The Herd

As Katie, Hana and other staff members of The Herd attempt to discover what happened to Eleanor, their missing boss, they unearth secrets not only about her but each other. It seems that everyone had something to hide.

         Founded by the beautiful and charismatic Eleanor Walsh, Herd is an elite, glamorous all-female co-working space in New York City. It’s a scene where employees are considered celebrities and a lure for young and ambitious women. Katie Bradley believes she has a serious in there, her older sister Hana was Eleanor’s roommate in college and is head of Herd’s public relations department.

         But Eleanor, who always treated Katie like a younger sister, isn’t so sure that she has what it takes for Herd. After all, Katie had a spectacular book deal that fell apart and for the last year she’s been living in Kalamazoo, Michigan (which for this uber group of New York women is like time spent on the Mongolian Plains) taking care of her mother who was undergoing cancer treatments.  For her part, Katie, desperate to jumpstart her failing career, is secretly planning on making Eleanor the subject of her new book. With all these factors in play, on the evening when Eleanor says she will be making a huge announcement, she disappears instead.

         And so begins The Herd, the second thriller written by Andrea Bartz, who the Los Angeles Times called a master “of the female thrillers.”

         As Katie, Hana and other staff members attempt to discover what happened to their missing boss, they unearth secrets not only about her but each other. It seems that everyone had something to hide.

         “I had the idea for The Herd a few years ago, when I was trying to come up with a great setting for a mystery: somewhere exclusive and tightly knit, with its own complex social dynamics,” says Bartz whose first novel, The Lost Night, was optioned for TV by actress Mila Kunisproduction company, Orchard Farm.  “A lightbulb went off when I pictured The Herd with the H-E-R in purple, and I was off and running. The Herd is a dark and twisty take on commercial feminism, ambition, and the pressures of being a woman in the world, and hopefully it’s a super fun read.”

         Bartz, who never outlines and allows her many plot twists to “develop organically as she writes,” says she learns about her characters while working on her first draft.

         “Trust me at the beginning they were much less interesting,” she says. “Once I’d hammered out the theme I wanted to explore–how hard it is for women to succeed in a man’s world, I wanted all the female characters to have very different approaches to success.”

         Where the book goes is as much a surprise to Bartz as it is to her readers.

         “To give one of many examples, in the first chapter, someone scrawls misogynistic graffiti in the Herd; until the very end, I had no idea who had done it, or how, or why,” she says. “But somehow, the pieces come together at the eleventh hour—and then I go to work revising so that all the pieces align. It’s not very time-efficient, but it works for me.”   

         Female empowerment and the ensuing backlash is an important theme in Bartz’s book.

         “I’m frequently annoyed and exhausted by the double standards of how women are supposed to behave,” she says. “We’re supposed to be competent but not bossy, ambitious but not work-obsessed, agreeable but not weak, authoritative but not intimidating, pretty but not superficial, and so on. Men don’t have to bend themselves into a pretzel to be liked, the way that women do. The pressure to be perfect is such a huge mental and emotional drain on ambitious, high-achieving professional women, and I hoped to get readers thinking about the consequences of holding half the population up to impossibly high standards. All that said, I mostly hope it’s a fun, escapist read.”

Sidebar: Virtual Book Events with Andrea Bartz

         Working with influencers, bookstores, podcasts, and Facebook groups, Bartz has set up virtual events that are livestreamed (and, ideally recorded so people can watch them later), to keep in touch. For the most part, she says, she chats about the book as she would in conversation with someone in an in-person bookstore event.

         Though it’s not as good as meeting people in real time, Bartz says it does allow folks from all over the world to tune in.

         Check out her virtual events at AndreaBartz.com/events.

Gretchen Carlson’s “Be Fierce: Stop Sexual Harassment and Take Your Power Back”

Gretchen Carlson shows how to fight back.

Gretchen Carlson started a tsunami when she sued Roger Ailes, the all- powerful mogul CEO and Chairman of Fox News and Fox Television for sexual harassment after she lost her long-term job as a Fox anchor for refusing his advances.  Now, with the release of her latest book, Be Fierce: Stop Sexual Harassment and Take Your Power Back (Center Street 2017; $27) she is garnering the stories of women—and men—who have been sexually harassed and showing them how to fight back.

“When one person says no to sexual harassment, they inspire others to step forward as well,” Carlson tells me when we meet at Books by the Banks, Cincinnati’s annual and very popular regional book festival. Like me, she is there to sign copies of her books. Unlike me, she has a large table right by the entrance and a huge sign overhead with her name on it. I am in the center of the barn-sized room, crowded together with other writers who are at my level in the food chain. We have no oversized banners with our names on them just little placards on our shared tables. Nor will we have, as the morning goes on, lines of up to an hour waiting to have us autograph our books.

Hearing the Message Loud and Clear

Those long lines show how much Carlson’s message has resonated. She’s been inundated with the stories of those who’ve also experienced sexual harassment and, to a much lesser degree, hateful comments about being a gold digger and just out for the money, advice on how women should dress to avoid being harassed and those who believe there is no such thing as sexual harassment, just lying women. Carlson blithely posts these pearls of wisdom on her Facebook page. We’re looking at you “baychevy” who posted “…most of the time women claim they were sexually harassed and make a big deal out of it simply to broadcast to other women that they are irresistible.”

“Thank you,” I say to Carlson. Hey, I’ve been through it, who hasn’t? And, of course, I thought that’s one more thing you have to deal with.

Not so, says Carlson, who had to withstand a barrage of negative publicity loosened on her by Ailes and his allies.

“That’s also to be expected,” says Carlson.

Be Fierce and Be Smart

It’s one reason why she says we need to be fierce. And smart. The lawsuit would have been just another she-said, he-said situation but Carlson had the recordings. Ailes settled for $20 million. And in the following cascade of women coming forward to tell their horror stories about his penchant for sexual harassment, he eventually was fired from his job—albeit it with a $40 million payout.

“You were so smart to record all those conversations,” I say. Carlson replies with a smile.

She is indeed, very intelligent. An honors graduate of Stanford University who also studied at Oxford University, she was the first classical violinist to win the title of Miss America. Carlson is also fierce. She didn’t just take her money and go home. Angered not only by what happened to her but what happens to so many others, she determined to empower them to become fierce. It is her mission and the purpose of her book.

“I had worked 25 years in the business–working my way up from local to national news and discovering I was going to lose all that made me determined to speak out,” she says.

Showing the Way

Her book doesn’t dwell on her own travails but instead is a guide for those who experience sexual harassment and what they should expect and how they can navigate confronting a system that has until recently taken a “boys will be boys attitude.”

“Coming forward isn’t fun,” she tells me. “Women aren’t looking for fame or money when they take the step of reporting harassment because there’s nothing rewarding about being demeaned.”

One her Facebook page, she writes, “It’s easy to be disgusted. It’s easy to be outraged. But we need more – we need a movement. It’s time to be fierce. Be Fierce:

I’ll repeat what I said to her that day in Cincinnati, “Go, Gretchen, go.”

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