Teresa Sorkin and Tullan Holmqvist, THE WOMAN IN THE PARK

Teresa Sorkin and Tullan Holmqvist, THE WOMAN IN THE PARK

Zibby Owens: I’m excited to be here today with both the authors of The Woman in the Park. Teresa Sorkin and Tullan Holmqvist are coauthors of both the novel and the screenplay for The Woman in the Park. Tullan is an investigator, writer, and actress. Originally from Sweden, Tullan has a master’s degree in political science from the University of Florence with literature and language degrees from universities in France and Italy. She has also studied screenwriting and acting at NYU and BU. She currently lives in New York with her husband and two sons. Teresa Sorkin is a TV producer and founder of Roman Way Productions. A graduate of New York University and Bocconi University of Milan, Teresa started as a journalist for Rai TV for which she hosted her own show. She currently lives in New York with her husband and two children.

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

Teresa Sorkin: Thank you for having us. We love the podcast. We’re so excited.

Tullan Holmqvist: Thank you.

Zibby: I’m so excited. I’m deep in my head in The Woman in the Park having just finished it. I’m really eager to talk to you about it. Can you tell listeners, please, what The Woman in the Park is about?

Teresa: It’s a psychological thriller about a woman who is in her forties and dealing with a new stage of life. She meets a man in the park one day. Her life unravels. There’s lots of mystery. It’s also a mystery of who she is as a person. We slowly find that out as the book goes on. It’s hard to say too much because there’s a lot of things you want to find out. It’s twists and things like that.

Tullan: Maybe it’s a mix between a “Who done it?” and “Who am I?” with a psychological component. We really wanted to bring out this woman in the middle of her life. It’s set in New York. The park is Central Park. Many ask, “What park is it?”

Zibby: Yes, I recognized many — I’m like, what playground are they talking about? How did you two find each other? How did you decide to embark on this project?

Tullan: We met in the park, actually.

Zibby: No way.

Teresa: We did.

Tullan: We’re moms at the same school, the Italian school in this area actually, where the book is set. I live in that area too. It’s a very familiar place.

Teresa: We spent a lot of days where our children played in that park. I’m a TV film producer and writer. Tullan’s a writer, screenwriter, and actor.

Tullan: I’m an investigator.

Teresa: And investigator, that’s an important part, private investigator. We thought we’d work on something together. We were working on something else. Then this story came to us one day.

Zibby: Tell me more about that. How did it come to you? Tell me about that. Where did it come from?

Tullan: We talked a lot about ourselves and how we connected. We’re both very empathetic and can feel a lot and at this stage in your life when you have kids. This woman Sarah Rock, she’s married. She has two kids. The kids are getting a little bit older, time to move on in some ways. You find yourself looking at your own life. Who am I? What did I want to do? Where do I want to go? You’re at a different stage in life. You’re still the same person inside in some ways, but in other ways not. There was actually a woman that we used to see in the park that sparked our imagination, let’s put it. That was the seed. She was always by herself.

Teresa: She was alone in the park, beautiful blonde woman. We started to, both of us, imagine what her story would be, what she was really doing. She was there quite often.

Tullan: We had different versions, actually, what we thought. That was like, oh, this is interesting. One of us thought she’s talking to herself. The other thought she was on the phone. We saw her all the time. She seemed to maybe not know who she was or where she was. It was an interesting, what if that were me? What if I don’t really know what…you know.

Teresa: Then I have a good friend who’s the head of Bellevue Hospital for twenty-five years. His name is Dr. Samoon Ahmad. We started asking him questions about what a certain disorder would look like in that space. What if this woman had something like that? We did a lot of case study research to really get the psychological component perfect. We didn’t want to make it seem frivolous or just brush upon it. It needed to really feel real for us.

Zibby: Was Thérèse Raquin one of your favorite books, Émile Zola? It was scattered at the beginning of every chapter. You had a little quote. It courses throughout the book. How did you pick that?

Teresa: I love Thérèse Raquin. It’s one of my favorite all-time thrillers ever because it’s about, again, this madness. For me and for Tullan when we were discussing it, sometimes what’s going on inside of you is so much more scary than what’s actually happening outside. With Thérèse Raquin, that was happening quite a bit. We really wanted her to have something that she would go back to. We tied in a lot of her imagination with what was happening in the book and the characters.

Tullan: It was kind of like a mirror to her story in some ways. She goes to the park to read. That is the anchor that follows along the whole story.

Zibby: You talked a lot about when Sarah’s sitting outside Central Park where she used to play with her kids. Her character, she’s feeling a little bit sad, a little piece of melancholy as she’s sitting there. You say — I’m quoting — “She remembered those days fondly, and she had felt a slight pang of jealousy as she had once also had so much hope, so much engagement with her life. The kids had needed her. Eric had needed her. Life had been so busy, so full. She’d taken it for granted that it would always feel that way. And now…” Did you draw on your own experience? How old are your kids? Is this from a place of personal experience or how you imagine this time of life might be?

Tullan: We’ve talked about this a lot. When the kids are very small, it’s such a full and intense life. Almost, you want to get out of that stage. Then it shifts so quickly. My kids are a little bit younger than Teresa’s. I have a twelve-year-old and a few more weeks and he’s going to be eight.

Teresa: I drew upon the sadness more because my kids are a bit older. My son’s sixteen. My daughter’s thirteen. When they’re little and you’re in the park, you’re living in the moment a lot more than when they get older. As they get older, you’re living not as much in the moment because you’re planning. They’re going to have to go to college. Then what? In the park, it’s the moment. Are they going to fall? They’re playing. You’re talking to your friend. I would say hold onto those moments because they’re so precious and special. Then it does become a little sad. It’s exciting to think your children are successful. They’re moving on. They’re doing wonderful things. It is sad to think that they won’t be there for you to take to the park as you did once upon a time. That was more me in the moment today and you in the future, maybe.

Tullan: I think it’s the nature of human beings. It is constant change. We have different phases and lives. There’s always the light and the dark, and good things and bad things. With kids, it’s true. When they’re small, you have to be in the moment. You can’t really be anywhere else because it’s always everchanging. Then you want them to go on and live their lives. It’s an adjustment as a parent.

Zibby: On this topic, you said in the book, “No one had ever told her” — meaning Sarah — “that being a parent involved so much loss. All that significance a child would never understand, so wonderful and frightful at the same time.” Then you go on to say about the playground area, how it was “no place for adults without children, even those who had once been mothers.” I thought that was so interesting. Are you not a mother when your kids go away? Can you not maintain that identity? Can you not call yourself a mother? What do you think?

Teresa: For Sarah, she felt that way. We wanted her to really emphasize this feeling of she lost that ability to be a mother. For me myself, obviously you’re a mother forever. They need you no matter what, even when they’re thirty-five. It’s a different stage in a different place. She, Sarah, is in this space of, who is she? She’s not this. She’s not that. She’s experienced loss and trauma of some sort. She feels that has been taken away from her as well. We learn later on why and what the impetus for that was. It’s more her and her reflection of her mind, really.

Tullan: The way we felt about this in particular, there’s so much love that instant that you become a mom, or a dad. I’m sure it’s the same. There is so much love, but there’s also so much fear that is born in the same moment that you didn’t even know that you had. I definitely discovered parts of myself that I didn’t know existed, both for the good and bad. It’s an interesting thing to ponder.

Teresa: Before I had kids, I would jump out of a plane no problem. What? Jump off a cliff in ? Okay, let’s do it. Now, oh, my god, I can’t even do anything without worrying they’re going to not have a mother if I die. Your whole world changes in that instant. It’s interesting. We wanted her to be vulnerable. I think a lot of people don’t get it. They see these beautiful women who seem to have it all. Everything seems perfect. Meanwhile, it’s never perfect. No one has no fear.

Zibby: I feel like I alternate my worrying between something happening to a child of mine or something happening to me. What would they do without me? I mean, they would be fine eventually without me. They would be fine. Still, I have to be so careful with me. I have to be so careful with them because god forbid. Anyway, that’s my own neuroses. I could go on and on.

Teresa: It’s everyone’s neuroses.

Tullan: You need, suddenly, a new method of how you steer your mind to the positive and not drown in that moment.

Teresa: Right, and again live in the moment. It’s hard to do that as a mother, but as a human being in general. As a mother, it’s even harder to just live in that moment without all the what-ifs.

Zibby: I’ve been experimenting with deciding not to worry about certain things and seeing if I can actually do that.

Teresa: I do the same.

Zibby: I had this flight. It had to be on time or it would be a big mess if I was late. I was like, it’s going to be fine. I’m not going to worry about it. I can’t worry about it. I just can’t. I didn’t, and it worked out. Wait, is this the answer? Is it that simple? This health scare, is it going to be good news or bad news? I’m not going to worry about it. It’s going to be fine, and it was fine. I don’t know.

Tullan: There’s a certain wisdom to know when you can change things and when you can’t. When you can’t, there’s no point, really, to worry. It’s hard. It takes training.

Zibby: It takes training. Then it might backfire because I could’ve easily missed that plane.

Tullan: Children are such a learning — they teach us so much, the whole experience. If you see it in that way, it’s the joy of life somehow.

Zibby: My heart went out to your character Sarah. I felt like there’s so many moments I could relate to with her. In the beginning, she’s looking in the mirror assessing herself and her aging. What mom our age has not had a moment where they’re like, “Oh, my gosh”? She’s looking at her body and saying, “Is that why I’m so upset? Is it my aging body or wrinkles?” or whatever else and says, “Was that really the problem? No, she could hide those changes under her clothes. Her eyes were the real difference, those seas of blue sadness with nothing to hide behind.” She also thinks in that moment how she’s feeling so trapped. “How could she feel lost trapped in her own home?” Tell me about that moment in the mirror. Again, did you guys have that moment? I know I’ve had a moment like that.

Tullan: For sure. Definitely, I’ve had it.

Teresa: Yes, I’ve had it in a different way and different moments. It’s funny because you don’t notice the changes until all of a sudden one day you’re like, oh, my god, my stomach isn’t — It doesn’t matter how many SoulCycles I go to or how much gym or whatever. Sometimes, it’s too much and people overdo it to get back to what you were. It’s just not going to happen. You have to accept it. Sarah’s struggling with that as well, like we all do. That, for sure, was something I’ve experienced.

Tullan: I think there’s a deep fear. I’ve had nightmares my whole life, unfortunately. They’re come and go. There’s a fear many have felt. You don’t know where you are. I felt like it really fit with this. Sarah has that feeling of she wakes up, she doesn’t really know where she is or who she is. I can definitely relate to that. I’ve moved around a lot. You travel a lot, sometimes you wake up, you don’t really know.

Teresa: If you’re dreaming that you’re your twenty-five-year-old self and you wake up and you’re not, it’s a shock in the mirror. You’re like, oh, wait a minute. That’s not who I am.

Zibby: Even the fact that she could tell that her eyes looked sad. I feel like sometimes you can’t tell that about yourself. She could see it. I thought that was really cool.

Teresa: For me, my cousin in Italy — my parents are Italian — she would always say to me that I had sad eyes or eyes that sometimes showed sadness. That came to me a little bit when I was writing that. My mother was a very difficult personality growing up, which is a little bit of why I’m interested in psychology so much. The whole experience of our lives are in your eyes regardless.

Zibby: Wait, I want to hear more about what you just said about your growing up. Do you want to talk any more about what —

Teresa: — Sure. It’s fine because I’ve opened up a lot about it in the past few years especially. My mother was very mentally and sometimes physically abusive to both myself and my brother, more so to me. I think that had a lot to do with the fact that she never really grew up. She was almost very childlike. We had to treat her more like the child than the parent. My dad was kind and sweet. He tried the best he could, but he couldn’t really manage her so much, which is why I developed a love for books and stories. I would read or go into the corner. Hopefully she wasn’t in a bad mood today. To this day, she’s still that way. I’ve had to distance myself from her to protect myself.

Zibby: Does she know that she’s like that?

Teresa: No. She’s mommy dearest. Something will trigger, and then all of a sudden she goes off. It could be anything. She’ll never apologize. It’s been quite scary abusive, like things she would say that would be just really awful. I learned to cope with that as a child. Then as an adult, it helped me in ways in certain aspects of my life because nothing shocked me. No mean person at work or in my business could ever — anything they said, I never flinched because it was nothing compared to what I dealt with as a child. I think it also made me a better mother because I’m totally one hundred percent the opposite of what she would ever be. That sadness is always in me and in my eyes or in my voice or the way I even relate in general to people sometimes because of it. We all have something. Sarah had her trauma from her childhood. Tullan has her stuff that she deals with.

Zibby: Let’s go into Tullan’s stuff now. Let’s just get it all out on the table. Thank you for sharing that. Did you have a similar experience growing up?

Tullan: I lost my father young as a teenager. I would say that was a big trauma in my life. I moved around a lot which was both beautiful in some ways, as a family, but it was also hard. I changed schools many times. We moved to different countries. It was very exciting in some ways. Also, it is traumatic as a kid, all your friends, suddenly you’re uprooted and moved. It was in first grade and then in fifth grade and then in sixth grade. Then my father passed away when I was seventeen. For good and for bad too, it was so difficult at the time. I also learned to really take advantage of the moment and my family and with my mother and my sisters. We became very close. You just learn to live with it. I still miss him. I lost my mother last year.

Zibby: Aw, I’m sorry.

Tullan: It’s been a year of very — while we were writing this actually, it helped me, I must say. I sat up many nights. She was very sick at the end. It helped me. I was also far away. She lived in Italy. It’s part of life. We all have loss. It’s an easier way to connect then. I think it’s a beautiful way to connect then on a more deeper level.

Zibby: You could feel it in this book. That’s why I kept asking, is this from personal experience? It just felt too real to be complete fiction. Most novels come from some place. Still, I’m not surprised to hear, not that I wanted to hear. I’m trying to say this in a positive way. You could feel it in the book. It felt authentic despite it being fiction. I’m sorry it came from a place of pain.

Tullan: There’s a fine between — we all have, maybe, an infatuation with someone or we sometimes don’t know who we are. Of course, there’s another level where it becomes a psychosis. Somewhere, we can all connect. We all have worries and dark things. If we can understand each other better through — that’s the beauty of books and art in general.

Zibby: Absolutely. I completely agree.

Tullan: We can connect on a different level. It can be helpful too, to know that I’m not the only one feeling this way. I know in my growing up too, I asked a lot of questions always, even sometimes just in my mind or just reading too. It really helps to know that there are other people that feel the same way.

Zibby: I agree. The whole thing is trying to make people feel not alone. That’s the worst, is to feel such pain in whatever way and think it’s just you. Somehow, it makes you feel better knowing that other people — you’re not weird.

Teresa: Exactly, especially certain times of the year. During this time of the year people feel much lonelier. What does that loneliness take you to? Who knows? We wanted to really explore that part of it. Drawing upon stuff that we’ve gone through was helpful for sure.

Tullan: But we wanted it from her perspective, so especially in the beginning it’s a small world. We did that on purpose. It’s not a version of New York or someone. It’s how she sees the city.

Teresa: Her daily life.

Zibby: At the beginning I was like, wait, I thought this was a thriller. This is just a scene out of my life. We’re just hanging out in the park and walking up Fifth Avenue. How did you both bring your other jobs into this? I want to hear a little more about your investigative background and being a producer. How did those lenses inform the writing of this?

Tullan: For my investigative work, I do a lot of corporate investigations on fraud and due diligence and internal investigations and so on. It’s similar to the writing because it’s about, like I mentioned, just questioning. I’m always interested in how things work and especially, what makes people tick? Why do people do things? It’s kind of similar, actually. You have to get behind people’s mind. I love that. I always put myself in the situation too. If this is me, how do I feel about this?

Teresa: Also because Sarah had to become the investigator at one point to save herself, that’s helpful with Tullan’s background and what the right questions to ask would be and all of that. Then it did become much more of an accelerated thriller. At one point when you realize something is awry, she realizes it at the same time we realize it as the reader. We wanted that purposefully so that the reader is on the same journey as Sarah completely. Because of my background as a producer and film person which I’ve been doing for quite a while, fortunately and unfortunately I was developing for about six years for The Weinstein Company, basically consulting on all their projects. We wrote this at first as a screenplay. It reads very cinematic in many ways. We brought that structure to our writing, which helps a lot because we see things in scenes visually. Even though it’s a literary experience, you as a reader always visualize. We want that experience even more so. As a film person, that helped a lot. The structure is similar to writing a novel, actually, writing a screenplay. It’s the bones. Then you fill it all in with the rest.

Tullan: That’s how we worked together. Working in two, we thought through the whole story like a film. Then we took turns writing.

Zibby: Did you do different chapters each?

Tullan: No, it was more we would write for a big chunk, but we had the story together.

Teresa: We knew what the twists were going to be, the plot points, and where we wanted them to happen. Then we filled in her life and journey. It was always going to same place. We had the roadmap.

Tullan: She took on her own life. You create a character, and then they take off. That’s the fun part of it. We set up the scene, and then we let her speak.

Zibby: Are there plans for this to be a movie?

Teresa: Yes, we’ve been working quite diligently on that. It was actually on the Weinstein slate before everything happened and that whole craziness which was inevitable. I’m happy it did happen the way it did. Now we have it with our agent who’s brought it to certain talent who’s interested in it. We’ll have some news soon, hopefully. Yes, it’s either a film or a TV series.

Zibby: Like a limited?

Teresa: A limited TV series, yeah.

Zibby: All the best things are limited. Who even wants a movie?

Teresa: It’s just a different world. Nobody goes to the movies anymore like they used to. It’s very rare.

Zibby: Are you two planning on writing more books together?

Tullan: Yes.

Zibby: Are you already doing one?

Teresa: Yes, we are. We’re deep into the second novel which is also a psychological thriller with elements of The Woman in the Park.

Tullan: Sort of a parallel story, not exactly a sequel.

Zibby: The Woman in the Playground.

Teresa: A Woman on the Beach.

Tullan: The Dog in the Playground.

Zibby: The Man on the Reservoir. I’ll stop.

Teresa: This one, we have a little bit of an ensemble here. It’s more characters and their experience as friends. Sometimes we think we know we our friends. We think we know what’s going on. Really, we don’t. It all culminates. We have them on a trip together, like a summer trip before their kids go off to college.

Zibby: Nice, excellent. I can follow this through my whole life. We’re going to go through all the life stages.

Tullan: As we get older.

Zibby: Exactly. I’ll come back to you in twenty years, be like, “Okay, I’m about to be a grandmother. I need a thriller about…”

Teresa: Grandmother on the Cruise Ship.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh. Do you have any advice to aspiring authors?

Tullan: I would say write and read a lot. Write what you like. Don’t worry so much about what other people — take yourself seriously in a good way. Find the joy, and the way finds itself. I’ve always been writing. There were times I was very frustrated by it. Then you just have to, “No, I love this more than anything else, so I’m going to do it either if one person reads or no one. This is really important to me.” Then the ways open up somehow.

Teresa: I would say read a lot of your genre that you’re going to write because that trains your brain to write that way. Also, go to places like BookCon and these conventions and meet people. In meeting people that are in the industry, they can always help you to get to that next level as you’re writing and doing your craft as best you can. There’s room for a lot of voices and stories out there. Don’t give up on, “Oh, I’m never going to get it done.” Just really try it.

Zibby: Excellent. Thank you, ladies, so much for coming and sharing your own experiences.

Teresa: Thank you so much for having us.

Zibby: Thanks for writing the book. I really appreciate it.

Teresa: Thank you so much.

Tullan: Thank you.

Teresa Sorkin and Tullan Holmqvist, THE WOMAN IN THE PARK

The Woman in the Park
By Sorkin , Teresa, Holmqvist, Tullan

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