Listen to Zibby Books author Alisha Fernandez Miranda’s first Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books interview as she talks with bestselling author Sally Koslow about her latest novel, The Real Mrs. Tobias. Sally shares how she was inspired by her relationships with her own mother-in-law and daughters-in-law and wanted to capture those dynamics in a multi-generational family. Sally and Alisha also discuss why Sally made the switch from a lifelong career as a magazine editor to a novelist, what she learned when she became a grandmother, and how the publishing industry has changed from her first book to now.


Alisha Fernandez Miranda: Sally, welcome to “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” We are so excited to have you here today to talk about The Real Mrs. Tobias.

Sally Koslow: I’m very, very, very excited to be here. Thanks, Alisha.

Alisha: Yesterday was launch day for you. How are you feeling?

Sally: I feel excited, happy. It’s nice to make something from nothing.

Alisha: It’s pretty incredible, especially this particular book. This is the first of your books that I had the good fortune to read. It certainly won’t be the last. I just loved the family saga. I thought it was so character-rich. It made me think a lot about the sacrifices that we make for the people that we love, the ones that we know we make and that we make consciously and maybe some of the unconscious ones. I really, really enjoyed it.

Sally: Thank you.

Alisha: You’re welcome. Maybe you can start out by telling our listeners a little bit about what The Real Mrs. Tobias is about.

Sally: The Real Mrs. Tobias, basically, it’s a family saga. Those are my favorite kind of book. What makes it different and possibly unique — I’m not going to say it’s the only book of this sort, but I haven’t run across another one like it — is that the family saga is told from the point of view of three women who’ve married into the family. A matriarch, her name is Veronika. She’s seventy-four years old. She’s a psychotherapist and analyst. She lives in New York. She’s a Holocaust survivor. She was a hidden child. She was not old enough to be in the camps herself. Then there is her daughter-in-law. Her name is Melanie. She goes by Mel. She’s a therapist who’s got an MSW degree. She’s married to the son of Veronika. Mel has a daughter-in-law herself. Mel is both a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, as I am, actually, in real life. Her daughter-in-law is named Birdie. She’s from Iowa. She met Micah, who is the son of Mel. They had a whirlwind romance. They got married. She moved to New York. It all happened when she was very young. All three of these women got married very young. We have three generations, seventy-four, early forties — they’re about twenty years apart, each one — and someone who’s in her twenties.

Alisha: I loved that you focused on that mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship because I don’t think a lot of people focus on it. It is really, really unique, this idea that you marry into a family and you’re supposed to love them and treat them as your family, but they’re not the family you grew up with. What made you want to write about this particular relationship?

Sally: That’s an easy question for me to answer because I was completely inspired by my own life on this one. I have had a dynamic, formidable mother-in-law for a long time. My own mother died quite a few years ago. My mother-in-law is ninety-eight and absolutely with it, very informed on politics and other current events, and just leased a new car, which she drives very ably. She is an amazing bridge player and a very sharp woman, cares a lot about replenishing her wardrobe, to use her phrase. Because a number of years ago — I have two sons. They both married, which made me a mother-in-law. It made me think about the role a little bit differently than I ever had and rather resent that there seems to be a predisposition to dislike your mother-in-law. It made me think how important and interesting these relationships are, and challenging. Because I like family sagas a great deal and every book I’ve written, except for possibly the first, has been about bonds between people, I decided that I would explore this one. That’s why.

Alisha: That’s so cool. Have your daughters-in-law and mother-in-law read this book?

Sally: Yes, all three have read it. My mother-in-law said she cried when she read the author’s note, because that gave a little bit of the background that I told you, and that she enjoyed the book and liked the book. If she had more comments to it, she wasn’t going to share them with me. One of my two daughters-in-law read and said she just loved it. The other one, I haven’t heard from. In all fairness, she’s just made a huge move in her life from Santa Monica to Paris with my son and his two children, so she’s been a little bit busy. We’re still on speaking terms.

Alisha: Phew.

Sally: No one in this book is a clone in any way, shape, or form of my own family, except the fact that they’re both daughter-in-laws and I have a mother-in-law. They’re completely new, fictionalized characters, obviously. I still am very sensitive to their response.

Alisha: I’m sure she liked it, and she just hasn’t had time to tell you. That’s probably what it is. The other relationship, actually, I thought that you dove into a lot was between grandmothers and granddaughters and how the grandparent relationship is so different from the parental relationship, which is something I think about a lot watching my parents with my kids. I have ten-year-old twins, so they’re now old enough that they really have a relationship with my parents. It’s very different from my relationship with my parents. They treat them very differently. They’re very different with them. Why do you think that is? What’s your hot take on being a grandmother, since you are one? Why did you decide to also bring that out in this book?

Sally: First of all, my favorite character in the book, even though she’s a minor character, is the grandmother from Iowa, who’s the kind of woman who keeps jumper cables —

Alisha: — I loved her.

Sally: Sews her own clothes.

Alisha: She’s so capable, a capable woman.

Sally: Totally. I love that woman. Had a good sense of humor also. I grew up far away from grandparents. I was raised in Fargo, North Dakota. My grandparents, my closest one, I had a grandmother in Saint Paul, Minnesota, which was only 250 miles away, but I didn’t really see her that much. It was a different time. I had a grandfather in New York, my father’s father. I’m not even sure if he would’ve known my name. There was no Zooming and video conferencing. If you were far away — we were far away. I think I met him twice in my life. When my oldest son announced — this is before he was married — that, “Guess what? We have a baby on the way,” I was just completely flummoxed because I had never seen myself as a grandmother. I have a few friends who are really craving to have grandchildren. I was just never in that category. I had a very fulfilling job. My life was full. I never really thought there was anything missing. I didn’t have too many friends who were grandmothers yet.

I was completely gobsmacked by how interesting and wonderful it is to have a grandchild. You step back and look at a child grow up in a way that’s different than being a parent because you’re not in it every single solitary second. My oldest grandchild is ten years old now, a really intellectually curious, funny, clever, creative boy. I’m so close to him. Also, my children really benefited from a wonderful relationship with my father. My mother, unfortunately, became quite ill, but my dad. My husband’s mother, who is also my mother-in-law, their grandmother, they’re still very close to her. She’s managed to maintain an important, interesting relationship with the whole slew of grandchildren and now some great-grandchildren. I felt it was a very important relationship to bring in. The character Mel in the book is very attached to her one granddaughter, Alice. What happens in Alice’s life has a major effect on Mel. I don’t want to give away too much.

Alisha: No spoilers. They have a beautiful relationship.

Sally: We don’t know Alice’s side of it because we’re never in Alice’s head. From Mel’s point of view, it’s in her life.

Alisha: That’s true. One-sided. Like Birdie and Mel, your New York transplant — New York features very prominently in the book. One of those characters fits right in. She becomes a New Yorker. The other kind of seems destined not to. I was wondering if one or both of those reflect your own experience in moving to New York and becoming a New Yorker.

Sally: Like I told you, I was raised in Fargo, which was a wonderful place to grow up, but I was really hell-bent on leaving because I wanted a job in the magazine industry. I was offered an incredible job with a magazine called Mademoiselle, which doesn’t exist anymore. In its day, it was a really terrific magazine for women in their twenties. I moved to New York. I was excited to be in New York. Even though part of me stood back and analyzed New York and thought, I don’t want to become a hundred percent a New Yorker — I was fascinated about, for example, how New York makes you want things because there’s so many consumer items all over displayed so attractively. You don’t find that in other cities. Growing up, I wanted to dress like the girls from Seventeen magazine, but I could not find those clothes in the stores where I lived. I couldn’t do it. Part of me was always an outsider looking in, criticizing, I suppose, or at least analyzing. The other part of me was completely excited to be in New York. I’ve never been bored here for a day in my life. If you are, there’s something wrong with you. New York offers so much. I guess I was both.

Alisha: We were talking just before we started recording that this is your seventh book, your sixth novel. I read that you have been published in a dozen countries, probably more than that. How does this time feel the same? How does it feel different?

Sally: What’s interesting to me, Alisha, is how every time I’ve published a book — there are a few years between each book. I’m not an author who turns out a book every year. I feel like I’m publishing into a different publishing landscape. Things change. When my first book came out, all I basically had to do after the book was ready was get a list of addresses to the publicist at the publishing house. It was a major publishing house, but not the one publishing this book. They threw me a beautiful party at this wonderful restaurant connected to the Museum of Modern Art. I had to be ready when the limo would pick me up for the wonderful events. It’s very different now. There’s much more on the author’s back because of social media in terms of publicizing the book. What’s different between this book and the last book, Another Side of Paradise, is that people seem to start publicizing their book a lot earlier. It just seems like people start a year in advance. If you don’t, you’re really missing out. You’re expected to. Your publishing house really depends on you to do that. I think that’s one of the biggest changes. The thrill of publishing a book never gets old. It feels new all over again. I feel just as excited as I did the first time. It’s a wonderful feeling to make something from nothing. Basically, that’s what you’re doing when you write a book.

Alisha: What would you tell your former self, so you when your first book came out? What would you tell her now knowing what you know and having done this so many times?

Sally: I would say, you might like this more than you think. I wrote a book kind of to fill my time when I was looking for a job. I had been an editor-in-chief of a major magazine and then another major magazine, then a startup magazine. The startup magazine crashed because most startup magazines do, basically. Magazines had already started to fade away a little bit. It was published by a major company and also the Disney company. It was a magazine that extended the brand of Lifetime television. It’s very popular now, but it was even more popular and unusual back then. Unfortunately, it didn’t really take off as a magazine. I wanted to get another job as an editor-in-chief of a magazine, but there aren’t very many of them. There’s only one editor-in-chief at the top of each masthead. I joined a writing workshop, which my friends thought was nuts because I’d been writing my whole life. I was the editor of a magazine, but I had never written fiction, never. The leader of the group, the writing workshop, encouraged me. So did the other colleague writers in the group. It just turned out to be something that I enjoyed, and thought, hmm, maybe this plays to my strength more than being an editor of a magazine, even though it’s different. When you’re the editor of a magazine, you have about eighty-five tasks to complete each day. Then you take a ton of work home at night. It’s very lonely to be an author. I’m lucky enough to live in New York where I can meet other authors and other friends for lunch or a glass of wine or something. It’s basically you sitting in front of your laptop. I realized how much I liked it. At that time when looking for a job, the jobs were either in places, to me, that felt undesirable — I didn’t really want to commute to a job in Milwaukee, for example. Not that it’s an undesirable place. Just that it’s really far away from me.

Alisha: It’s pretty far from New York.

Sally: I have a husband who I love and like to be with. Also, I didn’t want to head up a celebrity magazine, and they were very much the thing about fifteen years ago. I just felt like I had worked too hard to do some fairly serious journalism to edit a magazine that was worshipping the Kardashians. It just wasn’t me. After the book came out — it sold at an auction right away. I started writing another one. That book became a best-seller in Europe. It was exciting. After that, I just stuck with it. By that time, the writing was on the wall that magazines were on their way out, which is sad.

Alisha: You made a good move. What is your process like? Now that you have done this several times, you must have the same things that you do each time. What is your writing process like when you start on a new fiction project?

Sally: All my books are very character driven, so I always think of the characters first, and the basic concept. One book was about four friends. One book was about a woman who was dead. It’s called The Late, Lamented Molly Marx. It’s a double timeline. Part of it’s when she’s alive. Part of it’s when she’s no longer alive. She has this way of looking back on her life from a place — not heaven. I call it the duration. I start with an idea and characters. Then part of me — I think this is the magazine editor in me. I always have a working title in mind. That helps me focus. Then the more I develop the characters and the more they start feeling like real people to me, the more I understand what they’re going to do next. I am not an author who outlines everything. I admire people tremendously who can do that. I can’t do that. My characters have to start telling me what’s going to happen next. I do help it along by throwing obstacles down in their way that they have to surmount. That creates tension and a plot. Somehow or other, it all works out. My process is also inspired by being a magazine editor in that I’m quite disciplined. I get up early in the morning. I sit down at the computer. I put in a few hours and then take a break. Once I’ve written something, I love to turn myself into an editor and go over it again and again. I don’t want to tell you how many agains. I just don’t stop. I usually reread what I’ve just written to start writing for the next day.

Alisha: I bet your editors love you. They must get something pretty polished by the time it comes to their desk.

Sally: Yeah, but it might have the word astonishing twenty-five times. You get hung up on words. I also keep trying to raise the bar on myself to try to improve the actual writing. I’ve tried slightly different kinds of books. One book was nonfiction. One book was a historical novel. I keep trying to challenge myself. Basically, what it comes down to is a lot of sitting in front of the laptop.

Alisha: I have found that as well, just in different places. I try to always change where I’m sitting so I don’t get bored. The working montage would be just a lot of typing in front of a screen.

Sally: I have to say, I don’t change the place I’m sitting in often. When my husband comes home at the end of the day, he’ll say, “You’re in the exact same place where you were when I left you at eight thirty in the morning.”

Alisha: Legitimate question. Do you get up and get dressed to write, or do you write in your pajamas? Personal question.

Sally: I’ve been known to not change out of my nightgown until maybe forty-five minutes after I’ve had my coffee and breakfast. I eat my breakfast in front of my computer. That’s not all writing time. I’ll go through my email and do Wordle and things one does to warm up.

Alisha: I got a text this morning from a friend who I was supposed to see for coffee. She can’t. She was canceling on me. She said, “I’m really sorry if you got out of your pajamas just for me.” I was like, “Actually, I did.” That’s a hangover from lockdown, probably.

Sally: When getting out of my pajamas, I really don’t upgrade that much. When I was a magazine editor, I really dressed up every day because people still did back then. It was all about your hair, your .

Alisha: High heels to work every day.

Sally: Yes, yes. Now I can barely walk in them. My idea of dressing up now is putting on a pair of jeans and a nice, clean top. If I were working, it really would be different, but it wouldn’t be that big an upgrade because people don’t dress up as much as they used to.

Alisha: It’s true. What is next for you? What’s your next project? What are you working on now? What will you be working on soon?

Sally: Like many other authors, I have a book that I wrote during the pandemic, which I’m still kind of futzing with a little bit. I don’t know what’ll happen with that. Then I started something that I’m seventy-five pages into with a rough outline of the rest of it, which I’ve shown to my agents. Then they came back with a different approach for me. I came up with a couple of other ideas along their lines. Hopefully, I’ll be writing another book. I’ve been writing a lot of little essays lately, as one does when a book’s coming out. That’s been fun. I like doing that also. I might maybe try to do a bit more of that until I really sink my teeth into a new book. We’ll see.

Alisha: So lots of time still in front of your computer, but on various different projects.

Sally: Yes. Sadly, but it’s okay.

Alisha: It could be worse. My podcast that I do for Zibby’s network is called “Quit Your Day Job.” I would like to know, if you weren’t writing, what else would you be doing with your life?

Sally: Travel, especially now that my children, at least for one year, are in Europe. I think I mentioned that. One’s in Berlin. One is in Paris, with their wives and with their kids. Travel, definitely. I wish I could travel more. My husband’s still working. We’re not going to be people who are going to be taking off for three months to backpack through the Alps or something. When I think of other things that I might have done if I’d taken another turn, it might have been to go into television or maybe try to write scripts. It never occurred to me to do that when I was younger. I never thought of moving to California. One of my sons is a producer and an agent. Rather, a manager. I’ve learned more about the industry. I really love writing dialogue. I love thinking of a plotline. I think I might have wanted to explore that whole world.

Alisha: Maybe that can be your next challenge, is going into a script, a whole new, different style of writing.

Sally: Who knows?

Alisha: Sally, it has been so wonderful to talk to you today. We always like to finish up here on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” with your advice to aspiring writers. What do you have to say to all of those people sitting in front of their computers too who are looking up to your career and want to know what you think they could or should be doing?

Sally: I always tell people to try to find a writing workshop because I enjoyed being in one so much. After I dropped out of it, I kind of formed my own. I approached a couple of people whose writing I enjoyed reading and who seemed to get what I was doing. They weren’t in conflict. Sometimes if you’re in a writing workshop, people give you very conflicting suggestions. It can make a mess of what you’re doing. I think it’s very good to get some feedback. If you can’t find a writing workshop, at least have a trusted friend read your work. The other would just be to read extensively and to try to slow down your reading so you’re not reading exclusively for plot and to try to take note of how a book is constructed and even to look more at the words. I keep a running list of words that I like. It’s not cheating to do a find/replace if you see that you overuse a word and you want to .

Alisha: You’ve used astonishing twenty-six times.

Sally: Dip into that, your list. It can be a way to jump-start your creativity a little bit. It could be a little scene. I also think you should carry a notebook with you. Write down little snippets of conversation that you hear. If somebody expresses themselves in a way that you really admire, write it down. As I mentioned to you, one of the book I wrote was about F. Scott Fitzgerald. I don’t know if I mentioned it exactly. One of the books was F. Scott Fitzgerald and Sheilah Graham, his girlfriend. I don’t want to say mistress because she basically more supported him than he supported her when it comes to finances. He used to always carry a notebook and do that. You’d be with the best of them — not me; Scott — if you do that. Those are all things that I do.

Alisha: I love that idea.

Sally: It’s important.

Alisha: New York is such a good city to eavesdrop on people. It’s my favorite eavesdropping city.

Sally: That’s true because we’re all crammed together like sardines.

Alisha: Sally, your book is out now. Your other books are available. Is there anywhere else listeners can find more information about you? Do you have any social? I know you’ve got a website because I’ve been on it.

Sally: I do. I have a website, which is It’s Sally, S-A-L-L-Y-K-O-S-L-O-W. I have an Instagram account. I’m pretty sure it’s under @SPKoslow. I don’t think it’s too hard to find it. You can find me at Sally Koslow-Author on Facebook. I’m not a big Twitter user, but once in a while, I tweet something. I think that’s @SallyKoslow also. I’m there.

Alisha: You’re everywhere.

Sally: I’m pretty visible, yes.

Alisha: Awesome. Sally, thanks so much.

Sally: Now because of video conferencing, it’s easy to visit people’s book clubs wherever they are. I do think that The Real Mrs. Tobias is a terrific book for a book club. After you discuss what’s going on with the characters in the book, you might want to segue into what’s going on with your own mother-in-law or daughter-in-law. It could be interesting to be a fly on the wall for that.

Alisha: I agree. I totally agree. As long as my mother-in-law is not in the book club with me, I’d definitely like to discuss this book with a book club. Just kidding. I love my mother-in-law.

Sally: Good. I love mine too. Did I not say that? I adore her.

Alisha: You did. You called her formidable, which is a pretty awesome way to be described. I aspire to be described as formidable by my own daughter-in-law one day. Sally, thank you so much. Good luck with the rest of the book tour. It was so nice to speak to you today. Take care.

Sally: Thank you, Alisha. I loved it. Thank you very much. Be well.

Alisha: Take care. You too. Bye.

Sally: Bye.


THE REAL MRS. TOBIAS by Sally Koslow

Purchase your copy on Amazon and Bookshop!

Check out the merch on our new Bonfire shop here.

Subscribe to Zibby’s weekly newsletter here.

You can also listen to this episode on:

Apple Podcasts