Avery Carpenter Forrey, SOCIAL ENGAGEMENT: A Novel

Avery Carpenter Forrey, SOCIAL ENGAGEMENT: A Novel

Zibby interviews debut author Avery Carpenter Forrey about Social Engagement, a bitingly sharp and wickedly funny novel about a bride whose marriage implodes on her wedding night. It is an unputdownable critique of millennial wedding culture… and the lies we tell on social media. Avery describes the neverending wedding season that inspired this novel and admits she is part of the culture she makes fun of. She also talks about her path to writing, her thoughts on social media, how she is balancing a new book and a new baby, the novel she is working on now, and her best advice for aspiring writers.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Avery. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Social Engagement: A Novel.

Avery Carpenter Forrey: Thank you so much for having me, Zibby. I’m so excited to be here.

Zibby: Your cover is my favorite color, blue, so I’ll just sleep with this guy next to my bed forever.

Avery: Something blue, which I love for wedding season. You can bring it with you if you have any on your calendar this summer or just put it in your beach bag.

Zibby: Yes, exactly. That’s very smart. Tell listeners what your book is about, please.

Avery: Social Engagement is about a bride whose marriage implodes on the night of her wedding. After this disastrous breakup, you don’t know what happened in the fight, but we find her in the honeymoon suite with an empty pizza box, stained dress. She’s scrolling through her phone to try to figure out what went wrong. She looks through her Instagram feed and her camera roll to piece together what happened. There are fraught female friendships. There are some class dynamics. There are toxic ex-boyfriends. There’s a lot to chew on.

Zibby: Yes. I love how you structure it. At the beginning of each chapter, you have a little something, either a photo or a post or something interesting that makes you want to dive right in, which is very clever.

Avery: I liked using those as anchors because we do sort of use them as touchpoints in our lives. We’re living so much online now, as we both know. It was fun to structure it that way.

Zibby: It’s so clever, too, your title, Social Engagement. Yes, of course, it’s an event, as is the wedding and all of that, but social engagement still with social media. It’s a dual meaning, which I also love, which is great.

Avery: It’s a double entendre, which is really fun. I loved that play. I’m always fascinated by title journeys. It came in later on in the process. My editor, after acquiring the book, came up with it. I hadn’t come up with the perfect title. The second she said that, I was like, that’s it. That’s done. Yes.

Zibby: What was yours? Did you have a working title?

Avery: Yes, it was Human Content, which was a play on some of the body themes in the book and obviously, social media content, which I liked. It was more of the Normal People, Sally Rooney-esque take. It wasn’t as clear what the book was about. Social Engagement, you kind of know, okay, this is weddings and social media, which is what the book is.

Zibby: Perfect. How did you come up with the idea for this book?

Avery: I was going to a lot of weddings when I started writing it. It was 2019. I had gotten married in late 2017. I was just in the stage of life where a lot of my friends were getting married, going to a ton of weddings. I started noticing a lot of trends and the irony that the most unique day of your life or one of the most special days in your life is often reduced to these series of clichés and flattened online when you’re not the one who’s part of it. I wanted to explore that. Then I started writing the book, and weddings grinded to a halt in 2020. I wasn’t going to any weddings anymore. Then it sort of shifted to become an escapist exercise. I could go to parties in fiction while my real life was sweatpants and Zoom birthday parties. It got a lot darker because of the pandemic. I originally conceived of it as a fun, frothy wedding romp. There are a lot of deeper, darker themes in it now.

Zibby: Interesting. What did all your friends do who were going to get married, but then the pandemic happened? I’m not in that phase of life where that was .

Avery: A variety of things. Most of them postponed it. My sister was engaged at the time, actually. She postponed it, then got married in late 2021. Even still, you never knew whether you were going to have to put it off. I had a few Zoom weddings that were just family. A bunch of people tuned in for the wedding itself. The comment section on the Zoom was always fascinating. I kind of wish that real-life weddings could have that. That’s the one thing about Zoom weddings that was really fun. You got to see people’s reactions in real time, when in real life, you can’t talk during the ceremony, obviously.

Zibby: True. The good thing, too, about Zoom for any type of events is then you got to see — my cousin actually got married on Zoom, now that I’m thinking about it. You could see her face. Sometimes when you’re sitting in the back row, you don’t even know what’s going on. You’re straining to see.

Avery: Totally. It’s like watching a concert on the jumbotron. You kind of watch that instead of actually watching the person.

Zibby: Maybe this is a new thing. Maybe now all weddings should have the screens up, big screens behind.

Avery: I know. There are tiny little screens anyway at every wedding. I don’t know if you’ve been to any that say no social media. That’s becoming a thing now. Some people don’t want any pictures because then you get the professional pictures back, and there are a million cameras everywhere. It’s also nice to have those iPhone takes, I think, to see.

Zibby: When I got married to Kyle, who’s my second husband, I said no social media to everybody who came because I wasn’t even on social media then. This is only six years ago. Maybe I had one account I was using for my business that I did with his family for Nene’s Treats. We had a special app where people could upload so that it was all in one place. We didn’t develop the app. It was something, some service. We just said, if you want to take pictures, upload them after here. It was one giant album, almost like a shared —

Avery: — I love that. That’s really smart. I like that a lot. If someone’s getting married and they’re like, “What do you wish you did different on your wedding night? What was your best piece of advice for wedding night?” I’m always like, don’t look at your phone all night. Put it in a lockbox. Put it somewhere else. Come back to it later. You don’t want to be thinking about that when you’re in the moment. I like the share album thing.

Zibby: It was good. Tell me about your wedding.

Avery: My wedding was a winter wedding. We got married in December 2017. It’s interesting. In writing this book, oftentimes, you think — it’s, in some ways, a critique of wedding culture. It pokes fun at wedding culture, but I’m very much part of that. I had a big traditional wedding. It was three hundred people at my parents’ house. It felt like a holiday party, almost. It was in December. It was amazing. I was just looking at pictures of it recently because it feels like a million years ago now that I’ve had a baby. That sort of warps time in an interesting way. I actually heard Curtis Sittenfeld, who I know you’ve talked to, use this quote from Saul Bellow when she was talking about what makes her tick when she’s writing. It was, “I’m not an ornithologist. I’m a bird,” which reflected, she is always within the culture that she’s critiquing, which is how I feel. It’s almost an insider/outsider dynamic.

Zibby: Interesting. I like that a lot. That’s really cool. Speaking of other writers you admire and the writing world itself, how did you even become a writer? What was your background? Did you always know this is — where did you grow up? Take me up to here.

Avery: I always wanted to tell stories. Actually, when I was much younger, I wanted to be an actress. There is a lot of crossover there, interestingly. Joan Didion’s talked about that, about how it’s inhabiting a character. You want to sink into a character. Then that shifted when I was in high school. I grew up in Connecticut. I live there now. I live about twenty minutes from where I grew up. That’s a whole other podcast.

Zibby: I live a couple blocks from where I grew up. I could talk about that too. Anyway, keep going.

Avery: There’s something really special about it. I had resistance to it as well. From a storytelling perspective, you’re like, oh, it all comes back. It all comes back to where you started. Anyway, I always wanted to tell stories. I thought actress. Then I thought I wanted to do journalism. I started doing nonfiction writing. I worked in media for years. I worked in television production at Katie Couric’s talk show. Then I worked at The Skimm for years. When I was working at The Skimm, writing fiction was always in the back of my head. It was always something I wanted to do, but it seemed really improbable. It seemed really difficult to pull off. When I was at The Skimm, I worked on a nonfiction book for them called How to Skimm Your Life. That sort of gave me the confidence to know that I could get to the end of something. While I was actually working on that book, I started writing fiction. I went to NYU’s MFA program. I know you’ve talked about how ghostwriting helped you get the confidence to write a book. I feel very much the same way.

Zibby: Thank you for knowing anything about me. I felt the same way. It was really interesting to do. Again, it’s writing in someone’s voice, which is an interesting exercise in figuring out and organizing. I think that’s really fun.

Avery: Writing in someone’s voice is what writing a character is as well. This book, Social Engagement, is first person, very voice-y. I was inhabiting a character. It wasn’t The Skimm’s voice, but it was a voice.

Zibby: Social Engagement talks a lot about, obviously, social media and capturing life and how we interpret what we capture and the pros and cons of all of that. What’s your general take on social media in general? I know that’s a big question. You must have thought a lot about it to write the book, and even in all of your interviews and all of that. Go from there.

Avery: Social media is both fascinating and upsetting to me. I’ve heard it be compared to a slot machine. You’re constantly trying to look for that dopamine hit when you’re on it, of course, but there’s also a darker impulse that you’re looking for something that’s going to make you log off and put the phone away. You’re looking for that post that’s going to trigger you or make you upset. In general, I find that it’s often a mirror for how I’m doing myself. When I’m doing well mentally, I’m much better on social media. I’m much more willing to have fun with it and contribute. I’m not upset by things I see. What I really wanted to explore in the book, though, is how social media and our phones in general are a reflection of our past and how we have our entire archive, our entire history in our pockets. That can be both liberating because you don’t have to remember everything, but it can also drag you back into that past. That’s what I wanted to explore with Callie.

Zibby: I have to say, the timing of life and development of things and all of that, social media, for me, came after I had already made all these — I had gotten to the final stage, knock wood, of marriage. Now I share all the time. If I were going through something big, like a divorce or something hard or a loss or whatever, it would just be very — or dating, even. I’m like, thank god. Do you keep your ex up there? Do you take him down?

Avery: Then it’s also not really up to you. Yes, the Instagram is up to you. You can curate that. The camera roll, I get fed pictures from five years ago all the time on my camera roll app on iPhoto. There is actually a setting that I found recently that you can say, I don’t want to see this person anymore.

Zibby: No way. Oh, my gosh.

Avery: I agree. Social media really blew up in my life — right after I graduated college is when Instagram started becoming a thing. I did miss out, which I’m grateful for, on being in high school and college and having that constant comparison trap. I still feel like most of my twenties I was seeing my life reflected back at me and seeing my past kind of be dredged up constantly.

Zibby: It’s true. You can’t get away. After this, you’re going to have to tell me how to do that because my kids have somehow changed my home screen of my phone to have a new random picture pop up every time I pick it up. It’s not even pictures they picked. I’m on some sort of shuffle. I haven’t seen this picture in —

Avery: — Is that one of your kids?

Zibby: It was one of my kids in a picture I don’t even remember from a hundred years ago that just popped up out of nowhere.

Avery: That’s like old iPods. It’s like an iPod Shuffle that you don’t have any . I think that’s kind of fun, though. Maybe it’s a little jarring. You’re like, oh, what’s that?

Zibby: It’s fine when the kids pop up, but not when other people pop up.

Avery: Or a selfie that you forgot you took.

Zibby: Just people from the past who are suddenly my screensaver. I’m like, you guys. Anyway, whatever. I know I met you through Deborah Royce at her event for Reed Road in Connecticut and all that. How did you hook up with her? Have you worked with other mentors in the writing space who have been influential in your journey, so to speak?

Avery: I met her at the Ocean House. I am doing an event there this summer, which I’m so excited for. My friend Carola Lovering did an event there. Deborah interviewed her. We had dinner, drinks afterwards and found out we lived very close to each other, so I’ve seen her since.

Zibby: And you set it in Watch Hill.

Avery: Yes, exactly. Set in Watch Hill partially. I can’t believe I didn’t say that. That event’s going to be so special because the book opens in Watch Hill. There are scenes in Watch Hill. The thing that I miss the most with focusing on writing is having coworkers and having that sort of social outlet. You, lucky enough, get both with Zibby Books and your writing. I find that I miss that. I’ve found that my author friends and authors that I’ve met, whether they’re mentors, people who have been in the business for a long time or other authors who are just starting out, have been a huge lifeline for me. No one understands what you’re going through like someone else who is writing books. That’s been really nice. While they’re not my official coworkers, I do make a real effort, whether through social media or just through meeting one author, and then they introduce you to another, and going to as many book events as I can and meeting people to give me that social outlet because it’s an introverted business, writing. I’m an extrovert by nature, so I need that.

Zibby: Interesting. We actually have a book coming out next year, next April, called The Wedding Issue from Zibby Books. I want to give it to you to read or something. I don’t mean to ask you a favor.

Avery: I would love that. I would love to read it.

Zibby: Do an event together or a blurb or something. I think you guys would get along anyway, just to meet.

Avery: I love that. Is it about one woman’s wedding or multiple weddings?

Zibby: It’s actually about the wedding issue of a magazine and a contest for who will get the cover. Of course, it involves weddings. It’s clever.

Avery: Love that. I love books that are set at magazines, like Devil Wears Prada, the classic. Then I’m reading Homebodies right now by Tembe Denton-Hurst. Really great. I love the media/magazine space for fiction. It’s really fun.

Zibby: It’s true. I know. I was actually saying in our marketing meeting, I was like, could we get a reunion tour here going on? All the past executives who used to work in magazines who are really cool and now displaced, where’d you go, magazine people?

Avery: That’s so true. Oh, my gosh. Tina Brown, she’s a huge force of nature. I listened to her narrate The Palace Papers while I was on a trip in London. Highly recommend if you need an audiobook. It’s the best.

Zibby: Did you record the audiobook for this, or did you have a narrator for Social Engagement?

Avery: I had a narrator. I was torn on throwing my hat in the ring for that. I think it makes a lot of sense if it’s a memoir to have the author read it. I can’t even listen to my own voice on a voicemail without cringing. I’m like, I don’t think that I could read an entire book, let alone, I’m sure I’d find typos and get upset. I didn’t want to go there. Or things I’d want to change. We’re never fully finished with our books. We just need to let them go.

Zibby: That’s true, kind of like our kids. How has being a mom changed your view of writing or the world? How are you even finding the time you need and dealing with all of that?

Avery: I think of them in tandem so much because I sold the book right after I found out I was pregnant. It was about a week after. Book baby metaphors are all over the place in publishing. They’re ubiquitous. I was nervous about launching this book with a five-month-old, but I found that it sort of takes the pressure off of both endeavors, if that makes sense. I do find that when I get really stressed out or in my head about something related to the book, I can look at this giggling baby. She doesn’t care that I wrote a book. She has no idea. It’s nice to switch back and forth in those roles and have them remove the pressure from both.

Zibby: When I was ghostwriting, actually, that book, Your Perfect Fit, forever ago, I had to finish it with those authors by the time I gave birth. I was pregnant and on bed rest the whole time I was writing it. I’m like, we have to finish. Then I handed it in. Now they’re turning sixteen. It’s so crazy.

Avery: Wow. That’s so nice to have that sort of deadline in mind. I do think for the next book, I’m like, I want to finish a draft before I try to have another baby. That’s in my head. You make plans, and the universe laughs, obviously. It might not work out that way, but I do think it’s nice. When you’re in the trenches in these years, babies do sort of provide a natural nine-month deadline.

Zibby: Yes. Tell me about your next book. What are you thinking?

Avery: I am working on something that I’m really excited about. It’s very early days. It’s different. I guess what I’ll say about it is, the characters from Social Engagement, it’s as if you put them in their late thirties, early forties. They’re dealing with children and that messiness. It’s multi-POV. There’s a bit of Big Little Lies energy. It’s set in Fairfield County. It’s a fun one. I’m having a lot of fun with it, but I haven’t been able to sink in as much as I’ve wanted to recently. I got the good first third of it done before I had the baby. I’m hoping that momentum will come back after I launch this book.

Zibby: That’s awesome.

Avery: Did you finish Blank?

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, you’re so good. In fact, I have to finish the last edits by tomorrow.

Avery: Oh, my gosh. Thank you for talking to me.

Zibby: No, it’s fine. I think they’re really minor. They’re totally minor. Then it goes to copyedits next week. It’s coming out in March. I know, I can’t believe it.

Avery: It’s coming out in March. Wow.

Zibby: It’s coming out in March.

Avery: Isn’t it interesting, the publishing timeline? When I tell people who aren’t in this industry — after I sold the book, I’m like, it’s coming out in a year. People are like, that’s so far away. I’m like, no, for publishing, that’s actually very fast.

Zibby: It’s true. I know. All of a sudden, I’m like, March, gosh. Got to get on this. I’ve already missed some things.

Avery: I can’t wait to read it. It sounds so good. you at the Reef Road event. The premise is so good.

Zibby: Thank you. As my mother says, it’s not winning any awards or anything, but it’s very entertaining.

Avery: Aren’t our family members just there to put us in our place?

Zibby: She’s like, “It’s fun.” I was like, “Okay, thank you very much.”

Avery: Which is exactly what I want to read right now. That’s all I want to read, is fun books.

Zibby: You need a mix. Everybody needs a mix. We can’t all write National Book Award-winning literary masterpieces. I certainly can’t.

Avery: No, me neither. I’m just happy to be writing and to be entertaining, is what I want to do.

Zibby: People want to be entertained, like us. What are you reading that’s entertained you lately?

Avery: I just finished reading Marrying the Ketchups by Jennifer Close. I’m doing an event with her in DC. I had read Girls in White Dresses while I was writing this book. I was so excited that she blurbed my book and we’re doing an event together. This book, Marrying the Ketchups, is so much fun. It’s a real family saga. There’s just so much to sink your teeth into with all these dueling family members and a lot about the 2016 election. We all still have PTSD, I think. It plays with that in a really smart, fun way. What else am I reading? Homebodies, which I mentioned. Do you read on a Kindle or all physical?

Zibby: All physical.

Avery: I do probably seventy percent physical. Then I got a Kindle for breastfeeding. I just finished breastfeeding. You can’t really turn a book. You can’t turn the pages that easily.

Zibby: I would prop a book up on the pump in the middle of the night or something.

Avery: Oh, my gosh, that’s amazing.

Zibby: I would hold and prop. I don’t even want to talk about it. It’s a nightmare even to think about. For my younger kids at least, that’s .

Avery: You have a headlamp on or something.

Zibby: I had a little station in the bathroom so I didn’t wake my husband. Ridiculous.

Avery: That’s so funny.

Zibby: I should’ve had that.

Avery: Yes. My stack of books just keeps growing. I can’t imagine how many books you are drowning in, but it’s the best, right? That’s why we do this.

Zibby: It is. It’s amazing. Advice for aspiring authors?

Avery: My biggest piece of advice would be to mind the gap. What I mean by that is the gap between your taste and your abilities when you start out. Ira Glass has talked about this a lot. I’ve always found it fascinating because I think that the reason we get into writing is because, for most people at least, you love reading. You probably have good taste and preferences if you love reading. I think there can be a disconnect when you’re reading so many amazing books, and you don’t feel like you can produce that same caliber of work. That’s what it is to start something. That’s what it is to begin. The more you practice, the better you’ll get. That love of reading will make you a better writer, ultimately.

Zibby: That’s great advice. On your tour, what events are coming up that you’re really excited about? What should people know about? Actually, I don’t know when this is coming out. What are you excited about in general? I know you’re doing Jennifer, Ketchup. What else?

Avery: I’m doing one in Old Greenwich at Athena Books. That’s the launch night.

Zibby: I love Athena Books.

Avery: I love that bookstore so much. We’re doing a signed preorder campaign. I’m just very excited about doing things with them. Then I’m doing one at Powerhouse in Dumbo the next night in the city. Then I have a smattering of events through June and July. I’m doing DC, Dallas. Watch Hill is one that we talked about that I’m so excited for in July. I’m doing one in Atlanta at Weezie Towels. My friend founded that company. We’re doing a beach towel/beach read collaboration. That’s really fun. I also love working with book clubs. If anyone listening has a book club and they want to pick Social Engagement, I’d love to Zoom in or talk to readers.

Zibby: Very smart. Love it. Congratulations. I’m really excited for you. I’ll be following along.

Avery: Thank you so much. Have a great rest of the summer. I hope to run into you soon.

Zibby: You too. Bye.

Avery: Bye.

SOCIAL ENGAGEMENT: A Novel by Avery Carpenter Forrey

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