Elizabeth Passarella, GOOD APPLE

Elizabeth Passarella, GOOD APPLE

Zibby Owens: Welcome, Elizabeth. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Good Apple: Tales of a Southern Evangelical in New York.

Elizabeth Passarella: Thank you so much for having me. I’m thrilled to be here.

Zibby: By the way, I love this cover too. I’m holding it up on our video which listeners can’t see. It’s particularly inviting. Elizabeth, tell me how you decided to write this book. Why did you decide to write this book? Tell listeners, also, basically what it’s about.

Elizabeth: Good Apple is a collection of essays. It’s stories about my life. To be completely honest with you, I didn’t really set out to write this exact book. I’ve had a career in magazines. I’ve written for women’s magazines and been an editor of magazines for about twenty years. I’ve always loved nonfiction. It’s what I love to read. It’s what I love to write. I always assumed that maybe I would write a book about my life experiences, but I never really anticipated bringing my faith into it. I just assumed I would write a funny, interesting, relatable book about life. I was thinking about all the magazine articles that I have edited or written over the years. There’s so many that talked about how to make your marriage stronger or how to be a better parent or how to deal with a difficult friendship. There were many times where I’d get to the end of that article and I would think, this is great and I love all these tips, but what if you follow all this advice and it still doesn’t work out? What if you follow all these tips and your marriage is still really hard or that friendship still falls apart? I’m a Christian, and so for me, that’s what my foundation is built on. That’s the viewpoint that I look through when I deal with difficult situations.

I was talking to a colleague and a former editor who now happens to be my book agent. We were talking about ideas for books. She said, “It would be great to write about your life in New York or raising kids in Manhattan or small-space living, all these things you’re passionate about, but it’s got to appeal to all those evangelical Christians in the middle of the country.” I thought, oh, I can do that. That’s who I am. She was a little bit surprised. She said, “You’re not what I think of when I think of a Christian. When I think about that, you’re not what I think of. You’re this New Yorker. You hold a lot of the same views and political views and world views that I do.” That was another big part of it. I just felt like this kind of book, in terms of how non-Christians look at Christians, doesn’t really exist. I wanted to write something where I gave a different viewpoint of what people think of as a Christian.

I think it works the other way. All the people that I grew up with in the South — that’s where I grew up — and people who are really strong Christians, I think they look at New Yorkers and they look at the way I live my life and think, I can’t possibly have anything in common with her. She’s raising three kids in this two-bedroom apartment in Manhattan in this crazy city. I wanted them to look at these stories and see themselves too and realize that we have a lot in common. It is stories about my life. I talk about growing up in the South. I talk about growing up in a pretty conservative, republican family and kind of switching my political views as I got older and moved to New York and lived here for a while. I tell stories about heavy stuff. I talk about miscarriages. I talk about death of a loved one. There’s a lot of lighthearted, funny stories too. There’s stories about a rat getting trapped in my apartment building, which was not a great day. There’s some light stuff and some heavy stuff. I feel like most of all, I just want it to be entertaining. It’s mostly embarrassing stories about me. I look the worst of everyone in my family. As personal as the stories are, I definitely come out looking the worst.

Zibby: One of my favorite stories was when you got trapped in the elevator. I think it was your building super or somebody had to take the baby out of the crib and sit and play on the floor while you got extracted. That’s such a New York story. That was just so perfect.

Elizabeth: Everyone hears that and they think, you left your baby in your apartment while you went downstairs to the basement? I said, yeah. If you lived in a huge house in the suburbs somewhere and you went out to your mailbox to get the mail while your baby was napping, that’s how far away from him I was. That’s New York living. I left him in the apartment. Then I got stuck in the elevator for almost an hour. Yes, the staff of my building — we’ve lived here for twelve years, so they know us very well. This very nice man who works in our building went upstairs and got my baby out of the crib and played with him when he woke up from his nap.

Zibby: You were so funny. You were like, they call me Passa, and I’m not sure if they think that’s my last name or not, but it’s too late now because they’ve been doing this for a decade.

Elizabeth: Yes. You always have those people who have your name slightly off, but you’ve known them too long. You’ve passed the point of no return where you can tell them they’ve got it wrong. There’s one guy in my building that I think it’s just his nickname for us.

Zibby: There was this whole religious dimension to the book, but that was only a slice of the book. You could’ve almost done it without it. I feel like it didn’t permeate every single chapter and every single experience. It just set a framework for it. I don’t feel like it in any way left anybody out. First of all, you define evangelical and what it really means, but also the fact that you grew up with a Jewish father. Then you have a whole chapter on Jews I’ve Known and Loved or some funny title you had. I should look up the title.

Elizabeth: To All the Jews I’ve Loved.

Zibby: Yes, yes, yes, To All the Jews I’ve Loved. So funny. And just your experience in New York and different religions. There’s some where you put in your points of view and how it is to be a democrat among a lot of people who aren’t in your background. Then it’s also so many other things. I found that part super interesting and not talked about as much. I also thought it could’ve been amazing even if it wasn’t for that. In other words, that made it more interesting, but that was only one piece of it. I don’t want people to think, even though it’s part of the title, that that’s what this was all about because I don’t think it was all about religion at all.

Elizabeth: I struggled at first whether I should put that word in the title. You’re right. I don’t want to turn anybody off. If you are someone who has a different faith background or no faith background at all, I really wrote the book originally — primarily, when I thought about my readership, I thought about the people that I do life with in New York, people who I know through my kids’ school, people I work with, people that live in my building, my neighbors. I really thought about a non-Christian audience. That’s who I wrote it for. I think there are plenty of Christian women who will pick up this book and enjoy it because I don’t think there’s a lot of Christian books out there that have an irreverent sense of humor. I hope that this book does. Yes, I think you’re right. I absolutely wrote it primarily for the audience that I do life with all the time and anyone else who doesn’t come from this background.

Zibby: I found that part fascinating. I’m glad you put it in the title because I like to hear other people’s experiences and points of view. I don’t want to only read about my own. That would get boring after a while. You want to learn about new things and new backgrounds and what makes you tick and all the rest. I thought it was a really interesting piece about a culture and a particular sect, I guess, that I didn’t know that much about ahead of time. That was great.

Elizabeth: You said I sort of addressed this in the introduction of the book. The word evangelical has become so charged. I certainly do not walk around the streets of New York using that word to describe myself very often. It’s become such a politically charged word. That was something else I wanted to — not like I’m trying to take the word back. I don’t really care. It’s just a word. I also feel like people do have a misconception. For me, it’s a theological framework as opposed to a political one. I think that it’s been sort of co-opted by politics, unfortunately, which is why most evangelical Christians, even if they are, really don’t use that word anymore, nor do I. From a theological standpoint, I think it still does define me.

Zibby: I love how much you put in about your marriage because I’ve been feeling very snoopy lately. I don’t know if that’s even the right word. I love peeking into the cracks in the curtains and seeing what’s going on in other people’s marriages, people who are my age, because for a while, I feel like nobody was really talking about it. Only your closest friends, I feel like, share. That’s why so many people get divorced and you’re shocked by it. I know I got divorced and I never talked about my marriage while I was in it. I rarely do now anyway. I just always appreciate when people are willing to share. The fact that you shared how you yell at your husband or that you get annoyed that he plays golf all day and do this passive-aggressive thing where you pretend like you have to work get better at going to the spa. There are just so many things you put in that were so relatable and awesome and just amazing. We were talking before about how we had both married tennis pros. I’m remarried. Has your tennis gotten better? He has ever taught you?

Elizabeth: No, my tennis is not great. We do not play together. When we were dating, we played occasionally. It turned into a huge fight. Yes, I clearly fight a lot with my husband. It did not go well when we were dating and we would try to play tennis together. He is a very laid-back guy. His reaction to every shot I missed or anything that I wasn’t doing well was, “You just need to play more.” I’m like, “No, I want you to tell me exactly what to do. I want you to tell me exactly how to hold the racket or exactly which way to move to make that shot go in.” He’d say, “You just need to play more.” It did not go well. I just didn’t really play that much. You know because you live in New York too, it can be hard to find a tennis court in New York City.

Zibby: Very hard.

Elizabeth: Manhattan does not lend itself well to playing a lot of tennis. I don’t. I don’t play a lot of tennis. I don’t love to exercise anyway. He does play with my kids, which is nice. He plays with the kids. He plays on his own. It’s sort of like golf. He says all the time, “I wish you would take up golf. I wish you’d play golf.” I said, “You say that, but I think, actually, you just want me to play the one day out of the year that you can’t find anyone else to play with. I don’t think you actually want me to play golf with you on a regular basis. You would really like to play with people who know what they’re doing.” It’s the same with tennis. He wants to get a workout. He wants to play with guys that he went to college with and they played together. I don’t play a lot of tennis. I’m not terrible, but I’m not good.

Zibby: If you guys were to play golf together, I don’t think that would help with the fighting.

Elizabeth: No. No, it would not. I agree with you. I think I make people uncomfortable sometimes because I tell all the dirty secrets about my marriage or how much I don’t like my children sometimes, but you know, we all feel it. We all feel it. Even if nobody’s talking about it, they’re definitely doing it. They’re definitely having those arguments behind closed doors. I tend to have a temper. I’m much more of a verbal confrontational person. I probably fight more than the average person does. That’s, in some sense, where the faith element comes in too because I feel like I’m very secure in who I am and what grounds me, and so I feel like I don’t have to put forth any sort of image of being the perfect wife or the perfect mom because I am definitely not. I am very below average on both of those things. I feel really confident being honest because I know where my real identity comes from in a sense, if that makes sense. It’s easy for me to be, I guess, shameless.

Zibby: It’s refreshing. As a reader in particular, it’s, A, very relatable, and B, very entertaining. It’s funny. All the stuff you’re saying is very entertaining and funny. That’s great. What else can you want in a book?

Elizabeth: Thank you. Yes, that’s the goal.

Zibby: Even when you talk about your basically growing up in the city, growing up into adulthood I should say, and even your days of — as I read this when you were at Tortilla Flats and Automatic Slims and all this stuff, I was like, I was there. I bet you we were in the same place at the same time. We’re about the same age.

Elizabeth: I know. We are.

Zibby: Everything you kept going through, I was like, me too! It was crazy because when I picked up this book, I never expected to have so much in common with the author of this book not knowing who you were or anything about you. I was just like, oh, this will be one of those experiences that I don’t really relate to, but it’ll be so interesting. In fact, you were probably on my block. It was crazy. Also, funny how you included all of the stuff almost explaining yourself to people who don’t live in New York as if you’ve never lived — I’ve lived in New York my whole life, so I get it. Tell me about including all of that.

Elizabeth: Listen, I have tons of friends who still live in Memphis, Tennessee, where I grew up. I have tons of friends who live all over the South and other cities. They look at my life and they think — most of them have known me a long time at this point. We live in an apartment that’s two bedrooms. We have three kids. One of my children sleeps in a closet. It seems very normal to us. I do think that people are very intrigued. I have this whole chapter that’s sort of a Q&A that talks about all the quirky things about living in an apartment and living in a building in Manhattan. I think that’s fascinating to people, especially now. When I wrote this book, of course, it was finished a year ago right before the pandemic hit. I finished in January of 2020. Now I think even more so, people are curious about New York. What’s going on? What’s life like there?

I really think of the book as kind of a love letter to New York. Like you said, I moved here right after college. I’ve lived here for twenty years. I really feel like this is my home now. I feel so much like a New Yorker. I love the city so much. I think it’s such a wonderful place to raise kids. It’s such a beautiful community. That’s just come out more even since the pandemic started because a lot of people left. You’re much more confined to your neighborhood, and so you get to know your neighbors more. You’re happier to see them when you go outside. It has made the city feel like a really resilient small town to me in some ways. I just love New York so much. I wanted this book to be sort of a love letter to the city too. Everyone loves New York. Even if they don’t live here, they’re curious about what life is like here. I hope that I give people a little bit of a glimpse, and it’s a good one.

Zibby: Totally. It’s nice to see a mom in New York telling how it is. Everyone’s like, how can you do that with kids? I’m like, well, you do it. You just do it. I don’t know. You just do.

Elizabeth: Like you, my husband grew up here. I do give people the caveat that, for him, this is his hometown. When we first started having kids and there was something that would seem sort of strange to me, it wasn’t strange to him because this was how he grew up. When we started letting our daughter walk home from school just this year by herself, I thought, is this a good idea? Should we do this? He’s like, “Oh, my gosh. When I was in third grade, I was walking to Johnny so-and-so’s house down Park Avenue,” or whatever it was. She’s not in third grade, by the way. She’s in fifth grade. He was doing all these things growing up. It just gives me a nice perspective. He grew up here. He’s a very normal person. It made everything feel a little more palatable.

Zibby: I grew up in New York, and I believe I’m a normal person — my husband might disagree with that — and so are all the people I grew up with. I think there’s a lot of misconceptions about what it means.

Elizabeth: My husband likes to say more people are born and raised in New York than any other city in the country. Isn’t that amazing? When people say, “Oh, my gosh, you’re raising kids there?” he’s like, “Yes. Lots of kids grow up in New York.” It’s true.

Zibby: I bet I knew him. Anyway, we’ll come back to that. It’s also a very small town. Kids who grew up in New York, though, at least in — well, I don’t know.

Elizabeth: He was on the East Side too. I don’t know if you were on the East Side.

Zibby: Yes, I was on the Upper East Side. It’s just a very small world between siblings and people you know. In that way, I do also feel like it’s a small town. Tell me about your decision to include the whole piece about your miscarriages, which also feels very timely with the op-ed the other day. How can I blank on her name?

Elizabeth: Meghan Markle.

Zibby: Thank you, which I thought was really great, by the way.

Elizabeth: It was.

Zibby: Tell me about that decision.

Elizabeth: That was another one where I have no problem talking about it. I had two kids who are ten and eight now. When they were probably six and four, we had thought about having another kid. I was thirty-nine. I had two miscarriages before I finally got pregnant with our two-and-a-half-year-old now. I didn’t have him until I was forty-one. Obviously, the statistics would bear out that it’s very possible that I would miscarry. The first miscarriage I had, as I started talking to friends — anyone will tell you this. Once you start talking to people, you realize so many people you know went through the exact same thing. It is so common. I think that maybe the reason people don’t talk about it is it’s just such a personal bodily issue. It takes place usually in private or in the hospital. There’s a lot of hormonal issues that you go through. Again, I will almost talk about anything. I’m the person at the dinner party that you either really love or really don’t like that I’m talking about a lot of personal things.

I just wanted other people to read it and realize that, yes, of course, it’s common. We know that statistically. You probably know a lot of people who have been through this. It’s different for every woman. There were certain commonalities when I started talking to other friends who had miscarriages, this hormonal cliff that you fall off a couple of weeks after this happened, just the simple things of you’re not pregnant anymore, but if you take a pregnancy test, it will still show that you’re pregnant. That is so emotionally wrenching. I think that that’s something people don’t talk about. All of us have sat and peed on a thousand different sticks to try to figure out if we are pregnant. Then you’ve lost a baby, and you pee on these sticks and it still says you’re pregnant. Even just that small detail is something that was so impossibly hard for me to get through. I want people to know, hey, this happens. This is one of these really annoying things that you’re going to come up against. This happens. It’s normal. It will pass.

Zibby: Why keep peeing on the sticks?

Elizabeth: I don’t know. You’re waiting for your hormone levels to drop to the point that you don’t appear pregnant so that you can try again. That’s the big thing. The minute you miscarry, you think, when can I try again? It’s just a lot of waiting. It’s a lot of time.

Zibby: Got it. Understood. When did you find the time and how did you find the space and all of that to write this book with three kids?

Elizabeth: That’s a good question. I will say, I said this earlier, but the book was finished before the pandemic. If the book had not been finished before the pandemic, I’m not sure we would be talking right now. That has made work so much more difficult. I work from home. I’ve been a freelance writer for a long time. I work from home. When we did have this third kid and he’s home with a sitter or someone, I couldn’t work at home anymore. I pay a lot of money to babysitters. The summer of 2019, I paid a lot of money to summer camps and day camps to keep my kids occupied. I actually go to a library. It’s probably near you. It’s the New York Society Library.

Zibby: I know you were going to say that.

Elizabeth: It’s a private library. A lot of writers go there. It is not expensive. It’s a bargain in Manhattan for a yearly membership. They have really sort of sad, depressing desks in the stacks. They have really nice private rooms, but I never use those. I just go to the stacks. I sit at a little desk. I’m completely isolated. You can’t even talk on the phone. You can’t bring food. That’s where I wrote this book. I wrote it in the stacks of the New York Society Library on 79th and Madison.

Zibby: I feel like with enough time, I will interview everybody who’s ever tried to write a book in the New York Society Library.

Elizabeth: Yes. I already know a couple of them. I see them sometimes.

Zibby: So funny.

Elizabeth: It’s a beautiful old library. It’s a beautiful building. It’s quiet. There’s just nobody bothering you. That’s what I did. I paid as many babysitters as I could afford.

Zibby: That’s awesome. I love that. What are you hoping to do next? Do you have more essay books, or are you good with getting all of this out?

Elizabeth: Yes, I am under contract to write another one, so I’ve got to come up with some more stories. I’ve got to have some more things to happen. We’ll see. It’s interesting as this book makes its way out in the world, what resonates with people and which chapters people really love and which ones seem to attract the most attention. Listen, I’m a one-trick pony. I do not have a lot of talents. This is about it. I’m not a fiction writer. There’s going to be no romance novel for me. This is what I enjoy and what I like writing. Hopefully, yes, I will write another book of essays. I would love to do that down the road.

Zibby: Awesome. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Elizabeth: Oh, gosh. I came up through the magazine world to the journalism world. I came to book publishing that way. I would say, from my perspective, you probably will write a lot of things that you don’t like to write about before you get to write about something you do like to write about. I think about all the years as a young editorial assistant or assistant editor, how I wrote so many captions for fashion spreads that I did not care about at all, but it taught me so many lessons. It taught me about word choice and how to say something in the most economical way possible. I spent a lot of time looking over proofs and seeing what editors changed and why it sounded better that way. I studied those. It made me a better writer. Don’t shy away from those kinds of assignments even if it’s not what you want to do. Just be humble and use everything as learning experience. I would also say, this is something that my friend Catherine Newman who I used to work with at Real Simple — I think she’s been on your podcast. She’s a wonderful human and writer. She said be nice, turn things in on time, be easy to work with, do your job well, and be nice to everybody. I cannot tell you how many people I worked with as assistants who are now the editors-in-chief of magazines or who are content directors at really big platforms. You just never know where someone’s going to end up. Be a hard worker. Be nice. Be pleasant to work with. Do a great job because the people that you’re working with now, even though it might be at a really small publication or someone who’s even younger than you, you never know, they could go on to have a really big job that could be really helpful to you down the road.

Zibby: I love that. That’s great advice. Awesome. Thank you, Elizabeth. That was fantastic. One day, we can meet in Central Park.

Elizabeth: Yes. We can go on a walk around the reservoir. Thank you for everything that you do for authors. It’s just so uplifting and wonderful, especially for people like me who are first timers. Thanks for having me.

Zibby: I’m really excited for your book to come out. I’ll be cheering for you.

Elizabeth: Thank you.

Zibby: Have a great day.

Elizabeth: Bye.

Zibby: Bye.

Elizabeth Passarella, GOOD APPLE