Episode 119B – Emily Wolf – Current Events in Writing

Overview

Emily included a legal abortion in her story that she wrote several years ago. Little did she know that when she released that book, legal abortions would be in jeopardy and controversy would surround her story.

We discuss how world event affect writing and how to handle it as a writer.

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Transcript

Okay, so let’s move on. Talk author stuff, put on your author hat. All when you first thought about this book and started writing to now, you’re getting ready to publish and working on another book. What are some things that you’ve learned that you’re doing different with this next book or you’ve done different with your writing?

Emily: Wow. The whole thing with your first book is a learning curve. Every single step of the way from the writing of the book to editing the book, to waiting your way through all of the people who are offering you, paid services, editors, proof, readers, all you know deciding whose input you trust and having them read and speak honestly to you about your book.

Certainly I’ve learned how the sausage is made with the book publishing industry. So I think, gosh, given all those lessons, I’m a big believer that things unfold the way they’re supposed to. So would it have been nice for someone, a traditional publisher to pick up my book two days after Beth my agent put it out on submission and.

Telling me, they’ve got it in hand and they’re gonna take care of it, I guess that would be partially great. But then I wouldn’t know so much of what I know now, and I’ve seen all of the things to consider and how long a book needs to be or short a book needs to be economical. And of course getting feedback from people and talking to people about books, you’d get a better idea for what resonates with readers.

I describe it like childbirth and pregnancy. My, my second novel is coming along so much, quickly, more quickly and easily than the first one. And I think that’s partially because anything you learn while doing. So I learned how to write a book while writing a book and the. I think I’ve learned to trust myself more.

And I know my go-to people who I will ask for their feedback when the first good draft is ready and I won’t sweat oh, should I hire this person? Or should I send it to that person? And and I’ve now developed this wonderful relationship with my agent, so I can give her my second book and really trust her feedback on it.

Yeah, it’s just, I’ve just learned how to trust the process, know that I can figure it out that it’s a industry and one that I think is in a lot of flu. But yeah and I think I’ve, I think the main lesson I’ve taken away is that. I would advise anyone who’s thinking of writing a book to write what they are really called to write.

Cause we can all think of, okay, what would be the most palatable and the most like universally saleable type plot and characters. And for me, I don’t think that would bring me much satisfaction. And I imagine it’s the same for most authors. So I think that’s my best lesson is I stuck with this story, even though I ran up against a bit of a roadblock with the abortion and I’m really glad I did.

Stephen: Nice. Okay. And when you’re writing what software or services do you use that you find really helpful or maybe that’s different than a lot of authors.

Emily: I think I’m probably different in that I’m a Luddite. I tell people to consider me like 117 years old when it comes to technology. So I use good old Microsoft work and I know people who use pages and who use all kinds of functions and can like clip out chapters or portions and put ’em on a clipboard.

I just write the thing in word and save it a lot and send it, email it to myself constantly. And that’s about

Stephen: it. Okay. And I know your book’s just coming out in a couple weeks when we’re recording this, it’ll be out by the time the episode goes live So what are you doing to market the book besides podcasts?

Emily: I have a fantastic publicist Deborah Brusso, who is holding my hand through this new experience and it’s become, and so she’s doing all the things the podcast and looking for appearances because of the target audience of the book. And I think just who it organically speaks to. We’re looking at colleges and universities and there is a Jewish theme that run to the book by accident.

I’m not very religious, but after I finished it, I was like, okay, that’s definitely a part of this. Connecting with the Jewish arts community has been a big part of the publicity and I’m, I am. Trying. I have a really fabulous also handholding intern, Mary Shannon Thompson, who is helping me with social media.

I did not have an Instagram account before I became an author. So I’m just doing all the things, but really it’s very, grassrootsy anyone with a book club or an audience who I think might be, get a charge out of a discussion about the book I am. I have Southwest miles will travel. I’ve got my zoom account and yeah, just looking to engage in discussion with groups, wherever they pop up.

Nice.

Stephen: Okay. All right. So let’s let’s look at our discussion and it’s very timely. Your book unintentionally. So totally you mentioned in the first half that your book starts off with the protagonist having an abortion and it didn’t strike you as odd. It was just part of life and it was a choice.

So why did you let me ask this first, why did you want the book to start with that? To show the character and set the tone and the mood? Why choose that event?

Emily: I know that I should have a deep philosophical answer to that question, but that is just what came out of me. And I think that’s my, that’s the real honest answer.

And probably because that’s one of the experiences from my twenties early thirties that I after processing it and I had was in, in a state. Was not particularly restrictive at the time. I had the support of my doctorate, the support of my family. I had the support of friends. It wasn’t controversial.

I got to go to a real hospital to, to do it. I didn’t have to drive out of state to find a clinic with protestors who would be standing outside. And I think after sitting with it for a while, I realized that I still carried some shame about it. And what’s been so interesting is once I finally, and I think that writing about it, yeah.

It just helped me process some of the emotions about it and helped me talk about it. And what’s been so interesting and I think a little nod from the universe that maybe I was on the right track opening the book that way is that so many of the women I have. Opened up to and shared this about myself or shared the book with I can’t, I really it’s.

It’s like over 10 people who’ve said to me, I haven’t told anyone, but I’ve had an abortion or I’ve had two abortions or a couple older women in my life who I really look up to work with have told me about their abortions before Roe, before they were legal. Yeah it just came to me and it was probably because that was the thing that I needed to process first, personally, and the feelings that I wanted to represent.

And I really wanted to. Normalize the conversation around abortion with this book, that was a huge goal. So why not just get it out there? And I really also didn’t want a reader to be surprised. So think they were getting a beach read, like romance novel. And putting it right out there, a reader who opens the book in a bookstore and flips to the first couple pages, they’re not gonna be surprised and angry at me.

They’re gonna know what they’re getting into. From the author standpoint we learn and talk about how we want the opening scene, the opening chapter, to be something that captures people and pulls ’em in sure for one reason or another, it doesn’t always have to be a big action scene or a dead body.

Stephen: There’s something that will talk to people in your situation. And not only that, but it’s really, to me speaks to the whole mood of the book 31st year and other calamities, it opens with this poor single girl getting an abortion and setting just the tone of the book. It gets set right there that people know, oh, I can empathize with this girl.

I know what she’s going through. And it sounds like life goes downhill from there. What goes on. So I think it was a perfect choice. It sounds it captured all of that and spoke to the people that would be interested in reading that book.

Emily: I hope so. It just as a writer yourself, you have to go with what feels most authentic and that felt something about that felt very essential to Zoe and essential to what I was trying to say.

Yeah it’s definitely an attention grabber for

Stephen: sure. So like you said, when you wrote that. It was years ago, Roe versus Wade was still existing in legal and you had support and people that were in support of that, which I’m sure you could have easily found some people that weren’t, but that wasn’t what you were trying to do on the point.

And you also mentioned that you were surprised that more books didn’t include things like this in them. So you weren’t trying to put it in there to be controversial or to bring up a topic. No, but now that we’ve had what happened, Roe versus Wade be overturned suddenly your book’s coming out right now.

That totally changes everything. So the people that I’ve been reading it, what have they been saying giving you feedback or how are you feeling about the book now in that first chapter? I,

Emily: again, this book has taken way longer to get out into the world than I would have hoped if you’d asked me in 2011 when I started writing it.

But. Again, things I think shake out for a reason. And the timing seems to be kismet where I think people might be a little more open and more curious. And now when they read that for a scene and when they read the whole book and see, because a lot of it is Zoe’s processing and recovery from this loss that she’s had, they see, oh, what if this was hard enough?

What if she hadn’t been able to do this legally? What if she had lived in the south? Wow. So it’s been, I’ve had some people who read the book early on and the people who my. Awesome. Author friends. Who’ve read several iterations of this book and probably never wanna hear the words my 31st year and other calamities ever again, come back to me and say, I cannot believe the timing of this because no, I did not think you would be controversial.

I, I knew the statistics. I knew how common this was. So I think when people read it, now they will be particularly aware of the war on women’s bodies. I think they would’ve been aware on it a bit before. And how there’s this urge to control? I think this feminine energy that’s coming up this wave.

And I think they would’ve seen that in Zoe, but now. That right has been rolled back, which is really putting my lawyer hat on for a minute. Really shocking because Supreme court decisions, for the most part, I think this is the first one that has taken away a fundamental right.

That people have relied upon for decades. I think when there’s a big decision, it that really shakes things up and gets attention. It’s usually giving people rights like gay marriage, for example. It’s

Stephen: also seems to be affected now with this.

Emily: Yes. It’s also interconnected. The targeting of trans folks and gay marriage.

And now we’re talking about contraception where you’re like, what? mean, This is the thing now. And and sodomy laws. That. When I was in law school in the early two thousands, that was considered like old news. We talked about those cases. Yeah, the moment in time seems to be really interesting.

And I hope people will take away in this time that abortion is yeah. A regular part of a woman’s life. And even in perfect circumstances, really hard. And so making it harder and maybe making it so that a woman can’t have children anymore, if she tries to get an abortion and it’s not done correctly or that she could die as a result.

Yeah. I hope the book gives people appropriate pause and a kick in the pants about how grave the situation is.

Stephen: Yeah. And. Quick aside. I hope the people making these laws and changing the laws and trying to control it. I hope they don’t look at the animal kingdom cuz man, there’s so many animals that would be arrested and in trouble.

Cause I’ve so many documentaries and things, they talk about all the stuff that humans are arguing about and the animals, they just do it all depending on the species and all that. So let me ask you this though. Have you thought about if you were writing it now, would you still include that scene knowing that there’s probably people out there that wanna attack you or that you could get bad reviews, you could get banned or get bad publicity and stuff because of this.

Have you thought of, if you would do it different or have you thought of even rewriting that beginning before it comes out?

Emily: No. I’ve never wavered and again, I wrote this book in Texas and so there are. All of those concerns, even before the Supreme court did what it did were all there.

It’s not like I was writing this in, I don’t know, Portland or somewhere in the, it’s a good

Stephen: thing you got Michigan to go to.

Emily: But I had to just come to terms with that and I think that’s, so that’s where stories I think are really important and powerful. I did not think that this book would be like an act of civil disobedience in any way, but it I’m fine with it being one because it’s important to reality.

And another quick lawyer aside that I think about a lot these days are, is that justice Harry Blackman, who left this earth a long time ago, who wrote the majority opinion in Roe versus Wade. Was from Minnesota. And my understanding from my constitutional law professor at least, was that he went to the Mayo clinic, which I think has maybe the deepest, best medical history library in the country or in the world, one of the best.

And once he realized that women have been having abortions at the same rates, literally since the beginning of recorded time, he figured if women are going to do this, which of course we are, if men had something growing in their body that could that was going to be very hard to get out of their body and then would change the trajectory of their lives forever.

They would wanna do some, they would wanna have control over that too. So he thought, okay, this is something that happens. It happens no matter what. So we may as well make it safe and legal and yeah it, at some point in our lives, we just have to be brave and say what we need to say.

Stephen: And I totally agree and love you saying that thinking of your possible sequel.

That could be a totally different sequel now that this has changed with her her reaction to what’s happening in the world and, or and maybe she’s older and has a daughter, and now how it affects her daughter compared to her. Really not trying to be political, but it really could bring that out.

I’m interested to see what happens when the book comes out. Yeah.

Emily: Me too, the whole thing’s been a total adventure and I’m very glad I made a charitable partnership with this book before we thought Roe was seriously on the line. And it’s with an organization called 73 forward, which is the reproductive justice branch of the national council of Jewish women.

And they’re an awesome organization. They are 100% dedicated to making reproductive care available, safe, legal for all. And a portion of my book proceeds are going to them and it’s just a motivator to sell more books because they need the support. And I would love to hand them a big bat check if I

Stephen: can.

Okay. So 73 Fort worth, you said we’ll make sure and put links in

Emily: 73 forward. So forward. Okay. 73 for that was the year Roe versus Wade was. And this is all on my website. It’s on the back of my book jacket, but 73, 19 73 is when Roe was decided. And then the forward is. Taking it forward and committing to it.

Okay.

Stephen: Yeah. Nice, good. I’ll make sure and put a link in the show notes for that.

Emily: Thank you. Thank that’ll be

Stephen: great. And we always talk about a lot of the authors, my day job or the job. I talked to a lot of authors that I’m 70. I retired and I wrote my book. That type of thing. Here’s the job I did.

I do find it very chisme like that you are a lawyer and you wrote this book. That’s now almost very controversial, who knows how that could play in and affect things because you have a totally different viewpoint. Of this, because when you started the book, it was legal. Now it’s not legal and who knows, maybe people will say, you shouldn’t even have that in your book and try and get it pooled and banned.

And maybe the stores will react with, oh, we don’t wanna cause problems. And cause you know, but then as a lawyer you could go, wait, you can’t pull my book for that. And you could fight that. I it’s just the ramifications. It just strikes me as very interesting that you weren’t like a veterinarian or something.

Emily: I I think it has added to my heartbreak because I actually did an internship at the Supreme court, which for any legal Eagles out there is very different than a clerkship. That’s really hard to get. I did not clerk at the Supreme court, but I did do an internship in 1999 and I got to go to arguments every day.

Which was. Just phenomenal. And I got to watch one of my all time idols, Ruth Bader Ginsburg work from the bench and I had and then the, she was a professor at the time at Harvard law school when I was a student. And then she was a Dean, Elena Kagan. Who’s now justice Kagan. I watched her confirmation hearings when I was home with a fresh hatched baby, just out of the hospital.

I had such a reverence for the Supreme court to me, from what I knew from being a lawyer really seem to be just set apart from the other two branches of government and. And there was something sacred about the Supreme court. And now with Brett Kavanaugh being a Supreme court justice and Amy co Comey Barrett.

And I almost just said a bad nickname that we had for her. I’m glad I didn’t. I just and his the logic he tried to use in that opinion, it’s I think it’s gonna take so long to repair. I’m not sure it’ll happen in my lifetime to repair their reputation and what they’ve done to tarnish their legacy, but I’m really not worried about any legal ramifications to me or to the.

It’s fine to write about abortion. It’s still legal to get an abortion in a lot of places. And so I’m not worried about that. I think the real significant connection for me having been a lawyer is it just, yeah, it adds to my heartbreak, cuz not only am my heart broken for all people who can become pregnant, but I’m just heartbroken for our country because whether you were a Supreme court follower or not, it really played a sacred role in our government and our society in reflecting our values back to us.

And boy I don’t see an easy way back from this one.

Stephen: Yeah. It’s definitely go take a while for our country to get back on its the right rails. In my opinion,

Emily: I agree with you. Yeah. So

Stephen: you mentioned also that you’re marketing, you’re targeting your demographic like college students.

Cause that’s the perfect age that’s being affected by this Roe versus Wade. Just starting to think about family and life or possibly didn’t mean to things happen in college and stuff and I could see how that would be on their mind a lot right now both the the young men and women not just the women, hopefully and how that could be.

This book could be something that, that they could latch onto and understand or empathize and that, so from the author marketing standpoint, that sounds like again, perfect timing to be pushing this book for that demographic.

Emily: Yeah I would love to connect more with that demographic. That’s the young men and women are the ones who give me hope.

Some of the older of us, I really wonder , but they’re the ones who give me hope. And I hope that they yeah, that something resonates with the abortion piece, but also just when I was that age, when I was in college, I really thought that if you make good choices and you follow the trail that society has prescribed for you.

That all will be well. And of course, now that I’m middle aged, I realize we’re in control of so little life throws so many things at us that we could never anticipate. And I want to say to those women, especially you might get out of college and you might find that things are really confusing and that you’re told a lot of things that you’ve internalized about what you need to do to be happy.

But there, happiness looks a lot of different ways for different women and some choose not to have children and some choose you can choose any number of life paths. And I hope that if they find themselves in some chaos, which I think most women do during that time of life, somehow, whether it’s personally professionally in the dating world, that’s a whole, that’s a whole mess that they might forgive themselves for it.

And just allow, just know that they’re gonna get through it and that they’ll be okay. So that’s a connection I’m I love

Stephen: making and that’s great, cuz that’s one of the things stories can do is reach out and connect with people. And it made me think when you were saying that back when Roe versus Wade first came into being, it was like at the end of the hippie movement and the hippie movement helped get that passed and get that in.

Yeah. And there were lots of protest songs for the war and the way the government was and all sorts of things we need that again. We need the modern generation and the hippie movement and the protest songs and the book, the story kind of fits with that. It’s not just the music we can reach our audience and people and make statements without necessarily meaning to even through stories.

And so that’s a power that authors have.

Emily: I think that’s really well said. Yeah. And I hope that people who are listening and maybe debating taking a shot at writing their first book or whatever piece they wanna write about something that really matters to them. I hope they go ahead and do it, cuz it is a mode of action.

Stephen: Yeah, totally. Yeah. And especially in college writing classes, they really push you to write a short story in that, based on your emotions and make it powerful and really bring that out. And I’m sure this is bringing up a lot of emotions for the kids. Whether it’s a girl that had an abortion already or.

Possibly is thinking of one, or maybe I don’t even want a chance getting pregnant because I don’t wanna be in that situation that could three different ways of thinking that could affect stories and think that what that’s going to do as they get into their thirties and forties and right. Stories very much affecting their thinking.

Yeah.

Emily: The fear piece is huge. And I’ve always said this is my book is categorized as women’s fiction, but man, if you are especially if you’re a heterosexual male who wants to heterosexual women, there’s a lot of great tips in here. for what to do and not to do. And of course there’s no way that, that this all falls on women.

The law is about women’s bodies. But. I really hope that men take on the sphere and understand how serious the ramifications are for them. Especially as a mom of two boys.

Stephen: Yes. Isn’t there some talk and a part of this that they’re talking about, that if a man gets someone pregnant and they can’t, that they’re gonna be responsible for that kid for the until the kid’s 18, I think that’s what should happen?

that should be what happens.

Emily: Yeah. But there’s there’s of course there’s no anyone who I have a couple friends who’ve had to try to get child support out of dads. Who’ve skipped it’s. It’s not men really are just not held to any sort of responsibility and especially not. With their bodies.

Every single time embryo is created, there was a male involved and the consequence the it’s just completely skewed and it’s not right.

Stephen: I totally agree. I think men should be held, I will say I’ve had a different experience when I got divorced from my first wife, my kid’s mother.

that basically I won’t go into it. I can tell you there’s sometime if we ever meet we’ll sit down and we can talk. That sounds great. Yeah. You probably understand this, but when I talked to my lawyer, they really almost were saying, look, you’re the guy. So you just let her take the kids, you pay her money and then we’ll just move on.

And that’s really the thinking that they had. So I don’t disagree with your statement at all, but in the situation where we had already been married and the kids were older, that changes that they screw the guy in that case. And I’m like, that’s not right. Either the mother should be just as responsible, not just handed everything.

And in my particular case, that’s what she wanted. She wanted to live off of what I was paying her to take care of the kids. So there, there are cases and I’m not not saying that’s across the board or everybody’s experience at all. But that’s not fair either. , there’s not at all parts that need more

Emily: fair and it’s all tied together.

It’s all this paternalistic viewpoint. And so your experience came out of paternalism and patriarchy gone wrong, just like yes, a woman who’s abandoned. So it’s all so connected. And yeah. So men have plenty of reasons to wanna smash the patriarchy with women.

Stephen: Absolutely. And I’ve actually thought of writing a fiction book based on real events about my experience.

I, we should consult, I should get, ask some questions of you. If I do decide to do that, we can make, ’em like a companion piece women and men’s side, do we should do a book tour or something together if I do that.

Emily: That would, I would love to talk let me know whenever I love talking about stories, especially at their, in their infancy.

So absolutely ring me up. That would

Stephen: be cool. Yeah. Great. All right. Emily we’ve had a wonderful discussion. I think it’s very timely and I hope a lot of people listen to it. And it brings up questions and discussions outside of this podcast. It’s important beyond stories and authors, but we’re affected by all of it.

So I, I love the discussion. It’s been great before we go. Do you have any advice for new authors that you would give them?

Emily: My I’m stick with what I said earlier, that you should write the story that is wanting to burst out of you. It’s the one you’re trying to ignore and tell is inconvenient and it would be much cleaner if you just stick to your day job.

But if you’re thinking of writing, write that story that is really authentic and important to you because that’s the one that needs to get told whether big publishing thinks it’s right or not. I don’t think there’s any point unless you really tell the story that you need to

Stephen: tell. Nice. Great.

Thank you. And that, I love that. How you said that, because that’s another, what we were just saying, the protest songs, all that’s a power of Indy authors that it’s probably harder to ban us because if you’re through random house and they wanna ban the book and give random house problems, random house will just pull it and be done.

Whereas Indy authors. Sure. Amazon might drop it, but you can still go on Barnes and noble and apple. You can sell it from your website. You can do author tables. It’s much, much harder to stop the independent voice nowadays.

Emily: It’s it? It’s definitely, yeah. It’s definitely more fluid and nimble if you’re an indie author, but.

If I can say a quick word about band books please. Texas again my new home state is at the forefront of that. And I don’t know if I can swear on this podcast, but F that I Brazos bookstore. That’s so wonderful. I went and bought, I think a dozen beautiful band, middle grade books that had either queer themes or race themes.

And I just went and dropped ’em off, donated them to our local public middle school librarian was thrilled to have them. So to new writers who cares if your book is gonna be banned, that means there’s something in it. That’s important. That means you’re on the right track. And there are plenty of people everywhere who wanna hear what you have to say.

And there are ways to get it. To get it to people. My book opens with an abortion, but you know what, I’m printing it liberally. It’s available in paper bag, it’s available. It’s going to have an audio book. That’s I think just being the editing is being finalized. Now there’s an ebook. And whether this is traditionally published, whether new authors traditionally published or Iny published, get your story out there, make it happen.

Don’t worry about the rest.

Stephen: Nice. Great. I love that. And thank you for that. So there we go. Alright Emily, I’ll let you go. I gotta get going myself. Thanks again for a great talk. I can’t wait until this goes live.

Emily: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me. It was lovely meeting

Stephen: you. Oh, nice meeting you too.

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