Cherie Morris is half the writing duo known by the pen names of Crystal Walker (Morris) and Phoebe Thompson (Penelope Bell), authors of Desperate in DC: Money, Marriage and Manners in the Nation’s Capital. Drawing from their own experiences, the authors humorously reveal the exploits of two privileged professional women who, not unlike themselves, are juggling demanding careers, husbands and children while trying to navigate the often cutthroat world of Washington, D.C.
According to Morris, Desperate in DC is fiction—but not entirely. “It doesn’t correlate with our real lives in every way. We tried to bring in points that resonate with anyone from a large area trying to raise children and work and have families while occasionally having fun. You may have guessed that some of the characters are based on real life people but they are generally composites. No one recognizes themselves, which is a good thing.”
The blog-book is a 502-page chronicle of the women’s daily lives detailed through emails, text and instant messages, social media posts, photos, a community newsletter and even handwritten notes. The Crystal and Phoebe characters have garnered so much attention that Morris and Bell are sought after for their opinions on just about every topic from romance, marriage and parenting to the legalization of marijuana. The women have appeared both in and out of character on TV and radio shows across the country, including Fox News with Gretchen Carlson, Washington Life, The Glenn Beck Show, Hollywood on the Potomac, WABC New York, WTOP Washington, One America News Network, Sirius/XM Radio, WJR Detroit and more.
Opportunist: We will address you as Crystal if that’s alright with you. So tell us … how exactly did you and Phoebe Thompson meet?
Crystal Walker: We literally met as neighbors and started emailing each other about our experiences living in the D.C. area. We both noticed a real intensity here that we hadn’t experienced anywhere else we had lived. Everything you and your children do is put under a microscope and held to a very high standard. I grew up as a Midwesterner, so moving to the East Coast was a big culture shock and one from which I am still recovering in some ways. But after being here for 10 years I now call it home. Phoebe was born and raised in London, and her transition was more remarkable than mine. We were both juggling a lot of things, and we found it a little scary and exciting at the same time.
Crystal Walker:Phoebe’s husband noticed we were kind of funny in our emails and felt we should do something with it. I was practicing law at the time and she was in public relations, and we started sharing our views on parenting in the nation’s capital. Her children attended public school and mine went to private, so that made for an interesting comparison. Both of us tend to be more laissez-faire, although she thinks I’m very hands on. I was having my fourth child, which is something of a rarity on the East Coast. [Laughs] We decided to create a plot and write about our experiences.
Opportunist: Your format is quite distinct. How did you come up with it?
Crystal Walker: We got the idea from the way we communicated with each other and the way our children were beginning to communicate. Actual conversations became less possible due to our busy lives. We hadn’t seen many novels done in this epistolary fashion, but we are admirers of Jane Austen novels where someone is always writing to someone else and the narrator may not have the full story.
Opportunist: How has your book been received in the local community?
Crystal Walker:I’m glad you asked that because we associate with a number of different kinds of people in D.C. Most people are delighted and laugh out loud when they observe similar traits between the characters and themselves or people they know. The only ones who haven’t loved it so much are perhaps those who cannot step back and laugh at themselves. We have also noticed that a lot of the books published about D.C. and featured in our local bookstores are often about politics and very serious subjects. Ours is different because it makes people laugh. Interestingly enough, we have a large number of male readers. We often wonder if our characters represent the females in their lives.
Opportunist: You two seem to have an awful lot of fun skewering the privileged and powerful. Why do you think that is?
Crystal Walker: Phoebe and I both would say we really take issue with people who take themselves too seriously or those with overinflated self-importance. Although money certainly talks, power is what matters in Washington. When you meet people the first thing they want to know is what your job is and how important you may be to their career. We poke gentle fun at people who have based their lives on their sense of importance, but we want people to know that we also poke fun at ourselves and we never take ourselves too seriously.
Opportunist: How is gossip different in the nation’s capital?
Crystal Walker: We find it’s really power based rather than money based. It matters who you are approximate to. There is so little talk about fashion and we find that dispiriting in a way—not that Phoebe and I are high fashion girls but we do care how we present to the world. It seems the more matronly and curmudgeonly you are the more well respected you are. The great desire is to be taken seriously, which is of course why we try not to take them so seriously.
Opportunist: Can you tell us what one of your characters almost did to get her child accepted into an elite private school?
Crystal Walker: That is one of the tales that doesn’t absolutely reflect reality. [Laughs] My character almost indulges in an extramarital affair with the head of the school, and in fact it’s not a man. It’s a same gender relationship. That was an extreme way to express that you will do almost anything to get your kids into a private school here in D.C., especially one that has the Obama girls in it.
Opportunist: Why do all the kids at private school want to be friends with the Obama sisters?
Crystal Walker: Everyone wants to be invited to the White House or have a sleepover in the White House. It’s something you can talk about for the rest of your life.
Opportunist: As we approach the mid-term elections, are tensions rising among the movers and shakers in the nation’s capital?
Crystal Walker:Funny you mentioned that. We call it the fundraising season. [Laughs] Political ads and fundraising are the real challenge. Charitable events tend to be political events instead of events to support a worthy cause. When it becomes about raising money to be re-elected it creates bad blood and real political divides. People take that pretty seriously. It’s not a lot of fun.
Opportunist: You have said the Netflix original show ‘House of Cards’ is actually much tamer than what you see on a daily basis.
Crystal Walker: Yes, real life here—on the neighborhood level—is certainly a soap opera if you’re paying attention. Much of our book is set in a fictionalized village where Phoebe and I live. Feuds between neighbors are so intense they get taken to the board of managers and cause quite the dust up. That kind of thing happens because people are quite important in their jobs and when they come back to the village they expect to be listened to and respected and their neighbors have a who are you anyway attitude and they don’t like it. There is also the issue of absent spouses and relationships starting up between people in the neighborhood.
Crystal Walker: I think our first and best answer is we don’t always do it well but we do it. We take each day as it comes, jump in with both feet and try to stress to our kids they don’t all have to go Harvard, Yale or Princeton as long as one of them does. [Laughs]
Opportunist: What advice do you have for other women?
Crystal Walker: The best advice we could give is do what’s put in front of you today and do what’s put in front of you tomorrow and don’t try to do it all. Avoid people who are always telling you they’re doing it a little better because there’s probably always someone else doing it better. My first go-to is to let them have it and then get on with my own life.
Opportunist: Can women have it all, Crystal?
Crystal Walker: I think they probably can’t have it all at one time. Perhaps my mistake when I was younger was in believing that you could. The only way to have it all so to speak is to lower your standards a bit in all areas and embrace the chaos. I do think the big reason men can have it all is because they don’t hold themselves to such a high standard of perfection, especially with their kids. They’re a little more laid back and that could be a good thing. Of course that is a generalization, but I doubt they’re concerned their kids will become ill if they don’t eat all organic foods or worry that if they eat chicken nuggets for two nights in a row they won’t get into a good college. [Laughs]
Opportunist: Do you believe feminists have it right, or should women embrace gender difference?
Crystal Walker: My 10-year old daughter recently told me she wants to be a Navy Seal, which she cannot be, but I believe women should pursue whatever they desire to be. We should also learn from men and embrace those differences and stop trying to be everything to everyone and stop holding ourselves too responsible. We can learn from men in that regard.
I fully embrace my femininity. Who really would want to be a man unless you are one? [Laughs] My partner says his job as a male is to do whatever I tell him and all the stuff I don’t want to do. I think women should use that to their advantage.
Opportunist: Now that Labor Day is behind us, do you have any back-to-school tips for parents?
Crystal Walker: Get the kids out of the house as quickly as you can. [Laughs] I heard a great tip on a radio show about making it a priority to sit down to a family dinner where you let your kids express what was good about the first day of school as well as what they’re stressed about. Now that I face my younger teenagers I find that I tend to discount their stresses and expect them to understand mine, but they are under an intense amount of academic, social and athletic pressure. So talk to them and listen to them, and ask what you can do to support them. This doesn’t mean doing their homework—simply offer your support in appropriate ways and you will help them. I just dropped my second child off at college last week, so it’s very front and center for me.
Opportunist: You and Phoebe also write a blog together. What do each of you bring to it?
Crystal Walker: Phoebe and I have very widely disparate views. She believes generally more politically conservative than I do, but our topics really fall more to the center. I am quite militant about children doing as they are told and not as they want to do. She is actually much more liberal in her parenting. We aren’t afraid to express those differences in writing or in our discussions and it has never impacted our friendship.
Opportunist: Will you and Phoebe write more books together in the future?
Crystal Walker: We enjoy talking and writing about what’s happening in our lives and with our kids so I do think our collaboration will continue in some form. I am actually now divorced, which is not captured in the novel. Phoebe is not. We joke that our next book is going to be about the funny things exes say or the not so funny things exes say. [Laughs] We are very engaged in the idea of continuing our collaboration and really focusing on what is current with our kids—staying in touch but making sure we aren’t hovering too closely or that we aren’t too laissez-faire.
Leslie Stone is an award-winning writer/editor with more than two decades of experience covering business, finance, real estate and lifestyle issues for newspapers, magazines and online publications. Originally from Virginia, she currently resides in Florida. Follow Leslie on Twitter: @lescstone.
Desperate in DC - www.desperateindc.com
Follow Crystal and Phoebe on Twitter: @desperateindc
Find Desperate in DC on Amazon - http://www.amazon.com/Desperate-DC-Phoebe-Thompson-ebook/dp/B00H5V0BI8