Brooke Adams Law, CATCHLIGHT

Brooke Adams Law, CATCHLIGHT

Zibby Owens: Welcome to “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” Congratulations on Catchlight. So awesome.

Brooke Adams Law: Thank you. I’m really excited.

Zibby: Start by telling the story of the prize you won and how this whole novel came to be.

Brooke: Oh, my gosh, okay. It’s a little bit of a journey. I don’t know if you’re even ready. I had the idea in the summer of 2007, so this is thirteen years in the making, which is part of the reason why it’s so exciting. The way that it came to be originally was I had this idea for a book. It’s twofold. My grandmother had recently died of Alzheimer’s disease. Also at the time, I had just graduated college. I was reading this book by Madeleine L’Engle, one of her lesser-known books called The Severed Wasp. That book is about this woman, Katherine, who’s in her eighties. She’s a concert pianist. For her whole career, she travels the whole world. She retires. She comes home to New York City to make peace with her life and really process her memories and figure out, what was that whole life I just lived about? I started asking this question. What happens if we don’t get to do that at the end of our life? What happens if you go through this process of having dementia or Alzheimer’s and you don’t remember your life? What happens then? That was the genesis of the book. In any case, I started writing. I ended up with a draft. I was like, I know that it can be better. I have no idea how to make it better. I decided to get my MFA degree. I spent the two years of my program, I started over from the beginning, wrote the whole book again; started over a third time, wrote the whole book again.

In any case, this brings us all the way up to 2014. I went gangbusters, queried 125 agents, was entering contests, was pitching small presses. It’s no after no, after no, after no. Then also, the silence, silence, silence from other people. I put it away for a little while. Then in 2019, I entered, for the second time, the Fairfield Book Prize contest. The first time around, I didn’t even make the final cut. I was like, what do I have to lose? I have nothing to lose. The thing about the Fairfield Book Prize is it’s only open to members of the Fairfield MFA community. You have to either be a student or have graduated from that program. On the one hand, it’s a smaller pool than a lot of contests. On the other hand, you know that everyone’s work is really good. Everyone’s worked with the same amazing mentors as you. Everyone’s really solid in what they’re doing. In any case, I entered in 2019. That June when my daughter was nine days old, I opened my inbox. It’s like, “Hey, did you get our email from two days ago? Catchlight won the Fairfield Book Prize.” Part of the prize is a book deal with Woodhall Press. That’s how it came to be.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, so awesome. I love that story. How old, now, is your daughter?

Brooke: My daughter is fifteen months old at this point. She’s toddling around and has big opinions about life. Then my son is four. We’re right in the thick of it parenting-wise.

Zibby: That must have been the best feeling ever. It just goes to show, persistence is so important. It doesn’t even matter who ends up publishing it. Until I was getting to know this industry, and I don’t know if it’s just me, but I never paid an ounce of attention to who published what book. I didn’t know what the reputations were of different publishers. None of that meant anything to me even as a huge reader. Do you feel the same way?

Brooke: Yeah. I’ve been a reader for all of my life. I have never even noticed if it’s a small press. Sometimes I end up with self-published and I don’t even know. I don’t even know that that’s the case. I really feel that way too. I never paid any attention until recently.

Zibby: I realize now that they all have their own particular brand of — well, their own particular brand, end of story. For people buying books, who cares? It doesn’t matter where the book comes from. It’s so amazing that you got yours out there and that we’re talking. It was a very motivating, inspiring story to not give up. When you know you have something to share, just kept getting it out there.

Brooke: Thank you so much. For me, there was also this lesson of sometimes there’s a pause. There was a pause of a few years where I was consciously like, I’m going to put this away for a little while. I’m not giving up on it. I also wanted to write something else. I was spending all this time pitching. I was like, I really just want to work on something else. It was a pause. What I see now, because hindsight of course is twenty/twenty, is this idea that six years ago, I didn’t know anything about marketing or the business side of publishing. Since then, I started my own business, and so I know a lot about marketing and just getting the word out. I feel like I’m in a much better position that I would’ve been five or six years ago. That gives me some hope. Sometimes it’s the not yet. It’s not a no. It’s just not yet. It’s the patience and persistence married together that really made the difference for me.

Zibby: Totally. You went and got a whole degree in the middle. I tried writing a novel when I was just out of business school. This is when I was twenty-eight or something. I remember I applied to MFA programs, which people said was ridiculous because I had just finished business school. I don’t know if I actually meant it. Anyway, I got rejected by the two I applied to. I was like, well, that’s it. I’m not supposed to be a writer. End of story.

Brooke: I don’t know. I don’t think that the gatekeepers that get to decide — that goes with publishing too. There are great books out there and great writers. There’s gatekeepers that may or may not know. It’s just maybe not a fit for their program, but it doesn’t mean that you don’t get to be a writer, if you want.

Zibby: I interviewed Jennifer Weiner again recently for a live event that we did for Temple Emanu-El. She was saying anybody on social media can be a published author now in two second. That’s it. Write something. You put it on your post. There are no gatekeepers in some ways at all. There’s almost too much content on the one hand and not enough in the other. As long as it reaches people, that’s the greatest.

Brooke: Agreed.

Zibby: Your book was great. You had all the different perspectives with the people dealing with their mother who had Alzheimer’s and the initial diagnosis and then the father. I don’t want to give things away. I was like, oh, my gosh, no, now this? And such super different characters. I thought that, at first, the whole book would be told from the point of view of Laura. Then when I got James’s perspective and what was going down in the bar bathroom and all of that, I was like, whoa, Brooke, okay. Hold onto my hat here.

Brooke: I know. I love it. When I was in my MFA program, one of my professors recommended — the original draft was only from the point of view of Laura. As you know, she’s a therapist. She’s very much always trying to manage everyone’s emotions and make everyone play nice with each other. She does not have the best emotional boundaries. Her brother, James, is an alcoholic. He’s the family black sheep. He’s a total screw-up. I just started playing with his voice. I was like, oh, my gosh, he deserves to have a voice in this story because his perspective is so different. Also, I think there’s this interesting tension with James where on one hand, he always screws up. He really does. Then also, it becomes a little bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy where he’s like, everyone just expects me to screw up, so I might as well just hold to the pattern. Then you get to see the different choices that he makes as they go along. It’s definitely a firestorm of things happening in their family.

Zibby: Did you take a lot of your grandmother’s illness and put that in? Is that how you got all the details? Did you also do a lot of research?

Brooke: This is a great question. I didn’t use much from her case or her story at all. I was asking this question about, who are we without our memory? Then when my grandmother was ill, I was away at college. I was only a few hours away, but there was still a certain amount of distance happening. I really thought about it after the fact. My dad is one of six siblings. I didn’t see any of this up close, but I was like, what would it be like for siblings in this situation to suddenly — in the case of this family which is totally fictional, I was like, they don’t get along at all. They can’t stand to be in the same room. Then all of a sudden, they have to make these very serious decisions about their mother’s care and about her finances and how they’re going to care for her. That was really all imagined. In terms of the actual disease, I just did a lot of research. I did ask my dad a little bit about his experience, but it was mostly research and then just my imagination going wild.

Zibby: It really is amazing. I feel like they should tell you earlier in life — for people listening, maybe now this is our chance to tell other people. When my mother-in-law was in the hospital, she had to sign off on things with her brother, from whom she had been estranged for a long time, about their mother’s care. Now again, my husband and his sister, they had to join together and sign. You can’t lose touch with your siblings or not speak when it comes to making major life decisions for your parents. No matter how grown up you feel, you’re ultimately the child of your parent. It comes down, often, to you to make those decisions. I had no idea. Even for the form about cremation, you need both signatures from the children. This is now getting really dark, but I didn’t know that. I’m assuming other people might not know that too. Anyway, in your book you mentioned how it was the first time that all the siblings had been together without their spouses or children with their mother and stepdad in a really long time. I feel like as we grow up, it is so rare when we all have our own families to have that initial family back together.

Brooke: Yes, the family of origin. Actually, that line came from — this was probably about two years ago. Actually, my aunt passed away very suddenly. My family is in Philadelphia. I’m in Connecticut. I drove down for the funeral. It was a blizzard. There was a blizzard happening. My husband ended up — he was going to come, but he stayed home with our son. In any case, it was my dad, my mom, and my sister, and me. My sister’s husband had to leave to go back to work. I can’t remember. It was just the four of us. We were sitting in my parent’s house where I’d grown up. My dad was like, “Wow, we’ve never, just the four of us, been together.” I think it really was my college graduation, was the last time. That’s what it says in the book. It was very poignant for just the four of us to have this moment of this loss for us, for my aunt. Then in the book, it’s this moment when they find out Katherine’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. It just happens to be the six of them in the room. I felt like that was really significant that the family of origin is coming back together for this sea change in the end of Katherine’s life. I felt like that was very important for them to have that time.

Zibby: I’m so sorry about your aunt. That’s terrible.

Brooke: Thank you.

Zibby: Now that you’ve been through this crazy publishing process and your book is out there in the world, tell me about that experience. What’s that been like versus what you had in mind? Tell me about the aftermath, if you will.

Brooke: Oh, my gosh. I am honestly having so much fun. It’s really fun. Like I said, I’ve been running an online business for a few years. A lot of my launch stuff, I had already been planning to do it online. The fact that we’ve converged with pandemic is actually — not that it’s ideal for anyone in any way. Also, I’m like, oh, I can just leverage a lot of the things that I already have in place to make it work. I brought together a group of family and friends and people that I know to have a launch team. The launch team idea was, they all preordered the book. Then they got advance copies. We’re going to have a party just for the launch team in a week or so on Zoom. They’re going to commit to posting a review. It’s just a fun way to build buzz. They commit to sharing on social media and telling friends and family of theirs. It just feels fun to work with my friends to get the word out.

They have been so supportive and my champions. It’s really lovely to see this community, people from different eras of my life. It’s a college friend alongside a colleague from my MFA alongside — one of my clients signed up. It’s just really fun to have them all in a little team and feel like they’re standing shoulder to shoulder with me and helping me tell everyone about Catchlight. When people hear the story that I told of, it’s thirteen years in the making, that has built some interest as well, which is really fun for me. I’m glad that this journey is appealing in some way. The other thing is, in the middle of it, I did not know that it was going to have this very exciting ending. I was kind of like, I don’t know if this book is ever going to see the light of day. That’s part of it too. It’s such a long culmination that it’s really just, I’m so thrilled that people are reading it and enjoying it that I think that shows. People are attracted to that, which is really fun.

Zibby: I love the launch team idea. It seems so simple. Everyone should have a launch team. I’ve never heard that before. Obviously, you have your teams in the publisher and all that, but just assembling your friends and making it an actual team. Are you giving them all T-shirts and stuff?

Brooke: I have gifts for them. I ordered custom Catchlight bookmarks that are just for the launch team. I’m now doing autographed nameplates that I’m going to send them that they can stick in the book. Like I said, we’re doing a party just for them. Then this is actually my most favorite idea. This was an idea that a friend of mine in publishing gave me. They are actually getting access to the original first three chapters of the book that got cut from the final manuscript. The launch team is going to get access to that exclusive content. No one else in the world will get to read the original three chapters. The feedback that I got, which I agreed with, was it was too much setup. I was just setting everything up. My editor was like, “We just need to start. Just throw us in there.” I definitely think it’s a stronger opening. Also, they’ll get to see originally how I had conceptualized introducing everyone and setting up the world. That’s a fun bonus too.

Zibby: So cool. I love that. Wait, so tell me about your marketing business. Maybe I need to hire you for something.

Brooke: I love it. I’ve learned a lot of marketing just for my business. For a long time, I was doing copywriting for online entrepreneurs. I was doing websites and email funnels and sales pages and that kind of thing. I actually switched gears just in the past six months. I’m teaching all about writing and creativity. I have a membership community called Write Yourself Free. I love it so much. It’s kind of an amalgam of personal development and writing, which are my two favorite things in the world. It’s all about, how do we use the process of writing and creativity to have more self-expression and rediscover your purpose? Also, a lot of people in there are writing books or writing just for fun. I also have some entrepreneurs in there who are like, I need to write weekly blogs for my community. They just wanted a little bit of extra support in terms of, how do we come up with an idea? How do we stay inspired? That’s what I do in there. Then I’m also offering writing coaching for people who are writing their first book. One of my clients right now is working on an amazing epic novel about Uganda. I can’t wait until we get that finished and it gets to come out into the world too. It’s really exciting.

Zibby: Didn’t I see that you have something where Mondays at ten people all write together? Tell me more about that.

Brooke: Oh, my gosh, yes. Every Monday morning at ten AM Eastern, I do something called the writing circle. We literally just gather on Zoom. I do a ten-minute inspiration teaching at the beginning. Then we all sit on Zoom and write together for an hour. It’s so much fun. People always say, I can’t believe how much writing I can get done if I just don’t get up. We all sit. Everyone leaves their video on for forty-five minutes. If you have to get up, obviously you can. People are always like, if I just focus for forty-five minutes, I can finish so much writing. It’s really inspiring. I also set it up, to be totally honest, as accountability for me because I’m working my next book. I’m like, I need to just have this protected chunk of time once a week where I know I’m staying connected to it. Even while I’m doing all this launch work for Catchlight, at least once a week I know that I’m going to show up to this new book because these fifteen other people, whoever’s going to show up that day, are going to come. I get to be there and hold space for them.

Zibby: I love that idea. I just love it. Are you all on mute?

Brooke: Yeah. We all mute ourselves for the forty-five minutes. Then at the end, we come back together. I usually have a question to wrap it up and people can chime in if they want to. The fun thing is, you don’t have to come every week. You just come whenever you’re free. Zibby, if you ever want to come join us.

Zibby: I really might.

Brooke: I’ll send you the link.

Zibby: I am totally not kidding. That’s awesome. I’m thinking, what do I usually do Mondays at ten o’clock? Is it free?

Brooke: Totally free forever. It’ll be free forever because I just love doing it so much.

Zibby: That is awesome. That’s a really great resource. It seems like, what would forty-five minutes do? They add up.

Brooke: Forty-five minutes every single week. I’ve been working on this new book not for very long, but I have twenty-five or thirty pages already. Right now, I’m only doing it that once a week, pretty much. That’s pretty much what I’ve got. It adds up.

Zibby: What is your new book about?

Brooke: My new book is called The Apothecary of Stories. It’s a little bit like The Alchemist in that it’s sort of like a pilgrim’s progress style. It’s about a journey, but it’s very symbolic. It’s an allegory. That was the word I was looking for. It’s this allegorical journey. There’s things happening out in the world, but most of it is happening underneath. That’s as much as I will explain, but I am kind of obsessed with it. I’m really excited to keep unspooling it as we go along.

Zibby: Your enthusiasm is so awesome. It’s really great to hear. I feel like so many people are like, if you can do anything besides write, do it. You’re like, no, I did. I’m the writing cheerleader of all time.

Brooke: This is actually a pet peeve of mine. Part of what I teach in Write Yourself Free is that writing can be fun. I know that culturally we have this mindset that it’s the most terrible thing in the world and the greatest writers drank themselves to death, which is actually true. A lot of writers have. I want to reclaim that for people that think it has to be, first of all, this super dry, intellectual exercise that’s only open to people who have an advanced degree. I don’t believe that at all. Even though I do have an advanced degree, I don’t believe that at all. I think anyone can be a writer if you sit down and write. I also think that it can be fun and exciting and doesn’t have to be horrific.

Zibby: That’s great. It’s just awesome. If people want to join your writing circle, how should they do that?

Brooke: I can send you a link if you want to put it, if you have show notes — do you have show notes, or not?

Zibby: Kind of. I have a little description. I’ll try to remember that.

Brooke: Totally fine. People can go to my website, which is It’s just my full name. At the top, there’s a little bar that says “Come write live with me.” You just click that, and you can sign up. You’ll get a reminder every Monday. Again, you can opt out at any time. You can also just show up whenever you want. It’s not like you have to come every week.

Zibby: I know you’re the marketing person and all, but you should, eventually if you build that up enough, you could get advertisers who are either pitching different books or people selling writing-type things or programs. You could sell ads, something, or sponsors.

Brooke: I like this sponsor idea.

Zibby: Maybe you could monetize it somehow for a — not that I’m good at that at all, but just saying. Maybe.

Brooke: Sounds fun. Thank you. Thank you for that idea. I love it.

Zibby: You’ve already shared so much advice for aspiring authors. I feel like that’s what this entire conversation has been, but I always ask it at the end. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Brooke: Yes. There’s a couple things. What I always say is, if you have a desire to write, I believe that it’s a calling to write. I have students come to me all the time and they’re like, who do I think I am to write? Who would ever want to read what I have to say? What I say to them is, listen, there are millions of people who never think about writing. It never enters their consciousness. The fact that it has entered your consciousness and you’re really interested in doing it means that you’re supposed to do it in some capacity, so just do it. Just jump in. The other piece is, I always say that the act of writing is what makes you a writer. I know plenty of people who have an MFA degree who have never written again. They wrote their thesis, whether it was a book of poems or the first hundred pages of a novel, and then that was it for them. They never kept it up. I believe so strongly that the act of writing is what makes you a writer as opposed to the book deal or the degree or the accolades or any of that. We can all claim the title of writer if that’s what you want to be doing. All you have to do is sit down and write. You can start by showing up at ten AM for the writing circle.

Zibby: That’s so cool. I’m totally going to check that out. I love it. That’s great. You’re right. So many people don’t want to use that word to describe themselves because it seems pretentious or if I don’t have six published novels, how can I say I’m a writer? Meanwhile, all I’ve been doing all day is writing.

Brooke: You’re a writer, totally.

Zibby: It’s also like how they say people who are worried they might be alcoholics, people who aren’t alcoholics don’t usually sit around worrying about that.

Brooke: That’s a really good point.

Zibby: It doesn’t cross your consciousness, sort of like what you’re saying with writers. My kids, they don’t like to write. I’m like, “Let’s write. Don’t you want to write about what you’re feeling?” They’re like, “No.” I’m like, “What? Why not?”

Brooke: You’re like, not everyone processes their life by writing? I’m the same way. I’m trying to get my four-year-old — I’m like, “Don’t you want to draw or practice your letters?” He’s like, “No, I don’t want to do that at all.” I’m like, okay, we’re very different. I remember as a four-year-old, bugging my mom to dot out my name so I could trace it. Even then, I was like, writing is everything. He’s like, “I don’t want to do that.”

Zibby: That’s why this podcast is so much fun for me. All these people, they’re all my people. We were all reading as kids and writing in journals and diaries. Not all. Everybody has different journeys.

Brooke: I was totally that kid.

Zibby: That same mentality and approach to it. Gosh, I wish I could sort out my life without writing, if I could just instantly do it in my head. Maybe other people just don’t have their lives sorted out at all.

Brooke: It’s not even, for me, sorting out because I don’t know if my life ever feels sorted out. I’m just a gibbering idiot if I can’t process via writing. I can’t even compute to anyone what I’m thinking or express myself in any kind of way.

Zibby: I didn’t mean to say, either, that my life was in any resolved or that I could check it off the list or anything. I’m like, I don’t know what I want to do. Then I can sit down and write. I’m like, oh, I totally know what I want to do. These four things are making me choose something else.

Brooke: I can so relate to that.

Zibby: Brooke, thank you so much. This has been so fun. I hope I get to meet you in real life at some point when we go back to normal.

Brooke: I would love that.

Zibby: I’m excited for your whole launch team effort. I might just show up and surprise you on these writing circle days. That sounds like a good call.

Brooke: I love it. I’m going to DM you the link on Instagram.

Zibby: Okay, please do.

Brooke: Thank you so much. This was really fun.

Zibby: Bye.

Brooke: Bye.

Brooke Adams Law, CATCHLIGHT