Erica Katz, THE BOYS' CLUB

Erica Katz, THE BOYS' CLUB

Zibby Owens: This is interesting. The Boys’ Club is the book we’re talking about today and who I interviewed the author about. But the author, Erica Katz, is a pseudonym. I don’t really know what her name was, but that’s the name on the book. She was great. Erica Katz, the book is The Boys’ Club, she is a graduate of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and Columbia Law School and began her career at a major Manhattan law firm. She’s a native of New Jersey and now lives in New York City where she is employed at another large law firm. The Boys’ Club is her first novel. It was already optioned by Netflix.

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

Erica Katz: Thank you so much for having me.

Zibby: I’m so excited to talk to you. I feel like this has been scheduled for so long. Some of my long lead time ones, I’m like, oh, it’s finally coming up. This is exciting.

Erica: This is one of the first podcasts I’m doing, and I sold my book over a year ago. You think you . This is the most bizarre waiting experience of my entire life, especially because I thought it was going to look so different pre-COVID. Now I’ve been waiting over a year. Here we are, no impending launch of speak of.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh. Wait, it’s still coming out, though, right?

Erica: Yeah. No launch party, I mean.

Zibby: Okay. I was like, I didn’t get the memo on that. Okay, good.

Erica: , no nothing. It’s interesting.

Zibby: Aw, my heart really goes out to everybody who this has happened to. It’s just insane.

Erica: Oh, gosh. This is small potatoes compared to how some people are affected by COVID. It just looks different from how I thought it would, but it’s all good. I’m super excited about it.

Zibby: Take me back to when you decided to write this book. I know that you’re a lawyer. There’s a lot of stuff about a firm that you made up, but you also work for a firm. This is a pseudonym, which is a whole nother conversation, which I’m totally impressed you can pull off in today’s day and age. Take me back into when — did you always like to write? Has this been a lifelong dream? Was it a lark? How did we get here?

Erica: I always loved to read and write. I never did anything with professional aspirations, but it was always in the dialogue of my life that I loved to write, etc. English is a way my brain works. Writing things down is a lot of how I make sense of things. I was always that angsty teenager that would write letters that I never sent to my parents when I was mad at them or some boyfriend, whatever that means for . I would just write them down and never send them. I got older. I don’t think I could compute how to make a living creative writing. I think I went to law school more to be financially independent than I did because I had any true passion about being an attorney. I come from a family of doctors. I was told it’s really important to have a profession. I get grossed out by sickness and I don’t like touching people I don’t know, so that sort of left me with law school. There was no way I was becoming a physician.

Zibby: I love how you put that in the book. Maybe this is something your parents said to you. The expectation of the main character’s parents were that she be a doctor or a lawyer or, and then it trails off. Those were the options.

Erica: I think my parents still struggle with a more creative pursuit of a life, but they’ve been unbelievably supportive. I think it was last week, my mom asked me, “When can we officially consider you an author?” I was like, “I think now.” I think she meant, are you going to write another? It’s always like that with them. I think they’re just really science minded, regular paychecks, and 401(k)s. I don’t regret at all or bemoan at all that they instilled that within me because law school was a tremendous education. I went to law school and I became a lawyer. As soon as I say that I was a lawyer and I wrote a book, every lawyer I know hates it. “So great that you’re becoming an author.” The truth is, I didn’t hate it. I don’t hate it. I actually really liked it. It wasn’t my highest and best use as a human being. I also didn’t feel any real need to write creatively until it was about 2016 going into 2017. Trump was running. Brett Kavanaugh was having his confirmation hearings. The Me Too movement was at a boiling point.

I was having a ton of difficulty making sense of the world around me. I started to write with no real aim at writing a novel. The interesting thing was that the book didn’t come out in the letters I had written when I was younger, all first person. It came out first-person fiction, which I thought was really interesting. I think a lot of things that I felt and thought actually were said from other characters’ perspectives, which psychologically was very interesting to me. In retrospect, the more I talk about the process of writing the book, I did write because I was having trouble understanding the perspectives of people around me. I think in the most beautiful way, this book was sort of a therapy for me because I had to understand these other perspectives in the novel. I think it made me, the psychological term is less judgmental and more subtle. Honestly, it just took me out to write a novel. It was all great. It was good fun. I got a lot out of it. I hope everyone else does too.

Zibby: That’s awesome. What was it like? When were you doing this? Did you go to work and then write at night? When did you get it all done?

Erica: I tried everything to do it in the same days that I worked. I tried waking up at five AM and going for a fun and then writing. It’s kind of difficult as a corporate lawyer to duck out early, but I tried that. What I ended up doing was taking chunks of vacation time for a year and a half period. Rather than vacationing, I would just lock myself in my apartment and try to write this book. In between, I would jot down ideas. I found my legal brain so separate from my creative brain that it was difficult to come home from work and write or start checking my email and then go into writing. Part of being an attorney and even working in a law firm — I stopped practicing. Still, working in a law firm is just so precise. The objective every day is not to mince words and to be as direct as possible. I think that’s not the objective when you’re writing and you’re given a lot more leeway to explain your thoughts. I feel lucky HarperCollins gave me the leeway to explain my thoughts for as long as or as short as I wanted to. It’s so different from law. I used to take time away and write. Everyone thought I was nuts. At first, my friends gave me a hard time. My family told me I was going to short-circuit, that the point of a vacation is to vacate your life. When I was just cranking away, I think what people didn’t realize is that writing is a complete vacation for me. I love it. It’s a way to get out of myself. I felt very refreshed and invigorated after these weeks that I would spend writing. It was a little double life-ish and super weird to return to work. Everyone’s like, “Where were you?” Sometimes I’d lie. I’d be like, “I was at my parent’s beach house,” which doesn’t exist. Other times, I would just change the subject and explain why I wasn’t tan coming back from a beach vacation. It was an interesting way to do it. That’s how I did it. Who knows if one day I won’t have to take vacations from law to write a book and I’ll just write books?

Zibby: Why did you feel like you had to hide that?

Erica: From work?

Zibby: Yeah. Why did you not feel like you could say, “I hid in my closet and wrote a book”? I think that’s the coolest thing I’ve ever heard.

Erica: I think it raises some eyebrows. By the way, this is all in my mind. The inevitable question would be, “What’s the book about?” Then you would say a law firm. Then I just felt like it would need so much explanation before I even knew what it was. I didn’t know what it was at first. The iterations of this book were focused initially on — the first draft I wrote, if you can consider it a draft, it might just be a different novel entirely that I threw out, but it was focused on an interoffice relationship, like an affair. Then I reread it and I very quickly realized it was so flat. I wasn’t even interested in it. I was far more interested in the relationships around the affair, which I think is what The Boys’ Club focuses on. I think those friendships are really strong. I think the other females in the firm come through a lot stronger. I didn’t even know what it was, considering I never did an outline for this. The idea of someone else asking me to explain it was absolutely terrifying. It had less to do with the judgement behind the questions and just, I didn’t even know. It felt a little ridiculous. I just kept it to myself for a while.

Zibby: I’m sure everyone will ask you and I hate asking questions that everybody asks, but in terms of the autobiographical element, did you call 911 during your first orientation? Did someone in the room do that by accident? Where are you getting all these little snippets? Is it a mishmash?

Erica: The answer is it is a mishmash. Not to toot my own horn, but some of the funnier things are totally made up. Actually, the first draft of the book was more autobiographical than the final. I think things spudded from reality. My imagination, I’ve always had a big imagination, sort of took them and ran with them. No, I’ve never forgotten my pants at work. I’ve actually never done cocaine. I had to google, what does cocaine feel like? I’m really not a drug person. I’d rather drink. There’s just so many drugs in the book. There are funny things. I think the first draft I turned in said the character bought a dime bag of cocaine. My editor called me hysterically laughing at me and said, “That doesn’t make any sense. That would be like nothing.” I was like, “I don’t get it.” She’s like, “It’s ten bucks.” I was like, oh. I didn’t even know that. Stuff like that. I think it’s a testament to the fact that you can write realistically as long as you’re willing to put in the legwork of trying to understand someone else’s perspective, which I really tried to do. I took a lot of time. You were asking more the funny anecdotes, but there’s a sexual assault in the book, which never happened to me. I spent a ton of time reading firsthand accounts and interviews and police transcripts of victims of sexual assault and crying my eyes out and having a difficult time dating in New York because everyone just seemed like a predator to me. I hope I did justice to the voice of those people. Most of the book is completely fabricated. Some of it has buds of reality. I actually think the only thing that’s truly, truly real are the hours you work as a first-year associate. For me, it was grind. For Alex, it’s a grind. That tension you feel in a high-stakes work environment, that was probably the most real thing in the book for me.

Zibby: How did you deal with the almost self-imposed PTSD with tons and tons of research on a really painful, upsetting topic? How did you weave your way out of that fear, or have you?

Erica: Actually, from what I can understand, it’s a lot the way it happens for people who go through it. You process it. You talk about it. For me, I wrote about it. That was a great therapy for me. You meet people in your life who show you that they’re not that way. Sooner or later, you’re not just pretending that you’re not worried about it. You’re just actually not worried about it. I think that that happened on a far more condensed timeline for me because it was only my imagination, thank god, involved, but I could see the process taking such a long time and being so grueling and you really needing to put in the work as you go through the motions of pretending you’re okay. Sooner or later, your head catches up to your body if you just sort of live your life. It was a great lesson for me on how to cope with things. I hope I never really get any closer to it than that because it was hard for me and I wasn’t that close to it.

Zibby: Wow. I love how you put in transcripts and court-ish things. I just love the authenticity it brings.

Erica: Did you read the transcripts? I always wonder.

Zibby: Yeah. In here? In the book? Yeah. I thought that was so cool. I was trying to keep track. I’m like, I know the defendant. Not to sound like a moron, but that’s not my area. I’m not a lawyer.

Erica: That’s why I wonder if people — I think the majority of people probably don’t read as closely as you and also don’t know the nomenclature and will gloss over it. I think there’s little nuggets in there that are quite interesting if people put in the time.

Zibby: Personally, I love in books where things get inserted that you’re not expecting or that look different or feel different. Sometimes there’s a picture in a book. I like that. I read so many books that I love when the form itself takes on a unique shape. I thought it was really cool. Actually, that makes me pay more attention to those passages because I think, why did she put that in? What was the role of that? Why didn’t she just summarize that? What am I supposed to get out of this? I think those are really cool.

Erica: That’s great. I think I put those in original transcript form just because at the time I was writing, I kept seeing these victims, unequivocal victims, just raked over the coals for things they had done in the past. The chatter around them in popular circle was, but she slept with a million — you know, whatever, victim shaming and what have you. It just seemed so ridiculous to me how people contextualize other people’s lives. I really felt strongly that I wanted you to see Alex have to defend her choices that had nothing to do with the trial she was a part of. Additionally, I felt really strongly that she needed to be super imperfect. Unfortunately, I keep getting the question about the unlikeable protagonist, but I really like her. I just think she’s super imperfect. She got caught up in the materialism. Some of the stuff she says to her parents sometimes is admittedly things that I’ve sometimes thought but I hope I don’t say quite as abrasively as she does. She’s just super imperfect, but I don’t dislike her. My hope is that it can get people more comfortable when they see and hear transcripts from court reports or watch a trial on TV, that this is a human who had all these decisions before and after whatever they’re being involved in court for. Part of sifting through the truth is to not judge. It doesn’t make a crime any less punishable because the victim is unlikeable, as some people would say.

Zibby: Interesting. Tell me about not using your real name. What’s that about?

Erica: I still work at a law firm. It has less to do with any sort of publicity than it does the fact, similar to what I was just saying, so it’s great transition, I didn’t want the book to be about me. I think it loses its value as soon as people start dismissing it as a true story because people will make assumptions about me. People will start to talk about what firm I’m involved in. I think my next statement might surprise people. I’m worried that it will curtail the honest conversation about the character and the protagonist and where she made mistakes. I wonder if people are just so much more comfortable talking about faults of people who don’t exist. I don’t want it to be some sort of value judgement on my life. First of all, it’s fiction. Second of all, I think people are reluctant to say, god, Alex really made a mistake by doing X, Y, and Z. Where was she wrong? Where did she really mess up? Where was she not a friend of women? Where were she an aggressor to her friends? Things like that. I think fiction is a really beautiful vehicle for doing that. The fact that my life parallels hers in any capacity I think makes people dismiss it as nonfiction.

Zibby: People love to do that. One unfortunate byproduct of fiction is that that’s everyone’s first assumption.

Erica: Absolutely. I don’t want people to focus on what firms I’ve worked for. I want them to talk about Klasko & Fitch and the structure of Klasko & Fitch and how it’s messed up and how it works and how they missed the mark on how to promote diversity. It has nothing to do with the firms I’ve worked at. I want people to talk about that rather than guessing where they are. I just think it’s great if people can look at it as a work of fiction. Again, part of what I wrote is, I see the way people talk when they think it’s real, and it’s not a productive conversation. If no one’s worried about offending anyone or victim blaming or doing whatever because these people and things doesn’t exist, then I wonder where we’ll get. How can you promote diversity? How could Derrick’s character have been kept around and his talent better utilized? How could he have been made more comfortable? All of that without wondering if Derrick’s going to get offended and whatever.

Zibby: I wrote this novel which I will probably just keep in a drawer at this point, but I wrote this novel. It was fiction. I made it up. I really did. I showed it to my mother. She immediately assumed it was about my ex-husband. She writes me back in all caps and was like, “What a bastard!” I was like, what? No. It’s fiction. I made it up. I made up things that were specifically not anything that happened because I made up. You just can’t win.

Erica: There was this period of, I want to say it took — I’m super close with my family. My sister’s my best friend. I don’t think she ever really didn’t believe that it was fiction. There was this period where I could feel my older brother and my parents just every once in a while looking at me like, did she do a ton of cocaine and sleep with a partner at a law firm? having dinner. I could feel it. I think they got over it. My dad really worried about the assault being real and asked me to confirm more than anyone else in my family that it was fiction. My agent who’s amazing just said to me, “Everyone’s going to think this is you until you write your second book,” in a way, to get me motivated. The second book is totally different. I’m about halfway done with it. I hope maybe that chills people out from the guessing game with me.

Zibby: Oh, good. Good strategy. It’s being made into a series or a movie? You have big news of some sort, right?

Erica: It got optioned as a movie by Netflix. I hope you’re right and it’s being made, but I think things are a bit stalled in the industry right now. The script is in the works. Fingers and toes, but it has been optioned. I don’t know if it will be made. I really hope it will as a film.

Zibby: That’s awesome. That’s the best first step. You got to take that step.

Erica: Totally. I would love to see it on the screen. I think it’d be too cool.

Zibby: What advice would you have for aspiring authors?

Erica: Not like I’m really any expert. Maybe I can give advice next time. Like my mom said, when can you consider yourself an author?

Zibby: I think you should tell your mom that you and I spoke and you can officially call yourself an author now. I am holding this book in my hands. I read it. I didn’t know you. That, I think, constitutes being author.

Erica: Great. I think any advice I would give — this is not my advice that I think I’ve come up with by myself. It’s true for writing. It’s true for life. Don’t be afraid to realize what’s not working and shift gears. I think that’s a lesson that lots of determined women learn too late. Like I said, I read that first draft, which I thought was genius by the way while I was writing it, and it just felt flat. I thought about hours. I thought about the vacation days I took writing it. There was small voice inside me that said, should you just turn it in and see if anyone else likes it? If the real you isn’t a hundred percent satisfied with it, no one else is going to buy it. Don’t be afraid to be your own toughest critic and shift gears and put in the hours. Just for the record, I don’t think those hours are ever wasted. At least if you keep the same character or even if you don’t, you learn so much about what you’re writing. The person who I wrote about an interoffice affair was Alex Vogel. I want to say ten percent of what I wrote made it into the final book, but I learned so much about her by writing those chapters. I think it made her a stronger character in the end. My advice is don’t be afraid to throw out what you’ve done if it’s not great and be your own toughest critic. The second piece of advice an editor at Random House named Peter Gethers, who’s amazing, gave me, which was don’t write immediately. Have a thought. Let it marinate. Take a weekend away. Go for a walk. Play it out in your mind. Let it sit for weeks, even. Then write. It hadn’t even occurred to me to, when I had a great thought, not write. Maybe jot it down, but not sit down and start writing in paragraph form. I think it actually really helped me write a better novel.

Zibby: Awesome. Erica, thank you. Congratulations on being an author, officially an author. I am really excited for you to have your book finally come out. Great job. I’m so glad you took the time to spend your vacation writing because look at all the people you’re going to entertain. It’s pretty awesome. Time well-spent.

Erica: Thank you for reading.

Zibby: No problem.

Erica: Talk to you soon. Be well.

Zibby: Thanks. You too. Bye.

Erica Katz, THE BOYS' CLUB