“People always ask: ‘How do you find the time to write?’ You have to treat it like a job even if you’re not getting paid to do it.” Author and self-proclaimed recovering lawyer Lea Geller says the blog she started over ten years ago helped her feel less miserable and led to her successful career as a writer. The two discuss Lea’s latest novel, The Truth and Other Hidden Things, as well as the lack of creativity they both felt in the depths of quarantine.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Lea. Thanks so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss The Truth and Other Hidden Things. By the way, I feel like I’m wearing this shirt to match your book cover.

Lea Geller: Very well done.

Zibby: Thank you. Red and white. Thanks. Would you mind telling listeners what your book is about?

Lea: My book is about a woman who, all in one day, discovers that her husband hasn’t gotten tenure at their city university and that in her mid-forties with two tween and teenage kids, her IUD has failed and she’s pregnant. This begins her journey into an unexpected pregnancy and out of the city up to Duchess County where her husband gets a new job.

Zibby: I love how they considered moving to Brooklyn. They were like, no, you can’t move there unless you’re a real writer.

Lea: I think we all have thought that way at times. I certainly have. They won’t let me in.

Zibby: I know, I’m definitely not cool enough for Brooklyn. I just drive in, go to a bookstore, and leave.

Lea: I feel like the clock is ticking.

Zibby: Yes, exactly. This is your second book. Your first was one Trophy Wife. Trophy Life? Trophy Wife?

Lea: Trophy Life.

Zibby: Trophy Life. What inspired this book? How did you come up with this plot? Talk about the other book too because that just came out.

Lea: I’m trying. They came out two years apart. I got the idea for this book, you know, I do know women — I’m in my late forties. I do know women my age who have gotten pregnant unexpectedly. We read a lot about unexpected pregnancies of young women at different phases in their lives. I was just interested, what would happen if a mom who already has older kids who thinks that she’s out of that baby stage that we talk about is back in that baby stage again, especially when her oldest has one foot out the door? I was very much in that space. My oldest is nineteen. He was a junior or a senior when I was thinking about, wow, he has one foot out the door of this house. What would it be like to get to start all over again, to try all over again, to redo that first one when everything — I always say, what would I do differently? What did I learn? I think that’s universal. You just learn so much with that first child, the mistakes you don’t make again, the things you don’t sweat. What would it be like to have a new life coming in? Also, the juxtaposition of that unconditional baby love and that teenage love, which is sometimes hard to find. That was that. The Gossip Girl piece of it was just something that I’ve always been fascinated in. I think that all fiction is gossip in some way because we pepper it with our observations and the people that we’ve overheard in restaurants and things like that. I just felt like this would be a great outlet for someone like her.

Zibby: Totally. I love that. I had a six-year gap between my twins and my next two kids. I thought I wasn’t going to be having more kids. I got to sort of have that moment where I was like, oh, my gosh. I’m thrilled, but unprepared emotionally for that news. I related very much to Bells when she figures this out, and being able to be like, at least now I know the fifty-seven things I used to call my pediatrician about. Now I don’t need to call for those things. Now I have all new things.

Lea: All the stuff you don’t need to buy. Just the stuff you don’t need, right.

Zibby: You have five kids. Is that right?

Lea: I do, yeah. I do. Like I said, I have nineteen and seventeen-year-old boys and girls who are ten, twelve, and fourteen.

Zibby: I don’t even know what to ask. Does it get better? Does it get easier?

Lea: Yeah, it really does. It really does. It really gets much easier in many ways. For sure, you’re not with babies. You’re sleeping through the night for the most until they start driving. Your life is easy. You have more of your own time. I didn’t write Trophy Life until my youngest went to kindergarten. I was always working from home. I was a lawyer before. I live in Riverdale, New York. We moved to New York. I decided to pivot. I had been on the West Coast. I wasn’t going to practice. I put a child in kindergarten. Suddenly, I had time. It does get easier. You have the days. They’re adults and young adults. Then everybody knows that they come with their own set of problems. The things that you worry about are big, but it’s great. It is fun to watch. I like them. I like the teenager years. I love the middle-school years especially. I wrote about middle schoolers in Trophy Life. I love middle school. I teach a little bit of middle school. It’s my sweet spot. That awkwardness, I love it. High school’s fine.

Zibby: You can just come over here and help me out with the two middle schoolers right now.

Lea: I’d love it. Literally, I’ll be with my friends, and they’ll be rolling their eyes at their kids. I’m like, this is best time. Enjoy it. It’s something about that age that’s — I think, in some ways, it might be like middle age. You’re sort of in between these two very big things. You’re not one. You’re not the other. You don’t always feel so seen. You’re kind of the ugly stepchild. I don’t know, I love it. I really, really love it.

Zibby: Did you always know — we will go back to the book. Did you always know you wanted to have five kids? Did you always want a big family?

Lea: I did. I wanted one of those big — I really did. Also, a failed IUD is kind of a fever dream. I’m not going to lie. Yeah, I did. I did it out West. Then we moved to New York. It’s a different proposition here, for sure. I was like, okay, I guess this is why people in New York City don’t have five kids.

Zibby: It’s a little bit tricky. Did you come from a big family?

Lea: I come from a big, multiple — I have a sister who’s a year younger than me. My parents each remarried and then had two more children. I’m one of six in total with multiple parents. I do feel like I come from a big family. It’s good. It works.

Zibby: That’s awesome. So you started writing when your son went to kindergarten. How did you start? How did you get going? Had you always loved to write? I know you said you were a recovering lawyer. Was this just always something in the back of your head? Why a novel?

Lea: I had always journaled. I stopped journaling when I had kids because there was just no time. I didn’t even have baby books. I didn’t have any of it. I blogged before my fourth was born. I was miserable and living in Seattle. I mean, miserable, seven years of just me crying. Please take me from here. I had six months. I looked at my husband. I was like, “Okay, let’s leave now.” We had come from Southern California. He’s like, “No, we’re –” Anyway, I started to blog about the kids, especially my boys who were just doing crazy gross stuff everywhere. Then when I moved to New York, someone messaged me on Facebook and said, “I like your blog. A friend of mine is teaching a novel writing class at Sarah Lawrence. Have you ever thought about writing a novel?” I had put Sydney in kindergarten. I was like, “I kind of have.” My older two were in middle school. I was like, “I kind of have thought about writing a novel.” I showed up at this class. I wrote Trophy Life there.

Zibby: Wow, that’s great. Was it a workshop model? Did you get lots of feedback?

Lea: Yeah, a hundred percent. It was a workshop model. Also, the instructors were like, “Send us –” I don’t know whether it was twenty every week or twenty every other week. “Send us twenty pages a week. We’re not even going to read them, but you must send them to us because it will get you into the habit of writing.” I’m good with that. You probably are too. If you have to discipline yourself to work, if you say to yourself, I’m going to do this and I’m going to be accountable for it, I’ll just do it. That worked for me.

Zibby: I love having deadlines and deliverables.

Lea: If they’re self-imposed, it’s a little bit tricky because sometimes you can talk yourself out of them. When someone else is saying it, it’s even easier. I do work well with, I must have this. I often encourage people when they’re starting to write to find someone to do that with. They’ll hound you if they don’t get your pages even if they’re not going to read them.

Zibby: What was the path to publication like, then? What happened after you wrote it?

Lea: I spent a year writing it, got some feedback, spent a year rewriting it. Then around the same time that I started to look for an agent, a friend of ours, somebody that I knew actually said to me, “I’m happy to show it to someone at Amazon, see what happens. They don’t usually take things un-agented, but we’ll see.” I got a call from Lake Union. They wanted to buy it. I didn’t have an agent, so I sold it to them. Then I got an agent for the second book. That’s kind of how it worked.

Zibby: Did you choose the same publisher, or no?

Lea: I did. I stayed with Lake Union.

Zibby: Awesome. My memoir’s coming out from .

Lea: I know it is. You’re coming over. That’s so exciting. I’m very excited.

Zibby: I’m very excited too. It’s so fun.

Lea: It’s really great what you’ve done for all of us and this great, big community.

Zibby: Thank you.

Lea: It really is.

Zibby: I just wish I could have more people in person.

Lea: I know. You will. It’s great, though. Everyone says to me, wow, what’s the online community like? I’m like, you really have no idea what it’s like, what kind of support there is. It’s really terrific. What you’ve built is really remarkable. I know that it’s hard to do it with kids at home.

Zibby: Thank you. Yes, but this is my sanity.

Lea: I hear that.

Zibby: This is my self-care. This is my everything. This is my escape.

Lea: The door is locked. My door is locked.

Zibby: The door closes. How else? Before this, nobody cared. No, no, now I’m recording. Forget about reading. Forget about writing. It’s my trick for alone time with hundreds of strangers who I feel like I know because I’ve read their books. So what was it like writing the second book after that was the way you wrote the first book? Did you go back to class? Did you feel like you could just whip it out?

Lea: I started in class again. Yeah, I did. I couldn’t stay because I had a teaching schedule, but I started writing. Literally, the first thirty pages are what I burst out in class. Then I wrote the rest on my own. It was kind of similar. It felt a little bit faster. I don’t know if it was. I learned things. I didn’t make some mistakes that I had to fix. Things that I’ve learned, comments that I’ve gotten and feedback that I’ve gotten, I took them to heart the second time. I tried to work with pacing and plot and things like that. It’s funny because people always say, how do you find the time to write? I hadn’t sold the second book. I was working on a second book. I think you have to treat it like a job even if you’re not getting paid to do it. It was the same dynamic. I still was in here all day working on this thing that people might never see. I definitely had some wind on my back, but it definitely was the same kind of dynamic. I think that you just have to do it. It’s kind of being a mother. No one’s paying you, really, to do that. You basically act like a Fortune 500 CEO. You take it that seriously, but no one’s paying you. It’s similar. You just have to take yourself seriously and put the hours in.

Zibby: I like that. I’ve never heard it compared to being a mother before. I’ve heard it in relation to giving birth to a book and the gestation period and all of that.

Lea: Right, putting it out in the world.

Zibby: But never in terms of the writing. That’s really interesting.

Lea: It’s funny. I often have said it’s like a job you don’t get paid for. Then at some point I realized, wait, we’re all doing that.

Zibby: Honestly, life is like a job you don’t get paid for.

Lea: That’s another piece.

Zibby: What are we even doing here? Of course, there’s really no hope ever of monetizing motherhood, really, unless you’re a mom influencer or something.

Lea: Unless you can sell your kids out and write about them. Right, unless you’re a mom influencer.

Zibby: Or have them become child stars or take all their money or something.

Lea: That’s my next book.

Zibby: Is it really? You’re kidding, right?

Lea: Kind of, a little bit, yeah.

Zibby: Yes kidding, or yes serious?

Lea: I’m working on a book about a former child actor, a new mom who was a former child actor.

Zibby: Oh, I love that. Very cool. Good, I was going to ask what you were working on next, so there you go. That’s awesome. Now that you are an author, has life changed for you? Do you feel more of a sense of purpose? Do you feel different in your family? Do you feel more fulfilled? What is it like on the second stage post-lawyerdom?

Lea: I definitely feel more fulfilled. I spent a good amount of time doing a job that I didn’t love and wasn’t great at. Now I am much happier. That’s without a doubt. In terms of the dynamic in my family, I don’t think all that much has changed. If I could show you my office, it’s basically — my husband’s office, it’s like an inner sanctum. No one bothers. No one knocks. Mine has camp packing lists and duffel bags and clothes everywhere in it. I’m still me. They still intrude. It’s not like I suddenly have exalted status in my family. I do feel like out in the world people, even locally, once in a while someone will say, “I don’t know you, but I read your book. I really liked it,” which is great. It’s amazing. I feel happier. It is amazing to get to do something you wanted to do for a long time, and especially when you were doing something you didn’t. Even when it’s not going well, it’s still going better.

Zibby: That makes sense. Aside from the child star, what else do you have? Do you have all these ideas milling around at the same time and then you pick one? How are you sourcing your ideas for the next?

Lea: Sometimes I mush them up. The first book was about a fallen Santa Monica trophy wife, which is where I had lived prior to Seattle, and middle-school students. I mushed it all up together. Then the second one was about an anonymous gossip blogger and a pregnant forty-something-year-old. I mushed it together. Sometimes I just throw it all in like soup and see what happens. I do have a notebook where I’m always writing things down, a vivid imagination. I try to, if I have one thing, just focus on that one thing. I try and throw in as much as I can. Then if I don’t, I save it for somewhere else. I have a file on my computer of things that I’ve taken out that I’m not quite ready to get rid of, just to save.

Zibby: I love the sense of humor you have in this book and even just all the observation, the way you mention, oh, and clearly, overnight, my son was six feet tall. He woke up six feet tall today. Or the coffee creamer, which, PS — wait, you had something like cookie dough-flavored coffee creamer. Is that a thing, or did you make that up?

Lea: No, I think it’s a thing. It’s funny because there’s a very healthy person that I know. I think he’s a vegan. He sneaks it. His wife doesn’t know that he drinks it.

Zibby: If that’s his biggest vice, thumbs up to that guy.

Lea: From what we know now, go ahead, fine, drink that. The thing is, it might not be.

Zibby: Wow, that’s crazy. What were you doing in COVID, then? Were you working on this? No, this would’ve come out in time, right?

Lea: I don’t know what I was doing in COVID, Zibby. I keep meeting people who lost twenty-five pounds and wrote a novel in COVID. I don’t know what I did. I edited this book. I blogged more, so that was good. My kids went to the first school that shut down in New York. They go to a school up here in Riverdale. It was the first school to close. I was in quarantine for two weeks before everybody else. Now it doesn’t really matter, but there was a two-week period where no one knew what I was talking about. I’m like, I’m stuck home. There’s a COVID case in New Rochelle. We’re all at home. I started a book about this mother. I had had the idea pre-COVID — I remember speaking to my agent about it in February — about this mother who got fed up with everything that we get fed up with and runs away to this place and finds all these mothers there. It was supposed to be kind of like a humorous play on Galt’s Gulch and Atlas Shrugged, which Ayn Rand wrote, this place. Then suddenly, there was nothing funny about women getting fed up and wanting to run away. There was nothing that I could write that would match what we were doing. I had five kids at home and a husband at home working and people sick around us all the time up here. It was really very dire. I don’t know what I did this year. I’ve been more productive in 2021, but 2020 was a bust. It was just a wash. I’m going to say it.

Zibby: That’s okay. I did not lose twenty-five pounds, I will have you know. I was going the opposite way, steady climb, so no.

Lea: It wasn’t pretty. It just was not a pretty year. It was not a year of self-discovery or self-exploration. I just was sweeping and wiping things down. Oh, I did get chickens.

Zibby: Okay, I was not expecting you to say that.

Lea: I know. That was pleasant. That was probably the best thing to come out of COVID.

Zibby: My best friend has chickens. She just brought us some eggs that they said just got laid.

Lea: Ooh, I like that.

Zibby: You can steal it. If she has preprinted .

Lea: I think I might go with that.

Zibby: Go ahead.

Lea: Also, I found it just hard to be creative. I didn’t find it hard to edit. I didn’t find it hard to blog, necessarily. I found it really hard to access the piece of me that makes up funny things and makes things up. I think that was just really tough.

Zibby: It was not a funny time, so totally understandable.

Lea: I know you do. I know. It was just harrowing. You lived through the worst of it.

Zibby: No, no. Everyone has their own —

Lea: — I know. We’ll be processing this for years to come ourselves with our kids. It was just a lot.

Zibby: The other day, I was driving the car and I was like, did that all happen? Did I make that up? Obviously, I didn’t. I was just like, how did that happen? Anyway, whatever.

Lea: I don’t know. We don’t know. You can imagine, that was just so improbable. That was so almost fictitious. It was almost a melodrama, everything, like a plot twist. I couldn’t make anything up. People could. I just couldn’t.

Zibby: Life was stranger than fiction. What advice would you have for aspiring authors?

Lea: Again, I’d treat it like it’s a paying job even if you have a paying job. I would try, even if it’s thirty minutes a day, even if it’s not every day, give yourself an amount of time every week that you’re going to work on it. Treat it like someone’s paying you to do it. If you need someone to hold you accountable, find someone to send your pages to because that really does help.

Zibby: Excellent. Great. Lea, thank you. Thanks so much for chatting today. That was so fun. I hope to meet you in person and continue the conversation. Nice to be under the same publishing family. We’re like cousins.

Lea: I’m looking forward to it.

Zibby: Awesome. Thank you so much.

Lea: . Buh-bye.

Zibby: You too. Buh-bye.



Purchase your copy on Amazon or Bookshop!

You can also listen to this episode on:

Apple Podcasts