Jennifer Haupt, COME AS YOU ARE

Jennifer Haupt, COME AS YOU ARE

Zibby is joined by author, essayist, and columnist Jennifer Haupt to discuss her latest novel, Come As You Are. Jennifer shares what happened when she decided she wanted to write a book in her mid-forties, which questions she can answer for younger moms now that her kids are grown up, and how she launched her successful Psychology Today column. Jennifer and Zibby also discuss their anthologies and how they both helped to raise money for bookstores during the early days of the pandemic.


Zibby Owens: Welcome.

Jennifer Haupt: Thank you. I have to say, it’s really a thrill to meet you, Zibby. I so admire you and appreciate what you do for authors and readers. Thank you.

Zibby: Aw, that’s so nice of you to say. I feel like the same way. I was reading your Alone Together anthology and reading about all the money you raised for Binc and how amazing that was, and all the stuff for Psychology Today. It’s amazing, and now your book, Come as You Are. You’ve got a lot going on.

Jennifer: Thanks.

Zibby: Why don’t we start with the novel because why not? Can you tell everybody a little bit about Come as You Are and how you came up with these characters, why this time of life for these — why go back to adolescence, and how you arrived at this book?

Jennifer: The story centers on Skye and Zain, two lonely teens drawn together by their dreams and their love of music. He wants to become a singer-songwriter. She wants to become an artist, like many teenagers. They’re inseparable for five years coming of age against the backdrop of the Seattle grunge music scene in the early nineties. Then a horrible accident that’s sort of wrapped in a mystery bonds them together in a way they never wanted and forces them into a pact to protect each other. They end up moving to LA in search of their dreams, but the haunting secret they share tears them apart and tears apart the family they’re desperate to build. Then fast-forward six years where the story actually begins. Skye’s raising Montana, their daughter, alone in Albuquerque. Zain shows up in her life after six years of nothing. They’re forced to face the truth about their past and their love for the sake of their daughter. The story’s really about reconciling the past to build a better future for our children and the dreams we give up as parents and the new ones that take their place, in a nutshell.

Zibby: In a nutshell. What dreams do you feel like you had to give up as a parent?

Jennifer: That’s a really good question. I actually feel like — you know, I wanted to be a writer, a novelist from the time — I can remember in third grade, my teacher, Miss Coin, giving me back this three-page story I wrote written on lined paper and pencil with a big A+ at the top. I still remember how thrilled I was. That dream got buried because you just think, well, who really becomes a writer, right? Who actually does that? It wasn’t until I was forty-five that I wrote my first novel, which kind of tells you how old I am now. I spent a lot of time raising my kids and doing writing, but writing more just for-money writing, like for publicity and brand-building. Then I went to Rwanda as a reporter and found an amazing story and spent ten years learning how to be a novelist, so there you go.

Zibby: How do you learn how to be a novelist in ten years? Even in a hundred years, some people can’t be novelists.

Jennifer: Fortunately and unfortunately, I thought I was really good when I first started. I had friends who were also writing for women’s magazines like I was. They were selling novels. I was like, okay, if they can do it, I can do it. I spent a year writing my novel and sent it off to agents and found out it actually sucked. Then I spent another, probably, seven years doing things like going to Sewanee and other writer retreats and taking a lot of classes at Hugo House here in Seattle where I now teach. It took me about seven years to really learn the craft of it. Honestly, I’m still learning all the time, which is the good and the bad thing about being a novelist. You never really perfect it.

Zibby: True, anything with writing. Anything I read that I’ve ever written, I’m like, oh, my gosh, I would do it again like this. I’m coming to Seattle this summer. I’m very excited. I just decided. We’re going to come. I’m going to go with my husband. I haven’t been since high school or college, something like that. I’m excited. I want to do all the literary things.

Jennifer: I’ll send you an email with suggestions and stuff because Seattle in the summer is so great.

Zibby: Awesome. I can’t wait. So you go to all these classes and learn to write. Your first novel comes out and all of that stuff. All of a sudden, you’re not just a “mom,” but you’re now a published author. What did that feel like?

Jennifer: Actually, it was a huge disappointment, I have to say, Zibby.

Zibby: Oh, no. I did not expect you to say that.

Jennifer: I know, right? I had such high expectations. For me, it was all about getting that first book published. That was going to change my life, and it didn’t. The reviews didn’t. The book sales didn’t. The author events, some of them, two people showed up. Some of my best author events were really when two people showed up and we just talked about writing. That’s when I figured out that I wanted to teach and that the success is really in the process. That’s something that I am really trying to hold onto now with my second novel coming out. I’m working on my third novel. I feel like every day, it’s really important, even if it’s only for an hour, to really pay attention to what’s important and to the process. I think for moms who have young kids who want to be a novelist or want to paint or want to be a master gardener, it’s really important to just know that this time with your kids is really important, but it’s also important to have some space for yourself to keep those dreams alive. Someday, they’re going to be older and not want to have anything to do with you. Then you’re going to have tons of time.

Zibby: Nothing but writing time. Yes, I would say also, to those people, to take — because I sort of am one of those people — to take lots of notes. I feel like even when my kids were little, I was like, oh, I’ll totally remember this for when I want to write about this stage. Now I’m like, I don’t remember anything.

Jennifer: Exactly. I know you have a children’s book coming out. I remember writing stories about a zebra and I can’t even remember the other animal, but their names were Bobo and Zozo, with my then five-year-old son and him rolling on the floor with laughter because Bobo was putting the dog in the refrigerator or something. I was like, where did I put those stories? I so want to read them again. One other thing I just wanted to say was, now that my kids are twenty-nine and thirty-two, I can really see where they pay attention to what you do. They pay attention to what you’ve done even when they were younger. I feel like me showing them that it’s important for me to really follow my passion has transferred into them doing the same thing, which is really cool to see.

Zibby: That is really cool. That’s amazing. I hope I communicate that to my kids, if nothing else, that I love what I do so much. I hope they find the right thing. Although, then sometimes I worry — it’s like parents who are madly in love, and then you go on and you can’t get married, you know, people like that. That wasn’t my experience, but I hear about people like that. Maybe it works the other way too. Never mind.

Jennifer: There are things you can’t control, obviously, but I do think they pay attention. The thing you do to take care of yourself help them to take care of themselves when they’re older.

Zibby: That’s a really good point. Do your kids like to write?

Jennifer: Yeah. My younger son does, for sure. My older son is a reader, not really a writer. My younger son writes in journals all the time. I know he writes poetry that he will not show me, which is good. Everyone should have their own stuff that they don’t need to show anyone else.

Zibby: You teach at Hugo House. You have your column. Tell me about Psychology Today, how you got involved with that.

Jennifer: I started writing a column for Psychology Today, for the blog. It was supposed to be about finding your faith because I was going to write a book about finding my faith at age forty. I think it was forty. That really didn’t pan out in terms of, it didn’t feel authentic. It didn’t feel like I really had that much to say to people, but I was getting to know a bunch of writers who had a bunch of things to say. I think one of the first people I interviewed for my blog was Dani Shapiro, who has so much to say about faith and so forth. Then I started seeking out other authors who I kind of just wanted to get to know. As a reporter, I had a really good excuse to interview people and to find out, how do you define faith? How does that transfer to your creativity? All sorts of things. It just grew from there.

Zibby: Wow, very cool. Then back to the anthology, you wrote in the book itself about how you got inspired to write that, not just write it yourself, but collect all these things from other authors. I did the same thing, as you know because we talked about this before. Your motivation, in part, was to help out the booksellers. You were very concerned about them. I didn’t think about that. I mean, I did, but my first thing was the authors. Then I had donated my proceeds to helping with COVID research. Not that my donation made a difference, but whatever. Tell me about that project for you.

Jennifer: I had friends who were doing things with fundraising with their writing skills in terms of, Jessica Keener and Jenna Blum and some other people I knew were offering writing coaching. Then the money, they donated to — honestly, I can’t remember what charity. I think it was something about immigrants. I’m pretty sure. That stuck in my mind. Then also, at the time, Jenna and Caroline Leavitt were launching A Mighty Blaze. I thought, that is such a cool thing to get readers and writers all in a community together. I had received a letter around Christmastime from asking other writers to contribute to Binc, which is an organization, as you know, that gives grants to booksellers in need. I thought, this is something I could do. I know a lot of writers. I have a big network. I put a call out on Facebook. This was when COVID first broke out. We had some things going on with the government. I was like, “Is anyone else feeling sort of powerless and wanting to do something to make some sort of difference for booksellers that have supported us all these years?” I got such a great response. I collected essays and poems from authors. Then I also did some interviews and put together this book really in the shape of a novel, of a story of the beginning of COVID and then things people were going through and then, what next? How can we come together as a country? It became not just stories of COVID, but stories of, how do we get back to being one America again? It was really a good experience.

Zibby: It was great going back and reading the essays and being in that frame of mind again. Especially some of the interviews that you have transcribed and everything, that was just so great to see. What were people thinking then? What’s it like now? How far we’ve come and all of that.

Jennifer: I really wanted to get voices from all different walks of life just to show — and not just best-selling authors. There were some people who were students of mine who had never published before. It was really nice for me to be able to bring a group of people together that wouldn’t necessarily have had their work in the same place.

Zibby: Interesting. By the way, I shouldn’t have said — before, a minute ago, I said I hadn’t even thought about the booksellers. That’s not true. Actually, I did support Binc myself. I just meant when I was doing my anthology, that wasn’t part of it. I just wanted to throw that out there, that I wasn’t just not thinking about booksellers because, in fact, I was.

Jennifer: Oh, I think everyone knows that you’re thinking about booksellers a lot, Zibby.

Zibby: Okay, okay, okay. I just wanted to make sure. It sounded so bad when it came out of my mouth just now. What is your daily life like now? How much time are you writing? What is your process like when you’re writing? All of that.

Jennifer: Right now, I’m deep in revisions, which I love. For me, it takes about ten years to write a book. The first couple years, I have to be really, really involved. I usually spend three hours in the morning, three hours in the afternoon, and then an hour at night to set up what I’m going to do the next day. At the point I’m at now with revisions, it’s really fun because I can just spend an hour or two and really look at what works and what doesn’t. When I get to a point where I’m like, oh, my gosh, this is actually good, that’s a fun point. I’m also gardening and cooking and dreaming about what I’m going to do next and looking forward to the summer when I can get together with friends more outside and going for long walks and all that good stuff.

Zibby: Are you reading anything good?

Jennifer: I am reading some good things. The book I love that I just finished is called What a Fun Age. I love that book.

Zibby: Such a Fun Age?

Jennifer: Yes, Such a Fun Age. My laptop is now on the top of Laurie Frankel’s book, This is How it Always Is, which I am just a little bit into and already really love. Then I just got in the mail, Amy Bloom’s new book. It’s a memoir.

Zibby: R.J. Julia, they’re doing an event or something with her. Maybe Roxanne Coady’s having her on her podcast. I hadn’t known about that book until I read it. I was like, oh, my gosh, I have to get this book. Nobody’s pitched it to me yet. What’s going on, people? I have to look it up. It looks so good. What’s it called? In Love or something, or In Loss or something?

Jennifer: Something love. Two words.

Zibby: Love Me. In Love. This is so embarrassing.

Jennifer: She’s an amazing writer. I’ve only read the first two pages so far because I just got it last night. I’m interviewing her next week. It’s about when her husband had Alzheimer’s. Not Alzheimer’s. No, I think it was. Yeah, Alzheimer’s.

Zibby: Alzheimer’s.

Jennifer: I don’t want to say anything else because just the first couple pages and you’ll be like, oh, my god.

Zibby: I have to get that. Did it come out yet, or not? Not yet?

Jennifer: It comes out on March 8th.

Zibby: Soon enough. I’m putting it on my list. Amazing. What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Jennifer: My advice is, write every day even if it’s only fifteen minutes. Get yourself a little notebook that you love. I call it my process notebook. It’s like the diary of your novel. It’s not your diary. It’s just the diary of your novel. It’s exercises you can do for creating your characters. Interview your characters. Just write about setting and so forth. Fill up that notebook before you do anything else because it’s so daunting to open up your computer and have this blank page. Do the work. Do the foundation work before you get down to doing the manuscript.

Zibby: I like that. Then it’s never really blank. You always have something you can throw up there.

Jennifer: Exactly.

Zibby: Love it. Jennifer, thank you. This was so fun. Thanks for everything, for talking about Come as You Are and all of your great stuff. If listeners want to find you, where is the best place? Where should they find you?

Jennifer: Best to find me online is my website. That’s just I’m on Facebook, but I’m not on other social media.

Zibby: And your Psychology Today blog.

Jennifer: And my Psychology Today blog, which is called One True Thing. Thank you so much, Zibby. It was such a pleasure talking to you.

Zibby: Thanks. You too. Take care. Buh-bye.

Jennifer: Buh-bye.

Jennifer Haupt, COME AS YOU ARE

COME AS YOU ARE by Jennifer Haupt

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