Zibby Owens: I’m so honored to be interviewing the best-selling author of The Invisible String, Patrice Karst. Her books have sold over half a million copies and have touched the lives of so many people. She’s also written The Invisible Leash: A Story Celebrating Love After the Loss of a Pet, The Invisible String Workbook with Dana Wyss, Creative Activities to Comfort, Calm, and Connect, and The Invisible Web in spring of 2020. Her previous books include God Made Easy, The Smile That Went Around the World, and The Single Mother’s Survival Guide. She currently lives in Los Angeles, California.

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

Patrice Karst: Thank you so much for having me, Zibby.

Zibby: I’m so excited to talk to you because I read The Invisible String to my kids all the time. I have four kids. Two of them are five and six. This is one of our favorites, so I’m really excited to get to talk to you.

Patrice: I’m so happy to hear that.

Zibby: I was interested, The Invisible String — I know you have new books which have been released, but I just want to talk about your iconic work first which has sold more than half a million copies and is used worldwide for so many reasons by so many institutions. Tell me a little about how originally you wrote that book and then how it became such a nationwide, worldwide tool for healing and all sorts of other things.

Patrice: It’s my favorite story to tell. No one could have been more surprised than I have been as to the trajectory and just the phenomena that happened with The Invisible String. I wrote it over twenty years ago originally because I was a single working mom. My son was four or five at the time. He would be really sad when I would take him to preschool. He had major separation anxiety. He would cry as I was leaving. Then I would cry. We were both a hot mess. Nothing seemed to work. Me just saying, “I’ll be back. Have fun,” none of that worked. One day I just told him what was really just obvious to me, but I told him how we would be connected all day long by this invisible string. If he missed me, all he needed to do was tug on it and I would feel it. If I missed him, I would tug on my end of the string and he would feel it. We were connected all day until we saw each other again at night. His eyes just got as big as saucers. He literally — that was it. It was like, voilà, separation anxiety handled. He said, “Do we really have an invisible string, Mama?” “Yes, we do.” That was it. From then on, every morning when I would bring him he’d say, “Mom, I’ll be tugging on the string.” When I picked him up, he’d say, “Mommy, did you feel me tugging on the string?” Then all his friends asked to hear the story. I told them all. I saw their reaction.

I realized that I had something very special here because love is such an abstract idea. I had, somehow in the telling of this story, created a very tangible explanation of what love really is. It’s an invisible string. I knew that there was something very magical that deserved to be told to a wider audience more than just my son and his friends at his preschool. I wrote it as a story and went to a very small publisher here in Los Angeles who had never done a children’s book before. He did mostly spiritual, metaphysical, new age books. He was a tiny, tiny publisher. I approached him. He loved the concept. He loved the story and said, “Yeah, I’ll publish it.” So he published it. Originally, it came out in 2000. I thought my work was done. I was glad the book was out there. He had very, very little distribution. It was not in the Barnes & Noble or Borders of the world. It was Amazon and some new age churches around the country. It sold very mediocre. It plugged along. It was doing okay.

I got beautiful letters from moms and dads and teachers, but not lots of letters. The ones I did get were profoundly grateful for the book. I was onto other things. I was working on other projects and really didn’t put any energy into it. Then how the phenomena began was that right around the time of the Sandy Hook massacre — the reason I remember that is I got a, I don’t remember whether it was an email or if it was an Amazon review, but a Sandy Hook parent, not a parent of one of the children that died but of one of the surviving children in a classroom, wrote to me or wrote the review and said that the book had been instrumental in helping his daughter handle her grief and realize that she was always connected to all of her friends that had perished and made her not feel so scared because now she knew she was always connected to Mom and Dad. I remember that being the timing of when I started to notice — I have Google alerts on my computer. Every author does, whether they admit it or not, so lets us know when someone out there in the internet has said something nice about us or about our book.

All of a sudden, it was ping, ping, ping, pinging around. It was as if the hundredth monkey effect or something. Suddenly, my book — and I don’t know how. It was a word-of-mouth phenomena. It was suddenly being used by the military for deployed parents. It was being used by the prison system for incarcerated loved ones. It was being used by adoption and foster organizations. It was being used by school psychologists, therapists, marriage counselors, divorce attorneys, hospices, hospitals. It suddenly was the go-to book for bereavement organizations, for any kind of loss, for separation anxiety, for any time a child needed to know that they were still connected. Then the phenomena happened that adults started buying it for each other. Spouses would buy it for each other, adult children for their adult parents and vice versa. It became not only a baby shower gift, but wedding anniversaries and graduations for college. Parents were giving it to their kids that were going — high school graduations, the kids that were going off to college. It just took off, Zibby. I don’t know. It just went into the stratosphere.

Zibby: It’s a book going viral like an article would. It’s amazing.

Patrice: Completely, and truly because so many authors spend lots of money on getting publicists and spending money on advertising. This was one of those rare publishing miracles where no money was spent. It was word of mouth.

Zibby: That must have felt great.

Patrice: I still pinch myself. I don’t know what happened. I just like to think that when the message is ready, the readers will come. It was just meant to be. That’s the only thing I can say. It was meant to be.

Zibby: Before you wrote it down as a story, had you done any sort of writing? Had you ever wanted to write books? You were a single working mom. What type of work were you doing at the time?

Patrice: Yes, I had written. I’d always written for love. I’ve been writing journals since I was twelve years old, and poetry on cocktail napkins and you name it. When my son was very, very young, I had written a book called God Made Easy. I woke up from a dream and saw the title, literally just saw the title and this little voice said, “This should be a book. Go get a notebook and start writing.” I wrote it. It was a little, magical, spiritual book. It got published. Then I wrote another book called The Single Mother’s Survival Guide. It got published. I had written some adult books, but never in a million years — writing a children’s book was the furthest thing from my radar. Yet that’s really what I’m known for now, is my kids’ books.

Zibby: It’s funny because one of my kids had really bad separation anxiety. I think as a parent, there’s almost nothing you won’t try to make your kids feel better. I remember I tried stuffing a lunchbox full of little notes that she could take out and read when she was at school. I invented this invisible cloak of bravery she would wear. You just try. You never know what’s going to stick and what isn’t going to stick. You seem to have found the thing that sticks for everybody, which is such a gift to the world. It’s amazing.

Patrice: Thank you. I’m blown away and very, very grateful. It’s funny you bring up the invisible cloak because I’ve been making a little list of other Invisible books besides the ones that I’ve already written that I want to write. The Invisible Cloak is one of them.

Zibby: No way, oh, my gosh. Well, there you go. We had a whole thing because in her school for a little while, there was a mirror — not a mirror, a window. This is what happens when I don’t sleep, by the way. I can’t remember words. Anyway, a window. She would walk up the steps inside the school. I would be outside the school. We could wave. She would do this little motion of tying it around. I would do the tying motion. Then she would go up and I would walk away. So put that in the book somewhere, that little…

Patrice: I will. I’ll give you credit.

Zibby: Okay, great.

Patrice: Zibby and her daughter.

Zibby: Exactly. Wow, that’s really nice. How did feel to you as this was taking off and you were going about your day-to-day life with your son and everything and you watched the success and the book take off? Did you start doing a ton of appearances? Were you along for the ride? It sounds like you just sat back watched.

Patrice: I really did just kind of sit back and watch. I started to get so many emails all the time from caregivers and children and grandparents. It’s very humbling. It’s a very humbling experience. Because it’s the number-one book for death and dying for children, a lot of the letters that I would get were profoundly painful letters, ultimately beautiful because the book had helped the family, but lots of parents writing to me that had lost children. The book had helped the siblings. I can’t even — there was one story, I’ll never forget this one, where they wrote to me and told me that — ugh, I don’t want to start crying. Their seventeen-year-old had passed away. They put The Invisible String in the casket with him.

Zibby: Aw.

Patrice: Yeah, I know. I shouldn’t have even brought it up. My point is a lot of the letters I get are very lighthearted. I don’t want to say that they’re all very heavy because a lot of them are very lighthearted, very sweet. One mom wrote that when her son, when he drove off to go to college, she was crying. She came back in and went to turn on her computer. As she lifted up the lid, he had left a piece of string, a little tiny piece of string with a little note saying, “Don’t forget, Mom.” I get beautiful, beautiful letters. Ironically, I struggle with feelings of loneliness. I had a rough childhood. They say that you write or you teach that which you most need yourself, and it’s really true. I get sad a lot. That’s when I remember my own book and that there really is an invisible string. It’s real. It’s been a wonderous experience. It truly has.

Zibby: Can you say any more about your childhood? Now I’m interested in knowing what happened, but you don’t have to if you don’t want to share it.

Patrice: No, it’s fine. I was born in England. My parents were both mentally ill. I had a mentally ill brother. I was sort of the normal one in a very, very odd family. There was a lot of emotional abuse. God bless them, my parents are both deceased now. They did the best they could. They were both Holocaust, not survivors, first generation, but their parents had been. My father had found his father — had committed suicide. My father found him. My father saw his school being bombed in World War II, so lots of heavy, heavy, heavy stuff. They did the best they could, but there was a lot of painful stuff. I grew up feeling very lonely. When I would go to my friends’ houses and see normal families, they’d say, “Hi, Patty. How are you?” and very happy, jolly. There wasn’t a lot of lot of joy in my upbringing. It’s just sort of ironic that I would become this best-selling children’s author with a book about love because it certainly wasn’t modeled to me. Love was something that I learned all by myself. I’m pretty proud of myself for that, that I was somehow able to take that pain and still manage to bring so much joy to the world, as you said. I don’t take that lightly at all. It’s a miracle.

Zibby: Wow. How did you bring yourself out of the depths of the worst moments for you? How did you get through it? Did you leave home and go to college and then you found other families? When was there a turning point?

Patrice: I left home at sixteen. I was out of there, went and got an apartment with a friend and never really looked back. I think I moved back when I was twenty-one for a few months when I was totally out of money at one point. My spiritual path, I’ve been on a spiritual path ever since being a little girl in England. I think because of the fact that I was not raised in a family where all my needs were being met, I had to source out another parent. My parent was god. My parent was spirit, was the source of all things. I used to look up at the stars at night and talk to the stars and talk to god. God really became my surrogate parent. My love of god — when I say god, I don’t mean a Christian or any particular religion’s god. When I wrote God Made Easy, I say fill in the blank with any name you want: the source, the force, the almighty, infinite intelligence, something bigger than me, big dad, divine mother, heavenly father, whatever name you want to call him/her/it. So I would say my spiritual path and I had a really big sense of humor. I was class clown in high school. I did stand-up comedy for a while in San Francisco when I lived there, just open mics and stuff like that. I’ve always been a funny girl. I would say humor and faith in a higher power is what helped me, and compassion, compassion for my parents because they really did the best they could with what they had.

Zibby: Wow. It’s such a role model attitude towards that. It really is. It’s inspiring, the way you were able to find a way to deal with all of that, honestly. Now you have The Invisible Leash: A Story Celebrating Love After the Loss of a Pet with an Invisible String Workbook: Creative Activities to Comfort, Calm, and Connect. Then The Invisible Web is coming out. You have just so much in the hopper here. I know you have a dog because I know our scheduling this interview was about when the dogs had dog care or something, which I thought was awesome.

Patrice: Exactly. A lot of people have used The Invisible String for a death of a pet. I got a lot of letters from parents asking if I could please write a book specifically for the loss of an animal. So I did. Luckily, Little Brown, my fabulous publisher, loved it and bought it. Interestingly, sadly, and ironically, when I was finishing the book, my doggie, my fourteen-year-old wiener dog Coco died. I had to put her down. She was old and very sick. Let me tell you, I read my own book over and over and over to bring me comfort. Little Brown was so fabulous. They let me put a picture of Coco in the book and a dedication to her, so she lives on. Now I have a new wiener dog named Luna. Luna is ten months old now and the new love of my life. I can honestly say without a doubt The Invisible Leash heals. That book helped me grieve the loss of Coco big time, to just realize that we have an invisible leash to our beloved animals in the beyond, the same concept as the string. They can feel us. They’re with us. We can hug and tug along the leash, and they feel it. I’m really excited about that book.

Then The Invisible String Workbook, that was an amazing story. I got a fan letter, an email from a therapist, an art therapist at the time, Dana Wyss. She had told me that she did a lot of work with unwed, young teen mothers that came from very, very hard backgrounds, lots of drugs. Some of them have been incarcerated. They hadn’t bonded with their own children. She was using The Invisible String to help them bond with their kids. She wrote me a letter one day and said that one of the teen moms had a gift for me. She had drawn this beautiful card for me thanking me for The Invisible String. Dana wanted to mail it to me. I said, “Why don’t we have lunch? You’re local.” She was from Los Angeles too. So we had lunch. During that lunch, she started telling me about all these different activities that her and a lot of other therapists and psychologists and people were using to take the message of The Invisible String to even bigger depths. I said, “Why don’t we do a workbook together?” We signed our deal on a paper napkin right there in the restaurant. We decided we would split it fifty/fifty. She went to work creating this amazing workbook that’s just full of all kinds of creative, amazing activities and games. It’s fabulous. It’s such a beautiful book. By the time we sold it — because for years I tried to sell the book, but nobody wanted it since they didn’t have The Invisible String because the hardback was already published. When Little Brown, because I had the paperback rights, and when they decided to put out the paperback and I told them about the workbook, they jumped on it. By that time, Dana Wyss had become Dr. Dana Wyss with a PhD in art therapy. We’re partners on the book. It’s incredible.

Then The Invisible Web comes out in April. That’s the book that’s about our universal connection. That’s when all the children of the world realize that we’re all connected by invisible strings and we realize we’re really living in a web, an invisible web of love. I call it the real world wide web, the real one. That’s exciting. That’s coming out in April. Then the last one in the series so far — please god, there will be more. There’s always room for more love and books about love and Invisible books. I have a board book for babies coming out in December called You Are Never Alone. It’s an Invisible String lullaby. It’s really just like a song about love. If I can just share real quick, the story of that is a great story. Last year, I don’t remember exactly when it was, but to our horror, Little Brown, my publisher and I, a certain amount of books had gone out in the world and the printer had made an error. It was one of those nightmares where the last page in the book was not in the book. The most important page in the whole book of The Invisible String which says, “No one is ever alone,” the last page hadn’t gotten there. We were able to track down almost every single book and fixed it, but I was so mortified and so horrified. My editor, Andrea Spooner who’s an incredible woman, she said, “Patrice, I think I have an idea of how we can turn this lemon into lemonade.” She said, “How about you write a book called You Are Never Alone?” So I did. That became the board book that’s coming out in December.

Zibby: I thought maybe it was going to be called The Missing Page.

Patrice: No, but actually you’re making me think that when I get to the point of the book where I start writing little — maybe I’ll tell that story of how that book came to be.

Zibby: You should.

Patrice: That would be a great story to —

Zibby: — You could also do one where people write their own last page.

Patrice: I love that. What a great idea.

Zibby: You just call me when you need ideas.

Patrice: Zibby, amazing. I will.

Zibby: I’m just kidding. Wow, well you have a lot in the hopper. This is so exciting. Amazing. Do you have any aspirations off the page in any way? Do you want to get out there and be a spokesperson? Are you happy with your day-to-day life now? I’m just curious.

Patrice: You know, I would like to. I love doing public speaking. I love doing school visits and things. My great hope now — I just got a new agent, William Morris Endeavor. I’m super, super excited. I have the dramatic rights to The Invisible String. The next piece is I would love a feature film or a children’s animated series, television show. I think The Invisible String is destined to hit the big screen or the little screen. I think that that’s the next step, would be to have it reach an even wider audience in the way that film and television can. I’m excited to see what happens. I think 2020 should be a pretty thrilling year. I’ve written other kids’ books, which hopefully we will sell. They’re not so much Invisible books, but all of my work really has the same theme. It’s love. It’s connection. It’s oneness. It’s that we’re all in this thing together. All of my books, even though they’re all quite different, they all have that theme flowing through.

Zibby: Do you have any advice to aspiring authors?

Patrice: Write the book. So many people will tell me, “I’ve got a book idea. I’ve got a book idea. I’ve got a book idea inside of me.” I’m like, “Well, why don’t you get it outside of you and write it?” I would say write your story. Then there’s so many cliché things that authors say to other authors. In this case, it’s not a cliché. It’s really true. I believe that our job as writers is to tell our story and really kind of let go of the results. I see a lot of writers go through a lot of pain because maybe their book isn’t selling that well. Granted, it’s easy for me to say. I have a best-selling book. Even when my book was limping along years ago, I still felt really proud that I had told my story and that it was out there for whoever was destined to read it. I think we need to let go of the results. Tell your story. Then you’ve got to sort of surrender it to the book gods because every book has its own destiny. It doesn’t really matter. At the end of the day, obviously financially it matters. Career-wise, it’s thrilling to have a best-selling book.

Whether one person is moved by your book or a million are moved by your book, even just one person being moved by what your story is matters. It matters because that one person could go on to change the lives of twenty more people who would change the lives of twenty more people just by having read your story. We never know when we put our artistic or whatever it is — you with your podcast, you won’t necessarily know the person that hears your podcast and it inspires them to do X, Y, Z or to hug their kid in a bigger way than they would have if they hadn’t heard your podcast. You may never know just the power of what it is you’re doing, but you’re doing it. I can tell this is a labor of love for you. It matters. That’s what I would say. If you have a story inside of you, you have a message, you have a teaching inside of you, get it outside of you and put it out in the world.

Zibby: Wow. Thank you so much for coming on this podcast and for those particularly inspiring, really nice words to hear for me.

Patrice: Thank you. It’s so important.

Zibby: I hope to meet you in person at some point.

Patrice: I would love to, especially when you’re out in the Palisades.

Zibby: Yes, I would love it. I’ll be there a lot. Thank you so much.

Patrice: Thank you, Zibby. Take care.

Zibby: You too. Buh-bye.

Patrice: Bye.