Rachel Schwartzmann: Welcome to Slow Stories. I’m Rachel Schwartzmann. I'm a writer, consultant, and the creator and host of this podcast. For those of you just tuning in, I interview artists, entrepreneurs, and innovators who share slow stories—and big ideas—about living, working, and creating in our digital age.

This episode begins with a story from Kate Litterer, who shares a novel that inspired her to slow down and embrace her creativity. Here’s more from Kate.

Kate Litterer: Hello. My name is Kate Litterer, and I am a slow productivity coach who runs the blog, The Tending Year, where I research and discuss productivity through the lens of slow living. The thing that recently caused me to slow down—almost through an exciting slap in the face or bucket of cold water to the face—was reading this book called Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder. In this book, Yoder’s narrator, the main character, is a mother who used to be an artist and now is a stay-at-home mom and her husband is usually away on business. So across the span of the book, the author takes on being a canine, being a dog. And through that, she gains this intense energy, and hunger, and desire, and creativity, and connection. And reading it really inspired me to turn back to the things that are creative, that are slow.

So, for example, I started working on a zine that I’ve been dreaming about for a while, a very slow hands-on task that’s not tied to what we would typically think about with productivity. Along with this—sort of the cherry on top—was a quote from Rachel Yoder in an interview with Hazlitt where she says:

“I really feel like underachieving can be an act of profound self-care and radical feminism. To say, I’m not going to learn any more competencies, I’m done with that. I am my competencies, and my talents are here to serve me. And I’m going to protect those. They’re not to be given away. I’m not here to overachieve in service of other people. I’m here to focus on my dreams and my goals.”

So right now, I’m feeling really inspired by Rachel Yoder, and by her writing in Nightbitch, and trying to slow down, be present, be competent, and have fun making a zine.

Rachel Schwartzmann: Thank you so much again to Kate for sharing. Again, the novel she mentioned is Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder, and you can also learn more about Kate’s work at thetendingyear.com. Now here’s my conversation with Kayla Maiuri.


Rachel Schwartzmann: What we leave behind can still shape what moves us forward. This idea is at the core of Kayla Maiuri’s poignant debut novel, Mother in the Dark. In this quietly captivating story, readers follow Anna, a young woman who finds herself at a crossroads as her complicated past converges with the present. As Anna’s childhood and family life unfurl, we meet various characters who inspire deeper reflection about what it means to be a daughter, sister, and friend.

For Kayla, fiction is a lens to better understand reality. And as Mother in the Dark comes out following a period of prolonged distance and isolation, Kayla’s book is a powerful reminder not to turn away from the people that we love. And in this interview, Kayla shared more about the origins of this story, her relationship with nature, and what she’s learned about family, leaving, and time.

An element of darkness hums throughout this book, but by the last page, Kayla’s nuanced exploration of family (and forgiveness) shows us there’s light to be found. And after hearing from Kayla in this episode, you’ll see what I mean. So, without giving too much more away, here’s my conversation with Kayla Maiuri, author of Mother in the Dark.


Kayla Maiuri: So I know this isn’t a super unique answer, but I do feel like it’s hard to separate who I am as a writer and who I am as a person—especially when the writing is going well. This really magical thing happens where I see my entire life through the lens of what I’m writing, whether that’s going for a coffee or going for a long walk, or sitting on the subway, or hearing a friend tell their own story. I’ll start to observe them—even the way that their foot is jiggling on the couch—and I’ll start to think, Hmm. How can I incorporate this in my novel in some way? So there are moments in my life where all I’m doing is taking notes on the little note section on my phone, and I cannot forget the fact that I’m a writer.

Rachel Schwartzmann: That’s good to know for me. The next time we get together, I’ll know I’m being studied. [Laughs]

Kayla Maiuri: I’m just observing you ... so that’s obviously the creative aspect of my life, but I’ve been in admin work for six or seven years, and it sounds so strange, but it really satisfies this other part of my brain that wants to organize. And it’s a lot of busy work, you know, with excel sheets, and calendars, and running around taking care of other people’s things. And I’ve actually just started a new job up at Columbia’s School of the Arts, working for the deans there. And I love it so much because I’ll be there for eight hours and then I’ll look at the time, I’m like, wow, I’ve been sitting here at my desk, and you’d think I’d be depressed about it, but I’m not because it really gives me this craving for creativity, and reading, and writing.

I was at home for two years working remotely during COVID, and I wasn’t reading and writing that often. And I really think it’s this busy work that forces me to want to slow down when I get home. And I can feel now, right at my fingertips, I’m ready to start working on something. I don’t know what it is yet. I haven’t started yet. But I know that it’s this new job that’s sort of reinvigorating me and making me want to go back to my roots as a writer. So fingers crossed on the front. [Laughs]

Rachel Schwartzmann: I mean, I think that’s so important to share. I think when people think of being a writer now, there’s still that romantic lens, and there’s no room for “busy work,” but I would imagine that helps you kind of cultivate discipline.

Kayla Maiuri: Absolutely. I need it. And I take full advantage of my 45-minute commute on the subway up to Columbia because I’m in Brooklyn now. I’m listening to podcasts on literature, or I’m reading, or I’m taking notes on just my own thoughts that I think could relate to writing somehow. And it’s crazy that being busier allows more room for creativity.

I totally had that romantic view of I’m going to be living in the city, I’m going to be a waitress, and I’m going to be a writer. And it was so demoralizing. I hated it. I was serving for two years. And don’t get me wrong, I love the culture, and I love being around a bunch of other young artists who are just working in the restaurant industry to make money essentially. But you know, customers treat you as if you’re not a real human or as if you have no intelligence. But there was that sort of romantic [thing]... I would be in the corner scribbling notes on my little menu pads that I would take customers’ orders on. [Laughs] But at the end of the day, it was not for me. I could only do it for two years, and I was like, that’s it, I’m out, I need to be at a desk, and that’s where I’ve been ever since.

Rachel Schwartzmann: Yeah. It’s definitely not slow. [Laughs]

Kayla Maiuri: No! But it was all a good experience in the end. It made its way into the book, so there’s that.

Rachel Schwartzmann: I definitely want to get into talking about Mother in the Dark, but I’m wondering if you have a story in mind or one that you’ve come across recently—whether it’s been an article, poem, song, another book—that made you slow down or sort of redefined your definition of family?

Kayla Maiuri: We spoke about this recently, but I had a pretty intense dry spell where I could not read for about six months, and it was really starting to terrify me because I thought: If I’m not a reader, will this lead to me not being a writer? What is happening? I would begin books and put them down. And I think it had a lot to do with publication anxiety. I just couldn’t sit still with another person’s words because I started to think about my own words and how I wanted to change them, but it was too late to change them. But all of that changed this summer. I read Anna Hogeland’s The Long Answer, and it is just... I mean, I read it extremely fast. I was on the beach with my sisters, and they were yelling at me because I wouldn’t put the book down. But I also read it slowly because I would physically put the book down on my lap and just stare ahead and think about what I just read after almost every chapter. And it’s this beautiful meditation on female friendship.

And a lot of reviewers are pointing out that it’s about abortion, and pregnancy, and miscarriages, and all of that exists in the novel. But for me, it’s more about the beauty and power of storytelling and the ways that stories fuel us, and sustain us, and heal us, and how if you’re going through a rough moment, you will turn to a friend or a stranger and seek out a story that they have, or they can prove to you that you’re going to be okay because they experienced some form of this. And most of the novel really is women going for long walks, or sitting at a bar, or talking on the phone and telling each other their life stories.

It’s so tender, and the content can be a bit depressing at times, but I just felt enveloped in warmth the entire time that I was reading it because the author is so thoughtful and tender. I’ve been recommending it to everybody I come across. I’m still thinking about it, and I read it in July.

Rachel Schwartzmann: Sounds so affirming.

Kayla Maiuri: Yes!

Rachel Schwartzmann: Is there a passage that’s remained with you? It sounds like there are many—but one that might be worth sharing here?

Kayla Maiuri: Absolutely.

“I could see it more clearly now, now that I was no longer with her. The ways I’d been the one imposing the distance between us, not her. I’d thought it was her choice, and I was honoring it, always waiting for her to call me, never making the first gesture. But that was not so, and for how long had it been this way? Her gestures were so plainly there, and I hadn’t recognized them as such.”

The reason I love this passage so much is because the novel is also about adult sisterhood, which I sort of rarely find in literature. In this particular instance, we’ve spent the whole novel believing that the narrator’s sister has been sort of distant and not wanting to see her. And the narrator is honoring that and just accepting that her sister wants space. Then we realize in the end—I don’t think it’s really spoiling in any way—but we realize, no, she’s had it wrong. Her sister actually has been making an effort to see her, and she’s been the one pulling away.

And that dynamic—sisters are so strange. It’s the strangest relationship in the world. I’m the eldest of three. And truly, this happened a couple of weeks ago, we were screaming in the bathroom about some trivial fight, and then two seconds later, we were cheering our glasses of wine and taking selfies together. [Laughs] It really is crazy—the ways that you can sort of heal these things that seem like monstrous, intense issues and then turn out to be nothing because there is that unconditional love. But I really related to that in Anna’s novel, and to me, it was really one of the greatest aspects of it.

Rachel Schwartzmann: Yeah. That passage is amazing. I mean, to your point about those kinds of tricky sibling dynamics, I’m an only child, so I’m always interested to hear how boundaries are established but also broken down. I’ve always kind of thought of having a sibling as having a built-in mirror. They are there to kind of show you things that maybe you can’t see from your vantage point. In the sibling relationships I’ve known, it seems to be that kind of reckoning. [Laughs]

Kayla Maiuri: Oh, that’s so beautiful. I love that. It’s funny with sisters how those dynamics arise. The second you go home, you return to your younger selves.

I’m in New York, and my entire family is in Boston. And sometimes, over the holidays or special occasions, we’ll all be in the same house together. Even at this age—and keep in mind, none of us are children, I’m 31, the other is 30, the other is 29, so we’re all adults—if one of my sisters goes out with their friends to go drinking, I cannot sleep until they’re home in their beds and they’re safe. I still feel like I’m their little protector, which they would hate to hear me say. Like, OK, Kayla. But it never leaves, and it really amplifies when I’m with them.

Rachel Schwartzmann: Yeah. It sounds really special.

Kayla Maiuri: It is. It really is.

Rachel Schwartzmann: You mentioned that you read this book with your sisters at the beach. We’re at the height of summer right now, and it’s always interesting for me to think about family during these months. I get nostalgic for summer break or just that kind of free feeling that is equated with summer. How are you thinking about this time right now?

Kayla Maiuri: I get really nostalgic for my family this time of year because everyone’s at the Cape at the beach together most weekends, and I’m in steamy, sticky New York City. But I totally know what you mean. I feel it with summer, but I also feel it even more with fall. You know, New England falls are just such a special, nostalgic place for me. That’s when I get the most homesick, and I want to be eating apple cinnamon donuts with my family or sitting at the table with my mom and watching the leaves change outside. Crazy how seasons do remind you of the sweetest memories from childhood.

Rachel Schwartzmann: It’s so true. And you capture seasons and time so beautifully in Mother in the Dark. It’s a story that I think many people will recognize themselves in. It’s quiet but gripping... it explores family, grief, [and] I saw a lot of acceptance and redemption, too. But for those who don’t know the inspiration behind the book, can you share a little bit about how you arrived at this story?

Kayla Maiuri: Yeah. I began the novel eight years ago, which seems fitting for a podcast about slow stories because I’ve been working on this for a long time. I was in my second semester at Columbia, and I was haunted—in a beautiful way—by an image of a woman who was living in her nightgown and her wool socks and sitting in the living room, drinking her iced coffee from morning till night until the ice had melted. And I realized that these were memories of my mother in the years after her own mother’s death. And I kept returning to this image, and I wrote it in a million different ways. There are just so many quiet moments of this mother sitting in the living room with her children or sitting at the kitchen table. It took a long time to really fictionalize it and create the plot. I feel like that’s what I struggle with most. My notebook and my notepad are just scenes and scenes of these delicate moments where nothing is really happening; it’s character-building, right? So that’s where the novel began. It began with a memory of my mother, but certainly now has become something completely different.

Rachel Schwartzmann: It had to have been a powerful image to stay with you in that way.

Kayla Maiuri: Yeah. And it was also the first time that I was really away from home because I had gone to college in Boston, just a half hour away from my family. So I think being in New York, I was flooded with memories that I hadn’t really acknowledged when I was in my teens and my college years.

I had this excellent professor at Columbia, Elissa Schappell, and she had so much inspiring advice that has stuck with me for years. And one of them was [that] she’s only interested in authors who have left their bloody fingerprints on the page, meaning that they’ve given up some part of themselves to the reader. And this is also in relation to writing about family or people you love. If you’re going to exploit somebody in some way, you have to be willing to exploit yourself as well, show those less than flattering aspects of yourself.

And also, in writing about family, she said, “you need to protect your work from your family and protect your family from your work.” Just that delicate balance of not wanting your family and any guilt to interfere with this work that you’re meant to be writing, but also wanting to be delicate in how you do that because these are people that you love and that you don’t want to hurt. I did keep my family from my work and my work from my family for years and years ... They didn’t read it until the galleys were out. And I thought it was very wise advice.

Rachel Schwartzmann: I mean, that’s hard. That’s really hard. Do you think you had to leave and create distance in order to really commit to that when writing?

Kayla Maiuri: Yes. I had to really get out of my own way and force myself to be ignorant of the fact that the catalyst for the novel was a memory. And again, it has taken on a life of its own, and I don’t connect with it the way that I did when I was 23, writing it down for the first time because it has changed so much. But I mean, it was difficult. These were truly the darkest years of my life was writing this novel because I was confronting things from my childhood that I had been burying for years. And there was even a moment—and I have an essay about this coming out the week of publication—where I truly started confusing my life with the life of my narrator. I would be out to dinner with friends, and I would say something, thinking that it was a memory of my own, but really it had never happened in my real life. And it also was warping my perception of my mother. I believed that she was crueler than she really was and that she was Diana, the mother in my novel. And thankfully, once it was all out and all on the page, I had the time and space to sort of regulate those emotions and get out of this weird time in my life, and I no longer have those feelings, thankfully. I can separate my mother from Diana in the book. But it was a rough period.

Rachel Schwartzmann: I’ve never really written fiction before, but obviously, most stories are drawn from some sort of real-life element. So to be able to kind of create that boundary probably takes a lot of muscle memory and building. It sounds exhausting.

Kayla Maiuri: It was! It was exhausting, and it was making me so angry, but I also was addicted to it. I couldn’t stop because I knew that what I was writing, somebody would be able to relate to. And so I’m happy I stuck with it. Eight years later! [Laughs]

Rachel Schwartzmann: On the subject of leaving, I loved your explorations of this legacy of leaving and being left. I think that’s at the core of so many of Anna’s relationships. And I’m curious as you talk about kind of inhabiting her mind and her life, how did writing Anna’s story change your perception of what it means to leave someone or something behind—whether it’s a house, a past, a self, or another person?

Kayla Maiuri: Oh, I love this question. It taught me a lot about the ways that we leave people and that there are good and healthy ways to leave people in their really destructive, cruel ways to leave people.

And I think it was really important for me, especially with this novel, although there are moments where Diana, the mother, is just completely wicked and cruel and emotionally manipulative, Anna... and [in] this day and age is a lot to be said about us protecting ourselves, and setting boundaries, and leaving people who hurt us—but my own personal take is that Anna left in a really cruel way. And the way that she left also echoed all of the things that she hates about her mother.

She thinks that she is not important to anyone in her life, which is a really selfish way to look at relationships, I think. And she abandons her mother but also her sisters, who really didn’t do anything wrong. For their whole life, Anna has been their protector—and I understand that other people will read this and be like, “oh, she did the right thing; she’s leaving this really toxic environment.” I’ve always felt a tenderness towards this house, and this family, and this complicated mother figure. And I think that Anna did it the wrong way. But hopefully, you see, as the novel progresses, that she tries to rectify that maybe, or she will try to rectify that in the end. It’s very open-ended.

Rachel Schwartzmann: I moved around quite a bit when I was younger. So I really connected with Anna’s experiences of finding herself on unsolid ground, especially in the midst of a really unstable family life. In your opinion, how does moving move a family closer together or a part?

Kayla Maiuri: I’m a really sensitive person. And I was a very sensitive child. And I remember... I mean, there’s that scene in the novel where they’re all in the car, and the boxes are tipping, and they’re moving from their home in Everett to their home in Topsfield. And Anna feels this sense of safety because they’re all together. She can see everybody. I think she feels most at ease when all of her family is in sight, and she can feel their presence, and she knows that nobody’s missing. And moving and the concept of one of the parents... I mean, she fears at one point that her mother will decide, “oh, I’m not coming with you guys, and you’re going to move without me.” In my own experience, moving has always brought me closer to my family—as a child. You’re in a new environment, and you need to be cloistered because it’s the one thing that feels familiar to you.

I remember I used to have reoccurring nightmares of there being like a Wizard of Oz-type tornado plummeting through my neighborhood. And we’d all be running in the car—my mom, and my dad, and my sisters, and the dog. And my mom would literally be standing in the driveway in her nightgown, looking up at the sky, and the car would be lifting off the ground, and we’d be like, “Mom! Mom! Get in! Get in! You have to come with us.” And she’d be like, “No, I’m gonna stay.” This nightmare stayed with me until, I mean, I’m pretty sure I was having this nightmare when I was at Columbia as a grad student. This idea of somebody getting left behind or not moving with you.

Rachel Schwartzmann: Well, I think that fear of loss is also so present throughout. I mean, correct me if I’m wrong, but there are a couple of instances where Anna is with her family, but she thinks, “please don’t let anything bad happen.” So it’s almost that like anticipation.

Kayla Maiuri: Yeah. It’s like her mantra. And even the rest of the girls—they sleep with their doors closed, but Anna sleeps with hers open because she wants to be able to hear if they’re in danger, and she wants to be able to make sure that she can gather everybody and protect them—which is something I still do today. I don’t understand people who close their doors at night. I want to be able to hear if a man is coming to murder me! [Laughs]

Rachel Schwartzmann: [Laughs] Yeah. Well, I think that’s probably a result of so much that’s happening in the world, which is probably a whole other conversation. [Laughs] But that feeling of bracing for those little losses—and those big losses—hums throughout Mother in the Dark, and it also kind of adds texture to this really big emotional tug of war between Anna and her family, particularly her mother. So, I think it would be great to have you read a passage that sort of demonstrates that dynamic, particularly in chapter eight.

Kayla Maiuri: So this is a moment in the book where the father has announced that they’re moving to—it’s a mix between the suburbs and a farmer’s town. And they currently live outside the city of Boston in a lower-class neighborhood. And the mother has been sort of pitting the girls against their father and wanting them to take a side. And in this scene, she asks them if you could choose between the two of us, who would you choose, me or your father? The girls are circled around her while she’s in the tub, and they’re comforting her. And in this moment, she also has a bottle of pills by the tub that Anna notices, and this is what happens shortly after.



Rachel Schwartzmann: It sets the tone really for what’s to come. As Anna reflects on a lot of these early experiences in her life, we see how much of an observer she really is, and something that’s to her detriment is that she’s often mulling over the past. And I think you use time in a really compelling way to demonstrate the arc of this family. You dip into her past, but also Diana’s past as a child in the ’70s. And so I wanna talk about time a little bit and start by asking, when do you think reflecting on the past can be nourishing?

Kayla Maiuri: Mm. There is certainly an unhealthy ruminating type of reflecting on the past, which I fall victim to often. But I think it can be most positive when reflecting and writing about it fictionally—because fiction is the one time where you’re able to look at the cast of people in your life and turn them over and see every side of them and all of the possibilities, and consider the things that they didn’t say or didn’t do, things they should have done and actions they didn’t take. And for me, that has proven to be a healthy way to reflect on the past because I’m considering other people’s needs, and wants, and desires. I hope that answers your question.

Rachel Schwartzmann: It does. It makes me think of fiction in a new light. It makes me think to write fiction is to have hope.

Kayla Maiuri: Yeah. And fiction teaches us so much about reality, I think. You know, I’ve across a lot of men who will say that they don’t read fiction. They only read non-fiction because they want to learn something. I’m like, “uh, I don’t know if I totally agree with that,” but—[Laughs]

Rachel Schwartzmann: Yeah, that’s a very boring, narrow way to engage with stories. I read and write non-fiction, but I think stories like this give us space to process beyond just fact.

You know, Anna can’t always trust what’s happening around her—at that point when she’s younger—but do you think she trusts herself?

Kayla Maiuri: Oh wow. I don’t think so. ... she’s in such a lonely state. And I think loneliness creates a form of narcissism where you really do believe everyone in your life is out to get you. And when she’s in New York, I think she does trust herself and believe that her mother has done all of these horrendous things—which she has. I mean, she’s not an unreliable narrator in that way. But I think she, towards the end of the novel, is beginning to maybe question... part of the reason she’s not going home is because she feels guilty. It’s not just that she’s angry at her mother or she’s afraid to go home. It’s also that she knows that she’s done something wrong too, and she’s enabled, and she’s not always been gracious with her emotions. So I don’t think she trusts herself, but I think there’s hope in her returning home that she will be able to trust herself.

Rachel Schwartzmann: And to be able to revisit the past in a more informed way.

Kayla Maiuri: Yeah, exactly. In a more gracious, open way, willing to hear everybody’s perspective and not just think about the ways that you were harmed.

Rachel Schwartzmann: It’s probably work that has to be done for an entire lifetime. And I think to be able to do that; you really have to be grounded in a sense of presence. I’m not sure if you listened to my interview with Lisa Taddeo, but she mentioned that a lot of her writing deals with being so stuck in the past. And I want to ask a question that I posed to her, which is: what is the present to a writer, and how has the present changed you?

Kayla Maiuri: Oh, this is a hard one. I can talk about how I get myself to the present, which is slowing down and writing by hand. I’m not the kind person who can fill an entire notebook from start to finish with my novel. But if I’m really struggling to be sitting in a scene with characters, I will pull out my notebook and force myself to start over and write that scene by hand and sometimes even make weird charts and seat people around tables.

And it’s funny; I’ve never actually reflected on this. It’s kind of a strange thing to do. But taking your hand to paper slows you down and forces you to be in the present. I mean, it’s a hard question—because Anna, my narrator, and as well as myself—I am so often stuck in the past. I’m so nostalgic, and I’m always ruminating, and I’m turning things over, over and over again and talking about the same stories over and over again of my past. So that’s why this question is so hard for me because I think I struggle to stay in the present.

Rachel Schwartzmann: It makes sense. It’s hard to think about being in the present with anything in life, with our attention being pulled in a million different directions at any given time.

Kayla Maiuri: It’s such an important question, and I need to strategize more to make sure that I’m in the present when I’m writing—because I’m also kind of a nut when I’m writing. I don’t need to be in a quiet space. I have no routines. I have written pages upon pages in the kitchen while my mother and sisters are fighting, or laughing, or cleaning. I can write with the TV on. Strangely enough, I cannot write in cafes. I refuse to do it. Maybe it’s the pressure of sitting in an environment where you’re expected to write something, and it doesn’t ever come out. But I don’t get distracted easily when I’m writing, I guess.

Rachel Schwartzmann: Well, that’s a gift.

Kayla Maiuri: I know! [Laughs]

Rachel Schwartzmann: I mean, I need the exact opposite. I need everybody to go. I need it to be quiet. I need it to be kind of dark. As we speak, I’m actually working on my first book, which is still weird to say, but I can only really write now from like 11 to 12 at night.

Kayla Maiuri: Wow. Oh, that’s so interesting.

Rachel Schwartzmann: Yeah. It’s after John has gone to bed; Pepper is tucked in—Pepper is my lionhead rabbit—for those who don’t know. [Laughs]

Kayla Maiuri: Do you sit at a desk, or on the couch, or in bed? I know people write in bed, which I used to do, but I can’t do that any longer.

Rachel Schwartzmann: I can’t do it. I have a home office, which I feel so grateful for. I have to shut the door—I know we don’t like shutting the door at night—but I have to shut the door and hope for the best. [Both Laugh] But yeah, it’s the only way I can stay present.

Kayla Maiuri: Do you play music?

Rachel Schwartzmann: No. I need silence. I wish I could.

Kayla Maiuri: Yeah, music is distracting. I cannot play music when I’m writing. It’s the one thing that I can have the TV on in the background, but I cannot listen to music. I don’t know what it is.

Rachel Schwartzmann: Music is a very triggering thing, almost. I mean, it’s so beautiful, or it’s so powerful. I get that. I feel like I would become overwhelmed.

Kayla Maiuri: Yeah. And it also music can bring you back to another point in time. I think that’s why I can’t listen to it while I’m writing. And also, you’ll start singing along to the lyrics.

Rachel Schwartzmann: I get nervous because if I’m listening to something and trying to write something else down, I’ll start writing down whatever is playing. So it’s like that phenomenon... Can’t have that! [Laughs]

What about nature? How do you feel about nature in terms of an environment? And I ask that, too, because your descriptions of nature in Mother in the Dark, I felt, really captured the interiority of the characters and their relationships. At one point, you wrote:

“On warm nights, I sat by the giant pit next door, legs dangling over the edge while the gravel pricked my thighs. At sunset hour, I liked to go down there to think and to dream and be alone. No one would look for me there. Behind me, the windows of the house blinked when figures passed. I thought of the running pipes and buzzing lights, water heaters, and vents, until the house became a living thing, and I felt sad knowing the five of us would not always be a part of it.”

And then, later, another really poignant passage, you write:

“That night, in my dreams, I heard the sounds of my mother whimpering and pacing, her barefoot steps muffled in the yard. The hem of her nightgown was grass-stained, dip-dyed green. Streaks of dirt climbed her pale legs. Drenched in a moon bath. A woodland fairy without wings.”

Tell me about your relationship with nature. How do you experience it and write about it?

Kayla Maiuri: This is funny. My sisters would be rolling their eyes because they definitely don’t see me as a nature girl. I was always ten steps behind them when we were children going into the woods to find coyote dens, or hunting for salamanders, or bringing in toads, I always wanted to be a part of it with them, but it wasn’t natural to me to be in nature. And it wasn’t until I saw my book cover and I sort of got this mother nature vibe where I was like, “oh, there’s a lot of nature happening in my novel.” And I think what’s happening is you’re actively seeing me as the writer being nostalgic for home because I was writing this when I was in New York City, which is devoid of nature, and it’s impossible for me to think about my childhood, and think about my family, and even my mother, and not think about nature.

Even to this day, when I go home, we sit at the kitchen table by this window, and you see all of the bird feeders, and we have these hideous turkeys that come and sun in the backyard. And my mom’s like, “Oh Kayla, they’re so beautiful, come see,” and “I’m like these things so are so atrocious.” [Laughs] But yeah, it’s impossible to think about home and not think about nature. And it’s also a moment where, I mean, nature automatically slows you down, and you start thinking about what you can smell and see and feel. And I think that’s probably apparent in those passages.

Rachel Schwartzmann: Yeah. You write about it so beautifully, so I had to ask. And I think to better illustrate that relationship between the natural world and Anna’s reflections on her family, let’s have you read another passage.

Kayla Maiuri: So this is a moment where the mother is sitting on the front porch, and she’s with the dog, and the girls can hear her through the screen door saying: Where is everybody? Why is no one hanging out with us? And so the girls kind of begrudgingly like, ok, that’s our cue, to go down to the front porch to spend some time with their mother, who’s increasingly just a little odd, not entirely on planet earth. And here’s that moment.



Rachel Schwartzmann: How does it feel to read something like that back or aloud?

Kayla Maiuri: This one really does remind me of my teenage years, and I really was wreaking of self-consciousness. [Laughs] It’s weird to say it out loud because I’ve never read that passage before. But I identify with that little Anna; I feel for her.

Rachel Schwartzmann: I mean, I think we were both probably lucky in the sense that yes, being a teenager is so hard, but we didn’t have the pressures of a life online teenagers today have.

Kayla Maiuri: Oh, I can’t imagine it. It would wreck me. It does wreck me at this age. So I can’t imagine having Instagram when I was a little 12-year-old or a 13-year-old.

Rachel Schwartzmann: I think I mentioned this; the book, to me, kind of gives off this vibe of 4:00 PM in the winter. And it’s interesting to think about technology and social media and how often they play a role in shaping the vibe long before people have even read the book. And I’m just curious to hear how those platforms and that expectation have sort of shaped your understanding of mood and story.

Kayla Maiuri: I’m somebody who I’m ashamed to admit is quite addicted to both Instagram and TikTok. And it scares me because I’m somebody who lives and breathes reading and writing. Even I struggle to get through a chapter without then checking my phone. And I wonder how an ordinary person who just reads as a casual hobby is possibly able to get through a novel. Instagram has a negative impact, I think, ultimately on writing and being a creative person and just being felt forced to create this cool writer persona.

But TikTok—#BookTok—I joined it because one of my favorite things in the world is to recommend books or to really get to know a person and ask them: “What’s the last thing you read that you really loved?” And then trying to find the next thing that they’ll really love. And I didn’t expect to make so many little internet friends on #BookTok, who aren’t doing it for show; they’re actually there because they want to talk about books and have these little book clubs. I’m not a part of any of the book clubs, but #BookTok has been a really special place, even though it’s also a bit of an addiction, and I’ve definitely fallen asleep with my phone in my hand, which you would not approve of, especially on this podcast. It’s something I’m working on. I mean, at the end of the day, I think the digital age is not helping us as writers, but #BookTok is a nice little perk.

Rachel Schwartzmann: Listen, I struggle with it too. So I think it’s ebb and flow. Just having the conversation around these things that pull at our attention, but to your point, also brings us a lot of joy. It’s not as simple as just disconnecting. But I wonder, as I kind of get to know the publishing world and see how enmeshed it is with social media, where the opportunity is for writers to really use it in a way that’s healthy and honest.

Kayla Maiuri: Yeah. I think you need to have an awareness and be honest with yourself about how much time you’re spending on these apps. But definitely, it helps you reach a readership and an audience, which is a beautiful thing. I don’t think I realized how many readers were out there. You know, in MFAs, it’s so doomy and gloomy about how literature is dying, and no one wants to read. And I definitely do not feel that way any longer being on #BookTok.

Rachel Schwartzmann: Yeah. I don’t think reading or writing is dying; it’s just changing so quickly. And I wonder too, how would you describe your relationship with pace, and how has it evolved?

Kayla Maiuri: It has been difficult. I’m a couple of weeks out before pub date, and I running around like a chicken with its head cut off, and it’s not even just publicity stuff. It’s also having a new job. But actually, sitting here with you is the first time in several days where I felt like I’ve slowed down, and sat at a leisurely pace, and been thoughtful about the book and about my life. And it’s so nice. So thank you.

Rachel Schwartzmann: Of course.

Kayla Maiuri: I’ve been craving to slow down, and honestly, I feel like I shouldn’t say this; I’m kind of craving for the fall—for this moment to sort of blow over and for me to get back to just sitting in my apartment and reading because I haven’t done that in weeks. It’s funny because publishing a novel is so slow for so long, and then all of a sudden you are slammed with emails... and it’s all good, exciting things, but all of these tasks that you now have to do, and supplementary non-fiction pieces, and posting on social media, preparing for events. It’s just a lot.

Rachel Schwartzmann: When the moment does pass—when the initial hype or attention dies down—how do you think this book will exist in your life? Where do you want it to sit in the realm of your writing practice and in your family’s life, too?

Kayla Maiuri: Hmm. I literally just picked it up to hold it and think about this question. [Laughs] It’s really hard. I already feel myself disconnecting and pulling away from it, and it makes me kind of sad, but I think that’s a good thing. I think that’s what’s supposed to happen when the book comes out into the world. I don’t really identify with Anna any longer—except for that passage about teenagehood.

And so I hope that this book will exist as a feeling of pride, I guess. I mean, it’s been the biggest dream of my life since I was like 18. When I walk past it, now [there is] this little glimmer of oh my gosh, I can’t believe this is sitting in my apartment. So I hope it’s something I can remain proud of.

It’s so hard looking through this book; there are already so many sentences that I want to change. But I’m told that never goes away.

Rachel Schwartzmann: Well, that’s why you’ll write a second book. [Laughs]

Kayla Maiuri: Exactly.

Rachel Schwartzmann: As a creative person and as an engaged person, I’ve found that asking questions is the only way to move us forward. So as you sort of reflect on the many ideas we’ve talked about in this conversation, I wonder what question you hope people will start asking you more often—whether it’s in the context of writing, family, friendship, time?

Kayla Maiuri: So I’ve noticed that everyone—from friends to acquaintances, to strangers—the first thing they ask when I tell them about my novel is: “Oh, did that really happen to you?” or “Oh, are you talking about your life?” And trust me, I understand the curiosity. I do it myself all the time when I’m reading, especially when I’m reading my friends. But when it’s a stranger, it does feel like this sort of uncomfy invasive question that I feel like I’m forced to answer. And I don’t want to.

Also, it takes away the magic of the book. I’m not important! Anna is important. I am not who we’re supposed to be focusing on. So I think I want people to focus more on craft and the process when they’re asking me questions—which this podcast has done exactly that.

And I also hope that readers are gentle with these characters who I think can easily be villainized, especially Diana. I have so much love for her, and I am afraid people are going to think she’s just pure evil, but she’s not to me. And you know, there are moments where she’s a bad mother, but not a bad person. So... [Laughs]

Rachel Schwartzmann: I mean, that’s just true of life. We all have our moments. And I think without giving it away, by the end of the book, readers will be reminded of our humanity and how fragile and imperfect it is. That doesn’t mean we should turn away from it or the people that we love.

Kayla Maiuri: Yeah, exactly. That’s beautifully said.

Rachel Schwartzmann: And on that note, let’s close things out by having you read one more passage from Mother in the Dark.

Kayla Maiuri: This is a moment where Anna has returned home briefly, and she gets into an argument with her sister. And this after they’ve walked away from each other.



Rachel Schwartzmann: That was Kayla Maiuri, author of Mother in the Dark. You can purchase Mother in the Dark anywhere books are sold—though we recommend supporting local and independent bookstores if you can. You can also follow Kayla on social @kaylamaiuri. Stay tuned, as we’ll be sharing highlights from this episode on our own channels @slowstoriesofficial on Instagram and @slowstoriespod on Twitter. I’m Rachel Schwartzmann, and you’ve been listening to Slow Stories. Thank you so much for tuning in.