Episode 119A – Emily Wolf – My Thirty-First Year (and Other Calamities)

Overview

When Emily Wolf penned My Thirty-First Year (And Other Calamities), she didn’t know she’d be living in the epicenter (Houston) of the current abortion debate. But there she is, preparing to release a book that leads with an abortion that anchors how the protagonist, Zoe, is able to live her life. It is a story for women of all ages, normalizing abortion without minimizing it, and weaving in all the other things that impact dreams: divorce (then dating), family and friends, and  faith. The city of Chicago (Emily’s hometown) and the band U2 are colorful backdrops to her story.

Zoe Greene is approaching her 30th birthday not with celebrations in mind, but by recovering from an abortion, planning a divorce, negotiating family drama, and later, reentering the modern dating pool. Using humor and unfiltered truth (and Zoe’s favorite rock band, U2), Houston-based author Emily Wolf’s debut, My Thirty-First Year (And Other Calamities), illuminates the realities of womanhood, and connects to them through shared challenges, resilience, and hope.
Emily is an ardent feminist, U2 fan, and native Chicagoan. A graduate of Harvard Law School, Emily now lives in Houston with her husband, children, and dogs. She volunteers with Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast and with her synagogue’s Board of Trustees and Social Justice Core Team. Emily has published several essays in the Houston Chronicle and on emilyvwolf.medium.com

Website

https://emilyvwolf.medium.com

Her book

Favorites

https://www.brazosbookstore.com/

YouTube

Transcript

Stephen: All right. Today on discovered wordsmith, I have Emily Wolf. Emily. Welcome. How are you doing today? Hi, thanks

Emily: so much for having me. I am doing really well.

Thank you.

Stephen: Good. So tell us a little bit about yourself. Some things you do outside of writing and maybe like where you live, that type of thing.

Emily: Sure. I feel like the first caveat for anything with a video component is that I am. In my forties with braces so that’s something I’m unfortunately doing right now.

That’s kinda

Stephen: new too you never saw that back in the eighties, nineties. Yeah.

Emily: Yeah. It’s a whole shebang. I gotta tell you. So it’s pretty humbling, but it’s supposed to make me healthier help my sinuses ears, airway, whole business. So my kids think it’s hilarious and I’m trying to also find the hilarity in it.

So

Stephen: you need to put on like Bobby socks and a poodle skirt and tell ’em you’re going to a prom dance and stuff. And. Bug him

Emily: yeah, I might I might get some strange looks if I did that, but yeah, I should totally have more fun with them about this. And I FaceTimed with my brother yesterday and he said he lives in Los Angeles and I’m in Michigan right now.

And he said, oh, I always forget you have braces now. But anyway, besides adult braces, I I have a day job that I’m very lucky to have doing writing for a children’s hospital in Texas. I’ve lived in Houston for over 13 years, which I can’t believe I was born and raised in Chicago and thought that I was going to live my whole life and die happily in Chicago, eating deep dish and hot dogs and all that good stuff.

And then life, as it does, threw me a curve ball and introduced me to my husband who. Lives in Houston and needs to be in Houston for work. So our deal that we struck is I get to spend a nice chunk and my boss is also very accommodating, a nice chunk of the Houston summer by lake Michigan, where it is 30 degrees cooler right now, I think.

Wow.

Stephen: Nice. Yeah. That’s pretty cool. I love how you say that you got this deal. like, all right you want me here? This is the, this is what we’re doing. Give me the night, make the blood

Emily: I cuz I, I moved down. I had never experienced a Houston summer before and I really don’t think there are words for it.

If you’re a Yankee like me and the first summer I went to Josh, my husband and said, I just think my body’s gonna implode. I don’t think it’s made for this. so we have a nice thing going and I’m really grateful. And let’s see any, the other thing about me, like so many writers, I am a recovering lawyer.

That was my my first career. Yeah.

Stephen: I get a lot of author or a lot of musicians and a lot of it guys not quite as many lawyers, but you’re not the first I have had a couple.

Emily: Yeah. Yeah. I bet you have there, there are a lot of us out

Stephen: there recovery and I love that you need a t-shirt you have to have a club.

Emily: I should, there should be some kind of like steps or rules or something to help with the decompression after that. Yep. I have that.

Stephen: All right. So what are a few hobbies or whatever that you like to do outside of writing?

Emily: My favorite thing in the whole world is to swim in lake Michigan, which I did this morning.

Yes. Which is why my hair is in its natural state. There is something about fresh water and swimming for me, that is just my ultimate favorite. So whenever I can do that, if it’s a river in Texas, if it’s lake Michigan preferably that’s my favorite thing. And I love to swim with people and friends and my kids and husband and all that good stuff.

Nice. And I always, I’m a pet person. I always need to have pets and I’ve got two dogs right now. I walk, I love to just take walks with them. And this kind of makes me cringe because I feel like everyone says it, but yoga has been very helpful to me during the pandemic. And it’s something that now with technology I can do in my pajama pants, in the comfort and privacy of my own.

And so that has made it more accessible. And of course I love to read. I that’s. My happy spot is nestled in bed a little early with a good book.

Stephen: Nice. Yoga is another thing that has changed perception from the eighties, nineties to now definitely much more accepting more people doing it and all sorts of stuff not the, it doesn’t get made fun of in the movies like it used to that’s indicator.

Emily: I know. I think it still gets made fun of enough though. And I, so I I’m like a closeted Yogi, but I do love it.

Stephen: I hear it’s. So many people are finding so much benefit from it for strength building, but flexibility, mindset all that. It’s hard to argue when you got so many people saying how great it is true.

Emily: And it’s been around for a couple thousand years. So there’s something to that as well. There must be.

Stephen: Let’s talk a little bit about your book. It’s called my 31st year and other calamities. Yeah. So what made you start writing?

Emily: I think that I like money lawyers was, I still am, but I’m less but was after college really risk averse.

And I thought about getting my master’s in creative writing. But a much clearer path to financial independence, shall we say through law school? I went to law school. I practiced law. I think that really informed my writing. I did a lot of writing legal writing, but once I came through what a very good friend of mine calls the gong show of my twenties and early thirties and and I had a little space from that.

I didn’t see that type of experience, like the real messy stuff reflected. I read a ton of fiction, a ton of women’s fiction, and I didn’t see it reflected as honestly as I would’ve liked to read about during that time in my life. So a story just landed in my head. And it happened to be at a time in my life where I had the support and I could make the transition to trying to reduce it to writing.

And that was that was back in 2011. So I had a six month old and I thought, oh and no childcare. And I was doing contract legal work at the time. And I thought, oh, I’ll write in my spare time. And so that was a great exercise in patients and determination, I think because I had a second child and moved homes and so many women was in charge of keeping our household going and dealing with our then geriatric dog.

Our pug. And so it, it took a long time and there were many breaks, but I just felt this drive to get this story down. So I eventually did.

Stephen: Okay. Is this a memoir or is it a totally fiction story or is it kind of fiction based on things that really happen? Tell us a little bit about that.

Emily: It is fiction.

It I wish my life were as interesting as as Zoe my protagonist life, but I think probably as all fiction is it’s, so it’s not a memoir definitely fiction, but I tried to make it authentic and that it represented a lot of feelings that I had, and it opens with a safe and legal abortion, which when I wrote it in 2011, seemed.

Not really like a controversial thing. I am very open about the fact that I benefited from a safe and legal abortion. So there are certain experiences dating, internet dating. I did all that. My friends did all that, and I really tried to capture the feelings around those experiences and events. And I found that to be a very confusing time of life.

When society tells women everything’s supposed to fall into place and click and just stay there and everything’s supposed to be unfold perfectly and neatly. That was not my experience. So those feelings I wanted to reflect in the book, but I also wanted it to be really fun to read.

So there’s plenty of humor in there. And I think that time in life for many women, As traumatic as it can be and messy as it can be. There is a lot of humor in the absurdity of it. So I tried to capture that

Stephen: as well. Nice. Okay. And we are gonna talk more about how the political landscape and that with Roe versus Wade has affected the book.

Like you said, it was legal then now it’s really not. And that changes perceptions of the book. So we’ll talk about that in the second. Yeah. And you mentioned humor and OB it’s obvious from the title, you chose a great title where you put and other calamities, without that it, it really missed something.

So tell us a little bit about what’s what goes on in the book for the protagonist and why you had other calamities .

Emily: Absolutely. And thank you for championing the title. Cuz I had a couple people involved in the books publishing, who said it’s too long and I had to really fight for the title.

So I’m glad that it struck the right note with you. Yeah. But the book is about my protagonist is Zoe green and she is a type, a successful, hardworking young woman. And she thinks that she has an independent, modern mind. She is gone to law school. But she has planned her life so meticulously and is under the impression as she’s about to turn 30, she is, she’s married to her high school, sweetheart.

She has the apartment in Chicago. She’s always wanted that’s something else. I’ll just pause really quick. I love Chicago. It’s my hometown. And so I knew that was gonna have a place in the book. So she thinks that she has set everything up. She’s got her job at the law firm. Everything’s exactly how it’s supposed to be.

And without giving too much away, her life gets flipped upside down right on the Eve of her 30th birthday. And she finds herself on the brink of divorce, which she could never have imagined. She aborts what she had thought was a wanted pregnancy and. All of a sudden is living outside the bounds of what society had prescribed for her and what she thought she needed to be happy.

She thought that her eggs would dry up at 11:59 PM before the day before the night, before her 30th birthday, she thought that to be happy. She needed to have a partner. She needed to be settled. She needed to be on her way to motherhood. And in this traditional line of work and that gets turned up upside down and the book is about how she deals with that.

And I think the Calamus part is that instead of being able to step back and say, okay, which would be a very tall order, but instead of being able to step back and say, okay, my life. Isn’t what I thought it was going to be. But I have these wonderful friends who are a huge part of the book. I have I’m in my favorite city.

I have a great job. Maybe I can pause and let thing, let the game come to me is my dad would say, she thinks, Nope, I have to get back on Jack. And I have to just Ram everything back into place. So she is on the internet, dealing with the cesspool of dating drama and tries to, yeah, just tries to piece her life back together and put it back the way it was.

And I think it’s about her journey of accepting that life can take you all different directions. And sometimes those are actually those. Twists and turns that you weren’t expecting are actually gifts. Nice. Okay.

Stephen: Yeah. So what are there any other books out there that you would say mine’s similar to that for people who are interested I like this type what’s yours like

Emily: To my I, to my knowledge and my agent’s knowledge, I believe that mine is the only book, the only novel in which the protagonist has an abortion.

That really shocked me. I assumed that given that between a quarter and a third of American women have abortions in their lifetime, that certainly that would’ve been represented in fiction. So apparently that makes my novel pretty unique. But someone, an author I really emulate and wish more Americans knew about is, and I it’s weird cuz I started reading her after I had a full draft of my novel finished, but I just, she resonates with me so much.

I think the tone is similar to Catlin Moran. And I don’t know if you know her. I don’t, she is English and everyone should know her. I swear. I wanna find her a great talent agent in the us and get her over here. She writes, she does have a couple novels that I love, but that, that do the same thing and that they look at some heavy topics and kind of revolve around the female experience, but, and she doesn’t shy away from any of it.

But it’s hilarious. And it’s funny. And she finds the absurdity unit. So I would think Catlin Moran her how to build a girl. That might be one some people say they see some Jennifer Wiener in my book, which is a compliment. I think I take it as one anyway. So yeah, the it’s the feminist fiction writers, I think who with some humor, this is not a serious book.

It deals with serious topics, but it’s not a serious book who if people like that kind of thing, some of the comedians who’ve written books, and I know those are more memoirs, but like Amy Schumer, Chelsea handler. There’s some of that vibe in my book, I think. Okay.

Stephen: Nice. Thanks. A lot of people that helps ’em figure out.

Oh yeah. That sounds like something I’d like and so what’s the feedback been from people that have read your book?

Emily: It’s been so interesting. That’s actually a pretty loaded question. There have been some people who just reject won’t even read it because they hear in the book world, even in the progressive book world who hear that the protagonist has an abortion.

And so they’re done, they’re not gonna read it and that’s fine. And then luckily, happily the people I trust who’ve read it. And some strangers from whom I got book blurbs, I think that they, the adjectives they use are different. Funny. And all of them have appreciated, which makes me feel so good that the book deals with it has some gravitas in the topics, but is funny.

Like actually makes them laugh. And that makes me feel great because I have read some fiction that I is important. The topics are so important, but it just feels so devastating to read that I prefer fiction that makes me think, but is also joyful. And I’ve gotten some of some feedback that indicates that I may have come close to reaching that goal or reached that goal.

Stephen: Nice, good. That’s always good to get that validation and to, for people to enjoy it. That’s why we do it. It’s every now and then you hear about a musician who says, oh yeah, I’ve played guitar for 40 years, but always in my basement music needs to be heard books need to be read.

So yeah.

Emily: I love that. Yes. Experienced right. Experienced outside the creator’s own head or basement as it may be.

Stephen: The garage attic, whatever that is. Yeah. So is this traditionally published or indie published?

Emily: This is indie published. Okay. I. I, I don’t know if it’s right to say, but I, at this point, I think it’s fine.

I have a wonderful literary agent, so supportive, smart, experienced, and she told me that she thought the book would sell very quickly to traditional publishers. And I remember I was in Michigan. She told me to keep my cell phone on me the day she put it out on submission. I think it’s gonna go quick.

And it did not. And it was because of the abortion. And apparently, usually in fiction, first of all, we just don’t see a lot of that in women’s fiction. But if we do it’s like a side character whose life is going down the toilet or. It’s the protagonist, but she decides at the last minute not to have the abortion, like I’m dating myself, but like Miranda and sex in the city, she had her abortion scheduled and she decided not to go through with it and had her baby Brady.

And it was the best thing that ever happened to her. And then usually the abortions we read about are in memoirs. And often by famous people, who’ve had some distant, like Glorias Dyna. We can read about her abortion that she wrote a few decades after it happened. And so yeah, so my agent said, look, you can put this book in a drawer and wait until the world is ready for it until the market’s ready for it.

I should say. And write something else. My second book that’s in the works is, has nothing controversial in it. And then we can try to sell this book later. And I’m usually a real rule follower. And usually I would say, okay, I’m gonna do what my agent suggests, but there is something in me that made me so angry about that because there’s women, this is part of women’s lives.

It has been forever. Since the beginning of recorded time literally women have been having abortions, whether they’re safe and legal or not. And so I thought I really could have used a book like this and I bet there are other people out there who could use a book like this. So I decided to go for it with she writes press and here we are.

Stephen: So have you noticed in the last month or so any change in your sales or the feedback you’re getting based on what’s happened in the world, in our country? It’s gonna be very interesting. So the book doesn’t actually drop until August 2nd, so we’re a couple weeks before, but the conversation around it, I think has changed a little bit.

Emily: When my publicist has scheduled appearances, they’re, it’s very interesting, cuz some spaces are still, I think in shock and they wanna see how their customer base would react to having me come talk for example, and others have been very eager and said, oh my gosh, this book now is incredibly timely and relevant.

And so they’ve hopped on it and I think it’s opened up some doors for me to engage with readers that I’m really excited about that. Maybe I would’ve gotten before, but certainly peaks more interest now. Yeah.

Stephen: I try and get authors on for a second interview at some point. See how things are going.

What’s up. I think you’d be perfect in about a year to come back. Great. Talk about it. Yeah, that would be fun. I’ll make, I’ll even make a note because who knows what’s gonna be happening with all of this in the next two or three months in the most year. So that would be awesome. We’ll make a note.

We’ll plan on it for next summer or

Emily: spring. I love that. Oh, I hope we’re in a better place. I hope we’re in a better place. Yeah, that’d be great.

Stephen: Outside of all the political stuff going on affecting your story, if you had a choice and you mentioned sex in the city and I was gonna bring that up would you choose to have this book made into a movie or a TV show?

Emily: Oh, that’s such a, that’s also like a more complicated question than it was 10 years ago, because now they’re so fluid. I’ve always seen this book in my head on screen. And in fact, there have been moments where while I was drafting it, where I would you too, my favorite band is a central character in the book.

Nice. Zoe’s diary is not just like dear diary. It’s written to the band or members of the band and works in some song lyrics. It’s how she processes her emotions and her feelings. And so I would be out walking with my. Then iPod. I don’t think they make those anymore when I was drafting this don’t think, I don’t think so.

And I would hear a U2 song and I would think I would like see the scene in my book unfold on screen. So I’ve always seen it as a movie, but what they’re doing with streaming series these days, those are very cinematic too. Gosh, if I had to pick, I think I gotta go with movie, but Netflix is free to call me

Stephen: oh yeah.

And like you said, it’s changed so much authors all make it a movie cuz it’s big and that’s where you make the money and stuff and TV is not as good, but that’s not true. The streaming shows are doing fantastic and some are doing better than some movies. And they can explore character more.

I. I, I, again, I haven’t read your book, but based on what I’ve looked at with it and talked to you about, this really sounds like one of those things that could be a movie for the book story, but it could be a TV show with other adventures happening like sex in the city where there’s so much more to explore with this character and the life and things.

So I could see it as both even,

Emily: oh, wouldn’t that be dreamy? That would be so wonderful. And the musical component. I love your, see your Motley crew t-shirt and so I know you feel this, but music is a really important part of her emotional journey in processing. And so there could be a great musical element and to a, something on screen.

And I think readers will be happy with where they leave Zoe at the end of the book, but also. Yes, like sex in the city. There’s so much more to see from her and her development that, yeah. It could go a million different directions.

Stephen: Yeah. And this is actually Motley crew, Joan jet poison, and Def Leppard, the stadium to, I just went to it the other night.

Emily: Oh my gosh. That sounds incredible. Joan jet. I don’t know if it gets any better than Joan jet.

Stephen: So you mentioned you too. And actually I play bass and Adam Clayton was one of my early influences. So yeah, he’s, he plays simple bass, simple lines, but their music is simple. It builds through the song, but that’s what makes it so powerful.

And he doesn’t try and overstep what the song is and, but he definitely a accompanies it. So he was definitely an early influence, even though a lot of bass were like, oh, he plays simple lines. I’m not linked in him, but come on. If you’re the rhythm section, He’s got that perfected and fits the song very well.

And that’s a lesson in itself and a lot of musicians, early musicians, young kids miss that. So he was definitely an influence of mine

Emily: Oh, that is too cool. Yeah. I, the adjective that comes to mind for him and also you talk about the rhythm section for Larry Mullen Jr. Their drummer is I just find both of them they’re playing so elegant.

Yes. There’s something about how it is. They know exactly what their part is that will elevate the whole, the song is a whole, that’s a great first influence. Yeah. Influence.

Stephen: You mentioned iPods too. Cuz right now on my iPod, I have most of Def leopard’s catalog I’ve been listening to and most of you two’s catalog.

It’s just those happen to be the two I’m into right now. So interesting. I

Emily: love that. Yes. You YouTube fans unite. Absolutely.

Stephen: Yes. Yeah. Okay. So tell us where we can find your book. And do you have a website?

Emily: I do have a website. You can find my book. All of the online places, books are sold. It’s traditionally distributed.

You can go. I personally love indie bookstores. You can go to your indie bookstore and any indie bookstore can order it for you really easily. So my website is really simple. It’s Emily Wolf. So it just spelled like the animal E M I L Y w O L. books.com.

Stephen: Nice. Okay. And do you, have you mentioned how it ends, would you consider doing a sequel to this book?

I would,

Emily: I’ve thought about that so much. I have, I think it’s really gonna depend on the readers and I think writing is so much more interesting if you have some reciprocity with your readers and some connection and feedback, and I could certainly, I would have a great time dreaming up the next chapter for Zoe green and if readers wanna see it, I would love to deliver on that.

So for sure I could see a sequel.

Stephen: Yeah. OK. All right. Let me ask you a couple other questions outside of your book. You mentioned a couple authors earlier that your book is similar. Are those your favorite authors or if not, what are your like favorite authors and some of your favorite books?

Emily: Of course, there are so many I this is a question I’ve really tried to prepare for, but it’s so hard.

It’s if I had 50 children like picking a few favorites, but cat Moran again is right up there. She is the one I will, pre-order a hardback from her where as most authors I can wait for paperback. But she is. Yeah. So she’s my hard cover author. And Sheila heady. I love her work.

There are just so many I do love Jennifer Wiener and I actually, as, as skillful as her books are, I really enjoy her essay writing that she’s done. I think those are really powerful and I really admire her that she can. We’ve a full and complete and rich novel. And also just write a really kick ass, absolutely timely essay.

That’s easy for readers to consume in five, 10 minutes. Nice. And I, my first favorite book was a tale of two cities. I read all of Jane Austin in college and I love I know I’m leaving so many people out I’m reading. Oh my gosh, I’m reading the funniest book right now. Just sad and hilarious and all of it at the same time by Samantha Herby who grew up near where I grew up in Evanston, Illinois.

So yeah luckily I’m finding books that are my favorites all the time.

Stephen: Beautiful love that. So you’ve got Houston and you’ve got Michigan. Do you have a favorite bookstore you like to go to in those areas?

Emily: So I, in Houston, my favorite bookstore is Brazos bookstore, B R a Z O S. They are just, they’re just awesome.

They are so supportive of Houston writers and are the manager of the store, mark Haber. He writes himself and they know every single book. It’s one of those stores you walk in and you’re like, my kid is this age and he’s into this. And they just, oh yeah, they walk you straight to the right book for your kid and for you.

And it’s accessible enough to browse. It’s not there are books everywhere where you just get overwhelmed, or I do that sometimes anyway, like in a big bookstore where I’ll just spin in a circle cause there are so many so Brazos is my favorite in Houston. Blue Willow bookshop in Houston is also outstanding.

They just happen to be a little farther from my house. Where I am in Michigan, there are no bookstores close by. We’re out in the boonies a little bit. And in Chicago what a great book city there’s women in children first, there’s the 57th street bookstore.

There’s on abridged. I. Go on and on. I don’t get to spend as much time in Chicago anymore as I would like, but there that’s a book. Lover is paradise too. There’s a thriving indie bookstore community. And nice. I love to browse through any of those and more whenever I can.

Stephen: Nice. Okay. All right.

So before we move on to our author discussion, which should be a fairly intense discussion if somebody came up to you and said, Emily, I heard about your book tell me why I should get your book and read it. What would you tell them? I would

Emily: tell them that if it’s a woman or someone with a woman in a special woman in their lives, I would say get it because I think it’s very, I think women can see themselves in this book and more than that, feel some community.

And maybe let go of some shame or confusion or hurt from that very confusing gong show period. And it’s for anyone who can heal through laughter.

Stephen: Okay, great. I love that. Thank you very much for sharing all that. The book sounds exciting. I wish you luck when it finally gets released and we’ll plan on talking in about a year or so and see how things are going.

That’d be awesome.

Emily: Sounds wonderful. Great. I’ll look forward to it.

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