Zibby Owens: I had such a good time talking to Chandler Baker who is author of The New York Times best seller Whisper Network which was a Reese’s Book Club pick. I literally had like fifty quotes printed out that I wanted to talk to her about and felt like I was rambling trying to get them all in, which of course I didn’t. Her book, Whisper Network, spoke to me, like anybody who’s tried to balance work and mom life and all the rest or just mom life, not that it’s a just. Anyway, I had so much to talk to her about. Chandler lives in Austin with her husband and children and works as a corporate attorney. She’s also the author of five young adult novels. Whisper Network is actually her adult debut. Enjoy our conversation.

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

Chandler Baker: Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it.

Zibby: I am excited to talk to you for so many different reasons. One, your book, obviously, so much to talk about. This whole working mom chorus, I can’t wait to delve into. Two, on your Instagram, I feel like we share so many favorite books. Everything you were showing a picture of, I’m like, that one too, yes, that one! I love when I cross paths with someone who I feel like has similar book taste and all the rest.

Chandler: How many books do you try to read a year? Do you have a number?

Zibby: I don’t have an exact number. I don’t finish every book anymore. At least two hundred, I would say, a hundred and fifty.

Chandler: Oh, my gosh.

Zibby: I’m doing seven episodes a week. Although, I’m going to slow down. I can’t finish them all, as I said. Some are children’s books. Some are middle grade. Some are advice. How many novels? I’d say a hundred, fifty to a hundred, or at least prepare for them. How many books do you think you read a year?

Chandler: I go for thirty, so not nearly as well-read.

Zibby: But this is what I do now. I didn’t used to read this many books. For fun, I wouldn’t have read this many books. I didn’t have time. It’s hard to find time to read.

Chandler: But we do.

Zibby: But we do. We have to. The Whisper Network is now coming out in paperback, which is really exciting. I read a lot about how you decided to write this, the way in which you wrote it, which is so interesting. Tell me about the writing process. What made you want to tell this particular story?

Chandler: Before this, I had been a young adult writer, so I’ve been writing for teens. I think that I started writing for teens because I started writing seriously in college and I was much closer to a teen myself. Also, it was this renaissance time period of young adult literature. It was John Green and Gayle Forman. All these great people were coming out. I was reading a ton of that. Then fast-forward to right before I started Whisper Network, I was becoming really involved in my own book club. We were reading a lot of women’s fiction. We were reading a lot of thrillers. I think it’s kind of natural that your ideas marinate in the books you’re being exposed to. I had this idea, almost the title, Whisper Network. It was right after the Shitty Media Men list came out. As a lawyer, I was thinking a lot about the ethics of that list. What was the role of due process? Was there any role of due process? What were people’s damages? I was very curious about that. Of course, I don’t know about you, but every time I was together with my girlfriends, we would find ourselves talking about the Me Too movement. What have you experienced? How have you responded to those experiences? How do wish you had responded to that experience? How do you relate? How do you not relate to the women coming forward?

All those were just swirling together when I got the idea to try to write a book about my industry in particular. I was a corporate lawyer. I’d been seeing a lot of stuff coming out in Hollywood and a few other industries, but I hadn’t seen a lot in the lawyer/finance-type space. I knew that that was something that I could write well about and with authority. Then I started relating it to my experience as a working mother and broadening it to not just working motherhood, but what are the particularities of women’s experience in the workplace in general? which felt like it was very much centered around Me Too at the moment. I think that there are so many other challenges that women can relate to. A lot of people had this feeling of, okay, you’re seeing sexual harassment, you’re seeing that’s a part of our daily lives, but wait, wait, while we have your attention, I want you to see all these other things that are really tough about being a working woman right now. The first line I wrote in the book was, “We fell asleep with the heat of laptops burning our thighs.” That was the first line I wrote in the book. That really set the tone for me to write the rest of the book and explore these issues. Of course, I wanted to do it in a juicy, murder mystery type of way so that it was fun. It was very cathartic in a lot of ways.

Zibby: I bet. It’s like you combined every element of successful fiction into one book. It’s great. You have the working mom, but not even just the corporate mom. I don’t work in an office. I don’t work in an institution the way you have it here, and the pressure of senior partners and all the rest of it. Just the competing demands of kids and work in any form and even just getting through the day, you made anybody who would read this book feel completely understood and validated. It was clear that you knew this so well. You weren’t somebody coming from the outside in, like, let me analyze working motherhood. It was all about Moana and the exact things that I went through myself. I’m like, thank you for putting this in a book. Then of course, all the elements of the story itself and even the format, even the smattering of emails and transcripts, it was just so great. I’m not surprised it was an instant best seller and all the rest.

Chandler: Thank you. Yes, I felt very deep in it, in the working motherhood thing at the time I was writing it. I still am now in a different way. I don’t work full time as a lawyer anymore. Like you, it’s changed a little bit, the different pressures, but I still feel the push-pull that you’re describing. Now I just had another baby.

Zibby: Congratulations.

Chandler: I’m in it again.

Zibby: You raised so many interesting issues, both about women’s roles in general and also all that sexual harassment, both areas together. There was one passage I was hoping to read about secrets, which I feel like is such a theme to the book. “We had been programmed to trade in secrets. Our leading deodorant brand promised not to tell. Our magazine covers hocked the secrets to clearer skin, better hair, toned legs, and longer orgasms. Our mothers passed down recipes with secret ingredients. Even our feminism, second wave, couched as it was in our feminine mystique, felt purposely, smartfully veiled in secrecy. Our motto had long been, keep it between us, and we did for generations.” Then you continued and said, “We started to wonder by whispering, whose secrets were we keeping anyway? Ours or theirs? Whose interest did our silence ultimately protect? The answer came to us gradually.” It’s so great.

Chandler: Thank you. I’m very proud of that passage. It took me forever. It’s kind of what caps off the book. It was the last thing I did. I had to go to a hotel. I stayed by myself for a night while my husband watched our daughter. I finally got it. It felt really good.

Zibby: Wow. Tell me more about how you, in the process of being a working mother as a lawyer, you also pulled off writing this book. It was so meta. You did everything at once. How did you do it? When did you find the time? Tell me the whole narrative of that.

Chandler: I’d had some practice at it because, like I said, I’d been writing YA novels for some time before and working as a lawyer. I’ve been good about finding those little nooks of time. I always set a timer for fifteen minutes. If I have fifteen minutes that I can avoid looking at my email or looking at the internet, I will just go after it those fifteen minutes. I would really have to create time. Sometimes it would be like, okay, I’m going to drive to the office, I’m going to drive to the law firm, I’m not going to listen to a podcast. I’m not going to listen to an audiobook. I’m not going to listen to the radio. I’m just going to think about what I need to do for the day writing-wise. I’m going to use that time in my brain. That way when I sit down at my desk, I’ll take fifteen minutes, I’ll get it out. Hopefully, it’ll be really productive. Sometimes it is. Sometimes it’s not. Then of course, there’s the writing at lunch while you’re scarfing food down at your desk and then just trying to shift around my lawyer work. If there were things that didn’t take as much brain power, I might do those after bedtime for the kids and shift a little bit of time forward for my writing and sneak that in because that’s very brain intensive.

It was really about just finding those pockets of time and taking advantage of them. I always say you can get a lot more done in fifteen minutes than you think you can with the right amount of focus. Although, I also understand not everybody writes that way and not everybody can write that way. I just happen to be able to. It’s been very much daily diligence for me as opposed to binge-writing. Then of course, there has been a few times where I’ve gone to the hotel or something like that when I really had to knock something out. I’ve been very lucky to be able to do that. When I get ideas, I either write them on my phone or write them in my notebook that I have dedicated to the project. Then when I’m at computer, I really just try to hit it hard during those fifteen-minute sprints.

Zibby: When you know you have fifteen minutes and you have those times in the car when you’re plotting it out, did you already have a master plan for everything and you were just trying to analyze one particular slice? Or was that also part of figuring out the outline or what comes next plot-wise? How spontaneous versus planned was the whole trajectory of the book?

Chandler: In writing, people usually say they’re plotters or they’re pantsers, meaning they fly by the seat of their pants. I’m a recovering pantser because my deadlines are getting so tight that I’m trying to do a little bit more plotting. I sold this on proposal, meaning I didn’t sell it on the entire manuscript. I sold it on a synopsis and some pages. I did have a pretty detailed synopsis, but a lot of times when you get into the writing of the book you realize that things need to change. The entire ending of the book changed from what I sold it on. I kind of knew where I was going. I had a roadmap, but I found that also I was kind of going by the headlights of a car. I could only see so far in front of me. I would think about pieces as they came. At certain points, I remember sitting and I couldn’t see the book anymore. It just gets so big that you can’t see it. I have a corkboard. I was writing down notecards and actually physically trying to be tactile about it and rearranging different plot points. I’ve got three different point-of-view characters. You want them to feel somewhat even. Four, I’ve got four. You want them to feel somewhat even. It’s really tough to keep that in your head. It’s a variety of different ways to beat the system in how to get it plotted and take advantage of those times.

Zibby: With your commentary on all the things that are expected of a working woman, everything down from getting your highlights done regularly, getting to the gym, and all the things that maybe people don’t talk about but are expected — you were like, look at the headshots on the website of the law firms. You have to somehow get that done but not talk about it. It has to be included in the day-to-day. What should we take away from that? Should women not have to do that? Should they be rewarded for it in a way, like, hey, you pulled all that off? Where can we go with that? Your analysis of it was so spot on, but now what? You’re right. Now what? What should we do with all this commiseration?

Chandler: That’s such a good question. I struggle with it so much too. I find myself struggling with it right now with post-baby weight. I’ve got other things to do. Yet I also buy into some idea that I’m supposed to be attacking this problem. It takes time. It’s something to add to my day when I don’t really have time. Yet I can’t unhook my brain from it the way I want to unhook my brain from it. I can’t unhook my brain from wanting to get highlights. Where is that coming from? I think the thing that bothers me most about the problem is men’s perception. I often feel like men don’t want to listen to women they don’t like looking at in a certain way. Ardie in the book has this observation. I think that’s where they intersect. Men want to see put together, whatever that means. They’d like to see you dressed up in a dress or whatever, not all men, I’m sure. There is a feeling that, like you said, it’s expected in some way. It’s part of the job to be pulled together in some part of the beauty narrative. I would like men to rewire their brains. Does that sound feasible?

I hear a lot of women that are like, we have to raise our sons to be better allies. We have to make them more conscious of these things. That’s the way forward. Then I hear other women at the same book clubs that I visit or whatever saying, we can’t wait until everybody’s sons are grown up. That’s way too long. More immediately, I would love to just see more women at the top and more women not opting out of the workforce before they reach that level. My pet idea is that it comes back to paternity leave. I feel like men need to take paternity leave because we just create this system where women are the defaults in their home. Their lives become so untenable that the only way they can think to fix them is — they’re not going to get rid of their kids. Those things aren’t going to go away, so they take themselves out of the workforce. Until we see a lot of women, a lot of women, as many women at the top as men, I don’t know that we’re going to see that culture sea change that we need to make some of those things more normalized to really shift the expectations of women in the workplace.

Zibby: If you find the rewiring, just post it on Instagram. I actually found it really interesting, one of the characters, now I’m forgetting who it was, but somebody was outlining her dream man. You had this whole paragraph of lists of things. One of the things that you said when you were saying, could this dream man have this quality? was that if you recommended a book to him, he wouldn’t need another person to validate it. He would just go ahead and read it because you said so.

Chandler: Oh, my gosh, this bothers me so much. Honestly, it’s something that I experience with my husband, but also with my friends’ husbands. I’m not recommending a book that I don’t think you would like. I’m not recommending something that’s outside of what I feel your tastes are. I read a lot, so just listen to me. Then they’ll come back like two years later, have you heard of this book? Yeah, I have. I have heard of it. Do you experience that, or do people listen to you fully now?

Zibby: I mean, no one in my family listens to me.

Chandler: Is your husband a reader?

Zibby: My husband is not a reader. Sometimes I read books out loud to him that I think he’ll really love. Occasionally, he’ll listen to audiobooks. It’s not so much that he doesn’t take my advice. This is embarrassing to admit, he is actually — it’s not usually about books, but he gives me advice. He has to say it and I have to wait maybe sometimes and hear it from somebody else until I take his advice. He’s like, why when Joe Schmo comes in and says you should get a bookshelf there and I’ve been saying it for three months, why now because that person said it was a good idea? I’m like, I don’t know. Sometimes I just need multiple people to say the same thing. But it is frustrating.

Chandler: Maybe that’s a little bit built into all of us.

Zibby: Or there’s just something wrong with me, probably.

Chandler: perfect man.

Zibby: I just thought that was so funny because I was like, clearly she’s had this happen in some way. You also wrote about time so well. This is something, obviously, that I have thought about so much down to the name of my podcast to just everything I do is about how to help women who are so time starved. There’s just not enough time for us to have kids and be smart women and pursue goals and careers and stay fit. It’s impossible. The math doesn’t add up. You said, “None of us had time, for anything it seemed. If time was currency, we were all going broke.” Then you went on to say, “Sometimes we’d see a book hit the New York Times best-seller list with a promising title like I Don’t Know How She Does It or Overwhelmed. For a few weeks, we’d pass it between us trying to use the advice like a trendy new diet plan. For us, there were — how did the pundits put it? — institutional roadblocks.” Then you say how, “Time was a finite resource, so who should get the most of us? Those of us who were moms had the most compelling argument. Consider the children. But what about the rest?” It’s this whole notion of, how do we do it with time that won’t expand? I don’t know that there’s an answer to that, but I love that you address it.

Chandler: Actually, when I first had my daughter, that book, I Know How She Does It, really did help me. It really did help me find extra time. They thought of creative solutions, just not going into the office as long as you could get your work done and not asking permission for that from people because higher-ups don’t necessarily want to make that decision or feel like they’re making that decision broadly. If you have the ability like me as a lawyer just to not do it, then two days a week you’re not going to go into the office and you’re not going to get dressed for that day. You’re just going to be in your scrubs for the day. You’ve saved your commute time. You’ve saved your time to do your hair and put on makeup and get ready. You found yourself an extra hour and a half or something out of the day. A lot of people though, understandably, find that thought really depressing. You have to scrap for this little time. You’re just gobbling up any extra fifteen minutes. Your answer is, it’s on women. It’s incumbent upon women to figure it out. I think that’s where some of the frustration comes, is that it doesn’t feel necessarily that there’s a counterpart in gender politics to that point. It seems like we are the ones that are tasked with figuring out our time. That looks like multitasking. That’s looks like letting things that would make us happy or feel relaxed, letting those things go. I haven’t totally found an answer for that. Right now, I’m writing a book about the division of domestic labor in dual-income families. It’s very much on my mind right now.

Zibby: Nonfiction or fiction?

Chandler: Fiction. It’s very much on my mind, but I don’t have a solid answer other than sometimes those books can be helpful. I don’t think it should just be a female problem.

Zibby: That’s true. I thought maybe that the quarantine when we were all home would make things easier in a way, at least the running around. I don’t know about you. I live in New York City. There’s always running around and racing and logistics. I have four kids. Maybe if we were just in one place, it could be like a throwback to Little House on the Prairie. But time still evaporates. There’s still not enough time. Have you found a shift in that? Has it helped or hurt?

Chandler: I thought that it would make it more visible, the work women do. I thought it would make it more tangible, the push-pull of women working and trying to mother and take care of the house. I thought that that would help. I think in some ways it has in my personal household. I’ve read a lot of think pieces about how it’s just made it maybe a little bit more obvious, but actually, more has fallen on women as we’ve had to start homeschooling and all these different things. Those still seem to be largely statistically borne by women. A lot of people are comparing it, especially if school doesn’t start in the fall, as women having to take almost another maternity leave. The way that can set your career back, that’s really disheartening to hear. Certainly when quarantine started, I did enjoy the family time and the simplicity. We were playing Charades and really making an effort to make our days different. Now I think some of that novelty has faded a little.

Zibby: I didn’t mean to say I didn’t enjoy the family time. There were definitely some perks to the situation that was led by fear and self-protection. I just felt like I didn’t find swaths of time that I expected to uncover in some way.

Chandler: Definitely not. Time just goes right now.

Zibby: So true. How close are you to finishing this next book? What else do you have on the docket coming up for you?

Chandler: It will come out July 2021, so a year from now. I’m finishing up. I have a deadline, July 15th. Finishing up my second-round revisions on that manuscript. I’m excited about it. Then what else? Oh, I just sold a young adult book that we haven’t announced yet. That will come out next year as well. It’s been busy.

Zibby: Exciting. That’s awesome. Do you have any advice to aspiring authors?

Chandler: My favorite advice is find friends. Find a community. I have another author that we met online and we have since become real-life friends. She lives in LA. We start out every day, I email her my goals for the day and she emails her goals, just what you want to accomplish. Every weekday, we do it. At the end of the day, we check in again and see if we accomplished that. I think it’s nice to create some normalcy in writing, make it feel in some ways a little bit more task oriented and not so huge as writing a novel. Also, writing can be so solitary. I just think you really need some people to share it with that you tell each other your struggles. Of course, by now our emails have evolved that we’re talking about what we’re doing as moms today, what we’re doing with our spouses and all those things. We still have that. We’ve kept it up for six years now.

Zibby: Wow, that’s amazing, a writing buddy. That’s great. That’s awesome.

Chandler: Highly recommend.

Zibby: Excellent. Thank you, Chandler. I feel like I am going to be thinking about you at all different stages of the day after reading all the commentary on mom life. Just even this morning, writing my kids a little note for their pretend camp which is really just them in the backyard. Have fun at camp. I’m thinking to myself when you wrote about in the book, moms and the perfectionism of having to write things on napkins. At least I feel just super understood by you, so thanks.

Chandler: Thank you. What a compliment. I had to pump for the first time because quarantine means I’ve just been with my son and I haven’t had to. I had to pump. I was like, oh, Grace, from the book. I’m like, here I am again pumping, which I think is the worst part of new momhood. Yes, I know, it hits us all.

Zibby: Yes. I could go a whole nother podcast on the pumping chronicles. I won’t. I’ll spare you. Anyway, thank you so much. Thanks for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” Thanks for your book.

Chandler: Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

Zibby: Have a great day.

Chandler: Thank you. Bye.

Zibby: Buh-bye.