Writers With Wrinkles

Books On Botox: Venturing into the Made Up Worlds of The School for Good Mothers & I Am Smoke

June 05, 2023 Beth McMullen and Lisa Schmid Season 2 Episode 31
Writers With Wrinkles
Books On Botox: Venturing into the Made Up Worlds of The School for Good Mothers & I Am Smoke
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Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

What does it take to be a "good" mother?

Join us as we dive into the dystopian world of Jessamine Chan's  The School for Good Mothers, and talk about her take on the destructive nature of the idea of perfect motherhood. This novel illustrates how an everyday, normal thing like motherhood can be pushed to the limits of imagination and become something terrifying.

We venture into a different realm with Henry Herz's nonfiction picture book, I Am Smoke, and examine how this mesmerizing book entertains and educates by taking the unique approach of telling the story from the point of view of smoke.

And yes, we do take a mini left turn into celebrity authors and whether they are taking resources from other writers and ultimately, not earning it back.

This week's Hot Tip is - lean into being educated about publishing and save yourself from potential stress and hardship later!




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Speaker 1: Hi everyone, welcome back to Writers with Wrinkles. This is episode 31, which is so shocking to me. When you start something like this, you think if I can just get to five episodes it will be so awesome. And here we are at episode 31. So yay for us, anyway. 

Okay, i have a question for you before we launch into books on Botox and whatnot. So  i'll bring everybody up to speed. The other day I said to Lisa let's get Tom Hanks on the show because he just wrote a new novel. Tom Hanks, the actor, and I think it's  either his first work of fiction or second. Anyway, it started me thinking about celebrities who write books, and we see this a ton in middle grade. 

Speaker 2: Did you just hear my big sigh? 

Speaker 1: Lisa just gave an exasperated sigh, which maybe gives me the answer that I was looking for to my question, Because I was wondering, like what do you feel about celebrities writing books? Now, I cannot say whether or not I get the feeling that Tom wrote his own book, but there are many celebrities who ghost write, have a ghost writer do the book and then they slap their name on it. But what are your thoughts on that? Do you have any other than the sigh? 

Speaker 2: Well I, tom Tom Hanks wrote this book. He's an amazing human being, an amazing talent. Books like that that are truly written by that celebrity. I celebrate it because writing a book is hard And it is. It takes commitment and work and it's a piece of art and it should be celebrated And I'm thrilled for that author that gets published. Now the other authors that are writers and I've got your quotes going or that just you know, get a book and it's a bad book, like I've opened up some and I'm just my head explodes And I think about all the amazingly talented writers that should be there in that place. That makes me crazy Because I just feel like they're taking up shelf space And shelf space is so precious in bookstores that when it's taken up by a book that I don't think should be there, it makes me crazy. Is that a good answer? Is that a bad answer? 

Speaker 1: I think that's a good, that's a really good answer. I feel the same way, especially because it is well known that you can have somebody let's just pick somebody who's an influencer and they are big in makeup just picking that out of the air. So they're an influencer. they sell cosmetics and they write a book, and this is not to say they don't have an interesting backstory or a tale to tell, but the reason they're getting the book deal is because they have 5 million followers. So I read recently a similar situation not cosmetics, but some sort of influencer who got in this book deal for a huge advance, like a million plus dollars, and the book sold 6,000 copies. So what happens is that resources, attention, pr, budget, marketing is all going to this book by this person, which is not to say it's a bad book, but the return on investment never reaches what the publisher expects it to, and then that money is gone. It can't be used for those other authors that you're talking about who have written really good books and don't get any attention or shelf space because they aren't huge on social media. 

Speaker 1: Yeah, so I was thinking about that. I bet you're right. Tom Hanks seems like a different character entirely, and if anybody out there knows Tom Hanks, can you please tell him to come on our show Because we have writing questions to ask him. We're not going to be like they're ungarling Tom Hanks. We have important writing conversations to have with that man, all right? Well, we've got that. Now we've got the celebrity thing squared away. So I think that pretty much leads to books on Botox, right? 

Speaker 2: Yes, are you just going to go first today? 

Speaker 1: I think I'm going to go first today, all right, but first, like I say in every episode, please go to bookshoporg. Visit our site and you can buy all of the books that we talk about in our books and Botox segment. You can find that link on our link tree, which is in our Twitter profile, and on Instagram. Okay, so I struggled with which book to pick for this week And I ended up picking The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan. Now I read this book because President Obama put it on his reading list, like two years ago or a year ago. 

Speaker 1: It's a Simon Schuster book. It came out in January 2022. It is dystopian, in the same vein as the Handmaid's Tale, clockwork Orange, those type of books. But the amazing thing about it is in your start, if nobody had told you that it had this dystopian bent to it, you would not know. It doesn't start out that way. So very interesting approach where everything is fine and looks fine on the surface. I mean not fine, but sort of normal contemporary And it turns out not to be that. 

Speaker 1: So this book is about a woman named Frida who is struggling. She is Chinese, chinese immigrant parents. They have sacrificed so much for her to have this life And she has not done enough with it to feel worthy of their sacrifice. She has this husband named Gust, who is having an affair and has left her, and she has a small child Now. Motherhood is the central theme of this book, but she feels like she does an okay job with her daughter, harriet. 

Speaker 1: But the state, the all knowing state, has its eye on mothers. So the mothers that are guilty of, let's say, benign neglect. They're checking their phones at the playground while their kid falls off the monkey bars. They let their kids walk home alone, they leave their children unsupervised, with television and devices And all of the things that, if you have had children or been around children, adults are guilty of. Our attention is divided, but in this world that has been created by the author, all of this is being noted and watched And when you cross a certain line, action results. 

Speaker 1: And in this case, frida has one bad day where she leaves her daughter alone in the house and she goes out to get coffee and stop at work to grab up some papers that she needs And she ends up staying at work for longer than she realizes. That's bad. It's bad to leave your young child home alone, like she knows that, but she gets caught and the kid gets taken away from her And she ends up in this government retraining facility that it's like a reform school for mothers, where you have to repent and relearn and learn not to give into anger or selfishness, to become the perfect mother. And of course you know things go horribly off the rails. But it is fascinating. 

Speaker 1: For anybody who has ever been a mother, been around a mother, read books about motherhood, it is utterly fascinating because you can see how she is using the author is using this cultural idea of perfect motherhood as this club to beat women to death. And other than knowing that President Obama had put it on his list, i didn't know much about it And so it kind of blew me away. So what I love about it from the writing perspective is this idea that some of the best fiction grows from taking a relatively mundane notion. Now, motherhood is not anything new. It's not kind of this elevated idea. It's a thing. 

Speaker 1: And what happens if you push this thing that's part of everyday life to the absolute limits of your imagination? So yeah, motherhood is fraught and it's loaded with baggage, and it's rare to find a mother who says they're absolutely crushing it. So Chan takes this idea and just pushes it so deep into a place. That's just absolutely terrifying. And I think that the results are dazzling. And something to consider in your own writing is how far can you push something that's relatively mundane and normal to the outer edges and what happens then? what kind of world results from you doing that? So I think comps for this Handmaid's Tale I think already mentioned Brave New World 1984, the Hunger Games also does this really well. So it's in that that vein. I can't recommend it enough. I thought it was. It was fresh and new, really interesting and kind of left you with a pit in your stomach. So go out and get it. 

Speaker 2: It's so funny as you're saying that is, all these attacks on women's rights are going on right now. I was just. It gave me a pit in my stomach just hearing it. 

Speaker 1: Yes, it resonates, i think, on so many levels that it felt to me a lot like Handmaid's Tale. Now I haven't read Handmaid's Tale in a lot of years but it had that same sort of visceral, physical feeling for me. That anxiety and that fear comes off of it just really naturally And she's very calmly telling this story of this twisted dystopian. But completely possible if you push things out world that you could find yourself living in one day. 

Speaker 2: I just I do feel like women are constantly under attack from just everything, like even like you're saying, like with moms, groups, and you know it's like there's this constant like are we good enough or are we perfect enough, and then you know you have the government stripping us of our rights. 

Speaker 1: I don't want to go and down that that terrible level, no, but it felt a little bit like the government in this case was almost a stand in for what we do to ourselves and to other mothers, and I mean, that was my interpretation of just a small piece of it. Other readers may take something entirely different away from it, but it felt like this government intense judgment. You know you are tried and convicted immediately for something that, yeah, not great to leave your little kid alone. But is it the end of the world? No, does it happen? Yes. Is it met with malice? No, but the kind of intense judgment. 

Speaker 2: Well, and I think we're all so hard on ourselves. I mean, honestly, on Mother's Day I spend half the day thinking about all the mistakes I made. That's my Mother's Day, you know, each little mistake I made or something I could have done better, or, you know, i think back on something and cringe and go oh, i shouldn't have done it that way here. So that's what I do on Mother's Day and I think also social media. You've got people just constantly posting about just painting these pictures, these false pictures, these masks of how they want the world to see them as like the perfect mother, the perfect father, the perfect person. And I think we're all just a little bit of a. You know, we all have a tiny hot mess in some place, you know, swirling around, waiting to come out at any given moment. 

Speaker 1: It's not even that tiny. Sometimes it's a huge hot mess. 

Speaker 2: I'm just like constantly not belittling myself, but I always there's always that nagging down my mind like I didn't do that, or I should have let him do that, or I didn't push him hard enough, or you know, just we all. 

Speaker 1: There's this idea of motherhood being the bar. Is perfection, right, and, as we know, there is no perfect. It's unachievable, it's not realistic in any way, shape or form, and pretty much anything that you just do, but certainly not in parenting. So, like, how are you ever going to do that? of course you're always going to fall short if the bar is impossible to reach, and it's also, i think, all right. We're not going to go off on a whole you know what's happening in the world, kind of thing. 

Speaker 2: But it's too late. 

Speaker 1: No, but I feel like this book really touches on some really like important, interesting things. So I I really liked it. It's not light and fluffy, but it is very readable. So yeah, i would, i would put that on your summer reading list. 

Speaker 2: Okay, so my book. So this is a different one for me, and I picked a nonfiction picture book. What? Yes, it's happening. I read this book a while back and I think there's such an interesting thing about nonfiction picture books is that the writer is tasked with the daunting challenge of writing a story that is both entertaining and educational, that will capture the interest of that young reader or that young listener. And so this book is. It's mesmerizing. It's so unique that the artwork is stunning. So I'm just. 

Speaker 2: The book is called I Am Smoke and it's by Henry Hurrs. He's a very talented writer and I'm just gonna read you like the opening description because I think you'll get a good idea of what it is. I am smoke, and it says smoke itself acts as narrator, telling us how it has served humankind since prehistoric times in signaling beekeeping, curling and flavoring food, religious rites, fumigating insects and a myriad of other ways. And it's such a cool way to tell a story because it all comes from the perspective of smoke, and I'm just gonna give you like a little bit of the opening. So smoke speaks in mesmerizing riddles. I lack a mouth, but I can speak. I lack hands, but I can push out unwanted guests. I am gentler than a feather, but I can cause harm. So that's I mean. It's such a unique way to present information and it's almost this the smoke takes on, this eerie kind of quality to it, but just taking you through the ages of how it's helped and harmed the world in different ways. 

Speaker 1: We normally think of smoke as a negative, but it's not. It's not. It's valuable in lots of ways. That is super interesting. What are the pictures like? 

Speaker 2: I'll read this. Okay. the rhythmically powerful narration is complimented by illustration in which swirling smoke was captured on art paper, held over smoky candle flames Oh my goodness. And the dancing smoke. 

Speaker 1: textures were then deepened and elaborated with watercolors and photoshop finishes Oh, wow, That's like really unique as illustration, like a method for look that's. I've never even heard of that before. Right. 

Speaker 2: You could do that. So not only is the story from a really unique perspective and done, oh my god, it's so beautiful and so well done and so captivating, like I can just see every kid just like on the edge of their seat, and it's nonfiction. 

Speaker 1: Those sort of things that you learn from picture books as a kid stay with you forever. It's like it gets deep into your brain and it stays there forever. 

Speaker 2: Well, i could see this being one of those books that kids want to hear over and over again because it's so beautiful and so interesting, and so kudos to Henry for figuring out a way to approach a nonfiction subject with such creativity. 

Speaker 1: When did it come out? Is it new? 

Speaker 2: 2021. So it's relatively new. Yeah, it's just gorgeous. 

Speaker 1: Yeah, and we acknowledge here, every time we talked about them, just how hard it is to write a good picture book. 

Speaker 2: It is so hard, and this one just really is stellar. 

Speaker 1: Okay, we're gonna have that also on our bookshoporg site, so go look for it there. If you forget the titles, all right, we will be right back with today's hot tip, so stick around, welcome back. Thanks for not leaving and going to do something else, because we have today's hot tip Now. I had a hot tip all ready to serve up to you that I've now bumped because I woke up this morning, i poured myself a cup of coffee, i opened my email and I get a I think it's every two weeks a newsletter called the hot sheet that is produced by Jean Friedman. Now she is not paying me or and has no idea that I'm even talking about her, but I subscribe to this newsletter and it's a roundup of publishing news. 

Speaker 1: So what's happening with different publishers, what's trending? Editors moving Agencies, people moving agencies, stuff going on in Hollywood that might affect your book or your rights, trends in self publishing and lots and lots of curated links to articles if you want more about the topic. You know it's an email. It takes me 15 minutes to read, but in that 15 minutes I am learning things that are related to the business I work in, that I would not know otherwise And that made me think that if you want to work in this field and maybe it's not your primary gig, maybe it's just a side hustle you want to write a book you still need to lean into educating yourself about the publishing universe And it's big, there's a lot of parts in it and they're always moving. But if you're going to try to publish anything self published, traditionally published however you want to do it, you have to know things and you have to be educated about what's happening. So there are a number of ways to do this. I love the hot sheet because it's concise, it's easy, it shows up in my email and I read it. But professional organizations like I belong to the Mystery Writers of America and SCBWI, both of which are great resources for news and what's happening in the marketplace. 

Speaker 1: Go on social media. Find somebody who's talking about the space that you're working in. Maybe it's somebody who's writing YA fantasy and has and is very plugged into the industry and is pushing out things that are happening in that industry. So part of the reason that I was thinking this is a good idea is because educating yourself is not going to save you from all potential future publishing related disasters, If there was anything that could do that. You know we'd all be retired, but it will help you avoid many of them And it will also help you feel some confidence in your intuition. 

Speaker 1: That whole big brouhaha over newly flittery parting waves with one of their agents and the fallout from that and people being lost A lot of the people who were chiming in on social media to talk about their reaction or their experience with similar situation. There was a lot of people who were saying I was doing this thing with my agent. It didn't feel right, but I just didn't know, and so it's your job to know as much as you can. So when you're in those positions, you know that it's not right and you can wave your arms in the air or you can part ways, or you can never sign up, or you know all of these things that you can do to help yourself from finding yourself down the road in a situation that's not good for you. So figure out the resources that resonate with you, that you like to read, that you're going to return to over and over again, and just stay as current as you can. So that's my hot tip. You'll have to wait for the adverb hot tip until next time. 

Speaker 2: That is really good advice because I think so many people go into publishing, you know, from a creative standpoint, you're just you're out there writing and then you put yourself into this industry And if it's not something you know a lot about, you know you're spinning looking for answers and it's scary And this is stuff I wish I knew when I started writing. And that's, you know, when everyone's in a while I'll have somebody come to me and say what should I know? And my first thing is always join a professional organization and lean into the resources and learn about what you're going into. 

Speaker 1: And they have so many, and all you need to do is pay your monthly or yearly dues and you're in and you can ask people for advice. You can read their new. all these organizations have their own newsletters. It's a great way to get plugged in without that much effort. You know we all have limited bandwidth for this sort of stuff, so find the thing that works for you and just make sure you come back to it all the time so that you're staying on top of the changes in the industry. You just need to keep your finger on the pulse enough that you don't end up in a situation that could have been prevented had you just put in a little bit more time and effort up front. 

Speaker 2: Great hot tip. I like it, so that is our episode for today. 

Speaker 1: Mark your calendars for episode 32, which will drop on June 12th. And we are chatting with author Rebecca Barone, who writes adventurous nonfiction about technology, history and science. She is a super interesting person in so many ways, with a very interesting background, so you don't want to miss that conversation. So please make sure you join us on June 12th. And that is it, dear listeners. We will see you next time. Until then, happy writing, reading and listening. 

Speaker 2: Bye Lisa, bye guys. 

Books on Botox
Celebrity Authors
BoB: The School for Good Mothers
BoB: I Am Smoke
Hot Tip: Educate yourself!