24 Oct Episode 182: #WriteFlailRepeat with Abbi Waxman
Novelist Abbi Waxman makes us laugh talking process and inspiration almost as much as we do when reading her books, with emphasis on using settings you know and love.
Our transcription assistant reports that this was “her favorite episode ever.” It’s definitely a contender—Abbi Waxman is funny and candid about the challenges of creating characters and worlds that are engrossingly real yet also comical—and about her next novel, the first one not fully set in her California ‘hood.
Episode links and a transcript follow—but first, you don’t want to miss the #WritersTopFive that will be dropping into #AmWriting supporter inboxes on Monday, October 28, 2019: Top 5 Goodreads Secrets for Authors. It’s a good one! If you haven’t yet plunked down a tiny chunk of cash to support the podcast, maybe now is the time. Support the podcast you love AND get weekly #WriterTopFives with actionable advice you can use for just $7 a month.
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LINKS FROM THE PODCAST
#AmReading (Watching, Listening)
Abbi: A Miss Silver Mystery: Lonesome Road (#3), Patricia Wentworth
KJ: Confessions of a Bookseller, Shaun Bythell
The Gyrth Chalice Mystery, Margery Allingham
Chevalier’s Books Los Angeles, CA — if you’ve read Nina Hill, this is the real life bookstore she works in, and we love that.
Our guest for this episode is Abbi Waxman. Abbi is the author of:
This episode was sponsored by Author Accelerator, the book coaching program that helps you get your work DONE. Visit https://www.authoraccelerator.com/amwritingfor details, special offers and Jennie Nash’s Inside-Outline template.
If you enjoyed this episode, we suggest you check out Marginally, a podcast about writing, work and friendship.
Transcript (We use an AI service for transcription, and while we do clean it up a bit, some errors are the price of admission here. We hope it’s still helpful—and, this time around, Jess is “New Speaker.” We don’t know why. AI is mysterious.)
KJ: 00:01 Hey writers—you all know we love our sponsor, Author Accelerator, which offers intense book coaching to help writers keep their butts in the chair and their heads in the game and finish what we start. But what if you’re not ready for full on coaching? What if you’re still trying to figure out where your story or memoir is going, and you need help? In that case, Author Accelerator has something new: the four-week Inside Outline Coaching program, which will help you quickly and efficiently visualize your entire story, spot the holes and places where your characters have lost momentum and ensure that you’re working forward with a structure that will support the story you want to tell. I love this tool, and working with someone to stick to it and get it right is going to save you a lot of time and a lot of typing. Find out more at https://www.authoraccelerator.com/insideoutline.
New Speaker: 00:01 Go ahead.
KJ: 00:01 This is the part where I stare blankly at the microphone like I don’t remember what I was supposed to be doing.
New Speaker: 00:01 All right, let’s start over.
KJ: 00:01 Awkward pause, I’m going to rustle some papers.
New Speaker: 00:01 Okay.
KJ: 00:01 Now one, two, three. Hey, I’m KJ Dell’Antonia and this is #AmWriting. The podcast about writing, which is pretty much why we named it that. We are a podcast about writing all things – fictional, non-fictional, proposals, pitches, writing emails in the quest to get an agent, and I’ve run out of my list, but it’s one I give you guys weekly and as I hope you know, we are the podcast about sitting down and getting your work done.
New Speaker: 01:50 And I’m Jess Lahey. I’m the author of the Gift of Failure and a book I just turned in on preventing substance abuse in kids. And you can find me at the New York Times, and the Atlantic, and the Washington Post .
KJ: 02:03 You’re killing it. This actually is your due date and I’m so delighted.
New Speaker: 02:08 I’m a little bit giddy today.
KJ: 02:11 You should be. I am KJ Dell’Antonia, author of a novel coming out next year, The Chicken Sisters, and of How To Be a Happier Parent, former editor of the Motherlode blog at the New York Times, where I’m still a reasonably regular contributor, and at the moment working on novel number two. And I am delighted to say that we have a guest today. So before I introduce her, since she’s sitting there silently, I will just say, ‘Hi Abby.’
Abbi: 02:39 I wasn’t sure if I should be making little chicken noises in the background. It’s probably a good idea for me to sit excitedly until prompted.
KJ: 02:55 Abbi is the author of three novels, all of which I’ve totally enjoyed and I believe have recommended at one point or another on the podcast. They are – I’ll go in backwards order – her most recent novel is The Bookish Life of Nina Hill, preceded by Other People’s Houses. And then, gosh, there ought to be another word for this – preceded by The Garden of Small Beginnings. I would call them comic, commercial fiction, with plenty of snark and a little tiny touch of the darkness of life, and our huge fun. And we’re so glad to have you.
Abbi: 03:36 It is my pleasure to be here.
KJ: 03:38 Thank you.
New Speaker: 03:41 I have to say, she’s been so excited to talk to you. So the fact that she’s just overflowing with questions…
KJ: 03:52 I’ve really enjoyed The Bookish Life of Nina Hill. And I want to go back and talk about – I guess what we like to do when we have a guest is go just a little bit back into your career. A lot of our listeners are somewhere sort of mid-career, a lot of them are just getting started, and everybody wants to know things like – how did you get started? I know that you were in advertising, so I think my question is what’s the first thing you wrote that wasn’t advertising that you got paid for?
Abbi: 04:27 So yeah, I worked in advertising for a long time. But I always knew that I wanted to write books, ultimately. But that’s because that’s what I saw growing up. My mother was a murder mystery writer. My biological dad was also in advertising. My stepfather was not a writer, so this is just what I saw grown ups doing a lot of the time and certainly that’s what I thought mothers did. So, I had a career, I had my own agency for a while ,and then I decided I wanted to quit that, write books, and have children. Which those two things are inextricably linked in my head. The problem being, of course, having children is a hundred percent contra-indicated if what you’re trying to do is actually get work done. So it took me a very long time to write my first novel and then subsequent ones were much quicker because I didn’t have three kids under five in the house. But while I had those three small kids and I wasn’t being super successful at finishing my own work, I got hired to ghost write a novel for a celebrity, who shall remain nameless.
KJ: 05:36 And that’s always such a bummer, but we know that’s the way it works.
Abbi: 05:39 That’s the way it works. So I wrote a novel, a piece of fiction for this person and my name wasn’t on the cover, but it was on the check and that’s all I really actually care about. So that was good. Not that all I care about is money, far be it for me to suggest I am just venal in that way, but I do enjoy making money for my work. Because I did it for free for so long that it is still very pleasant to get paid for it.
KJ: 06:08 I’m impressed that it was a whole novel.
Abbi: 06:11 Well, before I wrote that one, I had written several novels that were too crap to see the light of day. So finishing a novel was a sort of a barrier I’d already cracked. Finishing a good novel was one that you could argue I haven’t yet cracked, but which I’m working on.
KJ: 06:29 We will not argue that. How did you convince a celebrity and a publishing company that you could do the novel for the celebrity?
Abbi: 06:40 You know, it’s a mystery, to this day. So I have a friend whose name is Hillary Liftin, who is a very successful ghost writer of both (she writes fiction herself and she writes nonfiction books with celebrities) and she’s written dozens of them and she’s really, really good at it. And she recommended me to an agent who approached her about writing this piece of fiction. And she said, ‘No, no, but you should have my friend Abbi do it.’ I don’t even remember writing a proposal. So I had to go and meet – there’s actually a good story attached to this, but I don’t know if I can tell it without revealing it. So I went to meet with this celebrity, along with several other writers (not at the same time, although that would have been hilarious), but one after the other. And she had us meet her at Chateau Marmont in Hollywood, which is just just right there. I was so happy to even be doing this because it was so ludicrous. It is so incredibly Hollywood and I was just like, it’s ridiculous. So I show up wearing my jeans, my Target T-shirt, and the one cool jacket that I possessed and could still fit into. Cause I worked hard on gaining weight after I had my kids and I was very successful at it. And so I squeezed into these clothes, I go in, the first thing she says to me (she’s tiny, tiny little celebrity as they all are all) ‘Oh, I love your T-shirt.’ And I said, ‘I got it at Target.’ So literally that was my opening – I got it at Target, which you think would be enough to end the whole thing. And so she arrived. She walks in just before I get there, I see her walk in and she literally asks whatever you call the person at Chateau Marmont who’s in charge of helping celebrities deal with their lives, She’s like, ‘I need breakfast cereal.’ And he sent someone out to shop for breakfast cereal for her so that she could have (I nearly swore) Captain Crunch at like 11 o’clock on a whatever day it at the Chateau.
New Speaker: 08:57 That’s really impressive. I actually was going to tell you the last time I got a compliment from a celebrity, I actually said, ‘I got it at a garage sale.’ And it was about an article of clothing, so I can actually one up on that one. Yeah, it came out of my mouth and I said, ‘Oh, that, that wasn’t what I meant to say.’
Abbi: 09:19 But at the same time, you know, I don’t know, do celebrities shop at Target? I’m sure they do, everybody shops at Target, everybody shops at garage sales. I would feel much worse saying, ‘Yes, it’s Gucci.’ Like that would not fly. So, you know, it is what it is. So anyways, so she interviewed me and a load of other people, and the funny part is that I didn’t hear anything for weeks. So I was like, ‘Okay, whatever.’ Then I get a call that she had told her manager who was sitting there that she wanted this other person whose name I won’t say, but she got on the phone with this other writer and then 15 minutes into the conversation she suddenly goes, ‘Oh wait, I have to go.’ and hung up on this other writer. Because it turned out she didn’t want that writer, she wanted me, but she had mixed us up. I imagine she said, ‘The English one.’ But this other writer was also English. So this poor woman (who it turns out also knows Hilary Liftin, my friend) was like, ‘Yeah, it was the weirdest thing. We were talking and all of a sudden she’s like, ‘Sorry, my shoes are on fire.’ and hung up on me and I never heard another word because of course she didn’t have the balls to actually say, ‘Oh my God, I’ve made a terrible mistake. I do apologize.’
KJ: 11:06 Celebrities, they’re just like us, only ruder.
Abbi: 11:20 So then I met with her, we talked about her ideas for the book, and then I wrote it in six weeks. So there you go.
KJ: 11:28 And from there – straight into your own novels or were there any pit stops along the way?
Abbi: 11:34 I started doing a second novel for her and she wasn’t happy with what I had done, and I had already done quite a bit, so my agent was like, ‘Okay, well she’ll start over, but of course it will cost you more money.’ And she’s like, ‘Well, I don’t want to pay any more money.’ And I said, ‘Then I don’t want to write any more words.’ And so that’s how that happened. And so then The Garden of Small Beginnings got written and that agent and I came to a parting of the ways, cause we had a different point of views on what should happen with the book. And then I actually put that book away for a year or two and tried to write screenplays and get involved with TV, had minor, minor encouragement in that direction, which then didn’t come to pass. And so I was like blow this, I’m going back to writing books where the only asshole I have to deal with this is myself. And so that’s what I did. And then I got a new agent, a wonderful agent who agreed with me about the book. And the rest is history.
KJ: 12:39 Same agent, all three books?
Abbi: 12:40 Same agent, all three books, and the fourth which I just handed in and two more that I’m on the hook for. So I have two more to go.
KJ: 12:48 When’s the fourth one coming out?
Abbi: 12:49 Presumably next spring/summer.
KJ: 12:52 Ah, excellent, we shall be together.
Abbi: 12:55 Well at the moment, I still think it’s a piece of shit. So that is always what happens. I’m like, ‘This is it. My career is over. Every time.’
KJ: 13:07 You don’t feel like you’re getting better? So I read them in this order: first, The Garden of Small Beginnings (because I read that one I suspect right around when it came out), then, The Bookish Life of Nina Hill (obviously sometime later), then back to Other People’s Houses. I mean, they were all extremely fun and there’s something in particular I want to ask you about, but I would say you’re definitely building skill. You’re not feeling that?
Abbi: 13:36 No, I do feel that. I feel like every time I write something it’s better than what I’ve written before. But what I’m not building in is necessarily confidence about it once when it’s too close. So when I had it in Nina, I was like, ‘It’s a piece of crap.’ And then by the time it came out and I went back and looked at it again, I was like, ‘Oh. No, it’s all right. It’s all right.’ And there were even bits, you know, when you read something that you’re like, ‘Wow, that’s really good. I have no idea who wrote that part because I don’t remember writing that part.’ You know, there are more of those each time. So that I guess is good. But I find that the gap between what it’s going to be in my head and what it ends up on paper, that doesn’t seem to get a great deal smaller. I’m always a little bit like, ‘That was not what I was really going for and part of the time it’s because I’m not capable of doing what I think I can do. And part of it is just that the writing process itself changes the nature of the idea. Right? Like different things come out on paper and you follow that direction and it’s not quite what you had in mind originally, but you know, it’s still better than ice fishing.’.
New Speaker: 14:44 It’s the same for nonfiction. Nonfiction works the same, I always quote Mary Roach. You know, I usually have an idea about something I’d like to research and possibly write about. And then Mary Roach refers to this period of time as a ‘research flail’ that she flails about in the research for a couple of months and then figures out what the book might be and that gap is always really hard for me cause you have to take that leap of faith that words will end up on the page on the other side. So definitely, nonfiction and fiction seem to have that similarity to them.
Abbi: 15:19 Yeah. I mean I think any large project, even if it’s not writing, like you build a house, or you have a child and you have this idea of what it’s going to be. But then the actual everyday practicalities of creating something change the nature of the finished product itself.
New Speaker: 15:38 Yeah, absolutely.
Abbi: 15:52 You know, the book itself (this is going to sound ridiculous), but the book itself has sort of an influence, you know what I mean? Like it takes on a life of its own and the characters do what the characters do. And so you just have to sort of trail along.
KJ: 16:19 So what is your process around that? Sarina who isn’t with us today and I, and now Jess, who’s gonna go in for some fiction next, have been talking a lot about what we plan ahead of time, what we don’t plan ahead of time. It seems to vary a little bit. What’s your process look like?
Abbi: 16:40 It’s cracked.
KJ: 16:41 You’d recommend it then?
Abbi: 16:44 I am writing a book about it now because it really needs to be down on paper. No, it’s terrible. My process is that I have an idea about, that’s usually a character idea or a situation. So for example, the book I just wrote that I just finished, which at the moment is called Mothers, Daughters, and Unexpected Outcomes, which is a title that was sort of arrived at by a huge number of people.
KJ: 17:12 Oh, good. Titling by committee.
Abbi: 17:14 But I’m sure it’s a great title. It’s gonna be great. Anyway, the point is – that book was inspired by my real life experience that I know we all share, of that moment where you realize that the child you’ve been raising for the past 13, 14 years has suddenly turned into a totally different person and all the skills that you’ve gathered raising that child up until that point are completely useless. So you have to sort of come up with a whole new way of trying to relate to this person, who is now a different person, and who you respect and love, but who is deeply freaking irritating and annoying and bumptious and narcissistic and…
KJ: 17:57 And knows where all your buttons are. And still hesitates not to press them.
Abbi: 18:03 No, leans on them in fact. So that’s what this book is about. So my process was, I want to write about the period I’m in right now. And the situation I set up was the woman and her teenage daughter are taking a college tour. So that was the structure of the book. I’m going to take them away from home, they’re going to be on their own together with another group of parents taking this group college tour up the East coast. So that gave me my structure and then I just have at it. So what usually happens is, I write the first 10 – 15,000 words in a froth of excitement and confidence. Then I come up against whatever the floor in my original idea was and flail around flailing big, an excellent word for the process. Flail around and freak out and panic and that panic period lasts usually a week or two. Then I write everything. I’ve got down so far on index cards and stick them up on a noticeboard and stare at them for a while. Then I decided to work out what the next 10,000 words are going to do. I work that out, I write those, then I panic. Do it again, rinse and repeat. So that’s basically my processes. Write a chunk, freak out, write it down, look at it, try and come up with what the next bit is going to be, write that, it changes, panic. It’s lurching, it’s sort of like the progress of a drunk person trying to get home. I lurched from lamppost to lamppost and then eventually I get there. It’s good, right? You like it, right? You feel inspired, right?
KJ: 19:38 Yeah. I think you should patent it because it works really well.
Abbi: 19:42 The panicky lamppost process.
KJ: 19:45 So, it sounds like you start from an emotion. Like a mental place where your people are, kind of. But one of the things that really strikes me about your books is that your people are always very much in a really defined physical place. And I don’t mean like, I know that the bookstore has blue walls. I mean, it’s almost like workplace fiction. Like The Garden of Small Beginnings had this very strong, not just gardened theme, but this sort of teaching, the placement of the garden and the thing the person was doing. And then Other People’s Houses had that neighborhood setting. And it was a really distinct California neighborhood. And then The Bookish Life of Nina Hill, same sort of city bookstore.
Abbi: 20:36 Same neighborhood. All three of the first three books are all set in the same neighborhood.
KJ: 20:40 Yeah. I thought so, but it’s not the neighborhood so much as they all have such a really strong setting for the action. And I wondered when that comes into play. Well, and you’re leaving that too, if they’re all heading out.
Abbi: 21:04 Oh no, that’s why this next one is a piece of crap. So, here’s the thing. I struggle with structure. I feel like that’s my weakness as a writer. I think I’m good at characters, I like writing dialogue, but I really struggle with plot and structure. And so in order to try and help myself, you will notice I always create this structure, this sort of artificial structure that I then lean on. So, in The Garden of Small Beginnings, she was taking a gardening course. I was able to break up the book by these lessons, right? So it sort of gives me a calendar and a structure to cling to. And then I separated each section. So each lesson, each class, was sort of a break, and then there would be another set of action as a result. The second one, Other People’s Houses, she had to take the kids to school every day, right? So she was carpooling these kids to school and the sort of going from house to house gave me the structure I wanted. And then Nina, she had a planner, right? The action of the book takes place over a number of weeks during the summer. And so that gives me the structure and so then I can sort of cling and we’re back to lampposts again. Then I can cling to the structure and move the story along sort of forcibly. And that’s just my anxious cheater’s way of giving the book some kind of structure because I feel like my plots aren’t strong enough. Very little happens in my books, like they are not plot-driven because I’m not really interested in that. I love reading it, and I admire it in other writers, but I’m not very good at it myself. And I’m much more interested in the action that’s going on between your ears as you drive your kids to school each day than I am in how you actually got to school because that’s what’s interesting to me.
KJ: 23:00 That is funny that you would say that because I would say the same thing about what I write. And I’ve always felt it as sort of a flaw, but I would not have said it about your work as a reader. I see your point, nothing blows up. Although in Other People’s Houses, it kind of does. That one’s got a pretty clear plot high point. I feel like that whole plot driven structure thing is a very masculine way of looking at book structure.
New Speaker: 23:41 Right. I agree.
KJ: 23:43 It’s very external.
Abbi: 23:44 It is very external, and I’m not interested in external stuff. I’m much more interested in relationships between people, conversations that you have in the normal course of the day, the small conversations you have with strangers, and the gap between what you’re thinking and what you’re saying, and also the gap between what you are presenting and what is really going on. The gap between your inside and your outside. That’s what interests me as a person, as a human being. And so that’s what I tend to write about. And then I tried to write about kids and dogs because I like kids and dogs.
KJ: 24:18 Now how about the funny? Your books are funny. Especially Nina Hill. I mean, I think I laughed out loud multiple times at the end as they’re sort of lurching around. It had that fun, tastic, caper feel. Do you feel that when you’re writing it, do you plan it? How do you make that happen? Come on, give us the secret.
Abbi: 24:57 Well, as you can tell from talking to me, I am just naturally a laugh riot and a charismatic maelstrom of humor. And so, it just comes out that way. No, I just can’t take everything very seriously. And so when I’m writing I just can’t take it seriously. I’ve tried writing serious books and I fail. I could just can’t do it because I think most things are funny. Most things are ridiculous. Life is just a series of ridiculous predicaments. And so that’s what I tend to write about.
KJ: 25:34 And you do it very well.
Abbi: 25:36 That’s very kind of you to say.
KJ: 25:39 So you were talking earlier about novels in the drawer. I think all of us would love to know how many it took you to get to the point where you could get one out.
Abbi: 25:50 Okay. So I wrote two complete novels that were shit. And I also wrote probably three movie screenplays that were crap and a TV pilot that nearly got made. So that I guess was marginally better. And which is now going to be the basis of the book I’m writing next. Yeah, so several. The very first one I wrote, I literally threw away. Like, I don’t have it anymore. It was written 17 years ago when I was pregnant with my first child and it was pretty poor. And so I threw that one away completely. The second one I kept in a drawer. Well, not really a drawer but you know a folder on the desktop. And I tend to keep everything because I have many, many starts as well. As I said before, I seem to be able to write 12 to 15,000 words.
KJ: 26:52 I was going to ask you how many of those sort of frothy beginnings – cause that’s the hard part for a lot of writers is getting paid. So many people have like a really polished first three chapters or a lot of really enthusiastic bursty first three chapters. But it’s, it’s sitting down and going, okay, I’m gonna make this work. Do you have anything to say about the first time you managed to bring that off? Did someone lock you in a room?
Abbi: 27:25 I was pregnant and bored and this was before the internet was really as interesting as it is now. So I didn’t really have much to do. It was after September 11th I was pregnant with Julia, my eldest. We were in New York when September 11th happened. And then we went and lived with a friend in Berkeley for six weeks. And it was during that period of time that I finished the first piece of crap. I don’t know, I think that’s where being a professional comes in. Is that you can’t just write the parts that are fun and easy. You have to just keep writing. I write every day. Often I say I write every day, I want to write every day, and I set out to write every day. But because of life, often I end up taking someone to the dentist or picking up groceries. So life trumps my work in a way that I think sometimes is something that women suffer from more than men. Not because of any inherent sexism, God forbid that there was any suggestion that there is any institutionalized sexism at work. It does appear to be a kind of expectation, that apparently I’ve bought into, that if some little child needs to go to the doctor, it’s me that does it. So, work gets trumped all the time. But less and less as my kids get older and less and less as I get more bolshy. And so, I go and work every day, ideally. And you just keep plugging along.
KJ: 29:02 But you were able to tell yourself this is what professionals do. It sounds like – before anyone was telling you that with a paycheck.
Abbi: 29:10 Oh yeah.
KJ: 29:10 That’s hard for a lot of people.
Abbi: 29:11 Bear in mind, I worked as a writer in advertising. So I was getting paid to write for decade and a half. So putting words on paper and getting a paycheck was something that I’d always done. And so I treated it that way. And advertising is also a great training for writers because you get used to throwing your work away and you get used to starting over. Like over and over and over and over again. And usually you work relatively hard on something and then someone will shit all over it and you’re like, ‘Okay.’ And you tear it up and start over. And after a while, that becomes just part of the process, and that’s why it’s such good training. Like journalism, like any career where you’re basically selling words and other people, who haven’t written them, have power to buy or sell them. So yeah, you get used to not caring so much and at the same time caring a lot. I don’t know if that makes any sense, but you know what I mean? Being professional about it.
KJ: 30:15 So we have a new question that I’m trying out on people. It’s kind of a silly one, but what do you write in your head? I think all of us as writers wander around, sort of writing in our head constantly. What do you write in your head – when you’re in the shower, or when you’re lost in thought, or when you’re driving kids to school? What are you writing in your head?
Abbi: 30:38 At the moment? To be completely honest, I’m writing my eldest daughter’s personal statement for her college applications.
KJ: 30:46 That’s an awesome answer.
Abbi: 30:48 That is absolutely what I am writing and rewriting over and over again, which is unfortunate because I’m not actually the one who’s writing the personal statements. Yeah. I have written bullet points for my child’s personal statement many, many times on the way to the grocery store.
KJ: 31:13 And I’m sure she’s disregarded every single one.
Abbi: 31:16 Oh, she’s thrilled. She loves it when I come home and I burst into her room and I say, (well, after I’ve said what the hell happened in here?) Then I say, I’ve had some ideas for your personal statement and she sits up in bed and she, tugs out at least one of her ear bud things and says, ‘Get out of my room.’ Yup. Every time.
KJ: 31:41 That’s beautiful. It’s really touching.
Abbi: 31:43 It’s a bonding moment. It’s happened a lot lately. You know what it is, I don’t even know that I’m writing as I’m driving around, but I’m always thinking about the book and sometimes I get an emotional feeling that I’m then trying to sort of get on paper. And so I’m always very happy when I’m driving around because I feel like I’m working, but I’m not actually producing anything.
KJ: 32:12 Yeah, I write some amazing stuff on long drives, you wouldn’t believe it. Yeah, it’s good. It’s really good. Then recently I tried turning on the notes app in my phone and (our friend Sarina, who has actually managed to do this successfully) I dictated a few of the great words that were in my head and I think that ended as we can all predict, which is that I did not even bother sending them…
Jess: 32:39 I have my children email me or text me. Like if I have a kid in the car with me, I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, I just had an idea. I need you to email me with the words.’ and I’ll come up with some random string of words. And they look at me like, who are you?, What is it you do with your life? It’s always really revealing.
Abbi: 32:59 My children are amazed I’ve lived as long as I have. They’re so perplexed that somehow I have managed to make it to nearly 50 when I’m clearly barely capable of getting through the day. You know, it’s part of this mysterious force that keeps them moving forward. It’s like we must find out what she is actually doing with her life.
KJ: 33:25 We don’t want them to have an answer. That’s all. That’s my theory, anyway. I’m hopefully just gonna remain a mystery to them for long enough that none of them writes a book about me.
Abbi: 33:37 Oh, I’ll be dead long before I hope.
KJ: 33:43 Well, speaking of books we always like to let the guest go first. So let’s do #AmReading. Have you read anything good lately or that you would recommend?
Abbi: 33:54 When I’m writing, I can’t read the genre that I’m writing. So I don’t ever read fiction when I’m writing because I’m worried that I will steal from it or I’m just will become so despondent that this other person is doing it so much better that I will be unable to continue. So, my favorite genre is murder mysteries, which is what I grew up reading, cause that’s what my mother did. And so when I am left to my own devices, I will go back and read golden age mysteries, like Agatha Christie, Patricia Wentworth, Ngaio Marsh, Margery Allingham, etc. I am reading a Miss Silver mystery, which is Patricia Wentworth. And I couldn’t be happier, I just go back over and over. Nero Wolfe, which is actually an American guy writer. I love those books and I’ve read them all 50 times and I will read them all 50 times more.
KJ: 34:59 I have shelves and shelves and shelves. Which Patricia Wentworth are you savoring at the moment?
Abbi: 35:05 I believe this one I’m reading is called Lonesome Road. I’m also terrible in general at titles. But they’re all good and I love the Nero Wolfe mysteries. I think they’re perfect. Just constructionist perfect.
KJ: 35:36 So fun and such a great place to just go back and refresh and cleanse. There are some great people writing murder mysteries now, but I just tend to go back and reread them. It sounds like you do too.
Abbi: 35:52 All the time. All the time. And I’ll try not to, like right now I’m not reading Nero Wolfe’s because I’ve read them so many times that I’m trying to forget some of it. But the problem is as soon as you start the book, you’re like, no, I remember exactly. But it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter.
KJ: 36:09 I think it actually frees your mind up to sort of churn around in the background.
Abbi: 36:13 Yeah. And I just appreciate it, the writing is so good. Agatha Christie, you know, there’s a reason that she is a success. Her plots are so perfect, her characterization is so deft, and they’re so satisfyingly pleasing to read, that it’s just a joy. So that is what I am always reading, a mystery of some kind or another. And that’s what I would love to write. But I don’t. Unfortunately I’ve been semi-successful writing this other genre and my publisher is not interested in me writing mysteries.
KJ: 36:47 I have one in a drawer in which a guy at law school is killed in a parking lot and he bears a lot of resemblance to a guy I went to…yeah. It can never come out of the drawer.
Abbi: 37:08 Well, the thing is, so I wrote a mystery – and my publisher probably doesn’t want me to talk about this, but whatever – I wrote a mystery that I loved, and has a set of characters that I adore, and they don’t want to publish it. And so that’s fine. I’m actually going to rewrite it as not a mystery for my next book because I love the characters so much. And that’s fine. I’ve discovered that I’m totally comfortable with that. I just want to write about these characters. So that’s really where I’m at. The whole genre thing is somewhat perplexing to me. So, I did a lot of promotion for Nina around it being a romance, which it’s funny because to me it’s not at all a romance. I mean it is, but it’s the weakest part of the book. That is not what’s important. So I just felt like a bit of a fraud.
KJ: 38:06 It’s just really hard to tell. We spend a lot of time talking about this too, and I’ve just followed the women’s fiction hashtag on Instagram and discovered a lot of new authors that way. And I think if we had Sarina here, one of the definitions that she’s once offered me is that in women’s fiction, one person can get their guy, but there has to be another plot. And if there’s a best friend, they don’t get their guy. But if it’s romance, then everybody gets their guy. I’m probably misquoting her terribly, but you know.
Abbi: 38:39 I get it. I call what I do domestic fictio,n because it’s about people’s domestic life.
KJ: 38:48 I write what I like to read. Yeah, it’s what’s interesting. One more thing…
Abbi: 38:56 What are you guys reading?
KJ: 38:57 Oh that’s right. We get to say what we’re reading. Jess, go ahead. Cause I am drifting off.
New Speaker: 39:02 I’ve decided to do an experiment. So, as I mentioned, I’ve been reading Harlan Coben because I had never read Harlan Coben before. And I realized (especially recently) we’ve been talking about popular authors that have a bazillion best-sellers whose books I’ve never read. So I’m going to try a little experiment and try to read a book by a whole bunch of really, really popular, successful bestselling authors that I just don’t even think to pick up because they’ve got books A through Z or W actually I guess is where she ended up. But you know, books by people that I have never picked up before and who have lots of them out there. Cause who knows, maybe I’ll like one of them. I do know that I’m loving Harlan Coben still. So that’s been fun for me.
KJ: 39:49 And I have been rereading Confessions of a Bookseller by Sean Bythell, which we’ve talked about before. In part because I met a friend for a drink and she handed me a grocery shopping bag and said, ‘George (her husband) wanted to give you this back.’ And there it was – my copy – and I was in need of something soothing and fun. And in the process of reading it I got to noodling around because he writes a great deal about his girlfriend, who I think is his then-girlfriend, but I’m a little hazy. And, and the fact that she has written a book about the town in which the bookstore is. So for whatever reason, I never looked that up at the time. But now I have looked it up. And so the person who is Ana in his book and is his girlfriend had written the very popular Three Things You Need To Know About Rockets: A Real-Life Scottish Fairy Tale about her leaving her LA life, an ambitious Hollywood filmmaker, and going to this small town in Scotland and meeting this bookstore owner, and falling in love. I think the book has a happy ending, I’m not sure the life piece of it does, but I know they’re trying to get it made into a movie. And now I’ve sort of rabbit trailed off into buying that book and following everyone on all the social media so I can find out what really happens, which honestly I probably would be just as happy if I just left it all between the covers of the first book. But that’s what I’m doing.
New Speaker: 41:19 That sounds like a delightful endeavor.
KJ: 41:22 And Confessions of a Bookseller is super fun.
Jess: 41:27 And speaking of booksellers, actually, do we have a bookstore to talk about this week? Ms Abbi?
Abbi: 41:34 Yes. So this is easy because the bookstore in Nina Hill is a real bookstore. And so in the book it’s called Nights. And in real life it’s called Chevalier’s, which is French for night cause it’s a very, very thin disguise. And it’s on Larchmont Boulevard and it’s a real independent bookstore, really run by a woman named Liz and staffed by a number of very smart and fabulous young women, much like Nina Hill. And I love it. I go there all the time. I always launch my books there. It’s a really great store.
KJ: 42:08 Oh, you’re like one of the people with the kids in the reading group.
Abbi: 42:11 Yes.
KJ: 42:12 You’re a side character in your own book.
Abbi: 42:15 Yes. I’m not only the hero of my own life, I am also the supporting cast.
KJ: 42:21 What did they do? What did they think?
Abbi: 42:25 They liked it, they were amused. Or they’re doing a very good job of pretending that they’re amused, but yes, they like it. Liz says that she’s nothing like the character Liz, but she is. It’s a great store and has a wonderful selection of books. And Liz is one of those people who has the gift of, if I say to her, ‘I really enjoyed X’, she will say, ‘Oh then you will really enjoy Y’ and she’s 100% correct. So that’s a great skill.
KJ: 42:55 I need her in my life, that is an amazing skill. My novel to come is centered around two fried chicken restaurants in a single small town in my book named Chicken Mimi’s and Chicken Annie’s. No it’s not Chicken Annie’s, that’s the real one. There’s a small town in Kansas with two fried chicken restaurants called Chicken Mary’s and Chicken Annie’s and I do not know what Chicken Mary’s and Chicken Annie’s are going to think of having become Chicken Mimi’s and Chicken Franny’s.
Abbi: 43:34 I hope you at least get some free chicken out of it.
KJ: 43:38 If I were in this small town in Kansas where haven’t been in decades, I think I could make that happen. Well, thank you so much. We have utterly, wholeheartedly enjoyed, it’s been, as you said, a laugh riot. Actually, it really has been. This has been really great and we thank you so much for coming.
Abbi: 44:15 It’s my pleasure. I look forward to coming back sometime.
Jess: 44:19 Well and if people want to find you out there on the social internets, where will people find you? Where would you like to people to go?
Abbi: 44:26 They can find me on Instagram. Cause I don’t do Twitter.
KJ: 44:39 We’ll find it. We’ll link it in the show notes, which I will remind listeners you can get in your inbox every week by going to amwritingpodcast.com and signing up and there they will be every time we have an episode, it will pop in. There’ll be a short paragraph usually from me rambling on about what it is that we talked about. And then you get all the show notes, all the links, everything you could possibly ask for.
Jess: 45:09 Alright. Until next week, everyone, keep your butts in the chair and your head in the game. This episode of #AmWriting with Jess and KJ was produced by Andrew Parilla. Our music, aptly titled unemployed Monday was written and performed by Max Cohen. Andrew and Max were paid for their services because everyone, even creatives should be paid.