Ashley Prentice Norton, THE CHOCOLATE MONEY

Ashley Prentice Norton, THE CHOCOLATE MONEY

Zibby Owens: We made it to another Friday, everybody. I hope the week was okay for you and that everybody’s feeling good and staying safe and just making it through one day at a time. I hope you have taken a few minutes in your busy, busy weeks with your kids and your families and your loved ones or even by yourself or whatever and read the website I just launched called We Found Time, which you can also find on, which is featuring exclusive essays, all original content written by authors who have been on this podcast, “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” I hope you enjoy reading them. They’re about all the different things moms don’t have time to do like have sex, work out, eat, breathe, read. Hopefully, you can relate and you’ll enjoy them. Also, I hope you’ve been checking out my Instagram Live show which I’m calling it Z IG TV. That’s on every day, Monday through Friday from eleven to twelve. I’m hoping my new content has been helping you through this quarantine. Feel free to reach out to me, zibby@zibbyowens. Please join my newsletter which can you find on my website, You can sign up there so you don’t miss all the new essays that will come out each week which I’m hoping will help you all in different ways. I know everybody connects differently to different material. Enjoy it. I hope you’ve had a great week. I hope that some of the authors I’ve been bringing to you have helped in some way. Thanks for sticking with me. Have a great weekend.

I’m here today with Ashley Prentice Norton who’s the author of novels The Chocolate Money and If You Left. A graduate of Georgetown and the creative writing program at NYU, she currently lives in New York with her husband and three children.

Welcome, Ashley. Thanks for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Ashley Prentice Norton: Thank you for having me.

Zibby: Of course. Let’s talk about The Chocolate Money first, if that’s okay. Could you please tell listeners what that’s about?

Ashley: It’s sort of about your standard dysfunctional family with money and bad parenting. I won’t go into the characters and stuff like that because everybody knows the arc.

Zibby: It was so good. As I’ve told you before, I’ve had it for years, since — when did it come out? I can’t remember.

Ashley: 2012, I think.

Zibby: I read it, actually, with my book group.

Ashley: That is amazing. That’s amazing to hear. You hear people say, “I loved your book.” Then you’re like, did they read it?

Zibby: I read it. Of course I read it.

Ashley: That’s so sweet. This book came out forever ago. I’m like, are you sure you want me on your podcast? You don’t have to be polite. Then I realized this is a big deal. This is a big deal to be on your podcast. I’m really grateful.

Zibby: Oh, please. Don’t be silly. It’s even better that I read it a long time ago because now I don’t have another book that I have to read. I’m like, I’ve got to do more of this. Let’s go through all my past books. Save myself some time. When you wrote The Chocolate Money, what inspired you to write this book? This was your first book.

Ashley: This was my first book. People ask if it was autobiographical. I do have a really colorful mom. That’s kind of what got it started. I guess at the time I didn’t really have an active imagination. I think the tone in the book was very true, but there was a lot of “I’m seventeen” vibe to it, and one of my parents did me wrong. Now that I’m parent, I’m like, oh, my god, this is how I’m parenting. My mom, thank goodness, has, I think, forgiven me because people who don’t know her thought every single word was true, which it wasn’t.

Zibby: In the book, you talk about the mom character, is Babs. She is a larger-than-life character with these giant parties and just over-the-top everything that is alternately funny but also sort of crushing to the character in the book, to have a mom like that. Then I read that after it came out — so she stopped talking to you because she thought it was all about her.

Ashley: Well, people did.

Zibby: People thought. I would feel like for someone who, I’ll go on a limb and say maybe more like narcissistic-type personality, that they would love that.

Ashley: Well, yes, but it was pretty harsh to have your daughter — I guess if my daughter wrote a book like that about me, I’m not sure I’d read it because I feel like it’s your interpretation. You’re like, I would read it.

Zibby: No, I’m thinking if my daughter wrote a book like that about me, I would be so upset. Any book about me that wasn’t completely a hundred percent flattering, I’d be like, you’re out.

Ashley: Now that I have children, “You ruined my life. I hate you. I’m the most neglected” — I have three. There’s all that going on. I’m like, oh, my god, that’s what I was like. Now that I’ve done the work or whatever, been to therapy — talk about therapy. I am kind of like, you know what? You’ve got to get over that. You’re almost fifty years old. There’s a lot of good stuff there. I’m picking on certain stuff, but there’s so much good stuff. My mom has such a sense of fun. She’s so stylish. The things that she did, people weren’t doing. The best thing about my mom is she doesn’t care, in the good sense. She wasn’t sitting around, like, what do people think of me? She had a freedom. I didn’t give her credit for that. I was looking at my side of the story, always. I just have such a better appreciation for it. I don’t judge anybody’s parenting anymore. I really don’t. I’ve seen some kids that have developed major issues, problems, drug addictions. I see these parents, and they are trying. They are in there working hard. The kid will say, “It’s because I didn’t have a good nanny.” These are just kind of gross things. Anyway, I try to be far less judgmental.

Zibby: I feel like the more kids I have, the more I doubt my own influence over their development at all. I feel like maybe eighty percent of them is completely out of my control. They just are who they are. They’re born that way. I could mess them up. It’s like first do no harm type of parenting. Just don’t ruin this kid. She’s already great.

Ashley: Exactly. I try to work from the point of kindness and just taking a breath. That really helped. I’m not a yeller, but just bring my voice down. I found out in arguments, somebody told me once, people aren’t listening to what you’re saying. They’re listening to what they’re saying. So it doesn’t matter if I’m like — I said, “You know, you sound really upset that you thought I was doing this.” It’s kind of our culture now, the kid’s always right. Then my kids kind of come around. When I ask the child, “You didn’t get me the Valentine I liked,” really? It’s made my parenting a lot happier when I don’t try to argue with them about their feelings and their perception of what kind of job I’m doing because I’m confident in the — I know I’m doing the best I can.

Zibby: Ashley, I did not know this whole part of your history before I was researching you for this podcast. I didn’t know that you had had manic depression and that you had been through all of this stuff while a parent. Even the headline of this article that you wrote in Redbook called “Mom Interrupted,” the headline I’m going to read says, “Manic depression pushed Ashley Prentice Norton to the brink of suicide. It took six months, her husband’s love, and seventeen rounds of electroshock therapy to bring her back to her kids alive.” Oh, my gosh. Then of course the article follows, which was insane. This was the best quote, I thought; after you come through it, you write, “Now when I play the simple melodies of family life, getting my girls’ tights on in the morning, brushing my son’s hair, deciding on a restaurant for a night out with my husband, each one sounds to me like a perfect concerto. Even when we’re all dead tired, frustrated, or fighting, I could still hear the song.” That’s so amazing.

Ashley: The irony of that is the concerto and song part, my editor wrote.

Zibby: I love your editor. Your editor is such a great writer.

Ashley: She’s amazing. She put that in there. I was kind of like, that doesn’t sound like me, the music.

Zibby: That’s so funny.

Ashley: I’ll have to tell her because she put that in there. She’s brilliant. She’s a good friend of mine too.

Zibby: I’ll have to have to her on next.

Ashley: She’s great. She’s an editor, not a writer.

Zibby: Whatever.

Ashley: I’m just saying, she’s a good editor.

Zibby: But the feeling was yours, which is that you appreciate the everyday moments now so much more. Tell me a little more, what was that like? I read about it, but tell —

Ashley: — It was brutal. I’d had a mania, and then I fell into this depression. It just snapped like that. It turned. I literally could not watch TV. I couldn’t read books. We went to a play once. It was half over. I was like, great, time to leave. I couldn’t. I couldn’t sit through the , but I did. Then I would drop the kids off at school. What else happened? Literally, I don’t have memories. They’re wiped out. Finally, I said, I have to go. This isn’t working. I would go and I would talk to people who went through it. I was like, it’s going to get better. This lasted for two months. It was just brutal. We tried everything and different medications. One time I thought, I’m going to get out there and do something, because people were talking about exercise. I went to SoulCycle. A friend of mine started it. I’m on my bike. I’m like, okay, I’m trying. Then I left. I get home. Elizabeth had sent me a plant. That’s how bad I looked. She could tell that — I was like, I thought that was a good day. Tights were terrifying, getting the clothes on.

Finally I just said, “I have to go to the hospital. We have to try something else.” I’d heard about electric shock. They don’t know anything about it. It’s like turning the TV on and off, kind of rebooting a computer. The hospital was terrifying too because I would see the TV. It was House. There’s this creepy man with a cane. I couldn’t watch it. I’m creeping by there. Anyway, we tried this. It’s in the article, but I was just terrified. They strap you on this thing. They put this thing in your mouth. You can’t even see the person that’s administering shocks. Every time I would wake up, I would say, please let it be gone. Please let it be gone. It wouldn’t be gone. I got out of the hospital. I don’t remember this, really. It wasn’t really gone. My brother, when he got married, I had to leave the ceremony after the ceremony was , get in bed, and ask my husband to bring me some wedding cake. That’s how sad I was. I tried to get out. I got out of there. I was still feeling down. Finally, it got better. Finally, I recovered. It took a long time. It was a year before I could read a book. That’s my life. It was . The only thing I can do — this is really weird. I could write. That’s the only thing I could do. I finished my book at my brother’s wedding, the day I landed, October 31st. Bizarre, right? I guess that did me get through. It was the only thing I could do. Who knew?

Zibby: That’s amazing. That’s when you were writing The Chocolate Money?

Ashley: Yes.

Zibby: Then you wrote another novel after that.

Ashley: Yes.

Zibby: Wait, I’m not done with this part of your life because this is so tragic but so inspiring that you could get through it and that you had to deal with your kids at the same time too.

Ashley: It’s a blur. The thing was, my husband said, which I didn’t know, family members flew in. Friends came in. We had a huge support network. He’s a rockstar. He was telling me this. My daughter sadly said, at five years old — she just remembered this. You know it impacted them, obviously. For me, I didn’t really want to have the conversation. I was here if they want to bring it up, but I kind of felt it was narcissistic in a way to be like, “Let’s talk about me and my depression,” maybe when they were older. Maybe that was the wrong approach. I finally, finally came out of it. My book was a mass-market paperback at Target that I could read. I wrote The Chocolate Money and finished it during this.

Zibby: It’s like how you hear about so many artists that have manic depression. Isn’t there a whole history of different artists, that it comes hand in hand with massive creativity?

Ashley: I was thinking about this. I think that’s a flawed premise.

Zibby: Oh, okay. I take it back.

Ashley: I think people have this conception that when you’re manic — and you are, you feel invincible. You feel creative. A professor pointed this out to me, most of what’s produced is gobbledygook. I filled a whole notebook with my impressions of The Talented Mr. Ripley, that movie. My theory is, if you’re brilliant to begin with, like a Picasso or someone like that, it can open up then. If you’re not brilliant to begin with, it’s not going to make you brilliant.

Zibby: I didn’t mean to suggest.

Ashley: But think people, if only I were manic depressive, I could be an amazing writer. People do.

Zibby: Oh, no. Really? Oh, my gosh.

Ashley: For me, it was just really detrimental to my writing. I read some of the stuff. People were like, get to the point already. I was manic when I writing it originally. Then when I got depressed, that’s when I finished it and I wrote a lot.

Zibby: This is a really stupid question. I was a psych major way back when. I feel like I’m pretty well educated, but bipolar versus manic depression?

Ashley: It’s the same thing. I prefer manic depression because bipolar is a little cleaner and PC, but it’s the same thing.

Zibby: I thought so, but then I was like, maybe it’s not.

Ashley: No, it’s the same thing.

Zibby: Okay, wow. To your second novel — so you have this book, which is amazing. By the way, when I remembered it, I was sure it was a memoir. Then I was like, wait, does it say “a novel” in the bottom-left corner?

Ashley: First book, rookie mistake.

Zibby: No, it was so good and really captured what it’s like to feel that way as a young child and how it ends up shaping your life. Then what made you write your second novel?

Ashley: This is funny. I sold it. I wrote an outline. It was going to be about a nanny working with a mom who was — it was based on, basically, a mom that I know. Her child drowned when she went inside to get a drink or something. It was unbelievable. How do you get past that? I was like, I’ve got to write about this. I don’t believe in stealing somebody’s story. It wasn’t that. It was just that scream. I can only imagine coming out and seeing that. I was going to write about this and how the mother was manic. There was a bad nanny involved who was an entitled kid from New York City. My agent sold that. I started to write it. Then I’m like, well, I don’t know how to make this happen, and I totally changed it. It was totally different. I didn’t bother to tell anybody, like my editor or Bill. Bill Clegg is my agent. I could give a whole interview about him.

Zibby: He’s coming on my show.

Ashley: Does he have a new book coming out?

Zibby: I have his book right here, yes. Wait, I have to find it. It’s right here.

Ashley: The End of the Day, oh, my god.

Zibby: Do you see it?

Ashley: All happy roads to authordom lead to Bill Clegg. I have a funny story about him about The Chocolate Money.

Zibby: I loved his memoir.

Ashley: Oh, Portrait of an Addict.

Zibby: Portrait of an Addict was so good, oh, my gosh.

Ashley: He was like, “Ashley, you can’t do that.” I said, “Well, I did. It’s finished.” He said, “You’re going to have to call Lauren because I’m not calling her.” I said fine. So I call her. I said, “Lauren, there’s good news and good news.” She said, “What is it?” I said, “I finished the novel, and it’s much better than the original novel it was going to be,” which I really felt it was. She’s like, “Okay.” So then she really liked it. Bill was like, “You can’t do that.” I was like, it’s not nonfiction. I don’t write from outlines. I cringe when people say process, but that’s kind of how I write.

Zibby: You just sit down and do it?

Ashley: I just see what happens. I don’t believe my characters take control or whatever. It’s just the way my mind works. You go for a walk in the woods, and you don’t know where you’re going.

Zibby: When you write, do you just write whenever the mood strikes you?

Ashley: No. Somebody told me this, or maybe one of those Artist’s Way things I love, I believe in timed writing. I have a cousin who’s a painter. She said, “You can’t do any more creative work more than three hours,” at least she couldn’t. That’s a good time. You go and you sit down for three hours. Then you see what happens. If you write one word, that’s your three hours. That way you don’t get caught up in whatever word count it is. That’s what I do. I try to do it four days a week. I go down to The Writers Room. I’m obsessed with that place.

Zibby: I haven’t been there.

Ashley: It’s amazing. They have a nap room. They have a kitchen. You can eat at your desk. It’s amazing. My thing is I think you should leave your apartment. I should leave my apartment because then there’s no, well, I’m going to tidy up. My kids are there. Libraries are great. I did the New York Society Library. I’ve been to the main library. I’ve been to the East Hampton, my library. That’s really important for me. That’s my tip. If you wait for the mood to strike — for me, it’s never going to strike. I also feel I shouldn’t push myself if I’m not in the place where I can take on four days a week or anything.

Zibby: Are you working on anything now?

Ashley: I’m working on something I call creepy guys who do really bad things. I’ve been reading tons of British psychological thrillers like Lisa Jewell who you had. I really want to break into that genre. That’s what I’m working on. I’ve been reading tons of books about that and character studies about creepy men who do dangerous things. I don’t know what the title is. That’s not going to be the title, but you can see where I’m going with that.

Zibby: That’s a funny title. That sounds great. You’re doing your whole twelve hours a week? How many days?

Ashley: Well, not right now. I’m still kind of researching and thinking about it and stuff because I tried it before and I was like, eh, I don’t really know. Now I’m like, ask me anything about creepy men who do bad things, and I can tell you.

Zibby: Do you worry you’re going to go into another mania or depression? Do you feel like you have it under control? I know from my past times of any mood swings, am I going to go into this? I have more anxiety than anything. Am I going to have it under control? Am I not? Do you worry about that?

Ashley: I don’t because I really believe in the mind-body connection. I think if I’m sitting around worrying about it, it’ll probably happen. I have great doctors. If I feel a little bit coming on, we tweak the meds. What the use worrying about it? I can’t do anything about it. I’m careful with my sleep and my diet and exercise and trying to keep — I’m lucky that I’m not working a job that’s huge stress. I have one daughter at home, so I can nap. What am I going to do?

Zibby: You could feel a totally different way. I love your attitude.

Ashley: I’ve come to the point in my life where I know that ninety percent of stuff I worry about, it never happens. I’m still a huge worrier, but I’m trying not to do that.

Zibby: I love that.

Ashley: My dad called it catastrophizing or scripting. Why do that? Worry really doesn’t cause anything. It doesn’t help.

Zibby: I know. I know that. I know logically. I’m working on it too. I feel like I’m getting better as I get older, mellowing out a little bit, I hope, kind of. Do you have any other parting advice to aspiring authors?

Ashley: AM Homes once said to me she doesn’t have writer’s block because she doesn’t believe in it. She’s like, “There’s no such thing,” which helps me. I already said go somewhere else. Writing is the good part. Publishing, it’s a whole different thing. They’re bifurcated. If you don’t have to do it, don’t. You know what I’m saying? If it’s something that you don’t do and you’re kind of like, I really should be doing that, it’s more painful not to do it than it is to do it, if you’re writing. If you really believe in yourself as a writer, you’ll feel pain when you’re not doing it, and you know that doing it is the right thing, if that makes sense.

Zibby: Yeah, that makes sense. Awesome. Thank you so much. Thanks for sharing your story. Sorry for delving into your emotional state and asking you all these personal questions. I’m sorry.

Ashley: No, not at all. If it helps somebody, that’s great.

Zibby: Or somebody who knows somebody.

Ashley: Yeah. That’s been the only reason now to really share it.

Zibby: Your books are so good. This book was so good, The Chocolate Money, seriously. I’m just so thrilled that I get to talk to you.

Ashley: Thank you so much, Zibby. I really appreciate it.

Zibby: Thank you.

Ashley Prentice Norton, THE CHOCOLATE MONEY