Zibby is joined by author Gina Sorell to talk about her second novel, The Wise Women, which was named a New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice. The two discuss how listening to Zibby’s podcast helped her feel more connected to her writing during the pandemic, why she made the shift from acting to writing, and the ways in which her experience with this book differs from her first. Gina also shares how she hopes readers will connect with all of the book’s protagonists and whether or not she’ll continue on with them in the future.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Gina. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss The Wise Women.

Gina Sorell: Thank you so much for having me. This is an absolute pleasure. I don’t know if you know this, but during the pandemic, I listened to you constantly. You were on all of my walks. You were on all of my breaks when I was trying to connect to writing. When I felt like I was separated from that whole world and I couldn’t find my way back in, I would just listen to your podcast. I would laugh out loud and have all the neighbors worry about me as I would check in with my old friends. It was such a strong tie to this world and the world that I felt like I was so separate from. Thank you so much for doing it. Now to be on it, it’s such a thrill. It’s such a thrill.

Zibby: Thank you, by the way. That is so nice of you. I got as much out of doing the podcast throughout the pandemic as probably anybody who listened to it. It was my sanity vehicle. Was this the book you were working on at the time?

Gina: I sold the book in 2020, but in September of 2020. I was in the revisions. I had just got my agent in the beginning of the year. It was all these things. The world was looking one way entirely. I had an agent. I was starting to do the revisions. Then things started to get a bit questionable. What was happening? Things were shutting down. I had just gotten back from a trip. I noticed that there’s a lot more hand sanitizer and a lot more masking. Then as we all know, everything shut down entirely. I was doing these revisions and trying to stay in that really buoyant place that I wanted the book to have while also facing a really uncertain future, which all of the women in The Wise Women are as well. It was interesting how that all happened at the same time. I think it deepened the book too. I think it gave me a greater understanding of just how quickly things can turn and how we all have to pivot. That was something that was really strange, how that lined up.

Zibby: Yes. Truth is stranger than fiction, or whatever the expression is, if that’s even applicable. I just loved these Wise women. They are so fabulous, all of them. You do such a good job of crafting different characters so that you feel like you know them. Wendy is hilarious, the secret husband and their relationship and even little things, like how he hides her iPad to get her to calm down, which of course is never going to make her calm down. I feel like I might share too many things with Wendy that I don’t want to admit, the compulsion. The daughters, all of them, and the way that the story unfolds and everything, it’s delicious and delightful all at the same time. Even the different generations, all the old-fashioned advice versus — it’s just really awesome.

Gina: Oh, my gosh, thank you so much. That really means a lot. I love these women. I think you’re right when you say that you could be Wendy. I could be Wendy. What I was hoping is that people would see that there’s a bit of themselves in all these women. I think that Wendy’s really well-meaning. She’s a bit of a meddling mother. I have a mother who’s very well-meaning and can be a bit of a meddler. I myself have often given unsolicited advice many times. I can’t stop myself. Now I at least say to people, forgive me if I — like I’m going to stop. I’m going to do it anyway. I’m just going to launch in and be like, but anyway. My mom’s favorite saying is to say, “If you want my two cents,” before I can say, “I don’t.” out of her mouth. Barb bears a lot of responsibility for her family. I know what that’s like, when you’re the person who, you want everybody to get along. You take on extra responsibilities because you can. Because you can, then people think that they can just expect more from you or do more. I’m sure that’s something that you can relate to doing all the many things that you do. There’s that fine line where people start to think, oh, this is just who you are, but it’s also a learned skill. It’s both a blessing and a curse because the better you get at it, the more you take on. It increases your responsibilities. That’s something that Barb is really struggling with in the book. In Clementine — I’m a mom. I’m a mom to a son. I have one child. Not a just. I have one amazing child. I hit the jackpot.

Zibby: I love how you said that in the book too, how there was all this pressure about having you have a second. You always had to be like, we’re just going to have one.

Gina: We have one. They’re not shoes. You don’t need a pair.

Zibby: Exactly. That’s what you said.

Gina: Every family is different. I would do anything for my kid. That’s how Clementine feels. I think that’s how a lot of moms feel. We take on so many extra responsibilities. We push ourselves not just for ourselves, but because we’re doing it for our children. There’s a bit of me in every single one of the Wise women. I was hoping that readers would see that as well.

Zibby: Absolutely, especially Jonah’s, I don’t want to say full-on special needs, but his —

Gina: — He has anxiety.

Zibby: He has anxiety and really focuses intently on different things and likes his routines the way they are. I just so felt it when Clementine’s life was totally getting all turned upside down. She was sort of like, I could deal with it, but Jonah — we finally got it. We’ve got the treehouse. We’ve got the backyard. Everything is set. How can I disrupt that? I found myself reading being like, I don’t know. Find a way. How can we solve this problem?

Gina: Make this work for Jonah. It’s true, though. I think that being settled is something that we all want. We want it for ourselves. We want it for our families. We especially want it for our children, just that they feel that they have a place where they belong and that they feel that they’re good. I know for myself, for my own son, I always was looking at schools for him. Where is a good school for him? Where is he going to be happy? Where is good community? We moved back from California, my husband and I. We were there for ten years. We came back. I was like, this is a huge upheaval for him. The first thing that I thought of was, where’s a good school? Where can we go? What’s a great neighborhood? We ended up renting the house right across the street from my parents, where they lived. I was like, okay, here’s some anchors. You want to give your children those anchors. That came out in the book, for sure, for me.

Zibby: What part of California were you in?

Gina: We were in Los Angeles.

Zibby: Nice. Why did you leave?

Gina: My husband and I were both actors. He still is. We had gone down for pilot season a couple years in a row. Then we decided to get our green cards, and we moved. We were going to just work full time in the acting industry. That was our plan. That’s everyone’s plan, right? Then my first year there, I really struggled. I didn’t love Los Angeles the way that I thought I would love Los Angeles. I loved New York. I moved to New York for theater school when I was much younger. I instantly was like, this is home. I got it. I understood it. It just made sense to me. I’m not someone who loves to drive. I travel everywhere on foot. Los Angeles was really challenging. It was just very spread out. I also spent so much time there waiting. In Canada, I was busier as an actor. There’s more work. It doesn’t pay as well, but you can work more often. There, I would get a gig. It’s great. It might be lucrative, but there could be six months in between. The waiting, I’m not good with. I’m a busy person. I like to feel creative. I like to feel like I’m doing something. In between one of these gigs, I decided to take a writing course at UCLA Extension. That’s where I met my writing mentor, which is Caroline Leavitt.

Zibby: I love Caroline Leavitt.

Gina: I love Caroline. I adore her. Now she’s a really good friend of mine. We became really good friends. I was taking the course. Then I thought, oh, there’s more courses I can take. Being a bit type A, I was like, wow, they have this creative writing program for three years. I could do that. I ended up taking their creative program at UCLA Extension in long-form fiction. I just loved it. Caroline Leavitt was a huge champion of mine and still is. She’s a great friend. She really cheerleaded me through the whole process of getting my first book out into the world. She read my first manuscript. She was like, “This is a novel. You have to finish it,” so I did. I had great teachers there. Robert Eversz is another great teacher. Going to UCLA, it changed my life. It made me realize that although I’d gone to Los Angeles to be an actor, the thing I loved most about acting and I always loved most about acting is the storytelling. I would spend all my time with my scripts or with my plays when I was in New York. That’s the thing I loved the most. As an actor, you only do part of that. You often have to wait for the opportunity or wait for the right agent or wait for the right casting director or the callback. You’re always waiting. I’m not good with it, as I said. To have a chance to just work on story, I was like, maybe this is what I really should be doing. Writing had always been my first love. I’d always written to give myself opportunities, like plays or short films. It really gave me a chance to return to it.

Zibby: Now you can turn this into — now it’s a thing already. Is it being turned into something?

Gina: I hope so. It’s being looked at, which is nice. Fingers crossed. It would be really great. I would love that. Of course, I don’t want any part in it. Maybe somebody off in a corner sipping coffee or something. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in front of the camera. I’m much happier in front of the only screen being my computer screen. That’s where I’m most comfortable these days.

Zibby: Were you — sorry, I should know this. Were you in anything everybody would know?

Gina: I did a lot of sketch comedy. I was at Second City. I did the touring company there. I did Second City main stage. Then I did a lot of family shows. I did a show called The Noddy Shop based on the Enid Blyton books from Britain. That’s a BBC Kids production. I did that for a couple years. That was my first big gig. It was as an animal rescuer, so I worked with animals and children and puppets, the trifecta of things you’re not supposed to do. It was terrifying. It was a lot of fun. It was a whole who’s who of Canadian comedy actors, which was really nice. Then I did a show called The Zack Files and another show for BBC called I Love Mummy. As happens, we discovered a mummy living in our attic who’s a teenage boy, as one does. I had smaller parts in bigger films, like How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days — I was a sarcastic vegetarian waitress — and things like that that were a lot of fun. It’s funny because my last gig that I ended up doing in Los Angeles, I want to say it was on Law & Order: Los Angeles, I think it was. It was a Canadian director who I knew of who had gone down there to work. I was just deciding whether or not I was going to come back and do it. I think at the time, I was pregnant with my son, but I hadn’t told anyone. He was talking about, “What are you going to do next?” I’m like, “There’s this thing. I’m also writing.” He’s like, “My wife is an author.” He went out and he got her book from the trunk of his car. He handed it to me. I was just like, okay, this is a sign. This is the perfect gig to go out on, with a great show that I’d always watched, Law & Order. It was a really nice part. The crew was great. It was a Canadian director and writer. It all just seemed to be like, it’s okay, you can go off, Gina. You can do this.

Zibby: My takeaway from that is I will now stock my husband’s car with my books.

Gina: Oh, my gosh, yeah. I was like, “You just have them in the trunk? You’re such a good guy.” He goes, “Oh, you have to.” You have to. You have to have a box in the trunk all the time.

Zibby: That’s so funny. I should keep them in my own trunk. That’s really funny. That’s silly. Very funny.

Gina: He’s probably on set with all these famous people, too, right? They could hold up and take a picture.

Zibby: That’s another good — look at you, always marketing. I like it. We were joking before we started recording about the marketing of books and the packaging. I was saying how much I adore this cover, which, for those listening, is my favorite color, blue background with these bright, beautiful hot pink and orange and neon green flowers on the outsides, which I didn’t describe very well, with a lime green spine with hot pink and blue. It’s so fun. It’s so great. Tell me about the process of arriving at this.

Gina: I love the cover, so I’m glad you love it too. I really love it. I think a cover is so important. I know we’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but we do. There’s such competition out there that if it can catch somebody’s eye, encourage them to pick it up, all the better. For me, I want the cover to either communicate something that happens within the book — there are so many things going on in this book that I thought it’s just going to be a jumble. It’s going to be a mess. The other thing that I thought of is, what if I could convey the feeling of the book, make the cover evocative of that? This book is really intended to be hopeful. Even though it starts off with all of the three Wise women in crisis at the beginning of the book facing a future that looks really uncertain, it’s the idea that they come together. They’re all very different, like all those different colors of a flower. They come together. There is something better on the horizon. Even though the future isn’t necessarily what they thought it would look like, it’s possible that it could be even better than they hoped. I wanted that feeling of, things are looking up, that blue sky, brighter days ahead so that when people looked at it, they had that feeling. That’s what I really hoped would also carry them once they opened up the book.

Zibby: I love that. See, I didn’t even think blue sky when I looked at that, but I got the same vibe.

Gina: It’s happy-making. At least, I hope it is.

Zibby: Have you been surprised by the machinery required to get a book into the world so far?

Gina: Yeah. It’s interesting. This is, in many ways, it’s my debut because it’s my first at a big house, but I had a book before this, five years ago, a much smaller book called Mothers and Other Strangers. That was at an indie press. I worked really, really, really hard to spread the word about that book. Everything about that book was hard. Finding an agent for that book was hard. Getting a publisher for that book was hard. Then the book did really well, considering. It was really well-received. I’m very proud of it. It had nice reviews and all of that goodness. I felt like I pounded the pavement. Talk about having books in the trunk of your car. That was me. I was like, hey, I noticed you’ve got this free stand here. Would you like a book here? Let me just prop this up. Would you like a book? I could sign you some books. I remember going into bookstores with my book and being like, “I could give you ten copies. If you don’t sell them, you can just give them back to me.” They’re like, “That’s not how it works.” People were really great about it, but I was really pounding the pavement because we had limited resources. I had hired an independent publicist. We worked hand in hand. Everybody did as much as they could, but it was all hands on deck.

This time around, I’m at a much bigger publisher. I’m with HarperCollins. They’re wonderful. They’ve been incredibly supportive. It’s a really great team. I still hired an independent publicist because that’s just what I know. That’s how I feel comfortable. I like to be really involved. I can’t annoy them all the time at HarperCollins. I guess I just felt like it would be, maybe, easier in some ways to launch a book in the world. I don’t think it is. I think it’s always all hands on deck. It’s like I’ve taken that whole experience and I’ve just put it into another sphere. There are more books. There’s more exposure. The stakes are higher. The authors who I’m hoping to share shelves with have a higher profile. I feel like everything has been raised in terms of stakes and expectations and on myself as well. It’s been really demanding. It’s part of the process. I’m so used to — I told myself I wasn’t going to use this word as much anymore, but it really does fit — hustling. I’m so used to hustling and getting the word out and making my own opportunities and creating that. Now I’m just bringing all of that to a team that can really run with it as well and support me with that. That’s been a really positive change. It’s a lot. As we were talking earlier, you have to get people to go from, “Hey, I heard you have a book,” to, “Oh, I saw you’ve got this great review. That’s so excellent. Oh, I saw your book in the bookstore,” to then buy the book, which is challenging.

I know that not everyone can buy books, so I’ll say things like, request it at your library. You can get them to buy a copy. That’s great. If they see that that copy’s taken out, then maybe they’ll buy five or ten or fifteen. I have friends who say, “I’m just going to wait until the paperback.” I think, okay, but that’s so far from now. We’ll see what happens. I have a bunch of friends who are like, “I bought ten copies. That’s it. I’m giving it to everybody for their birthday. This is it.” These poor people, every time I write a book, they know this is all they’re getting for their birthday. A couple of my girlfriends are like, oh, we’re getting your friend’s book again? Yep, you’re getting my friend’s book. Happy birthday. Happy Thanksgiving. Whatever it is. One of my friends is actually an old neighbor of mine. She’s lovely. She said, “You know what? I just decided that nobody needed any more wine when they invited me over for dinner, so I brought them a book instead.” I said, “Oh, that’s great. Thank you.” She did that for a whole year. She’s very popular.

Zibby: I was going to say, this one woman’s social life making or breaking a book.

Gina: She moved me on up.

Zibby: Moving a market.

Gina: It’s challenging. You have a new book out, right? You have Princess Charming out, which is beautiful. I can see it behind you.

Zibby: Thank you. I have to take them off the shelf. Yeah, I have a new book out.

Gina: It’s a lot of work.

Zibby: It’s a lot of work. It’s so funny because I remember being in high school, and my high school English teacher had a book come out. I think by that point we were all in college. A bunch of us went to his reading at Barnes & Noble or something like that. I bought the book. We all bought them. He was signing. Then my one friend, she went right up to the counter and she’s like, “I’m going to wait for the paperback.” I was like, “You can’t say that.” She’s like, “What do you mean? I always wait for the paperback.” I was like, “You can’t just go up to the author and then not buy the book when he’s trying to sell the book.” Actually, it’s fine. A lot of people only want paperbacks, which is fine. Then I was even talking to people on my — I’m like, why doesn’t everyone just release a paperback at the same time as a hardback?

Gina: It is interesting. When I did Mothers and Other Strangers, it was only released as one of those beautiful trade paperbacks. It was gorgeous. That’s how they were doing it. It did, I think, help people — they had no choice. There was no waiting. They had nothing to tell me. They had to buy it.

Zibby: No excuse.

Gina: I get it. There are so many books out there. It’s so hard. Books can be expensive. I don’t blame anybody for doing whatever they do. I just hope that they read it. Even if they like it, maybe they can just spread the word. If they’re not buying it for themselves, they can say, my friend read this book. You would love it for your book club. All of that goodwill, all of that support and that cheerleading in whatever way is available to them really does make a big difference.

Zibby: Totally, all the reviews, everything. Everything makes a difference.

Gina: It all makes a difference. It really does. I have friends and family who go into the bookstores. If they see that it’s not displayed in the way that they like, they shift it. They’ll turn the cover out so it faces the person rather than being in the shelf. Then they’ll send me a picture. It keeps us going. It’s just nice to know .

Zibby: The market has turned all these authors into these covert operatives. What can we do to help it along?

Gina: You do it to help it along. You have this podcast.

Zibby: Yes, I’m trying. With the publishing company, we’re trying to do things differently to help, but it is hard. All I can do is try. Better than not trying.

Gina: Exactly. I think it all makes a difference.

Zibby: Yes, I think it all makes a difference. Will there be any follow-ups with The Wise Women? Are you carrying their story on in any way? Are you doing a different book next? What’s your plan?

Gina: You know, I’ve had a couple people say, I’d like to know what happens next with these women. For me, I wonder about, also, what happens next with them. I loved spending time with them. The book picks up right as they’re all in crisis. It all takes place in New York City. It picks up when these women are at a different crisis in their lives. They all have to rally together and overcome their hurts and obstacles and face this uncertain future and move forward. I know that logically it makes sense that then, where do they go from here? I’ve had some people say, I’d love to see where Wendy goes next. I’d love to see where some of the extra characters — Samantha Love, the influencer, what happens to her? What does she do next? That’s always a possibility, but I am actually working on something entirely different right now. I’m working on a story of three friends. They were all working together at a pivotal time in their lives in their twenties. They met in college. They did a film together. The film was really successful. It affected all of their lives very differently. We get to see that for a couple of decades. Then on their fortieth birthday, they take this big trip to New York. Something happens that causes them to not speak — two of them get back in touch; one not at all — for another ten years when they reunite at the film festival that kind of brought them all together in the first place. That one’s really a book about second chances at love, second chances at a career, second chances at friendship. I’m having fun exploring that. That’s what it is right now. We’ll see what it ends up being by the time I’m finished revising. I’m in the revision stage.

Zibby: That’s exciting. It’s very exciting.

Gina: It is exciting. I think that’s the best thing to do when you’re writing, is to write something else, is just to have something else going so you’re not perseverating on what’s going on over here with my book and all of that stuff. That’s the only thing you can control, is the writing. That’s what I like to focus on as much as I can.

Zibby: It’s true. It’s a hundred percent true. For anyone listening, The Wise Women, with this bright blue and pink and orange cover, you will see it at your bookstore. Face it forward. Buy a copy. Take a picture of you with it. At least just help spread the word or something like that. Congratulations, Gina. It’s really awesome. I really love the way you write. I’m going to go back and get your other book now. I can’t wait to see what you come up with next.

Gina: I’m so glad. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

Zibby: No problem.

Gina: It’s so great to be here. Best of luck with your book.

Zibby: Thank you.

Gina: We’ll have to chat again and see. I’ll see you pounding the pavement holding up pictures of your book. I’ll be doing the same.

Zibby: Yes. Gina, take care. Have a great day. Buh-bye.

Gina: Take care. Thank you.


THE WISE WOMEN by Gina Sorell

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