Zibby is joined by Corie Adjmi to discuss her short story collection, Life and Other Shortcomings, which was an International Book Award winner. The two talk about how Corie’s marriage has inspired so much of her work, the phase of her life when she decided to try her hand at writing, and the ways in which her children have gotten involved in her career. Corie also shares why she decided to write this book as a series of stories about one character and how her role in the Orthodox Syrian Jewish community in Brooklyn inspired her upcoming debut novel.


Zibby Owens: Welcome Corie. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Life and Other Shortcomings: Stories.

Corie Adjmi: Thank you so much for having me. So happy to be here.

Zibby: I am delighted to talk to you. I feel like I sort of know you having read many of your essays on your website and everything. I do want to talk about this book, but can we first discuss your becoming a doula and parting traffic on Fifth Avenue to have your daughter give birth despite the traffic? That is a heroic mom story, I have to say.

Corie: It’s a story that, it couldn’t have happened any other way. We were totally in gridlock. I was her doula. I did become a doula because it was COVID and I wasn’t going to be able to go into the hospital room with her unless I did that. Then we were just stuck. I was looking around. There was just no way for her to get there. I could tell by her face that she was really ready to give birth. Finally, I did get out, blocked traffic. We started to move. She was nine centimeters when we got there.

Zibby: It’s unbelievable.

Corie: It was an unbelievable story. It really was.

Zibby: I love even the larger point you were making in your essay in addition to telling us this very amusing story, which is, why does someone who goes through a random certification process — not to undermine doulas and all that they do, which is amazing, but why do moms not get equal respect when they’ve done way more than read a pamphlet about breastfeeding? They breastfed themselves for, like you, sixteen months or something. Why the disparity? Why do you have to prove your worth? Why do some people get sanctions when mother’s work is not acknowledged with some sort of badge or entre even to an exam room during COVID?

Corie: The point was definitely not to put down doulas.

Zibby: No, of course not.

Corie: I am one. We do beautiful work. It was more just to elevate the role of mom. It was like, let’s just remember to give moms some of the credit that they deserve. It goes unseen.

Zibby: Are you now a doula? Have you helped other people?

Corie: No.

Zibby: This was the one.

Corie: I thought I might. Thankfully, writing has been going really well. I’m busy. I’m really, really busy. I’m excited about it.

Zibby: I saw — your next novel, what’s it called? Not Marriage Story. I wrote it down, oh, my gosh. What’s it called? Marriage something.

Corie: The Marriage Box.

Zibby: The Marriage Box, yes. We haven’t even talked about this one, but what is that one going to be about?

Corie: The Marriage Box is a novel. It’s based on my real life, but it’s totally fiction. I did grow up in New Orleans and moved to the Orthodox Syrian Jewish community in Brooklyn when I was sixteen having no idea what that community life would be like. I didn’t grow up orthodox. I didn’t even know anything about my Sephardic background. It was culture shock. I think the book started out as a way to dig into some of the trauma. It took me a really long time to write it because I wanted to write it from a very respectful place. I needed enough distance from it to be able to write it with a little bit of humor. It is about a young girl coming from New Orleans to this community in Brooklyn and getting married at eighteen, which is part of the tradition of the community.

Zibby: I feel like you must have gotten married at eighteen because you have five children and you are a grandmother, and I feel like we’re the same age. You must have started very early.

Corie: I swore I wouldn’t get married at eighteen, but I did. It sounds ludicrous to say today. It just seems so ridiculous.

Zibby: You’re still married to the same man?

Corie: Yeah.

Zibby: Good for you. That’s amazing.

Corie: I write about it a lot. I write about marriage a lot. It’s not easy always. We have our good moments. I write about it a lot. It’s a commitment.

Zibby: In your first essay in Life and Other Shortcomings — not essay, sorry, story. It’s all about that. It’s all about long-term marriages. What do you sacrifice of yourself? What do you hide? What do you share? How do you navigate when the person you’re doing — I loved how you said they were these little jabs, these tiny, little things that make you bristle. Maybe it’s once a day, twice a day, but over time, they just accumulate until you have hundreds of these just tiny, little things, and how that can wear you down too. Tell me a little more about this story.

Corie: It’s so funny because sometimes people will be like, oh, you’re so honest. I can’t believe you wrote that. I’m always like, I know I’m not the only one who’s experienced this. I know people know what I’m talking about. It doesn’t feel like I’m revealing anything out of the ordinary. I’m sure some people jab their spouse more than others. That story was a way to examine that and look at that and the damage it can cause and to have people just see themselves and to pay attention. Sometimes people take their relationships for granted. They don’t realize that they need to really cherish the relationship if they want it to last.

Zibby: What do you think about the idea that you threw out in the story, which of course, I’ve heard before, of this, do we re-up the marriage contract on a more regular basis? Should this be an expiring offer, so to speak? Should we go five years and then say, hey, is this working for both of us, should we keep going? versus committing our entire lives now that we live until almost a hundred years ago. We used to, as a human species or whatever, obviously die much younger. What do you think? You think that would be good or bad?

Corie: I’ve thought of everything. Over all these years, I’ve had every thought you could possibly have. Pretty much, we’ve stuck to the traditional model so far.

Zibby: You also wrote in such a funny way about body image and poking fun at the women ordering, which of course, we’ve all either been or eaten with or been at certain times, the person who is ordering everything on the side or being the one to really give the waitress or waiter a hard time, and poking fun at that person who I feel is particularly prevalent. Although, now I never go out to dinner anymore. Back in the day, pre-COVID, was rampant. Tell me about that character.

Corie: very New York to me too, to even have that luxury. Maybe in other places now, you can do that a little bit more, but it took other cities a little time to catch up. The story takes place in the nineties. At the time, New York was just a little bit more ahead in the way that you could go into a restaurant and be so particular and order things on the side and not have onions and garlic or whatever you don’t like. In other cities, maybe you couldn’t do that as much. Today, maybe you can. New York’s kind of a character in the book too. It was a little way to show the city and how it operates and what goes on there. That was that thought.

Zibby: This book is presented as a series of linked stories. Why did you choose that form versus one narrative or keeping one character’s journey throughout? Why this format?

Corie: Each story was originally a stand-alone piece that was written on its own. I wrote one short story. I just thought, let me see if I can get it published. Then when I did, I was like, was that just a lucky break? Will I be able to do it again? I tried one story at a time for a while. At some point, I said, I think I’ll try a novel, which turned out to be a whole different process and much more difficult for me. Once I wrote a lot of short stories and I was getting them published, I thought that the characters in the stories might know each other. The themes were familiar and similar. I thought, I can put these in a book. I could make this a collection. Then the characters would have a longer arc. You’d get to see them in other stories. Even though it’s a collection, you get a longer arc. It feels novel-like a little bit. At the time, I was reading Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout and A Visit from The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. I think those books were really inspiring to me just because they’re told in stories.

Zibby: That’s so funny. I’ve done three podcasts today. Two out of the three now have mentioned Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout.

Corie: Wow.

Zibby: Funny, right? It’s Elizabeth Strout day for me. I’ll have to pull that down, dig back in. Speaking of reading, what are you reading now? What types of books do you generally like to read?

Corie: I have been reading a little bit of everything, a little bit of nonfiction. I just bought the great — why can’t I think? The short stories collection from 2017 because I was trying to get “The Kindest,” the short story that has been talked about a lot. It was in The New York Times article about “Who’s the Bad Art Friend?” I was really that story. I’ve read every essay on it. I just was totally fascinated. I have every one of those books every year except for 2017, for some reason was missing, so I had to go order that one. I just bought Klara and the Sun. I just finished — actually, I have like sixty pages left of a book by Rochelle Weinstein, This is Not How This Ends. She gave me a blurb for my book.

Zibby: I love Rochelle. She’s awesome. I really liked that book.

Corie: I have like sixty pages left. I’m really enjoying it.

Zibby: That’s exciting. Tell me about raising five kids and when the writing got done. You’re publishing now. What was life like before? I know you’ve always been doing essays. Tell me a little more about the writing journey from eighteen when you got married.

Corie: There wasn’t one originally. I was an art major. Then I went into education. I was a teacher for a while. When I was doing my graduate work, I took classes on storytelling. I did my thesis on the power of storytelling and the study of a family and the Syrian Jewish community in Brooklyn. I was so fascinated by the stories, not only listening to the stories, but then the telling of the transcribing them and analyzing them and learning from them. Then also, I was using the stories in my classroom and just seeing how you can learn about your students through stories. I just was fascinated with stories. When I had my youngest, I was home nursing. I took a class at Gotham Writers kind of for fun. I was in my mid-thirties when she was born. I took a class on fiction just for fun. I like to do this, I like to give a shout-out to teachers because my teacher took me to the side and said, “You have talent. You should do something.” I would’ve never known. I would’ve never pursued writing. It wasn’t a dream. It wasn’t something I thought about. It wasn’t ever something I could actually do. Her saying that to me really was the pivotal moment. She said, “You should go to Bread Loaf,” which I had never heard of. It’s a really prestigious workshop, conference. I applied. I got in. Submitted my first short story. It got published. It was really like that, one story at a time, slowly just transitioning from teacher, stay-at-home mom, getting one story published, starting a novel and starting a blog and writing some of those essays that you read. It’s just been one day at a time and really a lot of perseverance, a lot.

Zibby: Then you wrote about the marketing side, having to put your marketing hat on when you’re dealing with books, which I’m familiar with. You tried a new collaborative technique to market your book. Talk about that.

Corie: I used my daughter.

Zibby: Free labor.

Corie: No, I had to pay her.

Zibby: Oh, okay, not free.

Corie: It was right when COVID hit, and so she was home bored. My book came out. I got my ARCs, my advanced reader copies, in March of 2020. Literally, it was the week when we weren’t supposed to be touching boxes that arrived. My boxes of books were in the hallway. We had to wait until we were gloved up and reading to go get them. It was really the height of everything. Then I didn’t market. I didn’t even say anything for probably at least two months. I waited until May because I couldn’t think about talking about a book at that point. People were scared. It just wasn’t the time. Anyway, my daughter was home and bored. I was trying to gear up to getting this book out into the world. She’s great on Instagram. I said, “Do you want to work together?” We worked together. We created some really fun content. It just made it a lot easier. First of all, she was putting it together and pushing post or whatever. I didn’t have to do that part. When I’d feel a little hesitant about putting something out there, she was really great in saying, “No, we can do this, Mom.” It was a great, great experience working together.

Zibby: That’s so nice. One summer, I tried to pay my son — this was a couple years ago — to organize all the T-shirts I had ordered and to try to start this online swag store for “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” No one bought anything. He was like, “Uh, Mom, I don’t think anybody wants your T-shirts.” I was like, “Okay, fine. You’re fired.” It was really fun when what you’re worried about and concerned about and focused on is the same as your kids. It takes your relationship to a different place where there’s something, and they get it. They get it from now on. You can refer back to that moment. What do you think? Should I start selling — oh, Mom, I don’t know, remember two years ago?

Corie: Like you said, we shared parts of our lives that we probably wouldn’t have shared. She ended up getting really involved in what I was doing and what my plans were where she might not have if we didn’t have that.

Zibby: Now you’re already focusing on your August ’22 book. That’s exciting.

Corie: It’s exciting. This one, I’ve been working on for a long time. I’m still editing. I’m working on my copyedits. I’m like, I can’t believe there’s going to be a time in my life where I’m not reworking this book. I’ve been working it and reworking it for a lot of years. I think I got it now. I’m really happy with how it came out, really worth the work.

Zibby: That’s so great. That’s great to hear. Do you have any new marketing plans for this one?

Corie: I got a little better at Instagram myself, so I do it myself sometimes now. Maybe when that time comes and I have to do it a little bit more for a couple of months, maybe she’ll want to help me out again. We’ll see. It went well, so let’s try it again.

Zibby: Do you have more essays or books or stories that you’re itching to get going on now?

Corie: Yeah, I have another novel kind of done.

Zibby: Done? Wow, that’s impressive.

Corie: I wrote for a lot of years before I even tried to get anything published, which worked out really great because I can’t even imagine trying to do — I can’t get over what you do. I can’t imagine doing all the speaking I’ve been doing and marketing and all the stuff and trying to write something new. I can do edits. I can do short pieces. To be trying to write another novel now seems like it would be really hard. I’m happy. I’m happy with how it worked out. A lot of people, I think, would have a hard time waiting so long to get recognition to be published.

Zibby: But you didn’t?

Corie: I went back and forth. It’s a .

Zibby: I am not writing a novel, by the way. I also think it would be very hard to be writing a novel and promoting. A lot of authors say guiltily, I’m not really writing anything because I’m focused on this promotion. It’s like, well, yeah, I get it. That’s like a totally different job. You basically have to stop writing and be a full-time marketer for at least a month, maybe. I think every author should clear their calendar around a month, not that they will, because there’s just so much that goes on. There’s a lot required. It’s just so hard to stand out. I could go on on this for a while. What about your other kids? Are they invested in your career? Do they read your books? What’s that been like for you?

Corie: They’ve read Life and Other Shortcomings. They’re really excited about The Marriage Box because they know it’s based on my life. All the details are made up. It’s totally fiction, but the premise is based on my life. They’re excited. They’re really great cheerleaders. They all have their different things that they’ll do for me. My son-in-law sent me an email last night saying, “Here are 184 different boxes you could use to put your book in to send to people.” Just random things, they’ll do for me.

Zibby: You should talk to Christina Geist. She’s a best-selling children’s book author. She’s also a marketing guru and runs a company called Boombox. They make these customized, beautiful boxes. They have this way of easily having people collaborate on a box, so if it’s someone’s birthday, getting twenty-seven people to put in a quote. Then they print it and make it look pretty and then put it in the box and make it a package. That could be an interesting box for you because you could customize it with some of the quotes from your book.

Corie: I’ll check it out. Definitely, I’ll check it out.

Zibby: I could put the two of you in touch. It’s called Boombox Gifts. Just a thought.

Corie: Thank you.

Zibby: What advice would you have for aspiring authors?

Corie: Never give up. If you want to do it, if that’s your dream, do not give up. Two things, I would say. You have to always work on your craft. You got to just make it as good as you can make it. Don’t give up. You just can’t give up. There’s a lot of rejection involved. There is so much competition. So many people want to be writers. Tell your best story. Don’t give up. Get it out there.

Zibby: Love that. Amazing. Corie, thank you so much. It’s been so nice to chat about your book and all these great stories. You’re a really great writer. I’m glad that you’re getting your stuff out into the world. Better late than never type of thing. It’s really awesome and inspiring. It’s just really inspiring.

Corie: Thank you, Zibby. This was so nice. I do feel like we’re neighbors. We’re so close.

Zibby: That’s crazy. I know, I can’t believe it. I’m sure I’ll walk out the door in five minutes and bump into you.

Corie: Now we’ll see each other, yeah.

Zibby: We’ll have to do that intentionally very soon.

Corie: Thank you so much.

Zibby: Thank you. Congratulations.

Corie: Thank you. You too.

Zibby: Thank you. Bye.



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