Zibby’s Book Club alert! Debut author Angela Brown joins Zibby to discuss OLIVIA STRAUSS IS RUNNING OUT OF TIME, a bighearted and dazzling comedy of errors about an everyday suburban mom on the verge of turning 40… and what happens when her best friend takes her to a trendy wellness clinic with a state-of-the-art genetic test that can predict the exact date of one’s death! Angela talks about the inspiration behind the story, her exploration of middle age (which, Zibby says, needs a rebrand!), and the importance of portraying realistic relationships in literature. She also describes her writing process and shares valuable advice for aspiring authors, including setting deadlines and embracing rejection.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Angela. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Olivia Strauss Is Running Out of Time.

Angela Brown: Thank you so much for having me. I’m thrilled to be here. This is very exciting. This is really the first time I’m talking about Olivia. I’m just thrilled to talk about the book and the story and writing and all that fun stuff.

Zibby: As I was just saying to you, this is the January book club pick for Zibby’s Book Club. I’m so excited. The idea of the book, when I saw it, was like, oh, this is such a good idea. Then I was really drawn in by your voice and your writing. I just haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. That’s the greatest kind of book. It just makes you think about your own life a little bit differently and live a little bit differently. That’s powerful stuff.

Angela: Thank you very much. I’m so glad that you enjoyed it. I’m so thrilled to be the January book club pick.

Zibby: Let’s back up. What is this book about?

Angela: The book is about a woman named Olivia Strauss. She’s really just, in my opinion, an everyday suburban mom. She has what I would call a really great life. She has a stable job. She has this wonderful husband and marriage, this adorable young son, Tommy, who I had so much fun writing. I just adore this character. He’s so cute. On the surface, she really has everything that one should have to be happy. When the novel opens, she’s staring this milestone fortieth birthday in the face. She’s feeling really conflicted about it. She feels like there are all these boxes in her life that she probably should’ve had checked off by now, different goals she’d set for herself. She kept putting them off because she felt like she still had time to do them. Now here she is. She’s nearly forty. She’s facing this fact that, maybe I am running out of time. Maybe these windows for these dreams and goals are kind of closing.

As a gag, her best friend Marian, who is her polar opposite is every imaginable way, decides to take her to this trendy wellness clinic whose founder claims to have created this genetic test that can tell you the exact date of your death. They go thinking it’s just going to be this fun girlfriends’ outing. When Olivia gets her results, they’re not quite the results that she was expecting. From there, the rest of the novel sort of forces Olivia, and hopefully us as readers, to think about the question, if you found out tomorrow that you had a very short window left to live — you weren’t sick. There was nothing wrong. You could still get up and live your life, so to speak, every day. What would you change? Would you completely rewrite the script and just do everything over? Would you realize how good you had it already? Would you find some hybrid in between those two things? Just thinking about what it means to be middle aged and what that means. Is it over? Do we still have time? All of those things.

Zibby: I feel like we’re in need of a serious rebrand of middle age. I keep thinking about my grandmother when I was a little girl. I don’t feel like I’m middle aged at all. Obviously, we are, but there needs to be a better name.

Angela: I joke — I’m not joking, but in a joking sort of way with people all the time — I’m forty-one. My debut will be coming out when I’m forty-one and a half. I just had my second child not too long ago. I feel like I’m just getting started in a lot of ways. Like you said, it’s funny, I can remember being a kid, and my parents or people that they knew, when they turned forty, I was like, oh, so old. I don’t feel that way at all. It’s a really good time in life.

Zibby: I remember going to my mom’s fortieth birthday party and the dress that I wore. She was forty. I’m forty-seven now. My debut’s coming out at forty-seven. You have nothing — . I think, forty, we’re just getting started, all of us. It’s when you’re hitting your prime in a lot of ways. Your kids are usually a little bit older. Not yours, I guess. You’ve learned enough.

Angela: He’s getting there.

Zibby: We’ve got some wisdom.

Angela: It’s a good time. I am team late bloomers. I think it’s great.

Zibby: Speaking of that, let’s go back for a second again in that I want to know who you are. Where are you from? How did you get into writing? What’s your life story?

Angela: I live in New Jersey. I was joking with you before, my backyard would make you think we’re in Vermont or something, but no. I’m in New Jersey, not too far outside of the city. I bounced around for college and things like that, but mostly, I’ve spent most of my life here in New Jersey. I think my story is probably typical of a lot of writers. I’ve just wanted to write my entire life. That has always, always, always been my thing. My mom can vouch for it. When I was a little girl, library trips and the whole thing. In high school, I was always the one writing teenage poetry in the lit journals and all that. It’s just always been very much who I am and what I love. I went to school up in Vermont at University of Vermont. I studied English. After that, I came back to this area. I worked in the city for a short time. That’s a big question I’ve gotten from early readers. Oh, did you live in the city? A lot of the setting is there. No, I worked there for a little bit. Then I realized I did not love what I was doing. I ran as fast as I could into an MFA program, sprinted into an MFA program. I studied nonfiction writing in my MFA program, which I loved. I did some freelance stuff here and there with magazines periodically. Really, when I finished my MFA, I never in a million years thought I would end up teaching. I thought I would just go right into writing. I had this wonderful professor who was like, “You know, I think you might be kind of good at working with people and teaching this.” I did not see myself that way at all, but I took his advice. I taught for fifteen years and had a great experience. I wrote several books before Olivia that will live in a drawer forever. Then I wrote Olivia. Now here we are. I’m still wrapping my head around it. A long journey. Not a short one.

Zibby: The ones that are in a drawer, did you try to sell them, or you knew they were starter books or what?

Angela: I did try. It’s funny. I’m a big believer now on the other side, and I think I’ve always probably been, but a believer in rejection and how important it is in probably any artistic field, but particularly in writing. A lot of how I got to Olivia was through another book that I wrote that got rejected. I have two kids. My daughter Hadley is seven. My son is just shy of one and a half. When I was on maternity leave with my daughter, I was like, you know — it was the busiest, wildest time, but I was also so surprised there was a lot of quiet time where she was sleeping on me. I couldn’t get up and do all the things. I was just sitting. I thought, what if this is a window I have to maybe tinker around with writing a bit? I started while she was on maternity leave. It took much longer than that. I wrote a draft for a very different novel, different voice, different topic, all the things. I sent it out into the world. It was funny, it wasn’t immediately rejected. It was the opposite. I was getting all of these responses from agents that were, I love this premise. Send me the first fifty. Send me the first hundred. It was funny. It almost might have been better if they were just flat out like, absolutely not. There was this flicker of hope there. Oh, man, this might be the one. Anyway, I kept sending it out and sending it out. Ultimately, in the end, everyone passed on it. If I can keep going, that’s kind of how I ended up —

Zibby: — Keep going. Yes, I wanted to know every detail. Yes, yes.

Angela: That book ended up getting, finally — I’m going back to 2019 now. That book had been rejected by everyone. The fact that I wasn’t just getting form rejections right away, there was some flicker of hope, like I said. When I finally had those last agents on my spreadsheet that said no, it was like a little piece of me just died. I was just so defeated. I really was. It was because of a lot of things. One, I’d been trying for a long time. There were much worse drafts in a drawer, but we won’t talk about those. I’d been trying. At that point, again, my daughter was heading off into preschool. Life was kind of taking on a new shape, a new season. We were getting busier. I was getting older. Life just gets hectic. I was struck by this really real fear. I’m not going to have the time to do this again. Writing a book, it’s a marathon. It’s really serious work. It takes so much time and energy and thinking. I didn’t think I had that space. I was really defeated. That was happening over here.

Then over here, I had, like I said, my daughter — as a mom, I’m sure you can relate to this. She was heading off into preschool. I remember it being this really heartfelt time for me where all of a sudden, I just wanted to press the pause button because time was going so fast. I feel like when you look at time through the scope of your children — it was like I blinked, and she went from diapers to being in school with her little bookbag. Time is just moving and moving and moving. All of these things were going on. On top of that, because of my age, it was very funny, I was just at this point — nothing was wrong or any of that. Just because of my age, it was the first time in my life — I’m very fortunate to be able to say that — where I would go for a doctor’s visit and instead of my physician saying, “Pat on the head. Gold star. Everything’s perfect. See you in a year,” it was like, “We should see a specialist about this just in case because you’re not that young anymore.” That whole year, it felt like all of these things were happening. All of a sudden, this idea for Olivia just sort of came out of them. That was a very long answer to a rather simple question you posed. Really, I think the rejection of that first novel that will live forever in a drawer is kind of how I ended up here. I attribute a lot of it to that rejection.

Zibby: There you go. Honestly, it’s all part of the process. It doesn’t feel like it at the time. Everything leads up to something else, leads up to something else. If you don’t give up, you’ll see it all goes — it makes sense later, but not necessarily in the moment when it’s very upsetting.

Angela: Absolutely. It has been very much looking back realizing how important all of those things were and just the timing of everything. Yes.

Zibby: Wait, to finish that part of it, so you did all of that. Then you wrote Olivia. Then it sold right away?

Angela: It was fast and slow. I came up with the idea around the end of 2019. I wrote what ended up being that very first page at the end of 2019. I thought I was writing a poem or something. Then I was just thinking, I love this voice. I think the story is there. Shortly thereafter is when quarantine and everything happened. My job went remote. I was home. Again, timing. There’s no coincidences, as my mother would say. I wrote it mostly during 2020 and into early 2021. Then I did exactly what I think my protagonist would’ve done. I sat on it for a couple of months. I just really loved this story, and I was so nervous it would get rejected. I loved it so very much. I waited around for a couple of months and kept telling myself, all right, maybe in a few months, I’ll send it out. Maybe I should just look at it again. Then in the fall of 2021, I found out I was pregnant with my son. I was thinking, we are about to get so busy again. We’re going to have a newborn again, oh, my gosh. This one afternoon, I had a very quiet day. I was caught up at work. I said, I’m sending one email. That is it. I’m sending it to the agency that I really want to be at. I did. I thought, I will never hear from anyone again. No joke, twenty minutes later, I got a response. “Send it over.” A few weeks later, we chatted. My agent and I worked on a round of edits for a couple of months. We got it in before my son was born. Then right after he was born, she sent it out. It was really just a couple of short weeks. I remember it being very fast. All of a sudden, oh, my gosh, this is happening. You’re writing books now.

Zibby: So exciting. I love hearing all of that because it’s so inspiring. You just feel your joy when you then have the book in your hand. Thanks for sharing the backstory.

Angela: Absolutely. Again, it’s a funny thing because I think so much of my own — I think all writers bring their own lives and pieces of their hearts to the pages. There is so much in this that really was a reflection of my own life at the time and stuff. It’s fun to talk about and see how it all came together.

Zibby: What are your views, if you did find out, if you did get your death date or whatever?

Angela: I do not know of any test like this that exists. I don’t know if I would want to if it magically does somewhere. I don’t think I would. I think the anticipation of it would make me not do anything. I think it would have the opposite effect on me, maybe. Probably not. It was funny writing this book and thinking about a character who’s faced with that question, thinking, I don’t ever want to be faced with that question, but thinking about what she has to think about by being faced with that question, just thinking about your perspective on life changing. Whether you know a date or not, just the idea of, none of us ever do know. Who knows what could happen? Just trying to find more positivity and gratitude and taking chances. It took me a while to get to that point. I kind of like this point in life now and being more aware of that on the day-to-day.

Zibby: Yes. I think when you are aware of mortality, whether through writing a whole novel, analyzing it, or going through loss or illness or whatever it is that gets you there, it’s like the lighting changes. There’s someone in the light box back there. You just have kind of a different light to see the world through. By the way, I think I would totally want to know.

Angela: Would you?

Zibby: Yeah. I like to plan. Not trips. Trips, I plan last minute. I just like to know when I’m doing what and be able to say goodbye and prepare the people I love and get everything in order. Those are some of the things I worry about. I won’t have time to do all the things I need to do at the very end because it’s going to be so instantaneous, maybe. Who knows? Anyway, knock wood.

Angela: question to think about. No test like this exists as of yet.

Zibby: The relationship between Olivia and Marian — Marian, right?

Angela: Marian.

Zibby: Marian. Was so well-written. The ups and downs of female friendship and when you’re closer, when you’re not closer, when you’re resenting the person, when you’re cheering the person, it’s all wrapped up in one. I won’t talk about the ending, but you wrote everything just beautifully.

Angela: Thank you.

Zibby: Tell me about writing this relationship. Is it modeled on a friend of yours? What was it designed to show? All of that.

Angela: It is not modeled after a friend of mine. I do not have any friends at all like Marian. Probably, the opposite. Though, I bet she’d be a lot of fun to be friends with.

Zibby: Are you more friends with the wine-drinking group down the block? Is that where we are here?

Angela: That’s probably more my crew, soccer moms of the neighborhood. It’s really, really funny. I’ll tell you a story. When I sat down to write the book, I knew what I wanted to happen with Olivia. I knew what I wanted to happen with the test. I had this shadow of an idea of a friend, but I wasn’t, when I sat down, entirely sure how she was going to play in just yet. I remember when I wrote the early pages — the first fifty to one hundred pages of the book is pretty pure from how I wrote it originally, first draft. The first descriptive scene I wrote with Marian, it tells a little bit about how they first met and this night. I visualized her. All of a sudden, she just came so alive to me. I was like, I have to play around with this character. I love this character, and I’m just a few pages in. No, she’s not modeled after anyone. I do think I wanted to show, not just through her, through the women in the neighborhood too, just what female friendship looks like at a certain age because it changes. It changes with careers. It changes when you have children, when you choose not to have children, all of the different things. What does that friendship still look like? Between Olivia and Marian, there’s a lot of them that hopefully came across on the page. They’re still old college buddies. You can see parts of their girlhood in their friendship. Then they’ve made really different choices in life. They have incredibly different lives. What does that do when one woman is this super cool, eccentric city dweller and the other is just the soccer mom, so to speak? I just wanted to play around with that notion a bit.

Zibby: I feel like it’s the grass is always greener. It’s like sliding doors. What if my life had gone that way? What if I hadn’t done this? What if I hadn’t done that? These two very different lives. You also wrote in such a realistic and endearing way about marriage and what it’s like being married with small children. It was like, good. Thank you. Here you go. Some more literary depictions are not in it. You were in it in this book. That was refreshing just to read.

Angela: Thank you very, very much. I should say the good parts of Andy are my husband. My husband’s a wonderful spouse and father and friend and all of the things, but he’s not a literary guy. They’re nothing alike. I wanted so much to create a marriage that did kind of feel real, or at least what to me feels real. We had this running joke in our house for years where my husband will often ask me — he’ll pop into our room. I’ll be sitting there reading a book at night. “Oh, what are you reading about?” Then he’ll say, “Let me guess. It’s about a woman who realizes she’s totally unsatisfied with her life, so she gets up and leaves and runs off somewhere or something.” Often, my answer will be like, “Well, it’s a little bit about that.” I’m generalizing, obviously, for humor. A lot of times when we read stories about women sort of on the cusp of something, there’s that desire to flee. That’s great. I love these books so much. I have all of them. I really wanted to create a story that felt more authentic to my own life. I’ve never had that desire to flee. I love my marriage. It’s the best. I love my home. I love being a mother. My kids are the center of everything to me in a very positive way. They inspire me. Anyway, I’m getting off a bit. I wanted to write about, what does that look like for that woman, the one who does have a good life and doesn’t want to leave it, but where is the room for her to still change and evolve while maintaining that life? The marriage part was important to me, to capture it real and not too perfect but not too flawed. We’re eating spaghetti on the couch tonight. That’s just what we’re doing. That kind of stuff.

Zibby: How did you meet your husband?

Angela: This is a very funny story. My husband and I are childhood friends. We met on our very, very first day, very first period of high school in the back of our English class, believe it or not. It was very funny. We were just friendly in that way that most people who are in the same grade in high school are friends. Then later in our mid-twenties, we randomly ran into each other, and that was kind of it, as they say.

Zibby: That’s so nice. The books about women fleeing — by the way, my husband always makes fun of me because I always read books about people who have just lost their husbands, about widowhood or whatever. Then finally, I was reading a book literally called Future Widow. He’s like, “Okay, is there anything I should know here?”

Angela: What are you hinting?

Zibby: What are some of the ones, women on the brink? Are there a couple that you’re like, this is the epitome of the genre that I like, or whatever?

Angela: Gosh, so many. I’m going to blank out on all of them. He definitely always jokes with me about — he calls every book I’m reading Eat Pray Love. That’s always the go-to. I don’t know. I was talking with somebody about this the other day. They were like, “This must be a really exciting time to be publishing a book because there are just so many amazing new works of women’s literature that are out there.” Geez, I don’t know if I have a perfect answer. I’m reading Amazing Grace Adams right now, which I feel like will probably fall into that category. I love, love, love her voice. That would probably be my go-to right now, I would say.

Zibby: Are you writing something else at this point or just enjoying this ride?

Angela: I just, on Thursday, submitted my second book to my editor. She may not even have read it yet by this point. It is just days old. I just submitted that, so I’ll be able to share details about that soon. That was really exciting. I went from finishing Olivia to starting a new book. I feel like I hit the jackpot sometimes. I went from no books to now two. It’s very, very exciting. Now I’m just taking some time to think about, what comes next? What kind of thing do you want to do? I don’t know. It’s a good problem to have, right?

Zibby: Yes.

Angela: A very good problem to have.

Zibby: What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Angela: Oh, geez. I guess the main ticket would be — something that was really, really of value to me is setting a deadline for yourself. If you are going to write professionally, you’re going to have deadlines, so why not get used to them now? Setting some kind of deadline that works around your own life, whatever that might be, and then trying to chip away at it little by little each day. The idea of writing a book is so daunting. When you write that first sentence, the idea of ever possibly arriving at the last sentence just feels so overwhelming. I think if you can set a deadline and say, by next summer — then just backwards plan. Every day, I’m going to write five hundred words or two hundred words. It doesn’t have to be a big goal, but just to make it something that’s of value to you in your day, not something that you keep putting off because you got too busy. Just having a small goal and trying to commit to it, that was the main thing with me when I wrote Olivia. Once I set out to do it, I was like, you are going to write every single solitary day until it’s done. That could be one sentence. That could be one page. That could be one chapter. Some days are really busy. Some days are not. I think that’s really valuable.

Then the other thing I would probably say goes back to where we started with rejection. I actually wrote about this briefly in my acknowledgment section. It was advice that was given to me — I feel like I have to pay it forward and pass it on too — by an old MFA professor who said early on, get a folder for yourself, and every single rejection you get, save it. The urge is going to be to tear them up and throw them away or something. Save them. If you keep compiling rejections, what that means is not only that you’re getting rejected, but that you’re continuing to work at this and that it still does mean something because you’re putting the time and the effort and the thought into it. Eventually, if you’re doing that, one day, it’s not going to be a rejection that you receive. It’s going to be an acceptance. You’ll want to sit down and look back at that paper trail of that proof of how hard and how long you’ve worked at this. I did do that. When I sold the book, I sat down with a nice cup of coffee and read through my rejections. I was so happy that I had them when I did.

Zibby: I kept my rejections from the first novel I tried to sell in 2005 or something crazy. The other day, I sat down on the floor and read them out loud. I think I put the video on YouTube or something. I was like, let me just read you these rejections here. It’s true.

Angela: They are so important. They feel terrible at the time, but the time does come when they take on good value.

Zibby: True. Angela, I’m so excited for you. I feel like we barely scratched the surface of the book. I’m sorry. I was curious about you as a person.

Angela: No, I’m delighted.

Zibby: I loved the book. I don’t want to give things away, but it’s very innovative and thought-provoking. It’s very visual. I feel like I could see the spa in Tribeca. No, Brooklyn. Somewhere. I could just see that. I could just see the scenes and the house and all of it, where Marian lived. You created all these scenes in my head. Now I look at this, and then they all come fluttering back. It’s like magic .

Angela: Thank you so, so much. I really appreciate that a ton.

Zibby: If there’s anything you need, not that I’m much further down this path than you, any questions about launching anything, let me know. I hope to meet you soon. I know I’ll see you in January.

Angela: I’ll see you in January. Good luck to you with your novel. You’re March, I think, right?

Zibby: Yes, I’ve got a ways.

Angela: How are you feeling? Feeling excited?

Zibby: I’m feeling excited. After a memoir, I’m like, whatever. I spilled my guts to the world. Now I’m just like, okay, this is fun. This is now fun. If you don’t like it —

Angela: — I love the premise. Again, as a writer and somebody who just turned in another draft, the premise is great. I can’t wait.

Zibby: I’m living it now because I can’t figure out what to write this time. I’m literally living the situation I created. I can send it to you if you ever want to read it.

Angela: I’d be delighted to. I would love to.

Zibby: Congratulations. I will see you soon. I wish you all the best with this book.

Angela: Thank you. I’m so glad we had the chance to connect. Thanks a ton for your time.

Zibby: Thank you.

Angela: I’ll meet you in person in January.

Zibby: Bye, Angela.

Angela: Thanks a ton. Bye.


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