Zibby speaks to debut author and psychotherapist Sagit Schwartz about SINCE SHE’S BEEN GONE, an intense, masterfully plotted thriller about a clinical psychologist who is racing to uncover the truth about her mother’s death while struggling with her mental health. Sagit reflects on the emotional journey of writing this book, which is dedicated to her late mother, who passed away from cancer. She also shares her connection to the book’s focus on eating disorders and then discusses the themes of love, loss, and resilience.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Sagit. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Since She’s Been Gone. This is a full-circle moment. I can’t even believe it.

Sagit Schwartz: Thank you. It really, really is. I remember sitting in this chair listening to your podcast as I was writing the book. It’s unbelievable to me. It’s truly a dream come true. Thank you for having me on the podcast. I’m overwhelmed with emotion.

Zibby: Listeners, before we talk about Sagit’s book, it must have been about a year ago, maybe two years ago —

Sagit: — A couple years, I think.

Zibby: A couple years. Two years ago.

Sagit: A year and a half, yeah.

Zibby: You wrote the most beautiful Twitter essay thing about how grateful you were for all the things you learned on the podcast and that because of the podcast you had written a book. I remember sitting at the island in my kitchen just scrolling through and reading and tears in my eyes. I’m like, oh, my gosh. I read it to my husband. I’m like, “Look at this. Look what this women said.” Then you had your own book. Then we connected. It was just so amazing. We’ve met in person. Oh, my gosh, it’s so wonderful. Thank you for everything.

Sagit: Thank you, Zibby. As I’ve listened to many, many of your interviews, I’m not the first and I will not be the last author to thank you for what you have done for authors, for readers, for the writing community. It is indescribable. Apart from every interview, teaching me something and buoying me as I was writing — so many of the writers, very, very successful ones, New York Times bestsellers, talked about their struggles in your interviews with them. It gave me the confidence and persistence to keep going. Apart from all of that, it’s also you. It’s your generosity and humanity and the way that you open yourself up in the interviews and sharing your own publishing journey in your memoir, which was not a straight line by any stretch. It just inspired me and helped keep me going. It was like I had my cheerleading squad, and it was the “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” authors and Zibby. In my Twitter thread, I was like, “My friend Zibby,” because that’s how I viewed you as I was writing the book. I’m like, “My friend Zibby says I need to do this.” When I typed the “M,” I’m like, I am writing this out. Then we published the article on your website. I’m so grateful. I am telling you, this book would not exist without your podcast, so I am indebted to you. You’re in my acknowledgment section because of that.

Zibby: This is literally making me cry.

Sagit: It’s emotional for me too. It really is.

Zibby: Oh, my goodness, it’s so nice of you to say all that. It’s so nice.

Sagit: When I had the chance to meet you at your bookstore in Santa Monica and Kyle was there, I felt like I knew him too. After the memoir and learning about how you met and the relationship and all of the things that the two of you had been through together and then seeing how supportive he is of your career, it’s like family.

Zibby: Aw, I love that. I love it so much. Gosh, what you do, what I do, what we all are out there doing, we’re all at our desks just working so hard trying to help, trying to make some sort of difference, and over and over just doing what we do. It’s nice to have a minute where — you say a book wouldn’t have been around without the show. That is everything to me. It’s just the accumulation of all those moments, and for you, all the moments you sat at your desk writing the book. Now here it is. It’s just so cool.

Sagit: Here it is. Oh, and one other thing about you. In your podcast, you turned me onto several authors and books that I hadn’t heard about before. I read them and then reached out to the authors, and we became friendly. Two of them blurbed my book, Marcy Dermansky, who wrote Hurricane Girl; and Brendan Slocumb, who wrote The Violin Conspiracy and Symphony of Secrets. They both blurbed my book. Again, I wouldn’t have known about their books or been exposed to them without your podcast. Then we became friendly apart from that. Your impact has been vast on my life. As I said, I have heard enough of these interviews to know that I’m not the first and I will not be the last to thank you for all that you do.

Zibby: Thank you. Okay, let’s talk about your book, Since She’s Been Gone. The cover is amazing. This looks so good, oh, my gosh. Tell listeners about your book. What is it about? What inspired it? All of it.

Sagit: Since She’s Been Gone is a dual-timeline thriller about a psychologist who learns the mom she lost to a hit-and-run twenty-six years before might still be alive and keeping dangerous secrets. It goes back and forth in time from when she was a fifteen-year-old girl in residential treatment for an eating disorder after she had lost her mom to the present when she gets this bombshell news. A supposed patient shows up to her office and tells her, your mother is still alive and in danger. I’m not giving anything away because this literally happens in the first two pages. Then the book sends her on a scary, adrenaline-pump journey to try and figure out what happened to her mom and piece this mystery together. That’s the synopsis. In terms of inspiration, eating disorders are a mental health issue that have been largely left out of adult contemporary fiction. You do find it more often in YA. There’s actually — I think you’re going to be interviewing her — a new adult book that came out, which I have not read yet, by Emma Noyes. I purchased it.

Zibby: Guy’s Girl, yes, yes.

Sagit: I want to read it. It’s a new adult. Generally speaking, this topic — I don’t know why. It affects ten percent of the population. It is just not something that publishers have been interested in taking on. Maybe because historically in the media and entertainment it has not been portrayed well. It’s been sensationalized or glamorized or viewed as aspirational because of the weight loss aspect of it. It wasn’t an easy sell, actually, because of that. My editor was very dogged and really believed that this book needed to be out there. She told me, “With great power comes great responsibility.” She said, “I believe that the publishing world, with adult contemporary fiction, has done a good job with other mental health issues, like addiction, depression, anxiety, but this particular issue, it has not had its moment yet.” It’ll be released in February, which is Eating Disorder Awareness Month. I’m a licensed clinician. I have treated people with eating disorders in the past when I was practicing. I’m writing full time now. I know this book is important. I’ve already had ARC readers reach out to me who have been impacted, some parents who have children in recovery, some people in recovery themselves who have thanked me for writing it because representation matters. It is a fast-paced, binge-y thriller that also has mental health rep.

Zibby: Amazing. Great pitch, by the way. That was wonderful.

Sagit: Thanks.

Zibby: You know what? I agree with you. I have a great interest in eating disorders for many reasons, so I’m always on the lookout myself. I just read a really great book. It’s a memoir by Hannah Pittard. Have you read it? It’s called We Are Too Many.

Sagit: No, I haven’t heard of it, actually.

Zibby: When it did come out? Recently-ish. She was at the Miami Book Fair. We did a live interview. I don’t know if we’ve released it yet. If not, by the time this comes out, for sure, we will have released it. You should read it. It’s short.

Sagit: I will.

Zibby: She really talks about a lot of purging behaviors and how even as a grown-up now, she finally is in a relationship where she can say to her spouse, all I want to do right now, by the way, is be in the bathroom throwing up. He’ll say, okay, I’m just going to sit with you while we get through this.

Sagit: That level of honesty.

Zibby: I read that in the last month or so. I hadn’t read something similar. Of course, your book comes from a younger point of view in treatment to start. My really good friend in high school was at a residential in-patient eating disorders place that I went and visited her at. Then I interned at a psychiatric hospital. I’m familiar with treatment and all of that. I’m totally interested. I find that to be a very salient, exciting part of your book versus the alternative, which is not wanting it represented. Anyway, that was a ramble.

Sagit: I’ve also had several book influencers who have not been personally impacted reach out to me and say, everything that I thought about eating disorders from the media is totally wrong. Everything I learned was totally wrong. I now have more empathy. I have more compassion. There is a space for this. Also, in my book, when she’s a fifteen-year-old girl and she’s in a treatment center and fighting for her life in recovery, I wanted to portray that, but it also comes bubbling back when she learns that her mom might still be alive. I wanted to show what it would be like as an adult to suddenly have those thoughts, those behaviors. As you said, the author that you spoke with and interviewed who still as an adult has some of those thoughts and has to fight against them and rally against them, that is portrayed in my book as well. I’m also proud that I have cutting-edge science in my book because historically, a lot of times, parents, and especially mothers, have been blamed for kids’ eating disorders. Now the field is changing a lot.

They’ve located genetic mutations that show if a person has a vulnerability to developing an eating disorder. In the field, it’s now considered a metabolic psychiatric disorder because people with eating disorders metabolize fats differently than the rest of the population. Anytime a person with a vulnerability for an eating disorder experiences an energy deficit — it doesn’t matter what the reason is. If you’re being bullied in high school and you start restricting your food as a response to that or if you’re in your first trimester of pregnancy and are nauseous and can’t eat and you experience an energy deficit, in both of those situations, you have a risk. They’re understanding it as the energy deficit is the driver for it. It’s not strictly emotional and psychological and psychiatric. There is a metabolic component to it. The whole field is thinking about things differently, understanding things differently. I wanted to include some of that in there because I do think that overall, eating disorders are deeply misunderstood. That’s my opinion.

Zibby: The metabolic, is that for all types? Just anorexia? All types of eating disorders?

Sagit: It’s all types, but especially anorexia in terms of the restricting triggering it, the energy deficit. There is also energy deficit that goes with purging too. There’s a subtype of anorexia that is restrictive purging. For example — I’m not speaking out of turn because she’s been interviewed about it, but Glennon Doyle, I believe, was diagnosed with that subtype. She’s done multiple podcast episodes about it on her podcast. She, for many years, thought she had bulimia and then got the correct diagnosis that it was, no, actually, anorexia with the purging subtype. I’m getting really into the clinical weeds.

Zibby: Sorry, I’m interested. It’s my fault. I was asking. I’m curious.

Sagit: This is the therapist, the clinician. I want readers to know that my book is a thrilling ride. A lot of readers that have no interest in this subject, they are like, I can’t put it down. I need to know what happened.

Zibby: It’s just one of the many threads. That’s all. I just happen to be interested, so I’m pulling that thread. If you’re not, you’ll just read right past it and get into all the other elements.

Sagit: The thrilling mystery part.

Zibby: Thrilling mystery, yes, and disappearance and family and secrets and lies and all the good things.

Sagit: Found family, that’s a big theme. I dedicated the book to my mom, who I lost young. In a way, for me, it was a reimagining of what would’ve happened if one day I found out she was really still alive all these years. It’s a deeply personal book. I included letters in it that she wrote me as a young girl. I wanted to include all of them. My editor was like, “I love these letters.” She didn’t even know they were from my mom. She was like, “I love these letters, but we got to cut some of them down to keep the pace of the book going.” It was like Sophie’s Choice for me. I couldn’t choose, but I did. I also included her eulogy, about three quarters of it. It’s a deeply personal book in that way for me. I’ve had a lot of readers reach out saying that they never cried reading a thriller before, and they cried really hard reading my book. I cried while writing it, but I didn’t anticipate that readers would similarly have that experience.

Zibby: Can you talk more about that loss and what happened and how old you were and all of that?

Sagit: It’s quite a thing. She died at forty-seven. I wrote this book when I was forty-seven years old. I sold it when I was forty-eight. I’m going to get choked up. It was a year she never had that I get to live out. I’m really trying to live this year for both of us because she didn’t get this time. It’s like I’m living for two people now for this experience. I was so lucky to have her. I lost her young, but — I have this in the book. Especially being a therapist, you realize that having a parent that really loves and supports you and believes in you and tells you you can do anything you want, it’s really such a blessing and such a gift. It is not something many people have in their lives. Although I lost her young, I did get that from her. I write in my book about Beatrice, “I was born, and I was loved. That was my privilege.” People might talk about different kinds of privileges that they’re born with. One parent that loves you is a huge privilege and such a gift. I got that from her. It has stayed with me my entire life. She made me believe that I could do this, that I could write this book, even though she’s been gone for — gosh, she passed away in 1997, so it’s been a long time. This year, this one is for both of us. My sophomore novel will be a different thing, but this one is uniquely special because I’m on a timeline that she never got.

Zibby: This is so moving. You’re so wonderful for sharing this. There are so many people who have had loss and are outliving their parents, and the crazy way that makes people feel, that they are themselves on borrowed time, in a way.

Sagit: One of the interviews you did with Claire, who’s now a Zibby author.

Zibby: Yes. Claire Bidwell Smith is a good example of that. That’s true. I know that’s a particular brand of sadness and poignancy. Do you feel that she kind of knows? How do you feel about that? Do you feel like you don’t believe any of that?

Sagit: I do believe it, Zibby. I do believe in that. I had moments when the book was going out on submission where — I live a short drive from the water. I would drive to the ocean. I would talk to the ocean. I would talk to her. I would feel her there. I’d be like, Mom, what’s going to happen? Is this book going to go out in the world? Is it going to get out there? I would get these waves of reassurances. That’s the only way I can explain it. I really do feel that she does know. I believe she’s been cheering me on.

Zibby: I love that.

Sagit: Still after all these years, now that I’ve outlived her, I still feel that.

Zibby: Does love really ever go away? It’s in the universe. It’s out there. It can’t be destroyed. It doesn’t live, necessarily, with the person who feels the love. I don’t know. This is sounding .

Sagit: It can’t. The pain and the grief are the price of love. You can’t have that without the other eventually. If someone were to ask me, you could’ve had a different mom that didn’t die at the age of forty-seven, would you have chosen that? I would say no every day of the week.

Zibby: Can I ask how she died? It’s none of my business. You don’t have to answer.

Sagit: No, not at all. She died of cancer related to the BRCA mutation. I did not inherit that mutation. If a parent has it, the child has a fifty/fifty chance of getting it. She had one healthy gene and one mutated one. I had to go through the whole genetic, all of that, the counseling, to get tested. That was how she passed. When she passed, there was less awareness of it, so she didn’t know. Now people take measures to protect themselves. She didn’t know. It was too new then. The genetic counseling field and recognition of that mutation, when she was two years of being sick, just came out. Anyway, I feel that she knows. I feel that when I’m at Zibby’s Bookshop celebrating my launch — I’m doing my launch at Zibby’s Bookshop. She’s going to be there along with everyone else cheering me on. It’s really such a beautiful thing.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, this podcast, this is the third time I’ve cried. Also, in my head, I’m imagining — I’m forty-seven now too, right now. If I were to drop dead tomorrow — knock wood — and my kids came out with their books years from now — oh, my god, you’re killing me here. This is a lot.

Sagit: Me too. This is your humanity, though, Zibby. You wear your heart on your sleeve. You’re so empathic. I think that’s why you touch and reach so many lives, truly.

Zibby: Thank you. You mentioned a sophomore novel. What is that? Tell me about that.

Sagit: Oh, gosh. It’s early days still. This is going to be a very different one. It’s not a tearjerker. It’s about a woman who is down on her luck. A decade prior, she had graduated from the American Film Institute with huge dreams of becoming a director. Then everything has gone wrong for her ever since. At the time, when she graduated, she had a short that was up for an Oscar nomination. Since then, everything has gone downhill. She is working a job that she does not like at a reality TV show of the likes of The Voice or American Idol. It’s called The Underdog. These particular contestants come from very, very unusual backgrounds. She is charged with having to pick them up from wherever they are and bring them to the set. The book opens up where she is charged with going to a psychiatric hospital to pick up a woman who, since she was institutionalized, has not spoken and only sings. It’s a bit of a nod to The Silent Patient. She’s called The Singing Patient. There’s TikToks of her and all of this. She picks her up. They go to the airport. The woman goes to the bathroom, and she never comes out. Before she goes in the bathroom, she tells her, “I’m going to make you famous.” She goes in, and she never comes out. The whole book is the mystery of what happened to this woman. It’s dual point of view. What happened to this woman? Then what’s going to happen to our protagonist? There is a whole storyline of very nefarious circumstances of why and how she had ended up in the hospital — she never should’ve — and how she got out. This was her ticket out.

Zibby: Wow, that sounds amazing.

Sagit: It’s really fun. It’s so different. It’s so lighthearted. It’s also got the tense, what’s going to happen? I don’t know, it’s a working title, called The Underdog. I like it because both of the women are underdogs in their own ways and overcome what their situation is. I enjoy writing characters you can root for. People have told me that with my book, they really were rooting for my protagonist. I want to do that again, but in a more lighthearted way, still with all the thrills and twists and mystery that I have in this book.

Zibby: You could also call it The Singing Patient. That’s a good title too.

Sagit: I know. I was thinking that. She’s dubbed that in the psych hospital because of the book The Silent Patient. I don’t know if that would be too on the nose. I don’t know. We’ll see.

Zibby: Yeah, maybe. Maybe you’re right.

Sagit: If a publisher takes it, they will have their own ideas.

Zibby: They can do whatever they want.

Sagit: As you know with your publishing house.

Zibby: It sounds amazing. Please send it to me.

Sagit: You’ll be the first. Oh, no, actually, contractually, I have to give it to my publisher first.

Zibby: They’ll probably snatch it.

Sagit: They have first right of refusal. Excuse me, publisher.

Zibby: We’ll see what happens. When is your launch? I wonder if this is coming out before or after we release this episode.

Sagit: February 6th. That’s my launch date.

Zibby: I don’t think I can be there, but I’ll watch on streaming.

Sagit: That’s okay. You know, Zibby, you’ve been my cheerleader for a long time, even before I met you. You’re always there.

Zibby: Thank you for this, for so many parts of this.

Sagit: Thank you, Zibby, for all that you do. I really enjoyed speaking with you today. I’m so excited for everything that’s happened to you with your business. I just can’t think of a more deserving person.

Zibby: Thank you. Congratulations. You too.

Sagit: Happy Hanukkah.

Zibby: Happy Hanukkah.

Sagit: Bye.

Zibby: Bye.


SINCE SHE’S BEEN GONE by Sagit Schwartz

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