Guest host Julie Chavez is joined by bestselling author Ann Garvin to discuss her witty and emotional new novel, There’s No Coming Back From This. Ann explains how she went from being a nurse to getting a Ph.D. in exercise physiology to teaching to writing funny-and-sad books. She also talks about the incredible research she conducted at Universal and Sony (her protagonist, Poppy, works a costume job on a Hollywood film set!) and the fabulous writing group she founded, the Tall Poppy Writers.


Julie Chavez: Ann, welcome back to “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” I’m so happy you’re here today.

Ann Garvin: I’m so happy to be here. You have no idea. I’m just so happy. You’re my first interview.

Julie: I feel very excited about that. I was already happy that I got to be the one to interview you for this podcast, but I love knowing that I’m the first person to it. It’s exciting to revisit these things that you wrote so long ago. I think that’s what is easy to forget in publishing, that the lag between when you read it and when it comes out is so significant. There’s a freshness to revisiting it that I’m sure is kind of fun.

Ann: It is. It is very fun. Sometimes they catch you at the wrong — you have to remember that, oh, yeah, I did write that, which I think is really funny. There’s something really wonderful about revisiting, especially after you’ve given it so much time. You do get to revisit it and then see things that you didn’t get to see before, which I kind of love.

Julie: Your latest book is I Thought You Said This Would Work, which is such a brilliant title. We’ll come back to that because I want to talk about your titles. It’s about Poppy Lively. She’s in trouble with the IRS by no fault of her own. By the way, that’s something straight out of my nightmares. As soon as I was reading it, I was like, oh, my gosh. She’s striving to keep her life on track for her daughter, so she takes a job in costuming as a sort of roundabout — she’s connected, and then that happens. I’m always not wanting to give away too much. Is there more that you would say that I left out of that description?

Ann: The only thing I would say that might inform people who are listening to this is that the guy that offers her the job is sort of her old love interest and somebody that she definitely felt like got away. He shows up later in such surprising ways .

Julie: Good job. You would think that you’d written this. I know I feel the same way where I want to tell you — I’m such a bossy book recommender that I just shove it in people’s hands. I’m like, just read this. Don’t ask me questions.

Ann: I know. There are some people that when they write the review, they write everything. I think, oh, god, take some of that off. I worry that they give away way too much.

Julie: A hundred percent. I don’t even read the backs of books because I like to go in totally cold, which has led to some problems in my life, but that’s neither here nor there.

Ann: Honestly, I think that’s a good way to do it.

Julie: It does free you up a little bit. I think the back copy is helpful, but sometimes it takes you almost all the way to the climax of the novel. Then all that’s left is the resolution. I’m glad we’re aligned on this. This is important for our future friendship. Check.

Ann: We’re aligned on this. Yes, very important.

Julie: I want to say from the outset, I loved the book. It was so fun. It’s such a good read. I know you’re a humorist. I just kept thinking, this is humor with heart. When I was reading, I thought, there’s so much in there that’s familiar and comfortable and both — so many sentences, I read and I thought, that’s me. I’m sure some of it is being in a similar life stage to Poppy in some ways. You write about women who do too much. You write it so accurately. This book is a joy to read. Congratulations. I think it’s going to be so happy in the world.

Ann: Thank you. You just said all of the little things that make my heart sing when I hear people talk about my writing. You said what I try to do, really. I have to say, I always say that whenever anybody asks me, “What do you write?” I always say I write funny and sad. That’s a hard pitch. It was a hard pitch in the world because publishers wanted me to pick a lane. I don’t know how to think of things other than funny and sad. That’s just the way I look at things. To have to write all drama or all humor is not something that I could really do. I wouldn’t be able to do it. I always say I’m not that funny, and I’m certainly not that sad. I sort of need to put those two things together to create a whole book.

Julie: That totally makes sense. You have to have a little bit of both. I also like the humanness of what you’re saying. Bittersweet is the word I use all the time because it’s life. Everything has its joy and sorrow embedded into it. Beginnings are endings, all of these things that are just constantly converging. They wanted you to pick a lane, but I’m glad that you stayed in your lane because it’s just right.

Ann: Thank you. My very first book was a funny-and-sad book about a sex offender. The publishers would be like, “You know that sex offenders are not funny.” I’d be like, “They’re not funny.” It was a woman that kind of lost her mind because she was moved to a town that she thought was going to be the safest place to raise her child and found out there was a sex offender on her street. I’m sorry. Yes, the sex offender is not funny, but it is a little bit funny to watch people pushed too far and what we do when we’re pushed too far. I don’t think anybody has ever not been pushed too far in all different ways, a hundred different ways, as a spouse, as a parent, as a person who is working in a school system, in a job. We’ve all been shoved too far. Then there are times when we become a little bit of a nut because of it. I remember one time — oh, my gosh, I’m still to this day embarrassed about it. When my daughter was in high school and she was dancing at a high school dance and they were grinding, I must have sounded like somebody from Footloose when I walked in there. I was like, I cannot believe that you are allowing this to happen. Do you realize what grinding is? I was just like, they are going to come up on my teenager daughter’s rump. Did I lose my mind? Yes. I love that kind of thing. I just can’t get away from that. That’s where some of them come up.

Julie: That’s amazing. Unhinged is the best place to be or watch someone go to sometimes. You’re right, we’ve been there where you’re just like — I routinely take things too far, for sure. That’s incredible. It is true. That generational gap, yeah, you do turn into the parents from Footloose. Such an apt comparison.

Ann: My kids will talk about it. They’ll be like, “Mom, remember when you lost your mind about grinding?” I’m like, shut up.

Julie: We don’t talk about that, kids.

Ann: When Mommy lost her mind, we don’t talk about that.

Julie: No, Mommy’s fine now. It’s all fine. This is a good point to ask — you started out as a scientist. Is that correct?

Ann: Yeah.

Julie: Tell me, how did you find your way from science to writing? What kind of scientist were you?

Ann: First, I was a nurse. I worked as a nurse for years. I put myself through grad school. I’ll try to do this quickly because I tend to go off too far into too much details. When I was working as a nurse, I was like, oh, my god, these people are just lying around. If we could move them around a little bit, they’d feel a little better. Then I thought, I don’t know anything about that, so I took a class in exercise physiology. Then I got a master’s in exercise phys. Then I was like, I think that they should do it because they’d feel better. I don’t know anything about the psychological aspects of exercise, so then I took a class in that. The professor was like, “You should maybe think about getting your PhD.” I was like, okay. Basically, like that. I was working as a nurse. I was paying off my tuition. It was like, I could do this. My dad was like, “You’re crazy.” He wanted me to go learn golfing and become a businessperson. I was like, “I think I’m going to learn how exercise makes people feel.” Then I did all of my work in exercise and mental health. Then I taught health, all of the content for people who are going to be health educators, at my university. I taught nutrition and stress management and global health and research methods and things like that. I did that for, I don’t know, twenty — honestly, if you put it all together, it’s probably thirty years.

I did it, and I loved it because teaching is telling a story. Research is telling a story. Research is asking a question, going, I wonder how that happened, and then putting it all together so that you can maybe discover it. I would never have said that that helped me write a book. Certainly, it took me years to look back and go, oh, it’s just storytelling. It’s all just storytelling. When I was working and teaching, I thought to myself — you’ll laugh when you hear this. It’s a good thing there was not a lot of video when I was teaching. We’re all adults. I have a very foul mouth and a very practical way of teaching health. These were all people who binge drank and did not wear condoms. I was teaching, and I thought it would be really great to have a larger audience for these kinds of lectures because I really had a way of breaking it down for people. When I first started talking about this, I asked if anybody would want to publish a book like that. They were like, “You’re not qualified to do that.” I was like, “What? I have a doctorate in it.” They were like, “Yeah, but you don’t have a platform. Nobody knows you. You’re not famous. We’ll never be able to sell it.” I thought, okay. I didn’t really think of being a fiction writer then. It never occurred to me because I didn’t have any ideas about a story. I just didn’t know, but I was such a reader. I’ve always been a reader. My friends used to say, “You write such great letters. You should write a book.” Everybody knows that writing a good letter is not a novelist.

Then I entered a contest on a whim. I thought nobody would know. I got second place. It was a big contest. I won money. It was like finding a superhero cape in your closest. There’s something about that contest that unlocked my brain for story. Then I started writing fiction. That’s kind of how it happened. Then like every naïve person, I’m like, I’m going to write a book. I can do that. Then I came up with the hardest book to sell in America, which is a funny book about a sex offender, which was not understanding the market. It did get published. God bless Penguin. They didn’t market it as a funny sex offender book. I’ll say that. Anyway, that’s a long story to say how it came. When you’re a scientist and when you’re in psychology and when you’re a nurse, all of that is about empathy and understanding emotions, so that piece was in place. I just had to figure out — I loved reading. My favorite authors were Lorrie Moore and Elizabeth Berg and Olive Kitteridge. They write funny and sad. They do that. They didn’t really call it that, but that’s kind of how they do. When I would read their work, I thought, oh, there’s a space for me. There might be a space for me. That’s how it all came. As much as I loved teaching, I knew I wasn’t going to want to do it forever. I did for almost ever. Then once video was coming out, I was like, I got to get out. I’m going to get canceled in two seconds if anybody hears the way that I teach health. They’re going to be like, ooph.

Julie: Hey everyone, I’m quitting before I get fired.

Ann: Right about the time when Snapchat had really hit the stride, I was like, I think I got to go. Now I write full time. I teach writing. I’m really happy that I don’t have to teach health anymore to people who binge drink and don’t wear a condom. There it is in a nutshell.

Julie: I think you landed exactly where you’re meant to be. I love those stories because we all want a clean trajectory. At least, I know I did, especially when I was younger. I wanted the career and a start out. It’s so often not the way that things happen. I think especially for writing, like you’re saying, all of those moments and jobs and that gathering of just understanding of people is so valuable when you’re writing fiction because you’re writing about people. People are crazy, so you need lots of samples.

Ann: People are crazy. The other thing that I said about — I always say this about getting your PhD. It is a really good sweat lodge for writing a book in terms of rejection. When you’re working on your PhD, at least in my era, they were brutal. They were so hard on you. They were just freaking brutal. I think that once I was getting rejected nicely from agents, I was like, that’s okay. They’re nice about it. They didn’t call me an idiot, so that’s good.

Julie: I’m winning. Wow, look at this nice email I got. It’s so true, though. I’d never even thought of that. Defending a thesis sounds like the worst.

Ann: When I did my master’s thesis, I was wearing a light silk shirt. I looked like I’d been under both armpits by the end of it. I went into the bathroom. I was like, note to self, no more light silk tops when you’re nervous.

Julie: I love that story.

Ann: There are no photographs like that.

Julie: Aren’t you so glad? I tell my kids that often. I’m like, “Look, I would not have survived if social media were happening while I was in high school.” I do have some pictures of a very tragic short haircut that I had in college that I pull out occasionally. Luckily, they’re just 4×6, and I can keep them under wraps.

Ann: You can’t do this to it, really see it.

Julie: You can’t zoom in and just torture yourself. You’re so right. I also, in addition to the tragic haircut, had a very bad style period during that, and it was in the time of Bermuda shorts anyway. Gosh, I look back, I’m like, this is just a tragedy right here. That leads nicely into my next question for you, which is about costuming. That is so much of this book. I loved what you talked about. Did you get to take a tour of a wardrobe space?

Ann: I spent days on the Universal backlot and days on the Sony backlot with a key grip and a costumer who had done all of the movies that you have seen. She did Hidden Creatures. She did King Richard. She did every single thing Adam Sandler ever did. She had an Emmy. She also connected me to five other costumers who also had long lunches and showed me places and showed me their notebooks and explained everything. Then we would all get together for lunch. I would pretend that I was a costumer. I was so obnoxious that I’m sure they were like, this lady is too much. I got hours and hours. Because it was a little bit during COVID, they were only shooting one thing there in the backlot, and so I had free rein. Free rein. I don’t think it would ever happen like that again. Probably, if I said it out loud and Universal Studios heard me, they’d be like, please stop saying that. It was really funny. It was in the middle of COVID because they were still doing a lot of COVID restrictions. People hadn’t come back to the backlot to do it. The people from the studio, from the tour, would come through. They would take our picture. It was so fun. I got to go inside the Psycho house of the Bates Motel.

It just was amazing. I was not restricted in any way. I think part of that was because I spent all my time with them saying things like, “But what do the doorknobs look like?” They’d say, “We can’t believe you’re not asking any dirt on celebrity.” I’d be like, “I just need to know, is there a bench in the wardrobe area ? Where is the place where there’s a shower?” It was so funny because she said, “Nobody ever asks us about our job. No one ever asks us.” By the end of it, I was a costume evangelist. Besides the script — of course, the scriptwriters don’t get enough heralding. The costumes are the characters as much as anything else. The way that they are forgotten is shocking to me. As much as a reader I am, I am a movie person too. I love movies. I joke, and I always say I’ve watched them all. It was the time of my life to be able to do that. I just count myself so lucky. I had a friend that lives in LA. I said, “Do you know any costume designers?” She was like, “The one that she lives across the street and down a ways, she just retired after thirty years. She probably has time to talk to you.” Now we’re friends. Well, I don’t know if they think I’m a friend, but I’m like, we’re friends. We’re friends now. It’s so funny. I am constantly sending them thank you notes and stuff. I’m sure they’re like, we got another box from Ann.

Julie: Hey, bestie. It’s me again.

Ann: They’re like, do we have to have lunch with her again? When is this book out? The key grip died too. I don’t think anybody ever asks him anything either. I would be like, “So what does a key grip do?” We’d be forty-five minutes into telling me what the key grip really does. I loved it. I loved it so much. On Instagram — I can send you some too. If you go to my website, they’ve created a door where you can click on it, and you get all of this information about it. That suit that is in — that’s on the website. In my Instagram, I’m starting to post all the pictures of inside the costumes area. It’s like the biggest Goodwill you’ve ever seen. That’s what it’s like. It’s not tidy. I don’t know how they find anything. They don’t have an iconic costume area.

Julie: They’re just in with the rest?

Ann: She was like, “Sometimes you can find one, and it’ll say Judy Garland on it.”

Julie: Just put that wherever.

Ann: Just put it wherever. That was really fun. I wouldn’t have been able to write — there’s that piece of intrigue in it. It’s a little bit of a mystery. You don’t know who is at the center of it. I’ll tell you — do you want to know how the idea came up? I feel like I’m going to take up every minute of your time all day today.

Julie: I love it. Continue. I’m fascinated. Yes, I do want to hear how you came up with the idea.

Ann: It was very funny. During COVID, I was writing a book that wasn’t working. I now know why it wasn’t working. I’ll tell you why briefly because you’re a writer too. Probably, a lot of the writers that listen to this maybe are writers. I was writing forward from a premise instead of a story. I was writing forward from my idea instead of my character arc. I had a great idea. I had three characters in a rotating point of view, but I did not have a story. I had an idea of what they would be doing, but doing is not a story. It was the first time I’ve ever done that. I don’t know why I did it. I really couldn’t get it done. I had written it through three times and gone through three edits with my editors. I said to them — what did it was when I saw Bob Saget died, for some reason, I was like, Bob Saget died, I’m not going to die writing this book. When I told my agent that, I said to my agent, “Bob Saget died. I’m not writing this book.” She was like, “What? Wait, what?” She goes, “Do you know Bob?” I was like, “I don’t, but he was sixty. He had just finished doing a show. He was back on the road. He was having this great life. Then he died. I’m not going to die writing this book.” As if. I was up in my bedroom. I was not doing risky behavior.

I pulled that book. I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to it because it’s not really a story yet. Maybe I’ll figure it out, but it’s done and not good. I had made a joke in there. She said, “Can you pitch an idea by Monday?” It was Friday. I said, “Yes. Yes, I can.” I didn’t know if I could, but I was like, I’m going to. I had made a joke in the book that this woman character had gotten all of her money by being a costumer for all of the remakes of Nora Ephron’s rom-coms, but with dogs. I know, it’s so silly. It’s a joke. I pulled that out. I thought, what’s the story there? I built the story around that. I wrote the pitch. They bought it. They were happy. Then after I wrote the first chapter, I was like, Jesus, I don’t know anything about this. I called my friend. I got on the phone with this costume woman. We talked for a couple of hours. Then I said, “Are you free next week? I’m flying in.” She was like, “Yep.” I got on a plane. I would not have been able to write that book had I not been on the set to see what the possibilities are. Once I was on the set, I was like, oh, okay. Then also, when I got on the set — even though I do spend a lot of time out in LA, whenever I’m out in LA, I am either viewing LA as a New Yorker, because that’s where I was from originally, or a Midwest person.

When you are a Wisconsin person and you drive into LA for the first time, it’s so unusual and so wild and so different that you can’t not observe it in that way. For me to be this Wisconsin woman who was being transported into the shark tank of Universal Studios and all of the people that do this as if it’s the air they breathe was such a fun experience. It’s so freaking funny. It’s funny on both sides. It’s funny looking at this behavior that they take for granted. It’s also funny for them looking at the Wisconsin person and being like, are you kidding me? I loved that juxtaposition. It was really fun to observe on both. I always say whenever I pass homeless people in LA — it’s not just one. It’s large clumps. It’s whole tent cities. I always say to my friends, I’m like, in Wisconsin, if someone is lying on the side of the road, you stop. You bring them inside. You give them something to eat. You don’t drive past them. It’s so interesting. It was with that sort of framework that I entered the Universal Studios. I want to say the jokes just wrote themselves because it was such a funny experience for me.

Julie: I’m sure that they did.

Ann: Yeah, they did. Then the other piece of it is that she’s not a movie watcher, so she doesn’t have — she’s irreverent. She doesn’t care. She’s like, I’m just not a big movie watcher. I don’t even know who these — what is the big deal? That’s another piece of it. I didn’t want to write it like me, star struck. I wanted to write it like, this is a job that I have to do. You guys are like, what’s your deal? That was really fun. It was just a really fun hat to put on, the wide-eyed thing.

Julie: I loved reading it that way. You’re exactly right. She’s irreverent. She’s allergic to dogs, which was one of my favorite details. As a person with allergies, I was like, this is perfect. You’re so right because familiarity is what robs us sometimes of actually seeing how interesting and weird things are.

Ann: You got to get yourself out of your culture. You got to get yourself out of your world. Otherwise, you see it like a — when I’m driving through my town, I’ll be like, when did that building go up? Somebody will say, it’s been up for years. I think, how did I miss that? You fill in the blank for yourself. When you are walking around with your brand-new eyeballs checking things out, it was really fun to play around with some of that and then build in a Midwesterner’s view of the stuff, all of the stuff. Even the fact that she did something about this intrigue I thought was interesting because I think most people wouldn’t have done anything. She would’ve just been like, that’s none of my business. That’s none of my business. It was really fun to sort of make it her business. I have to say, it was a really fun book to write just for me to experience all that.

Julie: I bet. It comes through. Listening to you talk about it is so fun for me having read the book and enjoyed it so much and seeing so many parts of it in your experience that were translated just without even trying. I am such a fan. I’m so glad we got to talk about the book and share about it.

Ann: Is there anything else? I feel like I interrupted everything you wanted to say. I know you can’t talk for very much longer because I think we’re already over time.

Julie: It’s fine. I do want to ask you one more question. I am going to tell everyone to go to your website because it’s so impressive. The costuming stuff is so cool. I was down the rabbit hole with that. I have gotten to interview a few of your Tall Poppy friends. That’s been so fun. I told Alli and Asha when I interviewed them that it sounds like just the nicest, non-dangerous cult. I want to be in it, so just let me know on that. This is what I want to know. You founded it. You’re part of it. Tell me, not the backstory, I just want to hear — you’re up in the morning. What do the Poppies mean to you?

Ann: Oh, gosh. Some of my best friends are Poppies. A lot of them are my best friends. It means that I’m not alone in an area where you can be alone. In my town, we do have a fair amount of writers, but most of my friends aren’t writers. Nobody’s a writer. When I say something like, can you believe X, Y, Z? my people are like, sorry. When you say it to a writer, they’re like, oh! They get it. You say, you guys, this bad thing happened, and now nobody’s going to read my book. They just swoop in. Then they do something about it in such a big way. They’re the most generous group of people that believe, like I do, that writing isn’t a competition and that there’s no room for competition. There’s room for all of us. One person’s success has nothing to do with my failure or success. Having this group has meant so much to me. Running any group is a lot of work, and so there have been times when I thought, I can’t. It’s too much.

Julie: I’m sure.

Ann: It is kind of a lot. I don’t know what I would do without them, honestly. They’re just such a great group of women. We’ve had a lot of turnover over the years because writing is like that. People come and go, come and go. It’s been really nice to have this one very solid thing that I’ve had in my writing career ever since the second book. It’s a great group. They are friendly.

Julie: Yes, the ones I’ve interviewed were just a delight. I was looking through the list today like a quiet little stalker. No problem.

Ann: I get it. I do. If you ever want to do something with the Poppies, you just let me know. Is your memoir going to be published soon-ish? Do you know?

Julie: January.

Ann: Congratulations.

Julie: Thanks. It’ll be exciting. I’m looking forward to it.

Ann: Wonderful. Hit me up. I’ll do whatever I can.

Julie: I will. I’ll send you thank you notes. Just like the costumers can’t shake you, you will not be able to shake me. That’s what’s about to happen here.

Ann: I like that. I like a friend that can’t shake me. I like it. That works great.

Julie: Thanks so much for being here today. Can’t wait to share your book with the world.

Ann: Thank you. Thank you so much.


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