. Well said. Andrea, this is so great. I’m sure this is the first of many conversations we’re going to be having in the near future about the book. I’m just so excited to be publishing your novel and raising all these questions and starting all these conversations and being a part of the dialogue of what it means to contribute and how to be acknowledged and how to be a mom and how to be a working woman and also a parent and all the things that so many of us struggle all the time. I think your book really makes people think. It really makes me think. It will make readers think, in addition to just being a delicious, fast-paced, fabulous read. I’ll add another F for fabulous at the end.

Andrea: Thank you. All the Fs. Here’s some fabulous and fun and fast-paced and feminist. Thank you. Thank you so much. Honestly, as a novelist, I feel like writing a book that people want to read and having fun reading and keep the pages turning is my first job, always. As much as I want people to take my work seriously and think deep thoughts, if all this book is to you is a very nice little respite away from your life, then that is good too. That is one of the best things books can do for a person, is just take you away for a minute.

Zibby: Totally. Calgon, take me away. You probably don’t know what I’m talking about. Thanks, Andrea. Yay. More to come.

Andrea: Awesome. Thank you so much, Zibby.

Zibby: Thank you. Bye.

Andrea: This was so much fun. Thank you.

Zibby: Thanks. Bye.



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