Kirsten Miller, THE CHANGE

Kirsten Miller, THE CHANGE

Zibby is joined by Kirsten Miller to talk about her latest novel, The Change, which was a GMA Book Club pick. The two discuss Kirsten’s inspirations for this new thriller, how she crafted one of her favorite characters, and why she wanted to center middle-aged women in her story. Kirsten also shares how she channeled her experience as a woman in advertising into the story’s characters and what she thinks women need most in the modern age.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Kirsten. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss The Change.

Kirsten Miller: Thank you for having me. I saw you had Dean Koontz the other day.

Zibby: I did.

Kirsten: He’s the reason that I have to sleep with the lights on these days.

Zibby: Oh, no.

Kirsten: I read all of his books when I was probably ten or eleven. It warped me.

Zibby: Oh, man. I know. That’s how my brother was about Stephen King. That’s how he got into reading, actually. It’s interesting what turns people on to not being able to put books down. Sometimes people need different things.

Kirsten: Absolutely. Stephen King, Dean Koontz, they’re great for getting started.

Zibby: Actually, I had the most fascinating conversation with him about publishing in general. You should listen to the —

Kirsten: — I will. It’s on my to-do list.

Zibby: It’s presumptuous. You’re in the middle of this massive book tour and everything. He moved over to Amazon Publishing. The change in format from mass market paperbacks, how the ripple effects of that have really affected the whole industry, I found it really interesting. Back to you. For people who aren’t familiar with your book, The Change — congratulations on being picked for GMA Book Club and all of that. What can you tell them about The Change?

Kirsten: It’s about three women who have gotten to their late forties. They’re around my age. They have discovered that with this age, they have developed unusual powers. There is Harriett, who has been kicked out of her job. Her husband has left. She has vanished into her beautiful, modern house. Everyone assumes that she’s been eaten by cats, but she hasn’t. She’s actually been undergoing a metamorphosis and learning that she can do things with nature that other people can’t. Then there’s Jo, who is filled with rage and hot flashes and all of that sort of stuff. She learns that she can control all of that. She can control the fire and the fury within her and use it to her own advantage. Then there’s Nessa, whose husband has died. Her two daughters are off at school. Her life has become so quiet that she realizes that she can hear the dead. The three of these women meet each other. They discover the body of a teenage girl who’s been dumped on the side of the highway. They refuse to accept the official narrative about her death and instead go looking for her killer. It’s a little bit crazy, but it’s a lot of fun.

Zibby: Where did this come from? From the beginning, all these different characters, how did you piece this all together, inspiration, all of it?

Kirsten: Oh, my god, there were so many. When I’m writing, I feel like a bird collecting little pieces of string from here and a little bit of tinsel from there and a little bit of shiny, sparkly stuff from somewhere else and putting it together into a big nest. I can never pinpoint one inspiration, but I can tell you I was really mad. There’s a story that’s told about when women reach their late forties, early fifties. Society no longer has much of a need for you. I think that that’s absolutely ridiculous. I looked around at all of my friends and all of the women my age that I knew and thought, these are women who are smarter, more experienced, gorgeous, more economically self-sufficient than they’ve ever been in their entire lives. Why are we being told it’s time to step aside? This is our best. I really wanted to rewrite that narrative and present this time of life as what it is, the most powerful time in a woman’s life.

Zibby: I could not agree more. In fact, I’m often saying this because so many authors write in their forties, fifties. This is the time. The kids are a little older, for those people who have kids. You’ve come into your own of who you are as a person. You, hopefully, knock wood, have many decades left to live. It’s like, go. I think it’s great. I think you should get a letter on your fortieth birthday. Hold onto your hat. Life’s about to take off.

Kirsten: I totally agree. It’s funny. I had a friend who turned fifty a few years ago. I wrote her this long birthday card. It was basically about, you’ve reached an age where you know who you are. You know what you’re doing. There’s nothing stopping you. Go do it. I really feel that way. That was one of the biggest influences. I wanted to rewrite that narrative.

Zibby: I love it. Meanwhile, when you were describing Hannah in her modern house —

Kirsten: — Harriett.

Zibby: I’m sorry, Harriett. What am I saying? Harriett. At first, I was like, oh, she must be seventy, eighty years old. You were like, with the hair flying in — I’m like, wait, wait, wait. She’s supposed to be in her forties? Impossible.

Kirsten: I wanted it to be a surprise, this building up to, you’re expecting a certain kind of woman because that’s what you’ve been trained to expect. Then she opens the door, and it’s somebody very, very, very different behind it. It’s kind of a shocking revelation for a lot of people who have been expecting this little old lady. That’s how society often treats women in their late forties. No, here’s this vibrant, wild, amazing woman who’s been in the house having a lot of fun things .

Zibby: It’s sort of like COVID. You hadn’t seen someone in so long. Then they finally open their doors again. I loved this whole section about Rosamund. Can I read a little piece of it?

Kirsten: Yes.

Zibby: “People always said they couldn’t imagine what she had gone through. Rosamund knew they weren’t being sincere. Of course, they couldn’t fucking imagine it.” Sorry for the cursing, if my kids are listening. “What happened to her was their worst nightmare. You get right to the brink of glory and fame. The girl who takes your cash at the supermarket loses her shit when she realizes that’s you on the cover of People magazine. Famous brands literally beg to sponsor you. Nike has a campaign just waiting to roll. You’ve got your own line of swimsuits and lingerie ready to launch right after the games. Then, poof. One day, you slip on a patch of ice and tear a ligament. Suddenly, everything you’ve worked for your whole life is gone. Of course, people could imagine it. They just didn’t want to because no one wants to admit their world is that fragile. No one wants to think that in less than a year they could go from being America’s sweetheart to a drug-addled drunk, but they could. Rosamund never bothered to point that out. She was content to sink into her own private abyss. She didn’t crave anyone else’s company.” Oh, my gosh, love that.

Kirsten: Thank you. She’s an interesting character. You’re the first person that I’ve spoken to about the book who’s brought her up. I wouldn’t say she’s one of my favorite characters, but she’s one of the most interesting characters. There are women in this book who go out and hunt down evildoers and seek vengeance. Then there are women who are not able to do that for one reason or another, or refuse to do that. I really wanted to make sure that we weren’t just presenting men as bad, which I definitely don’t believe, and women as all good, but really, everybody is sort of a mixture. She’s one of the women who’s a little bit more unfortunate than the three main characters.

Zibby: I love this whole notion of people saying they can’t imagine it. People say that all the time. This is so common. I think it’s just, people don’t know what to say. People often say the wrong things when they’re completely at a loss. Yet all it does is make you feel even worse. Not only has this bad thing happened, but it’s so bad that you can’t imagine this. It’s just more offensive, I feel like, than one of the other alternative responses, like, I’m sorry. That must have been terrible. Tell me about that.

Kirsten: I’ve heard somebody talking about — it was in the context of talking to kids. They were like, just acknowledge that it sucks. Whatever it is, just acknowledge that it’s terrible. You don’t have to find an answer for it. Bad things happen. Sometimes we just need other people to nod their heads along and say, yeah.

Zibby: I like this whole idea of letting yourself go. What does that even really mean? Where are we going? What are we letting go of? Who are we keeping it all in check for?

Kirsten: As women, we have historically — hopefully, it’s loosening up a bit. We’ve lived by a lot of rules, societal rules, internal rules. We’re supposed to look a certain way. We’re supposed to dress a certain way. We’re supposed to act a certain way. We shouldn’t be too bitchy. We shouldn’t be too this. I think that this is an age where it becomes very, very clear there’s absolutely no reason. The minute you free yourself from all of that and you do what makes you feel good instead of what you think you ought to do for everyone else’s sake, it’s incredibly liberating. You have more time. You have more energy. You have more confidence than you did before. I’m a huge proponent of — I’m not saying let it go like, don’t take a shower. It’s just, you do what you want to do instead of what you think you have to.

Zibby: Wait, so now I’m just so curious about your own life. Tell me more about your own life and some of the choices you’ve made. You’re such a badass.

Kirsten: Oh, my god, thank you. I was in advertising for twenty-five years. A lot of Harriett’s career is taken directly from mine.

Zibby: I worked in advertising for a little while. I worked at Ogilvy & Mather and Young & Rubicam.

Kirsten: I worked at Ogilvy & Mather for a couple of years as well. We can talk about that offline.

Zibby: Long time ago.

Kirsten: As you know, it’s a world that, on the surface, looks very open to women. Once you get into it, it often is not at all. I spent a lot of time in the corporate world really banging my head against a lot of walls.

Zibby: Which job function were you in?

Kirsten: I was a strategist, an account planner.

Zibby: That’s what I was doing.

Kirsten: Oh, really? That’s awesome.

Zibby: I was an intern. This is forever ago. I was an intern in college and then again during business school. I loved account planning.

Kirsten: It’s so much fun. Everybody’s like, oh, advertising. Advertising was great. The actual job itself, I loved. I loved the detective work of it. I loved the writing of it. I loved putting together gorgeous presentations. I loved that. It was the politics of it and, often, gender politics of it that was — what annoyed the hell out of me more than anything was, we’re selling stuff to women. Women buy almost everything. It’s very, very hard to sit back and talk to a creative director who’s a thirty-five-year-old dude who’s telling you that he knows better than you do what a woman of your age is looking for in face cream. I spent a lot of time doing that. My first book came out in 2006. It was a young adult series called Kiki Strike, which is about six delinquent Girl Scouts who discover an underground city beneath Manhattan. It was pure girl power, which, at the time, was unusual. We’ve got, thankfully, a lot more stronger girl power/feminist stuff for young women now. At the time, it was pretty new. I did both for a long time and then gradually started doing more of the writing full time. That’s my career story.

Zibby: Wow. Then why pivot to — women’s fiction is the worst word. Why a novel? Why for grown-ups?

Kirsten: I spent a lot of time writing books with the actor Jason Segel, who I love, and had a wonderful time of it. Working with somebody else, I’m not going to say it’s difficult because working with him was wonderful, but it’s a different experience. I came out of that, and I thought, I really want to do something for myself. I really want to do something that I feel very, very strongly about and passionate about. I do have a lot of deep-held beliefs. I went back to my origins. I went back to the girl power that I’d started writing in the first place. Instead of writing a book for the twelve-year-old me, I wrote a book for the forty-nine-year-old me. It’s not like I’m the perfect messenger, but I do feel like there’s a lot that women my age need to hear. Things have changed. Yet we’re still absorbing and believing all of this bullshit that dates back from the 1950s. It’s time for us to move on and recognize that we’re literally the most powerful generation of women to ever exist on the planet and to make use of that power and to change things for the better.

Zibby: Do you think we could organize ourselves a little better? I feel like we don’t have a cohesive group of people.

Kirsten: Yeah. More than anything — I was just thinking about this the other day. What I would really love to see is, I would love to see — maybe it will be you — a female talk radio/podcast person who is as popular among women as Joe Rogan is among men. I’m not saying I’m a huge fan of Joe Rogan, but somebody who can speak to everyone and is able to discuss subjects in a way that people want to hear about. I think that’s really, really important.

Zibby: I’m happy to be the most popular podcaster on earth. Let me know what I can do.

Kirsten: Joe Rogan’s controversial. I’ve listened to a couple of his podcasts. I’m not a huge fan. I do know people who are huge fans. What they talk about are, I listened to Joe Rogan the other day, and I learned all about climbing mountains. I learned all about this, that, or the other. I really think there’s a space for women to do that, particularly since there’s so many issues that have never been talked about.

Zibby: Like what?

Kirsten: Growing up, my mother maybe uttered the word menopause once, and it was not in reference to her. This was a woman who would’ve felt free to talk about literally anything. For some reason, that subject was verboten. I think that’s a real shame. There are a lot of those issues. Even around the whole abortion issue, there’s so much that people don’t know that it would just be great for somebody to explain. Communication, we’ve done a poor job of that in many ways. I think that could make a huge difference.

Zibby: It’s true. All right, I’ll just start talking about menopause. We’ll see what happens.

Kirsten: Good luck.

Zibby: I’ll share. You get the listeners. We’ll see if it takes off. I’m sure people are really eager to hear about it. Tell me about the process of writing this book. There are so many characters. This is a hefty undertaking. This is complex. How did you do this? How did you structure it? How long did it take? Give me the backstory.

Kirsten: There’s a very simple narrative that strings it all together. These women find the body. They set out to find the killer of this girl. Along the way, other things happen. There’s a very, very simple narrative. Along the way, you meet a lot of different women. I’ve had the same agent for sixteen years. She’s extremely honest with me to the point where I sent her something the other day, she was like, “Eh. Just work on something else.” I was like, okay. We have that kind of relationship, so it’s fine. She told me, she was like, “I really love this, but I want to know more about Harriett and Jo.” That’s why Nessa’s backstory is woven into that simple narrative, because I always saw her as the lead character. My agent said, “I want to know more about Harriett and Jo.” I went back, and I started writing backstories for Harriett and Jo. As I was doing it, those were so much fun to write and so cathartic for me personally because that’s where a lot of these issues are brought up and dealt with, whether it’s the sexism in advertising or things that women face in other parts of the work world. I loved writing those. I thought, I want to know more about every woman that’s encountered in this book. Literally, every woman that you meet, or every even remotely consequential woman that you meet, has her own backstory chapter. Some of them are really short. I think there’s one that’s only a page long. You get to know who these women are. I think it just adds a great deal to the story. It also added some pages. I didn’t want to cut anything either. I know some people are scared of a four-hundred-plus-page book, but I promise you it’s really fun.

Zibby: It’s a quick read.

Kirsten: It is a really quick read. It’s meant to be. It’s not meant to be Anna Karenina. I wanted people to read it and have fun reading it and think about the things that it brings up. That was my entire goal.

Zibby: Well done. I feel like you’re doing pretty well on that, then. It’s going well. You’re getting the word out. Are you working on anything else?

Kirsten: Yeah, I am working on my next book. It’s not a sequel to this, but I wanted to create — I wouldn’t say I’m a huge fan of the Marvel universe, but I do follow it. I just loved the idea of building this kind of Marvel universe of witchy women. The next book is set in the same town, but it’s two different characters. It focuses on two sisters who have arrived to take care of an old estate that’s been left to them by a great-great-aunt. Along the way, they meet a couple of — Harriett pops in for a minute or two. You know that you’re in the same environment, but it’s a completely different story with different characters. You could start with either book. I just love that. It’s so much fun to play with that because you can make all sorts of little inside jokes about the town and what they see there.

Zibby: Next thing you know, you’re going to have a theme park.

Kirsten: That would be awesome. You could make your own potions.

Zibby: I can see the whole thing coming, this whole fictious world and the village. Maybe you could have the characters be like those automatic things in Disneyland. Okay, I’ll stop. I’m sorry.

Kirsten: The animatrons, yes. That would be awesome. That would be my dream come true.

Zibby: What advice would you have for aspiring authors?

Kirsten: I think that it’s really just about — Quincy Jones used to talk about, the secret of success was something called ass power. Ass power is really just the ability to sit on your butt for long enough for the inspiration to come because writing is hard. It is. I think determination is as much an essential ingredient as talent. Often, I’ve met a lot of people who are really talented who just can’t sit still for more than an hour. It’s the combination of those two that end up making it work.

Zibby: I seem to thrive in the sedentary. I have no trouble.

Kirsten: Some of us are gifted in that way.

Zibby: Yeah, I’m gifted. I’m gifted. I’m having trouble actually becoming upright these days.

Kirsten: I know. I know what you mean. I went on a road trip just recently. Oh, my god, I don’t think I walked more than ten feet for —

Zibby: — Totally. I’m averaging ten steps a day. Once you’re sitting down, writing is another story as opposed to just emailing or doing whatever else.

Kirsten: Sometimes you just have to wait. It can be unpleasant. When it gets going, it’s incredibly rewarding. I always love the part where I go back and read after I’ve worked on something for a little while. You go back and you read it the first time when it all hangs together. I can feel the excitement growing because it’s like, oh, my god, this might actually have worked. This might actually be okay. Then you start adding all of the little details. That’s a lot of fun.

Zibby: It’s so cool. Thank you so much. This has been so fun.

Kirsten: Thank you.

Zibby: It’s really great to get a chance to chat with you and hear about The Change and all of it. Now my mind is spinning with how to accomplish your goal.

Kirsten: Yes, I think you should.

Zibby: Take care. I can’t wait to read the next one.

Kirsten: Thank you. Bye.

Zibby: Buh-bye.

THE CHANGE by Kirsten Miller

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