Zibby is joined by New York Times bestselling author Tara Conklin to discuss Community Board, a bittersweet, laugh-out-loud novel about a brokenhearted woman who goes back home to be cared for by her parents…only to find that they’re gone and she’ll have to lean on her community instead. Tara reveals that writing this novel was her quarantine escape, which explains the themes of isolation, fear, and social anxiety. She also talks about her unhealthy obsession with the Nextdoor app (and how that manifests in the novel), the next book she’s working on, and what her life is like beyond all the writing!


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Tara. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss your latest novel, Community Board.

Tara Conklin: Thank you, Zibby. I’m so happy to be here.

Zibby: Can you please tell listeners what your novel is about?

Tara: Yes. Community Board is the story of a somewhat hapless heroine, hapless at least at the beginning, Darcy Clipper, whose life falls apart when her husband decides to leave her rather unceremoniously for a professional skydiver whom he met on a corporate teambuilding event. She returns home to her hometown to be nursed back to emotional health by her parents only to find that they have moved to Arizona without telling her. It’s really the story of the prodigal daughter returning to her place of safety and finding that everything has changed. She needs to rebuild herself, rebuild her life, and rebuild her community. That’s Community Board.

Zibby: Amazing. What that doesn’t say is how funny it is. You’re so funny. The sense of humor in all of it — they sell roach clips or something across the street. She’s like, what? They’re like, it’s legal here, Darcy. It’s okay. She’s like, not in Arizona, but your dad has his ways. She’s like, I don’t want to know.

Tara: I had a lot of fun writing it. I wrote it mainly during COVID when I really needed something. We all needed something to laugh about. I was like, okay, the world is falling apart. My children are at home twenty-four/seven doing remote schooling. We’re all going to die. I’m just going to write something that makes me giggle at the screen at least for an hour or two a day rather than doom scrolling and buying masks online.

Zibby: I feel like at some point there will be, if there hasn’t already been and I just missed it, some sort of deep dive into the types of novels that came out of the pandemic. What were they writing? Do you go funny? Some people went deep into their own lives or the most depressing. I love this. You’re watching people’s coping mechanisms in real time.

Tara: Totally. Not just novels. All the art that’s been created. Bo Burnham had a thing on Netflix that he did totally during COVID all by himself. I don’t know if you saw it. I thought that was really a brilliant use of quarantine time. This was my attempt to make sense of everything. I really wanted to examine what was going on with me and with my friends and with my kids during this period of time, but I didn’t want it to be a novel about COVID. That was why I set the entire thing in the year 2019. Don’t mention COVID once. It’s funny because I think some people who read it, I gather from some of the Goodreads and the Amazon reviews that I have accidentally read, they don’t necessarily make the connections to COVID until they read my acknowledgment section where I specifically say, this is a novel that came out of COVID, which I find is interesting. When I was writing it, I was like, oh, my god, Tara, you’re being so over the top. The connections are too obvious. Maybe you should lighten it up a little bit. That, I found interesting, that this kind of isolation, this period of isolation that she goes through really was intended to mimic a bit of what I was going through and my friends were going through during COVID.

Zibby: Wow. All the weeping and the food.

Tara: All the weeping, yeah, just the emotional landscape of having every single thing in your life change in an instant. What do you do? What can you do? The emotional retreat of having to protect yourself and just living with fear and anxiety. Then gradually as Darcy comes out into the world, which I feel is still happening — book events and dinner parties and things at my kids’ school, I feel like people are still kind of working their way back into normal everyday interactions and relationships and the social anxiety of looking people in the eye again. It’s still happening.

Zibby: You also touch on, in such a funny way, the whole enabling culture of parents handholding kids for too long and the series of all the things they let her quit, from college to — now of course, I can’t remember, but just the series of things. They’re like, no, no, you’re fine. Come home from camp. Do whatever you need. Until all of a sudden, you try to come home from life, and you can’t.

Tara: Exactly. I feel like Darcy is the quintessential participation prize person. She gets her participation prize. She’s a coddled only child. Her parents have really propped her up her entire life. When they’re not there — she’s twenty-nine. I feel like maybe I was poking a little bit of fun at what I view as the millennial culture of the kids who live with their parents until they’re in their thirties. They have really done that for her. There’s one point in the book where she says, “I’ve become an emotional bloodsucking leech, and my parents have crossed state lines to escape me.” She kind of has that realization that she does need to stand on her own. She needs to find herself. That’s really the arc of the book. Of course, I tell it through a lot of board posts.

Zibby: Yes. During COVID or now or whatever, which boards do you follow? Where did the inspiration come from?

Tara: I had and probably still do have, I will admit, an unhealthy obsession with my neighborhood Nextdoor board. When the idea for this book was first percolating — I had the idea before COVID because I would read these posts, and I would just be like, holy cow. Who are these people? There’s so much drama and so much tragedy and so much comedy and pathos and kindness and racism and sexism. Every good thing, every bad thing shows up on these boards. I was like, there’s a novel right on a Wednesday in the middle of June in Seattle. I have my Nextdoor. Then I also am on a group called Madrona Moms. Madrona is my little neighborhood here in Seattle. Those are the two mains ones that I lurk on and every once in a while, sell an old couch or something. It was funny. When my friends found out that I was writing this book, everybody was sending me their favorite posts from their neighborhood message board. I was getting stuff from Menlo Park and the Upper East Side in Chicago and Austin. I have quite a collection at this point.

Zibby: It’s so funny, oh, my gosh. I unsubscribed, but my husband still follows our Nextdoor one in LA. He was reading emails at a traffic light, which of course, he shouldn’t be doing. He was scrolling. He happened to look at the thing. It was like, I’ve lost my pet owl. He was like, “Who has a pet owl?” Then he put the phone down, looked up, and literally right in front of him in another part of LA was this owl. He’s like, “Oh, my god, is this the owl? What am I even supposed to do with this owl? What am I supposed to do?”

Tara: That is hilarious. See, you can’t make it up.

Zibby: You can’t make it up. I know. He was like, “Do I write back on the board? Do I try to capture the owl?” You can’t make this stuff up.

Tara: Lost pets was obviously a big part of the book. That’s her first foray back into the world, catching birds. She put a piece of bacon on her head and walked around the park hoping the bird would swoop down. There’s so much. You probably do not have time to lurk on these boards.

Zibby: I was before. The problem is every time the emails would come, you’d have to go click and then log in. just be there, so then I’d have to go in. I don’t like that. Then I would forget my password. It wouldn’t be saved on the right computer. I had access problems, basically. Too complicated for me.

Tara: I hear you.

Zibby: I should go back to it.

Tara: You should not. You should not go back to it. Just step away. That’s what I should do as well. I really enjoyed creating this narrative out of these — I have board posts. Then I have a more straightforward narrative. Then I have draft emails that she writes but does not send to her ex-husband.

Zibby: Which is also hilarious.

Tara: I very often will be really mad about something and write the email. Then I’m like, okay, I need to step away.

Zibby: I put it, usually, in a document, though, because I’m so worried I’m accidentally going to send it. I’ll forget it’s a draft. I’ll forget what it is. I’ll put somebody else, the wrong email. My kids will send it. I don’t know. Then I started password-protecting Word docs. Now I can’t remember any of my passwords, so I have all these things when I was really upset years ago. I can never read them again, which is probably fine. I should’ve just deleted them.

Tara: You had that release. You got it out on paper. That was the important thing.

Zibby: Yes, that’s always nice. I do feel like also in Community Board, you totally tapped into the almost thirty, my life has to be set right now, this is the biggest turning point that you only realize when you’re post-forty was totally not a turning point at all. It was just a steppingstone. The real changes come a little bit later.

Tara: I definitely remember that. It was, dun, dun, dun, I’m going to be thirty. It is just kind of a little blip. You’re not an adult, even, at that point. You pretend to be, but there’s so much more waiting for — I feel like Darcy, by the end of the book, she’s found her family. She’s found her place. It really is a story about found family and deciding where you’re going to be and where you’re going to stay and how you’re going to build a life. She’s just turned thirty. She’s at the beginning of that journey.

Zibby: This book actually came out quite a bit ago. I have no idea why it took us so long to even talk about it. I don’t know what happened. I was like, what? I’ve had the book forever. Have you written an entire other book at this point, basically? What’s going on? Are you releasing another book next month?

Tara: Oh, god, I wish. I am in such awe of the writers who can write books one a year, the one-a-year people. I am working on another book, but it is not going to be ready for publication in — I’m more of a once every three or four . I’m working on a book. I really enjoy writing different kinds of novels. My first was historical fiction. My second was a big family epic.

Zibby: Maybe go into them more for people who haven’t read those books.

Tara: My first book was called The House Girl. It’s a dual-narrative book. It’s the story of a young lawyer in New York and a young woman who’s enslaved on a tobacco plantation in Virginia in the 1860s. It goes back and forth between those two timeframes. That was my first novel. In my previous life, I was a lawyer. I wrote it while I was being a lawyer and did not think at all that I was ever going to be sitting here talking to you about books. When you talk about starting your life or reinvention, that is definitely something that has happened to me over the past ten years or so. That was my first novel. Then my second was The Last Romantics. It’s about four siblings and a tragedy that takes place within this family. It’s set over, basically, a hundred years. It’s narrated from the future by my protagonist, Fiona. She is a poet. She is looking back on her life. She’s telling the story of her family. Then Community Board. The next one, I’m deep in it right now. I don’t have an elevator speech for it quite yet. It’s kind of a literary thriller. It’s a story of a young woman. It’s also kind of a love story, but it’s about a murder of someone.

Zibby: That’s pretty vague.

Tara: It is a little vague. I really haven’t talked about this at all. The inspiration, I’m fascinated and horrified by women who do not support other women. My worst boss was a very successful woman. I just remember being like, why are you like this? Is it a hazing thing? Is it a jealousy thing, like, you have it easier than I had it generationally? I’m one of three sisters. I have a lot of very, very close female friends. I just do not understand women who don’t support other women. The epitome of that was the whole Ghislaine Maxwell thing with Jeffrey Epstein. She as a person is so horrible, what she did year after year to these young women. Anyhow, that is a very long-winded way of saying that kind of betrayal, a woman betraying another woman, is at the crux of this novel.

Zibby: That sounds really good. I love that. Everybody can relate to that, mean bosses. Unfortunately, we can all relate. That sounds great. What do you do when you’re not writing this next book and you’re not promoting your other book?

Tara: What do I do? I just got back from a big family reunion in Vermont. We just missed all the flooding that is going on right now there.

Zibby: That is crazy. My gosh.

Tara: It was raining pretty much continuously during the trip, but it was still lovely to see — it was the first time we had all been back together since COVID. Most of my family’s on the East Coast. I’m originally from Massachusetts. Now that I live in Seattle, I don’t get back. I don’t see them as often. It was really nice. My dad is one of six kids. Then he has four sisters. They all have kids. Their kids all have kids. It was getting all of the cousins and second cousins all together. That was really fun. When I’m just at home, I like my garden. I garden. I do a lot of yoga. I teach. I teach at Hugo House, which is a center for writers here in Seattle. I also work with some private clients on manuscript development. I do some ghostwriting on the side, political ghostwriting using the other side of my writerly brain from my law school days, my lawyer days. I play with my dog, hang out with my boyfriend, hang out with my kids. My oldest is applying to colleges in the fall. It is freaking me out. We’ve been doing a lot of college tours too.

Zibby: My son, who’s sixteen, was literally like, “So next summer, are we going to just tour colleges the whole time? Should we plan that?” I was like, oh, my gosh.

Tara: Don’t talk about it.

Zibby: I know. Then I was like, “Oh, I have a great idea.” I have a novel coming out in March. I was like, “This is perfect. We’ll go on a joint college/book tour. I can do all my bookstore events.” He’s like, “In the colleges?” I’m like, “No.” He’s like, “I don’t want you to do anything in the colleges.” Then I remember how little I wanted my parents to even speak on our tours. I was like, “Don’t say anything. Just don’t say anything.”

Tara: Every time I ask a question, I feel like my daughter kind of shoots me a dirty look.

Zibby: Someone told me this year, a couple months ago — I feel like, of course, I’m already behind, which is totally the case with parenting all the time. The advice comes too late. By the time I hear it, it’s too late. Anyway, that you should be looking at colleges anytime you go anywhere with a kid. You should run them over to the closest college. You’re on a family trip to wherever, LA. Run, go to UCLA. Go to USC. Go on the tour no matter how young your kids are. I’m like, oh, okay.

Tara: Another thing to put on the list. No way. No. That is horrible advice. Sorry.

Zibby: Okay, good, because I didn’t do it. I’m already behind.

Tara: No, oh, my god. It’s stressful. It’s stressful for you. Also, it takes freaking forever. These tours are an hour long. Then they have the information session. Then you have to go to the bookstore and buy a sweatshirt. It’s half a day. It’s a lot. It’s stressful. I find it stressful just because I don’t want my daughter to move away. I love having her here. She finds it stressful for obvious reasons. It’s such a different landscape than when I was applying to college. The acceptance rates are so low. It’s just mind-boggling. Four percent of people getting into UCLA, for example. We went to look at UCLA. It’s nuts.

Zibby: I do feel that the expectations, though, have shifted. I feel like enough people have kind of gotten the memo that it’s impossible to get into any schools, so just go anywhere. Just do well. When I look at résumés for whatever, I literally do not care about the college. I’m like, but how did you do? Really, you graduated Phi Beta Kappa from any school in the world? Okay, come talk to me.

Tara: That’s good to hear. I think it has shifted. Also, with the cost being so crazy, even if you get into one of these schools, then you have to find a way to pay for it. Then if you’re graduating however much in debt, that’s a huge burden. Right now, I’m just trying to get my head around the fact that she’s not going to be in her bedroom every night. I have three kids. My younger are both boys. She is such the calming presence. The boys are always kind of sniping at each other. Not always, but they definitely have more of an antagonist relationship. She is always very calm. I don’t know what’s going to happen when she flies the coop.

Zibby: You mentioned a boyfriend. Are you divorced? Do they ever go to your ex?

Tara: Yeah, I got divorced about ten years ago. The reinvention was everything. We do fifty/fifty. He lives with his new wife about five minutes from here, so it’s very easy. They can walk between houses. At this point, it’s been long enough that they’re pretty accustomed to it.

Zibby: I have that too. I’m divorced. We live close by. I feel like I went through some of the things that parents who have never had that go through only with college. At least I have time with the rooms empty. I’ve learned what to do with my life. We get an early transition or something.

Tara: You’re right.

Zibby: Not that it’s the same. It’s not the same. I’m just saying at least there’s some training wheels on it or something.

Tara: You’re right. At the beginning — maybe you had this when you first got divorced. When the kids would go to their dad’s, I would just be so sad and so . Then over time, you get used to it. Then you’re kind of like, oh, my god, I have all this — I can do so much stuff.

Zibby: I would sit in my son’s room. I remember this one time in the beginning, all the lights off at night. All the kids’ rooms were empty. I was just sitting in his armchair holding his stuffed animals looking out the window forlorn. It’s so ridiculous. It was so sad. Now I feel like I get sad only when they’re really sad. If they’re having a tough transition, then I’m back to being a mess. If they’re happy to go off, I’m like, okay.

Tara: Adjustments. I am a big proponent of quality parenting over quantity of parenting. I do think that I am a better parent because I get those breaks, particularly when they were younger. Now as teenagers, there’s a lot less. I was going to say there’s a lot less parenting involved, which I don’t think is true. It’s just a different kind of parenting.

Zibby: I interviewed J. Ryan Stradal. He was saying that with his wife — they have a three-year-old — they have different divorcée nights on the calendar where you’re allowed to do whatever you want and pretend you’re divorced. You have a night off. I was like, there’s something to it.

Tara: Totally. So many of my friends are like, god, I wish that I could have fifty/fifty custody. Even though I don’t want to get divorced, I wish that I could do — this is a whole other discussion. The intensity of parenting today, it is kind of a miracle that people are able to hold it together without having breaks. I think it would be good for relationships, good for the kids to just have a time when you can step away, a regular time, not, there’s this one girls’ weekend in two years that I’m going to go away for.

Zibby: Sorry, we seem to have completely shifted away from Community Board, but it was lovely getting a chance to chat with you. I was in Seattle for Andrea Dunlop.

Tara: I know Andrea.

Zibby: You blurbed her book or something. Didn’t you?

Tara: Yeah. I loved her book. I love her. We have lunch and coffees and wine all the time.

Zibby: If I’m ever back in Seattle, I would like to barge in on that drink session.

Tara: Please do. It would be wonderful.

Zibby: Thank you so much. Thanks for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Tara: Thank you, Zibby. It was great.

Zibby: Bye.


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