Kristy Woodson Harvey, THE SUMMER OF SONGBIRDS

Kristy Woodson Harvey, THE SUMMER OF SONGBIRDS

Zibby interviews New York Times bestselling author and repeat MDHTTRB guest Kristy Woodson Harvey about The Summer of Songbirds, a warm and hopeful novel about four women who come together to the save the summer camp that changed their lives. Kristy talks about the camp experience (and sailing fiasco) that inspired this novel and then discusses the themes she loved exploring–lifelong friendships, secrets, and the universal feeling of homesickness. She also talks about Friends & Fiction, her publishing journey, and her next book!


Zibby Owens: Welcome back, Kristy, for your hundredth time on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss The Summer of Songbirds, your latest novel. Congratulations.

Kristy Woodson Harvey: Thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited to be here. I was actually thinking this morning how talking to you about my book is always really great because it makes me be like, oh, that’s what it was about. Yeah, that’s really good. I meant to do that. Perfect.

Zibby: I have to say thank you so much for putting me in the acknowledgments. That was so sweet. Really, really sweet.

Kristy: Oh, my goodness, you’ve done so much. You’ve been so supportive of me and my books. Man, I’ll never forget it, especially during that 2020 year when we were all in those trenches. It was tough. You really turned it out for all of us. Thank you for that.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, of course. This book is so perfectly timed. I’m literally dealing — in fact, I should write this down. I forgot to schedule the camp pick-up stuff. As I’m getting ready to send the kids to sleepaway camp and getting everything ready, diving into such a visual and immersive camp experience is really awesome. I know you talk a lot about getting stranded. Explain, please, getting stranded in the water for real and being like, I guess our kids are going to find us. Let’s go back.

Kristy: This was so funny. I will say, as you well know being a writer, a lot of times, a book comes out, and you wrote it a long time earlier. I actually started this book the summer of 2020 when my son was not able to go to summer camp. Instead, we all went to family camp. It was this really fun thing. We all stayed in the cabins with no air conditioning and all the things. It was wonderful. We had a ball and wanted to get out of the four walls of our house. We were thrilled. I had kind of been playing around with the idea. I loved summer camp. I grew up going to summer camp. I had been playing around with the idea of writing a book about summer camp. It seemed really resonate at the moment because summer camps were really struggling during the summer of 2020. A lot of them did end up closing down because they lost an entire year of funding. I thought this would be kind of fun. I was just toying with it. I didn’t really have a fully formed idea yet. I was in a sailboat with two friends. One of my friends, she’s a really expert sailor. She started a sailing program here in Beaufort, where we live, that is very popular and has gone on and on and on. She was one of the star sailors at this camp where we were.

We take this sailboat out. Because there’s so many people going out at the same time, they don’t have enough radios for everyone. They were like, we’re not even going to send you with a radio because you’ll be fine. You’re with Millie. We’re like, okay, great. We go out on this sailboat. We get really far away from camp, and the wind just dies. It doesn’t matter how good of a sailor you are. We’re in a little Sunfish. The wind dies, you’re stranded. There’s nothing to do. We’re sitting there. I was like, “You guys, I was thinking about writing a book about camp.” She tells this story about being fourteen years old and being out in the sailboat, and a huge waterspout came up, a tornado on the water. She was with friends. They had to jump and abandon the boat. The really super cute boy sailing instructor came out and saved them. Their boat was crushed on the rocks. It was really serious. Then she was talking about everyone being like, oh, my god, you got saved by the hot sailing instructor. I was like, this is exactly what I need. This is perfect camp-book fodder. We just sat there for two hours. We told all of these camp stories. Finally, we got rescued by a very nice girl, not by the hot sailing instructor, unfortunately.

Zibby: You were not freaking out at all being stuck?

Kristy: We were not freaking out too much because, one, we had a paddle. We were like, we could paddle to shore. We didn’t know exactly where we were, but we knew we were somewhere in between the boys’ camp and the girls’ camp. Eventually, we would survive. The weather was perfect, so we weren’t worried about that. Our husbands and our children knew that we were going sailing. We were like, eventually, they’ll realize that we didn’t come back. It might take a while because they’re at camp. Everyone’s off doing activities and having fun. We’re like, eventually, someone will realize that we have not come back, and they did. Eventually, they did.

Zibby: Every so often, I’m always like, if something were to happen to me right here, how long would it take people to figure it out that I was here?

Kristy: It’s exactly right. That’s exactly right.

Zibby: Your book, it’s not just fun and camp. There are some deeper themes going on here, loss and tragic car accidents. There’s a lot, as with all your books. It seems like it’s a fun jaunt, but then there are always deeper things that keep you thinking. Talk about how you put all this together for this book and what it means to grow up and miss your parents. There is that homesickness that camp evokes immediately. Sometimes you can get your home back. Sometimes it’s a permanent state of homesickness.

Kristy: See, that’s what I’m saying. What a great parallel, camp homesickness and missing your parents forever. One of the things that also really sparked the idea for the story, I wanted to write about these three best friends who met at camp and had known each other forever. I also really wanted to write about that kind of friendship that you have from childhood that has really been through hard things, which is a theme of this book, is these women who started doing each other’s hard things when they were little girls. They still do. They take on these tasks for each other that are really hard for one of them but really easy for the other, which I think is so brilliant. I was like, man, I wish that I had someone in real life that would do — we all have friends that, we’ll find something really hard, and they don’t find it hard at all. You’re like, gosh, if we could just compartmentalize our lives in this way, it would work really well.

Zibby: If you could get this hard things email thing going, could you put me on that?

Kristy: Just get this going.

Zibby: Loop me in, please.

Kristy: We’ll all send the things out. It’ll be fine. We’ll be even more efficient and productive. I really liked the idea of that. I do think there’s something special about friends that have known you your whole life. They understand you in a way that you can’t recapture. I think the older we get, the better we get at pretending that things are okay. Daphne, one of the protagonists, is a perfect example of that. She has this successful life. By all accounts, she has got it all together. She’s a single mom. She’s a successful attorney. She’s doing really well, but she does carry a lot of scars from losing her mother in a tragic way. She loses her mother to addiction. Then she has a little bout of that herself in her twenties and sort of lives in this fear that she could become her mother. She has this son and all of these things. Her friends are very instrumental in not only helping her out of a bad situation, but also being the people to remind her that she’s not her mother.

Of course, things get complicated because it wouldn’t be a book if they didn’t. Everybody in this book has secrets. As those secrets come to light, it does end up changing the tenor of the story and the nature of these friendships. I do think it changes these friendships forever. That’s another one of those things that I wanted to be really honest about. I do think when you’ve been friends with people from the time you’re a small child, it is more like a sisterhood in some ways. You’re not going to go your entire life and just be perfectly happy. If you are, that’s probably not a real deep relationship. There are going to be those things that you don’t agree with. There are going to be times that you hurt each other. You’re going to have to get through that. Sometimes those things end up being dealbreakers for a relationship, but I think sometimes they end up making you stronger, which is the case with these women.

Zibby: Also, let’s go back to Daphne and how she ended up even becoming a mother. You had a very funny scene of her getting together with Steven. Right? That’s his name?

Kristy: Yes.

Zibby: She was twenty-three. He was twenty-five. They have, basically, a quick dalliance, and it ends up with Henry.

Kristy: She’s been in this very serious relationship. She’s been like, I just am not really sure that I want this, and then ends up getting pregnant. She’s actually twenty-five, and he’s twenty-three.

Zibby: Sorry, you’re right.

Kristy: No, that’s totally fine. I’m just saying, which I think makes it even funnier, she’s like, oh, great. I couldn’t commit to this serious, wonderful man, and now I’m pregnant with this surfer, twenty-three-year-old’s child. This is fantastic.

Zibby: Who ends up being a great weekend dad.

Kristy: He ends up being amazing. They kind of raise each other in a lot of ways. Steven is the person that she needs in her life at that time for so many reasons. He is such a good dad. He’s such a good coparent for her. I think he brings that lightness to her life that she really needs because she has been through a lot. She can tend to get a little more serious and get a little bit in her head. I love him. I’ve actually gotten a lot of letters from readers. Can you make him the hero of your next book? We love Steven. I love him too, so he could totally end up in another book. I adored him. There were parts of me that were like, hmm, maybe there’s something here. This story could’ve gone a lot of different ways. I do love him. He brings out some things in her that she really needs at the time. I do think that’s life, the irony and those spots in our life that we can’t predict what’s going to happen. She is definitely a planner. She’s got it all planned out. She’s got it all figured out. She’s really terrified when she finds out that she’s pregnant with Henry, but she ends up being an incredible mom. Henry, in a lot of ways, sort of saves her from herself because she realizes, oh, I’m not the mother that my mother was. I’m not the parent that my father was. This is great. Henry saves her in so many ways. He does influence most of her decisions in this book, which I think is kind of natural for us as mothers. Our children obviously factor into our decisions in really big ways. She has moments where maybe she underestimates Henry. He’s very young. She places, maybe, some more importance on her decisions in her life when really, he’s very young and very happy and very settled and situated. It’s all going to be fine.

Zibby: Tell me more about June and how you came up with her story.

Kristy: June was one of those characters that — when I started the book, I really was just thinking that Daphne and Lanier are these two best friends who were going to be our main POV characters. Then when I really thought about Daphne, I wanted her to have someone in her life that was her rock and her constant. That is her Aunt June. Aunt June owns Camp Holly Springs. She went there as a camper when she was young. It’s this place that she and her sister both loved. They lose their parents in a really sad, sudden accident. She’s actually getting ready for the funeral, and the priest of the funeral says, I just want you to think about the last place that you felt safe and happy. All she can think about is summer camp. She takes every single thing that she has, everything that she’s gotten from her parents, and she buys this failing, falling-apart summer camp because it’s the only place that she can think of that she feels safe and happy. It’s totally a rash decision. It’s a bad one. It ends up costing her her relationship. It ends up costing her a lot of her friendships. She throws herself into this summer camp in a way that she starts to realize throughout this book is maybe not healthy and that maybe she has really avoided her life by hiding away at this wonderful place that her dreams were made of as a child. She was a really interesting character. Again, she’s someone that I think I could do more with, someone that I really would like to know more about. She has a lot of scars from all the loss that’s she had. She feels responsible for her sister’s death. She thinks that if she had been there, if she had been more present, that that wouldn’t have happened.

I won’t give spoilers, but she carries a lot of guilt about her relationship with Daphne, her niece, even though she has been her safe place in a lot of ways. She’s failed her in some ways, too, that come to light in the book, which, again, is just real. We all do our best. June does her best. I really wanted to see her point of view because I wanted to sort of feel how it is to have put your entire life into something and to realize that you’re probably going to lose it. Is it your fault? Is it not your fault? Whatever, it doesn’t matter. She feels so much responsibility because she knows that for hundreds, if not thousands, of little girls, she has been the safe place and the escape. This camp has changed their lives. She knows if it goes away, that’s going to end. She feels kind of in a desperate situation, but she’s one of those people that doesn’t want to bother anyone. When Daphne and her friends are like, “No, no, no. We might go down, but we’re not going down without a fight,” she definitely finally has some people in her corner. She’s really touched by that. It ends up changing her life in a really big way. I think she doesn’t actually realize what an impact she’s had on so many people’s lives until she is in danger of it all falling apart, and all of these people rally around her to save this place that she loves the very most. It’s also a wake-up call for her because she realizes that moving forward, maybe she does need to open herself up to the possibility that this camp is not the only thing in her life.

Zibby: I feel like June would be friends — have you read Carley Fortune’s Ever Summer After, the new one?

Kristy: I have not read the new one, no. I’ve read Meet Me at the Lake, but I haven’t read — is it Meet Me at the Lake?

Zibby: No, Meet Me at the Lake is the new one. I’m sorry.

Kristy: Meet Me at the Lake is the new one. I’ve read Every Summer After. I haven’t read Meet Me at the Lake.

Zibby: The mother passes away in the first couple pages, so I’m not giving anything away. She has run this resort by a lake for a very long time. It’s her whole identity. The two of you should do an event or something. Do you know her? I could put you in touch.

Kristy: We should. I do think it just goes to show there are these places that define us. When I wrote this book, I was like, that’s what I want people to remember. It wasn’t camp. I wanted people to read something and be like, I remember that place when I was a kid where I felt free and alive and like the world was just out there waiting for me to grab it. That’s what I want people to think of. It’s not, oh, remember your days at summer camp? Obviously, everyone didn’t go to summer camp. Not everyone loves summer camp if they did go. It’s not even really about that. It’s just about that really specific moment in time that we kind of all wish we could go back to. We can’t, but we can remember it. That’s nice too.

Zibby: That was so nice you wrote that in the book for people to remember, keep that in mind, relate to. It’s awesome. Friends & Fiction, let’s talk a little bit about that as well because you just continue to grow this platform and, in the book, say you have a hundred thousand members now.

Kristy: That’s what’s so nuts. Oh, my gosh. When I wrote the acknowledgments of the book, it was probably true. I think we just crossed 160,000 members this week. It’s one of those things that — I’ll speak for myself. There are so many things in my life that I feel like I’ve worked so hard for. Sometimes it feels like you’re just trudging. You know. There are these things that you’re just really trying to make happen. Sometimes they work. Sometimes they take off. Sometimes they don’t. Friends & Fiction was just this thing that was like, wait, what? It continues to be like, wait, what? How? What? It’s been great. You know, putting on a show every week, it’s work. It doesn’t just happen. We love it because we get to spend time talking to amazing writers and authors and interacting with all of these readers who are finding each other on this page. Like we were talking about earlier, it started, again, as this, oh, my gosh, it’s the pandemic. We can’t tour. What are we going to do? Let’s try to bring readers together. It has continued for over three years now, which is just really, really shocking to us. What’s been really gratifying is to now be able to go out into the world and be able to see these people that have been in this group who have found each other and made friends and read new books and all of these things because of this group, which I know is something that I’m sure you can relate to as well. Being able to meet these people that you’ve kind of been hanging out with behind the scenes, to see them in real life, it’s very impactful. It really is.

Zibby: It’s easier to think of people as just an email address and not, this is the person who got dressed in the morning and went and drove her car. Now these emails, where do they fit in their lives? and how important they are.

Kristy: That’s true. It’s been really interesting.

Zibby: How did you grow from 100 to 160 in a minute?

Kristy: That’s what I’m saying.

Zibby: You don’t know?

Kristy: People can’t see me. We’re not on video. I’m shrugging. We don’t know. That’s what’s so unbelievable. We’re showing up every week a few times a week. We do a live show every Wednesday night at seven PM that then transforms onto the podcast. Then we do a podcast episode every Friday. I guess that’s what I’m saying. For so many things, especially when you’re putting out a book and you’re doing so much with the publicity and the marketing — how are the advertising dollars going to be spent? There are all these components that are going into it. This is just this thing. It just has kind of taken on a life of its own. We show up. We do the show. We plan the show. We love it. In terms of growing this audience, we’re not really doing anything.

Zibby: That’s amazing. That’s so great.

Kristy: It’s crazy and very unusual. I will say there are not a lot of things in my life that have really happened organically like that. It’s been really great.

Zibby: When you think about marketing — this is your nineth book or your tenth book? Nineth book, right? Tenth book?

Kristy: It’s my tenth book.

Zibby: Tenth book, so nine before. What have you learned? For all the authors who are out there trying to sell their books, what are some of the things that by the tenth book, this is what you’ve learned to do well or this is really what works in terms of reaching readers or anything related to the process of getting the word out or touring or just any tactical advice you have?

Kristy: I still have no idea. When I started out ten books ago, I was like, okay, I have this debut novel. There’s not going to be a ton of fanfare around it. I have a good publisher, but it’s definitely a debut. My real focus was, who will read my book and talk about it? That was it. It was every blogger, every bookstagrammer. Well, bookstagram wasn’t even a thing, really. This was 2015. It was really blogging. Book blogging was a big thing. Facebook was a big thing. It still is. I really think that those individual relationships have been the things still to this day that get my book out there. It is the bookstagrammers that take a picture. It is the podcasters like you who invite me on their podcast. It is individual people every day who are saying, you should read this book. That is true. I’ve never had a big book club pick. I haven’t been in People magazine. There’s never been this one huge thing that has really helped. It’s just been, little by little, growth and maintaining those relationships. That’s why I really mean it — I say it in every book. People say it. Oh, thank you to all the people that get my book out there. I really truly mean it because that’s why I’m still here ten books later, is because individual book influencers and individual readers are the people who read my book and share them with their friends. That’s it.

I do tour a lot. I will actually say, when I think about Friends & Fiction and the most tangible impact that it’s had on my career, the touring is the place where I see it the most because you always know that you’re going to have people show up in a big way for an event. There are these little groups and pockets of Friends & Fiction readers all over the place. That has been the most tangible and incredible way that I’ve really been able to see that group show up. People have different opinions about touring. I think there’s something really special about going out and talking about your book in person and signing someone’s book and taking your picture and giving them a hug. I do think that those relationships are important. For me, it’s still something that I really prioritize and I care about a lot and I think is important. I think I’m a good example of just organic steady growth. No fireworks, no major, major things, but I still am here. I still get to do what I love to do. I’m really grateful for it.

Zibby: It’s amazing. It’s really inspiring. It’s awesome, really awesome. I feel like your books just keep getting better and better. They’re all so different. Whether it’s friendship or relationships, I feel like you take us to all these different places, like inside an office and now in a camp cabin. I feel like I’m in your backpack just following you around. Where are you going to take me? It’s fun. It’s really fun.

Kristy: That’s nice. Thank you. That means a lot because you do want to keep getting better. That’s the hope. Every book I write, I’m like, okay, I want this book to be better than the book before. That is very important to me. I hope it works out. I hope readers feel that I’m never phoning it in. I’m not like, I’m just going to coast through this one. Weirdly enough — this is going to sound crazy. It’s my tenth book. It’s a book about these three friends in this summer camp. It should’ve been really easy to write, but The Summer of Songbirds was, honestly, one of my harder books. I can’t really explain why that is. Maybe because it was 2020. Maybe because it was a harder time. I felt like I edited this book more than anything else, including The Wedding Veil, which was this historical contemporary novel with all these things going on and these four points of view. That should’ve been my hardest book, but I really think The Summer of Songbirds was, which is bizarre.

Zibby: It’s fabulous. What is your next book? What are you working on? What’s coming out next?

Kristy: I’m super excited. My next one, it’s either going to be Where the Sky Meets the Sea or Where the Sea Meets the Sky. We can’t decide. I had Where the Sky Meets the Sea. Now that I’m finishing edits, I kind of like Where the Sea Meets the Sky. You do too. Okay, that’s good. We’ll say we decided it here. Where the Sea Meets the Sky.

Zibby: I think it flows better.

Kristy: That’s good to know. I don’t even really know how to talk about this book yet, except that it’s two points of view. It’s a grandmother that you’re seeing from the 1930s through the 1970s and then her granddaughter, who she’s never met, who finds out that her mother still owns her grandparents’ house. She has no idea. She ends up going back to, presumably, put this house on the market and sell it and then starts to piece together that something else happened there that she’s never really known about. You’re getting to see this granddaughter uncover her grandmother’s life in real time through her house and her things and her friends and her stories. It’s set in Beaufort, where I live, so that’s been really fun. I can’t tell you how because it gives away the ending of the book, but it’s actually inspired by something that happened in my family, a story from my great-aunt and uncle who I never knew. It’s something I’ve wanted to write about for a long time, but I didn’t exactly know how I was going to write about it. This story, it finally came to me. I was like, yes. On the flip side of The Summer of Songbirds, it’s been one of the easiest books I’ve ever written. I had sat with it for so long that when I sat down to write it, I was like, yep, this is it. I know what’s going to happen. It was great. I can’t wait for it to come out. I’m really excited about that one.

Zibby: When does that come out?

Kristy: April of 2024. Maybe the 30th. Maybe the 23rd. We’re going back and forth. We’ll see, but late April of 2024. It’s crazy. It’s not that long. They actually just told me. They were like, “You’ll get home from tour on July 25th or something, and we’ll have advance copies of your next book on August 1st.” I was like, oh, great.

Zibby: It’s amazing. My own novel is coming out next March.

Kristy: I can’t wait. I’m so excited.

Zibby: I know. Maybe I can cross paths.

Kristy: Is it turned in? Is it buttoned up?

Zibby: It’s going into copyedits this week.

Kristy: Awesome. You’re right on track.

Zibby: If I just do my last tweaks. I want to come to Beaufort and have you show me all the houses you put on your Instagram.

Kristy: You’ve got to come to Beaufort. That would be perfect. You should come for your book. We’ll work that out.

Zibby: I would. I totally would. All the things you post, I’m like, I want to go to that house. I want to live in that house. I want to buy this house. I want to spend the night here.

Kristy: It’s a sweet little spot. It is not unusual for people to come here and then be like, oh, I need to buy a house. I’m staying. I’m not going to leave. That’s what happened to us. We had a house here, but we came here for “a year.” Then we were like, oh, yeah, we’re just going to stay. We’re going to figure this out. That’s how we got to Beaufort. We just decided not to leave and that we were going to figure it out.

Zibby: Where were you before again? I know I know this.

Kristy: We were in a little town called Kinston. It’s an hour and a half away. It’s not that far away. Even being close by, you still have to figure out job and life. Fortunately, you and I can kind of do our jobs from anywhere, so that’s good.

Zibby: That is nice. I’m like, okay, the summer’s coming. Now what? Let’s get outside a little bit. Are you reading anything great?

Kristy: Oh, my gosh, yes. Oh, my gosh, oh, my gosh, oh, my gosh. I’m not just saying this because she’s one of my best friends. I have about seventy-five pages left of The Paris Daughter by Kristin Harmel. I picked it up. I was super busy. I’m trying to get my edits done. I have a million things to blurb. It was not next on my TBR. I was like, I’m just going to peek at it because I’m talking about it. People are asking me about it. I sat down. I was like, I’m just going to read the first two chapters. I read a hundred pages straight. Then I was like, okay, I have got to go — this has been one of those books that I’ve picked it up twice, and I’m 276 pages in, or something. It’s good. It’s so immersive. She writes World War II fiction really, really well. It’s the backdrop of World War II, but this is really a mother-daughter story. It’s really fascinating. There’s a lot about love and loss and the psychology behind that and the things that it makes people do. It’s fantastic. Last night, it was eleven, and I was like, I only have seventy-five pages left. I can totally finish this. Then I was like, no, I’m going to wait until tomorrow. Put it away. I had a really hard internal struggle. It’s fantastic. I can’t wait to read your book. Please send that to me. I’m looking around. What have I read lately that’s great? Do you ever do this? You’re like, all I do is read, and then when people ask me what I’m reading that I love —

Zibby: — Yes, I do this all the time. Yes, I never know what to say. You had a great answer.

Kristy: Okay, good.

Zibby: Kristy, I know you’re off to go support your friend, which is amazing. Congratulations on The Summer of Songbirds. So great. This is going to be such a hit, of course. Really wonderful. I feel like you should pair this with a screening of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. We have the whole camp with book. It’s total throwback. It’s amazing.

Kristy: I love it. Thank you for having me. Thanks for all your support for all these books. I really appreciate it.

Zibby: Of course. Bye.

Kristy: Bye.

Kristy Woodson Harvey, THE SUMMER OF SONGBIRDS

THE SUMMER OF SONGBIRDS by Kristy Woodson Harvey

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