Welcome, Laurie. Thanks for coming on “Moms Don't Have Time to Read Books.”
Laurie Gelman: Thank you. It’s exciting to be here.
Zibby: As you know, we’re in Scarsdale doing a live event today which is an experiment with the podcast. Thanks for being a willing participant in this.
Laurie: Not a problem. I’ll keep my f-bombs to a minimum.
Zibby: My daughter’s like, “You keep saying explicit on your podcast. It’s not letting me listen.” I'm like, “I don't [indiscernible/laughter].”
Laurie Gelman is the author of Class Mom and the upcoming novel called You've Been Volunteered: A Class Mom Novel. Laurie is a former US and Canadian television personality who started her career as a traffic reporter in Toronto --
Laurie: On the radio.
Zibby: -- and ended up on the CBS Early Show and hosting The Mom Show. Class Mom was shortlisted for the 2018 Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour and won the Vine Award for Canadian Jewish Literature. Who knew they had one?
Laurie: Who knew there was one? I know.
Zibby: She currently lives in New York City with her husband and two children. Welcome, Laurie.
Laurie: Thank you very much.
Zibby: Can you please start by telling everybody what Class Mom is about, and also You’ve Been Volunteered? What inspired you to write these books?
Laurie: Class Mom is about the mother who volunteers in the classroom to help out everybody. My character, Jen Dixon, was a mom very early in her life. She had a crazy ride through Europe following the band INXS. She had two kids by two different band members. Then she finally came back to the United States. She raised her kids. Then she met the man of her dreams and she had another kid. She has girls in college and one starting kindergarten, which is a unique and interesting place to be. She gets roped into being class mom. She decides that this time around she's not going to take it as seriously. She's going to try to have fun with it. She's going to make everybody else have fun too by showing a lot of humor and wit. Not everybody loves her snarky sense of humor.
Zibby: I did.
Laurie: I did too. It’s based on -- I didn't have two kids by two different band members, that I know of, but I did become class mom for five soul-sucking years. Anybody else? Class mom? [laughter] I was fired in my fifth year as class mom. Yes, fired as class mom because I wrote a snarky email, as per usual. This one mom had never had me as class mom before. She was really offended. She went to the head of the PA and said, “I want her fired.” They just said okay. They came to me. They said, “You're fired.” I was like, “From a job I didn't want that I volunteer for anyway?” Okay, no problem. So I wrote a book about it, ha, ha, ha, ha. That's pretty much Class Mom.
Zibby: Tell me about what happened between being fired and this book arriving here. How did it become a book?
Laurie: A lot of tears. It hurt. I was doing what I thought was a great job. I put my heart and soul into it. I would give awards at the end of the year for mothers, like the mother who responded the fastest to my emails, any little thing, the most spirited mom. I'd give out Starbucks gift cards. I really wanted to make it fun. I wrote songs in my emails that you had to sing. It was an email about the Christmas concert, but you had to sing it to the tune of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” if you really wanted to get it. I put my heart and soul into it. To have somebody shut the door on me, I was really upset. I dried my tears. I had been thinking about writing a book anyway because I needed something else to do in my life. I was complaining about the being fired thing to this man, my book agent. He said, “That’s your book. Forget about trying to write some self-help or mother/parenting coach. Tell that story.” So I did.
Zibby: That's great. Had you written before?
Laurie: I was a journalist for years. I wrote just the facts map kind of stuff on television. I'd never written fiction. This was a real journey. It took me a long time.
Zibby: Tell me about the process. How long did it take? When did you write? Where do you write?
Laurie: I wrote at Starbucks every day. Here's the thing. I started writing, I wrote twenty pages in one sitting. I was like, “Thing’s going to write itself. Fantastic.” Then I would go away for two weeks. I'd come back and go, “I'm going to write a little more.” It wasn’t getting finished. It just wasn’t getting done. I spoke to a writer friend of mine. He said you have to treat it like a job. You have to show up every day and write whether you feel like it or not, whether you have any ideas. You either rewrite or you write, but two hours at least every day. I started going to Starbucks every day for the same two hours, 88th and Broadway. Probably within a year of that, the book finally got done. It was three years in the making altogether.
Zibby: Wow. Then what about the second book?
Laurie: The second book took less than a year. I understand how to do it now. You show up. You write. You get it done. I was really happy.
Zibby: You said earlier when we were all chatting about how this is your third act. How did you go from where you began to here? What caused you to shift gears?
Laurie: It’s a funny story. I was working at CBS, The Early Show. I was the pop culture correspondent. That was my lofty title. I was really the entertainment reporter. I had just had my second child. I was interviewing Jude Law because that's how I rolled back then in those days. I asked him a question. Then I was like, “Oh, my god. Did I forget to pump?” My boobs started hurting. Oh, geez. Then I look at him. He's looking at me. He'd answered the question. I had no idea what he said. I realized at that moment my head is not in this game anymore. I went back to the office. I said to my producer, “Is there any way I could be the parenting correspondent because this is what I'm really into?” He said, “That's usually an expert who’s written books and has a PhD.” I said, “I'm so in it I couldn't even listen to Jude Law. I'm living it. Are you kidding me? I am the expert of the moment.” He didn't agree with that, so I left the job. I went and raised my kids. Then when they turned teenagers, which is recent, they didn't really need me that much anymore. I was past my class mom days. I decided to write.
Zibby: That's awesome. It’s so inspiring. Kelly Ripa said on her show that Class Mom was for every mom or dad who has a child in school and every parent considering being a class mom. You’ve Been Volunteered, same audience. Is there anything different between the two books? How amazing was it to hear her say that on air?
Laurie: Come on. Nobody sells like a book like Kelly Ripa. She mentions you, you spike in your sales. It’s crazy. My husband is the executive producer of Live with Kelly and Ryan. That's why she would even look at my book. She's a fan. She read both books. She really liked it. The second one’s a sequel. In the first one, Jen is just trying to get through being class mom. There's a lot of other stuff that goes on in her life. The second one is three years later. She's roped into being class mom again, but now she's also in charge of safety patrol, which for anybody who's ever done that is the worst job ever. Hilarity ensues. For Kelly to say that and to mean it -- she's said it many times. She said it yesterday. I was on the show yesterday cooking. She said it again. It was great.
Zibby: I also watched another clip from Live with Kelly and Ryan.
Laurie: It doesn't flow off the tongue the way that Regis and Kathie Lee did. I know.
Zibby: You had said that, obviously, you've drawn from your experiences in New York City to write both of these books. You decided not to set your books in New York City because you felt like Upper East Side moms have had enough abuse. On the show they were like, “The poor Upper East Side moms. They're wiping their tears away.” [laughs] You're like, “The poor beleaguered Upper East Side moms.” As an Upper East Side mom, I have to ask, do you think Upper East Side moms get a bad rap? Do you think it’s justified? What do you think?
Laurie: The way they're portrayed in a lot of books is really so outside what's really happening. There's so much negative motivation in the books. These women are power-hungry. They're bored because they used to be lawyers and now they're housewives. They want to rule the world. I felt like everybody writes it so over the top. I wanted people outside of New York to enjoy the book. I put it in Kansas City, Missouri, which is very, very close to the geographic center of the United States. I figured if you start there in the middle, it will spread out. It has because it really is a universal f-you to be the class mom. It really is. It’s the most thankless job you'll ever do.
Zibby: In You've Been Volunteered, Jen goes out to dinner at first with a couple that her husband wants them to go to dinner with. The wife, who she first thinks she's not going to like at all, ends up saying that she is a SoulCycle-esque devotee.
Zibby: Spinning in general, spinning devotee, tries to rope in Jen. At first, she's like, “No way.” Then she goes and she loves it. Then it goes throughout the book. Now they're doing doubles. Are you a SoulCycle person? I have to ask.
Laurie: I am a SoulCycle person. I was one of the first through the door at 72nd Street when nobody else was going there. It smelled like a vagina. [laughter] It was this tiny little box of a studio. I don't know if anybody ever remembers that. It’s grown into this incredible international company. If you get the right teacher -- in the book, Jen finds the right teacher. They play the right music. You get very inspired. I wanted to bring a bit of that to the book because it’s so much a part of what -- I've had so many great ideas just being in a spin room. The instructor will say, “Put your troubles on your handlebars. Just let them go.” I've had so many inspiring moments from that, just putting it here, listening to good music. Then all of a sudden -- once I had to jump off the bike because I had such a breakthrough. I had such a block. I had such a breakthrough. I was like, “Oh, my god. I have to write this down immediately.” I actually jumped off the bike and left.
Zibby: I was impressed that Jen was finding all this time and also that you're finding the time to do it. Working out is the first thing to go for me.
Laurie: Can I tell you something? It’s the first thing you do in the morning. It’s like any other thing. If you want it, you have to make it an appointment. I pay in advance. That's motivation to go so I don't waste money.
Zibby: I always thought it would be cool to have a novel about all the different people. I always, when I'm in spinning, find myself wondering about everybody's stories. What got them to that point where we’re all together in the room on these bikes? I bet everyone has the coolest stories. I usually just find myself crying when I go there. Do you ever cry? I cry all the time.
Laurie: I've cried many times in spin. I don't think you've spun until you've cried, until you've wept or thrown up, either one.
Zibby: I love how you wrote in the book, “As I turn to underload the dishwasher, my phone rings and I see it’s the school calling. This is always the worst moment. In the time between seeing it’s the school and picking up the phone, you die a million times with the fear that something has happened to your child.” Literally driving up here [indiscernible], it said her daughter’s school name. I was like, “Your school!”
Laurie: It’s a horrible moment because you really don't know what's it going to be. In the preschool I went to, you pick up the phone, they'd say, “Hi. It’s blah, blah, blah. Misha’s fine.” That's was the first thing out of their mouth, which is so helpful. If you say, “Hi. It’s Nurse Mary Beth,” I'm like, “Yeah, what else?”
Zibby: Sometimes they call, though, when everything's totally fine and it’s a false alarm.
Laurie: Sometimes they call just to tell you that your kid did something nice in school today. That's so great. Could you just email me that? When the phone rings, it’s something else.
Zibby: You also make a lot of fun of SignUpGenius in this book. You're a fan? You're not a fan?
Laurie: Not a fan of SignUpGenius. I know it’s great and a lot of people use it. They love it. It never worked for me. For some reason, I was just not capable. I say it in the book too. I didn't realize that the emails that SignUpGenius sends you go into your spam. You have to check your spam to see if anybody's signed up for anything.
Zibby: It’s so funny in the book because you keep being like, “Hello? Anybody? Is anybody out there? What is going on? Who is signing up?” Everything that you do takes what we all do every day and makes it so funny and relatable. I really loved it. Also, in the acknowledgments you said, “I have no one to thank. I did it all myself,” which of course obviously that's not true. What resources did you draw on? Do you have a writing group ever? What have you drawn on? What's been most helpful to you in your writing journey of your life?
Laurie: I need feedback. I don't have a writing group. I'm not a group writer. What I do is I write a bit. Then I’ll send it to people that I know will tell me the truth. First of all, I’ll send it to someone who I know will love it so that I get that positive. Then you send it to someone who you think will give you some good critical feedback. That is the most important thing. I have four friends who I do that to. Actually, Serena is my editor. She's here today, sitting right over there. She doesn't want to see it until it’s done. She's like, “I have so many other books to read.” I'm like, “Can you just read these thirty pages and let me know? Am I on the right track? Did you laugh once?” I'm a little needy in that way.
Zibby: Everybody's a little needy. It could be such a solitary thing. You're working, working.
Laurie: Oh, yeah. You're in a vacuum. I don't know if it’s funny. I'm cracking myself up, but who knows.
Zibby: I literally just sent out a newsletter last night. I wrote this thing on what you should not give your mom for Mother’s Day, the books you should not give. I found all these books like People You Want to Punch in The Face. I was cracking myself up. I was like, “Here you go.” I'm cracking myself up. Nobody's laughing but me. That's okay. As long as you make yourself, maybe someone else will laugh. I thought it was interesting when I got this book originally, how you have it A Class Mom Novel. We’re doing a whole series here? Is that the vision?
Laurie: Hopefully one more anyway. Books seem to come in threes, Twilight. [laughs] I'm trying to think of other trilogies. Although, I could ride this pony until it’s dead like that Harry Potterwoman did, eight or nine books, just keep going. God, I wish I had her success. Probably one more for now. Then we’ll see.
Zibby: Are you working on any now? Are you just thinking about it?
Laurie: I've got an outline for the third book. She's going to be in charge of the fundraiser at school. I'm hitting all the hot spots. I'm hitting all the favorites. Then we’ll see what happens after that.
Zibby: Have you thought about making this a TV series or a movie?
Laurie: I think about it every day. Do you know anybody?
Zibby: My husband’s a producer.
Laurie: So’s mine. Doesn't help.
Zibby: My husband, he just started out a couple years. Your husband’s in a different spot.
Laurie: It reads like it could be a TV show, for sure. That's something you really have to focus on, selling it and getting it out there. I'm not in that headspace right now.
Zibby: It’s neat because there's the Odd Mom Out type show where it pokes fun at the ridiculousness. Nothing gets to the heart of the day-to-day craziness like these books do. I think it would be really cool. I would watch it. Would you all watch it?
Zibby: Right? Wouldn't you watch it?
Laurie: Has anybody read Class Mom by any chance? Not a one. You read it? Can you tell everybody it’s funny?
Audience Member: It’s funny. My favorite line -- I've actually been using it because I'm very involved in PTA -- is when she says something about being a PTA mom. She's like, “No, no, no. Just being a PTA mom is thanks enough.” [laughter]
Laurie: No, no. Don't thank me.
Zibby: You even had in this book, a new family comes to town. The son is being odd and bringing in different show and tell type things every day. The mom is acting a little aloof. You don't really know what's going to happen with them. Then they go on a field trip together. You talk about this secret club that her son has started that she didn't know about. She leaves the field trip.
Laurie: She left the field trip, [laughs] like it’s really happened.
Zibby: It’s so funny.
Laurie: You know when -- it’s always the biggest mistake -- you tell a mother something that their kid did? “Really? Did my daughter say that? I'm so sorry. I will beat her senseless when I get home.” Kidding. I wouldn't. This mom, sometimes they're like, “Not my kid. There's no way they did that.” This mom finds out that her son is instigating this private club or a secret club that they're not letting this one kid into. She refuses to believe that it’s her kid that did it. It really is funny. I'm not giving it my best shot here.
Zibby: It is really funny. I hope I'm communicating it’s really funny. Let's all laugh. [laughter]
Laurie: I feel bad.
Zibby: No, I should've read some funnier parts. I'm sorry. You also intersperse a lot of emails within the text of the book, which is great. It breaks it up. It makes you keep reading. We all read a million emails a day.
Laurie: It moves the plot along.
Zibby: Obviously, there's a reason. How did you come up with that idea?
Laurie: Those are the emails that I wrote as class mom.
Zibby: Literally the same ones?
Laurie: I had to change them for the plot of the book. The first one in the first Class Mom book is verbatim what I sent to my kindergarten class. When I tell people that, they're usually pretty shocked. It’s a very acerbic -- maybe when we’re done, I’ll read an email or two. Maybe I was fired for a reason. They're pretty shocking. I start one, “Hello, losers. I'm calling you losers because I'm the winner. I get to be head of safety patrol this year.” You have to move on from being called losers before you...
Zibby: Having read all the emails in the book, I'm now shocked that those were actual emails.
Laurie: Those were actual emails.
Zibby: I'm starting to think about this being fired thing. Hmm.
Laurie: Let me just say, what I wanted more than anything else when I was a class mom was for people to participate. I see something from a class mom, it’s probably cut and pasted from the PTA website. It’s just information. I wanted people to want to read them. I started making it appointment reading. If you saw it was from class mom, “Oh, my god. Let's see what she says now.” I had dads emailing me back. “I've never read a class mom email before. I love yours. They're hilarious,” for years. That's why the firing was such a knife in my heart. After four years of doing this and everybody loving it and telling me how funny they were, the fifth year, I piss off the wrong person and I'm done.
Zibby: Having gone through these two books and now embarking on your third, what advice would you have to someone else who's aspiring to write a novel?
Laurie: Make that appointment with yourself, two hours. Go to Starbucks. Go wherever other things aren’t. You have to be away from the things that distract you. I can never write in my house because all I see are the things I still need to do. Everyone says write what you know. Write what makes you sing. Write what pisses you off. Write something that you're passionate about. That's what's going to get you back to the table again and again on days when you really don't feel like it. Keep it honest and fresh and something that you really want to talk about.
Zibby: Thank you for coming on “Moms Don't Have Time to Read Books.”
Laurie: The pleasure was mine. Thank you.