Debut author Courtney Preiss joins Zibby to discuss WELCOME HOME, CAROLINE KLEIN, a warm, big-hearted, laugh-out-loud novel about a newly single young woman who reluctantly returns to her Jersey Shore hometown after her father has a bad fall—not to be his caretaker, but to replace him in his local men’s softball league. Courtney talks about her protagonist, Caroline, whose life unravels with the loss of her job, apartment, and boyfriend in rapid succession. She delves into themes of identity, love, heartbreak, mischances, what-ifs, and returning home. Finally, she reflects on her path to writing, the role of humor in her life, navigating the publishing industry, and the importance of finding community as a writer.


Zibby: Welcome, Courtney. Thank you so much for coming on Moms Don't Have Time to Read Bucks to discuss Welcome Home, Caroline Klein. 

Courtney: Thank you so much for having me. I listen to this podcast all the time, and this is like a big writer dream come true to be part of chatting with you, so thank you so much for having me, really. 

Zibby: Oh my gosh, I love hearing that, and your book made me laugh so much, even in the beginning when you're like, who is Ross? Oh my gosh, like I laugh out loud reading your writing, like, so funny. Anyway, I just really appreciate your sense of humor.

Courtney: That's the highest compliment to me, so thank you. 

Zibby: No, it's, it's true. It's like, I just, you know, so funny. Okay. Why don't you tell listeners what your book is about, please. 

Courtney: Okay. So Welcome Home, Caroline Klein is about a woman whose life in New York City is just falling apart in every way. She loses her job, her apartment, and her boyfriend in quick succession.

She gets a call from her ailing father that he wants her to return to her Jersey Shore hometown. He doesn't want her as a caretaker, though. He wants her to replace him on the men's softball team, where he's been a local star for decades, and they're on the verge of a championship. Coming home, obviously, feels like home.

you know, mortifying for her, but she really feels like she's out of options. So she moves back just to deal with her father's illness and this hostile team of all men and running into old friends turned rivals. A night gone wrong puts her in the path of her first love. It forces her to decide if she is willing to let go of what she thought her life might look like and embrace the beauty of everything it has the possibility to become.

Zibby: I love that. Oh my gosh. You do so much to get the reader sort of in it right away, in the story. And part of it is this horror at her dealing with her dad who has fallen down a flight of stairs. And, you know, as her, You know, it's kind of uppity, stepmother says, like, he had landed in a very odd position.

And you just, as a reader, you can't help but just like freeze and think about, oh my gosh, what if this were to happen to my parent or my loved one and how horrible and how you would handle. And I love that even Caroline couldn't even tell anyone because she knew if she were to say it out loud, she would start crying like over and over again.

She's like, I'm just not even together. I'm just going to. Focus and like plowhead because otherwise I'll be a mess, which of course is how we all get through life a lot of the time, right? If we just stop and think about it, we would not be able to keep going. Absolutely. So talk about at least like the entry point into the story, how you came up with this.

Has this happened to you in some way? And or is this a fear? Because of course a fear of mine. I mean, I fear everything, but it's one of many fears and how this became a device for sort of getting Caroline home. 

Courtney: It's definitely a fear of mine. I'm, I'm very much playing on my own fear here and I assume, yes, like the, the fear of, you know, everyone to some degree, if not for specifically for their parents, for, for a loved one, I was inspired.

To use this as the entry point for the novel, I had something much less severe, thank God, happen to me on my 30th birthday. I was going home to my Jersey Shore hometown. And I went home to watch my father play in his Sunday men's softball league where he has played for decades. And he, you know, my, my adult brothers had, you know, joined the league after they came of age and my brothers were on the field, but my father had been injured, not a serious injury, thank God, but he had been injured.

So I had this very surreal experience of watching the game with him. which I had never done before. That was very rare for him. So to have him on the sidelines next to me was very strange. And I kind of just kept joking around the whole game. I was like, you know, threatening that my sister and I could take his place, tuck our hair up under our caps and just like take the field, which we joked about for years because my sister and I are both very consummate.

Baseball players, but are not allowed to join this men's league and that, you know, joke threat turned into this idea for welcome home. Caroline Klein. I started writing it in earnest very shortly after I moved to the Jersey Shore. And, you know, I had this long commute. to my office in Manhattan and I would play around with this idea while I was on the Jersey Trans that it all started with watching a softball game with my dad.

Zibby: Oh my gosh, I love that so much. You also just portray heartbreak and love and mischances and what ifs and, you know, the the futures that we imagine and the futures that we have, like all of that. love stuff that like takes up a huge portion of our brains. You have that by introducing us to Caroline at, on the heels of this completely unexpected breakup, which you also make funny.

And like, I will never look at a hamburger the same way as like when she's like, why was this hamburger even there? You know, like it was such an unnecessary, it's not, it wasn't unnecessary. You said something really funny. Like, cause her, her boyfriend breaks up with her over dinner after she's quit her job and all of this.

stuff. And she's like, you couldn't have maybe mentioned this, like, before I quit my job? And he's like, well, I wasn't sure. And it wasn't just that, but it was like this posh life that she had been a part of and like going on these fabulous vacations and, you know, access to this lifestyle that also gets snatched away from her.

And now she's just like, oh, yeah. on a friend's couch. And like, this is like the opposite of like the Hawaiian villa or whatever. Exactly. Talk a little bit about, you know, expectations and, you know, even the notion of her sister sort of hiding her exes like into the closet on that wall or on the mirror, wherever she puts it.

Like, How you store away, you know, the past pain and all of that. 

Courtney: Oh, I hate to start this off and be like, Oh, this happened to me too. That I'm like, Oh my, my father really was injured in the softball game. But the hiding the exes ephemera is actually a tradition in my family and something that my mother and my sister did after my absolute worst breakup in college, when I had to just like.

Come home and like lay face down on the couch for three weeks. They took everything in my bedroom that had anything to do with this X and they hit it in the back of my sister's closet. And, you know, I came home and my room was empty. And, you know, many months or years later, I was in my sister's closet for something and was met with an avalanche of everything from this past relationship.

And I was just like, what is this museum of me going on in here? She's like, Oh yeah, we're trying to spare you. But yes, I do think that getting your heart broken and going through these like ups and downs with Love and relationships is so like when you're able to take a step back, like there's so much of it.

That's like so funny, right? Like in the moment, like it's so devastating and dark. And when you're able to like take even a half step back and just kind of observe yourself from that perspective, you're just like, this is yeah. deeply hilarious. Like the time needs to pass, but I'm a big believer in letting that time pass and turning whatever hurt you into comedy, which is, you know, very Carrie Fisher esque, right?

Take your, take your broken heart, turn it into art. You know, this wasn't top of mind for me while I was writing the opening of the novel, but it's come to me later on, especially as, you know, I've talked to film agents, like we've had some conversations around adaptation And the way that I've come to describe that opening scene is, you know, she goes through a, through an Elwood, she had this like Elwood's esque moment.

And, you know, I think that that's just such an interesting catalyst and such like a memorable catalyst, right? Like who doesn't, who doesn't remember Elwood's getting broken up with in Legally Blonde? She thinks she's about to get proposed to. Caroline thinks that she's, you know, Hot on the heels of moving to the West Coast and living in this beautiful historic apartment with this, you know, man, who's the son of two doctors.

It's every Jewish girl's dream. And yet it all falls apart. And she's, you know, looking down at her plate and she's like, I'm so embarrassed by the woman who ordered this hamburger and champagne mere moments ago, thinking her life was going well. And now. I'm just sitting here heartbroken, man out the door, you know, I think it's real.

I hope it's relatable. I hope that everyone who is having a hard moment. Relationship wise, in love, is able to know that a little while from now it will be funny, I promise. 

Zibby: That's excellent advice. So funny. And even the notion of like, you can't go home again, and you know, all that stuff. Like, who are you when you re inhabit a space where you used to be a certain version of yourself?

Like my mom's apartment, she's moving and it's like, she's putting it on the market or whatever. And I'm like, how can you sell our home? Like maybe I should, I just said to my husband last night, I was like, well, maybe we should sell our apartment and go buy her apartment. And he's like, I feel like you're working out some like, really like some stuff with this.

You know what I mean? Like, is this like, You know, why do you need to go home? Like, what does that mean? You know, so I, I totally relate to this whole, like, what is it about your child and home and this, like, longing and yet rejection at the same time, right? Because you're supposed to be flying the nest, but then there's something so inherently comfortable about it.

Courtney: I relate to that so acutely. Like, when my parents got divorced and they sold the house that we grew up in, my, my young, I'm the oldest of four, Four children. My youngest brother is 11 years younger than me and he's like, one day I'm going to buy back that house. And I'm like, no, you're not like, no, you're not.

But then there's like that little piece of me that's like, Like, what if I were to re inhabit that hou like, I don't know, I, I relate so acutely to that impulse, so, I feel you. It's like, how are you dismantling the museum of me? 

Zibby: Exactly. 

Courtney: What are you thinking? 

Zibby: Yeah. And who's gonna, someone else is just gonna live there?

I know. And then I was like, I could kind of redo it a little bit. Who's room? Like it's not even, I don't know. I, I don't know. I'm like deep into this. I'm sure I'm going to listen to this podcast and be like, Oh, remember that night when I thought about that? I can't believe I even talked to somebody else about it.

Courtney: No, it's good. It's good to have it down. It's good to have record of that. 

Zibby: Oh my gosh. So this is going to sound like a stupid question. Have you always been funny? But like, when did you really like step into your. identity as someone who is funny and if you have it, if you have yet. Oh 

Courtney: My god, I love you.

This is amazing. Okay. I was obsessed with Saturday Night Live when I was a child. Like, I think that there were a bunch of dreams that predated Becoming a novelist and they all sort of like landed me here and now my greatest dream is to be a novelist and now I am a novelist. So that's great. But when I was when I was a child, I wanted to entertain, right?

Like I wanted to entertain. I wanted to perform. I think that I You know, I'm like a triple threat. I can't sing can't act can't dance. So that was like not really On the table for me, but I was definitely Like I was definitely consumed With comedy in that way. I grew up watching a lot of star night live a lot of funny movies I come from a big family and everybody is really funny you know my mom's side of the family is italian and my dad's side is jewish and like You Both of those sort of cultural dynamics are very funny, and then together are inherently funny.

But yeah, I do think that the way that my dream sort of evolved from like, I'm going to be on Saturday Night Live when I was, you know, seven and writing sketches for my family. The Saturday Night Live wannabe to comedic novelist pipeline is, so real. 

Zibby: Wait, so what was the job you were taking New Jersey Transit to work at?

Courtney: So I, it's the job that I currently still work at. I'm the creative director at a, at a marketing agency. And at the time I had just started dating my now husband, who at that point, uh, was He had been a close friend of mine for 12 years and we fell in love and we decided, we decided that we were going to live in New Jersey because he was working for his family's business in New Jersey.

It made more sense than him moving to Brooklyn where I had lived for a decade and doing that sort of funny inverse commute. I'm like, I will move to New Jersey. I will only move to Asbury Park because Asbury Park is Cool. So, yeah. So, Asbury Park to Midtown Manhattan is a long commute and I was taking the train.

This was pre COVID. We moved in August of 2019. So, for a while, it was every single day on the train and I didn't mind it because it gave me a really long time to write. So 

Zibby: I love that. 

Courtney: Is there a 

Zibby: stop in Asbury Park? Like how far is it? 

Courtney: There's a stop, but it is a transfer. So yeah. So at the time I didn't even have a car.

I was really, it was really tough for me to like get out of Brooklyn girl mentality. I didn't have a car. My husband would drop me off at the train station. And in Long Branch every day, which is like technically the terminus. It would be maybe like an hour and a half, an hour, 45 minutes. But if I really wanted to, you could, I could walk down the street to the Asbury Park train station, take that a few stops, transfer.

It's a whole, it's a whole thing. It's a whole thing. That's why people never leave the city because it's just, it's the death of ease, right? When you leave, getting back is just frustrating. 

Zibby: It's, it's probably on purpose. You know, we want people to fight their way back. 

Courtney: Correct. You know, as it should be.

Zibby: Oh my gosh. And do you like living there now? 

Courtney: I do. I really love living here. I think at the time. Look, I had talked to my therapist about moving for months and months before I actually moved. This was during my Saturn return, which is what the book is really about. Honestly, it's the phrase that never gets mentioned in the book, but it is what the book is about, which for listeners who aren't familiar with the concept, it's Saturn return is when you turn 29 and you know the cosmic forces that be, I guess Saturn returns to the spot it was in when you were born and it wreaks havoc on your life.

Everything changes, everything gets upended. And my life really did get upended when I turned 29. That's when I fell in love and when I moved to Asbury Park. So do you have a second sat Saturn return? Do you have another one at 48 or anything? Yes you do. Apparently you do. Apparently you do. It's every 29 years.

It's, it returns, it's when Saturn returns to the spot. I think it's every I'm such an idiot. Wait, isn't that 59? 59. 

Zibby: Yes. 58, not 48. Okay. 

Courtney: 58. Yeah. I went to Emerson, so I can't do math. I like waved out of math. Um, 58 sounds right. Yeah. That like Saturn returns. Yeah. Every 29 years. 

Zibby: Every 29 years. Wow. That's crazy.

So when you wrote the book and you wrote most of it in transit, about how long did it take to write?

Courtney: I started in earnest fall of 2019, and then Covid happened and I was so anxious that I couldn't function for about, pretty much like all of March and April. 

And then Jamie Attenberg has that 1000, 1000 words a summer challenge.

I was like, I'm getting back into this draft. Good for you. It's becoming my happy place. It's becoming my escape from the world around me. Yep. And I, yeah, so I joined her writing challenge and I had never before really posted on social media about writing process stuff because I thought that, you know, If nobody could see what I was working on, then nobody knows when I fail at it.

Um, but I started posting every day to like really participate and connect with other folks who are doing it. I would post that to my Instagram story and be like, Oh, you know, I wrote X number of words at this time. And that accountability is that I, that's what I credit with being able to finish the novel.

So I worked on it from about fall 2019 to, I finished the first draft the day before my 31st birthday. So one year from concept to draft. 

Zibby: It's still really great. You're still so young to have this out, just so you know. I mean, I know maybe it feels like a long time, but I hope you're feeling really good about it.

Courtney: That means a lot to me, so. 

Zibby: Coming from someone who failed to do this at about that age and like really wanted it and had to wait like another two decades to get a book out. So anyway, I hope you feel good. 

Courtney: Thank you. I, I really do. I, I do. I, I had wrote a book of essays that went on submission as a memoir and it died on submission.

So I feel like, I don't know, people hate me a little bit when I'm like, oh, this, yes, this is the first time I tried to write a novel, but it's not the first time I tried to write a book. I definitely have written a book and had it fail spectacularly. So I would revive that book of essays now though. 

Zibby: I bet it's really good.

Courtney: Thank you. From your mouth to God's ear? I would love to revive it one day. 

Zibby: Is it funny? 

Courtney: It is funny. 

Zibby: What's it called? 

Courtney: It's called sitting Shippa for dead celebrities. 

Zibby: That's fine. 

Courtney: Thank you. 

Zibby: I don't know send it to me. 

Courtney: I will, sorry I will. 

Zibby: That's awesome. And what are you writing now? 

Courtney: I sold this book. My real absolute dream come true.

I sold this book in a two book deal to Putnam.

So I am working on my second novel, which I'm still in drafting mode. So I probably shouldn't say too much, but I think that it has these hallmarks that will come to tie eventually all of my work together. Complicated female protagonist trying to find her place in the world, little bit of a family story, a little bit of a love story.

Lots of voicey humor, but yeah, really, really my dream come true to be able to get to do this again for an imprint like Putnam. I just love them. Are you sad that Sally Kim left? I am. My editor for this book actually went to a different imprint once we were done with the editorial process but still, I, you know, I miss her as well.

So her and Sally departing at similar times. I'm very excited for both of them though. And I, I do love the rest of my, my wonderful Putnam team that I work with. 

Zibby: Putnam is awesome. Really great. That's awesome. Okay. So advice for aspiring authors. 

Courtney: Yes. Okay. I highly encourage anyone who is pursuing this to take the class, write the fan letter.

Build your community. Writing is such a solitary act. You really need that community and you really need other folks who understand. What is going on craft wise, industry wise, you know, I joke all the time, but I'm like my therapist and my husband, like both know what publishers marketplace is, which is weird.

Like you will try to lean on the people who you're closest to in your life to like get it. And to some extent they will, but. No one's really going to get it like the other writers. My writer friends are, I always say my writer friends are my favorite friends because we connect on a level that no one else in my life can connect on.

Finding your people is a true gift. So, Give that gift to yourself and I'd also say that you know confidence is really built when you're able to keep a promise that you make to yourself so make the time to write make the time to keep that promise to yourself because nobody is going to pursue that for you be really relentless about finding that time to write and finishing what you start because accountability breeds consistency and consistency is really the key to success.

Zibby: Love it. That's awesome. Well, thank you, Courtney. This was great. Thank you so much for coming on and best of luck with all of it. I'm very excited for you. 

Courtney: Thank you for having me.


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