Zibby interviews author Jane Roper about The Society of Shame, a heartfelt, witty, and hysterical satirical novel about forty-seven-year-old perimenopausal Kathleen Held, her cheating politician husband, and the big period stain that catapults her to unwanted fame (#YesWeBleed). Jane talks about her fascination with the internet and cancel culture, her journey to writing this book (and how she finally let herself be funny!), the inspiration behind the beautiful cover, and her experience raising twins while fighting her depression (which she wrote a memoir about). Zibby could not stop raving about Jane’s book and picked it for Zibby’s Book Club in August!


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Jane. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss The Society of Shame.

Jane Roper: Thank you so much for having me. Thrilled to be here.

Zibby: Jane, I had seen your book picked for all these different profiles. I saw it getting lots of press. I just hadn’t dipped into it myself, but I was so excited to talk to you about it. Literally from the first page, I was laughing so hard. My husband and I — I started reading it out loud to him. We were crying laughing. It’s so smart. It’s so funny. I’m just such a huge fan. I’m such a huge fan.

Jane: Thank you so much. I’m so glad you laughed. That was my goal, to make everyone laugh.

Zibby: The way you think about everything and the way you describe everybody and even Aggie’s friends with the small head, just the littlest details totally got me, not to mention the premise of the whole book. Let me back up and have you tell listeners what the book is about. Then I’d love to know what inspired this book and if it was what happened in the book, or some of it. Tell me the whole thing.

Jane: The book is about Kathleen Held, who is a forty-seven-year-old perimenopausal wife and mom married to a very up-and-coming politician. She comes home one night to find her garage on fire, her husband in his underwear, and his very disheveled mistress lying nearby. On the scene, a bystander snaps a photo. In that photo, you can see —

Zibby: — Not just a bystander. The funniest cab driver character that you kept going. So funny. Sorry, just had to .

Jane: You should hear the audiobook. The audiobook reader makes him — I was even laughing at my own character because she made it so funny. Anyway, he snaps a photo. In the photo, you can see that Kathleen has a big period stain on the back on her pants. The photo, of course, promptly goes viral, but the thing people are fixated on is not that this senate candidate had an affair, but that she has this period stain. She becomes this unwitting hero of this new movement called #YesWeBleed to destigmatize menstruation. Then craziness ensues as she figures out how to manage her newfound fame.

Zibby: So funny. It’s so great because it’s not just about the effect of this shocking betrayal on her and her family and navigating being a mom while you have all these terrible things happen and being unwittingly thrust in the public eye. Then the compatriots of shame, if you will, raise an even bigger point. What happens to all the people who are getting canceled all the time? which is an interesting question to examine, and one that the public seems to have no sympathy for as a group. It’s okay to, this person did that. They’re canceled. Let’s ruin their lives. Then the book asks, what about them? What happens next? I found it absolutely fascinating. Not to mention all the way you poke fun at some of the campaigns in the wider world and the Twittersphere and all the funny little tweets and hashtags you make. It’s so great. It’s so smart. Tell me about this whole book. This is your first novel? This is crazy.

Jane: This is my first major novel. I had a novel published ages ago with a teeny press. This has been a really different experience. Then I also have a memoir about parenting twins.

Zibby: I saw that.

Jane: We need to talk about twins.

Zibby: We have to talk about twins, yes.

Jane: I’ve always been, as a creature of the internet, fascinated with how quickly things snowball online and also how knee-jerk people can be. That certainly shows up with the online shaming. I think there certainly are times when it’s appropriate and times when it’s appropriate but goes way out of proportion. I wanted to hold a mirror up to that and make fun of both the canceling and the cancelees. Kathleen, once she’s had this thing happen, she intercepts an invitation to something called the Society of Shame, like you said. She meets up with these folks who have done things to varying degrees of awfulness, to some stuff that is kind of innocent. They’re all trying to rehabilitate their images. Knowing some people who have been on the receiving end of this kind of thing, how do they move on? Do they actually learn and grow from it? Is there a backlash where they kind of dig in? There’s one character in the book that really digs in. She calls the police on a Black utility worker, but she refuses to grow from the experience. Then there are others who do want to actually change and grow from it. I’ve always been interested in those kinds of stories. There was an actual story that kind of sparked the idea for this where someone came home and found his wife and her lover — this is actually really sad — dead in the car in the garage where they’d been fooling around. That got me thinking about being betrayed by your spouse but then having it happen in this humiliating way that becomes the subject of jokes. That got me thinking.

Zibby: In James Stewart’s new book, Unscripted, about Sumner Redstone, he talks about how there was this huge fire at the hotel he was staying in and how he had to escape out the window. That’s why his hand is maimed. There was a girl in the room with him who had . It’s been under the radar because, obviously, this was not the same time as now. Things like that could stay a little bit quieter. That’s sort of the same thing. There’s a fire. What’s going on? Who are you caught with at any given moment? It’s, what happens when…? It’s that whole adage of, you shouldn’t be doing anything you don’t want on the front page of the paper. Whenever you freeze-frame, there could be some disaster that will capture it in time and never let people forget.

Jane: Exactly. That happens over and over again in the book, not just with Kathleen, but other characters too. They do some little thing, and all of a sudden, it blows it. I made it, of course, over the top. While I was writing the book, sometimes I’d write something that I thought, ha ha, this is crazy. This would never happen. Then something like it happens. I’m like, oh, geez, why am I bothering to try to write satire when life is satire? It’s crazy.

Zibby: I don’t know when this episode is coming out, but right now, it’s day six of the whole Sofia Coppola daughter pasta viral video. I was literally looking at that last night with Kyle, my husband. I’m like, this was a forty-nine-second video. This was just less than a minute of her. Now fifty million people have watched her with this pasta-making commentary on her life and the helicopter and whatever. That’s her life. That’s always going to be associated with her from a one-minute, maybe, lapse of judgement. Why are we all so fascinated? Then I felt bad. Why am I even watching this? I have to see, why is everybody else watching it?

Jane: Of course. It’s impossible to look away. It’s like car crashes over and over again. One of my favorite blurbs from the book from my friend Steve Almond, he says, “our lust for rubbernecking.” It’s so true.

Zibby: It’s so true. How did this writing journey come to be? You talk about your writing communities and GrubStreet and all the places you’re involved with. Also, you said in your acknowledgments how your husband, he had thought you could do it, and maybe you hadn’t thought you could do it, which, of course, mirrors the character in the book. I have to tell you also, I wrote this book, Blank, which is coming out next year, which is similar in some ways, too, in that it’s a woman who’s a writer. It’s sort of a funny take on publishing. I’m going to have to send it to you because I don’t want you to think I stole any of your ideas or anything. It’s some similarities.

Jane: I’d love to read that. You’re a publisher now.

Zibby: I’m not publishing it. I actually wrote it myself.

Jane: I mean now Zibby Owens is a publisher, so you know the inside track.

Zibby: That’s true.

Jane: I can’t wait to read it. It was a long journey to this book. The thing you’re referring to where my husband said — he kept telling me when I would write other things, “It’s good, but you’re not using all your tools. You’re not using all your tools.” I got an MFA. This was years ago. I was writing very serious stuff. The first book I wrote was this historical fiction. It was quite sincere. Then the second novel I wrote, Eden Lake, came out with a small press. That was also not very funny. I wrote a whole other novel that didn’t get published. Again, it was on these very serious themes. My husband and other folks were like, “Why don’t you write funny stuff? In your nonfiction, you’re funny. In real life, you’re kind of funny.” My kids don’t think I am. I just didn’t know how to bring that to fiction. Part of me was like, I have serious themes I want to explore. I have to be a serious writer. This was over the course of fifteen years to get from thinking, this is what I should write and this is who I should be as a writer, to being like, oh, screw it. I want to have fun. I’m tired of not having fun. I went way over the top at the beginning. That kind of gave me permission to just go with it. It was a whole other writing experience. I took a class with Jenna Blum, who’s a fabulous writer and teacher. There were a whole bunch of awesome writers in this class, some of whom were already published, some of whom are going to be published soon. It was such a great experience because I felt like they were urging me on. Yeah, you can do this. You can do this. It was a totally fantastic experience. I’m still having fun, so that’s good.

Zibby: That is awesome. I love Jenna Blum. When did you start it? Did it just flow out of you? Tell me a little more visibility into the —

Jane: — Sure. I will say that the previous novel I wrote that did not get published, I worked on for five years. Granted, my kids were younger then, so it was a little harder. One of my daughters was getting over a serious illness. Still, I just labored over the thing. When that didn’t find a home with a publisher, I really grieved for a little while. I was like, I’m never going to write a book again. Then this other idea came along. I was like, all right, I’m going to do this fast. I’m never again going to spend five years on a book that I don’t know is going to get published. I did. It just flowed. I don’t know if it’s ever going to happen again. I feel like this might be my one-off of a book that really just went fast. I guess I started it in early 2019 and finished it in early 2020 just before the pandemic. That’s a terrible time to try to go out and sell a book, but nevertheless. Then I had some back-and-forth with my agent to improve it. That was the timeline.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh. It’s so cool. The cover is so cool with the swan. Of course, once I get far enough, I realize why you did that. At first, I was like, this swan? I don’t even know. Figured it out, obviously.

Jane: I love the cover. It’s nothing like what I expected. When I saw it — first of all, my agent was like, “The designer actually read the whole book.” The swans do come further on. It serves as such a great metaphor of pride. I love the sunglasses. Also, the idea of an ugly duckling turning into a swan. I keep buying blue and orange clothes and accessories and stuff. I can’t stop. It’s bad.

Zibby: Those were the colors of my wedding, I have to say.

Jane: Oh, really? Aw. It’s a great combination.

Zibby: It’s so great. I love blue and orange, especially the navy and this shade of orange. Wait, go back to your nonfiction book of the memoir and the twins and all of that. Tell me more about that.

Jane: I wrote a memoir called Double Time: How I Survived — and Mostly Thrived — Through the First Three Years of Mothering Twins. It’s about my early journey as a twin mom and also dealing with clinical depression at the time. I had been blogging for a while, ever since I was pregnant. I had developed a certain voice and a certain approach to writing about my kids without, hopefully — it was more about me than about my kids, like most good parenting writing is. I just decided, I want to turn this into something more of a narrative. That was a great experience too. That one also kind of flowed. I find nonfiction easier than fiction, in a way. It was fun to capture the, as you know, the chaos of twins but also the fantastic parts about it. That was a weird publishing journey, though, because literally six weeks after it was published, my daughter, as I said, was diagnosed with leukemia. She’s great now. She’s sixteen years old and thriving. Also, it was weird. All of a sudden, I was like, oh, I want nothing to do with this book. This book is about this happy, precious time, and now I’m fighting for my child’s life. Sorry to bring it down.

Zibby: No, it’s fine. Did you end up writing about the leukemia time of life?

Jane: I did. I blogged throughout the whole thing, which was really a form of therapy for me and a source of support, so that was great. What was really nice about that was later, hearing from other parents going through the same thing, that it was helpful for them. I wrote about it in that novel that didn’t get published, the not-fun one.

Zibby: Tell me about that. Maybe it has a new life now that you have this published.

Jane: I don’t know. It’s not who I am as a writer now. Obviously, when you have an ill child, it’s horrible, but we were, our family, going into it with a best-case scenario. We had resources. We had friends and family. I kept imagining how much harder it is for those who are not so fortunate, so I wrote a story more from the point of view of someone who’s from a really troubled family, a troubled situation, who has a child with cancer. Her do-gooder neighbor wants to — she’s a little bit of a — what do you call it? — a drama vampire or an emotional vampire who wants to come in and help. It gets a little creepy and invasive. It’s very much about class. It’s about gentrification. It’s a decent book, but it’s very different from what I’m doing now. I don’t know if it will have or even needs to have a life, but it was good to write. It was cathartic.

Zibby: I feel like my own experience is so similar to yours. I also wrote about my twins. I self-published it because I had no intention of publishing it. I didn’t try to. I wanted to make it a gift for my best friend who was having twins. Little Morsels: What I Learned from Having Twins. Then I wrote a memoir. I tried to write literary fiction. I wrote an entire book as a prose poem.

Jane: That’s impressive.

Zibby: Thank you. Thank you. I don’t write poetry, but I was like, every sentence will be a line. I’ll do it like this. This will be so great. Then I finally was like, you know what? I’m just going to make it funny and have fun. Now that’s the one coming out because it’s much more who I am. I tried so hard to write the books I thought I was supposed to write or that would be important or respected or whatever. I don’t even know. It wasn’t until I just let go of all of it that it worked for me.

Jane: You have to put all of yourself in. That’s finding your voice. It’s letting go of what you think you should do and doing what you love to do, what gives you pleasure, what gives you joy. Not that it’s never hard. I think that’s the case in so many things. When we’re trying to do what we think we should do, there’s a part of us that we’re denying to ourselves. It makes sense that the book where you’re finally like, I’m just going to have fun, that’s where you’re going to succeed. That’s awesome.

Zibby: This feels so cinematic to me. Has it been optioned yet? Are you working on that?

Jane: Not yet. Oh, my gosh, I would be so thrilled if that happened. If you know anyone, put in a good word. I think it would be fun series. We’ll see.

Zibby: I think so too. It’s just so timely and topical. I’ll see if I can sprinkle any fairy dust on it. I’m sure you have people working on it. It’s just so good. I love even the whole political — what does it mean when your spouse wants to do something — you even had something at the beginning — maybe not the beginning. The wife has to grit — Kat or Kathleen or whatever — has to grit her teeth when her husband is like, now I want to run for office. She’s like, haven’t I just been waiting around for you? Now we have to take even less of you.

Jane: We have to share you with even more people.

Zibby: Just to live out your dream. How can she not support his dream? It’s one of those, when is it her turn? which, of course, is the crux of the book. How do you support your spouse and help them follow their dreams when it diametrically is opposed to what you will gain from it? Not that you’re ever supposed to think that way.

Jane: That probably happens more than — it’s tough, especially if you have two people who are ambitious and have passions. Kathleen did have a passion, but she sort of — it’s two things. She gave up quickly because she couldn’t handle the rejection. She was an aspiring writer. She had to increasingly sublimate her own thing to her husband, who’s this charismatic, slightly smarmy politician guy. I think it’s something in midlife too. For midlife women, you have this “come to Jesus” where you’re like, am I doing what I want to be doing? Am I just being a support for other people, or am I really doing what I am passionate about?

Zibby: As a forty-six-year-old woman, this could not have rung more true for me. The whole thing is just so funny. Also, you must be so thrilled — not thrilled. There is such a spotlight now on menopause. All these nonfiction books are being held up, and the huge thing in The Times recently. Finally, people are talking about it and all of that. This is the most timely read, honestly.

Jane: We’re almost the same. I’m forty-eight. It’s on my mind. Periods too, there’s just this awful thing, this thing in Florida, not talking to girls about their periods before sixth grade when the average age of onset is between nine and fourteen or something. I guess menstrual justice is what the movement is called, is relevant too. I’m glad to see that. It’s much needed and much overdue.

Zibby: Not that I should be sharing this, but I didn’t know what was happening when I got — I was pretty young. I literally thought I was dying.

Jane: Oh, god.

Zibby: It’s the worst. Nobody taught me about it in school for two more years. It was late at my school, and I was early.

Jane: We’ve got to be talking about it more openly, which I still find hard, honestly. My kids are way more open about this stuff than I am. My daughter will call down the stairs, “Mom, can you bring me a pad?” My husband’s right there. I never would’ve done anything like that as a kid. My god, I would’ve died.

Zibby: Me neither. I can’t even think of any other books that even address something like this. This is like one of those essays you write. What’s the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you? I know you write about this in the book, how many people it’s happened to. There was this whole outpouring of people who have had spotting or whatever you want to call it, or the splotch, you called it at one point, all of that. Just the other indignities of the fact that this happens to us and making it so funny, it’s about time, basically.

Jane: Right. It shouldn’t be a big deal, but it inevitably is, of course. I think people don’t know, also, that when you’re perimenopausal, when you’re approaching menopause, your periods can be bonkers. They can be all out of whack. They could be heavy. They could be light. They can disappear. We don’t talk about that kind of stuff enough. That’s why I’m talking about it now.

Zibby: Even how impossible it is to cut short getting your highlights done. Even if you have somewhere to be, you just cannot cut that process .

Jane: No, you cannot. You can’t start yanking those foils out. No, you got to sit through it.

Zibby: I loved your New York and Hamptons seat. The whole thing, it was just so great. It was so great. I really, really loved it. Are you working on another novel now or another memoir? What are you up to?

Jane: I’m working on a novel in my head. I haven’t put much on the page yet. It’s baking. It’s about a pair of twin sisters who hate each other but have to band together when their little coastal town on Cape Cod is destroyed by a giant storm. It’s kind of cli-fi, but it’s silly cli-fi. Not silly, but —

Zibby: — I’ve never heard that term before.

Jane: You haven’t? Cli-fi, yeah, it’s books about climate change. Cli-fi.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh.

Jane: There’s a lot out there.

Zibby: I’m so out of it.

Jane: Now you know. You heard it here first.

Zibby: Heard it there first.

Jane: Now that’s all you’re going to see.

Zibby: I know there are a lot of books like that. I just haven’t heard it as a term, like quit lit and cli-fi, all these subgenres of books.

Jane: Autofiction.

Zibby: What’s the most creative marketing thing that’s been going on with your book?

Jane: That’s a good question. Anchor, the publisher, they made a cool package to go out to influencers. They made a bookmark that says #YesWeBleed on one side and #YesWeRead on the other side. We just keep coming up with #YesWe…whatever. #YesWeWhoreTheBookAround. #YesWe…whatever. That was pretty cool. I’m hoping there will be more fun stuff ahead.

Zibby: It’s so exciting.

Jane: It’s been fun.

Zibby: Jane, I’m such a fan. Again, I have not laughed until I cried this hard in so long. It was so great. It’s just so funny. I couldn’t put it down. Could not put it down.

Jane: Thank you. Thank you so much. It’s awesome talking with you. I really appreciate it. I’m so glad that you laughed a lot.

Zibby: Thanks so much. We’ll stay in touch.

Jane: Hope so. Take care. Thank you.

Zibby: Thanks, Jane. Buh-bye.

Jane: Bye.



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