Chandler Baker, THE HUSBANDS

Chandler Baker, THE HUSBANDS

Bestselling author of Whisper Network Chandler Baker returns to talk with Zibby about her latest novel, The Husbands, a Stepford Wives gender-swap. Chandler shares why she wanted to write about the discrepancies in the division of domestic labor, as well as what the responses have been like from actual husbands. The two also discuss the things they love about being a part of the literary community, how Chandler finds time to write with two little kids, and what she is working on next.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Chandler. Thanks so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss The Husbands. It’s so exciting.

Chandler Baker: Thank you. Thank you for having me. I feel like I get to see you twice in one week. That’s very exciting.

Zibby: I know. This is great. Thank you so much for doing the panel for Moms Don’t Have Time to Kids. That was great. Thank you.

Chandler: I’m sure you’re exhausted.

Zibby: Not from that. That was fun. I enjoyed that. Thank you for writing your essay. Do you want to just say what it’s about in case people are wondering?

Chandler: Sure. I wrote an essay about making online friends and how online friendships can be just as valid in your life as real-life friendships. I know that’s not the right distinction, but just kind of the role that they’ve played in my life, both for writing and how they’ve become integrated into my life outside writing.

Zibby: I feel like my whole life is online friendship at this point. What is Zoom? What are we doing now?

Chandler: Yes, I agree. I definitely have friends that I don’t think have any online friendships. That’s a funny thing when I’m trying to describe to them my friendships that I have. I think they’re like, that’s odd.

Zibby: I know. I met a woman the other day who was a mom who was not on Instagram. I was like, “You know, I don’t meet many of you these days.” I feel like everybody has their online thing. I shouldn’t say that. Not everybody has to be on Instagram. Anyway, yes, online friendships are a thing. To those of us who are used to them, it probably takes some explaining, so I’m glad you did that for the rest of us. Let’s talk about The Husbands, the follow-up to your massively successful Whisper Network. This also, of course, is massively successful. I related to so much of this book. First of all, why don’t you tell listeners what The Husbands is about in case they are not familiar with it yet?

Chandler: The Husbands is a novel that really asks, how far would a woman go for a little more help from her husband? It follows Nora Spangler, who’s an overworked mother and lawyer. She goes house hunting in this nice suburban neighborhood with her husband. There, she meets a group of very high-powered women with enviably supportive husbands. She agrees to take on a wrongful death case for one of the community’s residents. During the course of investigating the case, she gets to know the women and finds that the air in this neighborhood called Dynasty Ranch really is different. The women aren’t hanging on by a thread. As the case unravels, she uncovers what she believes may be the secret to having it all. It could be one that’s worth killing for.

Zibby: Ooh, that pitch is now perfect. Amazing. I felt like, when I was reading this, there was, maybe anger is the wrong word, but there is this resentment that the way that the system is set up, the expectations on mothers and fathers are different. It doesn’t matter how many strides we’ve all made and everything. Nora is pissed. She’s just a little bit pissed. I wanted to hear more about that and how to sort of toe the line of, how do you be mad at some sort of system and not have it affect your personal relationship? How much of this is structural versus personal?

Chandler: I think that I have an easier time, I think a lot of women have an easier time thinking of it as personal. Anything that happens behind closed doors inside our own marriages and families feels deeply personal, those arguments that you have with your spouse that you know aren’t perfectly articulated. You know there’s probably two sides to the story. You feel righteously indignant about them. All that feels very close. Yet because we see almost every American family grappling with division of domestic labor, I think we can scope out and realize that it is systemic. There are systems in place. Some of those things are not having paternity leave standardized in the US, the way that schools often call moms first for sick kids, the way that our employment system is still predicated on the idea that one spouse is going to go to work and one can afford to stay home and raise the family, which isn’t true, probably, for most American families anymore. I think it’s both. I think we all have personal responsibility to change it in our household. At the same time, until some of those systemic issues are addressed, I think that will keep reinforcing what’s already going on in our houses.

Zibby: I feel like things are changing pretty quickly, though, at least in terms of consciousness of it. I know you talked about Fair Play by Eve Rodsky, who I adore by the way, and all of that. I have twins who are fourteen. Then I have little guys. My little guys’ birthday party, it doesn’t occur to me to — when I was inviting friends to my older kids’ events, I would only email the moms. I don’t know why. I had my list of sixty class moms. That’s who I would send it to. Then for my little guys, it’s like, no, of course I’m going to email both parents. That’s only been eight years difference. Maybe I was wrong to begin with. I apologize for that, dads who I didn’t email. Although, I’m not sure anybody’s mourning the loss of another email. Even something as minor as that in a cultural shift, I feel like it’s pervasive. I feel like the consciousness has been raised and people are just very aware of it.

Chandler: I think that they are aware of it. It is amazing to me how rapidly our notions of even gender itself are shifting and yet how sticky gender norms are in the home. I do still think that, given how far we’ve come and how we think about these things, it’s crazy to me that young couples are actually not leaps and bounds more modern than their parents or their grandparents. That’s a wild thing to think about.

Zibby: Think about all the changes in society and how long those have taken. Not to turn this conversation too macro. I want to get back to your book. It takes a while. Women didn’t even have the right to vote. Taking out the garbage is — I’m just saying it takes a while to effect change.

Chandler: It does take a while. It’s just that women are in the workforce so much so. It does take a while. Maybe that’s reasonable, but I’m like, I wish it were faster.

Zibby: I understand. It’s frustrating. I think one of my favorite lines in this whole book was when Nora is inwardly fighting with her husband and he doesn’t even know. Then it was like, because Nora never even told her husband she was mad at him, she could stop that fight whenever she wanted. I love that. I just love that. I’ve had thoughts like that from time to time. Does he even know? That was so funny. A lot of it also, between Nora and between many couples, comes down to communication. What are we okay with in our relationship? What are we not? There was this funny passage too, if I could read a little section. Is that okay?

Chandler: Yeah.

Zibby: This is when Nora finds out she’s pregnant again. She says, “‘I just need time.’ Nora sounds like a broken record. Time, time, time. She’s always stressed about time. She once heard that you can choose to worry about time or you can choose to worry about money, but the good news is, you get to pick. ‘We’ll figure it out,’ says Hayden. ‘We’ll hire more help. It’ll be okay.’ Nora nods, but even as he says we, she hears you. And isn’t this always his magical fix for everything? Hire more help, as if hiring help is as simple as ordering pizza. He holds his arms out, and she allows herself to be nuzzled into his broad chest which smells of fabric softener and deodorant. Her ribcage convulses. Her throat goes soupy. The volume of what lies ahead just this week threatens to drown her before she’s even started swimming, and really, she does not want to wreck her marriage. He stretches her out to arm’s length. ‘I will help out more.’ He lowers his chin so that his pale blue eyes are staring directly into hers. ‘I’ll pack lunches. I’ll clean up Liv’s room. I’ll do drop-offs every day.’ Gratitude rises like freshly baked bread inside of her, and she is thinking, yes, yes, please, let’s do that. And yet somewhere in the back of her mind she listens for the needling sense of déjà vu, the memory that perhaps she’s heard this all before. Fool me once, that’s to be expected. Fool me twice, that’s love.” I loved that section. You know, I think it does show, so many men, they want to help. They, deep down, do not want to be unhelpful to their spouses or ineffective in their homes. Even in the ellipses here, “I’ll clean up,” he’s like, I don’t even know what to do to help you. That’s the problem. Sometimes one person in the relationship doesn’t realize the eight million things that you’re keeping in your head. You want them to be like, oh, holiday cards need to be ordered. Wait, what about this person’s gift? Have you thought about that? It’s one thing to assign, and it’s another thing to think about it ahead of time. I don’t know how we change that.

Chandler: Yes. That internal stress can weigh so heavy. What am I forgetting? Having your antenna up. All the women in my life that I know are smart, outspoken, feminist women that are not doormats. They’re all married to great guys. I don’t know anybody with men that are intentionally being not feminist allies. That’s the only people that I’m really interested in exploring. Why is there this disconnect between men that do want to help and also women feeling like they are truly able unburden themselves of fifty percent of the mental load as well?

Zibby: I wonder if it’s the kind of thing where our kids are the ones who are — I’m raising two sons and two daughters. How do I raise them? I need to raise them to make sure they know to do all these things. We can model it in our home, but what if you can’t? What if you don’t have somebody — I happen to be very lucky with my husband who helps out a lot and does all the cooking and tons of things. He thinks ahead. What do you do if you don’t have a model for the kids, but you really want them to adopt these things? You can tell them over and over again. I don’t know. What do you think? How do you do it with your kids?

Chandler: My daughter is six. My son is about to be two. It’s still definitely early for us. I would not consider myself any kind of expert. Modeling it is a big thing. Obviously, when I go to write a book days after I had our second baby, I am having to have my husband here to help get that done and to step up in those ways. Like you said, modeling is so important. Then a lot of what I felt I kept on my cross is assigning our son not just the same amount of chores, but the same type of chores because there is still kind of this built-in assumption that certain tasks are primarily women’s work. Often, as Eve Rodsky talks about, those tasks are part of the daily grind rather than the, as I say in the book, at-your-leisure activities like cleaning out the garage or doing the lawn. All those are important, but I think what weighs us down is really the stuff that has to go on to continue with our day and our week and our children’s day and our week. That’s something I’m going to think about a lot as my son gets older. Just trying to learn how to communicate about it better, I think that’s the thing that feels the most to me about the book, is that — I think like a lot of people, my husband and I both really want to communicate well about it. We know communication is the key about it, but we don’t always do it perfectly. We get defensive when we add something to each other’s to-do list. We list what each of each other has on our plates. Just learning to be more receptive on both ends to how to divide up those tasks.

Zibby: I’m sorry to make you feel like you have to be the expert on this. I know this is not a nonfiction book. This is an amazing narrative with so many twists and turns and different communities and the law and family and pregnancy. It’s a multilayered story and was very rich with lots of things. I just happen to be interested in this myself right now.

Chandler: No, I love it. That’s been such a fun part. When I have gotten to speak to book clubs or whatever about it, everybody has something to say about this. Everybody has things to say about how their family works. Why do they think it works that way? How it could better. It’s rife with people wanting to talk about it, which is why I wrote it, because I was talking to my girlfriends about this so much.

Zibby: Have you had any responses from husbands?

Chandler: Yeah. I’ve been really surprised that — I’ve done a couple book clubs where they dared their husbands to read it, which was funny because I actually heard from some of the husbands. I think one of my favorite responses was that a husband said, “I think sometimes I’m not just oblivious, I’m willfully oblivious to it, choosing not to see. I do know that it’s going on, but it’s easier to pretend not to,” which I thought was very self-aware and nice to hear. It’s genuinely been a pretty good response from men. I do think with Whisper Network, which was about sexual harassment, the men that I would hear read it were very, very supportive because I think they could say, I know I’m not a sexual harasser. With this book, I think they’re a little bit more, do I fall into this category of not stepping up fully? They’re a little bit less sure. I think they can think it’s a little more harsh.

Zibby: That’s funny, oh, my gosh. I know we keep talking about Eve Rodsky, but both of you are Reese’s Book Club picks. I’m just wondering how that whole experience was for you with Whisper Network and all of the stuff that went on around that. Do you meet the other Reese’s Book Club authors? What is that whole thing like?

Chandler: It’s so funny. I do read my Goodreads reviews. I probably shouldn’t, but I saw several saying that Eve Rodsky and I were very good friends. We’ve literally never interacted or talked other than me talking about her books with my friends. She’s fabulous. She seems fabulous.

Zibby: I’m going to introduce you right after this. I happen to be friendly with her, so I’m going to put you both on an email.

Chandler: Make it true. Yes, I have met several Reese’s Book Club authors. There’s a few in Austin. Some have moved away, but also at a couple events when events were happening, which wasn’t a ton of time after my book came out, after Whisper Network came out. I feel my goals with my books is to create books that do feel like they foster discussion even when it’s not just about the plot of the book, but just that women want to sit down and talk about them and talk about their experience. To be embraced by book clubs like Reese’s Book Club and then Good Morning America, that feels really validating to me because it feels like it exposes it to other women that are interested in book clubs.

Zibby: Amazing. I love that. Isn’t it going to be a movie, or did I make that up? It is, right?

Chandler: Yes, I am currently writing the script of the movie which is supposed to star Kristen Wiig with MGM.

Zibby: So exciting.

Chandler: So exciting, yes.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, that is amazing. So cool.

Chandler: , but it’s been a really fun learning process for me.

Zibby: Wow. Are you also writing another book?

Chandler: Yes. I just got notes on my third adult book. Now I’m like, okay, I got notes, so it’s happening. This is going to be my third book. It’s great. It’s tentatively titled It Goes by So Fast. It’s about how sometimes it doesn’t. I feel like my books are always very much about my life stage.

Zibby: I just did this interview or whatever. I was like, Saturdays sometimes feel like five days long. Sometimes they do not end no matter what I do. The time just hangs. Then other days, I’m racing against time all the time and trying to get things done under the wire. I can’t get it all in. The inelasticity of time, I think a lot about.

Chandler: I was thinking about how before kids, it seemed like I was just dying for the weekend. I still am dying for the weekend because I love to spend time with my kids. You’d be so excited for Friday, dreading Sunday night because you knew you had to go back to work. I think once you have kids, there is a little thing on Sunday night, you’re like, I can, at least, Monday morning, have my coffee and sit and breathe for a second on my own. It’s a real flip in perspective.

Zibby: There’s almost no time to recharge because as soon as the workweek ends, you start the weekend. Once I’m exhausted from the weekend, I start the workweek, and then I’m exhausted. It’s this never-ending thing.

Chandler: It is, I know. It’s crazy. In that way, it does really go by fast. I feel like the months are constantly flipping. I’m like, how are we in November?

Zibby: I know. What on earth? The holidays, I’m like, oh, my gosh. Then sometimes I look around and I’m like, how do I have kids who are going to be in high school next year when I swear I was just in high school? I remember everything about high school. I don’t know. I said to my daughter the other day — she’s fourteen and a half. She didn’t want to do something. I was like, “Do you even want to know what I was doing when I was fourteen?” She’s like, “What were you doing when you were fourteen?” I was like, “Actually, let’s not talk about this.”

Chandler: Backpedal, backpedal.

Zibby: Backpedal, exactly. What is your writing process like, especially with two little kids at home and cranking out these amazing books and all of that? Do you write where you are right now in your office? Where do you like to write? How do you do it? How are you approaching this new book? Are you outlining the whole thing? What’s your general process?

Chandler: I do try to write in this room, mostly because it does save more commute time to go set up at a coffee shop. Though, sometimes I do like the change of scenery. I’ll go to my local coffee shop. Especially if I’m working on more than one project at once, sometimes having that physical division of, I’m going to work on screenplay here at the coffee shop, and then I’m going to divide. Then I’m going to come home. Then I’m going to go to my office, and I’ll work on the book. That works well for me. I am lucky to have good childcare, which is really important to me and was very important when I left my job as a lawyer that I would still be able to have childcare. That’s been a huge part of making it work with two little kids. Then in terms of the actual process, I usually start an idea by writing myself basically a pitch for the book of trying to write what I think would be a great back-cover copy. Would that interest me to read? I write that, which is maybe a couple paragraphs. That way I can keep, as I write, referencing back to that when I go astray and be like, what was the core lava of what made me excited about this idea? What am I aiming for? See if I’ve strayed from that. I do a little bit of outlining. I wish I did more, but my brain just doesn’t seem to want to. I usually know some of the beats, but not much. Then after I’m done with a draft, which is where I am right now, I outline the draft that I wrote. I will then make an outline of what I wrote. Then I can start to lay a plan of attack for each chapter over it. That’s sort of the process that seems to be coming out the last couple books. I feel like you only learn to write the book that you just wrote. It always changes a little bit. That’s been starting to work for me, so I’m going to keep trying that for a while.

Zibby: Awesome. That’s great. What books do you like to read? What are you reading now? I hate to put you on the spot, but are there any favorites you have or books you happen to be reading or anything?

Chandler: I am reading Who Is Maud Dixon? right now.

Zibby: I loved that.

Chandler: I’m reading a lot of books. I usually am listening to a book that’s already out that I’m reading for pleasure and then, probably like you, reading books that haven’t come out yet with my eyeballs. There is another option. That’s how I get both done. I just read Eliza Jane Brazier’s Good Rich People, which was so fun. That comes out in January. In terms of stuff that’s already come out, I read Mexican Gothic recently for Halloween and really loved that.

Zibby: Excellent. What do you think the role is of an author in terms of supporting other authors? What do you think being a good literary citizen is all about?

Chandler: Oh, goodness. That’s a great question. Of course, I love to support other authors, particularly in blurbing. I feel like there were people that were so generous with me with Whisper Network. I always try to keep in mind that generosity and really try to tell myself there’s never going to be a time where I want to be completely closed to it. I don’t get to everything. That bothers me, but do try to constantly be reading with that in mind because I know that that feels so helpful when you have a new book coming out. I really value my writing friendships and just creating a community of people because this industry is so opaque. I do think with your close friends or even people that you’re introduced to or acquaintances, it does require you to sort of be comfortable removing the veil to the extent that you can or you feel comfortable and talking to people about brass tax. How did you negotiate this? What did you ask? All these different things. That inability to see what you should even be striving for in your career is really difficult. I’m so thankful for people that have done that for me. I still ask that mentorship of people. If people want to know it from me, I try to provide it the other way as well. Then just supporting other people’s books online and being responsive and those fun things, never being too busy for that stuff that I think is the core of being an author. When I became an author, it made me feel the same way. One of the things I was most excited about was getting to hang out with other authors and getting to talk to them. That was one of the goals. Now I get to do it. I never want to stop doing that part of it.

Zibby: It’s so fun. I literally am thinking, why am I not getting tired of doing these podcasts? I’ve done like nine hundred podcasts. Why? I just find it endlessly interesting to talk to authors about their work. Everybody’s work is so different and has such different — I don’t know. I just think it’s so cool.

Chandler: It’s the best. When I was a lawyer — I always think about this. If you had asked me to do a networking event for being a lawyer, I would just shrivel and die inside. I just didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to put myself out there. I didn’t want to really talk to people. Then immediately when it came to being an author, I was like, oh, I do want to go to the cocktail party if there is one at an event. I want to meet people. I want to talk to these people. I want to get to know them. That really is what told me I was in the right place.

Zibby: There’s also something about authors where they’ve already opened up so much before you’ve even met them. You’ve read their work. Whether it’s a memoir or a novel, they’ve already given you a gift. You’re already in the middle of a conversation by the time you meet them versus a lawyer or whatever, my business school. Why are we networking? What is the goal? I don’t want to network. I hated that word. I was like, I’m not going to do that. I don’t network. Do I want to make a community? That’s totally different than networking because it’s a means to an end and feels like you’re using people. The author community is something very different. I want to make some sort of — you get a card, some community actually. Doctors have — I want there to be something where you’re all actually a member of something. You have an ISBN, you get admitted. I don’t know.

Chandler: I feel like if anybody could do that, it’s you.

Zibby: I’m adding it to the list of wish-list projects I have that I would like to do.

Chandler: I feel like you hardly have any projects going on, so no problem in getting it done.

Zibby: I do think that this sort of membership seal thing would be good for all the imposter syndrome. No, no, you are a member. You are a card-carrying member. Maybe I’ll make funny little cards. Maybe I’ll do that. Anyway, thank you so much. I know our time went so fast. Thank you for chatting again.

Chandler: Thank you for doing this.

Zibby: I’m going to connect you to Eve later today.

Chandler: Oh, good. Thank you so much.

Zibby: Bye, Chandler.

Chandler: Bye.

Chandler Baker, THE HUSBANDS

THE HUSBANDS by Chandler Baker

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