Chandler Baker, CUTTING TEETH

Chandler Baker, CUTTING TEETH

New York Times bestselling author Chandler Baker discusses her witty, thrilling, darkly comedic new novel CUTTING TEETH, which was inspired partly by her son’s phase as the “class biter.” Chandler opens up about her experiences juggling writing and motherhood. Amidst laughter and introspection, Chandler and our guest host Julie Chavez explore the organic, sometimes chaotic, nature of writing and parenting, highlighting the importance of embracing the journey with humor and empathy.


Julie Chavez: Chandler, thanks so much for coming back on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to talk about Cutting Teeth, your latest novel.

Chandler Baker: Thank you for having me. This is so fun.

Julie: I’m so happy to talk to you. I’ll talk to Zibby about this, but I feel like as a three-time guest, a threepeat, you need a little trophy or something, right?

Chandler: Or a jacket. We’ll just go full-on SNL.

Julie: Yes, a varsity jacket. Then maybe you could put the book titles on the sleeve or something. I’m sure she has time for that. I’m going to draft that email. I think that’ll really make me a value add.

Chandler: Perfect. Great.

Julie: Great. I’ll mention it was your idea just to see how that goes.

Chandler: CC me.

Julie: I’m so happy you’re here today. I just finished the book, which I mentioned, Cutting Teeth. It’s your third novel. Although, your third adult novel, I should say, or novel for adults. I was just telling you before we started, I loved this book. Also, it’s twisted.

Chandler: Thank you. I hope so.

Julie: Yes. I have to say, I would read it, and then I put it down a couple times. I was like, whoa, that just got weird, and then moved on with my day. I loved it. It’s so clever. Do you want to give just a quick — since you’re the subject matter expert — a quick premise of what this book is about?

Chandler: Cutting Teeth, it follows three moms, Darby, Rhea, and Mary Beth. They’re each on their personal quest to subsume aspects of their identity that they’ve lost during motherhood. For one, it’s career. For one, it’s sex life. For one, it’s her business. Their plans get upended when their preschoolers, who are all in the same class at Little Academy, develop this unsettling medical condition that causes them to crave blood. They all have different philosophies of handling it, but they’re handling it. Then the children’s preschool teacher is found murdered feet away from the classroom. The only witnesses, and eventually, suspects, become the ten adorable four-year-olds.

Julie: Adorable four-year-olds, indeed. Adorable and dangerous is a good way of describing any four-year-old, even ones that don’t want to drink blood.

Chandler: Yes, adorable and dangerous.

Julie: I am so glad you shared that. What I found most interesting about this book — first of all, listening to you talk about the three things they were trying to reclaim, your writing is so excellent because as soon as you said that, I thought, oh, that’s exactly what it was, but you don’t notice it. The way that you write, it’s very natural. It’s just highly readable. I loved reading it. Also, the thing I love about it is that you have the plot, but beneath it, there’s really a lot of commentary that I found on what it is to be a mother and the idea that your children are pretty much sucking you dry from the beginning. It just changes in form. Mine are now sucking me drying financially. Sleep, that’s come back around.

Chandler: Gosh, I know. My son is three and a half. He’s our youngest. I’m living in the illusion that when he goes to kindergarten, we’ll get this big raise because he’ll be in public school, but I know that’s just a lie that I’m telling myself to go to sleep at night.

Julie: I think you’ll be okay, though, because I feel like it’s not until they start doing things without you. That’s where it really is like, Mom, I need money for the movies. I’m going out with my friends.

Chandler: Real money.

Julie: Yes, correct. The donations, you can tamp down.

Chandler: I’m still really enjoying the moment where you can be a real hero getting things for them that are very low cost. Right now, everything is Prime, the drink. I’m like, oh, I don’t know. It’s two dollars. Then I know, your kids’ age, they’re asking for clothes that cost as much as mine and stuff.

Julie: It’s slightly different. Although, my fourteen-year-old is still drinking the Prime drink. Really, the more things change, the more they stay the same. I have to say, this book has a really satisfying ending also, all these things that I really liked it. What’s interesting is I was listening back to your most recent interview with Zibby. You were just talking about the beginnings. You still had a different title in mind.

Chandler: That’s funny that I was talking about this book then.

Julie: I know. It was interesting. Then in the first one, you were talking about The Husbands, just having ideas about it. It’s such a time capsule. When you’re bored, next time, you can go back and listen to yourself because there’s nothing cringy about that.

Chandler: Sure, I’ll do that. I’ll do that never.

Julie: How has this process been different? This is your third book. A lot of what you said, and it sounds like is true for you, that you don’t have a ton of regularity or discipline around your process, even though you treat it like a job. It sounds like the way that the books come to you is sort of organic and depends on what you’re writing about. Is that still true for you? How was writing this one different?

Chandler: I think so. It’s so interesting. Cutting Teeth feels sort of a step away from some of the things I’ve done in the past. It feels a little bit more speculative, a little bit more out there. Vampire toddlers is a strange idea. Yet I can pretty clearly trace the lineage of the books. Whisper Network was about women in the workplace. The Husbands was about women in domestic partnerships at home. Cutting Teeth is about women as mothers. I can really find that common thread. I’d be so curious what I said in that last interview because it’s funny to me looking back now that there’s always clues in my previous books for what I’m going to write about next. There is a line in The Husbands about how Nora feels like she would rather be cannibalized by her family rather than try to shift her schedule around anymore to accommodate people. It actually refers to physically being eaten. I’m like, oh, that is Cutting Teeth. That’s the whole book, but I didn’t realize that when I wrote it. The process for writing The Husbands was — I remember that second draft starting from a blank page. I wrote the book once. Then I wrote the next draft from a blank page. I think I made some hand-waving gestures at the idea of outlining for Cutting Teeth that were somewhat more successful, maybe. I’m curious what you think as a writer too. Inefficiency is the process, for me at least. There’s no way around it. I wrote the first hundred pages of this book so many times. Gosh, moving that murder up earlier and earlier just about broke me. It didn’t get much more efficient. I definitely still did it blindly by feel, just what feels right as I go.

Julie: I wonder if that’s part of the magic of it, though, too. Something that I couldn’t have known before I started writing and stepping into this publishing process is how many times you’re going to redo it. Starting out inefficiently feels true to the rest of the process, a little bit. There’s a little more looseness around it. For someone who’s type A like me, that’s actually really good to embrace at the beginning as opposed to, here you go, I’m done, and then someone says, no, actually, you’re not. You’re going to do it again.

Chandler: I wish I knew a way of revising that wasn’t just completely dismantling. My critique partner always says about me that I am incredibly willing to murder everything just to change one thing. I don’t know another way to do it, to rebuild it rather than delete it all and go again. I don’t know.

Julie: That makes sense to me, though, because there’s something about — I agree with you. The blank page can be scary. Also, once you’ve written a draft, then it’s all still in your head to some extent. I feel like for me, there is an element of faith in it where it’s like, okay, I’m going to believe that whatever is meant to come out again is going to come out again. Then the rest, I can let fall away. When people tell me, this is what I do, and I write this many words a day, it just makes me sweaty but also extremely envious.

Chandler: It sounds so adult and sane. I’m just like, wow, good for you. Adopt me.

Julie: Please tell me how to live and also how to do everything.

Chandler: Yes.

Julie: I think — you hit on it, though, too. You talk about it in the book. You have some astute observations, some really sharp observations in this book that are so true to the vibe of the book, like when you talked about how mothers are subject to the forty-five-minute rule, that there’s always forty-five minutes until you have to do something else.

Chandler: Have to be somewhere.

Julie: I read that, and I thought, I don’t think I’ve ever read anything truer than that. Even as I was reading it, I was like, yeah. When I look at the clock, sure, got to be somewhere in forty-five minutes. To that point, it sounds like even as a full-time writer, you still have to carve those times in and be subject to all these interruptions. Is that something that you struggle with? Is that something you feel is true for you as a parent, first of all? I feel like it is. You included it. No, it’s not. You have tons of free time, don’t you?

Chandler: I was a lawyer before this. There was a large chunk of time where I was both a lawyer and a writer. Then now, I get to write full time. I think moms with creative jobs, they’re very easy to nibble into. I work from home. It’s very easy for me to be the person that’s here for the AC guy, that has to go run up to the school to do whatever. It’s more nebulous, which can be trickier, actually, to find the time and to keep it carved out.

Julie: I agree. I’m always looking for more time hacks. When you get that all figured out and you get your boundaries down, again, just give me a call. That way I know.

Chandler: Okay, yes.

Julie: Another line I have to tell you I loved that was so pointed like that, you talked about one of the children’s rooms looking like a French countryside picnic moments after a cargo plane carrying a shipment of toys crashed into it. This book is so funny. That’s the thing I definitely want to say. This book is twisted, for sure, but it is really funny. It’s bitingly funny.

Chandler: I’m here for all the vampire puns. Don’t be ashamed. Just lean in.

Julie: Have there been a lot?

Chandler: Oh, my gosh, so many. There’s always ones that surprise me. I’m delighted by them.

Julie: Do you like puns in general? Are you a pun person?

Chandler: See, that’s kind of a pun in itself, it feels like.

Julie: It is. Well done.

Chandler: I’m not really good at coming up with puns myself, I wouldn’t say, but I appreciate wordplay. I’m more of a fan on the stands.

Julie: Understood. You’re not in the game. I got it. I want to talk about, for you, what is it — this is a career for you. You’re obviously a full-time writer. I look at your catalog of books and the pace at which you are turning them out. What do you love about writing?

Chandler: Oh, my gosh, so much. Related to the book, I think a lot about messaging. As a writer, something that I feel like a lot of us talk about is, oh, my god, writing is so hard. Writing is miserable. I love having written, but I hate writing. I am absolutely guilty of thinking those things, saying them, I’m sure. I’m worried that the message we send out into the world is that writing is terrible and awful, and if you’re thinking about doing it, you shouldn’t try it, when in fact, it feels like my greatest calling. It is hard to develop the neural pathways that allow you to sit in that discomfort, but I feel very rich enjoyment from that. I feel very similarly about parenting too. We complain so much about our children. I think there is a very valuable catharsis in sharing those complaints about parenting, but I also worry that we’re giving weird messaging into the world that it’s not also the greatest joy and true calling in my life. That was an aside.

Julie: I appreciate that. You’re so right. Just listening to you say that, I’m thinking of all the side-by-side memes right now about, here’s what I do with my day without kids, which is wonderful. We want that to be an honored path as well. However, I agree with you that sometimes it feels like maybe we’re selling the experience short or robbing it of the beauty that it has that makes all the bananas stuff worth it. I’m here for your side.

Chandler: Thank you. I know. I’ve seen critiques of Cutting Teeth. It’s like, why have kids at all if you hate it so much? I’m like, well, well.

Julie: Easy, tippy.

Chandler: I get it. We do need people in the world to have children. Some people. Not all people, but some people. Not all, but some people. It can be both things, right?

Julie: It can be.

Chandler: The paradox of parenting. In terms of what I like about writing, I just always wanted to have a job that required me to use my brain. I love the problem-solving aspect of it. It’s really hard to sit in the not knowing. When something clicks into place and it does start to flow, it’s just so great. There’s truly no other feeling like it. Do you feel that way?

Julie: I do. I do, actually, listening to you talk about it. I’m a both/and kind of person too. Of course, my children drive me insane, but there is nothing that I find to be more of a privilege and a joy than being their mom. I also think, too — I was telling a friend this recently. We were talking about transformation. I was saying that I don’t think that I would be able to be the person that I’m meant to be without experiencing parenthood. I think it has been a key part of my life to shave away so much of the things I needed to ditch anyway. I think that can be very true of writing too. I think anything that’s humbling — it sounds like for you, it’s a humbling experience to sit down and say, I’m going to write something that someone is going to want to read. It just is very vulnerable. I love hearing you express it like that because I agree completely.

Chandler: Good.

Julie: Good. Great. We’re already wearing matching shirts, so —

Chandler: — I’m glad you like having kids and writing. It’s great news for you.

Julie: Completely. We do need to talk about one important thing where you and I differ. Again, let’s start with a similarity. I listened to part of the audiobook. I was listening to you and Emma. You have an interview at the end of the audiobook. At first, I couldn’t figure out who was who. Then I got it sorted. You had heard January and requested her specifically to narrate this audiobook.

Chandler: Yes, exactly.

Julie: She was amazing. It translated so well to audio. I was so impressed. I enjoyed it. It was really good. I was kind of going back and forth so I could be sure to get it done. At the end, you were also talking about how you love audiobooks, that you like Aussie narrators, which is my top thing. Everything Jane Harper, I’ve listened to because her narrator’s amazing. We have that in common. Also, immersive thrillers, I’m here for that. Then you said that you listen to audiobooks on two or three times speed out loud in your house on a speaker. I thought, if we were roommates, I could write a thriller called Julie Killed a Roommate.

Chandler: You’re like, you’re an actual human monster. That’s what you thought about me?

Julie: Pretty much. I actually told my husband, I was like, “Listen to this. This author I’m going to talk to today listens to them like this out loud.” He was just like, “Nope.”

Chandler: I’m still married too.

Julie: That’s amazing. Way to go. I’m sure your husband has annoying things too.

Chandler: He really, really hates it. He finds it so stressful. In general, I’m kind of a stressful person, probably. I’m kind of a workaholic. I’m always doing the things. Then that just feels of a piece. It’s very on brand that we’re going to do that. Everyone loves it.

Julie: It’s amazing. I just was laughing at it. I saw it on your bio on your website as well. Also, people who are reading Cutting Teeth, do not sleep on Chandler’s website because it’s great. You have lots of resources. You have a couple videos about how you came up with the story. It’s very well done. It was worth the visit.

Chandler: Great. I feel like I have nothing to do with it. Love to hear it.

Julie: Cutting Teeth is a lot about parenting, the things we do for our children, what we’re willing to do for them. What do think your greatest strength is as a parent? What’s your greatest weakness?

Chandler: Oh, man. I feel like a big thing that I thought about in the book is that I don’t think anyone’s as good a parent as they purport to be, and no one’s as bad a parent as they feel that they are, both between closed doors. I often feel like not a very good parent.

Julie: So that’s more your default?

Chandler: I think that’s my default. It’s easier for me to say the things that frustrate me about myself as a parent. Again, I think this is hard when you are available at home when you’re a female creative. Your time is constantly being cut into when you’re at work. At the same time, because of that, I feel like my brain is sometimes not as present as I would like when parenting. I feel like both cut into each other. I’m definitely obsessed with checking my email. I wish I had better technology boundaries in front of my children with the way I am about work. That’s a big one. I think that I am generally pretty patient, I would say. I’m not quick to lose my cool.

Julie: That’s a win.

Chandler: I really enjoy talking to my kids. I feel like they enjoy talking to me. I enjoy talking to them.

Julie: That’s a gift.

Chandler: What are yours? You probably have better thought-out ones.

Julie: You know, as you were saying it — I do this all the time. I ask questions, and I never think of the answers ahead of time that I would say.

Chandler: And you love when someone just turns them back.

Julie: It’s great. I always am hoping that. Please. I’d say, probably, my greatest strength is in the conversation. I’m willing to get in there. And my willingness to be interrupted, which makes me horrible in other ways. Everything has a shadow side. Even you, yeah, your kids are seeing you work, but your kids are seeing you work. It’s just such a tricky one. I would say availability. My biggest weakness, gosh, I’d have to think because it is easy to think of multiples. You know what? It’s probably thinking I know best, trying to circumvent their process for them. I like to get things done quickly. In that conversation, I like resolution. I’m like, let me just tell you what to do because you’re going to get there eventually. Let me just help you out there. Weirdly, teenage boys, they’re not really into that.

Chandler: They don’t love that?

Julie: No. It’s odd.

Chandler: My son still wants to marry me, so I’m sorry.

Julie: Oh, my gosh, I love that phase. It’s so fun. I think my mom has a signed card from one of us that says, I will marry my mom, kind of thing. She was like, I’m going to make them sign this.

Chandler: It’s so sweet. I know. I don’t have the heart to tell him.

Julie: It is. It’s just such a sweet time. Yeah, I think it’s best to wait, probably. Definitely, get it on video. Then you can use it later. What’s the thing in writing, whatever project you’re working on, what is one thing you want to get better at?

Chandler: Other than outlining and having a good plan —

Julie: — Although, maybe you could just let that go. We’ll loop back around to that. It seems to be working. You seem to be finishing the books.

Chandler: I am not naturally a structure gal. I would love to think more deeply about structure going into a project and more time marinating on it. I love to get writing. I get very twitchy about the part where you’re supposed to be marinating and thinking. I want to get to it. I would love for a part of my process, even if it’s not outlining, to just really think a little bit more deeply about how to create that forward momentum thinking through character wants and all the Save the Cat-esque things that I often turn up my nose at. I would like to stop having that attitude.

Julie: It’s tricky because there’s always such a layer. Maybe we could apply your parenting logic to the writing game as well. Maybe none of us is as poor as we think or as great as we think. We’re somewhere in the middle.

Chandler: I like that. I’ll take it. Yes.

Julie: What’s one conversation that you’re enjoying having around this book?

Chandler: Gosh, I’ve had a lot of conversations about my son — I swear I’d already started the book; I’d already been writing the book — that he became the class biter during the course of writing this book.

Julie: Your dedication is my favorite thing I think I’ve ever read in my life. I was dying.

Chandler: Thank you. I know. I’m trying to explain to him. I’m like, you have a book dedicated to you at three and a half. Look at all you’ve done in the world. I feel like a lot of parents have talked to me about their experience with their kids as a class biter. I really love the people that are talking to me about how they were the class biter, and then seeing them be functional people in the world is very comforting. It was a really tough semester when he held that crown. He was just going after everyone like a real-life baby shark. It was awful. There was a small movement by a mom to try to get him kicked out of school. We were doing everything. He was being shadowed. We pulled him out of school, took him out two days a week. We sent him with chew toys. We read all the books. We did everything. There’s that privacy thing, so they can’t tell you who your child bit, and they won’t tell who bit your child. A couple parents witnessed him biting with their eyeballs. They knew who we were, but we didn’t know who they were. That felt very uncomfortable because I would’ve loved to have had a conversation with them and talked to them.

A theme in the book is, how clearly can you ever see your child? Do you see the most clearly of anyone, or do you see them the least clearly? That’s very hard because they’re sort of an extension of you. We often see our children as an extension of ourself and a direct result of our parenting. You see the best of them, and you see the worst of them. It’s a little bit of a both/and on both of those fronts as well. It was very hard as parents to see him reduced in people’s eyes to a biter when that’s not who we saw. He wasn’t aggressive. It was just an impulse thing. Seeing a parent try to get him kicked out of school — I think we’re all looking for ways to feel like good parents. I think that that’s kind of a quick dopamine hit, quick endorphin hit to jump in and protect your child from some perceived danger. We’re all looking for those crystal-clear moments where we know we’re doing it. We’re being good mothers. I get it. I understand and also want to celebrate that the more nuanced, hidden work of parenting a difficult child or a child in a difficult moment is also good parenting, even when you don’t see the results as perfect behavior.

Julie: That’s such wisdom. Yes, it is nice to see people who are biters turn out to be normal humans. That is a win. I couldn’t agree more. There is that surge of righteous indignation that we all kind of —

Chandler: — I love righteousness indignation. It is my favorite kind of indignation.

Julie: Please. Couldn’t agree more, especially if I’ve been in an argument with my husband.

Chandler: So good. I get it.

Julie: Let her rip. You’re exactly right. Yes, many people have a smoother road. It’s very similar to the early days when some babies sleep, and some babies don’t. It’s really not about how successful you are. I think that sort of detachment from your child but then also having a lot more space for — they’re kids. They’re growing. He just wanted to bite.

Chandler: I know. He did. You know what? It disappeared like magic. It was a phase.

Julie: Isn’t that amazing? It was a consuming moment for you, it sounds like, in so many ways. Then one day, you look up, and it’s like, oh, so that’s done. We’re done with that.

Chandler: He doesn’t do that. We decided not to. It’s great. Much like Renfield’s syndrome.

Julie: So true. Way to bring it back around. I have really enjoyed talking to you about this book. I hope that people really enjoy the book. If you’re an audiobook person, be sure to listen to it because the performance was really well done.

Chandler: It’s really good.

Julie: In general, I just think you have a really good way — I’m going to actually go back and read your backlist because I love the way you have your commentary woven in there. None of it’s heavy-handed. None of it feels like you’re trying too hard. You’re writing about it from this perspective in which you have some experience. I think it’s really well done.

Chandler: Thank you. Thank you so much.

Julie: My pleasure. Thanks for being here today. Thanks for asking my two personal questions about your — exceedingly personal questions, I should say, about what kind of parent you are. I hope that people, though, have gotten to know. I think you’re a great writer. I am sure that you are a better mother than you think you are.

Chandler: Thank you. I hope so. I think we all are.

Julie: I think we all have to be, right? It’s really the only way we’ll survive.

Chandler: We’re trying.

Julie: Thanks so much for today, Chandler.

Chandler: Thank you.

CUTTING TEETH by Chandler Baker

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