Zibby Owens: I'm here today with Madeleine Henry. Welcome for coming on “Moms Don't Have Time to Read Books.”
Madeleine Henry: Thank you so much.
Zibby: Madeleine is the debut author of Breathe In, Cash Out: A Novel. Madeleine worked at Goldman Sachs in investment management and is a true yoga master, as evidenced by her Instagram. She graduated from Yale University, like me, where she was a comedy writer for the Yale Record, America’s oldest college humor magazine. She currently lives in New York City. All correct?
Zibby: Good. Phew. [laughter] Thanks for coming on the show.
Madeleine: Thank you so much for having me. It’s such a pleasure to be here.
Zibby: I have to say right away, I'm a little bit jealous because I tried, after business school, to write a book. That was my plan. Then you did it. Now I'm like, oh, that would've been me, but it wasn’t. [laughter] I'm kind of jealous, but also super excited for you. Can you tell listeners what Breathe In, Cash Out is about? What inspired you to write it?
Madeleine: Breathe In, Cash Out is about an investment banker, Allegra, who's about my age who wants to be a --
Zibby: -- which is like eighteen.
Madeleine: [laughs] I wish. -- who wants to be a yogi. That specific plot taps into two more common experiences. One is a woman whose dream job is different from what she's doing now. In Allegra’s case, it happens to be the opposite. The second is escapism. This is something I hear a lot from my friends who are working in office jobs that they don't like. They go on Instagram. They develop these escapist fantasies based on these glamorized photos. They think, “I want to quit my job and be a lifestyle blogger, be a professional traveler, or be a yoga teacher,” in the case of Allegra. Allegra meets an Instagram yogi. They develop a friendship. The Instagram yogi tries to help Allegra reconcile these two worlds. That is what the book’s about and the major ideas in it.
Zibby: I loved the scene when you have them sitting having coffee. She's like, “I can't believe I'm here with this Instagram friend.” I have so many friends on Instagram now that when I see them in real life, I'm like, “I feel like I know you, but I really don't.”
Madeleine: Exactly. This book, it taps a little bit into the Instagram fever and these relationships we develop with people on Instagram who we feel like we know.
Zibby: I'm definitely a sucker for that. You started a chapter with the following quote. “No one grows up wanting to be an investment banker. Anyone who says they did is lying.” I was thinking to myself, Alex P Keaton -- did you ever watch? You're probably too young.
Madeleine: I looked him up. I watched a video.
Zibby: Oh, you looked him up? [laughter] I feel so old. Oh, my gosh.
Madeleine: I know who Michael Fox is.
Zibby: Michael J Fox, Family Ties, for anyone listening who's younger than me, which is age forty-two, was one of these 1980s sitcoms that everybody watched.
Madeleine: He looked hilarious.
Zibby: Alex P Keaton was Michael J Fox as a young dude, little republican back in the day. I actually wanted to talk to you about that because I do feel like for a long time, investment banking had a very different reputation than it does now. People used to view investment bankers as their trusted advisors. It was more of a relationship, long-term business. Now it has become a little bit of a different industry, not that people don't want to do it, necessarily, but sometimes more a means to an end. Comment on that. Also, tell me about your experience in this industry.
Madeleine: When I got into investment banking, I was following a path that's very common for Ivy League students. In 2017, forty percent of Harvard graduates went into finance or consulting. This is what happens. Toward the end of college, the big banks come to campus. They start recruiting. These jobs are viewed as really prestigious. If you don't have a set idea of what you want to do, you're going to go with the crowd and interview at these places. What I think is that when you're young, the conventional metric for success is grades in school. When you're old, it’s money -- not old, but older. You're basically in the same reward loop. You're doing what's expected of you. You're going through this conventional success metric. If you don't have a really solid idea of what you want to do next, you will probably go into banking or consulting as I did. That's how I ended up there.
Zibby: What did you want to be when you were a little girl?
Madeleine: Honestly, a writer. I had a typewriter when I was really young. I would type out poems and read to my classmates. Actually in college, I wrote a novel each semester senior year. That was science fiction. Nothing happened with that. This is really a dream come true for me to be a writer.
Zibby: My typewriter is right over there.
Zibby: That was my grandma’s typewriter. She used to send me letters at camp, “Weather is good,” Wite-Out, or not even Wite-Out. I should show you after. When I was in business school, I fell into the consulting interview circuit. Everyone is doing this. I don't want to be a consultant. I want to be a writer. There's no track for that. I might as well throw my hat in the consulting ring. I was so out of my element. The questions they asked, I tried to prepare for the interviews. You probably went through the same thing. I didn't even shoot for finance. The consulting, the way you have to analyze everything, like how many toll booths are in the United States? or all these random questions, I have so much respect for consultants, honestly. When people are like, “I work at McKinsey.” I'm like, “You're a genius.” [laughter]
Madeleine: Just to get that job. That's exactly what it’s tapping into. It’s viewed as successful. It’s viewed as prestigious. That's why so many people end up there. It becomes comfortable. It’s very hard to leave that field once you're in it.
Zibby: Allegra, for your character, wants to get out basically as soon as she's in. She's doing this not even pretending to like it.
Madeleine: Exactly. She has one foot out the door, which is why she's trying to reconcile the two worlds at the same time.
Zibby: Is that how you went into it?
Madeleine: To be honest, no. I didn't start practicing yoga until I left banking. Then I worked in investment management. It was only when I had free time that I discovered things outside of work. I never had to reconcile them at the same time the way Allegra does. God help her. [laughs] It’s difficult.
Zibby: How did you find yoga, or how did yoga find you?
Madeleine: I came to it from a very New York City perspective, which is yoga is a workout and this is for my body. Then I started browsing on Instagram. I found this network of major yogi Instagramers. They all follow each other and comment on each other’s posts. They post pictures of their practice. I was really in awe of these women. I wanted to be able to do those things with my body. While I was in investment management, I practiced every morning at crazy hours, like at five AM. I would do these motions every day.
Zibby: At home? At a class?
Madeleine: At a gym on an ab mat. I'd get people coming up to me saying --
Zibby: -- What's an ad mat?
Madeleine: An ab mat, sorry. A-B.
Zibby: You mean the little thing you roll on the ground?
Zibby: I have been to a gym. [laughter] I just never called it an ab mat.
Madeleine: I was practicing. As these yogis’ captions, they would have spiritual wisdom. That was my spiritual education. I wasn’t raised with a religion, but I had captions on Instagram passing on life advice that really resonated with me. That is the way I got into yoga, was through Instagram, which is very modern.
Zibby: That is very modern. That's awesome. What's your practice like now?
Madeleine: Now I try to practice every day. I don't do, necessarily, a flow or a deep practice every day. I just try and get into my body. Sometimes that's specific yoga moves. Sometimes it’s having a yoga mind-set while exercising. I try to connect back to the body.
Zibby: Your flexibility -- not that this is related to your book, but I just have to comment. You're like a contortionist. Have you always been that flexible?
Madeleine: No. This is very interesting. My experience, as evidenced, is that flexibility is like strength. You can build it up with repetitions.
Zibby: I don't think I could build up what you have.
Madeleine: That's what I thought. Honestly, I was never flexible. I was sedentary in an office job. I wanted to be these women that I saw in Instagram. I thought, oh, my god, you're so beautiful. You can do these crazy backbends. I just practiced. I got better over years. The thing is that most people quit before they see results. It takes so much longer than people expect. They think, I've been doing this a month. It’s not working. It takes longer. If you really fall in love with doing it, then you'll do it for longer. Then you'll see the results. If you hate it and you're just doing it for the results, you'll probably quit.
Zibby: Did you have one inspirational yogi like the Skylar character in the book?
Madeleine: There is a famous yogi named Nicole Woyak. She is famous for her yoga moves involving splits. She has this massive following, half of which are probably just guys watching splits. The other half are women who connect with her soulful captions and also are inspired by her physical excellence. I was in the latter. I'm really inspired by the way she owns her body in a very feminine way. That's something that I didn't really have growing up because I was always in with the guys in the math classes, in banking. Then yoga was this first place where I felt very feminine. Being able to do beautiful things with my body was part of what drove me to it.
Zibby: Did you used to play sports?
Madeleine: Yeah. I was center in lacrosse in high school and had a pretty masculine upbringing.
Zibby: Where are you from originally?
Madeleine: Westchester, New York.
Zibby: Nice. Back to Goldman for a minute. You worked at Goldman. This book, it doesn't say Goldman.
Madeleine: It does not. Legally, I am protected. [laughs]
Zibby: Did you think about doing a memoir of sorts? Was that ever a thought? Did you always know you wanted to do this as a novel?
Madeleine: I knew I wanted to write about yoga crossed with investment banking because that's so funny to me given that they're opposites. I legally cannot write about my experiences at Goldman Sachs. A novel was the format that was mandated. [laughs]
Zibby: From a legal standpoint, this is all clear, what you wrote? You had it all checked?
Madeleine: Oh, yeah. Lot of heads, lot of brains building a fort. [laughs]
Zibby: Just making sure before the door flies open and cops come in and you're dragged out of here.
Madeleine: Goodbye, Zibby. [laughs]
Zibby: All right, good. That's good. Your experience, if I could infer from the experiences in the book, might not have been super positive, I would say.
Madeleine: Yes. That's fair.
Zibby: Did you like anything about your experience? Was there someone you developed a mentee-mentor relationship with who you really respect? Is there anything about the industry that you miss or that you really liked? There's got to be something positive.
Zibby: Not to say that this job is for everyone. Not every job is for everyone.
Madeleine: That's true. The relationships I formed with my peers are really positive and priceless things. Actually, with the publication of this book, I was afraid that some people would feel resentment toward me in some way that I'm writing about a world that they're still in. There's been a lot of support coming from my peers. I passed a couple of them on the street the other day. They said, “We’re so excited for you. We’re going to be at all the signings.” Every preorder matters. They're like, “We preordered it. What's my character’s name?” I realized that people want their stories told. It’s a big thing in life. You want to be heard. You want your experience shared. They feel like I'm representing the investment banking experience of our peers. That's something that they respect. I got very lucky. They're great people.
Zibby: That's great. Did you have a Trip who was [indiscernible/laughter]?
Madeleine: Trip is an amalgamation of a few different guys. I was actually closer with some of the girls, which is not in this book. I had great girlfriends coming out of that experience.
Zibby: Did you read books like Liar’s Poker and Monkey Business? Did you read those?
Madeleine: I read Liar’s Poker when I was writing this to get a sense of big books in this genre. I have not read Monkey Business.
Zibby: That's good.
Madeleine: I should read it.
Zibby: Those are more, “Can you believe my life in this moment?” type of things or from the inside looking out. Yours was more, “I'm on the inside, but I want to get out.” You weren’t even saying, “Look at how crazy this is.” Maybe you didn't find it crazy. Maybe that's a question. Did you find it crazy? What did you think about the experience? For people who aren't as familiar with this industry, why is it so opposite from yoga?
Madeleine: It’s opposite from yoga if you look at the values. Finance and banking values money, external rewards, power. Yoga values humility, internal rewards, and inner power. It’s a nonmaterialist business in yoga. Banking is very much a materialist industry. That's why they clash. I did find it absurd when I was there. Then I changed companies, and I find there are inefficiencies in every business. It’s not necessarily that banking is evil. I just draw that out in some of the anecdotes.
Zibby: To play devil’s advocate here for a minute, the values that you talk about in banking or finance in general, although you're trying to make money, the goal of that could be altruistic. You could be trying to make money to help other people. You could be trying to help your family. You could be trying to give to charity, and this is your day job. Just because you end up earning money, doesn't necessarily mean you're doing that for the wrong reasons, does it?
Madeleine: Absolutely. I don't mean to demonize money at all. Part of what this book explores is that everyone needs to make a living. It just comes down to do you conduct yourself with integrity while you're doing it? I definitely don't demonize financial success in any way.
Zibby: You can still be operating with a lot of integrity as a banker or as someone in finance. There are tons of people. It’s a huge industry.
Madeleine: Absolutely. My boyfriend’s in finance.
Zibby: There's lot of people in other industries who are complete scumbags. There are people who work for charities who steal money and all this other stuff. There could be -- just throwing this out there -- a commonality. Part of yoga is wanting to better yourself in a way. You're trying to improve yourself. You're trying to build your practice, build your flexibility, build your strength. I think people in that industry and many industries are also doing that. They're trying to build their own skills, and maybe their intellectual skills, or maybe their finance, or just getting practice and improving themselves in life. Maybe they're not all [indiscernible]. Either way, it was a great contrast. You said you're writing a second novel? Did I read that somewhere? It’s done already?
Madeleine: Absolutely. It’s done. I love it. It’s called -- I actually shouldn't say the title. It is about unfinished relationships.
Zibby: What does the title rhyme with?
Madeleine: [laughs] It’s a love story. It takes place at Yale, where we both went. It is about unfinished relationships and where love goes when you can't see it anymore. It’s about two people who separate but they continue to feel a connection. It’s about why is that? What is that? What does that mean for one woman in particular? It’s a very soulful novel. Unlike this, which I feel is very snarky and sarcastic and witty, this is a lot more visceral. I'm really excited for it.
Zibby: That's awesome. There was definitely a lot of cursing. When I met you at the book fair, I was like, “Do you curse every two words too? Is that just your character?” You're like, “No, that's not me.”
Madeleine: [laughs] When you're in finance, a lot of people are cursing all the time. It’s just a reflection of the culture. No, not in real life.
Zibby: I also wanted to ask -- maybe this is totally inappropriate because we don't really know each other very well. You started this novel with this funny scene where Allegra goes home with this guy, spends the night, has a great night with lots of promise, and then -- can I even say this? Am I giving anything away?
Madeleine: Absolutely, yeah.
Zibby: -- and then finds out that he is actually her new boss, which is a great way to --
Madeleine: -- The worst. [laughs] I hate when that happens.
Zibby: Has that happened to you or someone you know? Did you just dream that up?
Madeleine: Never. I have never had a one-night stand with my boss. I actually don't know anyone who has either. My experience with sex and banking is that it doesn't happen a lot. People my age do not have that much time when they're in banking. They just don't have that in their lives. Work is really who they're in a relationship with. That did not happen. [laughs]
Zibby: I had to ask because that was a good way to really pull you into the story. Tell me about your process. When do you write? Where do you like to write? Do you outline your books? How do you come up with your ideas? Just tell me about you and your writing process.
Madeleine: What's really important to me is that a story feels authentic. At least when I read, I read to connect. I want to hear a voice that's like my voice. I want to see someone going through something that I went through or that bears insight into my own life. It’s important to me that I write things that feel authentic and that come out of my own experiences. That is how I choose subject matters. Then to write this book, I wrote this while I was still working in investment management. I wrote very early in the morning and on weekends, basically when I was not working. What's interesting is that I found the energy that I had while working in finance really got into the story. What I mean by that is there was very little heart in the initial draft. In the final draft, you see Allegra’s very influenced by her father. To me, that's full of heart, this desire to please your parents. Where does your own interest come into that? That emerged after I left finance. There wasn’t a lot of background in the initial drafts. That is to say my process when I was writing in finance was very influenced by who I was when I was in finance. Now that I'm not constantly under deadline pressure, I have the ability to explore deeper, more complicated, visceral themes and relationships between characters. Now I write full time. I could do that all day.
Zibby: That's awesome now that you have all day. Sometimes I feel like if I have too much time, I don't get things done. When I have an hour a day, I get like fifty-seven things in the hour. Does that ever happen to you?
Madeleine: That's true. It does not happen because I find that now that I have more free time, I can take the ideas with me on walks. I find that it’s very freeing for me to think about something not at a computer. That's where I make a lot of developments. I’ll go on a long walk up the West Side Highway. I’ll ask myself a question. I’ll take notes as I go. I don't find the lack of constraint to hurt me. I find it creates new opportunities.
Zibby: When I wrote this book after business school, I took three months off to write it. I would sit at my desk. My roommate would go. My roommate, my boyfriend, everybody would leave. I would have the apartment to myself. I would sit down at nine. I would write through the day until three o’clock. Then I would go about my business. I remember it was this huge blackout. There was a huge blackout in New York when all the power went out. I didn't even know. Everyone was freaking out. I didn't even notice because my laptop just switched onto battery. It wasn’t until hours later when I went to print what I had written for the day that I realized my printer wasn’t working. Then I was like, that's annoying. My printer’s not working. [laughs]
Madeleine: Wow. You were in flow.
Zibby: Yeah, I was in it. Now, I don't know.
Madeleine: I find, to speak to what you're saying, there is an accordion of time. If you have a lot of time, you can fit your task into the maximum amount of time that you have. If I only had a month to do a revision, I'm sure I could get it done in that month. If I had three months, I'd get it done in three months. There is something to be said about you adjusting your schedule to how much time you have.
Zibby: I like that, the accordion of time. Did you come up with it?
Madeleine: Just now. Your room is magical. [laughs]
Zibby: Oh, good. I should put quotes all over.
Madeleine: “Things discovered on my podcast.” That's interesting.
Zibby: Exactly. Do you find time to read? When do you read? Is that part of your process?
Madeleine: How I structure it is I make the book I'm working on the hub of what I'm reading. If I center my book on what I'm interested in, then I'm naturally going to read, for work, things that I want to read. My third book is about a restaurant.
Zibby: Your third book? [laughter] I'm jealous.
Madeleine: Now I'm reading all of these books about restaurants. I make it for work. For New York City types, we need a justifiable excuse to do something we love or to not waste time. To make all this reading for work, in my mind, grants me this freedom to do it. That's how I make time to read. I give myself that excuse that it’s for work because it is.
Zibby: That's how I do it. That's how I get all these books in. If you need anyone to talk to in the restaurant industry -- I don't know if you do. My husband’s cousin has an amazing restaurant in New Jersey. It’s called Viaggio in Wayne, New Jersey. It’s upscale Italian. It is so good. He’s twenty-eight or something. He's this up and coming. His name’s Robbie Felice. I’ll put you in touch. You should go out there.
Madeleine: Thank you. Yeah, that's going to happen.
Zibby: He just opened a second restaurant.
Madeleine: Wow. Brilliant.
Zibby: Remind me. I'm going to forget. Maybe I’ll listen to this and be like, “I never sent her [indiscernible/laughter].” You have a lot coming next. Did you start the restaurant book?
Madeleine: Yes, I have. Now we’re doing a lot of promotion for Breathe In, Cash Out. This is number one right now.
Zibby: It takes a lot.
Madeleine: Yeah, it does. [laughs]
Zibby: That's exciting. Do you have any advice to aspiring authors?
Madeleine: My advice would be to write every day, and to not give up, and to not wait until you're inspired to write something. From my experience, it takes a lot of bad writing to get to anything good. Even if you're not feeling it, write until you get to something good. Keep at it.
Zibby: One question, to back up. Tell me about how this became a published novel.
Madeleine: That was very old-fashioned cold calling to agents who saw the commercial promise in my background being at Goldman Sachs writing a novel about investment banking. Because I had a tie-in to something very socially relevant, that got agents to look at me. Then it was standard submission to publishers last summer. Sold it last summer. Now it’s coming out.
Zibby: That's pretty fast.
Madeleine: I actually have one question for you.
Zibby: Yay! Yes.
Madeleine: You've seen so many authors reach success or not. Do you have advice from the perspective of a reader and an interviewer of authors on advice for authors?
Zibby: On which aspect of life? Any aspects?
Madeleine: On connecting with readers or finding success in the business or common pitfalls. Anything speak to you?
Zibby: I'm really excited. No one’s ever asked me a question before, seriously. My goodness, I haven't prepared. [laughter] I would say that you can't really plan your life. The people who have gone through the most have really interesting stories to tell, not that you have to. Whatever life is going to throw your way can be material at some point. Even the depths of despair can be mined. Know that writing is going to be, not your friend, but that will be a tool forever for you. Use it. Wield that tool often and eagerly. You'll keep chiseling away and come up with really great stuff over time. That was philosophical. On a more tactical level, I've heard that the more publicity you can do for books yourself, the better, and not to rely, necessarily, on the publishers who might not have the budget or the time, not that they don't have the desire, but might not have as many resources as you might need. Try to, for lack of a better word, hustle and do whatever you can. You probably know this already. Everything helps to differentiate a book.
I really think that connecting with other authors really helps, which is something I've been trying to do with this podcast is form a community. You learn so much from people who have come before you. It’s like how I am with my kids. People who have kids just a little bit older are so valuable to me. People who have had a book come out in the last couple years, I would say reach out to them. Let me know if there's anyone you want me to introduce you to and see what worked best for them. How was that?
Madeleine: Great. That was amazing. “Things discovered on my podcast.” [laughter] Amazing.
Zibby: Thanks for coming on.
Madeleine: Thank you so much for having me.
Zibby: Thanks for asking me a question too. It was really cool.