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

Brooke Hecker: Thank you so much for having me. I’m really excited.

Zibby: I think you’re the first — is this true? I think you’re probably the first school mom friend I’ve ever had on the podcast, which is really exciting.

Brooke: Oh, wow. That’s amazing.

Zibby: I can’t even think of any other mom friends who have written books. Can I? I don’t know. Of course, something will come to me, but it’s pretty awesome.

Brooke: Oh, yeah. There’s a lot. Thank you so much.

Zibby: I just literally finished reading out loud your whole book to my two little ones. They were like, “Read it again. Read it again,” which is always the best sign.

Brooke: That’s good. It’s a long one. Apologies in advance.

Zibby: No, it was great. Explain how you came up with the idea for your book and how it became a book, please.

Brooke: First, I don’t know if you need me to do this, but this is it. It’s called Letters from My Tooth Fairy. It’s from real life. When my older daughter lost her first tooth, she got it knocked out at school. It was this big drama. The whole school knew about it. It was very exciting. She went to bed that night. Right before bed, it had been a long day, it was nine o’clock at night, and she said, “I wonder if I’m going to get Priya’s tooth fairy,” a school friend who lived around the corner. I said, “Probably. She lives around the corner.” She said, “That’s great because Priya gets a poem for her teeth.” I was like, “Oh, great. That’s great.” I spoke to Priya’s tooth fairy who told me that it’s a form letter from the internet. She gave it to me. I thought I just could probably whip something up really quick. I started writing poems for each tooth. They rhymed. They were very cutesy. It had to do with every single story of the tooth. Every tooth seemed to have a story. It also reflected a specific part of her life. After a bunch of these — they were really cute. They were a big hit. I’d share them with friends and family. It was like, maybe this would make a cute book idea. That’s what the book is. It’s a collection of letters from the tooth fairy for every single tooth. You’re really following throughout this girl’s life. I like that it gave you a snapshoot of her life and the different parts of childhood, but through this very narrow and specific lens of the tooth fairy. That was how it came about.

Zibby: It was great. By the end when she says goodbye and all the teeth had fallen out, it was so sad.

Brooke: It is sad.

Zibby: It’s emotional because you go along the journey. It is sad when your kid loses their last tooth. It’s the end of an era.

Brooke: Mine has not lost her last tooth. A lot of this is just made up. Thinking of these scenarios when your child is still young, it was kind of sad to go through and think about it. My younger one still doesn’t like to read the last one because she gets really upset. It’s very cute.

Zibby: That’s so sweet. Each note was so clever. I was wondering as I was reading, did you have to do dental research? I don’t know the names of all the different teeth. Did you have to do any sort of googling or dental digging to know the name of all the different teeth?

Brooke: I did do research. My cousin’s an oral surgeon. I asked him just timeline, when you would lose teeth, when you would get braces, all that sort of stuff. I definitely did a little bit of research. Then the illustrator, who is not me, went ahead and did little diagrams of each thing. She did her own research separately because we worked completely in silos. It was very interesting to see what she came up with. We definitely did research. I asked certain questions. One question that my daughter asked me — a lot of this was made up because I talk about teeth that she’s never lost. Some of it is real-life questions. One of them that I got was, “How are my teeth going to fit? They’re huge. The first two teeth that you get in the top are so big. How are they going to fit?” What we learned was that they’re full size when they come in and your mouth grows around them. When they’re ready, that’s when your other teeth come out. Things like that, I learned as a forty-year old.

Zibby: The drawing of the walrus.

Brooke: It was very cute.

Zibby: walrus forever. It is such a funny thought that your teeth are the same size forever and you grow around them like or something.

Brooke: Yes, it’s quite fascinating.

Zibby: What you should really do now that this is out is a companion journal/keepsake thing which has all teeth and the same way. Then it’ll become a whole thing that you have to write your tooth story in these books.

Brooke: That’s a really good idea.

Zibby: scrapbook. You could put the note from the tooth fairy. You could write your own story or drawing or something.

Brooke: That’s a really cute idea. There’s a lot of things that you can do. It came out last month right when COVID really hit. It was kind of hard to do all the things that we planned to do around it. It’s an underserved market too. There’s not a ton on the tooth fairy. I think there’s so many fun things that you can do.

Zibby: The only one that I feel like we read a lot, or we used to read a lot, is Purplicious. Was it Purplicious?

Brooke: It was one of the Pinkalicious books. Yes, we have read that quite a lot.

Zibby: Right?

Brooke: Yes.

Zibby: As I’m saying this, I’m realizing we haven’t read any of those books in ages. Now we’re onto Dog Man and I don’t even know. Yes, those books, there was one with little notes. Aside from that, not too many.

Brooke: The tooth fairy wrote her back, but also the easter bunny.

Zibby: Oh, that’s right. You know, you’re absolutely right. You’re right, yep. You could even put a little map. I’m talking about your keepsake journal that now I want you to do. Then you could out a map. My daughter just lost her tooth in Montana. Her first tooth, she lost in Mexico. This is making us sound very spoiled. I’m sorry. She was with her dad in Mexico and lost her first tooth and wrote a letter to the tooth fairy saying, “I know I’m in Mexico, but could you please leave my money in dollars and not in pesos?”

Brooke: That’s so funny.

Zibby: Which the tooth fairy did. Dollars, I mean. Then the next tooth she lost at my brother’s house in Montana. She was determined to write a note for a toy. I was like, “You don’t get toys from the tooth fairy.” “So-and-so in my class gets toys from the tooth fairy.” I was like, “No, no, no. Tooth fairy only leaves money.” Anyway, it would be neat to see, even in your book, at school and all these different places.

Brooke: That’s exactly part of the book. You have a different tooth fairy when you sleep at your grandma’s house. We’ve had the same thing too. Hannah had lost a tooth at an airport. At LAX, she knocked a tooth out. Both my kids have knocked teeth out. She had an airport tooth fairy that followed her on the plane. It’s true. People lose teeth everywhere. It’s a good idea. We should do one branded for this.

Zibby: You could do it. It’s easy.

Brooke: There’s so much to do. There’s nothing out there.

Zibby: It’ll be like the baby book equivalent. Then pretty soon everyone will use it.

Brooke: It’s a really good idea because right now we hide everything in a vase on a bookshelf.

Zibby: You don’t have to save the tooth. You can still maintain the illusion. I’m sorry to waste our time talking about this.

Brooke: No, it’s true.

Zibby: It’s like you’re telling your own story. The kids are basically writing their own story. Then they’ll have it to look back on. Then I wonder if there are other rites of passage that you could somehow brand. It’s perfect, the twenty teeth. Why did no one think of this before?

Brooke: They really haven’t. There’s not a lot out there. It’s twenty teeth across a very profound part of your life.

Zibby: Where there’s so much change. so well with all the moving and the baby sister and all of it. I can’t think of even anything comparable.

Brooke: It’s a really good idea. We should do it.

Zibby: I don’t have to do it. You do it. You and your team, you take it up. Take it and run with it. So do you have plans for other books aside from the one I just suggested?

Brooke: Yeah. This is my first book. This was a big swing for me. I didn’t ever think to do this. It came at a time when I was working freelance for years and years at a television network and sort of stalled out because I was working part time. I was like, what do I have to lose? It’s an advanced age to start something new. It’s a slow process. This is a very slow industry. It’s hard for someone that works in a very fast-paced industry to slow it down and realize we’re talking two years ahead right now. I started working on more now that this has actually happened. It’s opened up a whole new world. With everything that’s going on now and being — I’m doing remote with the kids. Being home all the time and not having any sort of alone time, it’s stalled me out a little. I’ve been working on something. It’s been a lot of fun.

Zibby: Sometimes, though, when you have so much time, then there’s more material to pull from.

Brooke: I do a lot more reading now that we have found time. I feel like that always helps too. Just reading more lets you write more.

Zibby: Every time I’m doing something, especially, I don’t know why, with my little guy the most, I’m always like, “Oh, we should write a story about this. Oh, wouldn’t it be funny if we wrote a story? That would be a really great idea for a book.” I’m like, you know, there’s going to come a time where you’re gone, I’m sitting at my desk trying to think of ideas for picture books. Now they’re coming so fast and furious that I don’t even stop to take the time to write them down. I’m like, oh, I’ll remember it. Meanwhile, now I’m talking you, I can’t remember any of them, and it was like two days ago.

Brooke: I keep a notebook. It’s true. You’re reading these books every night now. Soon, you won’t. Our girls are already doing it on their own. It’s getting less and less of me reading to them. Now is the time.

Zibby: We just reorganized my little guy’s books. He was like, “These are the books from when I was little,” the little board books. When you read the other books, do you approach them differently now that you’re writing one yourself? Are you looking more for pacing or structure or anything more analytical?

Brooke: I know what styles I like more. I tend to like things that rhyme or flow. All the Julia Donaldson books, they’re fun to read. I think that kind of book is fun to write too. I like humor. There’s humor. That’s getting to be more and more prominent in the marketplace too, which is really fun. We laugh so much with books nowadays. Some of my favorites are Grumpy Monkey. I don’t know if you guys have that one.

Zibby: Yes, we have Grumpy Monkey.

Brooke: Every time, it cracks me up when the vulture suggests eating dead meat. I don’t know why. I’ve definitely found the things that I like more to read. That’s part of the journey too, just figuring out what you like.

Zibby: It’s nice because for so long everything is centered around the kids. Will the kids like this book? Let me read the kids a story. Starting with Go the F to Sleep, I feel like that’s when picture books were like, wait, what? We can do this?

Brooke: We can be funny too?

Zibby: Maybe there’s another way to use these pages. Yes, I feel like the tired parents who are reading the picture books are often looking for something funny.

Brooke: Something funny and easy to read that flows off the tongue, those are all things I’ve come to appreciate. Sometimes your throat hurts at the end of the third story that you’ve read.

Zibby: Yes. Those five-minute stories together, it’s like six hours. It feels like a hundred hours. Having successfully sold and had this book come out and everything, what advice could you give both on the writing process and the publishing process aside from warning that it’s slow?

Brooke: My only advice could be for someone just starting out because this is me and I’m just starting out. There was two lessons that I probably learned the most. One was, rejection was not something that I’d ever had to experience because I worked in a corporate world. That’s just not the way it worked. You did your work. You moved up. Everything was fine. We went out with this book first, and it rhymed. My letters had rhymed. The book rhymed. I absolutely loved it. My agent had told me, “Rhymes don’t sell as well. Would you consider rewriting the whole thing in prose?” I was like, “Well, I love it. Can we try it first like this?” She tried it. It got rejected across the board, and not a very quick one, but very slow because everything is very slow in publishing. It was a very slow trickle in to get rejected. It was the first time in my life I had been told no. I just assumed, well, I tried. I guess it’s just not going to happen. My agent was like, “No, no, no. Then you go out to the next batch of people,” or whatever. I rewrote it. We went out with it again. When it sold, it was a very good lesson. I was ready to just walk away and be like, I tried something new and it didn’t work.

That was the number-one thing for someone that’s completely out of the industry to get used to because that’s something that is just going to happen. It’s very hard to get rejected and have that confidence in yourself with no basis, basically, to say that I’m going to keep trying and I believe in myself. That was a really good lesson. I think that was a good lesson for my kids to see happen. That was just very foreign to us in the work that my husband and I do anyway. It wasn’t part of our everyday. The other thing is just the patience. It takes a long time. It’s all self-discipline, which you know. We have a mutual friend. She writes. She churns out five, six books a year. That’s because she sits in her office and has the time and dedicates it and gets it all done. Not a lot of people work that way. That’s been a lesson too, of trying to get the self-discipline to do something where you’re accountable for yourself. It’s all about you. Those are the two things that I’ve learned, to really set aside the time and to believe in myself instead of what three editors might have said.

Zibby: You never know what is going on with those editors, what else they have in their — they might even have liked it and thought it was funny, but they have other books or their quota’s met or whatever. You don’t know.

Brooke: Exactly. It was just such a foreign concept. My first instinct was like, she said no and she’s an expert, so that means that I guess I tried. Especially for someone who’s starting this in midlife, it’s a whole new way to operate.

Zibby: When you said that earlier, I was like, I don’t think it’s late at all. I don’t know how old you are, but I’m forty-four. I feel like most of the people I talk to are not — I don’t know. I feel like your forties are somehow the best time ever to write books, I swear.

Brooke: Really? Well, because you have more experience. You’re right. You have more life experience.

Zibby: You have enough experience. You’re in it in so many levels. There’s so much emotion in your forties. You don’t have to be parenting, but you’re usually caretaking either your parents or friends or kids or something. You’ve had loss. You’ve had caretaking. You’ve had love. I’m picturing a mixing bowl in the kitchen. You’ve had enough ingredients thrown in that you can bake something that tastes a little better than maybe the really pretty cake from your twenties, but it didn’t actually taste that good. You know what I mean?

Brooke: You’re absolutely right. You are. I think it’s just, I come from an industry where, I’m forty-two, when you’re in your forties, you’re kind of past the prime a little bit, unfortunately, or you’re at a really successful level and why would you start something new? To try something new, of course you can. Of course, you can do something new and different, but it’s a big step.

Zibby: Writing, it’s like an outgrowth of you. I know it is something new, but it’s not like you’re trying to get into mortgage-backed securities or something. It’s a creative expression of who you are in some way. The more you define who you are as a person, the clearer your output becomes.

Brooke: A hundred percent. It was a good thing to learn because obviously I was wrong.

Zibby: I don’t mean to say you’re wrong. I’m saying this to try to be more encouraging than not. It’s never too late.

Brooke: No, it’s not.

Zibby: A memoir I’m about to read by someone who’s seventy, and I can’t wait to read it because I’m like, this is an interesting point of view. How neat is that? It’s just never too late.

Brooke: You’re right. It is never too late, but I had to learn that, definitely, for myself.

Zibby: This was so much fun. Thank you so much for coming on. Thanks for the great new book for the repertoire. enough not to feel babyish, but still a picture book. It’s perfect. I hope to see you back at school.

Brooke: I know. I can’t wait. I hope so too. Fingers crossed.

Zibby: Fingers crossed. Bye.

Brooke: Bye.