Jane L. Rosen, A SHOE STORY

Jane L. Rosen, A SHOE STORY

Author of Eliza Starts a Rumor Jane L. Rosen returns to the podcast to talk with Zibby about her latest novel, A Shoe Story. The two discuss which elements of the story were inspired by real moments from Jane’s own family history, what her personal relationship with shoes is like, and how her neighbor inspired one of the book’s characters. Jane also shares which project she’s working on next and why it is one that is very important to her.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Jane. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” again to discuss A Shoe Story: A Novel.

Jane L. Rosen: Thank you so much for having me on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” again to discuss A Shoe Story: A Novel.

Zibby: I was saving this to savor. It did not disappoint. Thank you for this really immersive read. Tell listeners about how you came up with this particular idea and also what it’s about.

Jane: A Shoe Story is about a girl named Esme Nash who’s graduating Dartmouth with big plans to move to New York City with her boyfriend and work at this fantastic art gallery, but everything gets turned upside down. Seven years later, she gets the chance to try it out again. It’s basically a story of second chances and old loves and new loves and just life, grabbing life, not letting life go by you no matter what’s thrown at you, not just accepting the decisions that maybe you made once and aren’t the right ones for later on, and that it’s never too late. That’s what it’s about. I thought of it in a much different way. It was actually a book that I already worked on, finished. Esme Nash was still there, but it was about the psychiatrist and all these other things. It didn’t sell. Then I put it in a drawer. Then I wrote Eliza Starts a Rumor. Then I took it out again and revamped it. That’s the story of Esme Nash.

Zibby: Wow. Esme goes through this horrific, emotional tragedy in the beginning. Then not only do her parents get in this beyond-awful accident, but she has to do deal with her father being paralyzed and being his primary caretaker and the effects of that. How did you tap into that piece of the puzzle? How something so traumatic would then affect the rest of life, you have Esme deciding that she barely knows who she is anymore, so she might as well just answer an ad and go to the city and dog sit and try to make a whole new life for herself — why not? — at the advice of someone from the memorial service, which I found very interesting also. I just feel like it’s so complicated, that type of extreme loss and the depletion after all that caretaking. Talk a little bit about that and her decision to up and try something new right then.

Jane: When I was Esme’s age, right out of college, my sister was very ill. She lived in Maryland where I had gone to school. I very much thought, I’m just going to drop my job, drop my boyfriend, drop everything, and go back to Maryland and help her and uproot my life like that. I think when you’re in a situation where your family needs help, you throw your life aside very easily. For Esme, it was seven years. How do you start back after that? Her choice to go do this on-a-whim kind of thing and go live somewhere for a month, I thought was a clear choice for her because if she wasn’t going to do it that way, she was going to have to pick up, decide, get a job, get an apartment. This was a great opportunity that fell in her lap. I think she was smart to take the opportunity. Did that answer the question?

Zibby: That answered the question, yes.

Jane: It was a great gig for her. When you’re in that really fragile state, you don’t know what’s up and what’s down. You could use something like that because maybe you just want to escape a little and do something for yourself after all those years of taking care of someone else.

Zibby: I loved how you have her end up in an apartment of such a shoe lover — this is beyond Carrie Bradshaw — that the kitchen pantry becomes the shoe closet. That’s pretty genius. Have you actually seen that before?

Jane: I have seen that. I saw, if you google “shoe pantry,” it’s actually a thing that some people do. People are obsessed with their shoes. They put them put out like pieces of art. For someone like the woman who owns this shoe closet who doesn’t really have that much else going on, it makes sense to me that she had control over these shoes. She spent her money on these shoes. It seemed like one of the only things she had a real lock on in her life, was her shoes. Even with Esme wearing them, at first, the publisher was like, “You can’t do that. It makes her unlikable that she’s wearing the shoes.” Then we came up with the fact that there was a little misunderstanding and she thought she had permission to wear them.

Zibby: Tell me a shoe story from your own life.

Jane: Let me just tell you that last week I went to Nordstrom because we’re having the book opening there. I went with this great young girl named Katie . She helped me film a video. They took out all the shoes from A Shoe Story. She was the same size as me. I’m an eight. She’s an eight. We tried them on. It was quite unbelievable to try on that many pairs of gorgeous shoes that are all over a thousand dollars. They’re beautiful. One was more beautiful than the next. That was a great shoe story that I just experienced. For this kid, she’d never tried on anything like this. It was just one after the next. For me, my best shoe story, I wrote in the back of the paperback for Behind The Book. I was going to an interview. Not an interview. I was going to talk to an editor at Little Brown. It was a long time ago before I was a screenwriter. I was wearing those Lanvin shoes. They’re kind of tight around the instep. I’m in the cab. I’m nervous. When I get in a cab and I’m nervous, I just talk to the cab driver like it’s my best friend. I’m talking. I’m talking. I don’t shut up. I don’t shut up. I’m telling him I’m going to Little Brown. I say it’s an interview because it was more understandable than explaining what was really going on. He goes, “As long as you’re not wearing those red-bottomed shoes.” He was from Senegal. I’m like, “You know about the red-bottomed shoes?” He’s like, “Everybody in New York City knows about the red-bottomed shoes.” I said, “Why shouldn’t I be wearing them?” He said, “You won’t be hungry enough if they see those red-bottomed shoes.” I was thankful that my shoes were, although fancy, not red-bottomed.

Zibby: Very funny. What shoes are you wearing now? Are you a massive shoe person?

Jane: I’m barefoot. I’m not a massive shoe person. It used to be when I first moved into the city when I first had children and first lived in the Upper East Side where all of a sudden, the status came from your shoes, in a way, shoes and bags, all of a sudden, I found myself going and buying one good pair of red-bottomed shoes and one pair of Gucci loafers, a little selection. I was into it then. The truth is, after COVID, my feet — it’s very hard to wear heels. I still love a great pair of shoes, but it’s much harder now for me to wear heels. Maybe it’s my age. Maybe it’s too many years of wearing them. I don’t know. I love a good pair of loafers, sandals, flats. Actually, I love my Birkenstocks. I have so many pairs in blue suede and brown suede. I love them. Do you like shoes?

Zibby: No, not a shoe person. Not really. I like to be comfortable. Maybe I just don’t have good enough taste or something. I don’t know. They’re all just so uncomfortable. Let’s talk about dogs too. Going to the dog run is another one of Esme’s things as a dog sitter. She befriends an elderly gentleman who’s basically like Eli Zabar, essentially, or something like that.

Jane: He’s actually based on Saul Zabar. It’s actually how I really got the idea for the book now that I think of it. Saul Zabar’s my neighbor on Fire Island. I’m sorry I interrupted you. He was on the ferry with me going to Fire Island. He’s ninety-two now. It was a couple years ago. He starts talking and chatting and chatting and chatting, really chatting, really into talking to me. I said, “You’re so chatty today.” He said, “I don’t have any friends. All my friends are dead.” I was like, “What?” He was like, “I was thinking of going to a psychiatrist because all my friends are dead and I have no one to talk to.” That was it. I was like, there’s my book. This old guy goes to a psychiatrist. I don’t know how I figured out the whole thing. Anyway, Esme befriended the old guy in the old book too. It was this whole thing for him to have someone to talk to, which is basically how I came up with it. Aside from that little Saul Zabar connection, a lot of Sy’s story is based on my dad and my mom. Their whole meet-cute, that was how my parents met.

Zibby: No way.

Jane: Yep, exactly. Obviously, my parents got married. I switched the story around. The whole time that Sy is in World War II in this book is exactly my father’s journey in World War II. It’s taken from his coast guard boat number. I tracked everywhere it went. I found old letters that he sent to his mom, all redacted and everything. Some of the words were exactly from that, from his . That was great. My dad died when I was eleven. To be able to spend this time with him and go through his journey in the war, which of course, he never spoke about, to me for sure, but probably hardly ever to anyone because people didn’t talk about that, that was a really great experience for me. I loved Sy’s part of the book. I loved that. That is exactly from the other book. That did not really change at all.

Zibby: Interesting. I loved that piece of it. Really interesting. I was like, where did she come up with that? It was great. Even just the notion as we all get older that, who’s to say you’re ready to retire when you’re ninety? What makes you think you want to stop? He’s like, I’m going to live out my noncompete and wait and start my next business. That was awesome.

Jane: It’s true, right? Imagine if all of a sudden you’re like, oh, I can’t go into the store every day, which is what I’ve been doing for my entire life. It’s crazy.

Zibby: I feel like you hear about people literally dying when they have nothing — your whole life’s purpose is gone.

Jane: It’s true. That’s what they say. The third thing on staying alive to a hundred or something is to keep working.

Zibby: I think we’re both on a good track, then.

Jane: I can’t imagine. I hope I never have to. We’ll see. Keep buying those books, please.

Zibby: Do you have another book in the hopper for the next release already?

Jane: I do. I already turned it in.

Zibby: You already turned it in, oh, my gosh.

Jane: My dog has dementia. She’s walking around in circles. I feel like it’s going to be on your podcast, the little tap, tap, tap.

Zibby: No, I can’t hear a thing.

Jane: My next book is called On Fire Island. It’s coming out next May or June. I’m very excited about it.

Zibby: So cool.

Jane: Also something I was working on for a long time. I wrote it as a screenplay. It was actually at Weinstein when they had folded.

Zibby: Wait, did I see an early cover of this, or am I losing my mind?

Jane: A book came out this year called Fire Island, which is so funny. Maybe that’s what you’re talking about. Did I show you? Oh, no, you’re right.

Zibby: You did, right?

Jane: I showed you a photograph that I wanted to use as the cover. I found this photograph by this great photographer out there. I was like, wow, this is perfect. We’ll see. It’s far off. It really has my heart and soul, that one, that book.

Zibby: Do you feel like you are less nervous with subsequent book release? Does it get easier each time you release a book, or does it not? Does it get harder?

Jane: No, I think it gets harder. I’ll tell you why. The first time, you have no idea what’s going on. I had no idea what was going on. Who expected anyone to read the book besides my family? You just didn’t know. I didn’t know that all these reviews would come out. I didn’t know that you could even go on Amazon, look up your book, and some woman in Albuquerque would say something horrible about it. You’d get it stuck in your head. That’s all you would think even though every big reviewer already liked it. You’d think, it’s total crap because Sue from Albuquerque says it’s total crap. I think the more you know, the harder it gets. Do you know what I mean by that?

Zibby: Yep.

Jane: Now I know too much. I know to be able to look on my Amazon rankings. I didn’t even know that until the second half of Eliza Starts a Rumor. I didn’t even know there was a little number that told you how your books were selling. There’s just so many things that you learn that do you in.

Zibby: I hate that too. I hate that other people can see it. It’s so public. Then your book scan numbers, I didn’t know about that either. Any other publisher can just click over and check out how many book sales. It feels literally like someone’s coming into my private closet poking their head around and being like, what’s in here? What do we know? What do we see?

Jane: To review a vacuum, some people write amazing reviews. Some people review a book literally the way you reviewed a vacuum. The cover was ripped. Zero stars. I’m like, wait, hold on. I’ll send you another one personally.

Zibby: This family friend was like, “I loved it. I loved it so much.” Then she gave it four stars. I was like, what? I don’t even know. All right, whatever.

Jane: That is so funny. It’s really funny. I think some people think — I don’t know. I don’t know what they’re thinking. Someone from Eliza Starts a Rumor — the reviews were excellent. This one woman wrote, “Ooph!” That’s what she wrote, “Ooph!” with an exclamation point. I tell you, a hundred million good reviews could come by, and all I could ever think was, ooph. That’s just part of my own problem.

Zibby: No, it’s not just your problem. I’m like, who was the person out there who’s like, I’m going to take the time to leave a review that says, “Meh”? Just don’t write me that review.

Jane: Is meh worse than ooph? I think ooph is worse than meh.

Zibby: Really? M-E-H.

Jane: Yes. Meh is like, meh. Ooph is like, uck.

Zibby: I don’t know. Ooph could be like, what a great book. Ooph, I read it in a hurry.

Jane: Ooph, I did it again. It’s no good. Either one is no good.

Zibby: There must be some funny article about terrible book reviews. Isn’t there something? Anyway, for people who are starting out writing, when you get an idea for a story, what do you do first?

Jane: I try and make a quick note of it on my phone under a category like words or book titles because you think you’re going to remember things. You just don’t. Then if I’m really writing the book, I’m really dead set on this idea, I spend a ton of days and nights and subway rides and whatever I’m doing just ruminating and thinking about these characters and the story and the people. I really think so much before I even put pen to paper. Not really. Fingers to keyboard. Then I start writing a little bit seeing how it flows, how the voice goes. Then I usually make an outline. I make an outline on index cards, one for every chapter. I make the whole outline start to finish, and then I never look at it again. I just need to know that it’s there. It’s bizarre. I’ve done it for every book. I’ve never looked at them again. That’s what I do.

Zibby: I interviewed someone recently, Amanda Eyre Ward, who wrote The Jetsetters and The Lifeguards and whatever. She writes all the upcoming scenes she’s going to write on a little notecard so that if she goes to the library or something, she just brings the two scenes or the four scenes that she’s going to work on. I thought that was kind of interesting.

Jane: That’s very interesting. I write on my phone sometimes. I don’t always write linearly now. I used to very much be like that. Then lately, I’ve just been writing what I feel. I read about someone — I don’t remember who it was — who said that. They wrote this. I was so amazed. I tried it a little bit with Fire Island. It was really great. You’re sometimes in the mood for one thing or in the mood for another thing. I could even just write it on the notes in my phone sometimes if that’s when it’s flowing. Sometimes I write much better in tremendous noise. I was stuck with Eliza Starts a Rumor on something that my editor wanted me to change. I was really stuck on it. I couldn’t figure it out. I was getting my hair blown out, so there was the blow dryer, at one of those places where there was rap music playing. They had romantic comedies on the screen in front of you. Think about all that noise. I figured out the whole thing. Sometimes that major noise makes you think better than quiet. You can just pull it out of a hat, kind of.

Zibby: I have an idea that could be cool. You should try to do a contest where people write a personal essay, their own shoe story.

Jane: That’s a great idea.

Zibby: Write a shoe story. If you want, I could even do it on — you have multiple platforms that you could do this.

Jane: No, I love your platform. It’s my favorite. Do you have a shoe story?

Zibby: I could do a contest on Moms Don’t Have Time To, our new site, and say, we’re doing a little contest. Write your shoe story, and we’ll put the best one up here.

Jane: More than that, I’ve been working with so many shoe designers, so maybe we could get some really cool shoe prize.

Zibby: Ooh, yes, a new pair of shoes.

Jane: Definitely. When we named it A Shoe Story, I just put my marketing hat on. Louis Vuitton’s doing something for me in August — Louis Vuitton, I learned how to say — in the Hamptons. Ferragamo is doing something in the fall at two of their stores. Nine West has been a tremendous partner. They’re doing all kinds of stuff. If you order the book — well, this is coming out afterwards. Before, preordering it, you got fifteen percent off Nine West. They sent me some shoes. Nordstrom is making the big book release. This shoe angle ended up being very fun to work with.

Zibby: That’s awesome. Okay, we’ll do that. We’ll do, get your essay published and win a pair of amazing shoes from a designer, hopefully.

Jane: Yes, I love that.

Zibby: We’ll talk after. Awesome. Parting advice to aspiring authors?

Jane: Don’t give up. Keep writing. Keep writing. Keep writing. When you get rejected, because you will get rejected, put it in the drawer, and start something else. If you don’t give up, you will be successful. If you give up, there’s no way you’ll be successful. Don’t give up.

Zibby: Very true. Awesome. Jane, I am so excited for our event together. August 14th?

Jane: 12th.

Zibby: August 12th, Fridays at Five at the Bridgehampton Library. For people listening, please come hear more of us chitchatting. Maybe we’ll bring some new shoe stories to discuss.

Jane: We will. I’m going to ask Zibby questions too. It’ll be very fun.

Zibby: Very fun. Thank you, Jane.

Jane: Thank you.

Zibby: Good luck tomorrow.

Jane: Thanks. Thank you. Bye.

Jane L. Rosen, A SHOE STORY

A SHOE STORY by Jane L. Rosen

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