Taffy Brodesser-Akner, FLEISHMAN IS IN TROUBLE

Taffy Brodesser-Akner, FLEISHMAN IS IN TROUBLE

Zibby Owens: I interviewed Taffy Akner as part of the Streicker Center from Temple Emanu-El’s Women on the Move series which we did as a webinar with hundreds of people listening. It was really fun. I had been looking forward to interviewing Taffy about her book, Fleishman Is in Trouble, for a very long time. I finally got to do it. Taffy Brodesser-Akner was formerly a staff writer for The New York Times Magazine and has written for GQ, ESPN The Magazine, and many other publications. Fleishman Is in Trouble was her first novel.

Hi, Taffy. It’s so nice to see you.

Taffy Brodesser-Akner: Zibby, it’s so great to see you. How are you?

Zibby: I’m good. I feel like I’ve been waiting to interview you forever. This is fantastic. No better time than in a pandemic. Why not?

Taffy: It’s so ironic to call us on the move, though. We are not on the move anymore.

Zibby: That’s true. We are sedentary women, completely sedentary, yes, listless, in fact. Recovering women, here we are. Congratulations on all the success that Fleishman Is in Trouble has had. Your upcoming paperback coming out July 7th is so exciting.

Taffy: Thank you.

Zibby: Maybe by July 7th, there’ll be a way to non-virtually promote, but who knows?

Taffy: Who knows?

Zibby: I’m sure that most people attending this webinar already are familiar with your book, but just in case there are a few people out there who may not have read it, would you mind giving your quick spiel about it?

Taffy: My quick spiel about it — first, I just want to say thank you for having me. Also, I’d like to give a shout-out to my Aunt Lois Akner and my mother, Daniela Shelmony, who have followed me around for this tour. I just want to say hello because I know they’re in the audience. Fleishman Is in Trouble is ostensibly the story of a doctor on the Upper East Side who is recently divorced and trying to find his way in a wild new world of dating and divorcing and coparenting and dating apps on his phone when one Friday his ex-wife drops the kids off and doesn’t return to pick them up. That’s what the story is about. I never know at this point how many people are here because they’ve read it and have questions, how many people haven’t read it. I don’t want to give any spoilers. That’s the setup. It’s about divorce. It’s about dating. It’s principally, to me, about middle age. It’s about trying to figure out how you ended up with the life that you have and whether or not you could have predicted it when you started out.

Zibby: That’s such a good question. I would say no for most people.

Taffy: Glassing it.

Zibby: I have to say, earlier this morning I did Zoom pediatrician checkups for my two kids. Yeah, that was fun. I mentioned to her that I was about to do this webinar with you. She said, “I think I know Fleishman.” She wants to know if it’s a real doctor or not because she is sure that she knows him.

Taffy: There are a lot of people who believe that they know Fleishman. While I was promoting the hardcover, I had a couple of people ask if they were Fleishman. I had a couple of people ask if they were Rachel. The truth is, is that I am person who grew up Jewish in New York. A short specialist on the Upper East Side is literally the least specific person I could think of. It is a cliché of my life. I am very surprised at the amount of people who think they know him, think they are him. I have a couple of friends who matched the description well. It’s my first book. If I had known how well they would match the description and that people would make these inferences instead of saying, “Oh, I too know seventeen specialists on the Upper East Side who are short, who are newly divorced, who are dating, who are all three of those things,” I think I would’ve been very scared because Fleishman does some light sexual harassing. He throws raw chicken at his — those are things I would never have wanted to implicate anyone that I know. I’m glad to hear that they think that. I’m also surprised at the amount of people who think that. That’s good, right? It means that these people seem real. That’s what I will take away from it.

Zibby: Exactly. There you go. Good character development. A+.

Taffy: I guess so. Please don’t sue me, anyone.

Zibby: You had a career as this amazing interviewer, so I’m actually a little almost intimated to be interviewing you because you interviewed so many people. You do such great write-ups like the one you just did about Val Kilmer in particular which really took me back to the eighties and everything. How did you decide to write this book? How did you use all those journalistic skills that you honed over time to create these A+ characters that you came up with?

Taffy: Thank you. That’s a great question. When I started writing Fleishman, it seemed so intimidating to me to write a novel. The impetus for wanting to write it, by the way, was that I was working at GQ at the time. A bunch of my friends had told me they were getting divorced. They were showing me their phones. They were showing me this new, strange way of dating which was very different than the way we dated in the nineties. I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. When I can’t stop thinking about something, I call an editor and I say, “I think I should write about this.” In this case, my editor said to me, “You know, you don’t always sound like an out-of-touch suburban mother, but in this case, you really do because the GQ reader would not even understand what you’re talking about. They’ve been doing this for so long. This is just how they date. This is like writing about going to a grocery store.” So I had a choice. I could take it elsewhere. But also, I could write it as a book. I could write about one guy that I make up. Instead of the stress of my normal job — it’s hard. It’s getting right what Val Kilmer’s motives are in the world, which is not as easy as asking him what his motives are in the world. I was able to write this like a profile. That’s how I kept it normal in my head, is that is it a profile, beginning, middle, and end, a story about a man. Whereas when I was at GQ, that’s exactly what I was writing, long stories about men that in the end were more about me and what I was thinking than anything that a self-respecting celebrity would ever share with me.

Zibby: Love it. How do you do it, by the way? Even in the Val Kilmer piece, for instance, there was something he said in the beginning where you’re like, “See how he does that? See how he takes everything and makes it like that there’s something good, that it was preordained,” or something like that. What is the trick that you have found to getting all that information out without being so obvious about it?

Taffy: That’s a good interviewer question. With that, I will address what you said before about the thing that we do. It’s very different. You have this obligation in front of all of these — I think there are hundreds of people here. I’m trying not to think about that. You have these hundreds of people. They have questions. I go somewhere. I’m spending two days with someone. I try my hardest not to ask any questions. If you don’t ask questions, if you just listen and you let people fill the silence, which as you can see is not my natural mode, but if you let people fill the silence with the thing that they have to say, you can ask yourself as the interviewer, why is that person saying it? When a person chooses what they’re going to tell you, and you can in turn ask yourself, why would he or she choose to tell me this? then you know something about a person. Whereas if I were to just flood the zone with questions, which I don’t have to do because I am not here to inform people in the same way you are, you never really get to know a person except for the information that they have to give you. Does that make sense?

Zibby: Yes. Now I’m trying to analyze why you said that as your answer.

Taffy: You shouldn’t because if you read my transcripts, you’d find them so dumb and boring. Sometimes when a story does well, they ask if they could publish a section of my transcript. The things I do to make people talk, which are just sit and listen like a therapist more than interviewer, the way I look when I do that is a secret that only my transcriber and my fact-checker can know about because it’s not pretty and it is not entertaining. I promise.

Zibby: Wow. I guess that’s really what can make you such a gifted novelist then because all you do is observe. You’re a total observer. Then if you take all that and mix it all up and create new people, then you have a winning formula, essentially.

Taffy: Maybe. Also, think about the people that you interview. To the essence of what you’re saying, you are interviewing people who are naturally — I love your podcast.

Zibby: Thank you.

Taffy: People are naturally good at talking about themselves when they’re writers. I made my career on stories about people who are absolutely not good at talking about themselves, but I still have a story to hand in. The first story that really put me on the map was my first GQ story in which I was sent to interview Nicki Minaj who fell asleep while we were talking. The things that you and I have to do are very different. You get to talk to people who have something to say, whereas I’m talking to people because they’re good at something else. They’re not necessarily good at talking about themselves. I have to do that for them. I can’t ridicule them. Just because you’re a good rapper doesn’t mean you’re good at talking about yourself. I’m not going to punish you for that. If you’re a good actor, same thing. If you’re a good athlete — the athletes, if you ever read a great story about an athlete, don’t underestimate how hard it was to tell that story. I promise you. I’m not disparaging athletes. They’re used to a press conference-style way of talking about themselves. More than anything, they want to protect themselves. If you ever read one of the great ones, and there are great ones, just know that that was harder than anything I ever had to do in the non-athlete space.

Zibby: So interesting. I think, though, that a challenge, at least in interviewing authors who are touring for a book that I’ve found at least, is that some authors can be super media trained. I feel like my whole job is to get past all the canned answers. Those are so boring. I just really want to get to know people like I’m excited to get to know you. The things that they’ve prepared, I don’t want to hear those things. I can read them somewhere else. It’s all fun, though.

Taffy: I agree with you. The most shocking thing that happened to me was getting interviewed when this book came out. I think about the nature of the answers I gave. They were all true, but they were only true in that minute or they were the thing that I thought to say. Because there’s so much pressure in a conversation, it made me really rethink the idea that, can you get to know somebody during an interview? Is this a good way of getting to know someone? The first interview I came back to do after my book tour was Tom Hanks. I had an existential crisis about whether or not, is there any way to get to know Tom Hanks? I didn’t have one question. We were just kind of running down the clock. I was like, I don’t know. I don’t know if this is a valid way. You tell me. Tell me what you think I should know because I don’t even know what this is anymore. That’s what it became to me. Interviewing after this book tour became like when you stare at a word too long and it becomes just a string of letters. What am I doing here? Is there any way to get to know somebody? I don’t know. I still don’t know the answer. I told you my mom and Aunt Lois here. Maybe after they’ll tell me whether or not that was the authentic version of me. I have no idea. As you can see, it plunged me into a space of, I don’t know what the hell I’m doing anymore.

Zibby: Which is the space I would say nine out of ten people live in, so there you go.

Taffy: You’re a good interviewer because you got me there.

Zibby: I really do think it’s possible to get to know somebody. My husband always says, “Don’t call what you do interviewing because you just want to chat with somebody.” Can you get to know someone if you chat with them for thirty minutes at a cocktail party? I would argue yes. You don’t know?

Taffy: I don’t know. I’m so self-conscious at a cocktail party.

Zibby: Okay, maybe not a cocktail party. How about you’re sitting next to them at a dinner and it’s just, you have to make conversation?

Taffy: Maybe.

Zibby: You could get to know someone a little.

Taffy: Or you get to know the most ideal version of them. If my husband overheard this, I don’t know what he’s thinking. Maybe he’s thinking, wow, she doesn’t sound like half the monster she normally is. Or maybe he’s thinking, she’s shyer than this in real life. He’s not thinking that. Or maybe he’s thinking what I’m saying is a façade I’ve put on. I don’t know. We are in the soup, Zibby.

Zibby: I hope that other people are interested in this. This is the stuff I find fascinating, but it’s not typical —

Taffy: — .

Zibby: No, I love it. Are you kidding? I feel like now we have to — our husbands have to come in and say, is this really what these two women are like? Okay, let’s get back to your book. Now we know what inspired you to write the book and all of that. What was your process like writing? How long did it take you to write? Where do you like to write? Give me the process stuff, please.

Taffy: The where do you like to write? is what I call a man question. All of the male writers I know have a place where they could write. I can tell you this. I wrote my book on an airplane with my child straddling me and crying not being able to see the keys. I wrote my book in the — you know how some Nordstroms have a couch in the bathroom? I wrote a big chunk of it there. I wrote it at the bakery in town. I wrote it in the car outside of a McDonald’s because McDonald’s have good Wi-Fi if you sit there. I wrote it especially in the ninety-minute period where you drop kids off at a birthday party and don’t have to pick them up yet. I have a lot of friends here who used to think I was a very generous carpooler because I would do both ways because of that. Now I don’t. I think they wonder exactly what happened to me. Because of that and because I didn’t need a special place and I didn’t need the wind blowing through my hair in a certain way, because I’d never been given those things, I think that those people who — the more needs you have, the more it will take you a million years to write your book. I wrote this in six months. I wrote it because it was a challenge to myself. I was a freelancer writer at the time. I was on contract at GQ and The New York Times Magazine, but that’s not a steady income.

I wrote it as a challenge to myself, which was you have six months to try to do something that will get you ahead financially. I’m literally the only person in the history of the world that wrote a novel to make money, which is not a statement on delusion, but a statement on how little you make as a journalist. The idea is always, how can I continue to do this? The this is, how can I make sure I never miss a basketball game? My children have six hundred basketball games a week. I only have two children. How can I ever make it so that I don’t miss something that’s important to me, that I’m home as much as I can be for bedtime? How can I make it so that I don’t have to get dressed all the time when I commute? I see all these — we’re all wearing pants. We’re all wearing bras. Our hair is done. It just feels like it couldn’t possibly be that that’s how we’re supposed to conduct ourselves. If there’s one thing that happens after this time, I hope we do away with the idea of restrictive clothing. My husband has always said to me that he can’t believe that we’re already in 2020 and we’re not all wearing speed skater unitards. I’m on board with that. That’s how I did it. I did it on airplanes. I did it in between. I did it while the kids were setting the table. I would add a sentence. I would add a page. Then when it looked like I was making it to the finish line, that’s when I would say to my husband, “Take the kids to your mother in Florida for the weekend. Maybe they won’t notice I’m there.” Or I would volunteer to do stories. I went to interview Antonio Banderas in Budapest. Buda-pesht.

Zibby: I caught that.

Taffy: Because of the ride, because it would take twelve hours to get there because there were no direct flights. Airplane time is really good time. That’s how I wrote the book.

Zibby: The writing I’ve done, I’m the same way with you. I’m not like you, but I feel like when you have kids and your life is so full and there’s no free time, you have to grab the time, also to use that time to read. Those are also the stolen moments where you can get anything literary in any way shoved in.

Taffy: I don’t know how you do it. I don’t know how you read and then interview people. I guess I can’t read as quickly as you do.

Zibby: I read quickly. I’ve also figured out sort of how to skim a lot and research authors. I don’t read every single book start to finish every single page. I try to do that more for the podcast. For the podcast, I really do try to. The Instagram Lives I’m doing now, there’s just no way.

Taffy: There’s no way, right?

Zibby: I say to them, “Hey, I’m sorry I haven’t read your book, but it sounds great.” I feel like for me at least, and I don’t know about you, but this whole pandemic has allowed me to deal with my perfectionism a little bit to say, well, no one is expecting anything of me anymore. If you say, “I haven’t read your book,” people are like, “Of course you haven’t. How could you?” I’m like, this is great. Do you feel —

Taffy: — Yes, I absolutely feel that way. My husband is doing a majority of the homeschooling. I find that the accrued centuries of sexism have allowed people to assume that I’m doing it. They are really forgiving of me. They’re very understanding because it must be so hard for me right now, whereas I’m not even sure if my kids — they’re in the next room at school. I don’t even know what platform they do it for. Are they on Google Meet? Are they on Zoom? I don’t know. I feel like people let me off the hook more which only makes me more of an ambition monster.

Zibby: I like it.

Taffy: Maybe I’ll be able to write a second book and a third book during this time. The thing that I’m finding is horrible about the pandemic in addition to the pandemic — obviously, the pandemic is the bad part. The amount of ways I have to kind of keep it together for my family and not freak out, it’s coming out in my sleep. I wake up at two AM every day now for an hour, just for an hour. I’m trying to build some acceptance around it and just be up for that hour and be okay with it, but it’s so disturbing. Then I wake up and I can’t figure out how to attack my perfectionism. I also think that I don’t have perfectionism. I have enough experience with the fact that a good story could be made great by collaboration. By the time I’ve written an okay story, I know from experience by now that sending it to my editors is going to make it great. I make it as good as I can, but I know that it’s not just in my hands. There’s nothing I do that is left to me alone. Although, everything I do has my name on it. I feel very lucky about that. That’s what I’ll say about perfectionism. I wish I had some more perfectionism. I have the part of perfectionism that is self-loathing, but I don’t have the part of perfectionism that is execution.

Zibby: Interesting. I’m not saying I do anything perfectly. I just aspire to that. It’s like a want-to-be perfectionist or something. It’s like, if I could be perfect, I would like to be, but I’m failing. By the way, I don’t even try to pretend in front of my kids anymore. I’ve cried so much in front of my — I’ve cried more in front of my kids during the past two months than I have in all of the years combined. That includes going through a divorce and all the other stuff I’ve been through in life. I feel like I can sleep through the night because I am a mess during the day a lot of time. However we get through it…

Taffy: It’s a good — it’s an alternative.

Zibby: So what’s the latest with Fleishman Is in Trouble becoming a movie or a TV show? I know you had really exciting news. What’s the latest?

Taffy: A television show, yeah. It is being developed by ABC Signature for FX. I have these two amazing producers, Sarah Timberman and Susannah Grant. I went to film school. When I was trying, my first attempt was as a screenwriter, I worshiped Susannah Grant. She wrote Erin Brockovich. She was one of the only women who was notably doing that. I just kind of glommed onto her. They wanted the book. I feel like I’m writing episodes. I have a world-class producer and a world-class screenwriter, two women who are just excellent at this. Also, I’ve never worked for women before other than my time at a startup. I’ve never worked in a creative model for a woman. I’ve had a couple of female editors, but not ones that I worked for on contract. There’s so much less aggression. There’s so much less, whatever this is this. I love my editors very, very much, but it’s a very calm experience to work for these two women. There have been some ideas that people throw at me, like, what if we were to sequester a bunch of actors and then allow them to shoot this television show even now? But it doesn’t really work out that way since, if you’ve read the book, Toby has quite a few montages of sexual interaction that, in a screenplay, last less seven seconds. You don’t want to do that to an actress, keep her in hiding, keep in her in a tower for seven seconds. It’s going very, very well. It’s really exciting to think of this living on. There’s so much opportunity to watch these characters live and to tell a definitive story about middle age right now. That’s the thing that kind of set me on fire about the project in the first place. Even if there is all this other more glamorous stuff, there’s the sex, there’s the dating, there’s the wealth, and I’m obsessed with wealth, but it’s the middle-aged-ness is the thing that I’m still working my way through.

Zibby: I have a hard time self-identifying as middle aged. Do you have trouble with that, or you’re embracing it?

Taffy: No. Since I was thirty-five, I have been self-identifying as middle aged. When I was twenty-five, I was like, well, I guess I screwed life up. I’ve always thought that I’m much older. That’s a real curse. You’re very lucky because it’s a curse to think of yourself as always old because in five years I’m going to realize I was not at all old right now. What did I do with the time? I wore a Lands’ End bathing suit and a caftan because I thought I had to live in hiding my whole life when really, this was my youth. Or at the very least, right this minute was as young as I was ever going to be again. It’s a really hard thing to think about, self in time. Also, you’re only middle aged if you live to old age. We’re in a pandemic. These might be my senior years. We don’t know yet.

Zibby: These are my golden hours, and I just don’t even know. This is it, the end of line. I shouldn’t even joke. This is horrible.

Taffy: I didn’t hear that as a joke. I heard that as a frenetic —

Zibby: — Okay, good. It could be.

Taffy: How could it be that you and I, when we arranged to do this, we arranged to do it live, I negotiated a car into Manhattan which I thought was the height of glamor, and now we’re doing it this way? It is unbelievable. I wake up and I cannot believe that this is what’s going on in the world. Maybe I can’t believe it also because my life right now is so similar to what my life is every other day. I keep thinking it would feel more like reality if I had a true disruption in my life. Even when I write stories for The Times, I stay home and I write them.

Zibby: But not everybody is necessarily home with you, right? Your kids are in school.

Taffy: Right, but the day is short. They get home pretty fast.

Zibby: I know. It’s true.

Taffy: Hence the Nordstrom bathroom. What’s missing from my life is the Nordstrom bathroom at the Short Hills Mall.

Zibby: The department stores cannot go out of business or else novels will cease to exist. What will we do?

Taffy: Mine will.

Zibby: Fleishman will be in more than trouble. Fleishman will disappear.

Taffy: Fleishman will be in the bargain bin.

Zibby: I just have to ask since this is a Temple Emanu-El, Streicker Center function and everything, the role of Judaism in this book in particular, how did that play a role? How does religion fit into your life? Are you particularly religious? Maybe I’m not allowed to ask that. Can I ask that?

Taffy: You’re allowed to ask that. That’s a very hairy question. I was raised in a very orthodox household. I went to yeshiva. I went to Yeshiva University High School for Girls. I say yeshiva to this crowd, and they say, oh, Ramaz? I’m here to reassure you that I could not have gotten into Ramaz. I left it. My mother became religious when I was twelve. She was very disappointed but supportive in the fact that I, of my three sisters — I have three sisters. They all are religious. I just couldn’t do it. We work as a family very hard now to accommodate each other. It is one of the things I’m proudest of, that we have not let the variance in our observances become an issue for us. I have Friday night dinner. My kids don’t use screens on Shabbat. My kids go to day school. I pay membership at a synagogue that I attend sometimes and that I enjoy when I attend. I am planning a bar mitzvah. The last time I kind of had a crisis around this was when I planned my wedding. Now I plan this bar mitzvah. I’m trying to think of, how do I want it to be? It always forces me to ask these questions, which are, how do you want to be? which leads to me saying, how are you forty-four years old and you don’t know yet? When are you going to figure this out?

When I wrote the book, I did not think of it as a Jewish book. I thought of it as a book about my world, about the kinds of people that I’ve known. They say write what you know. I always rebelled against that. When I hear that, I think of it as the same thing as people saying stay in your lane in journalism. You should only be able to write about people who are like you. Some of the best stories I’ve done — I wrote about Don Lemon who is a gay black man. I’ve written about gentiles. I’ve written about all kinds of people who aren’t like me. I really am against the idea that we can only write about the people who are like us. The thing that writing about people like you is, is it gives you specificity. It’s a way to speak without having an accent. It’s my first time out. I’m going to write a book. You know what? It’s going to be about the people I know. Another aspect of it is that — you asked me where I wrote a lot of this book. The one place didn’t mention, which is crazy because it’s where I practically revised the whole thing but wrote a big chuck of it, was my Aunt Lois, whom I have said is in the audience here, owns the studio next to her apartment maybe to one day turn into a palace that I can only hope I will still have access to, but it’s where I’ve gone. The Upper East Side-y-ness of this book comes from the fact that I spent days sequestered in her and my Uncle Allen’s place going out to food standing in line at the salad place on 3rd Avenue and 85th Street and noticing how on the Upper East Side it seems like people are exercising all the time. There is no peak period of exercise. If I wanted to leave writing, the thing I would do is open up an exercise business on the Upper East Side because people will exercise as much as — it’s like water will fill the tank. There’s more exercise to be done. I would watch these women wearing these amazing tank tops that said “Lipstick and Lunges” and “Live, Love, Laugh” and “But First, Coffee.” All of those things came from seeing them.

All of the Jewish aspects of my book didn’t feel like Jewish aspects to me. I am a post-Philip Roth fiction writer. They felt like a specific American experience to me. That’s how I’ll say that. I do know that I didn’t think of it as a Jewish book until I named it. It had a few names. Then I settled on Fleishman Is in Trouble. I was warned by several interested parties that that might not sell well in the UK, for example. I’d say, “Why?” They’d say, “Because it’s too New York-y.” I’d say, “Are you sure you’re using the right word?” Everyone was very proud of the — everyone loved the cover, which is an upside-down New York cityscape. That’s when I found out that it was a Jewish book. Then when I toured, three things happened. Number one, synagogues were interested in me. Number two, I met a bunch of people named Toby Fleishman. I had a bunch of people who brought me pictures of their late grandmother or great-uncle named Toby Fleishman. It was remarkable, and young people too. The third thing that happened was that people asked me this question. I guess the answer is maybe I’m too Jewish to see outside of being Jewish. I don’t know. That’s my answer.

Zibby: That’s a great answer. By the way, I have grown up on the Upper East Side and until the pandemic have been there basically most of my life. I do not work out like that at all. So it’s not everybody, but I do see it.

Taffy: I’m in New Jersey. Pre-pandemic, if I want to exercise, there is a two-hour period of time that follows school drop-off where you can do whatever you need.

Zibby: Same for me.

Taffy: When I was staying at Aunt Lois and Uncle Allen’s apartment, I could exercise at eleven PM however I wanted to on a Saturday night. It was amazing. I didn’t, but I could have.

Zibby: I know. When I’m driving home from a dinner or something and I see somebody in a building on their treadmill, I’m like, wow, they’re still working out. What were your alternate titles? Can I ask?

Taffy: Yeah. The first one was called Schrödinger’s Marriage. Half the people said, “You can’t put an umlaut in your first novel title. You already have such a screwy name. Nobody will know how to search for it.” The other half said, “Great title,” but then a week later couldn’t remember it. That’s where I took my guidance. The second title was In What Universe? I loved the audacity of it. Then I found out that there was a YA novel called In What Universe? I felt like, that’s a really good YA novel title. The thing I’m doing is a little darker than that. My friend Elizabeth Weil who’s also a writer, she was at The New York Times Magazine at the time with me, but now she’s a ProPublica, she came up with the title, Fleishman Is in Trouble. I kept trying to think of other good titles, and I couldn’t think of anything else. Now I’m so happy that we went with this one. Also, it’s done pretty well in the UK. Also, its foreign rights have sold in a kind of order of anti-Semitism, like Poland, Hungary, Croatia, Germany, France. Those were the first places to go.

Zibby: I want to make sure we have time for all the questions. I just want to ask what your next project is and then see if you have any advice for aspiring authors. What are you working on? What’s your next project?

Taffy: My next project other than the television show is a new book that will be out next summer called Long Island Compromise. It’s about a family from Great Neck and inherited trauma and inherited wealth. The way Fleishman was ultimately about middle age and gender and relationships, which are all kind of one thing if you follow it down the hole, this is about the disappearing middle class. This is about wealth in the suburbs, wealth among Jews, and the way it’s really, really hard to get ahead now in a way that it wasn’t for my parents’ generation. My advice for aspiring writers is — you know what it is? It’s a good question. To not ask anybody’s advice and to not listen to anybody’s advice. I think that every time you ask for an opinion from someone that you admire, for example, you take that to be the absolute truth when it’s entirely possible that you are going to be better than the people that you admire. Asking advice of writers, reading writer blogs, which I’ve done, listening to writer podcasts, is an excellent way to convince yourself that you are writing when actually, you are not writing. You are doing the opposite. You are taking in information that will make writing impossible. The more information you have, the harder it is, I think. Again, that’s me as a patented terrible student. I think that if you ask people too many questions and you start listening too much — the only way to be a writer is to write.

The only person who can call themselves a writer is someone who has written today. There is no amount of doing anything other than writing that will leave you with a page full of writing. A hundred percent of unwritten novels don’t get sold, whereas you stand a chance. Just write. Do not believe in writer’s block. It was invented by people who want you to feel bad. You can always write the next sentence. Just go. I can’t wait to read whatever you have to write. There are so many people who are saying that right now is a bad time to write. There’s so many people who are doing this thing where they’re making it so that you feel bad about writing or that you’re thinking it’s impossible. I see it on Twitter all day. “Nobody will be able to produce good art right now.” You know what? Some days are bad. Some days are good. You can still do it. Don’t let anyone tell you that. Now, for someone who had no advice, that was my advice.

Zibby: You have to put an asterisk and say that it’s okay if people listen to my podcast to inspire them.

Taffy: Yours isn’t a how-to podcast. Yours is a reader podcast. That’s why I listen to it or else I couldn’t listen to it because I cannot listen to that.

Zibby: Okay, good. Just making sure you didn’t rule me out there.

Taffy: No, no, no.

Zibby: Thank you so much for this conversation.

Taffy: Thank you so much for having me, Zibby.

Zibby: Thank you.

Taffy Brodesser-Akner, FLEISHMAN IS IN TROUBLE