Zibby Owens: I’m here today with Brenda Janowitz who is the books correspondent for Pop Sugar and the author of six novels including her latest, The Grace Kelly Dress. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Redbook, The New York Post, Publisher’s Weekly, and many other publications. A graduate of Cornell University and Hofstra Law School, Brenda worked as a lawyer and did a federal clerkship. She currently lives with her husband and sons on Long Island.

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

Brenda Janowitz: Thanks so much for having me.

Zibby: I’m super excited to discuss The Grace Kelly Dress today. By the way, I love this cover. I have such dress envy of this dress. How did you even pick this cover and this image? Did you have anything to do with it?

Brenda: I wish I could say I had something to do with it because I happen to love this cover. Alas, no. It’s really the brilliant art team at Graydon House. I think they did a phenomenal job. I had talked with my editor and my agent about covers that I was obsessed with that I loved. I created a whole Pinterest page. One of the things we realized we really loved was when the title was really graphic and large, and so we knew we wanted that. My editor pointed out, obviously we need to see the dress. Since The Grace Kelly Dress refers to Grace Kelly’s iconic wedding gown, we knew we wanted some sort of a replica. This is actually the second draft of the cover, second or third, but it’s definitely the second dress. I really encouraged them to use more details from Grace Kelly’s dress. We got the cummerbund in there and the buttons going down the back. I think they did a phenomenal job. I’m really pleased with how it came out.

Zibby: Me too.

Brenda: The first draft was gorgeous also, though, I have to say.

Zibby: Tell listeners what The Grace Kelly Dress is about and then how you came up with this idea for this book.

Brenda: The Grace Kelly Dress is about an heirloom wedding gown and three generations of women whose lives are influenced by this dress and changed by the dress. It takes place in three different timelines, which is something I’ve never done before. In 2020, we see our modern bride. She’s under pressure from her mom to wear this heirloom gown. In 1982, we see the bride’s mother who’s really excited about wearing the dress herself. She’s gearing up to wear the dress and make it her own. Since it’s 1982, you know that means Princess Diana sleeves, of course. Then in a little twist in 1958, we see the dress being made. We see the seamstress’s life and what she’s going through as she creates this dress. It’s really a look at an heirloom item and three generations of women and how things have changed throughout time.

Zibby: What gave you the idea for this plot?

Brenda: When I’m thinking about books, I’m always thinking about what I’m obsessed with and what I can’t stop thinking about. For this book, when I sat down to come up with an idea, I had a little brainstorming session with my agent. She said, “What are you obsessed with?” Since I’ve already written a book about weddings, we know I’m obsessed with weddings. I’m obsessed with clothes and fashion and most specifically, wedding dresses. My agent actually found this story on the Today Show about a wedding dress that had been passed down through eight generations. We thought that was a great jumping-off point for a story because I also love to do things with multiple generations. I love stories that are a woman, her mother, her grandmother, which I’ve done before. I think there’s something so timeless about that idea, the different generations and how we change and how things for women have changed, etc. I decided to work on this idea about a wedding dress. As I was writing, in the back of my mind I had Grace Kelly’s iconic gown sort of in my mind because to me, that’s the ultimate wedding dress. When I did a first draft of a few chapters, it had a different title at first, but I was describing Grace Kelly’s dress. My agent said, “Before we finish this proposal, let’s give it a different title.” I said, “How about The Grace Kelly Dress?” She said, “That’s great, but why Grace Kelly?” I was shocked that she didn’t know that I was describing Grace Kelly’s gown. I was like, “Come on, the cummerbund, the buttons down the back, you’ve got to know what dress this is.” She was like, “No, but I like it.” We leaned into that idea, and it took off from there.

Zibby: Wow. How do you come up with the different characters? What’s your process like? Do you sit down and brainstorm? Are there inspirational pieces from people you know? How did you come up with especially these women?

Brenda: I had the idea about the wedding dress first and the multigenerational story. Then the question was, what kind of women would I be exploring? What kind of lives would I be exploring? First, I came up with the character of Rocky, who’s our bride in 2020. When I was coming up with Rocky, I was trying to do something a little different than I’ve done before. Our Rocky is a little tougher than characters I’ve described before. She has a different kind of job. She owns a startup. She works in video games, very different from me. I like to joke that all of my characters are a little bit of me because there’s definitely an alternate reality where I have lots of tattoos. I’m fascinated with tattoos, but I can’t commit. Rocky has committed to all her tattoos. I don’t have any, but in an alternate reality, I think I have a lot of tattoos. There’s a little of me in that, but there’s also a different version of me, if that makes sense.

Then of course, book six, it’s a little less autobiographical than other books. Your first book, they say, is you. It’s all about you. Every character is you, especially the main character. Once you’re six books in, it’s a little different. You’re doing different things, experimenting with different things. For this book, I was really concentrating on my through lines and how the three generations are different but the same. I was trying to do something different. The characters flowed from that, from the plot and what I was trying to say. A lot of it is just coming up with the idea and then walking around with these characters. What I mean by that is, when I come up with Rocky, I think about her all day. As I go to CVS that morning, how would Rocky react to this? As I am waiting in line to pick my kids up from school and there’s a logjam of the cars, well, how would Rocky respond? What would she do? You sort of live with the characters. That’s how I develop them. I think character development is so important. That’s one of the mistakes beginning writers make. They don’t spend enough time on their character studies. For me, just living my life is a character study. I bring the characters along with me. That’s how they’re created. The plot informs a lot of it. The themes of the book inform a lot of it, but a lot of it’s just living with them and moving around with them and figuring out what these characters would do. Everything informs the other part. The characters inform the plot and the theme. They hopefully all come together.

Zibby: What did your wedding dress look like? I have to ask.

Brenda: My wedding dress — like I mentioned, I’m obsessed with Grace Kelly’s wedding gown. I had that mind when I was shopping for my own.

Zibby: What year? When did you get married? That will give us a stylistic context.

Brenda: That is so true. I love it. I got married in 2008. One of the things, Grace Kelly’s wedding gown had sleeves. I desperately wanted sleeves, but in 2008, you could not get sleeves. That was not a thing. I find it so funny because now it feels like designers are all saying, oh, people want sleeves. I’m like, this is not new. People have always wanted sleeves. In 2008, no sleeves. My dress was strapless, but I had a little bolero made so it covered my shoulders for the service portion. It was strapless. The bodice was lace. In a little nod to Grace Kelly, I had a very delicate ribbon around the waist, not a cummerbund, but sort of a nod to that. It had buttons down the back.

Zibby: That’s so pretty.

Brenda: When I say I’m obsessed, I really mean it. I absolutely love her dress. I think it’s so timeless. There have been so many dresses that have been influenced by it. It’s amazing to me that a dress from so long ago, from 1956, can be so relevant today.

Zibby: What did you think of the Kate Middleton dress?

Brenda: I loved it. I thought it was spectacular. I loved it. The truth is, I’m just a sucker for wedding dresses. There are so few that I don’t like. I really love wedding dresses. There’s something about that period of your life. Even though I’m married eleven years now, it still makes me happy to think about wedding dresses. There’s something so joyful about it.

Zibby: I’ve been buying and reading bridal magazines my whole life.

Brenda: I love it.

Zibby: I’m the only non-bride, I feel like, who occasionally wants to read. I wrote for Modern Bride for a little while. Like you, I’m obsessed with wedding gowns. Luckily, I’ve had two. I got to do it over again, perk of divorce and remarriage. There you go. Towards the end of the book, Joanie, who’s the middle generation woman in the book, asks her mother, “Will this be the biggest mistake of my life, the thing that defines me?” Her mother answers this question by saying, “There’s no such thing as the biggest mistake. There’s only what you do and what you don’t do.” I was just wondering, is this your general philosophy on decision-making? I thought that was a great rule to live by.

Brenda: Thank you. I wish I could say that’s how I live my life. I would say that’s how I try to live my life. I wish I lived my life a little more like that. I take things very seriously. I’m very hard on myself. Every New Year’s resolution is to not be hard on myself and take things a little more easy. I do think, in terms of big decisions, I do take them very seriously. I think it’s the be all, end all. For example, I was a lawyer. I don’t practice anymore. I decided to give the writing thing a try. These big decisions do feel like life or death. As I get older, I think what I’m realizing, nothing’s really life or death because you can sort of come back from anything. Times change, and that’s okay. Part of me, like the little girl me, still feels like everything is the biggest decision of your life and this will be the thing that marks your life. Certainly, there are things that do mark your life. Seriously traumatic events do mark your life. They say some of these traumas, you stay that age forever. I think there are some things. In terms of decisions like career, who you’re going to marry, I don’t think that those are necessarily the biggest mistakes of your life. I think you learn from every experience. I try to just take things a little less seriously. I think that Joanie’s mother was a little wiser than I am. That’s something I try to live by just to make the day-to-day easier, which is not to say big decisions are not a big deal. It was obviously a big deal to leave the practice of law. It’s a big deal to figure out who you’re going to marry. I think part of why I was single for such a long time was that I just put so much weight into it. To some extent, things are a leap of faith. You need to sort of go with them.

Zibby: Tell me a little bit about your decision to leave law. I know you were a lawyer, a clerkship, the whole nine yards. What happened?

Brenda: My whole life, I wanted to be a lawyer, but it was because I loved to read and I loved to write. I was one of those children. You couldn’t take a book out of my hand. I was always writing essays. When I was in law school, I tried to write a book. I was always just thinking in terms of story. I think story and the stories we tell are really important. You know, when you’re a Jewish girl from Long Island and you say to your parents, “I’m going to be a writer,” they’re like, “That’s nice. If you like to read and write, become a lawyer. You need a job.” My parents were always big on, “You need to be able to support yourself. You need a job. You can’t just wait for someone else.” I went to law school straight out of college and became a lawyer, worked at a big firm. The hours just killed me. The lifestyle was difficult. I clerked. It turns out when you work for a judge in New York, they work really tough hours also. The caseload’s out of control. I tried to make being a lawyer work, but I was really just one of those really unhappy lawyers.

Around my thirtieth birthday, I remember my best friend from college, Shawn, said, “Enough of this saying you’re going to write a book. Now you’re actually going to do.” She got my friends together. They sent me to a writing class, Gotham Writers Workshop. Every Tuesday night, I went to this writing class and I actually took writing seriously. I said, okay, I’m going to give this a shot. That’s where I started working on my first novel. At the time, I remember I said, I’m just going to do this for fun. It’s just going to be one of those life accomplishments. Someone had said to me, finishing a book is an accomplishment just in of itself. I like that. I said, okay, I’m just going to finish this book, so I did it. But then being a type-A person, once I finished it, I was like, I should now get this published. I got an agent, and the rest is history from there. My first novel came out in 2007, two weeks after I met my husband. I’ve been writing ever since.

Zibby: That’s amazing. Does it get easier? Does each subsequent book get easier? Is it the same?

Brenda: I wish I could yes, but no. It feels like every book is starting over again. It feels like each book should be easier because they all build on each other. Every novel, you learn so much, so you come from a different place. It feels like it should be easier, but it’s not. Every time it feels like you’re at the base of a mountain once again. Sometimes I come to a book and I’m sort of thinking, I have no idea how to do this. Even though you’ve done it before, it feels like you don’t know how to it, you never done it before, and you’ll never do it again. Of course, you do, but it sort of feels that way. It doesn’t get easier. Parts of it get easier. I would say the promotion and marketing, that stuff, you learn more, so that part gets a little easier only because you know what’s coming. You know the right questions to ask. My first book, I was like, we have to do an event. We have to have a party. We have to do this. Now I’m a married woman, two kids. I live a dramatically different life than when my first book came out. What’s important is different. How I play the publishing game is a little different.

Zibby: Does that mean no party this time? Is that what you’re saying?

Brenda: Oh, there’s definitely a party, but it’ll be a smaller party. I think with this book what I’m trying to do is just enjoy it a little more. I was on the phone with my mother the other day. We were talking about something about the book process. I said something to the effect of, “But all my friends have books out,” because at this point I know a lot of novelists. She was like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, hold up. Back up. Not everyone writes a book and gets it published.” She’s like, “You’re living in this little bubble, but you need to appreciate the accomplishment.” I think this time around, I’m going to try to have more fun with it and appreciate it and enjoy it a little more because not everyone writes a book, even though sometimes it feels like it.

Zibby: That’s true. You should feel good about it. It’s a great book, even if it was your only book, seriously. I read this essay you wrote, I think in Redbook, about having two sons and how you had wanted a daughter, but then you gave birth at thirty-one weeks and stopped caring about the gender and you just were rooting for the survival and the trauma. I’m making light of this, which I shouldn’t, but you know.

Brenda: No, you can make light of it because he’s eight years old now. He’s fine.

Zibby: A lot of people have been through very scary processes with having kids like you. Then you were still saying but you love all the dress stuff and like what you were saying to the fashion. Do you feel like, in a way, being able to write about girls all the time scratches that itch, so to speak?

Brenda: I love that question because, yeah, I think it does. I always thought I would have two girls. I’m such a girly girl. I just took it for granted, of course I would have daughters. Now I have two sons. Like you mentioned, my second son was thirty-one weeks. It was very touch and go. He’s eight years old. He’s perfectly fine now. It’s okay to make a little light of it, but I get what you’re saying. It’s funny. When I think about it, I think about how everyone just makes it like it’s no big deal to have babies, and it’s so incredibly hard. It’s so incredibly hard to give birth. All these things are just so tough. Everyone does it, so we’re sort of like, oh, whatever. He’s fine now. Yeah, it was traumatic. It put things in perspective for me because it made me realize the most important thing is — it’s so cliché, but it’s true. The most important thing is that your kids are healthy. It put things in perspective. But yeah, I get to write books about wedding dresses. It definitely sort of scratches that itch for me. I got to research wedding dresses and gown construction. At one point, I was speaking to a wedding dress designer about different details about how a dress comes together. I did a lot of research in terms of Grace Kelly’s dress, that actual dress itself. That was so much fun and so fascinating. I definitely get something out of that. I also have two nieces. That helps too.

Zibby: I wanted to talk about your recent Modern Love essay, which was so exciting. I was so cheering for you from the sidelines. It was fantastic. Let me get the title right, “He’s never going to put away that shirt,” about your husband and how he left the shift on the console table in your upstairs hallway and that you walked by it a zillion times. He never picked it up. You just decided to make it a standoff, like, I’m just going to wait and see. Will he ever pick it up? First of all, that’s hilarious. Second of all, what made you think this would be right for Modern Love? How did you know this was a Modern Love piece?

Brenda: That’s a very simple answer. First, in my defense, I thought he would put it away in like a week and we’d have a laugh over it. I didn’t realize he’d leave it out quite so long, almost a year. I thought it would just be a few days and eventually he would see it. Where this table was, as you exited our bedroom, it was sort of in your way. There was no way you couldn’t see the shirt. It amazed me that he never noticed it was there and thought, maybe I should put this back in my closet. It became a story that I constantly told people. I’d go out for lunch with friends. They’d complain about their husband. I’d say, “Well, did I tell you about the shirt?” It became a running thing with friends. It was to the point, one of my girlfriends, when I would meet her for lunch she’d say, “How’s Doug? How are the kids? How’s the shirt?” The shirt became like a person in my life. I was always telling people. It became this story I was constantly telling friends.

I was having a coffee with the novelist Laura Dave. At the point I told her this story, the shirt might have been put away. I don’t even remember because I’d been telling this story for so long. She started telling me something about married life. She had a baby. We were just talking about how life changes because I’ve known her since before we were both married and had kids. We were just talking about how your life dramatically changes. I said, “Well, did I tell you about the shirt?” So I tell her the whole story. She looks me dead in the eye and says, “That’s your Modern Love.” I was like, “Laura, no. You’re crazy.” When Laura Dave gives you writing advice, you should listen because she’s amazing. I went home from that coffee date and I thought about it. I started writing it. It seemed so silly to me. It was also sort of embarrassing that I had done this and let it sit out for so long and I was so resentful. Susan Shapiro, who teaches this awesome —

Zibby: — She was on my podcast.

Brenda: She’s amazing. She teaches this amazing class on nonfiction. She always says your first thing, it has to be a humiliation essay, to which I say all of my essays are humiliation essays. This one in particular is humiliating to me because I was sort of so petty about it. The more I worked on this essay, I said, oh, wait, I think I have something here. Of course, Laura telling you to do something, it means you should do it. I worked on this essay, but then it sat on my desktop for a while. I was at a book expo party last spring. I got to meet Elizabeth Gilbert. I told her that fiction was my thing. I wasn’t really as good at nonfiction. She said, “That’s ridiculous. Of course you can do both.” After that, I finished editing the piece. I submitted it, and it was accepted.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh. So cool.

Brenda: I can’t take the credit. It’s really Laura’s credit because I didn’t think it was a Modern Love piece. I thought it was a funny story. She put the idea in my head, and I ran with it.

Zibby: That’s awesome. I love that. Books correspondent for Pop Sugar, you come up with these lists every season, twenty-two books, thirty-six books.

Brenda: That’s a lot of books.

Zibby: That’s a lot of books. How do you pick them? People are always asking, how do you pick the books for your podcast? How do you pick the books?

Brenda: Gosh, it’s really hard, isn’t it? When I first started the list, at that point, it was before The Dinner Party came out. I was trying to get more bylines. My friend Elyssa Friedland, who I think has also been on your podcast, she had published something with Pop Sugar. I was on the phone with her. She said, “Anything I can do for you ever, let me know.” I said, “Oh, I’m dying for a byline at Pop Sugar. Could you introduce me to your editor?” She’s so lovely. Of course, she immediately emailed both of us. I did, I think it was a nineties nostalgia piece. I was really excited to have the byline. It was a fun, silly piece. A few weeks later, the editor wrote to me. She said, “You’re an author. Why don’t you do a list of the books you’re most looking forward to this summer?” I said, “I could do that with my eyed closed because I’m looking forward to so much. The summer season’s always so rich.” I put that list together. I remember I put it together so quickly because there were so many things I was dying to read. It got shared so many times that she came back. She’s like, “Let’s do it again.” It just went from there. At a certain point, publicists started sending me books in galley form. The list then became my favorite books. I would read a ton of books and then organize them.

Now I’m getting ten to twenty books a day on my doorstep. It’s really hard to figure out what to pick. The list has morphed yet again because I feel a responsibility to have a really diverse group of books. I try to have well-established authors on there, debut authors on there. I feel like there’s a responsibility to have the books that everyone wants to read. There’s always books that are really buzzy. I think people expect to see those, but they also like to see diamonds in the rough. I’m trying to find debut novelists or novelists maybe no one’s really read before who haven’t gotten their due, then diversity in terms of the types of authors, the types of stories that are being told. I try to have a mix of everything. It’s very heavily women’s fiction, but I try to put a little memoir, a little young adult. I figure most people aren’t going to read thirty books over the summer. They’ll sort of cherry-pick from my list, so I try to make it that they can cherry-pick a few different types. It’s not all the same thing. It’s challenging. Each time, it’s really challenging.

Zibby: Wow, that’s so cool.

Brenda: It’s hard.

Zibby: Can you slide in your own book onto the list? Do you do that?

Brenda: Yes, I do.

Zibby: Oh, good.

Brenda: That was one of the first things I asked my editor. I said, “This is so uncomfortable, but I have a book coming out. Do you think I could put it on the list?” She said, “Of course you should put it on the list,” so I do. It’s always kind of funny because now it’s the best books of summer, the best books of spring. I’m working on the best books of spring. I have a feeling The Grace Kelly Dress will be on there. It’s kind of funny. It would be dishonest to not include my book, I feel like, right?

Zibby: Of course you have to do it. For all the shameless self-promotion authors are required to do to market their books, this is the least of it. Of course you have to put it on.

Brenda: It’s so funny you mention that because I just did a post on Instagram this morning as I was about to walk in to meet you about the shameless self-promotion because I’m two months out from the book coming out. This is the time where most authors do a post and they say, “I’m sorry I have to talk about myself. I’m so sorry. Forgive me. You can mute me if you want.” I said, “This time around, I’m not going to do that.” I’ve been writing professionally since 2007. Somehow, it became 2020. That’s a really long time. I don’t want to apologize anymore for what I do and what is required of me. Part of the job is the self-promotion and putting yourself out there. It always makes me laugh when friends say, “Were you in my hometown? How come I didn’t know about it?” To some extent, you do need to get the word out. You do need to let people know. Also, it’s part of why you’re out there. I wrote a book. I’m proud of it, so I’m going to try to apologize a little less this time and around and just say, this is what I did, and that’s okay.

Zibby: I love that.

Brenda: I’m going to try.

Zibby: I think it makes it actually — as a reader of someone saying, “I’m sorry for this,” I don’t know.

Brenda: Have you seen those posts?

Zibby: I’ve seen a ton of those posts, yeah, like, “Here I go, blah, blah, blah. Shameless plug,” whatever. Sometimes I say, “Shameless, no, no, no.” I feel like I’m much more energized by reading posts about somebody saying, “Look at my book in this window. How cool is this?” Then you’re rooting for them, right?

Brenda: Oh, I love that.

Zibby: I mean, I feel like. I’m like, that’s so cool. I like to follow people’s success in their journeys. I think that’s what Instagram is good at and people’s mailing lists and all the rest of it. Let’s see where they go.

Brenda: I agree with that. It’s so true.

Zibby: I don’t know. I’m rambling.

Brenda: No, I hear you.

Zibby: I feel like if it’s a necessary evil, it is because people want that content. They want that, so just put it out there. I love it.

Brenda: It’s also, you’re expected from your publisher to do all of these things. To some extent, they put out so many books, they need you to be a partner in it and to really push your books and yourself and your platform.

Zibby: Maybe I have to take back what I just said because a lot of people are very shy and it doesn’t come naturally. They really begrudge having to do that. Just because you’re writing a book doesn’t mean you necessarily want to be a public figure at all. Think about all the writers in the past, in the olden days like JD Salinger. He’s never come out. You know what I mean?

Brenda: That’s such a good point. I like that.

Zibby: It’s obviously a struggle.

Brenda: Luckily, I’m not shy. You know what? I am humble, and so it is hard to be like, “Read this. This is amazing.” It’s always tricky when I have to write up my own book for Pop Sugar and say nice things about it.

Zibby: Well, that’s a uniquely bizarre thing.

Brenda: Right, that’s a tricky thing. Even when you meet people — I was speaking to someone last night. I was telling her about the book. She said, “That sounds incredible.” I was like, “Oh, it’s okay.” You always feel like you have to be like, I don’t know.

Zibby: That’s true.

Brenda: It was like that thing — people were talking about this a year or two ago when women would post their essays on social media. They would say, “I wrote a thing.” Instead of just saying, “I wrote this essay about X, Y, Z,” they would sort of downplay it by saying, “I wrote a thing,” “a thing” like it’s not important. When my Modern Love came out, I was really careful not to do that. I was really careful to just be honest and be like, “I’m humbled and thrilled. This is something I’ve been trying to get for years,” and just be more honest about it and not do that fake, “I wrote a thing,” even though I did write a thing, but you know what I mean.

Zibby: What are you working on now? Anything? Another book? Essays?

Brenda: The tricky thing is when you start promoting your book, that means it’s completely done. And so if you didn’t work on the next thing, you’d get into a lot of trouble. I am working on my next book, which is really exciting. It’s funny, you talk about the Grace Kelly dress, but my head is sort of in this other world with these other characters who I’m developing. I like the idea, from The Grace Kelly Dress, of talking about an heirloom item because even though I think people are important, not things, we still do attach meaning to certain things like a wedding dress. Today I’m wearing my grandmother’s ring. It’s really important to me because it belonged to my grandmother.

Zibby: It’s also very cool. It’s like a star with a hole in the middle. It’s super cool.

Brenda: She was very fashion forward, my grandmother. I always tell my kids, people are important, not things. Things can be replaced. When it comes to these heirlooms, there is something special about them. There is something that feels irreplaceable about them. I’m writing about another heirloom item and another family. Although, I will say I’m not doing the historical timelines because there was so much research involved. I give so much credit to all of the people that I know who write historical fiction. It felt like every sentence needed to be researched. When I was working in 1982, I wanted a character to wear a Swatch watch. Then I thought to myself, oh, wait, when did those come out? But no, they came out in like ’85, ’86. There was no Swatch watch. The person just chucked a plain old regular watch. I felt like every sentence needed to be researched. I needed to research the way people spoke, get their cadence of speech. That took a really long time. I like to just write by the seat of my pants and sort of see where it goes. I’m doing more of a contemporary story this time, but there will be an heirloom item at its center.

Zibby: Excellent. Very exciting.

Brenda: Thanks for asking.

Zibby: Do you have any advice to aspiring authors?

Brenda: Gosh, I have so much advice. I think what I’ve learned most after writing six books is that writing is rewriting. That’s the god’s honest truth. I know it’s a basic tenet of writing, but it feels more true to me now. With The Grace Kelly Dress, I edited this book more than I edited any other book. I think that this book is my best book by far because of that. The 1982 storyline, at one point I tore it out completely, ripped it apart, and rewrote it. I’d say only like twenty percent of the original 1982 storyline remains in what you read now. I did a ton of rewriting and really thinking about the story. When you’re a writer, you always feel like, oh, no, I wrote that, I can’t delete it. I used to keep a document with deleted scenes. I would say to myself, it’s okay. You can delete it because you can always go back to it. This time I just deleted even more. I sort of edited with abandon. It’s always better the second time around because you know the characters better. You know your message better. You know what you’re trying to say. I’m much more free with editing and deleting. I also try to write a little rougher now knowing that half of it’s going to be gone anyway. I try to write a little more freely knowing that everything will be fixed later. It’s okay to just tear out full chapters at a time.

When you first start out, it’s hard to do that. That empty page is so tough. It feels like you’ll never fill it. Once you’ve filled it, it’s hard to get of it, get rid that progress, but it’s really important to do that, even with my essays. That’s actually one of the greatest things I learned from Sue Shapiro’s class. Sometimes you would write an essay and she would say, “Oh, no, that’s not what it’s about. This is what it’s about.” You’d have to sort of start from scratch, but that’s only a thousand words. There’s something so refreshing about that. You just start fresh. You are clearer. The next essay is so much better because of that. With a book, it’s harder. That’s three hundred pages. A thousand words, okay, maybe you can cut it out. Three hundred pages is tough. Sometimes you’re cutting huge, huge parts, and it hurts. I think that’s the most important thing.

Zibby: That’s the process.

Brenda: Ugh, it’s hard. I’m doing it as we speak, and it’s rough. It’s rough.

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

Brenda: Thank you for having me.

Zibby: Thanks for all your amazing books and recommending so many books and giving me ideas, and so many other people, of which books are good to read and all the rest of it.

Brenda: Thank you. Thanks so much for having me. This is incredible.

Zibby: Of course.