Debut author Annie Cathryn joins Zibby to discuss The Friendship Breakup, a warm and witty “mom-com” about neighborhood mom Fallon Monroe, the friends that inexplicably dump her, a Mexican fiesta that goes epically wrong, and a 20-year-old letter that changes everything. Cathryn reveals the story is inspired by her own friendship breakup, and then the two discuss the theme of identity, and the guilt mothers face when wanting to be more than just moms. Cathryn also talks about her long publishing journey, her next book, and her podcast Soulful Series, where she interviews non-fiction and memoir writers. (She just interviewed Zibby Books author Alisha Fernandez Miranda! Go listen!!).


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Annie. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss The Friendship Breakup, your novel. Very exciting.

Annie Cathryn: I am so excited to be here. Thank you, Zibby.

Zibby: It’s my pleasure. It’s so nice after you’ve talked to me to be able to talk to you.

Annie: I know. It’s so great to connect again. Now I’m on the other side of the interview.

Zibby: I know. Now I’m all nervous.

Annie: You’re nervous? I’m nervous.

Zibby: We’ll both be nervous together. The Friendship Breakup, discuss. How did this idea come to you? What was the whole story behind it? All of it.

Annie: I’ve always wanted to write about female friendships because I think they’re so important. I don’t think they get enough recognition in novels. They’re usually subplots. I wanted the story to revolve around friendships rather than a romance. This book follows Fallon Monroe. She’s a wife and mother of one. She’s about to turn forty. She’s looking at her life and thinking, what do I have to show for this? It’s not at all what she expected it to be at forty, which I think many of us can relate to, a lot of my friends at least. She’s thinking, what can I do? She started a side chocolate business because chocolate brings her joy. Then she’s being ghosted by her neighborhood mom friends. She’s had them for seven years. It’s such a painful experience for her. She’s trying to figure out, what did I do wrong? Instead of waiting to be invited to the next event, or not invited, she decides to throw a party for her friends to win them back. It’s a huge disaster. She makes everything worse. Then she finds a shocking letter that she had found twenty years ago and didn’t deal with it then and realizes that she should take another look at this letter and deal with what’s in this letter from her past to move forward. That’s pretty much the crux of the book.

Zibby: Amazing. I think ultimately, the whole book is sort of about identity, who you are, where you come from, what it means to be you in all these different iterations of life. Identity is sort of the through line. It’s so easy to lose your identity as a mom, which she also starts to do that way as well.

Annie: I agree with that. That was another main theme that I was working on. Like I said, myself raising a child and then hitting mid-forties, or my friends the same way and many people I’ve met online, you reach this point. You’re like, oh, my gosh, my life is half over. What am I doing with it? Yes, I love being a mother, but I’m more than that. That is what Fallon is struggling with in the book as well. She’s more than just a mother. It’s okay. You don’t have to just be a mother.

Zibby: I literally just had the same — not this conversation, but a conversation on the same topic earlier today with another author who writes for Literary Mama. There’s this misunderstanding that you have to sort of give up your identity to be a good mom when in fact, your identity, it’s what the kids have to aspire to be. They need a map of where they’re going, not just a mirror into, this is me on the floor playing with my toys, or something. I’m not saying this very well.

Annie: I get it. There are many times I sit on the floor with my daughter playing dolls. Yes, we have to be there for them in the moment, but then there’s times we have to be there for ourselves.

Zibby: Yes. I didn’t mean to say don’t be on the floor. I love being on the floor. I spent years on the floor. I get it. I wore only sneakers for so long. I just meant it’s okay to then get off the floor and sit at the computer and not feel guilty about it, but be like, no, now I do this. Now I go to this meeting. That’s what I do when I’m not on the floor.

Annie: Fallon, in my book, struggles with that too. She’s thinking, I want to have this chocolate business. I want to be there for my daughter. I want to be there for my husband. I want to be there for my friends. She’s being pulled in all these directions. She’s trying to be good at everything. Sometimes you just have to set the boundaries and say, listen, I have to do this now. That’s what she did. She followed through with her chocolate business. The friends that want to come along are the ones that are really your friends.

Zibby: I think that’s another thing that happens in your forties too. It’s sorting the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. Who is actually here for me? Who do I want to be there for? You’re right. I think this time of life crystalizes so many things for us. Then there’s an added layer for Fallon, which is really — we can’t talk about it because that’s the big reveal and everything. It also totally touches on this whole notion of missed opportunities or lives not lived or what-ifs, which is the other theme to aging. You start running out of time. Sometimes there are experiences, like in the book, where you’re like, oh, my gosh, I literally missed this parallel experience, in a way, vaguely. Other times it’s just knowing, how do you choose your path? It’s all wrapped up. Where did this come from for you? I know you’re experiencing similar themes, perhaps, in your life, but where did this come from as a book? When did you decide to even write the book? What’s the whole story behind that?

Annie: This particular book, this is my fourth one that I’ve written. I tried many different things, but this was the one that actually got published. I went through a painful friendship breakup. It was during a time where I was reinventing myself. You’re getting the scoop here. about this. I went through all the emotions. What did I do wrong? What could I have done to fix this? Did I spend too much time on myself and then I let this friendship go to the wayside? I just grappled with all of this. I put it all in the book with Fallon as a fictional because it’s not exactly what I went through. Obviously, I don’t make chocolate and things like that. I just wanted to write about the experience because chances are if I’m dealing with this, that others might be able to relate to this as well. I wanted to have a good ending and give Fallon closure. That was important to me. I never got the closure. In my fictional world, I wanted Fallon to get that closure.

Zibby: Interesting. Wait, so four books, let’s go back to that. When did this whole thing start? Have you always wanted to be a novelist? What were those books about? What was the story there?

Annie: When my daughter was in kindergarten, I finally — I always wanted to be an author. When my daughter was in school full time, that’s when I made the commitment that I was going to do this. This is what I want to do. This is what I want to do for me. Here’s me, baby Annie, trying to say, here’s a book. It’s going to be published next year. It’s just going to go, boom, boom, boom. I had a wakeup call. That is not how the publishing world worked. I started out writing young adult fantasy. I don’t even know. I just tried that genre.

Zibby: That’s awesome.

Annie: Then I did middle-grade fantasy. Then my third book was women’s fiction. Then this was the fourth one. I think it really took me all those years to find my voice and to hone my writing skills, to learn structure. I have a journalism major. Writing, for me, was always linear. Get the facts down. Get it out fast. I kind of had to learn how to write creatively to the story and whatever. My daughter’s in fifth grade now, so that’s how long it took to get a published book.

Zibby: It’s not that long. That’s really not bad. I swear. You might feel like it is, but it really isn’t. That’s impressive.

Annie: You probably could talk at length about this too. I think we have in our head as writers, these preconceived notions. Hey, this is going to be great. It’s going to be fast. It’s going to be quick. I’m going to get a book published. Once you get into it, the querying process, it takes longer. Like you said, it’s really not that long, but I felt like it was.

Zibby: Publishing itself is slow based on the production timelines and everything. I was determined that I was going to do it faster if I did it myself, but there really are some systemic production issues, the multiple drafts and then the printer and then the shipping and then the distributing. There are so many steps, and even just the slotting in. I’m curious what your publishing experience is like so far at Alcove and how that’s been and how you ended up there and what you were expecting in publishing in general. You have your own “Soulful Series” and talk to authors all the time, and book reviews. You’re a very much bookstagram-y — you’re in the whole thing. Then to finally be in publishing — I feel like I’m talking to myself. What has that felt like? What happened? Just talk about it.

Annie: It took me about eight months to get my agent, Lindsay Guzzardo of Martin Literary, for this book. Obviously, I queried all the other ones and didn’t get an agent. Then I worked with her for eight months on the book because she was an editor at Amazon. She knew, you have to cut this. I pantsed the whole book. She’s very much into outlining. She asked me to go back and reoutline. After the book was written, I had to reoutline the whole thing. It really helped with pacing and structure. The good news is after I worked with her that whole time and then she said, “Okay, we’re going on submission to publishers. Do something else. Just don’t worry about it,” luckily, it only took two weeks to get a publisher. I think it was because she knew. She had worked for a publisher. She knew how it would work. I landed with Alcove. They’re a smaller publisher. They give more one-on-one, which you obviously understand. I don’t feel like I get lost because they don’t have hundreds and hundreds of authors. The experience has been really good. My editor was amazing. She guided me. It didn’t take long to get the book ready. The marketing team there, they’re phenomenal. I have an internal publicist, which is not always the case. I feel lucky where I landed. Hopefully, that answered your question.

Zibby: Yeah, it’s great. You’ve talked to so many authors. Tell me about why you started doing that and what you’ve gotten out of it personally.

Annie: For my “Soulful Series,” I focus on nonfiction authors just because the whole fiction space is — like you, I could talk to an author every day. It’s so overwhelming for me that I’d rather just pick a nonfiction author and do one or two a month. I don’t know. I just fell into it. It wasn’t even expected on my journey, but those are the best things, the surprises that come along. I wrote an interview for this book, I Am a Girl from Africa written by Elizabeth Nyamayaro. I wrote a review. I just loved the book. I wrote it on Instagram. She saw it. She loved it. She asked me if I would do an Instagram Live with her. I was so nervous. I am not an on-camera person. I don’t know if I’m an introvert. I don’t know what I am. I’m a cross between introvert, extrovert. It’s out of my comfort zone. I didn’t like to interview. I said, okay, I’m going to do this. She asked me. I’m stepping out of my comfort zone. I interviewed her, and I just loved it so much. I loved her energy. I loved what she had to say. I loved that she was sharing messages that others could relate to. She was such an inspiration. I woke up in the morning, and I just came up with this name, “Soulful Series.” I knew that I needed to interview nonfiction authors to share their messages. I contacted five nonfiction authors that very day. They all said yes. Then “Soulful Series” was born. I love interviewing these authors who have amazing, inspirational stories. It uplifts me. I’m hoping that the people that listen to it, it uplifts them too. You’ve been on the show. You’re inspirational. It’s just been an amazing experience.

Zibby: That’s great. That’s so awesome.

Annie: You are inspirational.

Zibby: I think every story, like both of our stories of getting involved not just as a writer or author, but all the pieces of it, the interviews and the writing you do, the reviews and the blogging — I don’t do as much of that. All of it, it’s being in the ecosystem and learning from each other. This is how it works when you want to learn. This is what you have to do. It’s a fragmented space. There’s no writers’ academy where you go in and learn. I guess there are MFA programs, but those are few and far between and for a particularly literary type of writer. I feel like you have to learn by doing, learn by talking, learn by interviewing. I’ve gotten so much out of it too.

Annie: I agree. That’s the one thing about the publishing process that — because it takes so long from when you get a publisher, or even prior, before you get an agent, to start building up your author network, your writer friends, that’s who’s going to walk with you on your journey. I’ve been so lucky. It’s really through Instagram, honestly. I’ve met so many wonderful authors. I talk to them day to day. We DM each other. Have you experienced this? What are you going through? How is this going? Then you celebrate each other’s successes. That’s what I’m so grateful about on this whole journey. In the time where you’re waiting, foster relationships because these are the people that are going through it too. I know you know that because you’re interviewing all these authors. You’re probably becoming friends with them as well.

Zibby: People are so nice. Everybody else identifies with this need for community and all of that. What have you read lately that’s really good?

Annie: Oh, my gosh, I don’t know if you’ve read this yet, The Vibrant Years by Sonali Dev.

Zibby: Yes, yes.

Annie: It is so good. I was literally laughing out loud last night as I was reading it in bed. My husband and my daughter are like, “What is going on in there?” It is so great. I just love it. That was a really good book that I’m reading.

Zibby: That’s awesome.

Annie: Then I just interviewed Alisha Fernandez Miranda, so that’ll be coming out. I read that book. I loved it. It’s your first Zibby Book.

Zibby: It is, yes.

Annie: Talk about reinventing yourself right before forty. There you go.

Zibby: Exactly. I should’ve brought that up myself. I know. She’s the real-life version. Maybe she could work for a chocolate company. Then we could tie it all together or something.

Annie: That would be awesome.

Zibby: Thank you for doing that. What is coming next for you? What do you have after this? Are you working on another novel? Nonfiction? Back to YA fantasy? Where are you off to?

Annie: I don’t know about that. I think I’d have to write under another name if I went to YA fantasy. I think I’m going to stick in the women’s fiction genre. I have a lot of experiences to write about for women’s fiction. I started a second book. The first draft is at my agent right now. We’ll see where that goes. I’m a little superstitious about talking about exactly what it is, but I am still writing.

Zibby: That’s great. Excellent. What does your daughter think about all this?

Annie: She’s so excited.

Zibby: I know you already gave some advice, but what advice would you give for aspiring authors?

Annie: The one thing that I think I grappled with was expectations and letting expectations go. The journey might not look exactly like you expected it to look. Not to be so concerned with the outcomes, but rather, enjoying the journey as it unfolds. There’s so much beauty in front of us and so many surprises along the way. If we’re so caught up in thinking, “I want to achieve this. I want to do this,” you might miss out what’s really happening right in front of you.

Zibby: I love that. Annie, thank you for coming on. Congratulations on The Friendship Breakup. So exciting. I really wish you all the best. Hats off to perseverance. I can’t wait to listen to your interview with Alisha and everything else. Thank you.

Annie: Thank you so much. This is so fun. I really appreciate you having me on your show.

Zibby: My pleasure. Have a great day, Annie. Buh-bye.

Annie: You too. Bye.


THE FRIENDSHIP BREAKUP: A Novel by Annie Cathryn

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