Zibby interviews bestselling author Karma Brown about WHAT WILD WOMEN DO, a dual-timeline story revolving around a modern-day screenwriter and a 1970s socialite-turned-feminist. The novel explores female ambition, social media dynamics, and the complexities of personal relationships. Brown discusses her own experiences with aging, social media, and writing, highlighting the importance of being present in one’s life. She also talks about the therapeutic aspect of writing and the importance of being true to oneself in creative endeavors.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Karma. Thank you for coming back on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books,” this time to discuss What Wild Women Do.

Karma Brown: Thanks, Zibby. I am happy to be here again.

Zibby: For anybody who is listening, you should stop what you’re doing and go look at this cover, which I think is absolutely beautiful with all these delicate yet beautiful branches. I’m not good at describing things, which is why you should just go look. It’s beautiful.

Karma: It is. They did such a nice job with it. It really is. It has that feminine quality. There’s a little bit of wildness to it with the natural elements. There’s a crow in there. A crow plays a part in the story. I was very happy when the crow got on the cover. That was exciting for me.

Zibby: Gorgeous. So gorgeous. Of course, that’s not important. Don’t judge a book by its cover, but I have to judge a little bit. Your book really spoke to me in different ways, one of which is the curation for others of your life as it happens. How do you navigate that and what everyone else in your life wants and what you want? What becomes material? What does not? What is private? For anyone who is on social media, which is most people these days, this is an extreme. I want you to tell listeners more about what the book’s about. It’s something that everybody is always questioning and that you handle in a really interesting way.

Karma: Thank you. There was a lot wrapped up into that, in that statement. Should I start with the —

Zibby: — Go from there.

Karma: Go from there, okay. It’s a dual-timeline story. It’s set in 1975 in the present day. We follow two women, one of whom is a modern-day screenwriter who’s thirty. The other woman is a fifty-year-old socialite-turned-feminist in 1975 who is running these workshops for women at her family’s Great Camp compound in the Adirondacks. She’s running these workshops and these camp sessions for women to find their wild ways. Then in the modern day, our protagonist Rowan, who is the screenwriter, has gone with her fiancé, Seth, to the woods for a month to just get lost in the woods and be able to refocus on their creative endeavors. There is this Great Camp. There is a hidden treasure. There is a mysterious disappearance. These things link the two women together across the decades. That’s what the book is about. I’ve just started talking about it. It’s so funny because you’re like, okay, what is my book about? How can I make an elevator pitch for this story? It’s so hard. You know. You live in your book. It’s really hard to distill it. That’s basically what it’s about.

Zibby: I think that was a good job. That was great. You can do it again if you want. We could just practice. We could use the whole thirty minutes just to have you practice your elevator pitch.

Karma: You know what? I feel happy enough with what just happened there, so I’m going to leave it and not try —

Zibby: — Let’s move on.

Karma: The first time is usually the best, so we’ll leave it and move on. There are so many things that I can talk about with this story. I don’t quite know where to start. One thing I will say is that it was really important for me to make one of the characters fifty. I just turned fifty last year. I did keep aging her up. It took a couple of years to write the book. She was forty-eight. Then she was forty-nine. Then she was fifty when I realized I’d be fifty when the book came out. She just gave me an opportunity to work out a lot of stuff on the page about this age, about being a woman who’s aging, and all the good and bad that comes with that. For Rowan, who is in the present day with her fiancé Seth, she is a screenwriter and really wants to have her project, this script, made into something or at least optioned for something, but she’s sort of stuck. Her fiancé is writing the great American novel. He’s an MFA, but he doesn’t seem to be doing a lot of writing. He’s doing a lot of YouTube content creation because he has a YouTube channel and has roped her into doing a lot of this couples’ content living their lives out on social media. His focus seems to be there, and her focus is somewhere else.

There is a lot about female ambition in this story and what that can do within a relationship if not everyone is on the same page about that. The social media aspect, I really wanted to touch on because who doesn’t struggle with social media? I have a teenager. I think multiple times a day about her use of social media and what I should be doing or shouldn’t be doing or can do, how I want to be on social media. That was an element of the story that I wanted to put in there because I do think it’s hard to be authentic on social media. Even when you’re being authentic, there can be this feeling that you’ve shared too much. Then you get that oversharing hangover. You’re like, uh, oh, what have I done? Did I need to do that? There’s a strange thing about it that compels you to share. I wanted to add that as a conflict for the couple, but also, again, working my own shit out on the page. It’s so fun writing books, but this is all part of it. It’s sort of like a little bit of therapy for us authors.

Zibby: Yes, a hundred percent. I was actually thinking about this. I was running to this doctor’s appointment this morning. I was thinking, oh, I should post about blah, blah, blah. Then I was like, no, that’s something you should just talk to people about with your voice, not recorded. That is just a conversation. That does not have to be distributed. Not everything has to be distributed. It’s fine.

Karma: Right? You do have to have that conversation with yourself sometimes. You’re like, wait, does everyone need to know what I ate for dinner tonight? Does it matter? Sometimes it may matter a great deal. It, of course, depends on what your business is and what you’re trying to do and the platform you’re trying to build. It does require a little more thoughtfulness. I think all of us just do, just post it and then think about it later. Work in progress.

Zibby: Still, I’m impressed they had so many followers. I’m like, how did they even do that?

Karma: It’s fictional, Zibby.

Zibby: I know. I know. In real life, they would never get another hundred thousand overnight.

Karma: I know. I did watch a few couples. I followed a few couples for years and continue to follow them and just have watched what they do and how they do it and the constant content and the types of content that will get them a hundred thousand followers over the course of a couple months. You probably know some of these types of accounts. They’re living their lives out there in a very public way, not really holding a lot back. Anyway, it is fictional. They needed to have all these followers, so I had to massage it a little.

Zibby: I love that you did that as research. That’s awesome. Am I allowed to read this “Dear Reader” letter? It was so beautiful, the letter that came with the book. Can I read it? It’s all about you. Is that all right?

Karma: Please. I don’t even remember it, Zibby. Please read it for me.

Zibby: I’ve never actually done this before, but I’m going to do it. I was like, wow, there’s so much in here. “Dear Reader, I turned fifty right around the time I was finishing edits on this novel, which is my ninth. I like to write stories about women seeking and achieving agency, and this book is no exception. Each novel has taught me something, but I’ve learned more from writing Rowan and Eddie’s stories than any of the others. Maybe it’s because I relate to screenwriter Rowan and her ambition to create something tangible in a modern world perpetually driven by viral trends, twenty-four/seven news cycles, and flavors of the moment. Or perhaps, similarly to my 1970s socialite-turned-feminist Eddie, I am on the cusp of the third act of my life when women, too easily dismissed at every age, become nearly invisible even as they brim with experience and wisdom and clear humility about what they still don’t know. Early one, Eddie writes, ‘I am on a path with a clear beginning but no end. There is no room to be tentative with our intentions. Time is a fickle thing.’ Like Eddie and Rowan, I survived my own life-changing trauma when I was diagnosed with cancer at age thirty. This fact about my history explains why I write the characters I do, women who have survived the hardest moments of their lives and who are now on the path to thriving versus merely surviving. I too believe time is a fickle thing and that there is little room to be tentative with our intentions. It’s a lesson I gave to Eddie to relay, but one that becomes a beacon for Rowan throughout the pages.” Then you said, “So while this book showcases only a few autobiographical details — a core memory visit to the Adirondacks Great Camp Sagamore when I was seven years ago; personal truths about aging — I will admit to finding parts of myself at the center of both of these women. One of the most fascinating facts I learned in my research is that trees become stronger and more resilient when they get tossed about in strong winds. The back-and-forth sway of the trunk and branches is what helps the roots get a sturdier hold on the earth. I believe the same is true for us.” That’s so beautiful. That’s just so beautiful in so many ways.

Karma: Thank you. Thank you.

Zibby: Talk about the tree part. Let’s go to the end first. I also just want you to talk — I know you did last time too — about time being fickle and your thoughts on time, which I think about all the time, especially having survived something early on and how that colors your thinking on aging but also on living.

Karma: I have become a birder. I’m pretty obsessed with trees. That detail has really stuck with me, that the reason we want the wind and the trees need the wind is because it helps them develop stronger roots and that when they’re blowing around, that’s actually making them stronger. It’s just that beautiful thought. As we get tossed around in our life, it’s actually anchoring us more into our life, into the earth, whatever it is. Wherever you feel that you need to be planted and rooted, that is made stronger because of trials and tribulations that we go through. It’s not to do any sort of toxic positivity. I’m very anti-let’s just frame everything in a positive light and talk about why we’re so glad that these terrible things happened. I think that doesn’t actually offer a lot. It makes other people feel really good, but it doesn’t offer a lot to the discourse and the conversation.

In terms of my feelings about aging, this past year has been a really interesting one for me. I pulled way back. I stopped writing entirely for probably about four months, literally did not put my fingers on the keyboards. I did a ton of work on breathwork and listening to podcasts about how to find balance and to work on my sympathetic nervous system so that I could feel calmer because I’m just not a calm person, generally. I’m type A. I like to go, go, go. At some point, I just reached this place where I was like, this isn’t working. I want to be more present in my own life because I am fifty, and so then I can see what’s left of the runway. I hope it’s long, but it’s there in front of me. My parents are aging. My daughter is only home for a couple more years. I just needed to shift my focus and my priority.

Zibby: Did one thing trigger this? Did you have a moment where you’re like, okay, got to do something about this now, or it just was the accumulation of all of that?

Karma: I think it was an accumulation of all of that and then just turning fifty. It’s having a milestone birthday. Having a birthday is amazing. Having a milestone is another opportunity to really take stock of where you are. I have a life I love. I’m very happy with all aspects of my life, but I wanted to be in it more. I wanted to be so much more present and not so driven by things outside of my control. In the book business, it’s really hard to stay focused on the things you can control. I basically am obsessed with Rick Rubin right now. I’ve listened to thirty podcasts. If you ever want to know what is the best Rick Rubin podcast, I will tell you. I have his book that I read right now all the time. His framing, he’s so calm. If you’ve ever listened to his voice, very Zen-like in these podcasts. You’ll just instantly, shoulders come down. One of the best things that came out of me listening to him was this idea that the moment we create something and we put it in the world or we hand it over is our moment of success. Whether it goes on to be commercially successful or not is really none of our business. We offered it into the world. It will be received by the people who are interested in receiving it. We have had our successful moment in doing that, in creating that. For me, that really helped to reframe this business. This is my nineth book. I’ve been doing it for a while. I put out a lot of books during COVID. It was a very busy time. I burned out. It did come out of necessity but also choice. I just made a choice that that was enough, and I was going to slow down and go through a different season. It’s been amazing. It has been really life-changing for me.

Zibby: Can you take some of those things into the present and the future? Let’s say somebody’s not as Zen as you have become, like me. What should I do? Just give me one thing I should do. Is it really breathing? Is that really that important?

Karma: Honestly, that has changed things for me. There is a breathing pattern I do that is in for four — you push your belly out. In for four through your nose. Hold for seven. Blow out through your mouth for eight. Do that three times. I do it all the time. As many times as I think about it in a day, I do it. It really does just calm you down. Cold showers. I know this is weird, but cold water makes a huge difference in keeping the dopamine up and keeping the stress down. I’ll send you other things off the record. We can discuss that. Those were two things that I have been doing consistently, consistently. Then if I get feeling wiggly, I go put Rick Rubin in my ears or I read a chapter of his book or I just remind myself about what I can control and what I can’t. It’s not perfect. Trust me. I spin out still. It is a work in progress, but it’s a much better place to be. I find there’s a lot more peacefulness here. Eddie has all these mantras about life. She’s become fairly self-actualized after going through her own journey. I read back some of the things she wrote, and I think, Eddie, that’s wise. Then I’m like, wait, Karma, that came out of your head. It’s in you. It’s in there. You know what it’s like with your characters. They sort of just become other people you know really intimately, but they don’t feel, always, like you. They’re outside of you by the time they go live on the page like that. Anyway, I’m talking in circles about Zen.

Zibby: It’s not circles. It’s super interesting. I think it is super interesting. Even sometimes if I read a passage back, authors will often be like, huh, I can’t believe I wrote that. Yeah, that is true. Wow. You put it out there.

Karma: There’s an alchemy there. There’s an alchemy. I don’t know what it’s like for you. When I’m in with my characters, we are together twenty-four/seven. They tell me things when I’m driving. We have little conversations when we go walking in the woods. Dialogue will just show up. I hear their voice. It’s almost impossible to separate if you truly allow yourself to participate in that, which, for me, is the easiest way to get the words on the page. Otherwise, it’s an overthinking process that happens. My husband has never understood this. He’s always like, “Okay, I’m just going to take your word for it.” They become real people, like people I knew really well on Facebook and then now we just stay in touch once a year and send birthday messages. You knew them really well at one time.

Zibby: I feel like it’s more of, maybe, a summer camp experience. It’s an intense, shorter period, not so much like a friend for fifty years because you’re in it.

Karma: You shared something. You shared this experience. It was meaningful. You always have that. No matter where everyone else moves on to, you always have that experience.

Zibby: It’s crazy what our brains do and also what society deems as super productive and helpful to the world, like novels perhaps, and mental illness where you also hear voices and yet you’re not writing them. It is not socially acceptable in the same way, or productive or whatever. I don’t know if there’s a fine line, honestly.

Karma: I don’t know. I’m not even going to worry about it because there are so many things to worry about. This is the other thing where I’m like, you know what, I’m just going to put that one over there. That is not something I have to worry about.

Zibby: No, no, I didn’t mean it as a worry. It’s just interesting what we do with stuff. We’ll put it aside.

Karma: It is interesting, how we reframe it and the context that we put around things. Agree. We want to put context around everything. The same thing can show up differently in two different places.

Zibby: Tell me more, though, about your writing and when you think of characters. Then how do you marry plot and character? Which comes first for you? All of that.

Karma: Usually, a character comes first for me, or a setting. I really like to make my settings feel like another character. Sometimes it’s a setting. In this case, it was the setting first. I really wanted to write a book that was set in this isolated forest where — I like to put all my characters in very isolated places. I often do that. In Recipe for a Perfect Wife, they’re in a house, and that’s basically where you spend all your time with those characters. There’s something about being in the woods, especially if you were just a little, small person in a giant, vast wood filled with all the natural elements. How do you feel about yourself and your relationships when you’re amongst all of that and when you’re alone and you have to do that thinking? You don’t have anyone to distract you. Oh, my god, I’ve forgotten the question now. See, this is what happens.

Zibby: Plot and character, which comes first?

Karma: Did I mention I was fifty in perimenopause? Usually, it’s character. I do a lot of planning ahead of time. I can’t start writing until I have both. I do wait until those pieces come into focus for me. Usually, it’s a character or a setting. Then I start thinking about the things that I’m interested in and are curious about. With the hidden treasure — I don’t know if you remember hearing about Forrest Fenn, who was this eccentric — I think he was a billionaire. He buried a treasure in the Rocky Mountains and made it a game for people to go and find it. It took years and years. Someone found it a few months before he died. There was all this speculation that he had never done it, he’d never buried it, he was just trying to get people to get out in the woods. Then five people died trying to find it because they fell down cliffs and went into rivers. I was also inspired by this idea of, people were putting their whole lives on hold to go and seek out this treasure in an environment that they were not prepared to go into. What is it about us that makes us decide to just put our life off to the side and go and do this thing? What really propels people to do the things they do? It all kind of mixes together. What about you? Do you do your characters or your —

Zibby: — I only have the one novel that’s actually worked or that’s coming out. I have written a bunch of other ones. I don’t know.

Karma: Those all count, Zibby. Those all count.

Zibby: I know. I know. I know. I would say that to someone else too, but it’s me, so I don’t feel like that.

Karma: You have to be kind to yourself too. They count.

Zibby: I think it’s both. I feel like I have the idea of the story. I have an amalgam of people. I’m like, this person kind of looks like this person, but then they’re kind of going to act like this. I don’t know.

Karma: It’s alchemy, again. I’m not sure it can be totally pinned down. Usually, it starts with something for everybody. It might be different every book.

Zibby: That’s true. What about your next book? Are you working on anything else?

Karma: I am.

Zibby: What can you say? Anything? No?

Karma: I’m not going to say much, except that it’s quite different. I’m switching genres again. It’s something that I’ve wanted to write for a long, long time. It’s my favorite genre to read. I’m having a lot of fun doing it. That’s it.

Zibby: Look at that big smile. That’s amazing. I love it. If you’re not enjoying what you’re doing, why do it? I shouldn’t say that. There are lots of reasons.

Karma: There are reasons. Sometimes you get stuck. You get lost. Then you have to find your way back out again. I’m having a good time.

Zibby: That’s amazing. What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Karma: Oh, this question, it’s so tricky.

Zibby: Sorry.

Karma: No, it is a good question. I do think the issue is that what works for someone doesn’t work for someone else. What worked for me is making sure that when I’m actively drafting a story, my butt is in the seat. I like to do it early in the morning at five AM. I don’t edit as I go if I can help that because I feel like I don’t know my story until there’s at least a first draft, no matter how messy it is. If you haven’t finished the story, you might be editing out things that are actually going to be critical to a character. I usually just say, for me, what works is not waiting for some muse to show up. This is a job. You have to put your butt in your seat and get your words down no matter when that is for you or how you force yourself to do that, whether you need treats to do it or to lock your door or something. I don’t know. Whatever it is, just make sure that you can sit down and get the words down. Otherwise, there’s nothing to do anything else with. I like to wake up early. Other people are like, that is the worst advice ever. I’m like, okay. Well, you do you. Whatever works for you. That’s just what works for me.

Zibby: What is the wildest thing you’ve done?

Karma: The wildest thing I’ve done. When I was working as a freelance journalist for magazines, I had this habit where I’d wake up in the morning, early, because my daughter was a very early riser. I would wake up, and I would pitch about five to eight ideas to different magazines. One morning, I woke up. I had not had my coffee yet. I thought, I’m going to pitch this idea of going to a nudist resort. Can going to a nudist resort help body image? If you go and you’re naked amongst all the other naked people, will you feel better about your body? Yes, this is a great — I sent it. Then I was like, uh, oh, they’re going to want this story. You just have a knowing. Then I’m going to have to go. That is what happened. It’s not exactly wild in the conventional way that you might think of being wild, like going on some massive hike across some big mountain range. It was wild because I’m the person who ducks — our bedroom windows face a forest, and I duck when I change because someone might see me. I got fully naked in my Crocs. What do you wear when you’re naked? It was the worst. I didn’t know what else to wear. It was freezing cold. I did this interview fully in the nude for a day and walked around. It was quite the experience. That was, for me, putting myself really out there. It was wild.

Zibby: Wow. I definitely think that gives you permission, then, to write a book called What Wild Women Do.

Karma: Thanks.

Zibby: You’re welcome. Karma, thank you so much for coming back on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” Congratulations on this beautiful, fascinating, wonderful book, What Wild Women Do.

Karma: Thanks so much, Zibby. Thank you. It was great to see you again.

Zibby: You too. Bye.

Karma: Bye.


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