Zibby led a discussion with actress Mena Suvari for a virtual event with Book Soup in Los Angeles where they discussed Mena’s debut memoir, The Great Peace. Their conversation touched on how Mena knew it was the perfect time to share her story, the ways in which she processed her relationship with fame, and why the miracles in her life have helped her to find her place in this world. Watch the full conversation here!


Sam: Good evening, everyone. My name is Sam in the corner over here. On behalf of Book Soup, I’d like to thank you all for joining us for tonight’s event with Mena Suvari in conversation with Zibby Owens discussing The Great Peace: A Memoir. Please also feel free to engage with each other and the conversation respectfully in the chat area to the right. We’ll be hosting more virtual events in the near future. You can learn more about them on our website by signing up for our email newsletter. You can also follow us on social media, @BookSoup, as well as following our podcast page right here so you can get direct notifications. Past events are also available on our YouTube channel. Please support Book Soup and our authors tonight by purchasing a copy of tonight’s featured book, which you can do by clicking the green button right below the viewer screen. This will redirect you to our website where you can complete the checkout process. We have signed book plates from Mena. This is the place to get them. Please get your copy before they are sold out. We’re also selling digital audiobooks and e-books through I’ll reshare the links, but I did share them at the top of the chat if you scroll all the way up, the link for the audiobook for The Great Peace. I also have a link for Zibby Owens’ anthology, which I will mention in a moment. We’re also opening for in-store browsing. If you’re local to Los Angeles, please stop by the store from ten AM to seven PM. We would love to see you. With that said, let me introduce our guest for this evening. Mena Suvari is an award-winning actor whose credits include American Beauty, American Pie, Six Feet Under, Chicago Fire, and American Horror Story, among many others. She lives in Los Angeles. This is not in her bio, but she is the author of tonight’s book, which is why you’re here. Thank you so much for joining us.

Mena Suvari: Thank you for having me.

Sam: Zibby Owens, our in-conversation guest tonight, is the host of award-winning podcast “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” and several other podcasts. She edited the anthology Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books: A Quarantine Anthology, which you can purchase at the link that I will repost again. A Good Morning America contributor, Zibby also writers regularly for The Washington Post. Her next book is another anthology called Moms Don’t Have Time to Have Kids. The proceeds for her quarantine anthology goes to COVID research, so keep that in mind. Without further ado, I’m going to turn the camera over to Mena and Zibby. Thank you both so much for being with Book Soup tonight. Everyone, please sit back, relax, and enjoy the presentation.

Zibby Owens: Thank you. Hi.

Mena: Hi.

Zibby: This is so fun. I want to make sure I say your name right. In the book, when someone pronounces is too long, like mee-na, I was like, I don’t want to say it. That was a terrible scene. I’m going to not pronounce it that way. I’m kidding.

Mena: You’ll never be that person. Mena Suvari, it’s a weird one. I technically have an umlaut over the U.

Zibby: Wow, I haven’t had a lot of umlauts in my life lately.

Mena: I used to write my name with a line over the E when I was younger because I was so upset by being called men-a all the time. I felt like I’d prove my point if I wrote it that way.

Zibby: Mena, thank you for writing this beautiful memoir and sharing all of your life story. When people talk about putting your life on the page, that is what you did. Check plus. Here it is, baring your soul, going back into it. Maybe there’s a lot you didn’t say, but it feels as if a lot of it got into the book.

Mena: Yeah. I did write too much because I technically was writing in the wrong format. I’ve never done this before.

Zibby: What do you mean?

Mena: Since we all are familiar with this here, you probably know TextEdit, right? I was in the wrong format, so I was thinking that I had to write X amount of words or get to a particular place. I just kept writing and writing and writing. It was too much. We actually had to shape some of it back. Maybe a few small things, but I think I really put out a lot of it.

Zibby: A lot of people call that brave. They say things like that. Sometimes it comes from this place of needing to do it. You, in the book, said that you found all your old diaries and that sort of triggered you to want to write your whole story now that you’re at a very different place in your life. Then you also, at the end, talk about how Me Too is of the moment and maybe this is your time. What was it? Why now? Why write it now?

Mena: It was really those things and more. I feel like it was definitely a process. It was really like a cocktail of so many things that went into the mix. I feel like first and foremost, I had enough. I needed to talk. I needed to get that out. I needed to express myself. What I try to communicate in the book is finding that voice, coming to learn and believe that I always had one and finding it again. There was this very big need for me to talk. That’s originally how this manifested or came out of me, and of course, finding my diary. I found a suicide note. All of these things really got me thinking. I realized, looking back, that my life only got worse after writing that note. I also had a red binder that I had made back then which I had entitled The Great Peace. It was basically my poems and some short stories that I had literally typed up on a typewriter. It was probably almost sixty loose pages. I thought, I’ll just publish that. I felt like I was ready to make some kind of move, but maybe I felt like it’s safer in some way. I sat down with a friend and shared the binder with them. Then in doing so, I shared some of the stories around some of the poems. Some of the poems I’d even timestamped or dedicated to a specific person. When I shared some of those stories, they really encouraged me to tell all of it and share it as a memoir and then incorporate some of the poetry in there. Then I thought, okay. I sat back with that. I couldn’t think about it too much. I just felt so compelled. I needed to do this. I know that that’s weird. I never thought that I would write a book. I never thought that I was that kind of person. I never thought I had something to say or anyone would ever care. That’s what so much of this book’s about. Here we are.

Zibby: I don’t think it’s weird.

Mena: I’m sort of challenging all of that. I’m breaking that mold. I was thinking about this earlier. The way that I view it is because — I try to touch upon spirituality, what it means to me in my life, how I live my life. There’s so much of this that just feels like I’m giving it back. It just feels like, thank you. I’ve been sitting with this for so long. I don’t need it anymore. It’s not serving me. You can have it back. Now I want to do something with it. It’s just been this incredible process because there’s so much more in addition that’s come out of now, promoting it and talking about it and other people sharing with me. It’s a really beautiful thing. I’m very happy. I’m more than honored to be that person.

Zibby: It’s great. I’m really struck, and I was time and again in your book, by your ability to compartmentalize, even when we were just chatting. Are you nervous about this? You’re like, no, of course. You took so much of your life and just shoved it away and then projected a different façade, which I feel like so many women in particular can relate to. You just hide your stuff. You look okay to the outside. No one really knows the depth of pain or what you’re going through. Not only could you do that, but your acting, you could just become a totally different person and channel whatever you needed to. I feel like you related so much to the characters. You had whole chapters about them. I feel like you really inhabited them. They meant something to you along the way. Tell me about that. When did you first use that as a coping mechanism? Did you even notice? Do you feel like it’s gotten any better now? Do you feel like now, especially that this has all come out, that the walls have come down a long time, or do you think you’re still good at sort of putting stuff away and tucking it?

Mena: God, so many questions.

Zibby: Sorry. That was a lot. Sorry.

Mena: Definitely, I think it’s important to note that this work isn’t over for me, for sure. I’m not an expert. It’s not like I just wrapped this up and I’m like, this is what I learned. Here you go, everyone. Good luck. I’m still doing the work. I have always talked about how I feel that art saved my life because it gave me that outlet. I don’t believe I knew that at the time. I was very unaware. I try to communicate that in the book, that process of awakening and the individuals that helped me see that, Segal, who introduced me to therapy, things like this. I think a lot of it is being in the survival mode. I don’t think I could safely say that I was aware of the security, the importance that work gave to me at that moment. I try to bring that also into the book as well just to show that with my spirituality, I feel that there’s always this constant communication. I was trying to touch upon that. I feel like there was always something that came in at the time where I needed it. I view that very much as my work, a particular role that would come in and challenge me. I try to always look for the opportunity. That’s how I see it. I feel like there was an opportunity given to me that just got me by each moment. In the book, I’m trying to isolate those moments. I’m trying to show how each one got me to the next step. I could talk on all of those. They all meant something different, each project, each character, each story. Depends on what it was. For sure, I feel like there was always that gift of what professionally was going to come into my life.

Zibby: Interesting. Can I read this one paragraph?

Mena: Sure.

Zibby: It’s towards the beginning. It was so well-written. You’re a really good writer.

Mena: That’s so nice of you to say.

Zibby: You talk sort of offhandedly. I think my brother would call it a humble brag or something like that.

Mena: A what?

Zibby: A humble brag. You know when you kind of put something in? You’re clearly super smart. You did so well in school when you were focused. You could’ve been anything. You could’ve been a doctor.

Mena: This means a lot to me because I wasn’t received very well in English class and writing and things like this. Again, that’s why those doubts were always there. I never thought I could put something together.

Zibby: I’m going to read this. We can just prove that you’re a great writer. You said, “That’s how it was. Deep down in the marrow of my bones where no one could get, no matter how they ripped into my flesh, I held onto my dreams and the hope I had for myself. I looked for the beauty that was all around me, compelled to see it no matter how hard it was to find. I knew there was a glimmer of light that I could follow through the darkness. I never got the apologies I wanted from the people who hurt me, but I came to understand they were necessary for my well-being. I needed only one person’s forgiveness. This is her story.” That’s powerful. That’s really great.

Mena: Thanks.

Zibby: Don’t you think? Doesn’t it sound good?

Mena: I’m going to cry now. It’s very true.

Zibby: I know writing has been a balm to you in this time. You talked about your time in the library and reading and all of that. Is there any of this adding to the literature and how books have helped you — for me, books have always helped me so much. I want to give back to thank all the books, in a way. I feel like they serve that role for you too.

Mena: Oh, definitely, because I feel like it’s all about communication. That’s why we’re here. I’m very much about the spoken word and language in and of itself and the power it holds. I have that tattoo; words have power. I’m very much about that. I believe that there is power in sharing. That’s just what I experienced. It’s just simply that. I felt like I needed to do this for myself, but I also was so completely inspired by the way that everyone that I’ve experienced in my life has shared with me and been so fearless.

Zibby: I feel like you had so many moments of trauma in your life that you didn’t necessarily label as such but that were, starting from the very beginning, starting with everything that happened with men. It could just be the abuse that you went through or getting over drugs or all these things that happened. Honestly, I was so taken — the accident you had on your retreat with getting thrown from the horse and thinking you were never going to move again and having to be carried on a stretcher out of the jungle.

Mena: That’s one of many.

Zibby: I know. It’s one of a trillion traumas. That was, I think, one of the most recent ones, right?

Mena: Yeah. That’s what I mean about forgiveness. This was something I was thinking about earlier. It was mystifying for people. They didn’t quite understand that. I guess I viewed it as, again, in relation to my most important relationship, with the universe, I feel like I got to this point where I just saw how I was the one who was consistently abusing myself, in a way, and holding myself back because I’d had so many moments like that. I fell off a thirty-foot cliff when I was eight. I didn’t break a bone. I was trying to communicate how there’s been these moments where I felt so completely lost and so abandoned, but yet I never was because there was always something beautiful that was given to me. There’s always just enough, whether it was something personal, a friend, or someone that I met, or a professional work opportunity. There was always a little gift that just got me by. It gave me just enough to see that. In the book, I talk about my second husband. I talk about how being able to work on American Horror Story was just another example of making me feel good enough about myself to take the next step.

Zibby: I feel like it’s like you’ve done everything you could to destroy yourself, everything. It’s almost, reading the book, a miracle that you’re even sitting here.

Mena: I tried to prove that no one cared about me. I think I put a lot of effort into trying to prove that my existence didn’t matter. That’s how I saw it. From a macro, I just had too many of these moments where it was, how did I come out of that alive? That really put me in this place of, what am I doing? Why am I here? How am I really appreciating and valuing my life? Those were those moments for me. I didn’t die in Costa Rica. Yet I’m sitting here in what I’ve referred to as poopy diapers feeling bad for myself and waiting, maybe, for an apology. It never got me anywhere. That’s why it’s trying to communicate that moment of, why now? I’ve been sitting with it my whole life.

Zibby: What do you think it is? This is a bigger question. Having gone through all this stuff, why has the universe not let you succumb to all the things that you’ve tried to do to yourself?

Mena: I don’t know.

Zibby: Why do you keep getting rescued? What is it about the universe and nature and spirituality? What do you think?

Mena: I don’t know. I’m trying to figure that out. Recently, I was thinking on that because I am ever the Aquarian and trying to understand it. I don’t know. I was feeling earlier coming here how it’s like, really, I wanted to use the word pumped. I’m pumped right now. I’m ready to go. That’s how I see it. I appreciate people saying, I’m so sorry that you experienced that. That means a lot to me, but I’m not in that space anymore. Now I’m ready to do the work. Now I’m ready to commit even more, stay committed, and create the change that needs to come about. It’s exciting for me now.

Zibby: You were walking around with this heavy cloak on you. Now you’ve put it to the side, finally. I totally get it.

Mena: That’s exciting for me because I’ve been sitting with that for so long.

Zibby: How do you feel in terms of forgiveness? There was a lot of wrong done to you, not just that you — I know you say you brought it on yourself at times, but it’s not like that. It actually was just, a lot of really bad stuff happened to you.

Mena: I always try to find my place in it. I think that’s important for me. This isn’t the blame game. I’ve just never lived my life like that. I always try to find my place in it, what I brought into it and what additional work I need to do. I don’t think it’s so passive. For sure, those are big conversations. A lot of the work is me trying to understand what keeps us in places for longer than we would’ve hoped to be in them.

Zibby: I loved the one moment where — it was when you were still living on the queen-size mattress tucked in the corner with your stuff everywhere in this horrific, abusive relationship. It was when you were mandated into bringing a third person into your relationship, whoever it was at all these different times. You tried to bring this one woman in. As she’s getting out, she was like, “Mena, it doesn’t have to be like this.”

Mena: Yeah, that’s my friend Tracey.

Zibby: It was such a moment. I could just see you there by the car and her telling you that. First of all, you wrote it so well. Obviously, that’s why I could see it. What a statement. Then it resonated with you so much. You obviously stored it away.

Mena: I stored it away to the point where she doesn’t even know about this book. Now we’re talking about it. She reached out to me. We’re going to have a conversation. We never even talked about that moment. She didn’t even know how important of a person she was to me back then. I thought that was pretty incredible after all these years. That’s what I mean about the additional healing, the things that are coming out of this now which I never would’ve expected. I didn’t tell anybody about it because I’m not that person. I didn’t think, I wrote a book, get ready, everyone. It was something that I needed to do. I needed to tell my story. That’s just how it came about. I’m learning how to embrace that. It’s sort of mystifying to me. I got a few copies yesterday. I’m just holding it like, wow.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh. It was also interesting how you wrote about fame and how it kind of happened to you and how you were so in your own world that movies would come out and you’re like, oh, yeah. Then that movie came out. Then all of a sudden, I was recognized. Yet nobody would know what was going on secretly behind the curtain.

Mena: I was just trying to survive. I don’t try to share that in a negative way, but that just wasn’t my main focus. To be completely honest, I drew up plans to be an architect on grid paper when I was young. I had my archaeological dig. I chose medical research for career day. I didn’t necessarily think I would become an actor, and particularly famous, so it was very weird for me when all of that happened. I’m still trying to figure out who I am. I think a lot of that happened at the point where, because of a lot of what was happening personally for me, that never got to happen on its own. I never got to develop that. I was all of a sudden just given fame. I was given this identity over here. I believe it wasn’t a healthy development of my own. Then there was this disconnect. Oh, wait a minute, if I’m this over here, I have to play into that because it doesn’t equate with where I came from. That can’t equate. This shiny thing must have come from this past. That’s why I had to stay separate. I didn’t think that that would be possible, maybe just that day and age. I didn’t think we walked around like that, wearing our emotions and our hearts on our sleeve. I disconnected. I went into survival mode.

Zibby: I love that you’re pumped for the next phase. You’re so young. I don’t know exactly how old you are.

Mena: I’m forty-two. I feel ancient, but thank you.

Zibby: I’m forty-four. You’re younger than me, so I’m going to say you’re young. You just had a baby. That’s so exciting. You can do anything. You could do anything you want now.

Mena: I think we all can do anything. Yes, that’s a great statement. We can.

Zibby: What do you want to do? You could be an architect now. You could go do whatever you want.

Mena: I love that.

Zibby: What would you want to do?

Mena: I’m going to call you when I need advice.

Zibby: Go ahead. Anytime.

Mena: I honestly want to write more. I finished writing The Great Peace, and I found out I was pregnant, which was everything, an absolute miracle, surprise. I’m not surprised because of how I’ve laid my life out and how it’s been chalked full of challenges, how it’s gone down when reading The Great Peace, that my birth would only end up like that. I feel like I need to talk about that. I need to talk about that space and postpartum. Because of the things that I experienced in connection with The Great Peace, there’s just a lot that we don’t talk about, a lot that we don’t address. I never thought that that would happen because I never thought that I’d even write one book. Now I feel like there’s so much more that I want to talk about in that space.

Zibby: Perhaps, The Great Chaos. Parenting is like the anti-peace. It’s like The Great Disruption or something.

Mena: I have, already, the title and shoppers.

Zibby: Oh, you do? You’re ready to go. Oh, my gosh, you’re ten steps ahead of me.

Mena: It just sort of happened because of how it went down. I thought, oh, my gosh. I’m not surprised. Now I think I have to talk about this. I want to because I just feel like there were a lot of things that weren’t addressed.

Zibby: In terms of postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety?

Mena: Oh, yeah.

Zibby: I didn’t even know postpartum anxiety was a thing.

Mena: Yep, me too, all of that.

Zibby: I have it, I think, still, fourteen years later.

Mena: I just wanted to share my story in that because I felt like we get us up to the pregnancy or the birth, and then it’s like, good luck. I have lots to share in that space.

Zibby: Kids don’t let you hide anything, so those days are over. Good thing you got it out in the book while you still could. That’s amazing. In terms of actually the writing of the book, aside from using TextEdit by mistake, did you —

Mena: — No, I wasn’t using it. I was using a different format. It was a whole thing.

Zibby: What was your process like writing it? I can only imagine that some of these scenes, to have to type them again must have been really emotional. Are you at a café? Give me a visual of where you were.

Mena: No, at home or outside. I liked to be outside in nature. That would make me feel good.

Zibby: Did you know you wanted to do all these chapters, these short-ish chapters and different scenes and things like that?

Mena: No, because I just started from the beginning. I just started writing. I was like, ugh, and just told the story. Then we shaped it. Then we went into, okay. I couldn’t have a very long chapter. What’s the most important parts? Naming chapters and figuring out what photos I wanted to include and all of this process. In the beginning, I was just off and running. Then if I felt like I needed a moment, then I would stop and gather myself or take that space. Maybe it was the next day.

Zibby: You mentioned that the audiobook was emotional.

Mena: Oh, yeah. That, I definitely had to stop, for sure, especially with KJ. Even in the editing process, it was always right there.

Zibby: Do you know what’s happened — I always like the epilogue, the PS to this — to all these guys from your past? Do you have tabs on where anybody is? Do you follow anybody in any way?

Mena: No

Zibby: Have they reached out to you?

Mena: The negative relationships, I don’t, no. I’m still friends with Sal. There are people that I’m still close with, but no. I read a really interesting quote, a statement from my second husband, but I thought it was so perfectly presented on his part that I didn’t have to address it at all. Other than that, no.

Zibby: Now that you have written this book and are on your way to your second book, what advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Mena: Oh, gosh. I feel so grateful that I had the right kind of people around me, the right kind of team that I could talk to, amazing editor and publisher and people that understood me. That felt really wonderful. Overall, I just felt like I could breathe in the way that I wanted to. That’s what I needed. It’s so important to feel that you don’t have to hold yourself back in any way. I’m not an expert, but I feel like for me to just share first and foremost and then get into the rest of the process, that was important to feel like I had the space to be able to do that.

Zibby: I don’t think any author feels like they’re an expert. Now you have to own it. Now you’re an author. Look at that. That’s pretty awesome.

Mena: Thank you. I am learning how to incorporate all of that. It’s hard to communicate that. I know that that’s weird. It’s strange to understand. The real desire that I had behind this, it was a real collaborative effort because I wanted to just publish the poetry book.

Zibby: The poems were great too.

Mena: Thank you, but I still was holding myself back on sharing all of it. Thank you for giving me credit, but it’s a lot of people that went into helping me be able to share my story.

Zibby: Maybe that’s the whole point of it. Maybe that’s the answer to the question. This particular story is so important to get out that that’s why you were sort of allowed to keep going. I don’t know.

Mena: That’s what I want to share with people because that’s why I believe we’re here, is to communicate with one another and hopefully learn and grow and heal, inspire one another. That’s my perspective. I just simply felt like none of that will come if I don’t share, if I’m the only one that sits with this. I didn’t really know where it was going to go, but I just felt so compelled to do it and hoped for the best. That’s why I’m excited. This is really beautiful. I love how people are now opening up about what they’ve gone through. It’s a beautiful thing. It’s wonderful to experience and know I’m not alone, but yet, that’s so heartbreaking to realize that that’s so commonplace. I want to change it. That’s why I get excited.

Zibby: It’s hard to take on all that pain. Not like you need my advice, but I would say you can’t take all that on.

Mena: No, but it just makes me feel like, if that’s the case, then I’m more than happy to be that person. If that’s what it takes them to create some of these conversations and hopefully create more change, I’ll be that person.

Zibby: Are you done with acting? You want to keep acting? How do you feel about the role of acting in your life?

Mena: I love it. I feel very blessed. I feel very grateful to be able to do what I do. I was thinking about this earlier. There’s been this theme of me playing real-life people, sharing these true stories. It’s come into my life yet again. I feel like there’s something really beautiful about that. I’m more than happy to be that person. I’ve always loved being honest and being a truth-teller, and so it’s kind of this thing where I get to do both. I love that. That makes me very happy. I’m also working in development too. I love producing. I have a project that’s based on this that I’ve been working on for a few years, too, as well to develop.

Zibby: That’s exciting.

Mena: I love all of it. That would be wonderful.

Zibby: Mena, thank you, first of all, for your book, of course, and for baring your soul in the book and for discussing it. Thanks to Book Soup for having us. I love Book Soup. This has been such a thrill. Thanks to everybody for watching.

Mena: Me too. It’s so special. I love Book Soup. I know what you’ve talked about and the space meaning to you. It’s so special and so incredible here. I’m so happy that we still have this beautiful place to go to. It’s magical. I can’t believe I’m a part of it now.

Zibby: I can’t believe that when I moved to LA when I was twenty-one, I was alone browsing in Book Soup and watching movies with you, and now here we are on Book Soup hanging out. It’s just so funny. Life is crazy.

Mena: I was just going to say, life is funny.

Zibby: Life is weird.

Mena: Weird, that’s the word of the day.

Sam: Thank you both so much for such a beautiful conversation. I love to hear your history with Book Soup. That’s amazing. Thank you for sharing that. Thank you so much for having your launch with us. Congratulations, Mena, on your book.

Mena: Thanks for having me.

Sam: I’m excited to read it and looking forward to more, and short fiction. That would be really fun to read. Looking forward to more from you. Zibby, thank you so much for being with us moderating. Everyone, thank you at home for watching. Please get your copy of The Great Peace at the green button. I also shared it in the chat area, so you can find it there as well. I shared Zibby’s book again too. Thank you, everyone. Take care. Have a wonderful rest of your evening.

Zibby: Thank you. Bye.


THE GREAT PEACE by Mena Suvari

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