Zibby is joined by Kris Clink to talk about her sophomore novel, Sissie Klein Is Completely Normal, which dives into the life story of a minor character from her debut. Kris and Zibby talk about their respective podcasts, how Kris’s friends have inspired her stories, and which book is coming next in her Lark Lovejoy series. Read Kris’s article for Moms Don’t Have Time to Write about how she knew it was time to pursue her dream of writing a book.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Kris. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Sissie Klein Is Completely Normal. Is anybody completely normal? Come on.

Kris Clink: Exactly. That’s kind of the point. What is normal? I’m going to jump ahead of you real quick and tell you congratulations on your new anthology release.

Zibby: Thank you. Thanks so much.

Kris: I’m excited for you. You are a powerhouse. You’re doing great and great stuff for writers. Anyway, sorry, didn’t mean to jump in, but had to tell you.

Zibby: No, that’s really sweet. I really appreciate it. Thank you. I’m excited. Awesome. Wait, so tell me, what is Sissie Klein Is Completely Normal about? Tell listeners what it’s about and also what inspired you to write it.

Kris: It is about a character that was in my first book that was just the very quiet character. She’s only in two scenes. She was married to this guy that was obnoxious. I started to write the second book and went — I was going to write about one of the more obvious characters. I just kept going back to Sissie and going, what is that guy’s wife like? What got her there? Her dad is this big attorney in town. Her mom is kind of a little bit of a Pollyanna but very socially conscious. Dad’s golfing at the club. Mom’s playing tennis. How did she land in this space? That’s kind of how I got there. I just kept hearing this whisper of, but wait, what about Sissie? What’s her story? It was that quiet story. I really didn’t think it would have traction. I started writing and I was like, okay, am I just playing around here? It ended up really taking off. We’ve all seen those couples where we say, why is she with him, or why is he with her? It’s never simple. It’s easy to say, oh, he doesn’t treat her good. Why doesn’t she leave?

There’s reasons. Relationships are so complicated. Digging into that, doing this character dissection really showed me that everybody has a story, whether they’re big or small. It’s kind of like your anthology. There are these little snippets into people’s lives, but I think it’s so important that we tell those stories because readers will see a little thread of themselves. Maybe it’s that thread that made them feel ashamed. They see somebody else doing something else with it. It could be the door that opens right there to motivate them and know that they’re not alone. I started writing this about Sissie. In the first book, Lark thinks that she might have been abused. There might be some domestic abuse. That’s kind of where I was going, but it was so much more complicated than that. It really went back to, when you’re sixteen years old, you’re living life day by day. You think you’re bulletproof. Most of us aren’t thinking ahead of, what are the effects of these little decisions I make? One night going to play with my friends, what is that going to do? That one night changed Sissie’s life. That’s where we start with Sissie.

Zibby: Wow. I love that you start the book by talking about people who grow at different heights and how they become like — what did you say? — peanut butter and jelly or something like that. I felt like, when I was growing up, that was something that kept happening to me. I never got tall. I had friends who got just super-duper tall. I related to that.

Kris: In Sissie’s case, getting tall, it was kind of an irony because she’s tall and the guy she marries doesn’t want her to be tall. She has to wear flats throughout her marriage. It goes back to, she’s being formed, basically, by everybody else until this tragedy happens. That’s when she gets to bust out and be her authentic self that she’s been kind of growing this whole time.

Zibby: When you started the beginning of the series, and that was Goodbye, Lark Lovejoy, where did that come from in your life, in your professional life? How did you get started? Tell me the whole story.

Kris: I lost a friend to ALS. She was young. Those things, when they happen when you’re young, that’s not supposed to happen, when another mom with kids your age, that happens. ALS was at the core of that. I knew I wanted that to be part of the book. I’d gone down to South Texas. We were in San Antonio. We went to the Gruene Dance Hall, which is one of the oldest dance halls in the country. It was a dance hall that — we walked in at two in the afternoon because one of our older children was like, “You have to go in there. You have to see this.” When I walked in, the floorboards bent under my feet. I told my husband, “I don’t know what the book is going to be about, but I when I write it, some of it’s going to happen here.” You just felt this low hum of people that had been there. It goes back a hundred years.

That’s where it started, that small community that has a little bit of a big spotlight on it because of all the people that come through there. It started there. Then I went through Lark’s life. Basically, Lark came back to her hometown after she’s lost her husband to ALS. She’s not the little miss sunshine, life on a cracker that she was when she left. That’s where Lark takes off. When she meets Sissie’s husband — they’re separated. Sissie and her husband are separated. He has an unrequited crush from high school. He thinks, this is great. We’re going to get back together. Of course, Lark doesn’t want anything to do with him. She had worked as a pro bono attorney in a domestic violence shelter in Houston before she moved back. She recognized something in Sissie that wasn’t right. There was just something that — she was beaten down. I think we find out it’s more emotionally, but emotional abuse is abuse no matter what. That’s where it came from.

Zibby: What about the writing? Did you start writing when you were a kid? When did you know you wanted to write?

Kris: I knew I wanted to write when I was really young. It’s funny. I bought a used book that — people ask me, what is the book that inspired you? I remember getting this book. It was around Halloween. It was a little yellow book in my little school library that was The Little Lost Witch, I think is what it is. I loved that book. Even after Halloween, I would check that out and check it out. I remember thinking, gosh, could I do this? I had some incredible teachers that gave me the confidence. I really didn’t get a lot of that at home. I had great teachers who showed me that no matter who you are, you can do this. My whole life, I knew I was going to do it. I worked for nonprofits and did medical development stuff. I was writing, but my name was never on it. It was stuff that was for an organization. I always knew I was going to do it. When I was forty-six, my husband said, “Hey Kris, when are you going to write that book?” I quit my job. A month later, I was writing Lark Lovejoy.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh. You do not look that old. No, seriously.

Kris: God bless you.

Zibby: Although, I’m forty-five, so I guess you would just be my age. Forty-six, I don’t know. You look like you’re thirty-six.

Kris: No, I’m fifty-one. I’ll be fifty-two.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, wow.

Kris: It took a while to get that, to work through learning your craft. Technical writing is different than fiction writing.

Zibby: Oh, I didn’t know if you meant the anti-aging or the writing.

Kris: No, I’m just talking about, it took a lot, the years between forty-six and now.

Zibby: Yeah, but still. Then also, these books came out so close together, right?

Kris: Yeah. I had already done the second one. The publisher thought since they were going to be part of a series that that would be a good thing to get people a second one pretty quickly. I’ve had people message me and email me and say, when is the next one coming out? I’m like, it’s coming out in November. That was really exciting to have people buy in so quickly.

Zibby: Is there another one coming after this?

Kris: There is. I just finished writing a book that is not in the series. I’ve parked that. I kind of do this. I park the draft and let it air out a little bit, work on another project, come back and do the edits so that you come back and you can see it a little differently. Yes, there is. The next one is about a winemaker who’s probably in her late fifties, early sixties who actually inspired Lark to become a winemaker in the first book. has a handsome Irishman. It also has — her daughter, she had a terrible divorce and just lost her you know what over it. Therapy didn’t really help. That’s how she ended up in winemaking. She thinks she’s going to reunite with her daughter when her daughter’s going to come back and stay with her at the winery. She doesn’t know that the daughter is bringing her father with her who is recuperating after an accident. That’s going to really give Natasha a chance to rehash the things that happened after her divorce.

Zibby: Wow, that sounds great.

Kris: Thank you. It’s been fun. It’s been fun to write.

Zibby: Tell me more about your friend with ALS.

Kris: Her name was Leah. She was an incredible mom. She was smart and funny. She was a volunteer. She did fabulous things for the Junior League. She painted a mural at her children’s school. It wasn’t finished when she got — once she got sick, her right arm paralyzed. She continued to paint it with her left. That’s how inspiring she is. I think about her all the time. In the first book also, we have a lot about our veterans too. It’s about PTSD. Really, Lark has PTSD from losing her husband. The male counterpart does from Afghanistan, from an IED.

Zibby: Did you time it to Veteran’s Day at all?

Kris: No, that one came out in April. It came out when the publisher wanted it to come out.

Zibby: I thought you were saying in November.

Kris: No, this one comes out in November.

Zibby: Oh, right, yes. I’m getting confused. Right.

Kris: No worries.

Zibby: Of course. I’m really sorry about your friend. I have a friend with ALS as well. I know how that goes. It’s been quite a while. When you witness things that happen — this sounds so obvious. Every day, it’s like, well, I have this day. I’m able-bodied today. I can get out. I can work. I can walk. I can do whatever, and so I have to go do this now because not everybody gets to do this today.

Kris: This morning, I woke up. I knew my alarm on my phone was going to go off in five minutes. I laid there. I was thinking about all these things I need to do that don’t have anything to do with writing, plus this. I thought about what you said when I interviewed you when I said, “How do you do it?” You said, “Because I don’t have time.” We don’t have time. I took that as you don’t have time to waste, so get busy. I just want you to know that’s what got me out of bed this morning ten minutes before my alarm. I thought, you know what, what are you doing here? You don’t have time. Go. Every minute is precious. We need to use it.

Zibby: Wow, thank you. I love hearing these things. I don’t have any memory at all of anything I say. People are like, oh, remember when you told me this? I was like, uh, no, I don’t, but I’m delighted that that happened.

Kris: You’re inspiring people, and you don’t even know it. You are inspiring people every day, the things that — I take little nuggets out of every one of your shows. As a writer, you get writing nuggets, but then you also get — who did you interview that wrote Ghost? I listened to her this morning.

Zibby: Dolly Alderton. I love her, oh, my gosh.

Kris: She was talking about her knickers. She kept saying knickers. I walked away and I said, I’m never going to see underwear the same way again. They’re knickers. It’s a lot of fun. What you do, you give people that venue to tell their stories. That’s what I was saying about Sissie. Her story is a quiet story. Toward the end, she said something about, I didn’t find my purpose in a college brochure or in my job. I found it in tons of little moments and a few big ones. That’s life. Your show does that. You give us a glimpse into people’s lives. I just think that’s lovely, what you do.

Zibby: Thank you. That’s so nice. This is the best podcast ever.

Kris: It’s authentic.

Zibby: Wait, so what made you want to start interviewing people? When did that start?

Kris: You know, I’ve got a background in communications. I’ve done all kinds of things. I’ve worked for hospice for two years with it. That’s a whole other — I need to blog about that one of these days. We were on COVID. I was preparing for that first book to come out in April of this last year. My publicist was — they were pushing me to blog. I was like, what am I going to blog about? My kids aren’t here. My husband and I are here on lockdown. Most of the time, it was my Great Dane, Sophie, and I. What do I say? I took Sophie out. I cleaned up poop today. I thought, I don’t have anything to blog about. I kept saying I was going to do a podcast. Kristan Higgins said it’s a lot of work. I thought, oh, interviewing people, I can do that. It is a lot of work. You know that. It has been so fun. I wish I would’ve done it sooner because when I was in lockdown, I wasn’t talking to anybody. It’s so fun. It’s so fun asking the authors that you admire so much, the questions that you want to know. It’s just so fun.

Zibby: I could not agree more.

Kris: You do it every day. I don’t know how you do it every day.

Zibby: I don’t know. Some, I don’t do very well. Perhaps, this one.

Kris: No, you do great.

Zibby: Who are some other authors either coming up or who you’ve had? Who are you excited about?

Kris: I am interviewing Laura Lippman in a couple weeks. I’m trying to think of who else. I’m kind of starstruck right now. I’m trying to remember who all. Kristan Higgins actually inspired me to do the podcast. I was going to do something writerly. She had always reminded us when we’d go to conferences and stuff — I say us because she’d always have a little cubby of ducklings following her around because she was such a great mentor. She still is. She would say there’s plenty of room at the table. We’re not in competition. There’s plenty of room. People aren’t going to read one book. They’re going to read dozens of books, hundreds of books, hopefully. Besides her writing, I love her writing, I love what Bethany Crandell is doing. She’s pretty new. She’s just so fresh and funny.

Zibby: She’s so funny.

Kris: I would say she’s become a dear friend of mine. She and I text almost every day. We’ll send each other videos. She’s so funny. Trish Doller, who wrote Float Plan, I interviewed her. I had not read Float Plan yet. Then that’s the one interview that all the audio went wrong on. I could not salvage it. I had to do it again, but I did it after I read it. It was so fun. I’m actually meeting her next week and two other writers for a little writing retreat in Florida just for five days. It’s been really fun. Let’s see, you asked me about authors.

Zibby: Bethany Crandell, by the way, I wrote her yesterday on Instagram. I was like, “You have the best Instagram comments.” She makes the best comments. I was like, “You win the Zibby Award for the best Instagram comments.”

Kris: It’d have to be a new category next year.

Zibby: That’s what I said. New category, that’s it.

Kris: She has so much on her plate. People don’t realize how much she does. She works. She has a daughter with special needs. She has another daughter. She’s got a life and two dogs. You never know. It goes back to the Sissie thing. You never know what people’s stories are, what their real stories are. That’s why podcasts are fun. People think that writers look like Diane Keaton at the Hamptons in her big, white bedroom and office. We just sit there and write and drink champagne and wait for the checks to come in. It’s so not anything like that. We have to. It’s in our DNA. We have to. It’s really great to get to talk to those authors that you love and find out what their story is. As Kristan Higgins taught me when I started writing, find out what their wound is. You will have such an easier time writing the book when you know what that character’s wound is because our wounds affect the way we see everything. When I was in grad school, I took gender comm. One of my professors was talking about something. I’m going to probably butcher this, but something about standpoint theory where the way you see the world is everything. Where your feet are right now, it’s everything that came before that. When I see you in this beautiful — I see your beautiful office with all the colorful books and everything. I could assume all kinds of things about you, but knowing your story, it gives me insight into your heart and your social consciousness and why you do what you do. I love getting to know people. You know how authors can take those little stories and just break them apart and show us that we’re not alone? Our readers are not alone in the world. They have some similarity that relates back to — hopefully, it’s a character that broke out and is a hero in some way. I didn’t answer your question. Sorry.

Zibby: I love that. It doesn’t matter. I loved it. I love what we’re talking about because I could not agree more. I never get tired of hearing people’s stories, ever. If I ever say to somebody, “What’s your story? How did you start writing? What is your story?” it’s endlessly fascinating to me to figure out the backstory of everybody. You’re right, you present as one thing, and nobody knows.

Kris: No. It’s funny. I don’t know if I should even bring this up. One of the things that inspired me about the Sissie book is that my very best friend from the time we were nine — we kind of got estranged a little bit in high school. She was part of a fundamentalist religion. She got married and pregnant at a young age. I think she had her son at eighteen. I was just like, why? I don’t get that. You are so smart. You have all this potential. I was so judgy about it. In the book, Sissie’s best friend Della is judgy. I was never as bitchy as Della. God, I hope not because we’re best friends to this day. I didn’t understand. The marriage did not last long. It was a traumatic thing for her and her son, but her son has grown into such a fine young man now. She’s remarried and so happy. I told her when I wrote this — I gave her one of the ARCs. I said, “You know, this is kind of my homage to you and a love story to you.” It is not her story. It is nothing like her story except that she got married and pregnant young. We judge. It’s easy to judge from the outside. When you really dissect it, you find out that there were plenty of reasons, good reasons, why she did what she did at the time. That’s all we can do, is make our best decisions at the time that we’re facing them.

Zibby: It’s so true.

Kris: Marissa, if you’re there, that’s to you.

Zibby: Aw. After-the-fact dedication.

Kris: She’s been in both dedications, the dedication that I was up for a Zibby Award.

Zibby: Yes, of course.

Kris: She knows all my secrets and loves me anyway.

Zibby: Yes, I loved that. I totally loved that.

Kris: I think that was in the other book, though.

Zibby: Yeah, not this one. I do have your other book too, as I flip to this dedication. Advice for aspiring authors?

Kris: I would say understand that you are writing fiction, if you’re writing fiction. You’re writing fiction. I went into it thinking I was writing about other people. I didn’t want to expose my life. First, hone your craft. Also, have that sense in the back of your mind that you are going to unveil some of yourself. Otherwise, the work isn’t going to come across as authentic. It comes from you. You’re not telling your story, but you’re telling a story through your filter. I don’t know that I’m doing it justice. It’s hard to explain. I didn’t want to blog about myself. I’d done a couple essays on Medium for Moms Don’t Have Time to Write. It’s made me open up and think about stories that I should be sharing. I write fiction, but there are stories that are meaningful that could be shared just like the essays. I think that’s one thing writers need to realize. If you’re writing fiction, go ahead and write stories — don’t show them to anybody if you don’t want to, but write stories about yourself. Write stories about the traumatic, horrible things because in those things, you’re going to find threads that you can put in your fiction that are going to be very meaningful to other people, to readers.

Zibby: That’s great advice. That’s great. Love it. Thank you so much. Thank you for your time. Thanks for coming on and all the compliments.

Kris: being here.

Zibby: Thanks for sharing Sissie with us and your writing and all of the rest. Thank you. And the interviewing and our shared love of authors.

Kris: Thank you.


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