Leslie Hooton joins Zibby to discuss her second novel, The Secret of Rainy Days, which she has been working on for nearly fifteen years. The two discuss when Leslie made the decision to start writing full-time, which life experiences and relationships inspired those in this book, and how much they both enjoyed Leslie’s visit to New York last year for the Zibby Awards. Read Leslie’s article on Moms Don’t Have Time to Write here!


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Leslie. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss The Secret of Rainy Days.

Leslie Hooton: Thank you, Zibby.

Zibby: Thank you for this wonderful bookmark, which I use. Always nice to get coordinating bookmarks. Leslie, can you please tell listeners what your novel is about? What inspired you not only to write this novel, but why now become a debut author?

Leslie: It’s about friendship, lucky dust, and funeral casseroles. It’s really truly about the transformative nature of friendship. I had that experience happen to me. That is the fuel that is at the heart of this novel. It’s about this friend that you always, always, always grew up with — it’s a childhood friend, but she’s difficult — and then this other friend that just sort of sweeps into your life when you’re least expecting it. For Bit, it was on the saddest day of her life. She becomes her chosen friend, the friend of her heart. I wanted to see how that tension would play out in a novel. That’s why I wrote it. I’ve always loved to discuss grief, as you know. I weaved in the funeral casseroles. The childhood friend, her name is Win, and she does at everything her entire life. I just thought the readers would have a friend, maybe, like that. She would, of course, have this lucky dust, according to Bit. That’s sort of the jumping-off point.

Zibby: Interesting. Why did you write this book? When did you start writing a debut novel at an advanced age not to be revealed?

Leslie: That’s okay. I don’t mind. I have actually been writing this book for ten or fifteen years. I’ve been going to Sewanee Writers’ Conference for all these years in the summers. The woman in question, my best friend, her name is Sandy. It changed my life. My life, it’s sort of like Dorothy going to Oz. I met her in college. My life turned into color, and pretty color and happy colors. I have always wanted to write about that. I write, Zibby, for two reasons. One, so I won’t be lonely because I was lonely as a child, and two, to figure things out for myself. It’s just all selfish on my end. I thought maybe somebody else would like this. I kept writing. I liked it. The people said, Leslie, your writing is beautiful, and you need to publish this. Everybody around me at Sewanee was getting published. I had an uber agent, the uber-est of uber agents. She just couldn’t get it sold. At sixty, I decided I would rather be alive and published than dead and not published because I have this bargain-basement body.

I got it published, and the rest is history. I was thrilled. I was thrilled with the cover. I was thrilled with the cover artist. She’s given me this beautiful cover. I think that’s my brand now, pretty covers with open-ended ideas so anyone can put their own ideas onto what this is. It’s rain. That is how this book came about. It took me a long time because it is autobiographical. I would put on the shelf, so to speak, and then pull it out. People like Kevin Wilson and people like that said, what ever happened to that novel? I thought, at sixty, it’s now or never. The people at Turner published it. They’ve been great. Then I read your essay, Zibby, about, you should get an agent. I’m like, I should get an agent. I should get a publicist. I’ve sort of been ragtagging it, as you know. If there’s an agent or publicist that wants me or would like to talk to me, I would love that. It’s been fun. I am a creature of COVID. I love it. I love being in my house writing. This book was a labor of love and a labor to my friends who are my lucky dust. I’m lucky that way.

Zibby: Aw, that is amazing. I love that persistence. How great to keep going back to a — that’s just so inspiring. I love that.

Leslie: I think you know, after you met me, Zibby, that I am — it may take me a hard time, but I’m consistent and persistent. I think if you just keep showing up, something will happen. Even in the writing business, if you don’t show up, nothing’s going to get on the page. All those years, I was writing at night. It was like a job. I did it. I guess you would say, you must be disciplined. Yes, I guess maybe that’s sort of the — or dumb or whatever. That’s the cornerstone of how I’ve written, is just every day, doing it just like exercise, just like breathing.

Zibby: Wow. I have to say, when I first read the book, I was surprised with you, an Alabama native, having this very inside-New York opening, this Upper West Side party, the Goldman Sachs references, and this personal shopper at Bergdorfs. It’s very New York. It felt like you were lurking right around the corner from me up here and I would be crossing George and Little Bit on the street and all of that. Tell me about the setting in New York and the decision to start the book there and have that be where she goes to after growing up in Alabama and all of that.

Leslie: I think you probably will find a lot of Alabama natives in New York if you just, I would say look, but maybe listen because our Southern accents give us away. I’m a very big fan of place. I think place is in my DNA. Alabama is always going to be in my DNA, but I was one of those people that wanted to escape. I’ve always loved New York, and so I based it there. I have some friends that sort of are the basis for Cy and Olga that live in New York. It wasn’t totally out of my realm of knowledge. I love the idea of place. Erob, which is bore spelled backwards, which is the little town in Alabama, that is the place. It had a gravitational pull on Nina. That is why I set it in both places, so you could see that she thrived — I think she thrived in both places. She just had this decision she had to make. Anyway, she made it.

Zibby: I loved how one of the themes was how to cope with someone in your life like her grandmother — it was Bit; she’s Little Bit — how she coped with having a very overpowering, almost manipulative, or perhaps outwardly manipulative, grandmother, and then how you come to terms with a difficult relationship once you lose that person. Those relationships come with so many conflicting feelings, as she had. Not that there’s any way to process grief, but what that does to the grief process.

Leslie: Her name was Biggie. I love the names in this book.

Zibby: Oh, sorry. What did I say? Bit? Sorry.

Leslie: You said Big Bit. I don’t know. It was Biggie and Little Bit. I love the juxtaposition there. You have Win and Little Bit, which obviously is just a conflict in names. Then you have Biggie, who, as you said, is a force of nature, larger than life, and then Little Bit. I don’t think she understood\ her grandmother until after she was gone. I think that happens so many times. We’re young. Our impressions form when we’re twelve or thirteen. Then when we’re an adult — I had an aunt. I call her the Rorschach Test aunt because when I was growing up, she was one way, and then I saw her for her other wonderful attriutes as an adult. I did not see them when I was twelve or thirteen. I saw her as very eccentric. Then when I saw her older, I was like, oh. I think people can change. Memories shift, shapeshift. I think that happens when we’re children and adults. We just have to decide, are we going to accept those people? Did they do the best they can?

I don’t think Biggie had horrible motives to Bit. She just wanted her to do what she wanted to do. She thought she knew what was best. I don’t think it was malignant. I don’t think it was serious or just mean. I think she just wanted the best for her. In the end, Bit had to decide that. I think she had to decide that with Win. We never, as you know, we never — I said I would tinker with the terminology of Dr. Kübler-Ross. I don’t think we ever accept grief, Zibby. I wrote a piece Friday about my brother’s death. I think we allow it. I think there is an allowance. We can allow it to sit with us, but I don’t think we totally accept it. That’s just my own preference. Our friend Meghan said that was a good thing. That’s her side hustle, so I think she . I was like, okay, that’s good. If she likes it, then I must be onto something. I think Olga said that to Bit about a death later in the book, a bad death. She said, grief, we don’t accept it. We just have to allow it to sit with us. I just say not too close.

Zibby: I’m so sorry about your brother

Leslie: Thank you. You know, you’ve had all this horrible mess during COVID. I think that’s when you and I bonded because we bond over grief. We bond because we love people. Love is the opposite side of the coin of grief. If we can get to that point, then that’s a good point.

Zibby: Yes, I agree. It’s so great that you wrote about it and are open. It helps so many other people to read and to hear not only about your own personal grief, but putting it in fiction so people really are immersed in the feelings and all of that. It’s true, you can’t get over it. You find a new way to live with it. It’s like a new piece of furniture. It’s not leaving your house. You just have to kind of redecorate.

Leslie: It’s sort of like the that’s in the — you don’t like it, but it stuck because your husband likes it or something. You’re like, okay. That’s why I came up with the term allowance. We can allow it to sit with us, allow it to be in our lives. Acceptance seems like, okay, this was whatever. Nuh-uh. Acceptance is the FedEx package we’re getting. I like allow because it’s a softer word. I think sometimes it’s a softer emotion that we have to accept, grief.

Zibby: Why did you refer to yourself as having a bargain-basement body?

Leslie: I think you know this. I didn’t know this until I was fifty, which, yes, is part of, maybe, a memoir. I didn’t know I had a stroke until I was fifty. I had a stroke that affected my right side. My mother, Sargewas very insistent that I get the best help I can. She found this great doctor in New Orleans. That was exotic. We drove from Roanoke, Alabama, which was twelve hours away, to New Orleans for these doctors’ appointments and these surgeries. I spent most of my childhood in a wheelchair or in the hospital. What did I do? I took my library card because my library card could take me places that the stupid wheelchair couldn’t take me. My mother was a librarian. She was like my pusher in all sorts of ways. I read all the time. Then I said, I want to have characters that keep me company. As I said, I write for myself because these characters, whether it’s Bit and Win keeping me company — part of the book was so hard to write, Zibby, because I lost a best — in the book, I lost an important person. Bit lost an important person. I had to get up for a couple of days because I couldn’t write about it. It was literally happening to me and all my nerve endings. I was like, this is terrible. That’s why I probably write, is because my body is like this.

Maybe that’s why I’m so disciplined. I got up and exercised this morning. I try to work out every morning because this is the body I’ve got for better or worse. Some of my friends say, please don’t refer to that. Please don’t refer to your body like that, but it is. That’s what it is. I had to have a friend come with me to New York. By the end of my book tour, Zibby, I was hopping on planes left and right by myself. That first time, I was like, I’m really nervous. I don’t think I can do this. My friend Kimberly came with me. It was thrilling. I had two Forrest Gump weeks. I was with my best friend, Ann Patchett. She’s not really my best friend, but she gave me a hug and told me I should write my memoir. I was with Kevin Wilson. Then the next week, I was with you. I was like, what sort of life is this? I am a quiet person with a very quiet life. It was thrilling. I met some really terrific people that night. You have been a guardian angel for me, whether you know it or not, to be better and to write better and to read. You have sort of stepped into that gap when Sarge died to read things that are nourishment and enjoy them and push myself. I love that. You are such a bright spot for so many authors. You give us a chance. It’s important.

Zibby: Aw,that is so, so nice. I can’t explain how much that means to me. As you were saying it, I was like, I have to write this down or something. Thank you. Thank you for saying that. I’m so glad that I have been able to help.

Leslie: You know I will send you a note because Win is all about — she would not want me to be Leslie of the no-nos. You know Win and all her crazy mnemonics. She was very insistent on writing notes. I appreciate — you’ve made me so nervous. I can’t even look at you in the face.

Zibby: What? Why am I making you nervous, assigned to Brookly owtrw?
I was there and I was very comfortable with you that night. I’m like, oh, dear gosh, I’m going to be actually on with Zibby.

Zibby: No, don’t be silly. I loved meeting you at the Zibby Awards. You’re as charming in person as you are helpful on Instagram and everything else. You’re a wonderful woman. I am inspired by you and your openness and all of it, perseverance. You’re a beautiful writer. All of it, it’s just amazing. I’m glad our paths have crssed. I am just in awe of you in many ways.

Leslie: I don’t know about that, but I am in awe of you because I don’t think — you must have a caffeine drip or something because I don’t think you sleep. I joked with you about that, about moms don’t have time to sleep. I think that’s your new jam, Zibby. I don’t know how you do all this. Kyle is very nice. I think he does help. We got to give a shout-out to Kyle. Most of my days are in . This is what I call my bargain-basement body, Leslie Inc. Everybody says, do you doing Leslie Inc. today? Which is physical therapy, which I do every week, still. It will be in perpetuity. I do Pilates, which sometimes I hate, but necessary. I do that every week. I did that yesterday.

Zibby: I saw you wrote about it on your blog, your Pilates with the little picture.

Leslie: I know. I wrote about Robert on Friday because I’ve witnessed — you’re such a testament to being authentic and living in truth. I’m like, okay, I’m going to write about Robert. I followed your journey with your mother-in-law who happened to live in Charlotte. That’s when I really reached out to you. I’m like, she lived in Charlotte. Then I was glad y’all were at Duke. Susan is beautiful. Then I do acupuncture on Fridays. Half my week is just suspended by working on my body so I can be at my computer for untold hours. My neurosurgeon said, “Leslie, what would you rather do? Would you rather do your laundry and your hair, or would you rather write?” The answer comes very clearly. I’m like, I just need a laundry fairy, which I found. My hair person does my hair. I’m just a one-trick pony, Zibby. Maybe I don’t do it well. I write. That’s what I do. I try to be myself. I don’t think there was an author’s handbook. At least, I didn’t get one, maybe because it’s still in the mail, about how to be. I’m just myself. I think you know that. I think you saw this that night.

Zibby: There is no author handbook. Perhaps you should write one.

Leslie: Hey, you should write one. That would be a good one.

Zibby: Maybe there is one. Who knows? Leslie, thank you so much for coming on the show, for coming up to New York for the Zibby Awards, for all of the outreach and support, and everything. It’s been a true pleasure. I’m so sorry I made you nervous. I’m just excited to listen. I just like to learn about people. It should never make anybody nervous. I’m curious.

Leslie: That’s what my mother said. Let’s end with Sarge because why not? I think curiosity is the best characteristic to be a writer. The other one — I got this from Galway Kinnell. I think it’s astonishment. We’re astonished by the world. We’re astonished by the . Then we want to be curious. If you put those two twin concepts together, I think it would make you a better writer, but I also think it will make you a better human being.

Zibby: I love that. I love it. Astonishment and curiosity, excellent.

Leslie: It’s never a bad idea to listen to Galway Kinnell or Mary Oliver, Margaret Randall about things that are very important in life. And Sarge.

Zibby: Thank you, Sarge. Leslie, have great day. Thank you for making my day and making me feel so good. Thank yo

Leslie: Good, Zibby.ou’re the best. Thank you.

Zibby: Thank you. Bye

Leslie: Bye.



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