Megan Tady, SUPER BLOOM: A Novel

Megan Tady, SUPER BLOOM: A Novel

Zibby Books author alert!!! Debut author Megan Tady joins Zibby to discuss Super Bloom, a sparkling, heartwarming novel about a massage therapist at an iconic Vermont spa who, while grieving the death of her boyfriend, agrees to supply a demanding and eccentric romance novelist with spa secrets for her next book… but is instead inspired to write her own. Meg describes the real-life spa trip that inspired this story and her long journey to publishing it (after years of editing, querying, and never giving up!). She also talks about her quirky characters and spa research, her fun book cover, the actual super bloom happening in California, and her next book!


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Megan Tady. I am so excited to have you on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” today to discuss Super Bloom.

Megan Tady: Thank you, Zibby. It is just so thrilling and quite surreal to be here after listening to pretty much every episode for a long time. This is just a total dream come true. Thanks for having me.

Zibby: It’s a dream come true for me when I get to interview an author whose book I got to witness from the very first draft or whatever you showed us, whatever draft that was for you, which we can get into, all the way through the whole journey until now, we have this beautiful purple and green, amazing book with a woman with the cucumbers on her eyes. Oh, my gosh, the book is good. I’m so excited that we’re publishing it. Yay!

Megan: I still have the picture of me getting the offer email. I was in an actual writers’ group Zoom chat. We were just talking about each other’s manuscripts. The offer came in. They have a photo of me, my hand over my mouth. Oh, my gosh, it’s happening. What you saw was — there were many, many, many drafts. My journey’s been really quite long. We can get into that. It was a long journey.

Zibby: Start off by telling listeners what Super Bloom is about, please.

Megan: Super Bloom is about a massage therapist named Joan Johnston. She is living in Vermont. She’s working at a luxury spa. She’s grieving the loss of her love, Samuel, who died two years ago six months into their epic love story. She’s about to get fired because she is really struggling at work. Her boss gives her one chance to save her job, which is to get a glowing review from the most demanding client, famous romance novelist Carmen Bronze. She, without giving too much away, doesn’t do so great in that massage, but Carmen gives her another chance and says, “Look, if you give me dirt about the spa, where I want to set my next best-seller, I’ll give you that glowing review.” Joan begins to do that, but along the way, she wonders if, actually, she’s the one to write that book instead of Carmen. Chaos ensues.

Zibby: Amazing. Now we can go back to the whole journey. Take us to wherever this journey begins. When did you know you wanted to be a writer? Did you know you wanted to be a writer? Go all the way back. Were you a big reader as a kid? Set the scene.

Megan: Yes, I was a huge reader. I was the kid hanging out in my room with my notebook writing little stories, so much so that my grandmother gave me a typewriter when I was eight. I would peck away at the keys. I had a huge imagination. We had this beautiful backyard that I would play in for hours just imagining all of these stories in this make-believe world. Then in high school, I joined the newspaper staff. I just loved the writing, the fast-paced deadlines. That really inspired me to pursue journalism. That’s what I went to school for. Along the way, I was really reading a lot of very good but very thick literary fiction. I never imagined that I could do what I was reading. I graduated. I started trying to be this investigative reporter. It was at the time where a lot of newspapers were shutting down. Things were going online. Mediums were trying to figure out how to contend with that.

I had to do all sorts of other jobs to do the investigative journalism that I wanted to be doing. I was waitressing. I was working at YMCAs. I was sitting in my car on my lunch break doing interviews with people and then writing these stories up in the evening. It wasn’t until, probably, my thirties where I started to wonder if I had some fiction in me. I started writing some short stories, taking a few classes. Even still, I was sort of like, who? Me? Do I possess this in me? Can I do something like that? Then my husband took me on a surprise trip to Vermont. I had a massage. This was eight years ago. I kept wondering the whole time about the woman, the bodyworker who was working on me. I was like, what is she thinking? Am I her first massage of the day? Her fifth massage? What is this like to be working here? That’s my journalism mind. I wanted to pull her aside and interview her. I walked away from that with this flood of idea for this novel. I came back from that trip being like, okay, I’m going to try. I’m going to try. Then it took me eight years to get from there to now.

Zibby: That’s really not so bad.

Megan: It isn’t. I wrote the book in a year. Then I queried thinking I was going to —

Zibby: — Wait. You had the massage. You had a million ideas. This is a point at which a lot of people drop out of the process. This would be a great idea for a novel, and then that’s the end, versus, this is an idea for a novel, and in eight years, it’s going to be on a shelf. After you left, how did you make sure you didn’t forget the idea? I feel like I’m always having ideas, and then they fly out my head the second I have them.

Megan: Actually, my husband also gave me a journal for my birthday. It was the best birthday. Thank you, husband. I started writing the early pages right there on that trip. I came home, and I just felt really determined. I wrote my very first version of that book in about a year. I queried agents really early with not a ton of feedback thinking I was going to be someone’s unicorn. An agent was going to burst out of their room and be like, I found her! I heard nothing. I heard crickets. I was like, okay, I have a lot to learn. I really had to get humble. I had to study the craft. I started reading voraciously in a way I had never done before. I was also raising two young kids. I have a four-year-old and a seven-year-old. I was having those kids and raising them at that time. I was running my writing and editing business. I was really writing this book on the fringes of my life, fifteen minutes here, Paw Patrol in the background, trying to get this down and really nail it. It took a while. We often are regaled with these overnight success stories of writers. We don’t hear the grind behind them. It’s quite shocking to realize how much you’ve got to really dedicate yourself to this and buckle down and commit to it and study it over and over again. That’s what I had to do.

Zibby: Wow. Go back to the business you were running and how you ended up starting that at the same time.

Megan: My business is called Word-Lift. I had been working at a nonprofit as a journalist. We were working on media issues. I left there after about three years. I saw that there was a lot of really bad copy out there, bad websites and people who were incredible at what they did but couldn’t articulate it. I thought, I’m just the gal to start that, so I did. It took a little while to build. I hadn’t started writing this novel yet. I had the business going for a few years before the novel. I also began writing for independent school magazines. That became a really big part of my business. It was lovely. I still am running it. I love being my own boss. I love calling the shots, setting my own hours. It still affords me what I love, which is storytelling and interviewing a lot of people, whether I’m interviewing someone about their business so I can understand how to write their website copy or I’m interviewing an alum from a magazine who started an incredible business, and I can write a beautiful story about them. My life has really been steeped around words since I was very young. I feel really fortunate about that.

Zibby: You queried agents. You got crickets. Why did you not give up then? That’s another point at which other people might drop off.

Megan: It turns out that I’m a very determined little energizer bunny. I had moments where I thought that I might quit and, in fact, took long breaks. It wasn’t like I was, for eight years, slogging away every day. I had to take some breaks. I had to give myself some mental breaks because it was so hard. There is so much rejection. I just felt like I could do it. I wanted to crack it. I started taking more classes. I was listening to all sort of podcasts, yours included, around querying, what other authors have gone through. It wasn’t until multiple years into working on the book that I started really studying structure and inciting incidents. What makes for a break-out novel? Why are certain novels working? Why don’t they work? I definitely had a lot of tears along the way. Should I shelve this book? I know a lot of writers, that happens. I got to a point where I said, should I work on something else? In fact, I did a little bit, but I loved these characters. I just felt like I owed it to them to keep going after all this time, so I did. I’m so glad I did. Actually, had the timing been different, we wouldn’t be working together. I’m so grateful. I’m so grateful that things worked out the way that they did, even though there were moments where I felt so dejected.

Zibby: I’m really glad for all of your prior rejections, too, so we can publish your book, which, by the way, by the time it arrived in my inbox, was in great shape and ready to be snatched up. I don’t know what it looked like before. Very exciting. Let’s go into the characters and more about the plot and development of the characters. Did Joan and Carmen and all the supporting cast change over time? Were they basically who they were from the beginning? Start with that.

Megan: That’s a great question. In the beginning, Joan, when you first meet her, she’s in a bad way. Earlier versions, she was very prickly and the unlikable character. A lot of the feedback I was getting from early readers, from agents was, she’s just too unlikable. I pushed against that at first. I wanted to show that she was in a bad way. I, along with my wonderful editor, Bridie, made a couple of very subtle changes in that first chapter that shows that she’s, yes, in a hard place, but also has something deeper underneath and a lot of love to offer and doesn’t like herself this way. There were some key changes that we made, a couple of lines that were so, so important. At the same time, Carmen was a little one-note. I really, in the beginning, wrote her as this romance novelist partly as a lark thinking, this will be so hilarious that she’s a romance novelist. I thought, it’s been years since I’ve read romance, so maybe I should take another look at that. I began to read more romance, listen to other romance writers talk about their craft. I was blown away. I was like, this genre is way more feminist than I remembered. It’s way more interesting than I remembered. I decided that, no, this isn’t a joke that she’s a romance novelist. This is an incredible thing that she does. There’s a reason people get so much out of this genre that is also propping up the rest of publishing. As I found out — this is a book within a book. Joan writes the beginnings of her own romance novel. It’s hard. It’s really hard to write and to do it well. I had to learn a lot along the way. The supporting cast, it was just about making them not so one-note, so like a painting, going back in and back in and giving them little things here and there that allows them to be quirky and supportive, but also having their full lives around Joan.

Zibby: I love that. I’ve never heard it described that way. That’s amazing. I feel like some of my attempts at character writing via painting would be just throwing giant splotches of paint and giving up, being like, I am so frustrated. I’m throwing paint all over you.

Megan: Yes, I know. For sure. I even cut a character. There’s a character that you never even saw early on. There was just too many on the page. It meant that everyone else was a little scrunched. If I was going to let everyone else have a little bit of room, I had to cut her. That was hard. I had this little character for a while. She wasn’t serving the story in the way that I needed to, so I said goodbye. She was on the cutting room floor. Those are hard decisions to make. Ultimately, I think it was a really good choice.

Zibby: It’s the whole “kill your darlings” thing. For the parts that did take place in the spa, did you end up going back and interviewing people like you originally wanted to?

Megan: I did. I felt like it was too creepy to ask my massage therapist during that spa day. I wanted to take her out to breakfast. I felt like I would come off as a weirdo, so I didn’t do that. I interviewed a bunch of bodyworker, either friends or just people I began finding or researching folks who had worked in a variety of settings, whether it was a luxury spa, they owned their own business, they had worked for a franchise like Massage Envy. It was important for me to get that piece right and to also show that some people don’t love that profession. It’s not naturally right for them, as it is for Joan. It’s not right. For other people, like her best friend Cher, they’re so good at it. They love it. It feeds them. Their bodies can sustain it. Some people try this work and find that because it’s so physically taxing, their own bodies can’t do it. I could really relate to that. There’s no way that my body could withstand that. As I interviewed these people, I found so many incredible stories that happen in these tiny rooms that are so intimate. You never know who you’re going to get on your massage table unless it’s a repeat client. You never know what the day is going to bring. Each setting, whether you’re working for yourself or you’re working in a spa, has its pluses and minuses. I really wanted to know it well. Luckily, I met some great people along the way who were willing to share these stories with me.

Zibby: That’s amazing. By the way, if you have that list of people stored away somewhere, we’d be happy to send them books and things like that.

Megan: I think we have, yes.

Zibby: Oh, okay. Great. I’m always behind the ideas here. Great. Perfect. One thing that you did in a really interesting way was capture that new love and all of those feelings where the world is your oyster. You fall in love, and you’re like, oh, my gosh. Everything is clicking into place. Maybe you don’t take the time to meet each other’s old friends or families or all of the stuff. You don’t even stop to get out of your love bubble enough. Then that is when the tragedy strikes for Joan with all these repercussions. New love, while it feels so essential to who you are as a person and everything, yet you realize on the outside, people might not even know about it. Does that minimize grief? What does that mean when people say, “Well, they’ve only been together for this long,” or all these qualifications on loss and grief when there is that intensity at the beginning? Does it hurt more? Tell me about that.

Megan: We hear a lot of sad love stories where people have been together for years and years, and someone passes away or something happens. I wanted to write a love story that’s about to be so epic. These two people, these quirky people, have found each other. They’re so thrilled. They are just ready to take on the world. Yes, it’s early days, but when you know, you know. They just knew. Unfortunately, Samuel dies six months into this really intense courtship. Joan is left holding the bag. She’s left with all those big feelings that only one other person shares and knows about. Yes, a few people. Her friend knows about him. They haven’t really met him. When she goes to this funeral, she’s a little status-less. She’s not the widow. She’s not even totally the ex-girlfriend because people don’t know her well. There’s a pain in that, people not recognizing the importance that she felt in Samuel’s life. She’s still like, but we were going to be so great together.

I can imagine that that sort of pain is just so hard to feel, and then to not have it be recognized by people around you. I wanted to explore that for her and give this to her — sorry, Joan — but then have her walk through it and figure out how to get past it. The answer for her is writing these fictional characters that are stand-ins for herself and Samuel. They allow her to write the story that has the happy ending she didn’t get that pushes them out into the future. It ended up being, also, a really interesting writing tool because it allowed me to give things about Samuel to the fictional character cord without getting stuck in backstory, without getting bogged down, without having the reader have to read so many scenes with Samuel when you already know he’s dead. That is a hard thing to do. I could give those pieces to a new living, breathing character. That made it a little bit more fun, a little more lively. That’s ultimately the way Joan begins to mend her broken heart and also find this hidden potential, this hidden passion that’s been buried for a long time.

Zibby: I love how strategically and analytically you’re treating the book. It’s awesome. The structure and this and that, these are tools. It’s awesome the way you’re — it’s great.

Megan: Thank you. That’s so kind.

Zibby: Really interesting. You have another novel that we’ve already acquired. Do you want to talk about that?

Megan: I do. What a dream. Yes, it’s called Champions for Breakfast. It is a completely different novel. It’s about a mother and daughter, alpine ski racing champions. The mom is a former Olympian. They are estranged, but they get stuck in a Swiss town — it’s called Zermatt — when an avalanche socks in their town. The only place to stay is a youth hostel. They are stuck having to work things out together and figure out their future until the avalanche is cleared. This has been a really fun, wonderful novel to, also, research. I love the research. I love the interviews. I’ve been interviewing former Olympians, especially skiers, about what it’s like to work your entire life for something and then around the age of thirty-ish, you’re done. You have to transition to civilian life and figure out what’s next, and a little bit of the trauma that’s involved in that. I’ve been doing interviews of folks who live in Zermatt. I took this idea of the avalanche from the headlines. It actually happened in 2018 that 13,000 tourists were stranded in Zermatt when an avalanche happened. It blocked the road. I’ve interviewed the people who run Air Zermatt who airlifted tourists out. I’ve interviewed the tourism director there. How did you even notify people about what was happening? It’s been really fun. I can’t wait. I’m sending it to my editor in a few weeks. I can’t wait to dig in and keep going. It’s a dream to be working on my second book.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, this is so exciting. Really, it’s this wonderful trajectory. It’s just so fun to be a part of it. Now that Super Bloom is coming out into the world, which, by the way, is crazy timing given the super blooms going on in California — talk about that.

Megan: It’s really wild. The name Super Bloom, for the novel, is based on actual super blooms happening in nature where there’s wildflower seeds that are lying dormant for many years in deserts. They only bloom when the right conditions happen, a lot of rain and a lot of heat. When they bloom, they are actually so incredible. They’re so vibrant. They cover these mountainsides. I hadn’t heard of them until 2018. I was a few years into my book already. I had a different title. I heard an NPR story, sort of like what happens with Joan in the book. I said, super bloom, what is that? I quickly looked it up online and saw the Google images. In my mind, I was like, that’s the title for my book. That is the metaphor for Joan. She is this seed lying dormant waiting for the right conditions and the trust that one day, the right conditions would happen, and she would bloom, basically. I feel like not only is that happening for Joan, it’s happening for me. Now it’s happening in the real world in California at the time when my novel is coming out. I’m getting all these messages and texts from people. This is happening. Have you seen the headlines? Yes, I’ve seen it. Although, keep sending it to me because it’s amazing. The timing couldn’t be just more incredible. What a gift.

Zibby: Wait, what was the last title? What was the previous title?

Megan: It was Big Inspiration. I was imagining that Joan was going to have this big inspiration. That’s what it was, but it wasn’t quite there. It wasn’t it.

Zibby: Titles change a lot. I’m always so interested in the —

Megan: — I know, I love titles.

Zibby: Did you have a vision for this book cover? Was this close to what you had thought? Did you have it in your head sort of in a different direction?

Megan: I had no vision. You all sent me a couple of versions from the amazing designer, Allison Saltzman. I was blown away that we were working with her. I have so many books that she’s designed on my shelves that I’ve stared at for years wondering if this was a possibility for me. To know that she was designing my cover, I just couldn’t believe. We got so many great options. When I first saw the cucumber eyes, I loved it, but I was like, is this Joan? I didn’t know for sure. We looked at a few others. There were flowers on a mountainside. There was a pin that was also a flower. There were some great ones. Everyone really realized that this cover is so unique. It’s going to totally pop everywhere. I loved the idea of people sort of mimicking the cucumber eyes and what we could do with that. When we first got the book, my daughter and my husband and I took some photos of us wearing cucumber eyes and quickly realized that they fall off your face really easily. My dog ate half a cucumber as that was happening. I think it’s going to be really fun. I just get such a kick out of seeing it everywhere and the different things people are doing with the eyes. It’s amazing.

Zibby: Having gotten through all of this and to this point at least, what advice would you have for aspiring authors, especially those who might be considering putting their manuscript aside or giving up the dream?

Megan: I think you risk a broken heart if you think you can dash off a manuscript in a very short amount of time and wow an agent, sort of like I tried to do. It’s akin to thinking, “You know, maybe I could play on the women’s soccer team in the World Cup. I think I kind of have a knack for this,” without ever practicing for years, really working on your craft for a long time and being humble to that. At first, I believed that if I wasn’t swooped up quickly, it meant that I didn’t have the chops. I didn’t have the talent. We hear so many overnight stories or the very rare stories of people being swooped up. They’re twenty. It’s a best-seller. Most people are grinding it out. Just be prepared to do that. Do it because the writing makes you really happy. I feel like my best days are when I’ve written even a little bit. I feel like I’m a better human because I love the actual writing. Do it for that, not because you think this is going to be an instant overnight success.

Zibby: I love that. That is great advice. Meg, I am so excited for you. I can’t wait to just be in the wings as you shine on stage here as the book comes out. Just so excited for you. Now you’re scattering the seeds of this book all over the place. The wildflowers are going all over.

Megan: Thank you. So are you.

Zibby: I’m just ushering them forward, but you’re the one who’s released them all. I’m just giving them a nudge, just a little nudge.

Megan: Thank you so much, Zibby. When we first met on Zoom, you said you wanted this to be a dream experience for authors, and it has definitely been that for me. Thank you so much. I’m so grateful. I am having the time of my life. That’s for sure.

Zibby: I’m so relieved. So happy and so relieved. We’re trying so hard to make it all fun because we can’t control what happens. All we can control is the process and the journey and knowing that we’re a team going through this and doing our absolute best to get this book out and into people’s hands.

Megan: It’s a great team. Thank you.

Zibby: Thank you. Congratulations. Everybody, Super Bloom, Megan Tady. Go get it right this second. Thanks, Meg.

Megan: Yay! Thank you, Zibby.

Megan Tady, SUPER BLOOM: A Novel

SUPER BLOOM: A Novel by Megan Tady

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