INTERVIEW: Brandi Larsen & Daniella Mestyanek on Writing UNCULTURED

Interview by Lara Lillibridge

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Bookcover: UnculturedBehind the tall, foreboding gates of a commune in Brazil, Daniella Mestyanek Young was raised in the religious cult The Children of God, also known as The Family, as the daughter of high-ranking members. Her great-grandmother donated land for one of The Family’s first communes in Texas. Her mother, at thirteen, was forced to marry the leader and served as his secretary for many years. Beholden to The Family’s strict rules, Daniella suffers physical, emotional, and sexual abusemasked as godly discipline and divine loveand is forbidden from getting a traditional education.

At fifteen years old, fed up with The Family and determined to build a better and freer life for herself, Daniella escapes to Texas. There, she bravely enrolls herself in high school and excels, later graduating as valedictorian of her college class, then electing to join the military to begin a career as an intelligence officer, where she believes she will finally belong. But she soon learns that her new worldsurrounded by men on the sands of Afghanistanlooks remarkably similar to the one she desperately tried to leave behind. (Book description courtesy St. Martin’s Press.)


I met Brandi Larsen at a Literary Cleveland event two months after Uncultured: A Memoir was released with St. Martin’s Press in 2022. As we spoke, I was fascinated to learn that the book was a partnership of sorts between Daniella Mestyanek Young and Brandi.

I got them both on Zoom to discuss how their process worked. Here is our conversation:

Daniella Mestyanek Young and brandi Larsen outside

Daniella and Brandi

Lara Lillibridge: Welcome, both of you. I am really excited, because I’ve never gotten to interview two people about one book. And so let me start by asking how the you two met?

Brandi Larsen: It was the parent connection. A friend of a friend knew Daniella in Seattle, and knew me here in Cleveland and connected us. I work with people who are interested in understanding how the book publishing industry works—I teach classes for Literary Cleveland, but I do one-on-ones as well. I met Daniella as a coaching client, and the moment that she explained what her book was about, I knew it needed to be in the world and was happy to put whatever resources I could behind it. When she signed with an agent, she asked if I would write the book alongside her. And I was glad to do so.

LL: So let me stop here, you got an agent at what stage in your writing process? That sounds a little unusual.

Daniella Mestyanek Young: Yes, this whole thing was unusual. It’s funny, because I say I didn’t necessarily set out to write a book—I wanted to talk about culture and study it and be part of this conversation of how we shape it. And as soon as I started thinking about culture, I was like, ‘well, you can’t spell culture without cults—I need to look into this more. And so I thought, there are three options for me to do this as a career: I can start a leadership consulting company, I can get a PhD, or I can write a book. I started all three, and the book broke first.

I was in this entrepreneur world—I was actually volunteering at a nonprofit that was coaching veterans on entrepreneurship, and I was meeting all of these people. And when I decided that I needed to do this book—I’m a reader and a writer with a degree in literature—I knew there was a million ways to tell a story. I just finished reading Educated by Tara Westover, And I was like, there’s the model. But I knew it was going take me 10 years to write a good memoir,  and the time for writing cult books is now because we’re living through the cult-ing of America, which is the title of my next book.

And so because I was in entrepreneurship, I was so used to this idea that if you don’t have all the skills to launch your big idea, you go get a co-founder. So I found Brandi, we now call her the coparent of the book. We did four consulting dates—I wanted to just walk away with an outline for a book. So I came up with a giant spreadsheet of all of my stories throughout my life.

Brandi: It filled the entire table on which I work—it was the most comprehensive understanding of story that I’d ever seen.

Daniella: I was like, well, I need to figure out how to get into the publishing process. Someone had said to me, you’re better off just self-publishing because getting a traditional book deal is like winning the lottery. And you can’t reverse engineer a best-selling memoir. And I was like, I think you can reverse engineer anything. So I started like trying to reverse engineer the process. And I read The Byline Bible—it’s about how to figure out essay topics from your life, how to pitch and then get an essay into a publication.

I was in a networking group for women, and an editor put out a call for pitches—she wanted to hear either a brand new story, or a really common story with a twist she’d never heard. So my pitch was, how about Americans cheering on 9/11? Which is the story that became chapter 13.

So the article came out in Narratively, it’s called, I Escaped the Cult, but Couldn’t Escape the Cult Mentality. And it was paralleling my experience on 9/11, hearing the people around me praising God and thinking, ‘I wonder if we’re the religious extremists?’ And then 10 years later, when all of my guys have been killed and I’m at the funeral, and I’m hearing the words that they’re saying, and I’m thinking, ‘don’t the guys on the other side think the same thing?’

So I’m kind of like having these moments realizing that we’re programmed to see things in a certain way. But should we see it differently? So that came out in September, it was like, just before mine and Brandi’s last consulting appointment. And four days later, an agent  from Dystel called me and signed me on the spot.

LL: Oh, wow. So the agent hunted you down?

Daniella: Yes. That’s every writer dream, right?

Brandi: Our last consulting thing was supposed to be us brainstorming how to get agents.

I had already started a list for her and Distal was on there.

Daniella: So I came back with like, well, I have an agent, shall we write this thing? And she agreed to do it with me as a partnership. So she owns 25% of the book, I own 75% of the book. And of course I wrote every first draft, because it’s my story. But I feel like we conceived of what the story was going to be together, and then worked through it together.

LL: That’s amazing.

Brandi: Daniella did fantastic work.

Daniella: And, you know, something I want to make sure to tell because I think this is so relevant to other writers is that in my first meeting with Brandi, before I even hired her, she was just trying to get an idea of what I was trying to write. She said to me, ‘you know, you’re not famous. So your memoir is not about you. It’s about one idea, all the way through. What is that idea?’

I just started my master’s degree in organizational psychology. And I was like, it’s about this concept that humans will do almost anything to be accepted by groups they voluntarily joined. I can show you that in a cult, then I can show you that in the military. And in doing that, of course, we’re inviting the reader to question the group behavior and processes in their life.

And I remember writing that in my shower, and that being the frame for all the stories that were laid out on my table of which ones and in which lens, we were able to tell the story, you know, that wound up being in the book. We really backwards planned from that. Everything was picked very specifically to meet these themes. And Brandi famously told me that she knows I love my husband and my daughter, but unless I can find a way to tie it into group behavior, they can’t be at the story of my life. I took that as a challenge—the book wouldn’t be right without them.

Daniella Mestyanek Young and Brandi Larsen

Brandi: And you got us there because of why we read memoir, right? Someone’s life is the vehicle for us to understand something greater about ourselves or about the world. I’ve never been in a cult and I’ve never been in the military. Part of why Daniella wanted to work with me was because I don’t have that experience. I’m a nice Jewish girl from the burbs. And so to be able to experience something through Daniella’s eyes, and to take it into my own experience, and to be changed and different because of it—that is the job of the memoirist—connecting their life to this thing which I need to know more about that will change me.

LL: This idea of knowing what your one thing is from the beginning is kind of amazing to me, because I don’t know anyone who writes like that. I write and people ask me what I am writing, and I’m like, a little bit about this, and it’s a little bit about that. I think that having that focus must help you in the writing for clarity, but then also help you if you’re doing traditional pitching. I think that’s the benefit of working with someone like Brandi that can help you bring that focus that we can’t find ourselves.

Daniella: And I think one of the things we all struggle with is when we write our memoir, like, I didn’t just want to write about a cult, because I felt like I’m so much more than that. I know the cult part is a big story, but that was only the first 15 years of my life. And I don’t want to be that cult girl, I want to be the group behavior girl.

I give Brandi so much credit, because she forced me to do the hero’s journey piece anyways, but always tying it back to group behavior. I was tending to tell the story much more as like, the white knight comes and saves me a little bit in the end. And in reality he wasn’t the white knight that saved me. He just came to be part of my team while I saved myself. So, all throughout the process, I just found that it was this piece of learning how to tell our stories.

I would have to tell my story to Brandi and we spent hours and hours and hours, with her asking me questions. And then she would say it or write it in like a slightly different way. And I would have that realization like, oh, that’s what it was all along. I just wasn’t able to see it or contextualize it in that way.

LL: So now, let me put you on hold, Daniella. Brandi, I want to know, how did you get this amazing knowledge? What is your story?? How did you come to this career?

Brandi: So, I have had the joy of living the dream multiple times. If you asked me at 12 years old what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have told you a journalist at the Chicago Tribune, and that’s what I did. And, you know, also at 12, I was the girl who was biking to the library and looking up how do you get paid to read in the library, and the only job I had ever heard about in book publishing was an editor. And I interned at a literary agency when I was in college, and I quickly learned that if I was an agent or an editor at that time, it would kill my love of reading and reading is in some reason why I’m alive. And so that wasn’t the career path for me.

I wound up making a career switch and came to work at Penguin Random House when it was actually just Penguin—six months before the merger. I was fortunate enough to be in the crow’s nest of two very popular divisions as they merged together underneath one head. I think my title was director of digital publishing. I can’t remember exactly what my title was, but I worked for the publisher using my journalism experience—it was the moment when eBooks were taking over and there was a concern that they were going to kill the book. The industry was pivoting from being a very cottage industry, to one where we talk directly to readers. My expertise, especially on the digital side, was an asset for Penguin Random House.

And it also meant I got to see the industry come together, and I got to help my colleagues and peers understand how the business worked, because even inside the publishing house and the different imprints, no one exactly knew what everyone did, it was still pretty opaque. This work helping the different publishers succeed, so I was asked to do that for all of Penguin Adult. And then I was asked to lead publishing for North America for DK Books, Dorling Kindersley, the largest publisher of nonfiction reference books.

I got to work at the biggest publisher in the world, and then also the biggest nonfiction reference publisher in the world. And so, I’m incredibly fortunate to have this deep area of expertise at a moment when the industry was completely changing. And got to, you know, see an impact with authors and with editors, and with agents and with publishers, but also got to see an impact in the industry as a whole.

We made the decision to move to Ohio, where my husband is from, to create a life that was more centered around what I wanted, instead of work. When you hit a level of success, it’s a great joy. Then my parents died, and it changed what I thought was important. I wanted to run my own business, I wanted to write, and I wanted to help create some equity in an industry that was historically inequitable. And I do that by talking to people about how the industry works, and helping people directly understand and break into an industry that traditionally doesn’t represent them.

Daniella: I want to say something about Brandi’s everyperson approach—her ability to speak to the average person. When I first said, ‘I’m going to be a speaker and a writer, and I’m going to talk about growing up in a sex cult and being a woman at war,’ Somebody said to me, you know, Daniella, I don’t know if your stories have a market, because a nice girl from Milwaukee who’s never had anything bad happened to her can’t understand growing up in a sex cult, or being a woman at war.

And a huge part of my journey in Uncultured is thinking that I’m so different,  and I can’t speak to normal people, and I can’t relate. And I have to be told, ‘you’re not as different as you think you are.’ And so, Brandi’s amazing value, which I kind of planned for, but I didn’t know how great it was going to be was—I don’t believe there’s any such thing as a nice girl from Milwaukee who’s never had anything bad happen to her. We just need to boil it down to the to the basic emotions, right? Take the extreme experience, but make sure that everyone can understand that and so Brandi sort of became a nice girl from Florida, or New York.

I thought that if I can explain it to her in a way so that she understands these worlds, then we know that the everyperson can understand it. And being a huge Jane Austen scholar myself, the everywoman is my favorite thing. And, you know, I wanted everyone to feel like they’re behind my eyes experiencing the story and thinking about how it relates to them and their life and their groups.

LL:  It’s that combination of the personal and the universal, right?

Brandi: We live the universal through Daniella’s personal.

Daniella: I think having a story that was so planned—I would write, send it to her, and she would ask questions, and back and forth. That’s what not only made the story come together, but that’s what made it possible for me to write about so much trauma.

First of all, I know that I’m putting the story on the page because of a specific thing. You know, we’re taking you into the basement with a pedophile because of a specific thing. If I had written it alone, I would have just sort of wallowed in self-hatred, I would have been so much more isolated. It was an amazing experience to have another woman that I could send us to, and she could go, oh, no, I’ve experienced something like that. And, you know, that helped me put it into context.

LL: That was exactly one of my questions. One of the things that writers struggle with so much is trauma, both sort of re-traumatizing yourself in the writing, and then the vulnerability in the publishing. And I wondered if it was easier to have someone there with you, so you weren’t all alone in either of those aspects, to have someone on your side? Our families support us, but someone that’s in the trenches with us, that, to me seems easier.

Daniella: So, so much easier. With the writing, it was easier to have someone there, and then the publishing process, especially that year, and the pain when you turn in the book, and when it comes out. Yeah, having someone not just who helped me write the book, but who has a vested financial interest in this book doing well, and who knows the publishing industry was a really amazing thing for me.

And finally, when you write a book as a team, socially, you get to be proud of your book, because I can be like, ‘yeah, we wrote a good book,’ but I can’t ever be like, ‘my book is so great.’ So even that process of, you know, getting press and some critical acclaim and all that stuff, I felt like I was able to enjoy it so much more, because I have someone to share it with.

Daniella Mestyanek Young and Brandi Larsen at Politics and Prose

LL: They do say that women as a whole, aren’t comfortable advocating for ourselves, but we’re great at advocating for others—we’re very good at team advocacy. So I could definitely see it being easier to promote something that was both of you, not just one of you.

Daniella: Yeah. And I would say to even though I got an agent right away, we got 19 rejections for the book. I don’t know that I would have stayed as strong. If I didn’t have another writer who knew the industry who was like, No, we just make it better, we keep trying, this is how it goes.

Brandi: And, you know, there were, we sent it to friends of mine—people with whom I had worked alongside in different trenches, but in the trenches, just the same. They said things to me, like, this is two different books—it’s either an army book, or it’s a cult book. I insisted that the reason this book is going to work is because it’s both of them.

But there are so many variables that are outside us that you hold your peace and the world will do what it will. But, you know, the book was originally supposed to go out on January 6, 2021.

LL: Insurrection day??

Daniella: It was supposed to go for its final round to agents on January 6, and you know, it was funny because at the end of 2020, Penguin Random House predicted that books about groups were going to sell the biggest in 2021. And then we got moved from a junior agent up to a partner agent right before the year changed. And then it was supposed to go out on January 6. Of course it didn’t.

We’re standing there my husband and I, we live in DC and we’re like watching in live time veterans attacking the Capitol. We knew the guy with the zip ties was a veteran, and we knew he did not come in peace because we use those as handcuffs. So after watching this, I just looked at my husband I said, Oh my God, my book’s gonna sell. Now, after this, everyone’s going to be asking what is happening in our culture? And sure enough, the first editor that saw it when we went back out in March bought it in a preempt.

LL: Now, explain to me because I’m confused, you said that it had 19 rejections, but then you just said the first editor that saw it got it in a preempt how does that work?

Daniella: Yeah, so we did three rounds of the book proposal going out. And we actually tried the book proposal in three different ways.

Brandi: Daniella came in and met with me during the pandemic, and we had butcher paper all across the wall, and color-coded index cards and a PowerPoint that with triangles.

You know, you asked about trauma, one of the things that we changed going on that third round was that we added a third writer named Amy Reed. She writes a lot of YA fiction that is trauma based. And so I think, bringing in her voice, and were, you know that we became the perfect team.

Brainstorming Board for Uncultured

LL: What was what was her role? Was she like a critique partner? Or was she actually working on the sentences themselves with you?

Daniella: So we brought her in to be the proposal doctor, before we went out on that last round. And then we ended up adding her to the writing team when we did the book. So I would write a chapter, get it to my best, and it would go to Brandi, and it would come back to me, then it would go to Amy, and then it would come back to me, and then it would go to my editor.

Amy and Brandi both are essentially heavy developmental line editors throughout the whole writing process. And also one of the things that Amy did that helped us sell the book, when Brandi was saying people were like, this is two books, I don’t understand this story. They weren’t—we weren’t getting across the parallels in the book proposal. So one thing we did before this third round, was we made it not chronological, we made it jump back and forth between cult and army and cult and army so that you could see the actual parallel. And then the first thing our editor did was say, okay, we’re going back to chronological.

Brandi: But we needed to tell the story that was so that she could untangle it. And the way we worked with Hannah was unusual, too, because normally your editor gives you a delivery date you deliver it on some date.

LL: Wait, who is Hannah?

Daniella: Oh, sorry. Hannah Phillips is the editor at St. Martin’s Press.

Brandi: Thank you. Sorry. And so normally, you know, you deliver the whole manuscript to your editor, ideally on time. And so we had a compressed timeline, the book was bought in March, and needed to be delivered September one. It was bought on proposal, so we had written four chapters, maybe five. right.

So this was happening in real time. So after it went through our conveyor belt to a point where Daniella was really happy with it, it would go to Hannah. And so Hannah would edit the chapters as they came in. And so it was this conversation among these really smart women who were coming together.

Hannah would send a chapter back, we’d have a chapter that we had just released, and we were working on a third—was generally how we worked most of that summer. We wound up delivering the book a month early. Then in August, all four of us were in a Google doc just fine tuning it—we were making sure that the threads that Daniella wanted to show were pretty clear to see all the way through and then like, tightening, exploring and heightening some of the sub threads about like how reading changes us, or this power of women.

LL: So now Daniella, was there ever a time where you wanted to stomp your feet and say this is my book? This is my story, or was it really as seamless and lovely as it sounds?

Daniella: There was one time. So first I was going say, what they also did was protect Daniella from her demons. So  if I had it my way, the final chapter was going to be called “The Cults Among Us.” And it was basically my master’s thesis on cults. And then my editor read it, she was kind of like, Oh, honey, no, you can’t finish the book like this. And then Brandi and Amy helped me change it into the beautiful epilogue, that ties everything together. And so that’s just kind of one example of how it became so much better.

But there was one story that they both cut, which is the story we talked about earlier, where I’m in bed with someone I’m not supposed to be. And he says to me, ‘get over yourself, you’re not as different as you think you are.’ And I think from their perspective, they’re trying to protect me and make sure the reader likes me and all of this stuff, but I knew because it’s my story, that that line was a very important thing to me. It’s actually a chapter in my next book on called, “They’re Not as Different as You Think They Are.” But it’s been such a big thing in my life that that was the one time I put my foot down. And I was like, ‘nope, I’m telling this story.’

But otherwise, no. Us, four women, including the editor, she had the exact idea that I had, we were all on the same page about what we wanted this book to be. And I also know that I’m a very, very intense person. So mostly, they were kind of softening me and make it relatable to others. And I had a lot of confidence. By the time, you know, by the time we were writing this as a team of four, Brandi and I had been writing together for two years. And so we’ve become really good friends. And I had faith that nobody on the team wanted to sensationalize this book or make it something that I didn’t want it to be.

Brandi: Well, and I felt like that was really important as part of the vetting process. I made a promise to Daniella that we weren’t writing a cult book, and that if it seemed like along the process that it was smelling like a cult book, I was ready to have a conversation about that. The expertise that I brought from having been on the other side of the desk—I would need to, you know, help steer and hold Daniella more, but St. Martin’s was so in line with the vision that we had presented in the proposal, and were really, really excited and bringing it to the forefront in the fall as one of their lead titles that I never had to have hard conversations about vision.

LL: Which is wonderful. And I think a lot of emerging writers are just so happy that someone wants to publish them that it would be easy for them to take a bad deal or to wind up in a place that was not the right place for them.

Brandi: Just think it though. Yes, money, prestige, power, good press, all of that—yay. But what is your vision for your book? Don’t lose it. And Daniella always knew it from the get go. And so being able to really like embrace that vision and build a team around you who also is excited by it and wants that in the world. I think that’s the key to success.

Daniella: I think I knew exactly why I wanted to write a book. And then I knew exactly what I wanted the book to be about. And so they really let me lead on that—at no point did they try to change my vision. And I would expect that that would not be the case for a writer, like you said, if they come in just sort of happy to get the deal. So I think  all of that guidance, and all of that work that we did beforehand really helped that.

LL: So tell me, now the book has been out for a while, can you each just talk for a quick minute about how post publication has been for you?

Brandi: I’ll go first because it’s easier. It’s been a great joy to see people as affected by Daniella’s story as I was. I wanted people to be changed by what Daniella had lived through, and her insights about it. That is hitting the bullseye, in terms of the dream of publishing—to meet people who say to us, I was really affected by your words. And wow, Daniella is amazing. And being able to say, she’s one of my heroes, is incredible. The impact that it’s made, the people who it has touched, has been one of the great gifts of my professional life.

Daniella: So I will say, response wise, unsurprisingly we’ve heard zippo from the military, None of the senior men that we got the book to we’re willing to read it.

I guess what I feel is when you know, very senior members of the military say that they are trying to fix things like rape culture for the women who serve, but then they say, oh, no, this book just doesn’t interest me, they don’t know the problem.

But what I have heard from other military women, is ‘Oh, my God, you were in my journal.’ Right now, I’m actually kind of blowing up on TikTok, just talking about all of this stuff out loud that we go through. I have had military men say to me, that they didn’t expect to connect to this as much as they did. Because I’m talking about the group behavior of it, not just being a woman. But a big part of why I wrote my book was because I want it to show the Tom Young’s, the, you know, tall white men that had the easy military careers, that it was completely different for those of us who have female bodies. And so that I think that has been phenomenal.

And then other little things like, you know, 12 to 15 people, or so have told me, they’ve gotten their therapist to read it. One of my goals, obviously, was to take all of my trauma and turn it into help for other people. I’ve been sort of doing this work to contextualize it for about 20 years. And so it’s like this gift that I can give to other people that are trying to go through their religious trauma, or their military trauma, etc.

And finally, I set out five years ago to have a book and an education that was relevant and a platform. And now I have all of those things—like the book has kind of made me the expert on the topic and it gives me a lot of authority.

The one thing I would say that I found surprising is how much it takes out of me to do publicity. I was trained as an actress from birth, I expected this to be no big deal. And I find that having to be both sort of victim and expert, in the same conversations is what makes it really hard.

When I first met Brandi, and she asked  why I wanted to write a book, I said, ‘well, part of it is just because I want to stop having to tell the story over and over again.’ And she was like, ‘oh, if you write a book, you’re gonna tell the story over and over. Bad news.’ But it gave me so much of what I set out for literally five years ago. We did it. And of course, we want tons more people to read it.

Brandi Larsen and Daniella Mestyanek Young at a book signing.

Brandi: Our collaboration is the most fun part—well, it’s one of the fun parts.

Daniella: We’ve had so many people ask us, ‘oh, so your book is ghost written?’ And well, no, we wrote it together. I think when you read the story, it’s obvious that I wrote it, and I lived all of those things. But when I first started working with Brandi, she said, one of the reasons I love publishing is because it’s the most collaborative art. It was very important to me to have a woman editor because I didn’t need to explain to a man that these things really are sexism, essentially. But it became like these four women, like we all have relevant experience to share about this story, or to contextualize this story, because we’ve all, you know, maybe not been the only woman on a combat tean, but definitely been the only woman in the boardroom, etc., so that that was just, it was a beautiful part of it.

Brandi: And I love the way you frame it when you say. ‘I didn’t set out to write a book about group behavior by myself.’

LL: That is perfect.

Daniella:  I like to say when I set out to write a book about group behavior, I knew I needed to find the right group. And I really feel like I did.

Can I say one more thing that also might be relevant to your readers? It’s about how people always get told they’re sensationalizing their stories, or they’re just out for the money, or whatever it is. And, you know, maybe feeling like a little bit weird when we’re telling our stories.

This came to a head with the cover. I wanted this to be a professional book, and the first cover we came up with was a cartoon silhouette of a military woman walking away. And they came back and said, we need a new cover. This is not emotional enough. And it to me it felt exploitive that they wanted to use that picture of me on the front—a picture of me being trafficked as a child. And from the beginning, I’d said, ‘Please don’t put my face on this book.’

I really had to go through this through this process—I didn’t get to decide what happened to me, but these are my stories and I own this photo. And so I’m taking it back. I am exploiting these stories and this photo myself for my own purposes. So for example, even the sign that the Auntie’s used to make us wear—Don’t talk to me. I’m disrespectful. I put that quote in a book, I copyrighted that book. Now I put that quote on T-shirts, and women love it. And that’s my revenge.

T-shirt that reads, "Don't talk to me, I'm disrespectful.

LL: That’s wonderful. I mean, it is true that by writing a book, you are claiming your story as your own, you are claiming the things that happened to you and making art from them, helping someone else and helping yourself. You have agency over your past.

Daniella: I mean, I’m incredibly proud of this cover now. Literally in my eyes are not on there. So my face is not on the cover of the book, but it still has all the emotion. I think it’s helpful to other writers to think about when you are putting the worst of your trauma on the page.

And people will say like, ‘oh, I’m glad this happened to me, because it made me who I am today.’ And I’m not glad that any of it happened to me. But I’m very glad that I own all these stories now—they’re mine, but none of the shame is mine, and I get to make it a tool for what I want.

LL: I think that is one of the most powerful things about writing.

About the interviewees:

Headshot of Daniella Mestyanek Young Daniella Mestyanek Young is an author, speaker, cult survivor, and US Army combat veteran. She’s pursuing a master’s in organizational psychology from the Harvard Extension School where her research includes group behavior, leadership demagoguery, and cults. Daniella lives with her husband and daughter in Maryland.

Headshot of writing coach Brandi LarsenBrandi Larsen is a writer, essayist, speaker, and coach dedicated to building a more inclusive publishing landscape. Her work at Penguin Random House helped create New York Times bestsellers, and her journalism has earned Emmy nominations. Brandi also serves as the board president for Literary Cleveland.

Headshot of Author Lara Lillibridge

Lara Lillibridge

Interviews Editor

Lara Lillibridge (she/they) is the author of Mama, Mama, Only Mama: An Irreverent Guide for the Newly Single Parent; Girlish: Growing Up in a Lesbian Home, and co-editor of the anthology, Feminine Rising. Her essay collection: The Truth About Unringing Phones, releases March 2024 with Unsolicited Press.

  1 comment for “INTERVIEW: Brandi Larsen & Daniella Mestyanek on Writing UNCULTURED

  1. if youre just reading her books youre probably fine but if you know this person pls be careful. this is a narcissistic sociopath who hates & blocks most members of her family. she recently tried to upset her own brother’s suicide funeral (which she refused to attend) with a series of self indulgent relentlessly self promoting letters, one of which attempted to incentivize her own mother to kill herself as well. she is not well. her career is based on joining multiple cults, & the only one she can never see is the one she is currently in.

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