Jessica Saunders, LOVE, ME

Jessica Saunders, LOVE, ME

Debut author Jessica Saunders joins Zibby to discuss LOVE, ME, a deliciously readable second-chance romance about Rachel Miller, a lawyer and married mom of two, whose life takes an unexpected turn when letters and photos of her and her high school boyfriend, now a famous actor, are published in a tabloid. Jessica reveals that the inspiration for this story came from a family member whose ex married someone famous. She also talks about her own background as a lawyer and her writing journey, and then the two discuss first loves, loss, motherhood, balancing family life, and the excitement of this book being out in the world!


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Jessica. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Love, Me: A Novel.

Jessica Saunders: Thrilled to be here. Thank you so much for having me, Zibby.

Zibby: It’s so exciting. I love the premise of this book. I love your writing, your sense of humor, the way you totally capture mom-dom, motherhood, whatever the word is. Tell listeners what Love, Me is about.

Jessica: Love, Me is about Rachel Miller, who is a lawyer and married mom of two. Her life is suddenly turned upside down when letters of her and photos of her and her high school boyfriend who is now this world-famous actor, Jack Bellow, are published in a tabloid.

Zibby: Amazing. You were a lawyer yourself writing a book. This is your first novel. Where did this come from? Why stop the press and start writing in the midst of your own career? Why Jack? Did this happen to you? Did you really have a boyfriend like this?

Jessica: I mean, Ryan Reynolds and I…

Zibby: Exactly.

Jessica: I always wanted to write. I’m a reader. As long as I can remember, I’ve always had a book with me and always had my head in a book. It wasn’t far-fetched for me to say, one day, I’m going to write a book. It was really a dream. I hit forty. Unfortunately, also, I lost a very close friend of mine.

Zibby: I’m so sorry.

Jessica: Thank you. It triggered something, though, in me where I was like, okay, I’ve said I want to do this. I haven’t. I’m working, yes, but you can always carve out time. I signed up for a class. I had a bunch of different ideas. This was the one that I was like, I’m excited. I’m into this. I really was full steam ahead. It became all my free time. I just said, okay, this is what I’m doing now. I very much focused on writing and loved it. It’s such a joyful process. I loved it.

Zibby: It can be. It can also not be.

Jessica: True. I’ll tell you, for me, because I’ve never done this before because I had a whole other career, there was a lot less at stake. I was doing this for me. I’m such a reader that I found that I can put down the books that I’m reading and instead, focus on my own. It just became my routine and my nightly fun time. I agree, but for me, for some author who actually has another job, there was just less at stake. Now of course, I’m like, oh, my god, I have my book out. I want everybody to read it. I want to be successful. Now I feel much more pressure.

Zibby: That’s the whole thing that they say. If you don’t enjoy writing, why do it? There are certainly a lot of hurdles that come with this whole thing. Where did the idea of the old boyfriend and the old pictures — where was that? Or it just popped into your head one day?

Jessica: Actually, no. I have a close family member who used to be married to someone who dated a very famous woman. I was chatting with her about it. I knew, but she was telling me a story about how she first found out. I was asking her a million questions. I said, “Did you guys ever think about selling his photos of her? That would probably make a lot of money.” A light bulb went off. This is a book. It was really inspired by that. Then of course, I did have a boyfriend in high school who I was madly in love with, and it just sticks with you. There’s something about that first love, whenever it comes up in your life. I think it’s such an informative experience to all of us, your first heartbreak and those first feelings of just totally being enmeshed in some other person. That was easy for me to tap into and fun to visit.

Zibby: I actually just started reading — it’s not coming out for a little while. It’s called First Love by Lucy Danziger. I bet you would love it. It’s essays. She does weave in some information about first love, but it’s about friendship and close friends and loss.

Jessica: I would love that. I love essays. I do.

Zibby: I feel like I should moderate a talk with the two of you eventually.

Jessica: I’m in.

Zibby: She doesn’t even know this. I just got .

Jessica: I would love that.

Zibby: There is something, of course, about those first impressions. She says in her book it’s about the primacy effect, in part. You remember things that happened first, like first on the list for the grocery and all of that. Obviously, it’s also how impressionable you are. The love can go to friendship. Do you mind talking about your friend and what happened and who she was and all of that?

Jessica: No. She was the best. Her name was Suzanne. We went to college together. She had cancer. It was just such a terrible experience. We were so close. I had this really lovely group of girlfriends from Cornell. She was at the center of our group. She was the one who planned all of our activities and getting together. My husband and I set her up with her husband. We’re really close with him as well. After she passed, my girlfriends and I were like, what are we going to do to honor her? For some of them, it was a simple, I’m going to say hi to the UPS delivery man. She was that person. She just was so positive. For me, it was very much like, I know life is short, but I also know that Suz would do anything in her power to make something she wanted to happen. She was a lawyer too. She used to do open-mic nights. She was a singer/songwriter. During COVID, she created, basically, a nursery school for her children, but was a lawyer, so she would wake up at five o’clock in the morning and write a brief and then do that. She just inspired all of us. Our group is so tight, not just because we love each other. There’s history. I think it really unified us, the loss and the trauma of that but also just this idea that she made us better, and we want to carry that tradition on. Thank you for asking. It’s a horrible process. It’s a horrible thing to lose a friend at a young age, as I know you know as well. It really shapes you. I like to think she’s looking at me and proud.

Zibby: I’m so sorry. Why is it always these vibrant, amazing women? Is it all just to teach us a lesson? Obviously not. I don’t know.

Jessica: It’s true, though.

Zibby: There’s so much sparkle and brightness and light.

Jessica: That’s who she was. It’s true, actually.

Zibby: Does she have kids?

Jessica: Yeah, young, young kids, but they’re doing amazing. Her husband’s a superstar. Her sister lives in the same town, so she’s part of her — really, just a community. That’s what’s amazing, too, in life. You see people just rally around you during hardship. That’s been really nice to see everybody supporting the family.

Zibby: I feel like community can go both ways. Also in your book, when things happen that are unexpected, community has very strong feelings about some of those things.

Jessica: Absolutely. I value my female friendships. It’s family, my kids, my friends. It’s so important to me to have these close-knit friendships. They’re just so meaningful to me. For Rachel, she also has these two best friends that play such a big part of her life. She does live in the suburbs. I too, I know what it’s like to live in a tight-knit community. People talk. It can be wonderful, but it can be really challenging. She was very much judged on her past, judged just on people assuming things about her. It made it a lot of fun to write because I could see that absolutely happening with my friends, as well intentioned as we all are. Sometimes gossip is hard to resist, unfortunately.

Zibby: Yes, very true. What are some of the books that you had to put down to write your own? Is this the genre that you like to read? Are you all over the place? Tell me about that.

Jessica: My friend Leigh Stein tells me I’m an omnivore reader. My book, it’s marketed as a romance. I think really, it’s more of that women’s fiction, contemporary fiction with romantic elements. It’s more about Rachel’s journey than her relationships with a man. I don’t read, actually, a ton of romance. I have now because I’ve been exposed to the genre. Elissa Sussman is so fantastic, and Rachel Lynn Solomon, whose books are super spicey, which is like, whoa. It’s fun. It’s just a fun break from — for me, I generally am more interested in literary books, which is what I pick up. I read so many great books last year. My Last Innocent Year by Daisy Alpert Florin was so good. I loved My Murder. Did you read that? Katie Williams.

Zibby: I didn’t, no.

Jessica: It’s sci-fi-y, but it was really smart and beautifully written. I also loved Everything’s Fine, Cecilia. Oh, god, it was a wonderful book. I’m like you. I’m a reader. You put a book in front of me with an interesting premise, and I’m going to read it. I’m going to read it fast. I think that’s our superpower, being able to read a book and read it fast so we can go and keep going to the next.

Zibby: I know. Over winter break, I was like, okay, I’m not reading fast enough. How can I read this faster? I wanted to read a book a day when I didn’t have my kids. Come on, what’s my excuse? Go, go, go.

Jessica: You also have a life and a husband. It’s funny. I don’t know how you feel, but a lot of my friends just don’t read nearly as much as me. They’re always like, how do you do it? I’m like, this is what I’m often choosing to do. It’s just what I find fun. It’s not bad that you’re watching television. That’s what you do to relax. For me, before bed, I just love to read. It makes it easier, but it is hard to work it in, especially with our minds going a million miles a minute on all our other life activities.

Zibby: Then it’s that great feeling when you start reading something and you’re like, oh, no, no, no. Everything shuts off. You’re like, no, no, I’m staying up late. I don’t care what time it is. I have to read a little more. Let me just keep going. Such a great feeling. It’s worth it.

Jessica: It is. It is such a great feeling. stay up way too late.

Zibby: That’s for sure. I personally feel like I don’t feel like that with enough TV shows. I don’t find that. I don’t know, maybe I’m just watching the wrong shows.

Jessica: No, I hear you. I like to watch TV too. It’s something I do with my husband, but I agree. I think a book can suck you in in a totally different way.

Zibby: Also, I only watch with my husband or with somebody else. Watching TV isn’t something I ever would do by myself. If I ever had free time, you’ll never find me on the couch just turning on the TV and being like, what’s on? I’m laughing. I know that’s such a common thing, but I would never do that. I’m going to pick up a book or do something else. There’s no judgement.

Jessica: No, of course not. There’s so much content. I also think people, unfortunately — you’re on the phone. You’re scrolling. Part of that is just keeping up with what’s going on in the world. It’s hard to justify for people to sit on the couch and just sit and watch TV. I’m similarly minded, but there’s great shows out there.

Zibby: Actually, I find the majority of what I’m watching on TV is when books are made into TV shows because I’m like, oh, my gosh, this is now —

Jessica: — I know. I know.

Zibby: Lessons in Chemistry or whatever it is.

Jessica: Right, exactly.

Zibby: Are you writing another book?

Jessica: I want to write another book. I have dabbled in multiple new books. I think it’s tough because there’s so much — people don’t know about publishing. There’s so much that goes into a book before it comes out. Because I have a job, I’m finding it much more challenging this time around. This is when we talk about the pressure of writing. Before, I was like, this is for me. Now I’m like, well, I’m out there. I have, definitely, a few different things. I’m just trying to dig into something. Hoping to have more time.

Zibby: Awesome. How do you balance family life? What are your hacks?

Jessica: So many hacks.

Zibby: Is there anything that works particularly well or doesn’t?

Jessica: When I’m writing, I definitely will do it to — that is when I have free time. I’m going to write. That’s why I felt like I wasn’t reading as much when I was writing. As I said, it just really became part of my life. We’re always going to try and have that alone time at night. I have an eight-year-old who still really needs to be put to bed. My eleven-year-old, she’s on her own a little bit. Once my little one is down, that’s me time. I try to make that stuff happen, but it’s tough. The good thing is, my kids, especially my older one, just loves to read, which is amazing because you can see it’s in you. She just wants to be reading. We’ll sit together and read together, our own books. I feel so connected to her lying in her bed separately reading. It’s just a special time for us. I do that, but it’s tough. It’s tough. My girls know I love them, but sometimes I’m being pulled in a lot of different directions, as you are. I think it’s what being a mom is today. It’s tough. That mental load, .

Zibby: Yes. Oh, my gosh, I know. I realized as I was going through all these vacations, I was like, they have a second day off for this holiday. I didn’t know that. I planned a lunch for an author. It’s just always — I don’t know. Whatever.

Jessica: I had that. Back from New Year’s, I had to be back in my office on January 2nd. Apparently, my children did not have school that day. I’m like, what am I going to do? I have such fabulous friends who are like, I’ll take them. I’m like, I don’t want to feel rushed. I did end up getting a babysitter. Thankfully, there are people I can call to come be with my children, but it is so tough. If you’re not looking for those days, you don’t necessarily know. I didn’t know until a friend was like, what are you going to do with the girls on Wednesday? I’m like, what are you talking about?

Zibby: I know. I’m always like, thank god for the other moms who are like, hey, does so-and-so want to have a playdate on the day we don’t have school next whatever? I’m like, oh, yeah, okay. Yeah, that sounds great. Perfect.

Jessica: And it’s going to be at your house.

Zibby: It’s so funny. When I was a stay-at-home mom, I would be the one who would organize a grade-wide playdate on those days. I’m like, let’s all go play gaga. I’ll take your kids. Now I’m like, help!

Jessica: Your kids will be very grateful and remember that. It’s really special. Now they’re seeing you become this superstar.

Zibby: Oh, please.

Jessica: No, but I feel it too. I feel like, how grateful our kids will be to see us succeeding and doing what’s our passion.

Zibby: Although, my daughter, who’s ten, this morning, was like, “When I grow up, could I write just one book and that’s it, or do I have to write lots of books?” I was like, “Oh, no, no, you can write one book.”

Jessica: You don’t even have to write a book.

Zibby: I know. It’s so funny.

Jessica: It’s so cute.

Zibby: I’m like, “It’s not the easiest, but if that’s what you want to do and you feel you have to.” To your point of readers, I really do feel there’s something — you can foster the love of reading in kids by kind of forcing it on them, honestly, or working really hard to find the books they love. I do find, even with my own kids, that there are variant degrees of how much they just innately love to read and how naturally that comes to some people.

Jessica: It’s true. It’s true. I’m still very close with the girls I grew up with. They used to joke that I would bring my books at sleepovers. I would just be like, I’m going to read now. Bye. With my flashlight.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, we would’ve been friends. They would all watch horror movies, which are too scary for me. I would take my novel from my mom’s library and sit with my friend’s mom in her room and hang out. I just ran into that friend. I’m like, “How is your mom?”

Jessica: My best friend.

Zibby: It’s so great.

Jessica: It is.

Zibby: What are you looking forward to on the tour and the release of the book and just all the stuff? What are you excited about?

Jessica: Gosh, it’s really exciting to have it finally in people’s hands. To me, I’ve been talking about the book for — you know how long it takes to come out, between the writing and getting the agent and getting it sold. I’m sick of it. I’m sick of being on social media, like, pre-order my book. I’m thrilled that it’s going to be out in the world. On my launch day, I’m going to be with Annabel Monaghan, who is just a dream of a person.

Zibby: I love her.

Jessica: She was one of the first authors who read my book and seemed to love it and really supported me. She’s an amazing person. That’s in Greenwich at Athena Books, which is just the most beautiful bookstore. Then I am going to be in the city on the day after, on January 17th. I’m going to be with my best friend from college. Lindsay Brooke Weiss is an influencer. She’s into fashion. She’s a stylist. @cocoincashmere, follow her if you don’t. She’s awesome. I thought it would be fun and really great, a little more interesting and different to have her interview me. We’re going to sit down together at the Upper East Side Barnes & Noble. Then the next day, I’m going to Carle Place, Long Island. I’m from near there. A lot of my friends from growing up will be there too. I’m excited. Just a few more things I’m planning. I have your event in March at Athena on my calendar. I can’t wait for that.

Zibby: Oh, good. Yay.

Jessica: I can’t wait for that. It’s fun. I love how some authors communicate with their readers. For me, just because I’m a regular person, I would love to Zoom into book clubs or visit book clubs if I’m able because I think there is something so exciting. I would love that opportunity. One thing that’s been so great about being an author is starting to be able to message authors of books that I love and say, I loved your book. I’m sure I could’ve done that before, but I feel like I have a tiny bit more street cred. I’m less intimidated reaching out. It’s so cool, isn’t it?

Zibby: It is so cool.

Jessica: As you say, they’re our celebrities.

Zibby: They are. I still feel like that.

Jessica: I do too.

Zibby: The other day — I read A Dog’s Purpose. You know all those books? A Dog’s Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron. I happened to read the whole series to my son when he was younger. Then recently, his wife reached out and said she had read my memoir and consequently bought the Nene’s Treats crumb cakes I mentioned in the memoir and that Bruce was eating them all. I’m like, that’s so cool.

Jessica: That is so cool.

Zibby: It’s just cool. I flipped out about it. Then I picture myself and my son on his bed reading those books years ago. Then I fast-forward. It’s all just so crazy to have a relationship with authors. It’s just the coolest.

Jessica: It is. That’s how I feel. It’s funny, I could go on and on about some of these amazing women that I’ve met. One thing that I found that’s been so surprising and fabulous is how warm and welcoming authors are. It does not feel like a competitive environment. Everyone’s lifting each other up. That’s rare, I would say. Certainly, that is such a fabulous part of this industry and really has been such a pleasant surprise for me. I’m really grateful. You included. You’re putting yourself out there. You don’t know what you’re going to get. It’s been good. It’s been really nice.

Zibby: I think the thing is, luckily, there are so many readers. Everybody has their own things that they bring to each book. If everyone was competing for the same twenty readers — I guess. I don’t know.

Jessica: That is the difference with movies or whatever, TV shows. There’s no limitation on what you can be reading. I agree.

Zibby: You could have the same reader, and they would just read all of the books. You’re more likely to appeal to their reader or whatever. I don’t know. I have found the same thing. It’s amazing. People are just so willing to open up, like you today. Let me delve into your private life and your losses and your family.

Jessica: Please. Keep going.

Zibby: Everyone’s like, oh, okay. I’m like, great.

Jessica: Bring it on.

Zibby: Bring it on.

Jessica: It’s so funny. I’m writing my book. Yes, some of it is inspired by real life, but it’s not me. It is interesting coming on and talking about yourself.

Zibby: Thank you.

Jessica: It has nothing to do with your book, but I’m so grateful to be able to do it. I think people find it interesting, right? Everyone’s listening to your podcast, so there must be a reason.

Zibby: I always feel more connected to the book when I know the person behind the book. It didn’t just plop down from the universe. Somebody sat there and typed it all out and thought of it. For me, it just infuses it with so much more meaning. Then I am rooting for the person when I hear about it. How can you not?

Jessica: I agree.

Zibby: I must say it’s a rarity to hear of someone who’s just like, I want to write a novel, and then writes one and gets it published and have it be good, like yours. What advice do you have for aspiring authors? Usually, you have to write a couple novels, the practice-round novels. What advice do you have?

Jessica: I will say one benefit was not having any knowledge of that when I set out. I was like, oh, yeah, I’m going to do this. Then I’m going to find an agent. Part of it is probably a little bit of confidence. I think, too, because I’m in such a different profession and I’m still doing it — there’s very specific paths that you follow in the law. You go to law school. You work hard. You get a job. It didn’t translate for me. I learned quickly, publishing is so different. I’d send an email, and I’d hear back two weeks later in the publishing universe. Whereas in my legal job, it’s immediate. In terms of advice, I would say the best thing to do is to start. If you have an idea or even if you sort of have a tiny seedling of an idea, getting in the habit of writing is huge. I do think that you don’t have to set — I wrote relatively fast. I think just putting a little time towards it each day is worth it. The other thing I did, which I loved, I took a class online with Gotham Writers Workshop. It was an evening class. It was a live class. For three hours once a week, this is what I’m doing. I said no to all plans on Wednesday because, you know, I was very much in demand on Wednesday evenings. I turned everybody down.

I was very committed. I didn’t have knowledge of the craft. I don’t have an MFA. I know how to write legal briefs, but there is a very big difference between writing fiction. That was so wonderful. It allowed me to start to think like a writer, to understand what goes into writing a book. I do have one more piece of advice that I learned in this class. I think people are so precious about their writing, which I get. Certainly, as a writer, you want every word to be just perfect, but there is something about that messy first draft and just going full steam ahead and not rereading constantly and tweaking as you go. For me, that was the best gift I could’ve gotten, that advice, because I really did just write. At the end, I had a piece of work that needed a ton of editing, far more editing than I realized. I learned that in the process, but I did it. I had a first draft. That really is the only way. Otherwise, it’s going to take you years to come up with something if you keep stopping yourself. That’s my advice.

Zibby: I love it. Oh, my gosh, this was so fun. Your book is great. I’m so excited for you. Above all else, you sound like you’re really an amazing friend. Your friends all sound very, very lucky to have you.

Jessica: Thank you so much. I appreciate that. I loved this.

Zibby: Thank you.

Jessica: Bye.

LOVE, ME by Jessica Saunders

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