Victoria Benton Frank, MY MAGNOLIA SUMMER

Victoria Benton Frank, MY MAGNOLIA SUMMER

Victoria Benton Frank joins Zibby to discuss her mesmerizing Southern coming-of-age tale, MY MAGNOLIA SUMMER. The conversation explores the story of a young woman chasing her culinary dreams in New York, only to inherit a restaurant back in South Carolina. Inspired by her late mother, author Dorothea Benton Frank, and her Southern heritage, Victoria brings a touch of authenticity to her tale. She and Zibby also share personal stories on motherhood, the writing process, and their love of reading, blending personal reflections with a discussion on Victoria’s literary venture.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Victoria. Thank you for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss My Magnolia Summer. For those who are just listening, I’m holding my multiple copies. I even have more of these books. I am overflowing with copies. It is amazing because I love the color pink and this fabulous, fun cover. It’s a perfect summer book and cover and thing to have around the house, so there you go.

Victoria Benton Frank: It’s cheery.

Zibby: Cheery, good . Tell listeners what My Magnolia Summer is about, please.

Victoria: My Magnolia Summer is about a book. It’s a girl named Magnolia who decided to pursue being a chef in New York, which is loosely based on my life. She inherits a restaurant from her grandmother, which is on Sullivan’s Island in the Lowcountry of South Carolina. It’s a multigenerational story about women who rise to the occasion in normal events through trials and tribulations, relationships, and balancing work life and home life. There’s a little bit of a love story in it. I went on “Friends & Fiction.” They asked me what my book is really about. I think it’s about succumbing to your destiny. I think no matter what you do, in the end of the world, you can make your choices, but you’re really not driving the boat. Sometimes that’s how it is. I feel like that’s what happened to Maggie. That’s kind of what happened to me too, becoming a writer, so semi-autobiographical without even meaning to be.

Zibby: It’s hard to get completely away from ourselves. We are who we are. It sneaks in. What are we going to do?

Victoria: Absolutely. I think you just surrender.

Zibby: Now I have to copy “Friends & Fiction.” What is your book really about? I’ll try to practice that question.

Victoria: I like that question, though, because when you give your elevator pitch — it’s a multigenerational story, Southern fiction, about a girl coming of age in her late twenties. That’s all nice, but what it’s really about is surrendering to your destiny.

Zibby: It’s true. How have you surrendered to your destiny? How did you fight it?

Victoria: Becoming a writer. I think I was a storyteller my whole life. I started out as a dancer. Then I was an actress. Then I was a chef. All the while, my mother was telling me, “You’re going to be a writer. You’re going to be a writer. You’re going to be a writer.” I fought it by trying other things. In a way, I was always telling a story. You can tell a story with dance. You can tell a story, obviously, as an actor. I did a little playwriting. Obviously, that was telling stories. Even as a chef, food tells a story about place and where you come from and how you live your life. When I sat down to write my book, it was like I should’ve been there all along. When I started it, I didn’t think I’d be very good at it or that anyone else would think I was good at it or that I would even really enjoy it. Here I am really into it, really loving it. I’m in love with it. I don’t think I could do anything else. My mother always knew I’d be a writer.

Zibby: Your mother is not just an all-knowing mother but was the beloved, treasured Dorothea Benton Frank, Dottie. By the way, my husband Kyle used to live in Charleston and actually lived on Sullivan’s Island and said that he was with — I was reading this the other night, and he said, “Oh, my gosh, I met a famous author on Sullivan’s Island once. I met her somewhere.” A friend that he had been with had brought her to your mom’s house. She was on the porch. He was like, okay, an author. He’s like, “That was before I knew you, and I didn’t really care about books.” Anyway, he met her on the porch and thought that was so cool.

Victoria: That’s so nice. That’s great. She was a cool lady.

Zibby: Yes, by all accounts. I read the tribute book that was published last year. I was crying. Last year or two years ago.

Victoria: Two years ago, I think it was.

Zibby: Adriana Trigiani .

Victoria: Look, losing your mother is horrible. I don’t think anyone really truly grows up until you do because you lose your safety net. Having my professional world not only welcome me in, but help me send that off to sea was really lovely. I don’t know of another situation where other authors came together. What a testimony to my mother for being such a lovely person. Some of those people could even be considered her competitors. They all instead turned and they were like, we’re friends. Water rises all boats. Let’s honor this woman who paved the way. I think my mom challenged other people with her work and inspired other people and warmed their hearts and was such a good friend and an ally to other female writers that when she passed away, everyone’s like, let’s do this. I gained friends from that. Adriana is a really good friend of mine now. It was through storytelling that we became friends. I love that books bring women together, not just in book clubs, but also through things like this, which is so cool.

Zibby: It was amazing. You couldn’t read that book or look on social or look anywhere without feeling the intense love everybody — love, reverence for. You really got a sense of who your mom was, which most people only get if you pop into someone else’s funeral or something. Do you know what I mean?

Victoria: Yes.

Zibby: It’s like a eulogy forever. I left feeling like I really knew her, which is wonderful. What else do you want? I’m so sorry for your loss. It’s so awful. I know it happened quickly. I’m very sorry.

Victoria: Thank you, but it’s okay. In my situation right now, which is really unique, I get to herald on the legacy, which is so cool. What a privilege to be able to do that. I think I’m keeping her alive this way. I’m not sad anymore. Of course, I’m sad, but I’m more peaceful with it. I feel like my grief and I have an understanding. Even yesterday, I had a moment that I got misty, but I’m with her. She’s with me. It’s cool. It’s good. It’s a positive thing.

Zibby: Were you afraid — I’m just projecting here. Were you afraid to step into her shadows or try to fill her shoes as a writer yourself? Do you feel like that had anything to do with your not wanting to admit that deep down, that’s who you are? Do you think it was just, writing needs experiences to feed it, and you just had to get out there and do stuff?

Victoria: I think a little bit of both. I think we’re all afraid of turning into our mothers at some level. Although, thank god I’m kind of like Dottie because she’s amazing. I also didn’t feel like I had lived enough. I’ve always been such a reader. I’m such a reader. Before I’m anything else, I’m a reader. That’s how I fill my cup. I respect books. I felt like I was such a young punk. I didn’t know anything. I needed to live and experience things a little bit before I sat down to write a novel that other people could connect with.

Zibby: You’re also a huge supporter of other authors, perhaps inheriting your mom’s graciousness. Even on your Instagram, you’re just constantly calling out other people, from Viola Shipman to Kristin , a brand-new author who I’m interviewing as well. It’s really wonderful.

Victoria: I think it’s a sorority in a way. It’s a sisterhood. I call it the coven. We are all really linked. Especially with your situation, “Moms Don’t Have –” When I learned the name of your pod, I was like, that’s me. I struggled. How was I going to read with these little kids, little monsters running around and needing me all the time? I got into audiobooks because I couldn’t give up reading. Certain authors probably don’t need my plug. Alice Hoffman, who I worship, her book came out yesterday. She doesn’t need my plug, but I’m going to give it to her anyway because I love it so much, and I want other people to fall in love with reading. I’m such an evangelist for reading in general because I just think it is beneficial to us. It gets us away from screens. It gets us time to be quiet. It’s personal time. As a mom, you really need that time to shut up and just let your brain bloom.

Zibby: If we call the time-outs from parenting blooming brains, that’s on a good day, maybe. That would be nice.

Victoria: We would like to.

Zibby: That’s the goal.

Victoria: That’s the goal. Mine is usually melting out of my ears right into my wine glass. God, some days are so hard. Today was my daughter’s first day of school. My son starts kindergarten on Monday. Last night, he lost his first tooth. I feel bombarded with milestones right now. I remember you did a post at the beginning of the summer where you were like, I am so overwhelmed. There’s so much to do. That post really inspired me that we don’t schedule our weekends. I refuse. I was like, you know what? We’re on the birthday party circuit. It’s ridiculous. We’re on the activity circuits. It’s ridiculous. These kids are overscheduled and overstimulated. I have too many expectations of myself and others of me in this category of my life. It’s really hard to balance both, so we don’t do weekends anymore.

Zibby: Amazing. I’m so glad I’ve inspired you. That’s wonderful.

Victoria: My kids are like, “I want to go to Sky Zone.” I’m like, “No, we’re going to be lazy today. We’re going to sit down. We’re going to read. We’re going to play outside.” If we all decide we want to go somewhere, cool, but it’s a last-minute thing. The schedule really started overwhelming me. I felt that post, for sure.

Zibby: Thank you. I’m glad it resonated. I feel like there’s a lot of pushback in that. Sometimes I’m like, am I doing my kids a disservice? We do end up doing nice, fun things even if it’s just going out to dinner in the neighborhood and hanging out or seeing friends.

Victoria: Or making dinner together, cooking, or taking a walk.

Zibby: Or making dinner, yes.

Victoria: Just slow time. My mom used to tell — I’d be like, “I’m bored.” She’s like, “Good. That’s when creativity blooms.” That’s how you figure out how to make something. We have to let our kids get bored. We can’t constantly stimulate them. They have that in school. It’s enough.

Zibby: We do the best and worst, at dinner, thing. I don’t know if you ever do it. What was your best today? What was your worst today? What was the time you laughed the hardest? Something else. We haven’t done it in so long. I can’t even remember. Most challenging. Sometimes when we’re just going about our business, I call out, “This was my best today,” even while it’s happening. The other day, all of us took the dog on a walk after dinner, which we don’t usually do, or there of us. I have four kids. Four kids, my husband, and I, we just went on this nice walk. It was beautiful. I was like, “You guys, this is my best today.” It’s nothing planned and structured, but that’s what I live for, all that stuff.

Victoria: It’s those little moments between the big moments that I think you savor. It’s certainly what I remember about my mom. It’s funny, when she passed away — talk about memories that you keep. I remember the birthday parties. I remember the Christmases. I also remember the colors of nail polish she’d paint her toes or her favorite perfume or how she’d always get excited around Christmas and make a fruitcake even though everyone hated it. No one wanted to eat it. That was always the situation. It’s little moments that you keep with yourself. Just an unplanned evening walk with the dogs — PS, how are you alive with four children? I can barely make it with two. You are a goddess. I can’t do that.

Zibby: They’re not little anymore. Those little days were really, really hard. I do have a big gap. My older kids are sixteen. I have sixteen-year-old twins. Then I have a ten-year-old and an eight-and-a-half-year-old. The younger kids are super mature. The younger two are seventeen months apart. What about your spread? What do you have?

Victoria: I have six and three and a half. They’re almost, to the day, two and a half years apart. I’m in the trench. It’s hard. Although, it is changing because now I can really talk to my son, who’s six, Teddy. We can have real conversations about the day. We’re starting, what was your best and worst day? He’s starting to learn to read, which is so exciting.

Zibby: Aw.

Victoria: I know. He said the other day, he was like, “Books are boring if they don’t have pictures.” I was like, “No, because you can make your own pictures in your mind. You can go anywhere in the world. You can go to outer space.” He was like, “You can go to outer space?” I was like, “Yeah, in your imagination.” He’s like, “Cool.” Now he wants to read space books.

Zibby: That’s really awesome.

Victoria: It’s so cool. I love watching these little kids become people. It is cool. Bedtime is brutal. It’s traumatic. I need a whole bottle of wine to get over it every night.

Zibby: We went on a sleepover once — I’m sorry, we’re totally off the topic of your book here.

Victoria: It’s fine.

Zibby: We rarely all stay with another family because there are so many of us. It’s such an imposition and whatever. We actually did one time at these family friends. We stayed there. The dad was actually the one putting the kids to bed. He put his two kids to bed. He was just like, “Okay, goodnight,” and then he left the room. I was like, wait a minute, my process is an hour and a half. I have to sit there. I’m on the floor. I’m reading books. I’m like, “They’re just going to go to bed now?” He’s like, “Yeah, they’re just going to go to bed.”

Victoria: That’s Dad versus Mom. It’s the rudest thing in the world. My husband had the kids so I could go have a drink with my girlfriend that I hadn’t seen in a while. I came home. I was like, “Was it okay?” He’s like, “Yeah, they’re asleep.” I’m like, “What do you mean?” There’s no blood. There’s no sulfur in the air. I don’t understand. It’s so strange to me that they just listen to him. For me, I’ve got to sacrifice a baby animal and sing a song and do a rain dance for my children to go to sleep, with melatonin and promises of ice cream in the morning. It never works. It takes an hour, at least, to put two of them down. Now we’re wrestling — Teddy wants to take a shower. We’re out of the dual in the bath thing because he’s six. It’s time. Getting him in the shower and not waterboarding him is also a challenge. I’m drenched in water. The kids are screaming at — you know.

Zibby: I know this is going to sound so trite, but it’s going to get a lot easier really soon, before you turn around. Even the bath to shower transition is a huge one. It’s a huge leap.

Victoria: Teddy can make his own cereal in the morning. That’s a huge leap. He makes me a cup of coffee in the morning, which is amazing. I love that he does it. He’s like, “This is for you, Mom.”

Zibby: That is really nice.

Victoria: He’s a love. My daughter is violent, but he’s lovely. She has red hair. She’s a Sagittarius. She doesn’t take any S-H-I-T from anybody.

Zibby: I have a Sagittarius as well.

Victoria: Okay, so you know.

Zibby: You know what they should do? They should make T-shirts. They should make “Sagittarius Mom.” You know what I mean? They don’t have that, do they? I have to go look. I’ll look after this.

Victoria: We could probably get somebody to make you one. I feel like Sagittarius and Capricorns are the kind of moms you just don’t mess with. You just don’t. Don’t mess with them. I’m a Scorpio. I’m so emotional. I’ve got a Cancer moon, if you really want to get into it. I’m a triple water sign, which means I’m super — if you’re feeling something, I’m going to sit there, and I’m going to work it through. I’m not an emotional person, but inside, I am. I can channel that really well, which is how I’m a writer and a mom. I compartmentalize everything. I don’t cry unless something really sweet happens. However, I cried two days ago when my daughter decided to cut all of her hair off right before school started.

Zibby: Oh, I’m sorry.

Victoria: She took all of the back of her hair and just chopped it. I sobbed. I didn’t handle that well. Mom life. Everyone tells me all little girls cut their hair. It’s going to grow back.

Zibby: My older daughter did the same thing. It was not as extreme. I know, all these little moments.

Victoria: Back to the book, right? Jesus.

Zibby: Back to the book. I am, by the way, a total crier and FYI, a Leo. I don’t know what moon I’m in.

Victoria: I could figure it out if you need me to. I’ll just do your chart, whip it up.

Zibby: Great. That could be my horoscope. I did have my chart read by somebody who came on this podcast. They were like, “Can we do a whole reading for you?” I was like, “I’m not going to turn that down.”

Victoria: Why not? Hey, let’s do it. It’s woo-woo.

Zibby: It’s woo-woo. Part of this book is a love letter to the South. It is a place-based love letter. I don’t know how else to say it. It is very evocative. It’s immersive. You feel like you’re there, like your hair is — I can feel it, the humidity. You can just feel like you’re there. You say you feel like a transplant even though you were born in New York/New Jersey and all that. Tell me about that and wanting to put in scene, environment as character, essentially, and then also the development of these very deep personal relationships and what the effect of loss is on a family.

Victoria: Loaded question. Part one, space as a character, place as a character is really important in the South. It’s exceptionally prevalent in other books. I feel like because the South and the Lowcountry especially is so multi-sensual, you can’t not write about it. I can’t just say it’s hot because it’s not just hot. It’s boiling your insides hot. It’s so humid. You feel like you’re cloaked in it. I feel like I could lift off and climb through it today. It’s 110, heat index. It is brutal. Today, I took Thea’s first-day picture on my phone. It fogged up from going outside to inside. I had to keep wiping it. It’s brutal. Also, when it’s not so hot, it’s beautiful. We have these tropical flowers and Spanish moss and warped oak trees and beautiful oceans and beautiful beaches. The people are slower and humbled, I think, by the surroundings. I think it makes you live at a different pace. I also think everyone, including myself, wants to be Southern and is a little bit obsessed with the South. We all are because, good food, pretty women, family oriented, a lot of history here, and it’s gorgeous. Why wouldn’t we want to be Southern?

There’s something charming about the South, too, and the way we hold onto architecture and we hold onto buildings and gardens and all that kind of stuff. Not to mention, it has a dark, twisted, awful path and history in it too, but that makes it spooky and something to think about and something to feel. I think that’s why I have to write about the South as a character, because it is a character. It’s what motivates people and shapes people here. I grew up in the Northeast, but my family has been in the Lowcountry for three hundred years. Every time I was at home, I never really felt like I fit in. I came to college here. I went to college in Charleston. I was like, I’m home. This is what home feels like. I felt like I felt my roots sort of dig into the earth and lock me in. I came back to New York to go to culinary school, met my husband, and moved back to the South. I was like, screw this. Can’t do it. Can’t do it. What was the second part of that question? How loss affects a family?

Zibby: You start the book with an accident that has deep reverberations and how we process that, how it affects different siblings, how it filters down.

Victoria: I think everybody grieves in their own way. I think everyone handles calamity and crisis in their own way. Some people are — I have a girlfriend who described it as “in the room and out of the room” people. People who are like, okay, someone’s dying, I’m going to walk out here, and I’m going to make sure dinner’s ready, that’s an “out of the room” person. An “in the room” person is like, let me clean up the vomit. Let me sit there with you. I’m an “in the room” person. I’m a, take the reins, handle it. My brother is an “out of the room” person. He’s like, I can’t do this. I learned that when my mom was in the hospital. Most people are “out of the room” people because they can’t take it. I had started this novel way before my mom was even diagnosed. I have always found it funny how milestones affect families differently, like weddings, baptisms, funerals, sickness, accidents, death, whatever. I think you can tell a lot about a person by how they handle a crisis. It brings out these real inside character descriptions that you wouldn’t normally know about someone. I thought it would be interesting to see how sisters would react to their matriarch going down. When I developed these characters and their relationships with each other, I did opposites of what I — the next question with an interview is always, did you have a — I don’t have a sister. I didn’t know my grandmother. My mom and I were close. I wrote a bad relationship with your mother, what it would be like to be raised by your grandmother, and what it would be like to have a sister. I played with those relationships because I had always dreamed about those on another wavelength.

Zibby: That’s so funny. At dinner, literally last night, we were talking — the only person at lunch — it was lunch, sorry. Not that this matters. Anyway, my younger daughter was the only one in this group of us who was eating that has an older sister. We were like, “What does that feel like? Tell us more about what that feels like. What is everyday life like having an older sister?” Even if it’s so close in your midst, if you don’t put yourself in it like you and envision the relationship and all that, you just don’t know.

Victoria: I think you’re lucky if you have a sister. My mom had this great phrase where she would say, if you want something done right, do it yourself or ask another woman. I think that you have a built-in ally and a teammate for life. You have a general in your army forever. Girlfriends, relationships that you have with them can be like chosen family, but if you have a sister, they’re not going anywhere. They’re always going to be your sister. I have a brother. We’re very different. He lives in Oklahoma. I live in Charleston. We’re totally different people. It’s different having a brother. I think it would always be special to have a sister.

Zibby: We always want what you don’t have.

Victoria: The grass is always greener.

Zibby: I have a brother too. His name actually is Teddy, like your son.

Victoria: I’ve never met a Teddy I didn’t like. That’s why I named him Teddy.

Zibby: I’ll have to introduce you sometime.

Victoria: I’d love it. Teddy’s a great name.

Zibby: It is a great name. I love it. Are you working on another novel?

Victoria: Yes, ma’am, every single day.

Zibby: Let’s hear about it.

Victoria: Oh, my gosh. It’s a sequel to the first one. I’ve decided to make it a series, which is exciting.

Zibby: Amazing. That is exciting.

Victoria: It’s Violet’s story. It’s her own coming-of-age story. I’m loving it. I’m really loving how it’s coming together. I’m hoping to finish it very soon so I can publish next year, hopefully. That’s the goal.

Zibby: Better get back to it.

Victoria: May or may not make it. I hope I do because my husband says if I don’t publish next year, he wants another kid. I’m like, Jesus. No, we just got him out of diapers.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh. So then, it’s not going to get easier soon. Wait, you just mentioned every single day. What is your process? Are you sitting at your desk at a certain time? Do you have hours you clock in? What do you do?

Victoria: I sit at my desk every day, ten to four. That doesn’t mean I’m always getting stuff done, realistically. I would love this to be like an assembly line, but creative process just isn’t like that. Sometimes I’m not getting the words. When I don’t get the words, I try to do something else related. I’ll reread what I wrote the day before. I’ll work on my outline. I’ll do some research. I’ll read another author. Sometimes that kind of gets me going. It’s hard. I show up at the altar, and I hope I have a religious experience every day, the altar being my computer. God doesn’t always show up, though. Sometimes you’re there, and you think your prayers aren’t going to be answered. When I am working with my editor, it’s much more structured. I seem to do much better if I have accountability. If I have somebody around me, I can get it done. I have an outline. I have an overview. It’s a loose outline, but at least I know where it’s going. I try to do three to six pages a day. That’s what I try to do.

Zibby: That’s great. It’ll get done. That’s great. Good for you.

Victoria: I always feel like I can put garbage on the page because you can always clean it up, but you can’t clean up a blank page. You got to put something down.

Zibby: I was just about to ask for advice, but that was great advice. Do you have any other advice for aspiring authors?

Victoria: Other advice, yes. This, I just learned with this book. It really helped me. When I get to a part in a scene that I’m blanking — sometimes I’m in a flow, and I’ll say, oh, I don’t know the medical term for that. I’ll just type in “medical term,” and I’ll move on. I don’t stop and then research it and come back. I just write it in red. Then I know the next day or when I’m having a day where I’m not being creative, I can go back and fill that in. Sometimes that even expands. I’ll be like, “enter scene here with conversation between Maggie and Violet about this.” I’ll just move on to the next thing. A lot of times, I find with writing, it’s about maintaining your momentum. If I take too many breaks, if I take three days off of writing, it’s very hard to get back. It’s like exercising. It’s very hard to get back into the cycle of it. If you find something that’s tripping you up, just write a note for yourself. Come back later. Keep removing pressure, is what makes it easier for me.

Zibby: Love it. Excellent.

Victoria: That’s all I got.

Zibby: I’ll take it. It’s good. Victoria, thank you so much. This was so much fun. I really hope I get to meet you in person. I feel like we should sit and have a fun lunch or something. I feel like there’d be a lot to talk about.

Victoria: Absolutely. I would love it.

Zibby: going. Congratulations on your book and all of the good stuff.

Victoria: Thank you for having me. This was such an honor.

Zibby: Congrats.

Victoria: Thank you.

Zibby: Bye.

Victoria: Bye.

MY MAGNOLIA SUMMER by Victoria Benton Frank

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