Zibby interviews debut author Jenny Hollander about EVERYONE WHO CAN FORGIVE ME IS DEAD, a relentlessly twisty and bitingly sharp thriller (with smart, dark humor, long-buried secrets, and a chilling mystery) about a woman who is haunted by a harrowing event she witnessed at journalism school. Jenny delves into the themes of trauma, identity, and the media’s exploitation of the tragedy explored in the book. She also touches on her own experiences (as a British expat in NYC and as someone who struggles with anxiety) to reveal her connections to the story.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Jenny. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Everyone Who Can Forgive Me Is Dead.

Jenny Hollander: Thank you so much for having me, Zibby. I’m so excited to be here.

Zibby: Yay. Jenny, tell everybody what your book is about, please.

Jenny: This is a fast-paced and twisty thriller about a woman who thought she’d outrun her past. She witnessed a horrific massacre at her journalism school nine years earlier. Then when she finds out that a classmate is trying to make a movie about that night, the truth about what really happened will really jeopardize everything that the main character thought she knew about her life and about herself.

Zibby: Wow. Where did this come from?

Jenny: I like to joke that it’s almost as though my life took a very different turn. It’s about a Brit that moves to New York. I am a Brit who moved to New York when I was twenty-two, the same age as my protagonist Charlie did. I went to journalism school. Then from there, I established a career in New York as a journalist. For me, I was very lucky nothing went horribly wrong. For Charlie, I started thinking about what might have happened if my life had taken a very different turn when I was very isolated from my friends and from my family and in a new place, in a very new media environment. That’s a big part of the book, how the media really focuses on Charlie and how the media tends to treat survivors of tragedy like pieces of meat, in some ways, and really takes advantage of them when they’re in a very vulnerable state. I started just thinking about all these dark things. Then I twisted that into an almost alternate history of my last ten years and what I would’ve been like if my life had gone, as I said, in a very different direction. This book is a thriller at its heart, but it’s also about trauma. It’s about finding yourself. It’s about, in some ways, coming to terms and treating things that have happened to you that you never really recovered from. There’s a lot of me in it. My father-in-law refers to it as a dark Jenny, which I think is really funny. I also can assure you that nothing like that has ever, ever happened to me. I’m writing a second book now. The first one is definitely more personal than the second one is.

Zibby: Interesting. Maybe you wouldn’t tell me, though, or tell anybody, if you had secrets because they wouldn’t be secrets anymore.

Jenny: It would just be the ultimate if I wrote a book called Everyone Who Can Forgive Me Is Dead and then said, oh, yeah, nothing like that ever happened to me.

Zibby: Then it turns out it was true. That could be the next book, is when the author of this book, her secrets come out. We could just keep going in circles on this whole thing. You wrote in a really interesting way about New York from another perspective. You called it a survivor’s city. Tell me about some of these differences and the heart of New York. How do you really feel about it?

Jenny: Oh, my god, I love New York. Charlie’s journey with New York is very much like my journey with New York. I got there, and everyone around me was constantly saying, oh, my god, this place is amazing. It’s where all the dreams come true. This is so beautiful and incredible. I just looked around, and I was like, really? New York, at the quarter of your life, in so many ways, is low. You’ve got these tiny, tiny apartments. You’ve got cockroaches everywhere. I was there for ten years. I’m not just talking out of my ass here. You have rats everywhere. Everything’s very expensive. It’s a really tough, competitive city that is really, really cold in the winter and really hot in the summer and has about six weeks of the year where the temperature is actually really nice. I looked around at first, and I just thought, what is the big deal? I just don’t get it. Even the tall buildings, often when you go to the doctors or the dentist, look very run down on the inside and a little bit scary. Then I went on this journey over the first five years or so I was in New York where I just fell so in love with it.

I was having a lot of anxiety at the time and just nonstop panic attacks. I was very isolated from my friends and my family at the time. I just realized that when you are in need, New York is the place that steps up. If you forget your credit card at the bodega, they will hand you the groceries, and they’ll say, you come back later. You can come pay later. If you have a panic attack on the subway — I had many panic attacks on the subway. New York is always there to help you outside, make sure you’re okay, get you to the hospital if you need, even just hold your hand. If ever you need help, New York was the very first to stop. I think in some ways, they’re so used to things being so hectic that it doesn’t phase them. Nothing that you do will ever phase them. I live in London now. As much as I love London, there isn’t that sense. That’s what made New York, for me, the best place in the world. When you needed help, New Yorkers were always there in every way that you needed them.

Zibby: Wow, that’s great. That’s not the brand.

Jenny: I know, right?

Zibby: I’m not sure everybody would agree. That’s great. I’ve lived here my whole life. I’ve gone out for years at a time. Would I describe it as a place where if you need help, somebody would stop? I don’t know. That’s great. I love it. We need some good PR.

Jenny: I think I might be comparing it to London. London’s a place where you don’t necessarily talk to cashiers. You don’t necessarily have conversations. You don’t yell things out in the street. I walk down the street in London, and ten people don’t stop and talk to my dog in the way that they do in New York. Feeling really connected to your city in that way was so meaningful for me. You could not get on the street without interacting with someone in some way. London’s very different in that way. I’m pretty new to London now. I miss New York a lot in that way, how vibrant every block becomes when you’re — it’s like a sea tide. I wrote this in the book. It’ll knock you over, and then it’ll just push you back up. You’re just like, okay.

Zibby: Literally, yesterday, I was picking up my kids from somewhere. This dog came over, who I swear must have been my grandmother in another life. This dog, we connected in such a way. I’m not a “stop on the street, let’s pet the dog” type of person, even though I love my own dog, who’s in here somewhere. I don’t know. I’m like, what is going on? I’m on the street for five minutes, and I have a new pet. Now I’m missing the dog. Where is — what was it called? Buttercup or something. I don’t even know. Brandy. Whiskey. Something. Yes, there is that element.

Jenny: New York has really incredible dogs. It really, really does. London — this bothers me. All the dogs are very, almost toy poodle-y. That’s a stereotype of London. Obviously, it’s not true everywhere. Certainly where I live in London, all the dogs are little toy poodles. My dog is this very anxious, very over-the-top, very dramatic rescue. All of them are like, we’ve never seen anything like this before. Who are you? Where did you come from? I’m like, he’s a New Yorker. He spent the first five years of his life in New York. This is who he is. He’s going to bark at you. Then he’s going to try and sniff you. Then he’s going to run away.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh. To shift gears, as they say in workplaces I don’t belong to, I read your article in Marie Claire about developmental coordination disorder and what that’s like, what that’s like for you, the comorbidity with ADHD, and how that presents and what that has been like for you.

Jenny: Thanks for reading that.

Zibby: Could you share a little bit more about that? Obviously, with the statistics you put in, it’s quite common, more so than autism. Yet not that many people, maybe, know about it.

Jenny: Clumsiness is its main symptoms, but it presents in so many different ways that it’s really hard to diagnose. You’ve got to rule out a lot of different things first. You have to rule out brain injuries. You have to rule out ADHD, autism, really everything in that developmental zone. It’s almost a disorder of exclusion. Then you get to this thing, and you’re like, okay, this person has all these different symptoms. They’re different from the next child with dyspraxia. That’s what they call it in the UK. In the US, it’s called DCD, as you said. This is what it is because it cannot be anything else. For that reason, it’s very, very hard to study. It’s very hard to diagnose. The US, for whatever reason, never quite got on board with it. Maybe it’s the medical system, because it’s for-profit. The NHS here isn’t quite perfect either, but that contributed.

Also, there are two moms, actually, in the UK who, both of their kids had what’s called as dyspraxia here in, I want to say, the late eighties. They were so frustrated because they just could not find any care for their kids. People knew what it was, but there was no support. There were no groups. There were no activities. There was just no support for them or for their children. They actually started a foundation that has become this behemoth. It’s the Dyspraxia Foundation. It now brings in hundreds of thousands of profit every year. Well, not profit because it’s a non-for-profit, but for the cause. Because of it, dyspraxia is actually very well-known in the UK. I always come back to the fact that it was just these two women who were so mad because their kids had this and no one was helping them. It really became this country-changing movement, in a way. The US just never had it. I often think of those two moms who started this foundation, which is, as I said, a huge behemoth now. I just think, if you guys hadn’t done that, would anybody? In the US, I don’t think they did. If they did, it didn’t catch on in the same way, for various ways.

Zibby: Leave it to busy moms to just change up .

Jenny: Right? Leave it to them to be like, oh, we’re fixing this.

Zibby: In the article, you talked about how day-to-day things, like standing up after you’ve been sitting down or the coordination it takes to chew or eat, are things that you have to actively think about throughout the course of your day. How do you marry that with having a career based in words and interacting with people and journalism and the pace of life? Also, where do the panic attacks fit into all of this as well? Sorry, I’m totally delving into your personal life.

Jenny: No, no. It’s not completely related. The panic attacks really came about in part because people with dyspraxia are much more likely to have sensory difficulties. I and other people with dyspraxia often get very overwhelmed by things. I’ve just had to figure out workarounds, figure out ways to treat it in myself. A lot of it is just saying, I’m having a panic attack, and I’m going to take ten minutes and then I’ll come back, and being good with that, frankly. For me and for a lot of people with dyspraxia, it really comes down to spikey skills. You’re very, very good at some things, and you’re very, very bad at others. I’ve been lucky enough that in my career, the things that I am good at have compensated for the things that I am bad at. Because I do edit a lot and I can get through a lot of words and I can do a lot of different communications and a lot of different kinds of problem solving that do come really naturally to me and I find, not easy, but not in any way difficult either, I have been able to be allowed to focus on those things and not focus on the things that I am bad at, which are generally around organization, budgeting; particularly with journalism, things like interviewing. I’m not very good at interviews, honestly. I’m trying to get better.

Zibby: You’re great on this one. You mean interviewing other people or giving an interview?

Jenny: Giving an interview. I’m all right at interviewing other people, but actually speaking about things .

Zibby: What? You’re doing great. This is fabulous. It doesn’t feel like an interview. This isn’t like a traditional interview because I’m just diving into .

Jenny: I also want to impress you. I think you’re amazing. I can feel myself myself and thinking, come on, come on, you can do better.

Zibby: Oh, stop. I think you’re amazing. Look at your book and your career. It’s just really awesome.

Jenny: It’s something like — we have an amazing fashion team, for example. We are a fashion magazine. Because I can almost sit on my computer and write and edit and really play point person in that way, our other editors can go and be at the shows and do all of these things that I think, for me, would be very difficult from a sensory perspective. I think we need someone like me who is just like, no, I don’t want to go to fashion shows. That sounds great for you. We should definitely do it. I’m going to sit there, and I’m going to organize it from behind the scenes. I’ve been very lucky in that all my jobs, because of the things that, as I say, I like to think I am good at, I’ve been given the leeway and the understanding to not be thrown into situations that are hard for me.

Zibby: That’s great. Yesterday in my office — I have impaired spatial relations. I cannot fit things together. I am really bad at that. I once got tested. This person was like, “You must get into a lot of car accidents.” I’m like, “I do get into a lot of car accidents.” Yesterday in my office, there were two existing computer plugs. They were different shape little box thingies that the plug goes into. I was trying to fit a third one in and move them around. I was like, I literally can’t figure this out. I can’t figure out how to put three chargers here, but I can run this business and do everything else. This step, forget it. I need help.

Jenny: It’s so embarrassing too. When you feel yourself to be someone who really does take on leadership roles in your life and obviously, with your family, it’s embarrassing to have to say, I can’t do this incredibly basic thing. I can’t drive at all. I would cause accidents. I’ve been told I probably could if I had a disability-specific car and instructor. I’ve never quite looked into that because I’m in London now. Why would I? The tube is great. Certainly, it feels very stupid to be able to do a lot of different things and then to say, no, I can’t drive there. Someone’s going to have to drive me there. It’s very infantilizing in a way. It’s something I’ve really had to come to terms with and be like, no, can’t do that. Sorry, someone else is going to have to fix this very basic thing that I just can’t do.

Zibby: I totally get it. What does it mean now to be — you’re digital director of Maire Claire. What does that mean? How do you keep magazines relevant when the whole world is — the death nail is ringing for magazines. By the way, I love magazines. How do you reinvent? Obviously, you’re in charge of the digital, which is the most important . Tell me about that and how you…

Jenny: Obviously, in the last twenty years, we’ve seen huge shifts in digital media in general. We’ve seen digital media create huge shifts in media. We’ve seen just an enormous amount of change. It’s really made the entire media industry a completely new industry. In the last few years, I’ve definitely had workplaces that were like, all right, we’re going to chase the traffic, or we’re going to chase the commerce, or we’re going to chase this or that. It never quite works when you chase one thing. When you kind of throw everything else out the window and try and chase one thing, it never is sustainable in the long term. One thing that I try really hard to do at Marie Claire — I work with a team that does feel the same. We try and do not just everything well, which is also true, but we try and focus on the reader.

We try and focus less so on everything else, all these little parts that you really can obsess over, and more focus on, okay, how are we reaching this reader? Is it through search? If so, what are we doing to make that the best experience possible? Is it through newsletter? If so, what are we doing to make sure we know who that reader is, that we’re reaching them, and then when they see our newsletter, they’re opening it, and they care about what we have to say? If it’s Facebook, what platforms are they on? How are we reaching them? What strategies are we using to make sure that we get to them? I do think that when you bring it back to that, it’s not a recipe for success because media is turbulent by nature, but it is much more sustainable as a strategy than anything that’s like, you know what, we’re going to pivot to video. We’re going to make loads of money from video. Everything’s going to be fine. I think those kind of singular strategies, which we did for a lot of very panicked years in the 2010s in media, don’t tend to work.

Zibby: That’s great advice. We’re currently thinking about our own — anyway, it’s just very good advice. We’re also trying to reach the readers. That’s what everything is about. This podcast and everything is just celebrating reading. How do you reach people who are already celebrating reading?

Jenny: Certainly with newsletter, that’s been my big learning from the last year and a half. It does feel very mid-two-thousands. You’re like, oh, a newsletter. Yeah, I too had those in the mid-two-thousands. We’ve found that with social and search platforms constantly changing, it is the one way we can reach a reader directly, our loyal readers, where they are. We have really invested in that in the last year. We’ve seen a lot of sustained success from it too. This year, I’m thinking a lot about a newsletter. Last year, I was thinking about something different. This year, I’m thinking that that is a fantastic way to reach the person that you want to reach. Rather than a big, broad audience, it’s all about that one person anyway, right?

Zibby: Yeah, totally. Wow. Good advice. Turns out I’m getting career advice from you when I’m supposed to be interviewing you about your novel. Back to the novel.

Jenny: As discussed, I’m not very good at interviews, so I really do go on tangents sometimes. I have to be stopped.

Zibby: No, I love it. This is how you get to know people. This is what’s on our minds and all of that. You referenced earlier that you were working on another book that wasn’t quite as . Tell me about that book.

Jenny: I’m loving working on it. Everyone Who Can Forgive Me Is Dead was my first book. It was a huge learning curve because I’d never written fiction. I began during the pandemic. As it turns out, writing fiction is not something you can just do, write a draft of, send it in, and be like, great, let’s do it. I went through eight different drafts. Each draft was a full rewrite. I just got very lucky that I had people on my team who really believed in the book and were willing to get me to this finish line. The second book is coming a lot easier because after these eight drafts, I have a slightly better sense of what I’m doing and how to pace and just how to go about it. It’s also not really about me and my life. I’m really enjoying that too. Sorry, you asked what it was about. It’s about two sisters. One of them is really, really famous. She’s a singer. She and her sister are estranged. They have very different lives. One has a very low-key life in London. One is a mega star in New York City. Then the man that led to them being estranged, not perhaps in the way that you’d expect, shows up dead. Very quickly, a lot of the evidence points to both sisters. They have to really figure out how far they’re going to go to protect themselves and also protect each other after years and years of being apart.

Zibby: Where is the fascination with the dead people coming from?

Jenny: Gosh. It’s funny, actually, because my mother always says that when she took me to the library when I was a kid, all I wanted to do was find books about people who were dying or dead or about to die but didn’t know it. The sick, the dead, and the dying, she called it. She was quite freaked out by it. She was like, where is this going? This child is . I don’t know. I think I’ve always been uniquely interested in trauma and the ways that we process it and move on from it, not particularly from a personal level. I just find it interesting, for better and for worse, probably.

Zibby: When you said that Everyone Who Can Forgive Me Is Dead is much more personal, what elements of it are the most —

Jenny: — Not the title.

Zibby: That’s up for debate still. I’m not convinced. Not convinced at all, especially the more I hear. What pieces of this are direct lifts?

Jenny: Particularly, when Charlie first moves to New York City. Charlie is very naïve. Charlie really is just vibing her way through the day. That is very much where I was at twenty-two when I moved to New York and didn’t have a clue what I was doing. Then obviously, later in the book, Charlie has a lot of anxiety and panic related to her trauma. That was different from me, but I went through a phase in my mid-twenties where I was really having just terrible, terrible anxiety. It was taking over my whole life. There are a lot of panic attacks in the book and a lot of rising panic about, in Charlie’s case, something very valid. In my case, it was just the anxiety in my head convincing me it was valid, but it all feels the same. All of that was very much based on my personal experiences.

Zibby: How do you feel you’re managing your anxiety now?

Jenny: Better than I was in my mid-twenties. I always think therapy and medication, if needed, are not cure-all, but I believe in therapy so much. I truly, truly believe that therapy saved me over and over again throughout my life.

Zibby: Amazing. What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Jenny: I would always say, don’t do what I did. I literally just wrote up a novel. I was like, you know what, all these communities online seem really scary. The chances of getting published seem really scary. I’m just going to start sending it off. That’s not what you should do. You should have readers. You should have a plan. You should have an idea of your genre. You should have competitive titles. You should have a very strong sense of how it’s going to sit on shelves. You should try and sell it better to the people who are going to try and sell it. I generally think that, as much as when you start fiction, there’s this terrifying knowledge that the chances of getting published are very, very small and it really can put you off, but at the same time, doing a manageable amount of research into the industry is a good idea.

I’ve always been someone who throws herself in feet first. I wouldn’t have done that. I also would’ve tried to make sure I didn’t psyche myself out too much because you can do that too. Publishers Marketplace as a tool was really, really helpful because I wanted to find an agent. That was obviously the starting place. I found an amazing agent, Claire Friedman at InkWell, who is just an incredible partner in everything that we do and who also beared with me through eight different drafts and said, “We’re going to get there. We’re going to get there even though we’re not quite there yet.” To do that, Publishers Marketplace was my best friend because I really had to figure out who that person was. Once you have that person in your corner, once you have that teammate and you trust them and you’re willing to — sorry, I’m not crying over this. I have a slightly sore throat. I’m not going to start crying.

Zibby: You’re not going to cry over Publishers Marketplace.

Jenny: I think Claire’s amazing, but I’m not sobbing over a video call about it. Once you have that, things get easier because you have a partner in everything. Until then, Publishers Marketplace and beta readers are your best friend.

Zibby: I love that. Jenny, thank you so much. Thanks for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Jenny: Zibby, this was such a pleasure. I’m such a big fan. Thank you so much for reading. I so appreciate it.

Zibby: Thank you.



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