Zibby Owens: Welcome, Laura. I’m so excited to welcome you to “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Laura Tremaine: I am so excited to be here, Zibby. Thank you for having me.

Zibby: As I was just saying before the podcast, I feel like I know you because of your amazing podcast and your new book, Share Your Stuff. I’ll Go First.: 10 Questions to Take Your Friendships to the Next Level. The best part about this book was all the stuff that you shared, I think. I just wanted to know more and more about you. I was like, forget the questions. Tell me more about Laura. Congratulations on the book.

Laura: Thank you very much. I’m super excited, my first book even though I’ve been writing for all this time. I feel like, finally, I get to have something I hold in my hands that’s not just on the internet.

Zibby: That must feel amazing, right?

Laura: It feels amazing. It really does.

Zibby: Tell me about the inspiration for this book. What made you write it? Why did you package it up this way with questions for other people to ask? It has a little self-help component to it in the midst of the memoir, I would say. It’s an assortment of bullets at the end and ten funny things or things you wouldn’t know about you and then questions you can ask your friends. Tell me about the format choice.

Laura: It’s funny because I always pictured and always wanted to write more traditional memoir or at least personal essay. I thought that was the more literary, sophisticated thing that a person should write. I did try to do that. It just felt forced. It felt like I was trying to be a sophisticated writer when actually, everything flowed a whole lot easier when I just did what I really do, which is just share my story and talk the same way that I would if I was talking to an audience on my podcast or on Instagram or something like that. When I changed up my mindset around it and stopped trying to be an essayist and decided to share the way that I am comfortable sharing, it just came out in this format. On my podcast, which is called “10 Things to Tell You,” I ask a question every week. Then you’re supposed to answer the question. They’re often either introspective or you’re supposed to take it to a friend and do it as a get-to-know-you conversation starter.

It made sense to structure the book that way. I came up with ten questions that, first of all, I actually wanted to answer, but also ten questions that I felt like come up a lot on my podcast or from my audience that they want to hear more about from me or from their friends or that they want to share about themselves. I came up with these ten questions — some of them are deep; some of them are not so deep — and just structured the stories that I wanted to tell within the format of those questions. Instead of trying to make this meaningful, thoughtful, essay, I really just wanted to tell you about this story that happened in my life. It just came out that way. It felt very natural. It felt much more natural. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that what seems to flow is what you need to go with instead of trying to be this other thing. That’s how I got here.

Zibby: That’s amazing. The story that I’ve actually already retold now twice is when the scary van pulled up at the house when you were inside. You were so scared. The neighbor comes walking down the street. You throw yourself into his arms. Maybe you should tell the story, a synopsis better that I just did, and how that played into your anxiety, which you also talk about in a really impactful way throughout this book starting in the very beginning and coursing through from your hair-pulling to all these things that were manifestations of your anxiety. Then this one moment, I felt like, was the pinnacle of everything you’ve ever worried about, and the break-in, but we can talk about that after.

Laura: It was a huge moment in my life. I was a super anxious child. I write about that a lot, my childhood anxiety. I talk about that online. I pulled my hair out. I had bald spots. I had a lot of coping mechanisms. Growing up in the eighties in a tiny town in Oklahoma, there was no help to be had. I didn’t see a therapist. I was just a little quirky kid. What it really was is I had a lot of anxiety and a lot of ways that that manifested. I was also a latchkey kid. Both of my parents worked. I was at home alone for hours every day after school starting in the second or third grade. We lived out in the country in the middle of nowhere. I would ride the bus home and then be home in the woods for hours. I was a little bit older when this story happened. I put it in the framework of the question. The chapter that this story falls in is, what are you afraid of? I feel like when you ask someone what they’re afraid of, what their deepest fear is, who wants to talk about that? Why are we sharing about this? It seems like such a scary thing to talk about. For me, when I talk about things that I’m afraid of, it makes them less scary. The more that I can drag this dark thing into the light, it makes it less scary to me. It takes the power away from it. When I was a little kid and I was at home alone, the creepiest, most after-school special thing happened where a rusty white van pulled into the driveway where I was playing outside. We were out in the country. I just knew it deep inside my soul that there was something not right about it. Spoiler alert, nothing happened. I was not kidnapped, by the way.

Zibby: You’re still here. You’re here, so it all worked out okay.

Laura: It all worked out. It really did kick off, for an anxious child, the scary thing that happened that I just intuitively felt like was an evil thing. I guess we’ll never know because, again, I wasn’t kidnapped. It really did kick off a lot of things in me. I became really obsessed with true crime after that. I was young. I was pre-teen, probably, when that happened. Into my teenage years and into my college years, I got really into true crime before that was as popular as it is now. I really got very fearful. It was where my anxiety took a turn. Also, a deeper layer to that story that nothing ever actually happened in, but a deeper layer to that story was I told everyone around me that there was something evil about that van. Again, I was eleven, twelve. I’d been staying home for years. Things had happened. People had rang the doorbell. People had stopped by the house, strangers. I had never felt this kind of deep inner fear. It really bothered me when my parents or my siblings, no one believed me that there was something different about this situation. I felt like in that moment not only did I have a real twist and turn towards — my fear took a real turn. Also, maybe that’s the moment when I kind of became a self-advocate or something. I realized no one is going to believe me just on my word of it, just on my own intuition.

It really changed my life. After that, I stopped staying home alone. I would go to the library after school or other things. I had to make all those adjustments and all those changes myself. I had to be like, okay, if no one’s going to believe me that I’m in danger out there in the woods, I’m going to have to take it on. I talked about that story in my family. It’s sort of a family lore story. We still joke about it. No one in my family, still to this moment, believes that there was anything wrong with that van. For me, when I sat down to write my book, it was one of these primary stories of my life that I wanted to share. When I’m thinking of the ten stories I want to share in my first book, it was one of the major ones. I think that this happens to a lot of us in our childhood. We have this pivotal moment. Maybe it is a truly tragic moment or something really huge that you can point to. Maybe it’s a nothing story like mine. A scary van pulled in. A scary van pulled out. That’s the story, but it was a big thing for me. I wanted to share it also as a way to give the reader permission to take those kind of “nothing” stories and say, yeah, this has some weight for me. It doesn’t matter if no one ever understands why, but this was a real moment for me.

Zibby: I think that’s something just so relatable, when you have any sort of fear or doubt and you can’t get people on your side about it or people minimizing the worry, which never helps. I’m so worried about — oh, you’ll be fine. You’ll be fine. That makes it worse. That always makes it worse.

Laura: It was a really big deal to me that I wasn’t believed. It also sort of set me on this path of listening to my intuition or not. No one used that kind of language with me back then. Really, it is a thing of, you have to trust yourself. If you sense that something is not right here, you have to believe that. You have to go with that.

Zibby: And PS, that’s how you got all that time in the library. Perhaps that’s why you even wrote this book and why we’re on the Zoom together.

Laura: Thank you for connecting all the dots. Thank you. Thank you.

Zibby: Anytime. My pleasure. I also loved all your delving into your past relationships and how each chapter, not every chapter, but many chapters had little scattered Hansel and Gretel-type crumbs of your past relationships from the pastor to coercing your husband to marry you to your first boyfriend, all these broken hearts, everything. I felt like the way you unveiled your relationship history was very — I almost felt voyeuristic, like, ooh. I’m snooping here into her private life. I found it just so entertaining and awesome.

Laura: Thank you for saying that. I will say, that is something I’m, I don’t want to say embarrassed about, but I have some vague vulnerabilities that I’m a forty-one-year-old woman, married happily, mom of two, and I am still writing about ex-boyfriends and things like that. I got to the end of the first draft and I was like, did I write too much about my exes? My publisher was like, “Maybe.”

Zibby: Did you take some out? Is this the edited-down version?

Laura: Yes.

Zibby: I don’t know. I really like those parts. I feel like once we’re all married and boring and all the rest, it’s nice to hear about what the before was. It’s similar to how I feel about meeting brothers and sisters of friends I made as grown-ups. Whereas when we’re kids, you know everybody’s family. It just gives a context to everything else. It gives more context to a person to hear about how they got where they are.

Laura: It does. The same as the white van story being a childhood story, in some ways, those early relationships, your first love or your first heartbreak or the person you almost married but didn’t, all of those people, if you’re lucky enough to have had such a trail, then they do matter to your life. One really bad heartbreak will probably affect how you interact in your next relationship or whatever. There is a connection to all of these things. After a certain age or after you’ve been married a certain length of time, you’re not supposed to talk about that anymore. You’re supposed to think that that is all dumb and young, immature stuff and doesn’t really matter. That’s just not true. Those relationships meant a lot to my life. They definitely affected the relationships after them, which then of course became a marriage. I don’t think you should dwell on them. There’s obviously an unhealthy, toxic place you can get to with fixating on past relationships. I have tons of girlfriends, and like you said, I could hear about their exes all day.

Zibby: Right? It’s so juicy.

Laura: It’s funny. It’s interesting. Tell me all the ex stories.

Zibby: Totally. Plus, you include so much about what it feels like to be a transplant in LA and making that into your home and your whole blog, which of course is how you have turned this whole thing into the thing that it is. In fact, I want to hear more about that. You started the blog, Hollywood Housewife. Did I get that right, Hollywood Housewife?

Laura: That is right.

Zibby: By the way, do you know the author Helen Ellis? Do you know who she is? Have you read her work?

Laura: Is she the American Housewife?

Zibby: Yes. She wrote American Housewife and Southern Lady Code and has a new book coming out. I think she’s from Kentucky but lives in New York City. I feel like you jumped off from different places and landed on different coasts, but you’re both very funny and witty. If I were still doing all my events, I would do one with the two of you because I feel like you’d have such an interesting conversation. Maybe I could just introduce you. I feel like you would be friends.

Laura: I would love that. She has been in my to-read stack for ages because I also sort of felt like maybe we would have something in common. I haven’t gotten to her yet, but I will. I think I will.

Zibby: I don’t know why I’m plugging another author in the middle of our interview. I’m sorry. I’m just trying to connect you, and not in a negative way.

Laura: No, I love it. I love it.

Zibby: So Hollywood Housewife, you start the blog. How does the blog become the podcast, becomes the book? Tell me that whole story.

Laura: There are a lot of steps in between. I started the blog when my daughter was just a few months old. It was 2010. I’d been reading mommy blogs in the years that I was trying to get pregnant and then while I was pregnant. The internet, not the internet as a whole, but blogs and personal sharing and all of this kind of thing was still a real novelty. I loved it. I’ve always felt like I was a writer in my soul. This removed all the gatekeepers. There was no publishers. You could just share your stuff online. I was obsessed. I actually started the mommy blog because that’s what people were doing. I didn’t have a whole lot of interest in actually writing about motherhood. I still don’t have a lot of interest in writing about motherhood in general, but that was sort of the avenue for me to be able to write immediately. I started that in 2010. I was able to build a little bit of an audience. A lot of the feedback that I got from people was that they loved reading blogs like I did. They loved reading my blog, but they would never share themselves. They just wanted to read other people’s stuff. They wanted me to keep doing it, but they would never.

That’s a very strange, backhanded compliment. I think they actually did mean it as a compliment. Actually, what they were saying was they would never be so tacky as to put themselves on the internet. I just kept receiving that message, some version of that message, over and over. Then when social media started, there was all this shame around people posting selfies. I just kept seeing this message of women who liked other people to share, but they could never share themselves. It wasn’t because they were deeply insecure or anything. There was all these reasons, these cultural reasons. Maybe there was some insecurity. It felt passive-aggressive. It felt like people needed permission to share. They didn’t necessarily want to be on a stage, but they did want to share themselves. They did want to have connection with other people. My time at Hollywood Housewife, writing that particular blog which was very family focused, as my kids got older and I also started to tire of the name and the branding, it didn’t really fit. It sort of was meant to be tongue and cheek during the Real Housewives franchise, that boom. Then it started to be like, I’m sort of embarrassed to say this, that this is the name of my blog.

I started to phase that out and decided to close that actual blog. By that time, I was a cohost on a podcast called “Sorta Awesome” which I had kind of done as a favor to a friend, to be honest. I didn’t know anything about podcasting, but I was like, fine, whatever. I just loved it. As you might have experienced, I ended up loving using my actual voice. I loved having the good conversations. I had been trying to make this writing go in a more serious way. I’d been trying to use the blog to do that. When I closed the blog and started talking is when I felt like I really found my voice. It then became so much easier for me to write because I didn’t have all these hangs-ups about the perfect sentence structure or anything. I felt like when I was actually talking and I was getting a response, I found a groove. I took what I had learned during that mommy blogging time of just seeing how lonely women were on the internet — they were turning to the internet. They were turning to blogs and then eventually social media to watch women share themselves, but they weren’t actually sharing their own selves. They didn’t know how.

I hosted a few of these challenges to get people to share. What I learned — this is still true to this very moment. If you give people an assignment, if you’re like, we’re all going to share this thing, we’re going to share our favorite reading chair, we’re going to share a selfie, we’re going to share what we learned this month, whatever, give them any kind of assignment, people will share. They feel a permission when they say, well, I’m participating in this online challenge, so I can share this. Whereas they would never in a million, gillion years just say, hey everybody, this is my favorite reading chair. They just wouldn’t do that. If they have this thing that they’re participating in, they will do it. They want to do it. I loved that. I’m like, great, I will give you all the prompts. We will do all the prompts if you will share, if it will get you sharing, if it will get all of us sharing. I had done this challenge called 10 Things to Tell You. That’s what I called the challenge. It was so successful and made me so happy that then I decided to make that a weekly thing and make that be a podcast because by then I had discovered that I loved podcasting. The podcast was called “10 Things to Tell You.” The challenge online that I still do is 10 Things to Tell You. Then when I pitched the book, I pitched it as 10 Things to Tell You, but it became Share Your Stuff. I’ll Go First. I like that title better.

Zibby: There you go, or so we’re going to tell the publisher.

Laura: That’s right.

Zibby: I love the title. I would’ve loved the other title too. It’s great. It just totally tells you what type of person the author is and the willingness to be open. Then that’s when people want to be open back right away. You go first, we’re in.

Laura: Exactly. I hope that it gives people permission. There is a tiny bit of a self-help element to it. I’m not an expert in that. I don’t have any degree. I hold all that stuff lightly. I enjoy self-help books and stuff myself. I love them. I love to talk through what I’m learning and how I’m growing. That comes out in the book a lot when I’m trying to encourage people how they can think about this question or this prompt. I also just want to be really clear with everyone that this is no expertise. I’m a self-help hobbyist.

Zibby: When I mentioned self-help in the beginning, I didn’t mean to scare anybody that this is a true expert. I hope that you didn’t take it — the stuff with genre these days, there’s so much overlap. I feel like anything that can help somebody else I consider sort of self-help.

Laura: Totally. I’m all about self-help. I love all of that stuff. I think this is categorized as self-help or motivation or some kind of thing like that, but a lot of it’s my personal story in the book.

Zibby: Personally, I find that a lot more compelling than more research. Research is really interesting as well, but not if you’re trying to spark a conversation, perhaps. Do you have more writing aspirations? What’s coming next? What’s your game plan here? Do you have one?

Laura: I do. This is a two-book deal. I am starting a new book in 2021, sometime. I don’t totally know the angle, but it will be in the same genre, I guess we’ll say. I do love mixing this personal essay with other nonfiction elements. It’s a funny hybrid that seems to have sprung up out of internet culture, speaking directly to the reader but then also sharing personal things. Then like I said, it feels comfortable for me. As I try to hone my writing skills on and on, I do hope that I’m maybe writing something different in ten years. It has been a process to not be embarrassed to be a blogger, to not be embarrassed to be a self-help hobbyist, to get where I am and own it and be like, this is actually my sweet spot this year and where I am right now. Maybe I’ll be a serious writer in the future, or maybe this is what my talent is. That’s been a process. I think that was a process all through my thirties and as we slide into my forties, to be like, actually, what is prestigious anymore? It’s kind of just what connects with people.

Zibby: Only one book a year can win the National Book Award. Let someone else win that book award. In other words, there are authors who, that’s their go-to, is that style of writing and the obsession with form and intricacy and sentence and all of that. Let them have that if that’s their thing. That might come as easily to them as you speaking from the heart comes to you. Everyone can tell when someone’s trying to be something that they’re not. This is how I felt in business school. There are people there who are dying to get jobs in marketing. I was like, oh, marketing is a fallback for me. This is how I knew I didn’t really want to do that. It’s the same kind of thing. The people who really want to write literary fiction can write literary fiction. It doesn’t have to be you. That’s totally cool. That’s my philosophy.

Laura: I’ll love to read it.

Zibby: I get it.

Laura: I love to read some really highbrow things. I love it. I feel smart. I’m amazed that people can do it. It’s taken me a long time to be like, but I’m not going to do it.

Zibby: That’s okay. You wrote a whole book. It’s a great book. It makes everybody who reads it want to be your friend. How cool is that?

Laura: I hope so, Zibby. Thank you for saying that. Let’s hope so.

Zibby: I think so. Now that I’ve pinned you as some sort of an expert in some way, what advice do you have to aspiring authors, perhaps aside from don’t try to — well, that was my advice. Don’t try to win the National Book Award on the first try. Anyway, go ahead.

Laura: I think you should try different avenues to find your voice. I knew I was a writer, but when I was writing — they say you’re supposed to write every day to become a better writer and everything. I did that. I wrote every day on my blog for years and years. Of course, it was an amazing discipline. I did learn a lot in writing for an audience by doing that. I had to take a few years and do something else, which was podcasting, which was using my physical voice. Then when I came back to the actual page, I was a much stronger writer. I don’t think that, for aspiring authors, you have to be scared of taking some time to do something else, to try painting, to try singing. You’re not losing your writing muscles when you go to try to find yourself or try to find a way to express yourself with a different medium. If writing is really what you want to do, it will come back to you tenfold.

I really worried when I gave up my daily writing habit that I was sort of giving up that dream. It was the complete opposite. I don’t want to go on a tangent here, but I tried to get a book deal with my blog and all of that kind of stuff. It didn’t go anywhere. I didn’t get it. When I closed all of that up and I thought that was the end of a chapter, it was like the opposite was true. I needed to go do this other thing for a couple of years. Then when I came back and I was like, I really want to be a writer, I was shocked at how much more easily it flowed then from just taking the years of the disciple, but then taking the time to do something else. I hope that that makes sense to an aspiring writer because I know that it’s scary. I definitely did not know that in the moment. This is me in hindsight, but it’s really true.

Zibby: I love that. I totally relate. That’s awesome. And relate to how much fun podcasting is and all the benefits. It’s a writing-adjacent activity in a way.

Laura: It is. You’re still having to express yourself articulately. It is. It’s a thing.

Zibby: I’m hoping being articulate is not a prerequisite every day because I’m struggling to string sentences together today, but in general, self-expression and all that. Laura, thank you so much. Thanks again for this awesome book, Share Your Stuff. I’ll Go First.: 10 Questions to Take Your Friendships to the Next Level. I’m just wishing you all the best. I’m so excited you came on my podcast.

Laura: Thank you. I loved it so much. I love that you’re holding it. It makes me so happy. Actually, can I take a picture? Is this too weird?

Zibby: No, I love that.

Laura: I’m just going to look so meta. I’m doing it anyway. Ah, you’re so cute! Thank you for having me. This was super fun.

Zibby: This was super fun.