Katie Sise, THE BREAK

Katie Sise, THE BREAK

Zibby speaks to repeat guest and bestselling author Katie Sise about her latest novel The Break (which is also the November pick for Zibby’s Virtual Book Club!). Katie describes the chilling dream that inspired the story and her protagonist’s postpartum anxiety. They also discuss Katie’s publishing experience at Little A (and the wonderful editor that they have in common!), her budding tennis career, and her early-20s adventure as a jewelry designer (which had a huge celebrity following!).


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Katie. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss your latest novel, The Break.

Katie Sise: Thank you for having me. I’m so excited.

Zibby: It’s so great to have you back. Tell listeners, to start, what The Break is about. By the way, this is the book that Zibby’s Virtual Book Club is reading for November, I think. Right? November? Tell everyone about it.

Katie: The Break is the story of a young woman who goes in to deliver her baby in a New York City hospital. She has a very, very traumatic birth. She can’t remember much of it. When she returns home with her beautiful, perfect newborn, she has this sense that something is really wrong and can’t get back on her feet, can’t remember details from the birth. Her husband hires this very young, beautiful twenty-two-year-old aspiring actress who he knows. Her husband’s a screenwriter. He knows this actress, June, through his agency. June arrives. A few days into her employment there, Rowan, my main character, accuses June of harming the baby. She suffers this psychological break. Then she looks down and sees that her baby is actually okay. She’s sleeping peacefully in her bassinet. Days later, June disappears. June, the babysitter, disappears. Neighbors have heard this break that she had when she was accusing June of doing these things. Rowan becomes a suspect in June’s disappearance. Through the haze of postpartum anxiety and having this newborn that she’s feeding and taking care of and loving around the clock, she has to put her mind back together and face some darker truths to get to the bottom of what’s happened to June.

Zibby: Wow. You have this very chilling scene where she’s flashing back. Rowan is pushing June, the babysitter, closer and closer to the window and is thinking to herself, this is it. I have to do this. Then luckily, she snatches a peek and sees her baby’s still there. She was like, oh, my gosh, I can’t believe I would even think about doing that. What’s wrong with me? This totally tenuous grasp on sanity when you’re a new mom, you’ve completely encapsulated. This, of course, is an outer boundary of it. I love how you have her mother-in-law tiptoe in and be like, you need some help in here, crazy person who’s screaming and scaring the neighbors?

Katie: It was interesting to weave in those moments of — those of us who have had children and you know those postpartum moments when you’re just feeling like — particularly the intrusive thoughts, I thought were really interesting to research. I didn’t even know about postpartum anxiety when I had my first. I had heard about postpartum depression. I remember thinking, I don’t have that, but I felt these fears. Someone’s handed you this baby, who you love more than anything in the world, but now you have all these fears creep in. What if something happens? What if I do something wrong? For me at least, particularly with my first, and I would say, honestly, with all four of mine, I would just be so nervous that something was — I don’t know. Everybody that has read it has said the idea of having to get to the bottom of something big while your mind is in that state feels like it’s even more of a pressing pressure to get something done that feels really hard.

Zibby: This follows your novel, Open House. Why go to this plot? Why this story? Where did this come from in your own life or imagination?

Katie: I’ve been writing since I was little, but maybe professionally for twelve years or so. This has never happened to me, even when I was younger and I would be thinking about books all the time. This story came to me in a dream. I just saw this woman. I saw her. She was facing a wall and almost clawing at wallpaper, yelling for someone to give her back her baby. I remember waking up and feeling like, oh, my gosh, what was that dream? For some reason, I couldn’t get her out of my head. I kept seeing her and thinking about the dream. It actually really came from that. I thought for a while that I wouldn’t be able to write it because I thought that it would be too dark, but I kept thinking about her. You know how when ideas bounce around for a long time, you think, okay, this is something that I need to write. Even if it doesn’t ever become published, I need to at least try to write her and see where she is and what’s happening. That’s how the book came to be. I would say that this one, compared to all the other books that I’ve written, these characters feel the most like me.

A lot of times people will ask — with We Were Mothers, they’re like, are you like that woman? Is that a friend of yours? Is that you? They really haven’t been. Then this time around, I felt like Rowan — she’s a mystery writer. She feels a lot like I felt when — obviously, the circumstances are different. Thank god. Then June, the actress who comes into their lives, reminds me of myself at twenty-two, very wide-eyed and trying to figure it all out. Everything feels very amazing and on edge. You’re trying to figure out where you fit in and who you can trust and what you should be doing. You’re almost faking it until you make it a little bit. You’re trying to sort out your entire life. You’re only twenty-two. When I look back on it, I’m like, how does anybody ever do that at twenty-two? It was set in New York, where I was during that time. I love New York City. I think part of writing this book was, it was the pandemic. I hadn’t been back to New York. I hadn’t had the fix of Manhattan in a long time. I think part of it was a bit escapist to write about that setting instead of setting it here where I normally set my books. I like to set my books in the idyllic countryside because that’s what I see around me.

Zibby: Tell listeners where here is.

Katie: Here is an hour north of New York City. It’s very different from New York City. There’s a lot of farms. There are a lot of open green spaces and woods and some really pretty stone walls that I love and some older houses that I love to just look at and think about what happens behind closed doors, which inspires a lot of my work. This time, I think I just needed to write something — there’s that glittery feel of Manhattan in the story where anything feels possible. I love that about living in New York. I always felt like anything was possible.

Zibby: Manhattan does not feel glittery today. As we’re talking, it is one of these disgusting, drenched rainy days where nothing feels glittery. Everything feels dampened and depressing. I’m going to live through your rose-colored glasses at the moment.

Katie: Feel free to do that. Also, I will say, the beautiful countryside that I’m describing is also really gray right now, and drizzly. I just did preschool drop-off and brought the wrong umbrella. That was a thing. I brought the pink one and not the glitter one.

Zibby: How old are your four kids?

Katie: My boys are eleven and eight. Then I have four-year-old twin girls who are four and a half, almost, this month.

Zibby: Wow, amazing. Do you write when they’re all at school? Do you have a routine?

Katie: I really only write when everybody’s at school, partly because my brain isn’t really ready to work in the afternoon. Even if they weren’t home, I’m no good in the afternoon. I write in the morning. I drop everybody off and then come back. I try to write for about anywhere between an hour and a half and two hours. It helps if I tell myself I’m going to do at least five hundred words. Then if it feels good, I can keep going and do a thousand or fifteen hundred a day. That’s a great day. When I was younger, I could crank out more like two to three thousand words a day. I don’t have those bones right now. I think maybe when my little girls are in full-day school or something like that I might try to get back to that pace. Right now, I just try for five hundred to about a thousand.

Zibby: You, like me, we’re both published by Little A for our work. Even though people might not know you as a household name, you’ve sold more copies of your books than anybody in the planet for all of your books. Tell me about your experience with Little A and how it feels to be so successful and everything that comes with being published by Little A.

Katie: I’ve really loved it there. We share our editor, Carmen, who’s wonderful. It sort of starts with her. You have these conversations with her. She’s so calm. She’s really wise. Her instincts are really good. I feel like we understand each other really well. Usually, the idea generally starts there. I’ll pitch her an idea. Now, of course, certainly, it didn’t work that first way first. When we sold the first book, I had to write the whole novel first, which is what I usually will tell people who have their first novel coming. Even though I’d written young adult before, I say when you’re doing something new, it’s helpful to have that full manuscript, I have found in my experience. Then now that I’m with Carmen and with Little A, often, I’ll pitch an idea. Then I’ll be able to tell right away if Carmen likes it. I’ll go for it. She’s very trusting. I usually write the first draft really without any help or even input. I did once call her, I think in the middle of The Break. I can’t even remember the question. It was a plot question. She just said, “I trust your instincts. You know what your readers want,” which was really empowering to hear from your editor. I felt like, okay, I do know, usually, hopefully. I’ve loved being with Little A because I think that they have a really keen sense of what readers want to read, but they hold you to a good standard in terms of what they want to publish and where the writing quality needs to be. That’s on my shoulder as well too. Sometimes that means that I have to stop a little earlier for the day if I’m sort of feeling like it’s not going where I need it to go and to the level I want it to go. I will stop. I just tell myself, I have plenty of time to finish this draft. It will go in when it’s meant to go in. I love a good deadline. I’m a rule-follower in most ways. I’ll hit my deadlines. I’ve loved working with them. How about you?

Zibby: Me too. You have such a huge audience. I do think one thing with any Amazon-owned companies is, because the traditional bookstores don’t always want to stock the books, you might not get as many in-store eyeballs, if you will, on the books. You are ineligible, essentially, to be on the main lists and best-selling lists and everything. Then there’s somebody like you, who should, be all means, be on every single list based on sales and based on all these other metrics. That’s not necessarily my issue. I wouldn’t be qualifying anyway, I don’t think. I was just wondering, do you ever have any regrets? Do you feel like Amazon’s powerhouse marketing has enabled you to find your audience even more successfully?

Katie: I would say the latter. I would literally frame it right here on the wall if I was on a list. I would, of course, love that. I will say, I love having readers. My agent, I remember sending me a copy of someone reading it at the pool. I could only see her hair. I assumed it was his wife. I was like, “Oh, is Beth liking it?” He’s like, “That’s not Beth.” That’s a random reader at a pool where he was on vacation. I love having that experience where people have read it. I’ll say one of my books, and someone will say, I read We Were Mothers. I read Open House. That’s your book? I think I enjoy that almost more, just that people have read it. I can’t believe people read my books. I still feel like my parents are going to read them, and my sister because I’m going to force her to. That people have read them is really exciting.

I know this is crazy to say, but even when people don’t like them and they go on and do the reviews and they don’t like them, I still feel like, thank you so much for reading this. I don’t mind even hearing why because sometimes that’s helpful. I love having readers. I think that’s more to me than — I love having readers. That’s really been my dream since I was little. Also, part of that is because I love the whole concept of entertainment. That’s why I work in entertainment. I was studying acting in college. I was acting for the first few years and making a dollar a day, or zero dollars, and so needed to switch out of that. I love the idea of entertaining people. I feel like at the hardest times in my life, I have turned to a book or a movie. That’s my thing, is escaping through somebody else’s story. To be able to do that and have people actually reading the books feels like the most important part, and really fun.

Zibby: Totally. Not only do you have four kids and three books for adults — in how many years? Five years? Four years? Five years? I feel like it’s pretty fast.

Katie: Somewhere around that. I wrote We Were Mothers. She had twins in that book. I was like, oh, my gosh, this sounds so hard. I was writing the character, and I was like, I don’t know how she’s doing twins. This is hard stuff. Then I turned in my manuscript, went to my sonagram, and they were like, “Do twins –” I had my four-year-old with me. He was three at the time. I said, “Don’t say anything about this being a pregnancy. He just needs to think we’re looking at a screen.” I didn’t want to tell him yet. It was early. She couldn’t use the word pregnancy. It was like that game where you can’t say certain words. She couldn’t use the word pregnancy. She looked at me. She said, “Do twins run in your family?” I said, “No. Do they now?” She said, “Yep.” That would’ve been about five years ago. Yeah, three books in five years for adults. There’s two more in the pipeline with Little A, one coming out called The Vacation Rental and then one following that. I think we’re going to try to pick up the pace a little so that they publish every year and a half.

Zibby: Wow, that’s amazing. Really amazing. In addition to all of that, you have your own budding tennis career. This is so exciting. I can’t even stand it. Talk about that.

Katie: Moms don’t have time to play tennis, is maybe your jam. I stumbled upon tennis maybe three years ago. I played a little bit when I was little, but nothing serious. I loved it so much. I don’t know if it’s the satisfaction of hitting that ball. It’s good exercise. I’m not good at going to the gym. Playing a game gets me excited and laughing and having fun. I became totally crazy obsessed with it. This weekend, as I was telling Zibby earlier, my team and I went to USTA Nationals in Oklahoma City. Our team got third place. The Full Metal Rackets is our team name. It was really the first time I’d gone somewhere since — I had the girls in 2018. Pandemic hit. I haven’t really gone anywhere other than to New York City to one of your events. in a while. We went to Oklahoma City. We had the best weekend.

I was telling Zibby earlier that my son was supposed to sing the national anthem. He’s eleven. He loves to sing. He was supposed to sing it at USTA at the nationals. It fell through at the last minute. They texted us saying he couldn’t do it. He was pretty upset. We had the conversation about — creative people here know there’s rejection all the time. You just keep going until you get a yes. This very surprising thing happened where my partner, Seth, arranged for him to sing at The Jones Assembly, which is this unbelievable music venue where there’s lists on the wall of who has sang there. It was the loveliest place. It was so unbelievably gorgeous. A man there named Dalton met us and gave us the backstage tour. The singer that was on that night said, “I’d like to introduce Luke Sweeney. He’s eleven years old. He was supposed to sing this national anthem today at nationals. He’s going to sing it for you all now.” Then Luke got up there and sang this beautiful rendition of the national anthem. Everybody was screaming and cheering for him. It was this really, really magical night. It was awesome. It was wonderful.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, I can’t believe it. Where is your tennis team from? Your club? Where is it from?

Katie: We play out of Chestnut Ridge, which is a tennis facility. It’s indoor and outdoor courts in Mount Kisco. It’s about a ten-minute drive from my house. We practice a lot. We’ve been playing since April. It’s about a match a week. You play at six in the evenings once a week, which I love because it’s in the shade. We had a great time. We knew our team was pretty good. We kept winning. It’s my first year playing USTA, so I thought maybe that’s how it goes. Everybody’s like, no, you don’t just go to national’s each year. We had a blast. We had a really good time together. It’s such good exercise. I love the chess component of it. When you finally learn to hit the ball over the net, then you have to start to learn, now I can do that, so now where I am supposed to stand? It’s a little chess match during doubles, which I like. I love being on a team. I haven’t been on a team since I was a teenager. I kind of forgot about that aspect. It was fun. It was a lot of fun.

Zibby: I think that’s amazing. How great to embrace a new activity and just pick it up. I’ve been playing tennis my whole life, and I have not —

Katie: — You’re quite good. I’ve seen your forehand.

Zibby: No, stop it.

Katie: had. I was like, oh, goodness.

Zibby: I love that. That’s so great. The success that comes with that kind of a victory is different than the other little mini successes you can get even as writers or as parents or whatever. Having that physical accomplishment and widespread heralding of what you’re doing, that’s so neat. It’s just so awesome.

Katie: Really different, different than anything I’ve done in twenty-five years. It’s this different feeling.

Zibby: Good for you. That is so cool. Didn’t you also design jewelry? In your spare time, you were a major jewelry designer with a huge following. Tell me about that. How do you do all of this stuff?

Katie: I don’t know about huge following, but thank you. That’s generous. When I was in my twenties when I was acting, I was bartending on the side to make money. I’d bartend at night, probably four shifts a week or so. I waitressed a little bit. I was a horrible waitress. I was actually okay at bartending, but horrible waitress. I realized that I needed a new job. I remember thinking, okay — the nights were hard. I was a little tired. Then I took a job at this woman’s boutique. It was a clothing boutique in the Meatpacking District. At this point, I was twenty-five. I’d been bartending and waitressing for about three years. I was twenty-five. Always writing. Always waking up in the morning and writing, but I hadn’t published anything or really even come close. I was also so young. I didn’t really understand the idea of going to classes, going to workshops. I was so young, like June in The Break. I was that age and trying to figure it all out. I was at this clothing boutique. I was that age where you feel like you can do anything. There isn’t as much of a kernel of doubt that I would probably have now as a forty-three-year-old mom and overthinking things like I tend to do. I was in the boutique. She had amazing stuff. I remember thinking, I could make jewelry too, as one thinks when they’re — I don’t know. That was my plan. I made some necklaces. I started wearing them to the store because I was very bold. I remember this woman loving the necklace. I said, “Oh, I’ll sell it to you,” which is not really an okay thing to do. The woman who owns the boutique is still one of my closest friends today. Thank god. She finally said, “All right, look, I’ll make you a space. You can have this little shelf here. You can put your pieces there. We’ll sell them in the store.”

Then it was one of those crazy things where it just took off. Some celebrities would come in. I loved Kate Winslet. I saw Titanic twelve times in the theater. I remember she came in and bought a piece. I was so nervous. I couldn’t even tell her that I was the one that made them. I just remember her being like, “This is so lovely.” I could’ve told her the lines from Titanic back again. I could’ve done all her monologues. I just sat there and was so happy. Then all these magazine editors, they started featuring the pieces. I’m pretty scrappy. If somebody says to me, “Can you do this?” unless I really can’t do it, I won’t say no. They would be like, “We’re doing a piece on leather. Can you make leather jewelry?” I would have no idea how to make leather jewelry. I would be like, “I can definitely make you leather jewelry.” Then I would stay up all night trying to figure out how to make leather jewelry on our kitchen table. I would go to the district where you buy jewelry and buy some weird leather stuff and then try to make it. Things would happen like that. Then I thought to myself, my background is in acting, so I should just try to take this style/jewelry thing and maybe try to do something on camera with that. I started being a TV host. I would do some random stuff, like some stuff on the Oxygen network. I remember I did Elisabeth Hasselbeck’s baby shower. I loved The View. I was home during the day, so I would make jewelry while The View was on. Then I would hear the soap operas in the background, which I would tell myself was good for story, which I still think it is. I still think TV’s really good for getting a knack of how story flows for books, or can flow. I’d make jewelry all day and listen to The View. I went to her baby shower and got to meet with Meredith Vieira. It was crazy.

That kind of stuff kept happening. Then I hosted this show on the Home Shopping Network. They would fly me down to Tampa. I’m in my mid-twenties. It’s the most fabulous thing that’s ever happened to me. They would fly me down to Tampa. I would talk about jewelry and stuff and actually get paid for it. I had a job that had to do with TV, which was really fun. Then around age twenty-eight, twenty-nine, I remember thinking to myself, there should be, almost, a book about — of course, there are other books about how to make a creative living. I remember thinking there should be one about how the path can be so circuitous. You hear all these noes all the time. You hear no. You just keep on figuring your way in. You try to look at yourself and what your strengths are and what your weaknesses are. I wrote a book proposal. I remember I took a class. By then, I realized how helpful it was to actually take a class and trying to figure that out. Took a class, wrote a book proposal, and submitted it to my agent, which is still my current agent to this day. That was the first book. Then the rest have all been fiction. I got a first no for the first novel that I wrote. I wrote a 350-page novel. We tried to sell that. We got a no. I still want to sell that book. It is a paranormal young adult about a girl who just wants to escape her body. I still want to sell it. Maybe I’ll go work on it.

Zibby: You should go work on it. That’ll be your afternoon.

Katie: That’ll be my afternoon.

Zibby: Katie, you are so awesome. I am so impressed with not only The Break and all your other books and your creativity and your tennis, but honestly, this relentless drive and can-do attitude, it’s amazing. It’s so cool. You’re really inspiring. Thank you for coming back on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” Excited to talk to you in just a few weeks for book club. Although, I don’t know when this will air. I’m just so excited to know you. Thanks.

Katie: So excited to know you. Thank you so much, Zibby.

Zibby: Bye, Katie. Have a great day.

THE BREAK by Katie Sise

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