Megan Angelo, FOLLOWERS

Megan Angelo, FOLLOWERS

Zibby Owens: Megan Angelo is the debut author of Followers: A Novel. Originally from Quakertown, Pennsylvania, she graduated from Villanova University. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times where she helped launch comedy coverage, The Wall Street Journal, Glamour, Elle, and many other publications. She currently lives in Pennsylvania with her family.

Welcome, Megan. Thanks for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Megan Angelo: Thank you for having me, Zibby.

Zibby: Thanks for coming up from Pennsylvania. That was really nice of you.

Megan: No problem. I love the bus.

Zibby: Congratulations on your debut novel, Followers. Really exciting.

Megan: Thank you.

Zibby: How do you feel with it coming out? This is so cool.

Megan: It’s crazy. I think everyone feels this way to some extent, but for so long it was just something on my desktop. Now to walk into stores and see it is wild.

Zibby: It’s so cool. Tell listeners, please, what Followers is about.

Megan: Followers is set half in 2015 and half in 2051. In 2015, it’s about two girls who find each other on Craigslist as roommates and hatch a scheme to get famous. In 2051, it’s about a woman named Marlow who is sort of the future version of a celebrity. She lives in a community that looks like it was built by Instagram. It’s a closed community. They’re on camera almost 24/7. The fun of the book is about finding out what happened to America in between the two timelines and how all of the women are connected.

Zibby: Wow. That’s a great description.

Megan: Thank you. I’ve been working on it.

Zibby: That’s going to make everybody want to read that. That sounds great. Can you give any previews about what happens in America in between?

Megan: I can. It’s something that will make you want to throw your phone in the Hudson.

Zibby: Could I try the East River?

Megan: You could do the East River, yeah.

Zibby: All right. I have options.

Megan: You have options.

Zibby: Now I feel in control. So, why? Why this book? How did you come up with the idea for this?

Megan: I came up with the idea for this sort of in pieces. I had been working in celebrity journalism and entertainment journalism for a really long time. I don’t even think I realized how much color was accumulating in my head about how strange it is behind the scenes of a photoshoot or on the other side of the rope at the red carpet. What really launched me into the story was thinking about the future. I was writing in my journal one day. I write in cursive. I realized my kids would not be able to read it, definitely not my grandkids. I just sat with it because I thought, I’d love to write something that goes into the future, but I’m not a sci-fi person. I’m not a dystopia person. I’d love to do something that feels more grounded and stuff like that where your grandmother would be saying to you, “This is how it was in my day,” and it would just be this strange thing that didn’t exist in yours. Slowly over time, all of those pieces came together. Add in what was going on in the world when I started writing in late 2016, and you have Followers.

Zibby: I loved at the beginning when you were like, “This is something known as an envelope,” or something. What is this weird scratchy stuff? I didn’t actually know what you were talking about until at the end of the chapter you were like, “This is cursive.”

Megan: It’s an interesting exercise to step back and see. I feel like for years I was just going around and looking at our world as, what feels like it really shouldn’t be here anymore? The phonebook still lands on my doorstep a couple of times a year. It’s almost like a prank gift. You’re like, what am I going to do with this? It was fun to see anachronisms in everyday life.

Zibby: Do you think that we’re not going to — I mean, my kids still learn cursive at school.

Megan: Mine go to public school, and they don’t. It’s been interesting because this little origin story has brought out so many different things from interviewers. I’ve had some people who are radio hosts but also teachers tell me that, no, their teenagers don’t know cursive even now in high school. I said to one of these guys, “How do they sign their names?” He was like, “Well, they basically just make up a cursive-adjacent thing for signing their names.”

Zibby: Cursive-adjacent.

Megan: Otherwise, they don’t use it at all. Some moms have told me, have messaged me on Instagram and said, “I send my kids to cursive camp in the summer.” I think it’s sort of a varying thing. I think my kids will be able to make it out because I write — they’ll be around the house with me. You know what I mean? They’ll get a sense of it from me, but I don’t know about my grandkids or people who write in really sloppy cursive. I don’t know if kids will be able to —

Zibby: — Do you think they’ll know how to write by hand? Do you think that’ll go by the wayside too and only type?

Megan: I don’t know. It’s funny because my son, I sort of look for ways to be not so much of a handwringer because it makes me feel old. I don’t want to be like, oh no, no cursive. My son who’s in kindergarten does type a lot. They do practice printing. What I think is maybe an advantage of being born now and going into the future is he’s learning to print by hand, to type, and he’s learning English and Spanish at the same time. We didn’t grow up like that. Everything came later when our brains were harder. I do think there’s advantages to things moving on. Cursive was kind of where it all began.

Zibby: When you think about the world in the future — this is a fun exercise for anybody to do. What do we think the world would be like in 2051? I don’t know. How did you pick what to include? There were no bounds. You could’ve put anything in there.

Megan: Yeah, there were no bounds. My poor agent had to read the draft where there were no bounds. Being a journalist, I think I got really overexcited in the early drafts. It was a mix of too much research and just the instinct to report. There’s long passages about famine and race and all these different things that didn’t really go with the story. I had to have the confidence in the later drafts to be like, okay, that’s really nice; you can know it in your head for context, but this story is about fame and communication and women and motherhood and friendship. Those are the parts of the future you need to see here.

Zibby: Wow. You must be getting a lot of questions about followers in general on Instagram and Facebook. Do you have a view? What’s your party line on social media?

Megan: It’s hard because I’m not naturally suited to it. I don’t know how you feel, but to me, it is work. I don’t know if it’s that I’m a little too old or if it’s just not in my personality to be a little bit exhibitionist, but I don’t like it. I don’t like to use it, but I use it for work. It’s hard because it’s a lot of pressure. Especially now that I’m out here promoting a book, it’s almost like a switch flipped the day the book came out and I’m supposed to act like I’m famous. Do you know what I mean? I think I say something like this in the book. When the character Floss is first getting started, she posts pictures of her meals. There’s nothing really interesting about them. They’re just supposed to be interesting because she’s eating them. That’s kind of how I feel. Who cares about my day? It’s a little bit of struggle for me. At the same time, every time I see someone follow me on Instagram, I’m like, that’s nice. They’re invested in the book. They’re invested in me as a writer. I try to do it for them, but I don’t like it.

Zibby: What do you think about — Sage, in the very beginning you have her dead, essentially. I’m giving too much away. Since it’s so early on —

Megan: — No, this is like first five pages.

Zibby: It sort of epitomizes the stardom you can have on social and how it can so quickly dive. You have teams of people following her and her every move. Then next thing you know, that’s it. What do you think about these — I’m envisioning like a shooting star sort of diving into — because people come in and out of popularity so quickly. Then their stars fade and it’s onto the next, and some with disastrous consequences.

Megan: Sage, who appears at the top of the book, is sort of like this Lindsay Lohan-esque character that Orla, one of the protagonists, is tasked with writing about at her website a lot. It’s so funny. I look back and it’s interesting to see the things that surfaced after so many years of trafficking in this stuff as a blogger and as a journalist. I always felt bad when people didn’t like the things I wrote about them. I think that’s how I knew I wasn’t cut out to be a great journalist. If a celebrity called and said, “This made me feel bad,” or “I wish you wouldn’t have said that,” I took it really, really hard, even when I didn’t know the person. I’m thinking specifically of Lindsay Lohan because I can see myself sitting at my desk writing about — not that I brought any expertise or any original knowledge of the situation, but I’ve had many jobs where it was my job to go on a computer and say, “Lindsay Lohan was found unresponsive somewhere. Lindsay Lohan this.” I always just felt terrible about it. It really got to me. I think that Sage — I wanted to put her in there to show that she’s sort of the person that everyone sees, but there’s all these people behind that phenomena, and that’s Orla.

Zibby: Then people have views on, is that right to do that? too. Should we be — you know.

Megan: It’s certainly not what I set out to do. Do you know what? I graduated college in 2006.

Zibby: Oh, my god, you’re so young.

Megan: Well, every day I get older. Every day, I meet younger people. My dream was to work at Vanity Fair. The internet was not even a glimmer in my eye. Then suddenly as soon as I became an adult, it was like print was out. The internet was in. I was scrambling to try to keep up. Did I envision that I would be sitting there regurgitating these depressing headlines? No, but it kind of became this rite of passage for people, almost replacing the act of being an assistant or something like that. Although, I got to be an assistant too. I did both. I’m a strong proponent of the merits of being an assistant.

Zibby: Wait, let me read this quote. Thank you for setting that up so nicely. In this article for that you wrote, you talked about Natalie Beach’s article about essentially impersonating an influencer because that became her job. At the end you write, “There are more Natalie Beaches out there: young people at the uncertain beginnings of their careers, creatives who in a different time may have started by sorting mail or taking coffee orders at an agency or a magazine. These jobs never made anyone feel glamorous. Anyone who ever had one remembers doing the crappy-job math. Could you stick it out for six months? A year? Two tops? But people doing work like Beach’s have to factor in an added risk. Stay too long and you may forget when you go to pick her back up, just where you put yourself down.” Ooh, good.

Megan: Oh, thanks.

Zibby: No problem. So tell me a little more about this and this particular situation and everything.

Megan: I haven’t really talked about this, but I kind of got in trouble for this.

Zibby: Oh, okay. Well, we don’t have to talk about it.

Megan: No, no, I think it’s okay. It’s interesting. It’s sort of like an art imitating life imitating art thing. Do you know who Caroline Calloway is?

Zibby: No.

Megan: Caroline Calloway is an influencer and a writer. She has attracted a lot of media attention for being, I think, pretty good at those things, is kind of the gist of it. She got very upset about this article and did a lot of posts on Instagram mentioning me.

Zibby: Oh, no way. Sorry.

Megan: No, no, it’s fine. I think it’s good to talk about it here because what I did not do was respond on social media at all. I’m thirty-five. I feel like I’m a little too old for influencer feuds on Instagram.

Zibby: I didn’t know that had an age cap, but I’m glad to hear it.

Megan: I am setting one.

Zibby: Good. Thank you. Great.

Megan: Even that is revealing of my personality because it made me feel bad that she didn’t like that piece. At the same time, it sort of gave her something to post about that day. Even after all of this time trying to understand this world for the book, I still feel like I don’t really get it. I’m always a step behind. I truly don’t know if she was even really mad or she was just posting. That was an interesting experience. I did find the Natalie Beach angle of it all to be really fascinating. There was a big piece in The Cut about Natalie. Natalie was essentially the person who helped Caroline establish her online presence. I do feel like that is something that is probably appealing to a lot young creative people moving to the city right now who might have had these different jobs where, even if it was really crap work, it was a little easier to qualify on your resume, a little easier to be taken care of by a company. It’s strange. It’s just one more way that Instagram is kind of replacing whole industries, which is nuts to me.

Zibby: It is nuts. Have you met Emily Gould?

Megan: We’ve never met. I’m a fan of hers.

Zibby: I have to put you in touch because she used to work at Gawker.

Megan: I’ve read a lot of her.

Zibby: You have very similar — her book is coming out too.

Megan: I’m so excited to read her book.

Zibby: Anyway, you have three kids under the age of five.

Megan: I do.

Zibby: How is that going? How did you find time to write this book in the midst of all of that chaos?

Megan: That’s a really good question. I’ve been doing a lot of radio interviews lately. I sort of give this cute answer because I’m limited on time, but I think I’m just going to be very honest about it here.

Zibby: Please. No, don’t give the canned answer. That’s a waste of both of our time.

Megan: Okay, good. These are not polished thoughts, but here’s the first thing. I always like to tell people that there was a lot of Netflix involved on days where I had to rewrite something. There was a lot of days where I probably wasn’t that good of a mom because I was preoccupied or pissed off about a note that I didn’t want to take, and so I would snap at my kids. I don’t mean to paint myself in such a dark way, but I know how I would feel if I saw a mom who seemed perfect and then had just written a novel during this crazy time. I want people to understand that how I did it, the short answer is not elegantly at all. I hope my kids will forgive for me for it. It’s really hard. The time constraints are a hard thing, but I can kind of roll with that. I would write while I was pumping, even, after two of the babies that were born during it. I’m okay on a little less sleep. Now I’m trying to do it again. My one-year-old is still pretty high-maintenance, as one-year-olds tend to be. My three and five-year-olds are insane. I don’t really remember how I did it. I’m thinking a lot about the ways you change after you have kids. It changes you in great ways. I was really prepared for not having the same body after having kids, but I wasn’t prepared for how it would change my mind. I feel like I’m not as sharp as I used to be. I feel like I’m not as funny as I used to be. I find myself writing the wrong word in an email. When I mean to say purpose, I write purchase. I’m like, oh, my god. It’s unnerving because this is not the moment to feel like you’re really down on your faculties. I feel like that a lot of days.

Zibby: I actually called a doctor at one point because I was like, all the wrong words keep coming out of my mouth. I started keeping a log. I kept saying garage when I mean garbage. I was like, I think I’m developing some sort of neurological disorder. I went and got an MRI and all this stuff. Turns out, I was just really tired and stressed out. When you keep all this information in and dealing with multiple kids, and just kids in general, and lack of sleep and all the rest of it, your brain can only do so much at being creative and all of your output.

Megan: I think you’re right. I’m really comforted to hear that that has happened to you.

Zibby: It still happens to me all the time. Even the kids, they know, like, “Oh, you didn’t get a lot of sleep. All the wrong words are coming out.” I’m like, I cannot afford to not be able to say the right words. But by the end of the day, forget it.

Megan: It definitely is a social experiment. I feel like in some ways I’m more trained up to forms of torture or anything unforeseen like that. If I’m somehow taken a prisoner of war someday, I feel like some of these things, I’ll be like, you’re going to have to use a different one on me because I haven’t slept in six years and I can take a lot of noise stimulation, so keep thumbing through the handbook.

Zibby: I love that. I’ve thought that too. I know how to survive now on no sleep. I’ve figured it out. Navy SEALs, here I come. Never mind that I’d be useless once I woke up, but here I am. What do you mean you’re working on another one? What are you working on now? What’s your next book?

Megan: I’m working on another book that’s set half in 1999 and half now. The hook of it is that’s there’s these two friends who have been friends since high school. Something happened in high school where they accused a third girl of making up someone on AOL Instant Messenger, if you can travel in back with me.

Zibby: I can remember that, yes.

Megan: One day, now they’re in their thirties, this person that they swore was made up — consequences for their friend just shows up. She’s real. It unravels the truth of their friendship, the truth of the past twenty years of their life. I didn’t know what it was about in a bigger sense at first. Now that I’m further into it, I’m really seeing it’s just me trying to make sense of what it meant to be a teenager at a time where in some ways the internet was so prevalent, but it was still just something in the living room that you could get up and walk away from and have the rest of your life. People could still disappear. It’s been a lot of fun. I’m working on that. Then I’m working on some TV projects too. I’m trying to sell a series about three moms who go to the same barre studio and who find out that it’s a front for something else. It kind of is a trap door in this whole secret history of women in America, just little tiny things to try and deal with between preschool drop-off and preschool pickup.

Zibby: Wow, I’m really impressed.

Megan: Thank you. I’m trying. We’ll see.

Zibby: You should just give yourself some credit for all the stuff you’re doing, not to sound like — now that I know I’m a few years older than you, now I can be wise and give you advice. I know what it’s like having little tiny kids. Now that my kids are a little bit older, that is the most crazy period of life. It gets different, but it’s never that crazy and intense and physically demanding as it is when your kids are that little. To be taking on all of this creative work at the same time is — you’re going to feel like you’ve trained at altitude once they get a little older. When they’re all in kindergarten and older, you’re going to be like, wow, look at what I can do because now I have this time.

Megan: Thank you because that makes me feel really good. I feel like no one ever says that. All anyone ever says to me is, “It goes so fast.” I’m like, it’s not going that fast.

Zibby: Not fast enough.

Megan: So, thank you. That makes me feel motivated and good.

Zibby: Oh, good. I’m so glad. I loved when my kids were little, but it was long. Those days were long, particularly with the twins. That was ages ago. I said to them the other day, I was like, “Do you even remember that I stayed home with you for years? Do you even remember that, that I didn’t do anything?” when they were giving me a hard time, like, “Oh, you have another podcast?” I’m like, “I didn’t do anything for years on end.” I was like, “Do you remember?” My son was like, “Yeah, that was amazing.” I was like, oh, my gosh, now I feel ever worse.

Megan: Oh, my gosh, that’s really sweet.

Zibby: Yeah, I guess; also, terrible.

Megan: I think it’s good in the long run, even if you can’t get their juice right when they want their juice. I think it’s good in the long run for them to see us as having other things because there will come a time when they’re like, “Stop being so obsessed with me.” That’s when we have to have our other things.

Zibby: Yes, it’s a delicate balance. I’m glad I stayed home when I did. I’m glad I’m doing other things now, even still at home. Every day it’s like, how do we make this work?

Megan: The work-from-home mom is an interesting — I’m the same way because I’m at home with them too. It’s very hard to draw the lines. There’s probably, in this economy, a lot of women out there dealing with the same thing.

Zibby: Anyway, do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Megan: I guess I get my advice mostly from thinking about — I was an aspiring author like eighteen months ago, so it’s very fresh. I would say just don’t worry so much if it’s bad, which sound obvious. If you are someone who has a full-time career and other family obligations and other life obligations and you’re trying to write a book, you’re probably a pretty ambitious person, I would imagine. And so you might be in that perfectionistic, type-A zone. Everyone can say just write the first draft. Just vomit on the page. It’ll get better later. I’m not really like that either. I feel like when I’m writing a first draft, I’m like, if I die and someone finds this, I want them to think I was as good as Hemmingway. It’s ridiculous. With Followers, I would get really, really down when I felt like it wasn’t good, but you know what? It didn’t matter because no one ever saw it until it was good. I would say to aspiring authors, just keep that in mind. If it’s bad, no one’s going to know. Let it be bad until it’s good. Then you can celebrate it.

Zibby: Nice. Here’s to bad work. Thanks for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Megan: Thank you, Zibby. This was so fun.

Megan Angelo, FOLLOWERS