Bethanne Patrick, Missing Pages Podcast

Bethanne Patrick, Missing Pages Podcast

Writer, literary critic, and host of the podcast Missing Pages, Bethanne Patrick, flips her role to join Zibby as a podcast guest. The two talk about how Bethanne became an acclaimed literary insider, why the original tone of her podcast shifted once she and her showrunner realized they wanted to go even deeper into their stories, and who inspired her to become such a big reader. Bethanne also tells Zibby about her experience with double depression, which she discusses further in her upcoming memoir, Life B, out next May!


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Bethanne. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Bethanne Patrick: So excited to be here, Zibby. I know well, even though my two daughters are grown now, what it’s like not to have any time to read books.

Zibby: Yes. Although, come on, you read probably more than anybody. You’re the literary connoisseur.

Bethanne: I think this is, as I tell everyone, something that happens when you go to grad school in any humanities subject. You just learn how to consume content on the page really quickly. It’s a little bit freakish how fast I read, but I wouldn’t give it up.

Zibby: I have noticed — sometimes I time myself to be really nerdy. My reading speed has increased. It continues to increase, even slightly, the more I read.

Bethanne: I haven’t done that in a while. I should. About seventy-five pages an hour is my general speed. I sometimes find it slowing down if I’m really engaged with something. Then maybe it will speed up if I’m trying to just go through the center of the page to get to the end of something. I’ll be very, very honest with you and your audience. I found that a lot of books, endings are tough. Endings are really tough. I have found too many books in the past decade rush the ending. Sometimes I find myself reading a lot faster toward the end of a book because I’m like, you’re really not —

Zibby: — Interesting.

Bethanne: That doesn’t go for really good books, though.

Zibby: Certainly not my book. No, I’m kidding.

Bethanne: No, absolutely not.

Zibby: It was so nice of you, by the way, to have me on “Missing Pages.” That was so great. I am obsessed with your show. Oh, my gosh. Tell everybody about it. It’s the most brilliant concept, but the execution is even better than the idea.

Bethanne: Thank you, Zibby. That is really high praise. From someone who has been podcasting so much, every day, it’s kind of amazing to hear you say that. Thank you. “Missing Pages” is about the scams and scandals and fiascos of the book publishing world, of the literary world, let’s say. This is a show that originally was conceived of as something more gossipy and kind of lighthearted. Then when I came on board — my credit is host and producer, so I really got my hands in there. When I got in there and my showrunner Caila Litman also got in there, I don’t know if it’s big female energy or what, but we were like, we have to figure out why this happened, not just, oh, this is kind of sketchy. This is gossipy. We wanted to know what made it possible. That’s how the show’s execution kept expanding. It took us a long time to put it together. I’m glad that we did. We don’t solve all of the world’s problems or the publishing world’s problems. At least, we try to bring up questions.

Zibby: It’s amazing. There are so many, even off the top of my head, that I want you to do episodes about.

Bethanne: I can’t wait to hear them.

Zibby: Your episode — what is her name? The first woman that you did.

Bethanne: Kaavya Viswanathan.

Zibby: Yes, Kaavya. Your first episode about Kaavya, who wrote a book and then was accused of plagiarism, you totally looked into the whole book packaging industry to show that, actually, she was sort of a causality of the early days. Not even early days of book packaging because, as you point out, it had been done since Sweet Valley High and Nancy Drew and all of that. This new iteration when Alloy got involved, they put her up as the face of this book that was then found to be completely plagiarized. What I thought, not only was it amazing, the deep dive you did into this, but that Harvard ended up finding her not guilty of plagiarism. Make sense of this for me.

Bethanne: First of all, I just want to say for your audience and people who may be following along with “Missing Pages” that not every episode has such a satisfying resolution. There were some people who wouldn’t talk to us, who weren’t interested in bringing in their experience for many reasons. I get it. Some of them, because it was bringing up really painful things. Some of them have no interest in talking about what happened. Kaavya was really generous and really open about this. She had never told anyone before that Harvard exonerated her from plagiarism, which is a very big deal. We all realize after hearing Kaavya’s story about being accused of plagiarizing, part of Megan McCafferty’s books, part of her work, that this was a big deal. This was something that really affected the high level of publishing marketing and business. We also all knew that she had to have been under some kind of nondisclosure agreement. When something like this happens, you just know Alloy Entertainment is not going to say, go ahead with your life. Talk about whatever you want. She had never revealed to anyone before. She was so traumatized, I feel, by the whole experience. She’d been so young. She’s so savvy. I don’t want to say naïve, but youth comes along with a certain level of naïveté. Her youth and inexperience really affected how she handled the situation. Also, at the time that she was being interrogated by Katie Couric — there’s no other way to say it. Couric really did go after her. You can see the clip. You can hear it. She wouldn’t have graduated. She wouldn’t have been exonerated yet. We do have the letter. She shared the letter with us from Harvard saying, you’re cleared, and you can graduate. We do have the proceedings of what they did or how they examined the manuscript. I feel that that’s a pretty — Harvard, that’s a big brand.

Zibby: You’re like, I think that’s a bigger brand than the Today Show or whatever.

Bethanne: Or Alloy.

Zibby: Or Alloy, yeah.

Bethanne: Come on. They are putting that weight behind her. I think it’s really significant and important. I am so, so happy. It took us a lot of discussion to get her to come on and speak to us.

Zibby: I bet.

Bethanne: I am so honored by her trust in how we handled things. Of course, every show — Zibby, you know this. Every podcast, every everything anyone does is going to get criticism. We’ve seen reviews from listeners saying, you just coddled her.

Zibby: What? No. I’m actually really surprised to hear that. I don’t feel like that. That’s interesting.

Bethanne: Thank you.

Zibby: It’s nice that you got reviews. That’s good.

Bethanne: Exactly. We are getting reviews. This has been a wild ride for me as a newbie podcaster. “Missing Pages” has gotten a lot of attention. Almost all of it’s been really, really good. I cannot complain. If someone’s taking the time to review, I say thank you. You listened. You’re giving your honest opinion. That is something, in our business, I think we could all see more of.

Zibby: I totally agree. There are a lot of shows about books, my own show included here, obviously. Yours, the way it’s so highly produced with all these clips from other places, so much research, it almost feels like this multimedia experience, except audio. I know that sounds stupid. It was very entertaining. It’s immersive and entertaining. Also, you learn a lot. I am a huge fan. It’s very cool what you’re doing.

Bethanne: Thank you. I love that you said it’s immersive because I think that’s something we really wanted to go for. Our early scripts were much more straightforward and sort of like, okay, this is a simple narrative. Caila, as the showrunner, was really able to bring in her podcasting experience. She’s been with Vox and with Condé Nast and really understands multimedia from those big brands. She was able to say, come on, we need some music here. We need a little foley sound here. Let’s pull this clip from so-and-so’s interview because it actually speaks to something another person said. You know because you’ve been a guest. That kind of dialogue between the pieces of the show is one of the things that gives it its immersive quality.

Zibby: Agreed. It’s great. Wow, what fun. Bethanne, can you take me back to the part of your life before you became this world-renowned — I read your bio at the beginning. Everything from The Washington Post, Lit Hub, you’re all over. NPR. Everywhere. How did this all start? Where did you develop your love of books? How did you get on this path?

Bethanne: I’ve got to give all the props, first and foremost, to my mom because she was the one that inculcated or helped me grow this love of reading. She was one of those moms who did all the voices and all the gestures. I remember when I edited my anthology, The Books That Changed My Life, one of the people I spoke to was Margaret Atwood. Her first line — this is my favorite. “I had a reading mother. It’s the best thing.” Then she goes on to talk about how her mother also did the voices and acted things out. There’s something about that, Zibby. You’re a mom. I’m a mom. There’s something about having a parent who doesn’t just sit next to your bed and speak in a monotone. There’s something about a parent who not only is bringing these characters to life, but a mom or a dad who says, I’m just going to get into it too. It completely changes the experience for you. These aren’t just books. They really are experiences. That’s where it started. It continued. I went to college. I got a little afraid. I didn’t major in English because I got a couple of bad grades. Then I course-corrected by going to graduate school for English lit.

Zibby: Wait, what did you end up majoring in?

Bethanne: In government, which was great. I majored in government, so I met my husband at a Model UN conference. There was a reason for it. There’s a reason for everything. Then, like I said, I went on to do graduate work in literature and learned not just that I could read quickly and bring in a lot of this, but that I just didn’t really want to work in anything else. I tried teaching. I tried a little editing here and there. Then I thought, I just want to read books and write about them. I started at the very lowest end. I had a couple of small publications that I convinced to let me write reviews for and built up from there. It took a long time. It was definitely not overnight success. I made a lot of mistakes along the way, Zibby. There are publications that I wrote for and no longer write for, sometimes not because anything bad went wrong, but because there was a turn in my life. I also should say — sorry, I’m burying the lead, as we say in journalism. My husband is active-duty military for twenty-one years, and so we moved a lot. In moving, sometimes I let go of opportunities, wasn’t able to keep up with something that I loved doing.

Finally, I managed to put everything together and say, this is what I’m going to do. I’m not going to throw myself behind things that I don’t care about anymore. This is the point I’m really coming to in making this life that, to many people, looks so amazing, as you said. I hear you read my credentials, and I’m like, wow, who is that? It doesn’t feel like that inside. That is not me putting myself down. That is just because when you’re inside of it — you know this as well, Zibby — you are just doing the work. You’re doing the work because you really love it and this is what you’ve chosen. I feel so privileged to have that and to have had support all the way from my mom to my husband, to the rest of my family to be able to say, this is what I am doing. I do not need to worry about another type of work. I don’t need to think about what should’ve been. I am just completely present when I’m working on, whether it’s writing a book — I have one coming out next year.

Zibby: I know. I’m so excited about that.

Bethanne: Or reviewing a book or talking to an author. When you love what you do, you do get into a state of flow. I think that’s the most important thing. If someone truly believes that this is the kind of life she wants, I say go for it. Don’t think, oh, there is no book media anymore. By the way, there is book media because I just got a press release about Zibby Magazine. Congratulations, girlfriend. That is very exciting.

Zibby: I am really excited about it. This has been in the works for a while. I’m so excited. I really want to bring back the old-school glamor and have a whole thing. I just read in the paper this morning this terrible, by the way, review of Blonde, the movie, based on Joyce Carol Oates’s book. Did you see that review?

Bethanne: I did not see the review.

Zibby: I want to have a feature now about Joyce Carol Oates and when I had her on my podcast and put a few pictures of that. Then I want to somehow link it into fun things you can buy. Check out that bookshelf floating behind her. Look at her glasses. I don’t know. I want to have it so that other people can get bits and pieces of this lifestyle.

Bethanne: By the way, I mentioned Margaret Atwood a little earlier. Those two, Margaret and Joyce, besties.

Zibby: Interesting.

Bethanne: Which is something I don’t think I would have put together, but they are.

Zibby: That would be another good feature. Who are really good friend pairs in publishing? That’s fun.

Bethanne: That would be really fun.

Zibby: You want to write it for me?

Bethanne: Yes.

Zibby: Serious. I’m not even kidding.

Bethanne: There we go, my first assignment for Zibby Magazine. That would be really fun. Then I could talk about my literary bestie.

Zibby: Totally.

Bethanne: We’re on.

Zibby: Then we can post about it. Then we have to say, tag your literary bestie. Bring your literary bestie to blah, blah, blah event. We’ll just keep going from there. I’m excited.

Bethanne: Love it. I love how things like this happen in Zibby world, in the Zibby universe. You think the way I do. We were talking about, how did I get into this? and all of that kind of thing. That’s part of how I got into it. I just kept thinking, why don’t we write about this? Why don’t we do this? Why isn’t there more? I have had a different path than you have. At the same time, that’s one of the things that keeps me going. This book publishing world, this literary world is so full of ideas, personalities, things that tie other things together. This is funny. I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, about writing something about criticism from the heart. When I write book reviews, I really try to approach each book as the book is, not as I wish it would be, not, I think you should’ve written this kind of book instead of the one — I try to say, what was this author trying to do? If there are things that they missed the mark on, I will notice them.

I’m going to give you an example, Zibby, of the recent Anthony Marra, Mercury Pictures Presents. Of course, like everyone else, Marra’s previous work, I’m just ga-ga about. He’s an amazing writer. He’s an original thinker. So much good. I did think Mercury Pictures Presents fell short in a couple of things. I did review it for the LA Times. I talked about those things. I talked about why I thought it didn’t work and what I thought could’ve worked better. That was not because I wanted to say, this is a bad book, or you shouldn’t read this book. Big Anthony Marra fans, go ahead. You’re going to love so much about this. You may, as a friend texted me yesterday, find yourself stuck in the middle and thinking, I don’t know if I want to finish this book. I say you have to finish it because this is one of those books that does stick the landing, but in the middle, it gets a little bit messy. This is not just me from my heart trying to be kind to Anthony Marra. This is me from my heart saying, here’s what doesn’t work. I don’t have to rip him apart. I don’t have to say, this is a terrible book, or that no one should read it. This is me really caring about a book. What I’m trying to get to — gosh, I do go on, Zibby.

Zibby: No, you’re great. I love it. I could listen to you all day. I love it. Keep going.

Bethanne: What I’m trying to get to is the fact that you and I have been raised in this era where it seemed like, let’s be critical. Logic is all. Analysis is all. The more critical you are, the more serious you are. Guess what? I don’t believe that. I believe that you can be compassionate and kind and clear-sighted and really lift things up instead of just tearing them apart. That’s what’s kept me going for the years I’ve been in this business.

Zibby: I love that. That’s so great. There was one review I read. I’m trying to remember which author it was. It was so mean that I emailed her right away. She had been on the podcast, so I had her email. I just had to write. I was like, “Look, I just read this. It is the meanest thing ever. You don’t deserve this. I really loved your book. I hope you’re not paying any attention,” or something.

Bethanne: Don’t pay any attention to it. That’s exactly it. You don’t have to. That is not the last word on the book, whichever book it is. The last word isn’t the best word or the worst word. I was talking earlier about reviews on the podcast. Some of them are critical. In a way, I love that because it means someone paid attention. They cared enough to be honest. Amazing, this week, we had a New York Magazine, in print, review from Nick Quah.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, amazing.

Bethanne: So amazing. I know.

Zibby: That’s really awesome. I get his newsletter.

Bethanne: You know how big this is.

Zibby: Yeah, that’s a really big deal.

Bethanne: He had some criticisms, one of them being that “the host, Bethanne Patrick, says ‘we authors’ too often.”

Zibby: Oh, man.

Bethanne: I thought that was hilarious.

Zibby: That’s grasping at straws. That’s fine. That’s a fine critique. Okay, you can live with that.

Bethanne: Exactly. I can live with that. There’s no reason for anyone to tear anyone apart. If they do, for what have you, the author doesn’t need to take it too hard.

Zibby: Agreed. Now I’m sorry I missed that review. I’m going to go read it afterwards. Your memoir, I’m very sad because it would’ve been, I’m sure, a perfect memoir for Zibby Books. It’s okay. I understand. We weren’t launched in time.

Bethanne: You know, I sold it on proposal years before Zibby Books launched.

Zibby: It’s okay. It’s all right. I don’t blame you. Tell me more about it.

Bethanne: I’ve been working on it for a really long time. It will be wonderful if I’m able to come back and talk to you about it next year. It comes out in May 2023. It’s called Life B: Overcoming Double Depression. It’s a memoir about a form of mental illness that I have called double depression, cycling depression, double dysthymia. There are a whole bunch of names for it. Basically, what it comes down to, Zibby, is that a person with double depression starts life out lower than everyone else and then is chronically depressed and also has periods of major depression. What this means, the most significant thing to tell you about it, because I don’t want to bore your audience, is that I was always depressed, and then I had these periods of major depression. I was being treated for depression for quite a long time and, I thought, doing everything I’m supposed to do, taking my meds, going to therapy, being a good, healthy person. I was still having major depressive episodes.

About six years ago, I went to my doctor and said, “Something has got to change. There’s something off here.” She sent me to a new psychiatrist who diagnosed me with this condition. “All” that was required — I’m putting that in air quotes because there’s a lot involved — was putting me on a medication that helps stop the cycling. It’s a medication that’s often used for epilepsy. It’s called Trileptal. When it stopped the cycles, then the antidepressant could do its work. I kept wondering my whole life, why do other people get so excited about things? Why do other people have so much joy? Now I know. My memoir is sort of a Horatio Alger story in reverse, if you will. I get better. I’m able to continue healing and growing now. It’s an amazing thing for me. That doesn’t mean reading my book will be amazing for everyone. I hope that it will give some people, especially women who are in midlife — midlife now means anything from thirty-five to seventy-five.

Zibby: I think it starts at forty-two. I feel like forty-three, forty-two, everybody all of a sudden was like, we’re in midlife, right? I’m like, am I? I am? Okay. All right. Thank you.

Bethanne: I hope that women in that messy middle will be able to say, oh, if there is something bothering me, I can act on it. I can take action and change. It doesn’t mean that you’re mentally ill. Change for you could be something completely different.

Zibby: Bethanne, the fact that you have lived your whole life in a depressive state and are only now experiencing joy is heartbreaking to me. It’s truly heartbreaking. I am just so relieved that now you can go out — I bet, for you, even the smallest things are causing so much joy. I bet the smell of a flower or a beautiful tree or sunset, all those clichéd things that bring joy.

Bethanne: It’s true. Sometimes joy broke through. I had a wedding day and graduations and the births of my two daughters. That everyday just loveliness and being present, that’s a big part of it, is being able to say, I’m not viewing this through cotton wool. I’m able to be right here for it. It’s true. Just having a conversation like this one, having conversations with friends who are bookish and not thinking, what do I have to do later? What mistakes have I made? Instead, just saying, this is so much fun.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, I can’t wait to read your book. What’s the title? Oh, you told me already.

Bethanne: Life B, I’ll just tell you really quickly, refers to — there was a moment when I first took an antidepressant. It was a big decision for me because at the time, it wasn’t something everyone was doing. Two weeks after I started taking it, it felt like that moment at the eye doctor where they say, which one is more clear, A or B? You’re like, B. I can see. I can see much more clearly. That’s what it’s about.

Zibby: I’m really excited for it. Yes, please come back when it comes out. Send me an advance copy. Let me know what I can do to help. I can’t wait. Thank you. I’m so excited for “Missing Pages.” I’m hooked completely. It’s exactly the kind of delicious insider look into all sorts of stuff. I’m waiting for James Frey. You haven’t had that scandal yet.

Bethanne: No, not yet. I should say “Missing Pages” is produced by The Podglomerate, which is this amazing group. We talked a little earlier about how highly produced it is. I just want to give a lot of props to the CEO and our executive producer, Jeff Umbro, and his team. You can find “Missing Page” everywhere, but if you subscribe on Apple Podcasts, you get bonus episodes.

Zibby: I saw that. That’s cool.

Bethanne: You, Zibby, are one of those bonus episodes.

Zibby: Thank you. Amazing. Bethanne, thank you. Thank you for the time.

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