Former magazine editor and teacher Lindsey Palmer joins Zibby to discuss how her engagement —and the period of life where she felt like everyone was getting engaged and married— inspired her latest novel, aptly named Otherwise Engaged. The two talk about Lindsey’s creative approach to writing universal experiences, the ways in which the feedback she received on her past two novels inspired elements of her third, and how the book’s cover is truly just the surface.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Lindsey. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Lindsey Palmer: Thank you for having me. I’m so happy to be here. I’m grateful for you and your role as an advocate for authors and books. It’s so wonderful, everything you’ve done.

Zibby: Thank you. That’s so nice. PS, I love that Otherwise Engaged cover now matches the wall behind you and even the matching lampshade on that cool lamp. It happens to be my favorite color, so there you go.

Lindsey: I didn’t even think about that, but that’s right. I should just display it all around this turquoise room.

Zibby: Just live in your book cover. It’s an immersive experience. You might as well. For people who are not familiar with what Otherwise Engaged is about, could you tell them a little bit more about the plot and then also what inspired you to write it?

Lindsey: The protagonist of Otherwise Engaged is Molly. Very early on in the book, she and her boyfriend Gabe get engaged. Then very quickly, she discovers that he has been writing this novel that happens to be a thinly veiled retelling of his relationship with his ex whose name is Talia. He barely even changes her name. In his novel version, her name is Dahlia. This book becomes this big hit. Then his ex shows back up on the scene. It causes all kinds of distress and basically leads to a real unraveling for Molly as they are also planning this wedding that may or may not happen. That’s the premise. Interestingly, the title of the book came to me first. Actually, it was on the plane ride home from my own honeymoon. I was someone who, like a lot of people, was excited to get married, but wasn’t really into the wedding planning aspect of it. It just was not my thing at all. I found it stressful and overwhelming. In addition to the wedding planning, I found that period of life to be kind of stressful and overwhelming. All the messaging that’s coming at you from the world, from wedding venues, from friends and acquaintances is that this is the most exciting thing. It’s the pinnacle. It’s this moment of commitment to this relationship and this new chapter. I think it leads to a lot of stress and questioning.

For me personally, there was a lot of intense stuff going on. I taught for a few years. I was a high school teacher in a public school in Manhattan. I was new to teaching, so that was kind of intense. I was on very tight deadlines for my second novel at the time. My now husband was unemployed for a period of time. There was a lot going on that added to all of this. When I started talking to other people, I realized that for a lot of people, they found this to be a tumultuous, difficult time. I wanted to explore that in fiction. I wanted to think about how I could really raise the stakes. I felt like finding out that your new fiancé has written this novel about their ex was a way to do that. Additionally, I’d written a couple of previous novels where a lot of the events in the novels were based on my own experiences. I saw when the books came out, when people who knew me or who were involved in these experiences that the novel’s events were based on reacted to them or asked questions and wondered what was real, what was not, how things were reinterpreted in fiction, I was interested in that and felt sympathetic to that experience of what it might be like to have a writer in your life who’s picking from real life and putting it into their fiction. I wanted to explore that too. That’s a big of piece of this, where the protagonist is reading her fiancé’s book and saying, how much of this is real? How much isn’t? How much does that matter?

Zibby: And that at first, she wasn’t even sure she even liked the way he wrote.

Lindsey: That was fun for me to do, to have this fictional book within a book and thinking about how this character would portray things.

Zibby: I know, I was thinking as I was reading, there was a similar — have you read The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz?

Lindsey: I haven’t, but it’s on my list. Everyone keeps recommending it.

Zibby: It’s good. It also has, literally like yours, books within books and segments like yours at the beginning with all these passages that you excerpted but that you also write. It’s like you’re writing two different books. It’s great.

Lindsey: It was really fun. A piece of it is really poking fun at a certain type of male writer who portrays women in this way that doesn’t necessarily ring true to women. I had fun playing with that.

Zibby: Yet when her ex comes back on the scene and points that out, that he is that type of writer, she gets so offended by it even though deep down that’s probably what she’s thinking herself. It’s like the whole “I can make fun of my mom, but nobody else can” thing, instinct you get when somebody comes after somebody in your orbit. You did such as nice job, also, of that feeling as woman where you have to wait to be proposed to. You think that every moment could be the setup for this event in your life. Then you’re disappointed. I love how Molly kept regrouping. Okay, this is perfect. We’re sitting here. It couldn’t be better. We have champagne and weed and whatever else that he made for their own perfect moment. No, not happening. Okay, moving right along.

Lindsey: She has enough self-awareness, at least in those months, to know that she should feel sort of pathetic about that, that it’s silly that that’s the way it is. Unless you want to be the type of woman to propose, and most people are not, you can be in that situation if you feel like you’re ready for it. You’ve talked about it, but when is it coming? In the end, it really disappoints her, how it happens. Things don’t always go in that picture-book way.

Zibby: I know. She was like, ugh, really? This?

Lindsey: On a subway.

Zibby: Even in today’s modern world of equality and blah, blah, blah, feminism, there are women — we just wait, and wait to be swept off our feet in the old-fashioned way. Even with the awareness, it’s still not a hundred percent okay to be like, oh, yeah, I totally proposed to my husband.

Lindsey: I will say, that kind of experience is somewhat based on my personal proposal experience, which is that my now husband and I went on this beautiful trip to Greece. We talked about, as most people do in this day and age, that we were heading in that direction. I really thought at every moment on this trip that we were going to get engaged. We didn’t. Then the morning after we came home when we were so jet lagged and we were up so early, we went up to the roof of our building to watch the sunrise. That is when it happened. Then later, my husband admitted that he’d actually carried the ring through this whole trip waiting for the right moment that just didn’t come. He decided it would be better to do it in our environment, which in the end was a really sweet story. At the time, I was like, wow, we’re in these gorgeous beaches. Here we are in this special place, and it didn’t come. It didn’t work out that way.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh. I know, there’s so much expectation. Even my babysitter recently, she was going to Hawaii or something with her boyfriend, and we’re all like, ooh, trip to Hawaii, what do you think? It’s so awkward. Then she comes home. I’m like, well? I got married pretty young, I guess, relative to other people the first time. We went to this gorgeous Costa Rican thing after a wedding we had gone to. I remember when we were checking in, I was like, okay, I have a total right to be annoyed if it doesn’t happen while we’re here. I am justified in being disappointed because look at this. It did end up happening.

Lindsey: It did?

Zibby: It did. It was great. Now I don’t even basically remember my second proposal, but second marriage is not the same thing. I have to say, you write in a very beautiful, literary way, one that I wasn’t necessarily expecting from the cover. This is not just a beach read of a romance of people getting — you’re a really good writer. It’s very literary, the prose and the language and how you describe everything and the dialogue and all of it. It’s very literary. Take that for whatever.

Lindsey: Thank you. I will say, I’ve gotten reactions from people who did see the cover and I think were expecting more of a beach read. It is about relationships. Personally, that’s what I like to read on the beach. I understand it’s not the traditional everything is tied up in a bow and happy ending. That’s interesting. I thought about that. Of course, there’s the expression, don’t judge a book by a cover, but we all do. How do your expectations of what you’re going to read shape the reading experience? If you are expecting that and wanting that, you might be disappointed. I guess that’s a warning to people who might pick this up.

Zibby: I don’t mean it in any sort of judgement way. Skyhorse is your publisher too. They published my anthologies.

Lindsey: We share an editor, yes, Caroline, who’s wonderful.

Zibby: That’s awesome. I’m just curious now that we’re talking about the cover, did you pick the cover? How did that all happen?

Lindsey: I didn’t pick the cover. They sent it to me. I loved it. I think it’s kind of a fun, retro-y —

Zibby: — I love the cover too, by the way. I don’t mean to be making .

Lindsey: No, that’s okay. I agree with you, though. It’s not necessarily a mismatch, but it does highlight a certain aspect of the book and not the whole thing. I love, actually, that when it first came out, I was seeing all these selfies from librarians all over Instagram where they would hold up the hand from the book and the rest of their arm. I always loved those. I think they’re called shelfies. The sent me the image. I just thought it was great. I’m not a super visual thinker, so I’m always happy to just trust the artist. My first novel, Pretty in Ink, when it came out, I remember — it’s a woman sitting at a desk and holding a magazine open. When I went to the publisher’s party, I happened to run into an acquaintance. She said, “Did you recognize my legs on the cover?” I said, “What do you mean?” She had been the one posing for the cover. That’s my funny cover story. I don’t know whose hand this is on this cover. Maybe one day I will come across an acquaintance who tells me, “Do you recognize my hand?”

Zibby: You mentioned that your other novels were based on your own life experiences. What experiences were those?

Lindsey: My first novel’s called Pretty in Ink. It’s half satire, half love letter to the magazine industry. I worked for many years as an editor at women’s magazines. It captures the moment of decline. Every magazine that I worked at, Glamour, Redbook, and Self, no longer exists, which is kind of shocking to me, but also not shocking to the world. That novel takes place at a women’s magazine that is frantically trying to stay relevant in a post-2008 world. Then my second novel is called If We Lived Here. It’s a couple moving in for the first time having this horrendous New York City apartment hunt. I feel like everyone who’s lived in New York City has those kinds of stories. The couple is not my now husband and me, but it is based on a lot of apartment hunting experiences we had when we first moved in together. We ended up in housing court for a couple of years battling a landlord. We signed a lease and then quickly discovered there were bed bugs in this apartment and tried to get out of the lease. He didn’t give us our money back. We took him to court. We did eventually win, but it took about a year and a half.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, good for you for going to court.

Lindsey: Thanks. In the end when I actually calculated how much time and effort I was putting into it — but it felt like the principle of the matter. I was like, we will get our money back.

Zibby: Good for you. What’s your process like when you’re working on a novel? What’s your writing process like?

Lindsey: I’m not a big planner. I feel an idea, and the characters come to me. I have a vague idea of where I’m going. I often think that I wish I could outline. I think people who can outline maybe get from point A to point B a lot easier, whereas it takes me a while to figure out what the story is. I feel like as long as I’m interested in who the characters are and what the scenario is, that’s enough to carry me. I try to write for a couple of chunks on weekend mornings and one night a week. I don’t always stick to that, but that’s the time I’m able to carve out. I’m definitely a believer in multiple drafts. I feel like I get closer and closer to the story and often am even changing big chunks in later stages. That goes back to, I think, not outlining, figuring out the story as I go along.

Zibby: Do you have a day job? Is that why ?

Lindsey: Yeah, I work at this company called BrainPop. That’s an ed tech company.

Zibby: Oh, that’s right. I read that. My kids love that, by the way.

Lindsey: I was going to say, you have kids of the age. It’s upper elementary, middle school.

Zibby: In fact, I’m so glad I asked even though I knew that. I meant to ask you about it because I was like, that’s so cool. They’re going to think that’s the greatest. They watch it at school. They’ll watch one in school. Then they’ll come. Then they’ll show me what they watched. Then we watch another.

Lindsey: They’re really fun. It’s a fun job. I write those scripts or I edit the scripts. It means that I’m always working on different topics. I’m always learning new things, which also serves me in fiction because I know a little bit about a lot of things, and so I can pull facts out, which is nice. It’s a fun job. After I taught, it was a nice way to stay in education but not come home with stacks of papers to grade at the end of the day.

Zibby: What’s one that you’ve written recently that I can show them?

Lindsey: Let’s see. Figurative Language recently came out where Tim is an advertising executive trying to come up with campaign slogans for one of the other characters, Cassie, who’s running for class president. Tulsa Race Massacre is coming out next week because it’s the hundredth anniversary. That’s a much heavier topic.

Zibby: We’ll just skip that one. Figurative Language with Cassie and Tim, great. Awesome. So neat. Love it. Are you working on a new novel now?

Lindsey: I just finished a novel that is now out to potential editors, so fingers crossed. That’s tentatively called Reservations for Six. It’s about six best friends, three married couples, who for the past decade have gotten together for every one of their birthdays at the same restaurant. They have this tradition. The first of their group is turning forty. It opens at his fortieth birthday at this restaurant. He announces that he wants to get a divorce. The rest of the novel follows the following year and how this announcement ripples through their group of friends. I really was interested in thinking — after Otherwise Engaged, after the stage of everyone I know getting married happened, slowly, people start getting divorced — thinking about how, of course, that affects the couple, but also that couples’ orbit and their group of friends. That’s what this novel is about.

Zibby: If you need any more research…

Lindsey: Good to know. Thank you.

Zibby: Let me know. I have to say, even though you hear that when you get a divorce your friends will choose sides and leave you and whatever, it was such a surprise, at least to me, what exactly ended up happening and people’s responses and who ended up being loyal and who didn’t. That was actually one of the harder parts of the whole thing, was not knowing who you could really trust and rethinking all sorts of relationships in the wake of another one being completely decimated. It’s sort of rubble falling on top of somebody who’s already been downed by an earthquake or something. It’s just more to get out from under.

Lindsey: Yeah, it’s a lot. I don’t have that experience personally, but from the other side, if you’re friends with both people, trying to navigate that and wanting to be supportive and there for people and thinking through, who’s your closer friend? It’s sometimes surprising, how it ends up.

Zibby: It’s true. By the way, I loved the agent character in this book and how he didn’t even punctuate his words. It just was like, “Love Dahlia let’s talk,” or whatever. I just thought that was so great. She’s like, don’t you want an editor who has punctuation and can stop to write an email? An agent, rather, sorry. Anyway, that was very clever.

Lindsey: Thank you. I feel like people are very stylized. Either they’re like, I know the rules of grammar, but this is how I do it on email, or this is how I do it on IM, or whatever.

Zibby: It’s true. You have a very clever way of observing the world, which you put in lots of places. Although, I feel like if I were Molly, I would not want to be called Molly-moo, I have to say. I feel like that’s a bit pejorative or something. Do you have advice for aspiring authors?

Lindsey: I knew you were going to ask this because I love listening to the podcast.

Zibby: I’m sorry.

Lindsey: No, it’s great. I love hearing everybody else’s advice. What I would say is to really be kind to yourself, which I know is much easier said than done. I would give this advice to aspiring writers and myself too. I think it’s very easy, especially when you’re first drafting something, page to page, even sentence to sentence, to just be disappointed in what you’re coming up with and feel really down on yourself, especially if you’re a big reader, which most writers are. You’re reading really wonderful prose in the pages of your favorite writers’ books. I think that really can get in the way of your process. It gets in the way of being creative and playing on the page. If you can just practice self-compassion and trust the process and know that you’re going to keep working on this and it is going to get better, then I think that frees you up to be able to work and not just feel down on yourself. I don’t think writing gets easier over time, but I do feel like the more experienced you are, the more you can trust that and know your clunky, terrible first draft is going to get better. I think that is helpful. It’s useful to know early on that being nice to yourself is helpful and will make the process more satisfying and go more smoothly. That’s what I’d say.

Zibby: Excellent. I love that. Amazing. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” Thank you for being a listener too. That’s awesome. I love when I hear that authors are listeners because I just do. It makes me really happy.

Lindsey: Thanks for having me.

Zibby: By the way, you have the best titles. Reservations for Six is perfect. I just love it. All of your titles are so clever. It’s great.

Lindsey: Thank you, Zibby.

Zibby: Take care.

Lindsey: Take care. You too. Buh-bye.

Zibby: Buh-bye.



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