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Youch! Mom-Turned-Author Takes 'Fictional' Swipe At Over-The-Top Parenting In Pleasanton

"Tales From Swankville" lands like a rotten egg in Birdland, but writer stands by her book's message.

PLEASANTON, Calif. — Oh no, she didn't!

Local mother Siah Fried, 40, compiled her anecdotal essays of kids, school, scouts and sports — in short, all things holy in Pleasanton — in her new book set in the fictional town of "Swankville."

But now the swank has hit the fan, and her irked neighbors are fuming over what they say is a thinly veiled critique of their parenting. 

"It's kind of a pointless attack," said one parent, who read the book but did not want to be named and further dragged into the fray. 

But Fried insists her book is fiction and its point was to spotlight what she sees as a troubling trend of overly meddlesome parents.

"And we're all doing it," said Fried, who is a public-health educator at Las Positas College in Livermore and founder of Healthy Starts Makes Healthy Hearts, a childhood-obesity prevention program.  

The newly published hot topic, entitled "Tales From Swankville — The Town May Be Fictional But The Problem Is For Real," is a breezy, 20-chapter read of various trials and tribulations of childrearing in an upscale town of overbearing, competitive parents.

Swankville stands in for Pleasanton, and Fried's main character, Sasha, is a mother of three who struggles with rivaling Girl Scout cookie booths, one-upmanship of kids' Halloween costumes, dance-to-near-death recitals, and the very likely possibility that her toddler accidentally killed the neighbor's pet rabbit.  

Fried, herself a mother of three, jabs at what she calls "bad parenting," and is well aware that her book is causing a ruckus among residents in her Birdland subdivision.

"Oh, did you notice?" she half-joked, referring to the anti-Swankville banner covering the garage of her neighbors directly across the street.

It's hard to miss the garage-turned-billboard that encourages passersby to "honk" if they agree with its scathing comments on the fictional Sasha.   

Among the garage's spray-painted commentary: "I am Sasha the town witch"; "I bring misery to all I meet"; "I am fictional — hee hee." 

"Swankville" detractors have also taken to the Internet, lobbing harsh, one-star reviews on the book's Amazon page, deriding the author and her writings as evil, vindictive, gossipy and hypocritical. 

"To have issues with everyone else, maybe she should look in the mirror and check herself," writes one critic.

Fried and her editor, Georgie Ikuma, a Castro Valley parent and writer, admit they were caught off guard by the local firestorm, particularly since the book is only about two weeks old. And both insist the tales and characters are fictional composites.

Over-the-top parenting is not unique to Pleasanton, and "Swankville" represents "Suburbia, U.S.A.," Fried said. It was, in fact, the neighbors who outed themselves and Pleasanton, she said. 

"It was the neighbors who I.D.'d the town," Fried said.

"I don't know why they would announce, 'This is me,'" added Ikuma.

And Fried and Ikuma are dismayed the book's message may be overshadowed by the local brouhaha.

Fried's gist is that today's parents, who are trying to do well by their children, may be damaging them instead, by pushing competitive sports at young ages, private lessons, tutors and a boondoggle of extra-curricular activities. 

The effects are borne out, she says, with a rise in stressed-out kids, sports injuries, eating disorders and general nastiness among peers.

"My parents ... that generation did not push too hard," said Ikuma, 42. "Not every kid got a trophy. And parents didn't complain."

"I know my parents didn't fight my battles," Fried said. "But the ante has been upped by this generation."

Fried does have supporters, however, with several Amazon reviewers praising "Swankville" as an insightful portrayal of pushy parenting.

"It was a thought-provoking book for sure, with some nice humor mixed in," writes a fan.

Fried said she has heard from moms and dads, including two past presidents of local PTAs, who say the book is dead-on and relatable. 

As for Fried's Birdland neighbors, they let their decorated garage speak for them and did not wish to be interviewed. 

Were they insulted by something Fried wrote? "It's our friends and family" in the book, said the anonymous homeowner.

"But oh, wait," he deadpanned. "It's fictional."  

"Tales From Swankville" is available for $16.99 at Towne Center Books on Main Street, through online retailer Amazon, or can be uploaded at $3.99 on the Kindle.  

Tanya Rose November 10, 2011 at 03:45 PM
Hey everyone - new Swankville story up on the site today: http://pleasanton.patch.com/articles/local-business-owners-react-to-swankville-threats
Jeff.L November 10, 2011 at 05:11 PM
These hysterics will make good material for a sequel.
Tanya Rose November 12, 2011 at 12:12 AM
Just learned that the Swankville authors will be on ABC/KGO's 7Live as guests on Monday from 3-4pm.
Serene November 12, 2011 at 12:20 PM
Yippee! Thanks for the information!
Brinnie November 12, 2011 at 03:34 PM
Lisa, you are the KEY contributor to this comment section. Your name has consistently popped up more often than others. The tenor of your comments has changed from angry-attack-defensive-mode to one desiring reconciliation. Have seen the light or are you toying with the readers? Regardless, you have done more to promote and sell this book than any publisher could. Mrs. Fried owes big time. Obviously, Mrs. Fried's objective was not to write a self-help guide for the community of Birdland. You have flip-flopped from righteous indignation about various residents being outed for their behaviors to teen loss. Really? There are several schools of thought on teen loss and teen suicide, and before casually tossing it into the mix as a type of diversion from Swanksville, please do some research. I doubt that the parents of teens who have attempted or actually committed suicide would be happy to see you trying to use this tragedy to deflect a personal affront in your community. If you feel so strongly about the incidents of teen loss or even suicide, write your own book. You have become quite the prolific writer in this comment section and perhaps with time you, too, can become published. If you choose the delicate subjects of teen suicide and teen loss, be very careful, because the loss associated with either is far and above greater than the loss of face suffered by the residents of Birdland. Dare I say birdbrains of Birdland?
Pleasanton Mom November 12, 2011 at 05:05 PM
Thanks for the reminer. It has to be one of the people you named as no normal person would be defending her or her garbage book. I'll be taking your advice. Again, thank you.
Brinnie November 12, 2011 at 06:51 PM
Lisa, I received your reply to my posting. I have not read any interviews with Mrs. Fried and don't particularly want to at this point. The gist of all my comments has been that, in the big scheme of life, it seems as though a mountain is being made out of a molehill with precious time being wasted by everyone. The author can write what she wants but whether it sells is another story. The fascinating thing for me has been the very public outcry, specifically by you, about the book and your neighbors. Generally, when one does not want to call attention to a perceived slight or major issue, they just don't, that it will naturally fade from view. Many of your remarks were a bit like gasoline on a fire. Now, it is interesting to see that most of your volatile remarks have been deleted. In many ways, listening to and reading about similar issues makes me happy that I don't live in the U.S. anymore because this type of drama between neighbors is similar to junior high school behavior and a bit ill mannered for my taste.
GG November 12, 2011 at 11:46 PM
It was a poorly written book, the author seemed not very different from the parents she was deriding in her book but tries very hard to make herself look "better"
Kimberly Tadena November 13, 2011 at 10:00 PM
Book or no book- this reaction paints a "Tale of Two Cities". In something like this, there should be no extended collateral damage. People are entitled to their opinions, but at the end of the day- PEOPLE-there is enough room in the Pleasanton sandbox for us all to eat, drink and be merry, without slinging any stones...this has been quite a diversion, but the attention should be focused on supporting our community and each other so that our kids want to live here and feel proud of their parents-read the Paul Rubio story again and remember how important it is to rise above the obsticals and stay positive! Wendy- you are doing a fantastic job -keep up the great work! As for the success of the book...nothing sells like a good controversy. AS for the fine city of Pleasanton, it has been and continues to be full of wonderful families, businesses and people who make this a great place to raise a family. This too shall pass-let's hope it is quickly!
Pleasanton Mom November 14, 2011 at 02:37 AM
Hmmmmm. Unless it's to post this information, I'm not going to comment further on this situation. I didn't do my own homework and have just learned that Patch sites are somehow part of AOL which of course owns the Huffington Post. This has to be why the Huffington Post picked up this story. By posting on here, we are increasing revenues for AOL/Huffington Post and they are laughing at us all the way to the bank. I wrongly believed that Pleasanton Patch was a local and hometown sort of effort, but now I know different. No thanks. I'm not going to support this and let them profit from this city being ridiculed. I hope potential advertisers feel the same way. And by the way, I contacted the Editor directly and asked her to do a story on the school district's anonymous student support line because it's such a valuable resource for those in this community, including the kids. I didn't even receive a response from her, yet she has written about this trashy book since I made this request. I ask you, is this really a hometown site devoted to our community, or is it just a revenue stream for the likes of AOL/Huffington Post? Please stop posting on here and don't support this. Siah's family and friends will likely continue because their comments have kept this alive which is what gained them exposure with AOL/Huffington Post.
Brinnie November 14, 2011 at 03:52 AM
You might want to give yourself an 'atta-boy' (or girl) because you have certainly contributed to the comment section, drawing attention the the book and all things related. Good going, Lisa! For all the hot heads who have gone nutty about this book and your community, remember to choose your battles wisely. You never know what you will receive - could be more exposure for the actual issue you want buried.
Gem November 14, 2011 at 05:35 PM
@Lisa: I thought you promised to "go away"? You cant help yourself - this on-going soliloquy of yours can be found on every article surrounding this topic.
Jeff.L November 14, 2011 at 06:01 PM
If someone were to craft a viral marketing campaign expertly designed to sell this book, it would look exactly like this comment thread.
P-town transplant November 15, 2011 at 05:28 PM
I have lived in Nor Cal, P-town for only 15 months. We were transferred to the area for work. I think Pleasanton is an enchanting town. I happen to live a stones throw from the center of the controversy in Birdland. Never in a million years would I have thought such nonsense would permeate my new home. My daughter met some nice friends in girl scouts. Her biggest complaint about the kids here? "Mom, they are too nice!" Wow, how terrible for her... The other parents I have met are equally nice. I have not witnessed much of what the book discusses, but maybe that's because I am not a helicopter mom, I guess like attracts like. My kids were exposed to activities, but were never pushed. If they didn't like it, so be it. We did lots of things as a family (hiking, camping, fishing) and invited friends, so we really didn't need sports and activities to supplement our kids' social education. However, I am digressing from my point. I read the book. I have a sense of what Sasha is trying to communicate; unfortunately the book does come off as a "I am a better parent than you"and why, instead of focusing on the children who are supposedly damaged by their parents' overzealous attempts at "perfection." The point Sasha is trying to make would have been better presented from how the affected children felt, not her observations of the other parents. The essays fall short of elaborating the situations and emotions felt, leaving me to wonder what really happened.
Sara November 25, 2011 at 07:22 AM
Born and raised in Pleasanton and I can for one say how sad it is to see the changes. The schools have always been good, soccer and little league were always top activities...but we did not have the pressure that these kids have now. I have been told that I am just real and that is why some parents Luke me and some don't and if definatley effects my child. I graduated from HS I don't need to play the game anymore yet it seems others feel that need. They criticize my dressing or lack of make up and then over criticize a beautiful, sweet mom picking her kids up in her workout gear cause she has a rockin body...jealous much. A friend fairly new to the town says she's overwhelmed by the parental competition and says she just feels like she is constantly acting. Never growing up did we see parents taking there kids out trick or treating with a wagon of liquor trailing behind, note it is illegal. Ptown is about looks and being noticed, its not my town anymore and I think this book struck a chord. Truth hurts and those claiming they were written about should look at themselves and what there kids are going through cause pressure like this doesn't end well. Bravo to the book...for whatever town it is written about.
Sara November 25, 2011 at 07:45 AM
Ps....we know what's in your thermas at baseball and what's mixed in with your lemonade at Castlewood ...what the book says is that we need to be true to our selves and in turn create a positive role model for our kids. Ask if they had fun at there game and if they are proud of themselves for there artwork...stop sending them to school with jean short underwearn.
KKYen December 19, 2011 at 07:44 AM
I just got back from a long trip, and I see that things continued spiraling, in my absence- though not to the level of those first few, amazing, days. I bought and read “Swankville”. I picked up a few copies, in fact, to share with friends. I was pleasantly surprised; it was quite a good read. I was amused and a bit sad to see all the deleted comments, here on Patch, upon my return. What happened? Is that in preparation for the big legal battle? I assumed it was a frantic attempt to rewrite (or at least erase) history, and seemed like the very thing a shifty lawyer would recommend. What a shame to have that all erased, it was a hoot (I was glad that I kept the screen grabs and printed them for my read). I have to thank all of you. I would never have bought or read “Swankville”, without your “endorsement”. What really made the characters come to life, for me, was the absurd hysteria that played out here on Patch. It brought the story to life because I could see that she was not exaggerating in the least, if anything she was kind. As I said, I had made screen shots of all of the comments the night it was playing out. I was able to look back at the diatribes while reading, and see some similarities in the characters. It really made the reading of Ms Fried’s book SO MUCH BETTER. [Cont]
KKYen December 19, 2011 at 07:49 AM
I want to thank Lisa most of all, her comments had my friends and I howling ( I know that was not your intent, Lisa, but as my mom would say, “you’ll look back on this with humor one day”- shake it off, girl), as I shared segments with them, on a long wine-soaked evening, in Carmel. I gave them copies of the book when I left. They were still giggling about it, when I last spoke to them. Apparently, there was something on TV about all of this, while I was in Europe, and my friends saw it and couldn’t believe it was on the news. I was a minor celebrity in my little circle for a minute, since I live within range of the madness, and had “uncovered” the little drama. Life is nothing, if not comedy. I would truly suggest to Ms Fried that she use screenshots of the original Patch comments, as an appendix in her next printing of "Swankville". Though no one would believe that what transpired on this board was an organic response, and not just something staged for publicity, it really completed the reading for me. I know that all of these comments are considered “in the public domain” and I’d be surprised if she didn’t copy the original screen shots on to a file, as I did, before it got whittled down to a third of its original hilarity. It would really add an extra dimension to the next printing- FREE IDEA Ms. Fried. It’s nice to be home, in “Swankville”. Thanks again-
KKYen December 19, 2011 at 08:02 AM
I'm really late to "the party" on responding to this, as I have been traveling a good bit, but I thought your comment sounded like a measured and honest response, so I wanted to discuss your thoughts if you'd like. I just read the book, and quite enjoyed it. It was really good reading while on a trip- not a love at first read but good, and humorous in places- moreso for having experiened the drama that I watched unfolding on Patch. One of your comments made me curious though, when you said "unfortunately the book does come off as a "I am a better parent than you" and why, instead of focusing on the children who are supposedly damaged by their parents' overzealous attempts at perfection. Is that a point that you can expound on? I'm curious because I did not get the sense that she was trying to tear down or build up anyone, and I wonder if I missed it for having decided, after reading the over-the-top comments and outrage here, that these women are a bit....shallow and vindictive, for a lack of more subtle language. Just curious, if not, no problem, I know that the Holiday's have us all in a rush, I was just curious about your thoughts. Happy, Merry, whatever you celebrate!
KKYen December 19, 2011 at 08:03 AM
Wow that is for sure, I know of 12 books sold after reading this post. I bet the author wishes it would go on forever.
KKYen December 19, 2011 at 08:07 AM
"by the way, I contacted the Editor directly and asked her to do a story on the school district's anonymous student support line because it's such a valuable resource for those in this community, including the kids. I didn't even receive a response from her, yet she has written about this trashy book since I made this request." I don't think that you quite understand that a request is just that, a request. She is writing about the book because YOU AND YOUR "group" made it news. You do not get to fan the flames and then blame the fire, dear.
KKYen December 19, 2011 at 08:08 AM
How so?
KKYen December 19, 2011 at 08:11 AM
Thanks for posting that. I was traveling and missed it, but no one could tell me when it aired. I'm going to see if I can find it on KGO archives. Happy Holidays!
P-town transplant December 19, 2011 at 03:35 PM
For KKYen: TY for your comments. As I am new to the area I feel like I read the book w/o bias. I was put off in the first chapter of the book - the lice situation. The author's daughter experienced normal teasing from having lice. It is nice? Absolutely not. But it does happen. Why not teach your child to deal with the not nice people in the world? Instead, the author emailed parents she knew informing them of the teasing her daughter received. Now, this would have been okay BUT, she made the mistake of naming the girls who teased. She crossed the line and even admitted it in the book. However, the entire chapter seemed to me a justification of why she refused to apologize for naming the girls. But she should have. She was wrong. She should have either sent the email only to the families of the girls, or not named the girls at all (better yet, teach her daughter to deal with it instead of doing it for her which teacher nothing). She should have sent the email to apologize. Ditto for the dog poop chapter. Darn it, she should be picking up the poo as soon as it happened, so the chapter just seemed like another justification for bad behavior. And the mom who was upset at the tear in the costume. So what? One lesson in life that is important: Don't take anything personally. the mom was upset the costume she made/invested in was ripped. It seemed she was directing her anger. A better response: perhaps next time YOU can watch the girls potty...
P-town transplant December 19, 2011 at 03:52 PM
Continued at KKYen: Also, I was appalled at the "death by train" chapter. I felt she was placing the blame for the girls suicide directly on the parents. How cruel. Now, to the math chapter... again, she was miffed because the teacher's aid (?) commented on the gifted student's performance on the test. So what? But the author seemed to take it as a personal attack on her daughter's ability in math. But even as she presented it, it was only a comment on the gifted child and had absolutely nothing to do with "Sasha's" daughter. I found it odd that Sasha took it so personally. The appropriate comment/thought would be "Wow, how cool is that? Her parents and you must be so proud" instead of instantly comparing the child's success with her own child. To me, that illustrates the author's self centeredness that I felt permeated the book. That is why I felt the book was about the author and not about the children. It simply seemed like a justification of the author's errors in judgement as opposed to how over scheduling and helicoptering damages our children. Now, I am not saying that damage doesn't happen. As a retired educator, I have seen it all: parents who refuse or fail to see ill behavior in their own kids, parents who expect their children to be perfect and outshine the rest, parents who's pressure causes their children to engage in unhealthy behavior (eating disorders, drugs...). But this book failed to illustrate that. Does this explain my thoughts?
Tanya Rose March 30, 2012 at 04:50 PM
Hey all - posted a little story about the Swankville authors today: http://pleasanton.patch.com/articles/swankville-authors-to-hold-book-signing-in-walnut-creek
hngkngfoi May 11, 2012 at 06:49 PM
It's about time. If you were yelled at, talked about, your children were not treated nicely, I bet you would, too. Everyone has a breaking point. By the way, I do not know the author.
Justsayin' May 11, 2012 at 07:19 PM
Hmm, an adult calling another adult crazy and posting about her bad day on public forum and then accusing her of adult bullying. Something about a black kettle comes to mind here.
Pleasanton Mom May 11, 2012 at 07:36 PM
Honestly, this community just lost a child and her mother in a very violent way. This means nothing and this lady (author) is no one. Let's pray for those we've lost instead of worrying about people that don't matter. RIP AINSLEY and AMY
Serene May 11, 2012 at 07:40 PM
Haha...so true, Justsayin'! I hope the author writes a sequel. She could get a lot of her inspiration from these comments.

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