Zibby speaks to author Eliza Minot about In the Orchard, a profoundly personal and masterfully crafted novel about motherhood, modern family, and love, as seen through the life of a young wife and mother on a single day. Eliza reveals what inspired her to write this story–it involves a toilet and the fear of debt. She also describes her journey to writing and publishing this book, which began in 2009 and continued to evolve while she raised four children, taught at a university, enrolled in an MFA program, and survived a pandemic. Finally, she shares the books she loves reading and her best advice for aspiring authors.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Eliza. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss In the Orchard.

Eliza Minot: Thank you for having me so much. I’m so delighted to be here.

Zibby: Yay. Could you please tell listeners what your book is about?

Eliza: I just was thinking, you are the first person that I’m actually talking about the book with.

Zibby: No way.

Eliza: Yeah. I should’ve prepared a little better. I was thinking, oh, my god, I don’t even have my galley near me. In terms of a summary —

Zibby: — It doesn’t have to be perfect. Start with this so I don’t put you on the spot, when did you have the idea to write this book? What was the germ of the idea that launched the book? Maybe you’ll just find your way into a description.

Eliza: Excellent question. I can summarize it. I did write it. I can. As you might know, it’s not really heavy plot driven. When did I have this germ? Basically, it was a long, long time ago. I, like you, have four children, who are now grown. When I first sold this book, I had written maybe seventy-five, eighty pages. It was 2009 or ’10, a long time ago. I had just given birth to my fourth. Not just, but he was very small. All my kids were little. They were close together, within two years of each other.

Zibby: You had four kids in two years?

Eliza: No, no, my god. They were within two years of each other. One would be six. One would be almost four. Wouldn’t that be something?

Zibby: I was like, wow, that is impressive. How many twins? Is there a triplet thrown in there? How did she do that?

Eliza: No, no twins or anything. It was staggered every nineteen, twenty months. That’s a whole other conversation you and I could have, I’m sure. Anyway, the idea at the time was sort of — I was reading The New York Times. There was a big foldout on home equity and debt. I had looked at our toilet, which is called American Standard. I don’t know why I put those two together, but I thought, that will be my next book. It’ll be about middle-class family debt, American debt, money. Needless to say, I did not write it very quickly, nor did I really get to writing it. I thought, you know what? I’m just going to raise my kids. I’m focusing on this. I started teaching, so that took up time. I went back and got my master’s. I just was — you can understand — a busy person sort of thinking of this book the whole time in my mind. It definitely veered away from a book about families and debt and what had been preoccupying me all those years.

Zibby: I was like, am I on the right Zoom?

Eliza: I know. It was called The American Standard. It was going to be a whole completely different thing. As my editor said, “I think it’s outgrown that title.” I could summarize it as an ode to motherhood or maternal things. All of the confusing things that I was preoccupied during those times — not confusing. We all are born. We all die. We all have had someone care for us, whether it was a mother or a surrogate mother, someone like a mother, family member, guardian, whoever. Somebody does that. It just blew my mind. I know it blows all mothers’ minds, or whoever’s doing that caregiving. It’s what I was preoccupied with for so long that I felt like, I’ve got to write something about this before I move on. Even though I wasn’t actively working on it, I certainly was doing research. Do you know what I mean?

Zibby: Yes.

Eliza: It was all the contradictions of raising little kids. It’s both terrifying and comforting. It’s wonderful and dreadful. It’s miraculous and completely mundane. All of that, I just wanted to try to capture somehow. What is it about? It’s, very briefly in a nutshell, logline, young mother has given birth recently to her fourth baby, is having a dream about being debt-free, which goes back to the original book way back when, and wakes up nursing in the middle of the night, thinks about her past, thinks about grief — her own mother died when she was young — thinks about other mothers that she met who maybe she knows well and some she doesn’t know at all well but that she deals with on a daily basis. It’s just all that input of all those other minds. Then the family rises and goes to an apple orchard. They have — not they. The mother, her name is Maisie, with her little newborn Esme, who she’s with all the time, she shouldn’t be going to an orchard when the baby is only two weeks old, but this is the kind of situation that we’re in. She’s kind of pushing it. She has two interesting interactions with older women, one quite old and one sort of grandmother age and a younger woman who just found out she’s pregnant. That’s not giving anything away, not that there’s any high stakes. There’s wonder and danger. That makes it sound like a murder mystery in the orchard.

Zibby: Wonder and danger, that’s good. A tale of motherhood, wonder, and danger. You can use that.

Eliza: It’s both expansive and claustrophobic being a mom, for sure. I think the book might be too. I don’t mean that in a bad way, but that in the brain wormhole.

Zibby: It’s someone else’s lived experience. You’re in someone else’s shoes. It’s always interesting, even if you and I are both mothers of four, how different our experiences are in each moment and how some moments are a thousand years long. Others are quick. I think it adds context to each of our individual lives by hearing about a life like Maisie’s and what she’s thinking about and dreaming about and doing and all of that. Some of the stuff that doesn’t necessarily get talked about front and center, it’s important. It’s all important stuff.

Eliza: Thank you. It is all so fleeting. If nothing else, just like when someone dies, when someone grows and is born, it’s surreal. Yet it’s not. It’s as real as life gets. It’s kooky, trippy. Let’s put it that way.

Zibby: How old are your kids now?

Eliza: Twenty-two, twenty, eighteen, sixteen. How about you?

Zibby: I have twins who will be sixteen in June. I skipped the line with the twins there. Then eight and nine.

Eliza: Cute.

Zibby: I know. I have little guys, so I have a ways to go, but that’s okay.

Eliza: That’s fun. Not fun. Twins have always fascinated me. We won’t get into that, obviously, right now. To have them at the top of the family must be a cool dynamic, interesting dynamic.

Zibby: Interesting dynamic. We’ll move on. It is interesting. They’re very different kids. I’ll just leave it at that. After all this time working on it, pausing, more education, all of it, tell me about selling it and how you went about that whole process.

Eliza: This is the interesting thing. I wrote two books before, one when I was twenty-nine, one right before I sold it. It was published when my fourth was born, but I had sold it when my third was being born. I had written them and then sold them to my editor, who I love, who’s wonderful. I thought, I’m a writer now. I used to work in television. I’m living outside of New York. I’ve got to work, so I’m going to be a big girl and write some pages and then sell the book to my editor. It was at a time when the market was terrible. This was a long time ago. This was in 2010.

Zibby: Wait, did you say earlier — when you said that, I wasn’t sure if you meant — I’m sorry.

Eliza: Eons ago. I didn’t say it was sold. I was just working it. It was the first time I’d sold early, so it was kind of hanging over me. I’m not Anne Rice. My editor’s not like, “We need it now.” It’s like, “We understand you’re raising a family. You’re busy.” It’s your problem, not really theirs. It evolved. It was my own headache to not have it turned in. I had sold it before, which was both wonderful and, not crippling because it wasn’t difficult — let’s put it this way. The market wasn’t great. It wasn’t inspiring where you’re like, I got to fix it, tie it all up right now.

Zibby: Then how did you know it was done?

Eliza: Good question. COVID actually kind of made me do it. I was teaching a lot. The few times that I had finalist for professor stuff, they were like, “You don’t have a master’s. We can’t have you come and teach here. You can’t teach graduate school.” I thought, okay. Rutgers-Newark is right nearby. Jayne Anne Phillips had just started the program there, the MFA. Not just, but a few years before. It was fabulous. I had a presidential fellowship. I was teaching undergrads. I was being paid to go to school. I was forty-five. It was great. I’ve never been, really, in workshops, except for in college. I went to Barnard. That’s where I had writing workshop experience. That’s what I was sort of basing it all on when I was teaching. What else did we do? Just making it up as I went. I thought, I’ll go there, and I’ll finish my book. I went. I wrote a lot. I shared some of American Standard, as it was then, but maybe fifteen pages. Some of my classmates, colleagues would recognize little bits in this book. I didn’t work on it. I worked on other stuff. That was one of those, come out of there, and I’m still not done with the book. It still begot a lot of reading and writing. Definitely, inspiring just to be back thinking like that and thinking in totally different ways that I hadn’t even been thinking at all before. That was 2017, 2018 that I finished. Then I was teaching a little more. My kids were still completely around because they were all teenagers. That was probably more tight house, let’s put it that way, head and mind.

Then they did start to go off, but then COVID happened. Everyone was here. Being stuck in the house — I’d never done this before. I’d hear about writers, people, artists who get up early in the morning and get a lot done. I’d think, oh, my god, that’s the last thing I would ever be able to do, but I did start to do that, Zibby. It actually worked. I did have a lot of written stuff. Occasionally, maybe I’d go up to Maine where my sister has a house for five days. I’d get forty pages. I’d do stuff in chunks. I had things accumulating. Then I finally was like, okay. During COVID when I would get up in the morning, I was quite productive because it was the only time when our house was quiet. It was lovely. I would get work done. It was like being stuck at home, it was good for my work. Let’s put it that way. Then I just gave myself, got to finish by August or whatever. That was 2021. Now here we are. I finished it, 2022, final. Now it’s finally going to come out. It’s not like I was working on it for fifteen years, but somewhere in my head, I was, certainly. I couldn’t even get beyond ten hours of motherhood because I just had to focus. Next book will be more expansive.

Zibby: Are you already working on another book?

Eliza: A couple things are percolating. A little bit.

Zibby: What do you like to read?

Eliza: I like to read a lot of different things. I’m terrible at getting tons of books out at the library and then impulsively asking them to — our library is being renovated, so it’s extra easy to request books and then go pick them up like you’re at a bookstore. Then I don’t end up reading them. Maybe one of them, I read. I like reading, right now, mostly interior, like this book a little bit — it’s less, to me — not all my whole life long, but just right now — less about what is happening to a person. The more interesting thing to me is how they’re living or how they’re thinking, how they’re coping, how they’re reacting to things that have already happened, how they’re moving through. Deborah Levy, I’m thinking of books like that that I’ve read. Rachel Cusk, some of those. I read those a while ago, but you know what I mean. It’s almost like reading personal essays, in a weird way, combined with poetry, which I like reading too. Of course, I love a good plot book. Lately, that’s the kind of stuff I’ve been reading.

Zibby: Poetic musings.

Eliza: Yes, I do. That’s sort of where my mind — I can lock in and go. I’m glad to just be there.

Zibby: Do you feel like you’re really organized when it comes to your private life and your kids and all of that? It takes a certain amount of logistical operational efficiencies to have four kids. Do you feel like in different spheres, you have different paces or that your focus zooms in on one for a while? When you were talking about writing this in batches and going back to the kids, how does your mind work?

Eliza: Oh, my gosh, I don’t know how it works. I don’t want to swear, but everything is half, or not even half. Everything’s sort of spread thin, which, writing-wise, is okay because you don’t want to be too perfectionist. Let’s face it. Otherwise, you won’t get anything done. I just give it up and try to do what I can and then hope for the best. Even this book, I often am amazed that it actually makes sense, in a way, to people. It’s just surreal in the same way that raising a kid is sometimes surreal. You look, and you’re like, oh, my god, you’re eighteen now. You’re a human all your own. Not, it’s surreal, but you know what I mean. That’s a weird answer. I’m not that inefficient because I’ve managed to raise kids and I’ve also managed to write a book. I’ve managed to teach. I can do it. I’m not super efficient. I want to applaud you and also thank you for all of your efficiency, Zibby. I’m a very reluctant Instagram, all of that stuff, but when I am, I’m like, go, Zibby! You’re doing awesome. You’re killing it, as they say. Better than that. With such a light touch, you seem to be getting so much done so efficiently.

Zibby: Thank you. I don’t know if it’s such a light touch. I’m touching everything.

Eliza: When things look easy is the best thing for things to look. I’m sure it’s not easy, but it looks it, which brings me back to — if you could see the look on the face of many of my family when I’m sitting at the dining room table trying to write my book, it’s like, what the hell is she doing? It is satisfying to have something hard actually happening. A real novel is being published. They were little. They didn’t know that I’d written books before. They’d see them, but whatever. They don’t care.

Zibby: They must be proud of you. Are they excited? Do they care?

Eliza: I think a little, yeah.

Zibby: What advice would you have for aspiring authors? What would you say if one of your kids decided to be an author?

Eliza: I would mostly tell, like what I tell my students, and it’s so boring, but just to read a lot. Read, read, read. Just read and read. If you want to be an author, you do have to sit down at the dining room table and have people looking at you funny. I tell my students that too. The hardest part of writing is actually writing. You got to sit down and write a lot to accumulate writing, or at least sit there and — I don’t know. You’ve written a book. You know. It’s like sitting and thinking you’re getting work done when, are you getting work done? What is work? How much did you write? Is that the thing? What are you measuring? Pages? It just feels humiliating sometimes. I got a good paragraph. I am an introverted person. I’ve always compulsively written. It’s not a chore. It’s sort of a comfort for me.

Zibby: I like that. That’s nice. Amazing. This has been really fun. I’m really glad I could help you fine-tune your pitching. Thank you for the book. I didn’t even read the sections. It was a beautiful, lyrical take on life. It’s always great to have a new framework for thinking about something, just a shift in perspective. It’s beautiful and welcome, especially as a fellow mother. I’m so happy, I have to say, that the days of waking up and nursing are behind me.

Eliza: Me too.

Zibby: It’s nice to read about.

Eliza: Yes. I don’t mean the tedium of it. I did feel like, why haven’t I read a book more about this? I get it. I get why, but it does seem undervalued in terms of the kind of — I don’t mean high art, but the sort of poetic —

Zibby: — Literary.

Eliza: Yeah. It’s intense.

Zibby: It’s intense. I was trying to think of this other book. It was an Australian author. I’ll think of it.

Eliza: I’m thinking of Dept. of Speculation. Even, Lydia Davis has a cool — I forget the title. Not Thoughts with the Baby.

Zibby: Thank you.

Eliza: Thank you.

Zibby: I hope to meet you in person. We’re not so far apart.

Eliza: Yes. Thanks a lot. I like your library. It looks so beautiful.

Zibby: Thank you.

Eliza: Bye-bye. Thanks, Zibby.

Zibby: Thanks. Bye.


IN THE ORCHARD by Eliza Minot

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