Author Interview – Tsh Oxenreider

 

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Photo Credit: Holly Fish, photographer

 

Hi Tsh! Thanks so much for joining us over on Notes on Bookmarks today. I am so excited about your new book! As part of the Launch Team, I got to read it early, and I can honestly say that your memoir about your travels and the search for home spoke to me in so many ways. It felt like you wrote it for me! You can read a whole post with my take on the book and where I feel at home in the world here

So, let’s get this party started with the five-minute Tsh intro and then a little something not many people know about you!

Tsh is the author of Notes from a Blue Bike and Organized Simplicity, the founder of the community blog The Art of Simple, and the podcaster behind The Simple Show. Her writing has been featured in the Washington Post, CNN, Real Simple magazine, and more. A Longhorn graduate of the University of Texas, where she studied English and anthropology, Tsh currently lives just outside Austin, Texas with her family and eats tacos several times a week.

Hmm… I guess maybe the thing people don’t know about me is my name really and truly is spelled T-s-h on my birth certificate. The quickest explanation for it is it was the 70s, and my parents were in an experimental mood (my brother was born five years later, in 1982, and they named him Josh, one of the most common names of the 80s). My dad says I was named after a protagonist in a book he read while my mom was pregnant with me. It’s set in the Soviet Union about a MI-6 pilot that was shot down in Moscow, and he falls in love with a woman named Tsh. But fun fact: I’ve been to Russia, and I’ve asked around – it’s an unusual name even for there! So I’m fairly certain the author just made up the name.

19 At Home in the WorldIn your new book, At Home in the World, we essentially get to journey with you and your family (husband and three kiddos) as you circumnavigate the globe. When you left for your big trip, you sold your home, eliminated many belongings and put the rest in storage, so you were essentially homeless for the year. As the author of Organized Simplicity and the creator of The Art of Simple, it seems like there might not have been much to let go of, but I’m guessing that a family of five, even one that lives simply, still has plenty of belongings. Can you tell us a bit about your “preparing to leave” process and what surprised you as to what you wish you had kept when you came home or what you wish you had been more ruthless about eliminating?

We still had to decide over every little thing, using the question, “What do we think we might need for the next year?” If you think about it, that’s pretty challenging to predict. We got rid of some stuff, more in the natural decluttering process people naturally do when you’re planning to fit everything into a storage unit, but we didn’t really get rid of a third more of our belongings until we returned home. We pulled up that storage unit door and immediately thought, “Why on earth did we keep these things?” It was glorious to have so little for a year—it taught me first-hand how very, very little we need in this life.

We ultimately each had about 3 tops, 3 bottoms, and 2-3 pairs of shoes for the year, and we were more than happy with this. So when I went through my clothes when we returned—even with my already limited wardrobe–it all felt a bit ridiculous. I know extended travel isn’t normal life, so I get why we have more clothes in the here and now… but it was still dreamy to have such a tiny amount of laundry for a school year.

Something I’ve been thinking about as I let your book marinate a bit is how you so perfectly capture that tension that we’ve all (I assume) felt between wanting to see this big beautiful world, and wanting a place to come home to and feel comfortable in, and recognize as a place of belonging. I myself can so sympathize with the fact that, even when we go away for just a few days, I am so GLAD to get to sleep in my bed again when I get home! Almost always, that is the thing I miss the most when we travel (that, and our pup). But that doesn’t squelch the desire to go, either. You slept in, and oftentimes shared, so many beds and spaces during your year abroad. If you can pinpoint the THING you missed the most during that year, what do you think it would be? (Other than the broader idea of “a home”, I mean).

For sure, it was my bed that I missed the most. I don’t have a fancy bed, but it’s mine, and it’s comfortable. It’s familiar. It represents being home to me. I didn’t realize how picky I was about things like sheets and pillows until I slept on a bajillion of them, all slightly different from each other. Plus, once we came back we slept in other people’s beds stateside because we housesat or stayed with family while we figured out where to live. We were more than ready for our bed when we finally came back… The first night on our own mattress was heaven.

A close second to my bed was my white owl coffee mug I’ve affectionately named Hedwig. He represents being home, too, and I missed having my morning coffee with him. It was so fun to unpack him and get him back in my coffee rotation.

thesimpleshow-artYour podcast, and your new-ish addition of rotating co-hosts, has really brought to life the three aspects of this work that I really love: home, travel, and books. All three are encapsulated here! People who are interested in the book, but haven’t yet ordered, can listen to the entire first chapter on audio by checking out episode 65 right here! Since the book itself captures the tension between travel and home, can you tell us a bit more about the books of your travels? You mention reading on your loaded Kindle Paperwhite during the trip, and I’d love to hear which books really stuck with you or will always remind you of a certain place. I know when I read somewhere unique, the place often gets solidified in my memory as part of the book, so I can just imagine how some books from that year must be inextricably linked for you to the places you got to visit!

My daughter and I both read Red Scarf Girl in China, and it really helped us both better understand the Chinese mindset. I picked up Kate Morton’s The Forgotten Garden in a used bookstore in Chiang Mai, just for fun (because I still prefer paper books over the digital version, all things being equal). I read The Storied Life of AJ Fikry in Australia, so I will always think of our quiet, slow time in the Sydney suburbs when I see that book cover. I re-read my friend Emily’s book A Million Little Ways because it was in the library of the Sole Hope guesthouse in Uganda, and that was fun – felt like talking to a friend, which helped with the loneliness. Probably most significant for me was reading All the Light We Cannot See while we were in France—it just so happened that it was finally my turn from the library’s wait list while we were there. It literally happened when we were in the air from Morocco to France, so it was a lovely surprise when it auto-downloaded the next time I opened my Kindle after we landed. That’s now one of my favorite books, and I think it’s partly because I read it where the book largely takes place.

As I read through your book, one of the first things that happened was a conversation with my darling husband about how we dated, engaged, and were married with travel as one of our guiding principles (we visited 7 countries together before we had kiddos!), but having three kids seemed to have minimized that desire. Despite our prayers that our children would travel to experience, see, and love the world, we became daunted by the idea of road trips and plane flights and sleeping in hotels. The conversations spurred by At Home In The World have already led to two upcoming family vacations planned (along with the other travels we had planned for this summer) and discussions about a bigger, overseas trip for next year. And all that it took was a reminder from you that WE ALSO love to travel! Even though this is a memoir, and not a how-to guide, what are you hoping your readers get out of this book? How do you hope they apply your story to their own lives?

I have heard so many stories like this, and I absolutely love it! It thrills me to no end to hear of adults being reminded of their love for travel after reading this book, then deciding to go ahead and book flights for an adventure with their kids. I can think of no greater outcome. Even if it means starting with a weekend venture only a few hours from home, that’s worth it to me.

I also genuinely love hearing from people who say they really have no interest in travel, and they love that At Home didn’t shame them for it. I truly want people to feel at peace wherever they call home, and perhaps take their own, unofficial form of a Vow of Stability.

Whether or not people actually take a big round-the-world trip with their kids, I want people to not idolize travel, and instead remember the privilege it is to see the world so easily in our modern age. And yet, it also means so many people from around the world live near us, more than ever before. I hope it also encourages people to reach out to those who might seem different than us—maybe we don’t share a first language, maybe our neighbors were born in another country—and get to know them just as people. What a great outcome that would be for this book!

I feel like the desires you express for your travel in this paragraph from the first chapter are so practical and small that they make it seem doable for each of us:

“I want to see a thousand tiny places, smell their flowers, and taste the sauces made by their people. I want to feel the difference between the textures of grit in Sri Lanka and Morocco. I want to meet the woman who bakes the best bread in the smallest town in New Zealand. I want to find the best vantage point to see Bosnia from Croatia. What do the Grand Marnier crêpes taste like in Rouen? In Paris? There are untold numbers of tiny places and extraordinary people who occupy them. We will perhaps see a hundred of both.”

PrintYes, we may want to see the whole world, but that’s impossible. And it’s certainly impossible to see and appreciate and know the whole world. So let’s remember that we are tiny, that the space we take up is minute, and embrace the actual physical space and people that are around us this moment. As Jill Briscoe said at this year’s IF: Gathering, “My mission field is between my own two feet.” Do you feel like you were able to achieve all of these small desires for your travels? Do you feel like you will ever go and see all the places you want to visit? Do you feel like the desire to travel will ever be satisfied? Or do we all embrace the tension, and live in the already/not yet of home and away, the impossible search for heaven on Earth?

I know I won’t ever see all the places I want to see, and that’s an okay place to be, because this side of heaven, we won’t ever feel fully satisfied. As CS Lewis said, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in the world will satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” Our year of travels taught me that the beauty of exploring the world is best tempered with the beauty of the ordinary life of home. I love my home more because I enjoy time away from it, discovering new places. And I love traveling because I know I have a home to hang my backpack when I’m done.

Thank you so very much, Tsh. For being here, for sharing with us, for your beautiful book. I can’t wait for all my friends to read it as well. It really is one of my favorites I’ve read this year and I cannot wait to see where it gets to go! #AtHomeInTheWorld

Thanks, Kaytee!

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Author Interview – Mary Kubica

mary-kubica-21Hello, Mary! Welcome to the blog. I’m so thrilled to get to interview you. Your books and story are so intriguing to me. To start, I always ask for the 2-minute bio and something most people don’t know about you (your favorite drink for cold nights, the scariest thing you’ve ever done, the fact that you always sneeze in fours, etc…).

Hi there!  Thanks so much for having me. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to speak with you, Kaytee.  I’m the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of three books, with another set to arrive this June.  I have a Bachelor of Arts degree from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, in History and American Literature, and live outside of Chicago with my husband and two children.  I enjoy gardening, photography and caring for the animals at a local shelter.  A few little known facts about me are that I’ve been a vegetarian for about fifteen years and I’m absolutely terrified to fly in airplanes.

Excellent! To get started, I want to dive right into the fact that you’ve mentioned multiple times that you are a seat-of-your-pants writer: you don’t outline and let the characters develop themselves! I find that so fascinating, especially coming from a writer of psychological thrillers! It seems to me, as a reader, that you’d need to know where your story was going to end up in order to plant clues or misdirection throughout the novel. Do you rely on heavy revision and editing after the fact? Or are you able to write out your novels in the format that we get to read them?

I always start my novels with just a seed of an idea, and then watch it grow as I dive deeper into the manuscript.  I’m not an outliner at all, and make a concerted effort not to think too far ahead as I plot out my books.  I need to get to know my characters in order to discover how their stories will unfold on the page.  Quite often the plot of a novel will change its course on me and I’ll need to go back and make revisions to adapt to that change.  I love the spontaneity of writing my novels this way; my favorite part of the process is that moment that I figure out the big twist and get to go back into the book and leave either clues or red herrings for the reader to find.  Because my novels are often told either nonlinearly or from multiple points of view, I break them into smaller sections to write and then combine at the end.  In the case of my latest novel for example, Don’t You Cry, I wrote the entire storyline of Alex before going back to the beginning and creating Quinn’s narrative.  In the book itself their chapters unfold successively.

9780778316558_RHC_SMP.inddIn your debut novel, The Good Girl, as in your other books, the main characters are not all they seem. As you mention here, the one-dimensional characters in thrillers are pretty frustrating to you. So you’ve given us characters that are good guys (or girls) on the outside but have major flaws, or bad guys on the outside, but we are drawn to them and aren’t sure whether to start rooting for them. Since “real life” is like that, what do you think makes it hard for other suspense authors to write characters of this depth? Why do you think we see so many flat protagonists and antagonists in this genre?

I would never suggest that other suspense authors are unable to write characters of great depth.  I deeply admire the authors in my genre and think they are masters at what they do.  It’s a complicated genre in that quite often suspense novels are plot driven as opposed to character driven; readers are craving a propulsive storyline.  I try to create a balance: books that are both plot and character driven because for me, personally, I relish novels with deeply drawn characters that resonate with me.  For some readers, this works, but for others they find my books more of a slow build than other psychological thrillers.  The best thing about books?  They’re completely subjective and deeply personal.  What one reader loves another may not, and that’s a wonderful, wonderful thing.

Before getting The Good Girl published, you had written, sought an agent, and edited your novel for almost ten years. Yet, no one knew that you were writing a novel, except for your husband! Did you purposefully keep it a secret? Why didn’t you let the people around you know that you were writing? Would you do the same if you were to go back and do it again (with the 20/20 hindsight that lets you know you would make it big with this book)?

Yes, I purposefully kept it a secret!  For me for much of my life, I was very buttoned up about my passion for writing.  I was quite self-conscious of it, for one.  I had no idea if my work was any good and was too afraid to share it and find out.  There was also much less pressure when I was writing The Good Girl.  No one knew I was working on it, and therefore no one but me had their hopes up.  If I didn’t finish the novel or if it never got published, no one would feel let down but me.  If I was given the chance to go back in time and do it again, I’d do it the exact same way.

final-for-pb-pageYou mention your love for animals, and volunteering at an animal shelter, in quite a few interviews as well. Will we see this passion play out in any forthcoming books? It seems that it would be difficult to keep things that are such a big part of your life separate from your book-writing!

There are animals in nearly all of my books.  A stray cat plays a fairly prominent role in The Good Girl, the Wood family in Pretty Baby has two cats (both strays rescued as kittens from the outdoors), and my next novel, Every Last Lie (coming June 27th!) features a rescue dog named Harriet who the family adopted from a high-kill shelter.  Animals already play a role in my books, and I’m looking forward to including them in future novels as well.

9780778319054.inddYou frequently write using the unreliable narrator as one of your viewpoints (The Good Girl, Pretty Baby, and her newest novel, Don’t You Cry all feature unreliable narrators). Readers have VERY strong opinions about unreliable narrators, but they fascinate you! To many, it feels like being led astray by the person chosen to guide you through the story. When you sit down to write, do you purposefully create characters that cannot be trusted or are they “lying to you” as you write them down? Since you have spoken about not knowing where the story will go yourself as you write, I am interested in how this aspect of it plays out!

Unreliable narrators don’t always have to be unreliable because they are lying.  In the case of The Good Girl, Mia can be considered unreliable because she has amnesia.  In Don’t You Cry, Quinn can be considered unreliable because she lacks a bit of common sense.  There are all sorts of reasons for this unreliability and to me, it doesn’t make them bad characters, but just the type that keep readers on their toes – and as a reader that’s exactly what I expect from a good suspense novel, to be kept on my toes throughout!

Finally, I like to end on a personal note. Since you often mention in interviews that your first job is as a mom and that your kiddos come first, I’m curious about what they think of your success. It’s very apparent to me that your children are not old enough yet to have read any of your books. Do they care about your job as a writer? Are they interested in it or invested in it? Are they proud of you? 🙂

They’re very proud!  My kids are 11 and 9 years old now, and have spent years watching me write, hearing the PG version of what my novels are about, and attending more book signings than they probably care to.  They’re both avid readers and writers, and I love that we can share these passions together.  They ask frequently when they can read my novels, and beg me to write a book that they’re actually able to read.  I love that we’re on this journey together.

Thank you so much, Mary, for taking time out of your day to answer my questions! I am elated and honored to have you here on the blog!

Thanks so much for having me!

Author Interview – Gilly Macmillan

gillyHello Gilly! Thank you so much for agreeing to be on Notes on Bookmarks for an interview! With a brand new release, you must be very busy right now, so I very much appreciate you taking the time for me. I always start out my interviews with the same request and then we’ll go from there: please give us the 2-minute Gilly MacMillan biography and then spill one thing that not many people know about you (a favorite something, a weird human trick, etc).

Hello!  Thanks so much for having me on Notes on Bookmarks. It’s a pleasure to answer such thoughtful questions.

I was born in Swindon, Wiltshire in the UK and grew up there until I was in my late teens when my parents moved to Menlo Park, California for a few years, before returning to the UK. I studied History of Art as an undergraduate at the University of Bristol and did a masters at the Courtauld Institute in London. I worked in the art world in London for a few years, including the Hayward Gallery. After starting my family, I spent years as a stay-at-home mum and then eased back into work teaching photography.  I did that until I decided to try and write a book!

Something not many people know: one of my sons plays Timothy Turner in the BBC TV series Call the Midwife

51yos5ttoxl-_sy344_bo1204203200_We’ll tackle your books chronologically and start with What She Knew. I have been reading about you all over the internet, so I know you based this book on your own worst fear as a mother of three: that one of your children might go missing and you wouldn’t know what had happened to them. As a mom of three myself, I can definitely identify with that fear! In fact, I blame YOUR book for a brief stint in triage at the tail end of my most recent pregnancy! At my standard 36 week prenatal appointment, I had notably high blood pressure when I had been reading What She Knew in the waiting room. I switched books for the two-hour monitoring period and my BP went right back to normal! 😉 As you’ve continued to write (just released a second novel and working on a third), have you used this same “my own worst fears” technique to come up with ideas? Or have you started drawing more on the world at large and news headlines?

I’m so sorry about the BP!!!  What She Knew was certainly based on a core personal fear and I think that some of the themes in The Perfect Girl tap into fears of mine too, but I think you naturally begin to draw more on the world at large as you develop more stories, and I’ve certainly done that.  The Perfect Girl is based on a real court case I heard about, for example.

Having said that, I try to pick themes that I have an emotional connection to, because I want to make the books resonate emotionally with readers and I believe I need to care about the characters and issues myself to make that work.

You’ve spoken about how What She Knew utilizes social media almost as a character unto itself, but that you weren’t part of social media when you started writing the book. How did you capture that social media spiral so effectively when you weren’t yet part of that world? Or was joining Facebook part of your research for the book?

You’re right, I didn’t join Facebook or Twitter until long after the book was written, and my publishers encouraged me to. I wasn’t a social media user at all while writing What She Knew, in fact I was very ignorant about it, so I put in a lot of research to try to get it right in the book. As I was writing What She Knew there were two shocking real life cases of children disappearing in the UK and I followed them closely online as events unfolded.  I looked at the online comments people were making at the end of news articles and anything that was publicly accessible, including dedicated Facebook faces. I was particularly interested in the more extreme, personal reactions, because I thought they would be the thing that could hurt you the most if you were in the position of Rachel, the mother of the abducted boy in What She Knew. Some of what I read was shocking, and very sobering. It was a real education.

In your interview with Huffington Post, you discuss the title of the book a little bit and how What She Knew is really about mother’s intuition. How has your own intuition served you during your time as a mother? Do you think mother’s intuition is given full credit or discounted out of hand?

I think you have to use your intuition every single day when you’re a mother, because there is so much that you have to help your children through, at every single stage.  I’ve found it particularly noticeable because I have three children and they’re so very different from each other.  Advice I give to one sometimes doesn’t work for the others so you have to fall back on your knowledge of their personalities and strengths and weaknesses when you’re trying to help them.

That’s what I think intuition is built on: knowing them very, very well, possibly better than anybody else.  I’m not sure how much a mother’s intuition is given credit. I think that depends who you ask, but I certainly believe it can be a powerful thing.

Finally, with regard to What She Knew, let’s talk about how child abductions are very rare and there’s a whole movement for “Free Range Kids” in this age of the Helicopter/tiger mom. Where do you fall on that free-range/helicopter spectrum (or where were you when you had smaller kids instead of teens)? Did the research for this book make you more protective or worried as a parent? It seems to me like it might be hard not to internalize the narrative a bit?

I fall in the camp of what I would describe as common sense parenting. Children evolve so fast from the very first moment and I believe a huge part of a parent’s job is to prepare them for the real world.  That includes introducing them to freedoms as and when they need them. I wouldn’t advocate shoving them out into the world for the sake of it but I would say that the more skills you teach your kids, the better off they’re going to be. That includes independence so, yes, exercise common sense and caution where appropriate but don’t raise them in cotton wool or you’ll create some very dependent adults and that’s not healthy for their emotional development or future success.

I don’t think the research made me more cautious, because I’ve always been a careful parent, and the statistics I read do show how rare stranger abduction is.  However, I’ve been told off by many friends who live in Bristol, because they tell me they’re just that little bit more jumpy when they walk in the woods now!

01-perfect-girlNow, let’s move forward to The Perfect Girl, your new release about a young piano prodigy with a troubled past. We find out early on in the novel that a new horror has entered her life and live through a brutal 24 hours with her. You spoke in an interview with Harper Audio about how Classical music (which you listened to often while you were writing) is almost like a thriller in itself with its peaks and troughs and suspense and periods of rest. Is that a connection you made while you were writing the novel? Or had you thought that beforehand? Do you have any musical background yourself?

When I wrote my first novel, What She Knew, I listened to a lot of choral music to help me to get the tone of Rachel’s narrative, and a sustained sense of her trauma, so it’s certainly something I’ve done before.  When I was writing The Perfect Girl I would begin my writing day with Rossini’s The Thieving Magpie to get me started (Haruki Murakami describes that piece quite rightly as the best music for boiling pasta to – it’s so full of energy), and after that I would listen to four Chopin Ballades on a loop.  They were just perfect for writing that book.  I would also occasionally listen to Pachelbel’s Canon, which is the soundtrack to the opening scene of Ordinary People, a movie that was a big inspiration for The Perfect Girl.  It has such a note of sadness through it.

I’m not a musician myself, but my home was filled with Opera while I was growing up – my parents loved it – and one of my sons is a very good pianist. He introduced me to Chopin and lots of other wonderful music.

The protagonist in The Perfect Girl, Zoe, is a flawed genius. Her IQ is off the charts but her emotional life is pretty screwed up. Do you think that her emotional trauma comes mostly from her life experience? Or is it likely, in your view, that most super geniuses have a bit of a less well-rounded personality (this isn’t just you, of course, we see this often as a character in various novels)? Can we be brilliant feelers or can we only REALLY excel at one or the other?

That’s a very interesting question. I think it must come down to how we’re raised, and what we experience, in some ways.  As you say, there are certainly some people out there who have very high IQs and are not so good at relating to others, but I think there must be people out there who can do both.

In the book, Zoe’s emotional life is definitely screwed up, but I do think she’s also capable of feeling very astutely – she reads her mother’s emotions well, for example – so I think you’re right to say that her emotional trauma comes mostly (though perhaps not entirely) from her life experiences.  Her experiences have been so unusual – the musical brilliance and the contrasting darker worlds of guilt and imprisonment – that she can’t help but struggle to find other people to relate to.  When we meet her at the beginning of the book, she’s very lonely as a result of this and that can create a cycle of finding it difficult to relate easily to others.  There’s a lot of complicated cause and effect in Zoe’s case and I suspect that’s true of many people.

Since What She Knew was based on your (and my) worst fears as a parent, I can say that The Perfect Girl draws upon another of MY parenting fears (that some sort of injury would befall me, leaving me unable to care for my kids). You say in that same HuffPo interview above that “As safe as we are in our domestic environments, it just takes one moment to tip us over into a very difficult place.” Is that what every thriller preys on, do you think? The fact that one moment can change everything in your life forever? Have you had any personal life-changing moments that led you to be able to write them so well?

I think that particular fear must be one of the things that accounts for the popularity of what people are calling the ‘domestic noir’ genre nowadays. The sense that everything we’ve built for our families is somehow precarious has got to be a visceral fear for many of us.

For our family, that moment was a diagnosis of cancer for one of our children.  It changed everything in an instant. At the time, one of our neighbors said to me, ‘It was as if a bolt of lightning came out of nowhere and hit your house.’  It certainly felt like that at the time, though thankfully my son made a full recovery.  I’ve never taken anything for granted since then.

Last question: you’ve revealed that DI Jim Clemo will be returning in your third novel, as a kind of sequel to What She Knew. I think he’s a great character and I’m so excited to see him return! This seems like a new tactic for you and a departure from your previous novels: to have a character figured out instead of the suspense plot (you mention having written WSK in entirely Rachel’s point of view for the first draft and then added Clemo’s view later in edits). Is it easier or more difficult to churn out the words/plot in this situation? Or did you decide to bring Clemo back and then develop the plot to insert him into it? Or did you already have the story sorted and decide to bring him back as DI? I’m so curious as to how the writing process works!

I’m so pleased you like him!  It’s been really interesting to bring Jim Clemo back, and I’ve enjoyed it hugely, partly because using a character from a previous novel is like meeting an old friend, and partly because it was a real professional challenge to develop him as a character across a new novel. I knew I wanted to bring him back from the outset, and I developed the book so that the story would allow his character to face new tests, both personal and professional.  The case Clemo works on in my third book is very different from the one in What She Knew – it involves two teenage boys who are involved in an incident that leaves one of them in a coma and the other unable to speak about what’s happened – but the stakes are similarly high for him.  I’ve tried to produce another compelling story, this time about two families whose lives are turned upside down, alongside a new and gripping character arc for Clemo. That’s the idea, anyway! I hope people will enjoy it.

Oh, my goodness, Gilly! I am so thrilled by this interview. It is compelling and interesting and deep in so many ways. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, for taking the time to answer questions for me, in the middle of book deadlines. I appreciate it so very much. Can’t wait for Novel #3!

Author Interview – Scott Dannemiller

family-shotHello Scott! Thanks so much for agreeing to be on the blog. I love getting to virtually meet the authors I’ve enjoyed reading. You have the dubious honor of being the first male author I’ve gotten to interview, so I hope you enjoy that little gold star!

I always start out by asking for the two-minute intro from my authors, along with something that not many people know about you (can be your favorite ridiculous movie that you watch over and over again, the best flavor of ice cream, or your most embarrassing 2nd grade moment, etc)! Tell us about Scott Dannemiller!

Hmmm.  Let’s see.  I’m a writer and a blogger, but I make my living running a corporate training business, LifeWork Associates.  Most weeks I am on the road in some city in the U.S., doing my part to make the corporate world a little more authentic and a little less “jerky”.  My wife says the main reason I do the corporate training thing is so I have a good excuse to stand up in front of lots of people and tell stories.  I plead the fifth on that one.  In truth, I stumbled upon this career that I love after a circuitous career path that includes jobs such as lemonade entrepreneur, camp counselor, skating rink DJ, shoe salesman, construction worker, and promotions writer.  Other than that, I spend my time at home with my super-loud family, trying to be the best husband and father I can be.  It’s a full-time job that is both joy-filled and anxiety-producing.

When I retire, I hope to be in a boy band.

25315107As you know, I first heard of you by reading your book, The Year Without A Purchase: One Family’s Quest to Stop Shopping and Start Connecting. As the title suggests, this book centers around your family’s recognition of the consumerism that drives us and an attempt to reign it in. You and your wife, Gabby, served as missionaries in Guatemala for a year. Then, a decade later, found yourselves stuck in the American spin cycle of “more more more”, when you had seen first-hand how so many people survive on so little. Although you mention it briefly in the book, I’d love to hear any further details about how this challenge that you issued yourselves affected the people around you, or if others have contacted you after publication to talk about the changes they’ve made because of your year?

This book began as a simple challenge for our family to connect with each other and grow in our faith, and I started blogging about it as a way to add a layer of accountability to the whole ordeal, since it would have been very easy to stop.  Once the word got out, it became a hot topic any time we would talk to our friends.  We had two main reactions from them.  Some would treat us like a Catholic confessional, as if we were ordained priests in the church of frugality, approaching us, begging us not to judge them, then speaking in hushed tones about how they got an amazing deal on bedding at Target.  Others said our little experiment made them stop and think before buying stuff at stores.  In the end, our friends were a tremendous help by offering moral support, as well as sharing their own surplus and teaching us about what true community should be.  The family of God.

Since the book has come out, I have been humbled by those who say that our story helped them reconnect with what is important in their own lives.  For some, it is about saving money.  For others, it is about “de-stressing.”  Even more say they simply vowed not to buy anything new as a way to minimize their impact on the environment.  And all of these things, in small ways, help make the world a better place.

As further continuation of the book, I’m curious as to whether or not, since publication, you’ve seen more of that “slipping” that naturally occurs in American culture (or even just middle-class the world over) that has brought you back to where you were before your year-long challenge? Or have you been able to maintain that awareness of purchases, and emphasis on experiences that were so pivotal in the book?

It is a continual struggle.  Not long after the book came out, our family moved to a different part of town and bought a larger home that hadn’t been touched in over 30 years.  We got swept up in the HGTV culture once again, and found ourselves “updating” things that were perfectly functional.  And while we could easily justify these purchases by saying we were supporting the local economy, and taking care of what we have, it was yet one more example of how we still have a deeply-held misconception that what you own says something about who you are.  It’s tough to shake.

At the same time, we have found that our family is much more focused on experiences, and we tend to invest in memories rather than stuff when it comes to gifts.  We have also changed our language around purchases.  When our kids used to ask for stuff at stores, our gut reaction was “That’s too expensive.”  But that taught them that they only needed more money to buy what they wanted.  Now, we say “we don’t need that” and then talk about all of the other wonderful things we do have, and how things don’t actually make us any happier.  Admittedly, this sometime irritates the crap out of them, but it’s a good reminder for all of us.

Even though your autobiographical book isn’t meant to serve as a how-to manifesto, you do give some practical application tips in the appendix for those who are interested in being more intentional with their money, time, and resources. (Our family has already created the “How Does She” family dinner questions jar since I finished the book, and have been enjoying it almost every night!). Ahem… I have a “friend” who is interested in a similar challenge within her own family, but can’t seem to get her husband on board. Any tips for those of us who live in community (a marriage, a family, an extremely-close roommate situation, etc) but might want to go it alone? Life doesn’t happen in a vacuum, but sometimes a challenge can start with just one and go from there!

So glad you found the dinner questions!  That is still a hit in our house, and now that we’ve moved to a new neighborhood, the kids who come to visit want to stay for dinner just for the discussions!

As for starting your own challenge, the first thing I would say is that the intent is much more important than the outcome.  We noticed how much we beat ourselves up when we “failed”, and that created a lot of negative emotion around the challenge. Perfection became the enemy of the good.  So, we started to focus on why we were doing the challenge in the first place, and celebrated our “wins.”  This helped to put things in perspective.

So, if you’re looking to focus less on stuff, you can always begin with one change per month.  Maybe you start buying experiences for those you love, instead of material things, and revisit the memories often, with photos or stories.  Next, when you donate some of your nice things, donate to a specific person, if possible.  If not, spend time talking about who might benefit from the donation.  Knowing the joy your stuff brought to others only magnifies the satisfaction in your own life.  Just find whatever works for you and build on it.  If it feels like a step in the right direction for you, then it is doing some good in the world.

Along with your book, you are a prolific writer online (your own blog as well as being regularly featured as a contributor to Huffington Post). One could spend HOURS reading everything you’ve written online, and I wanted to feature a few of those articles here as well.

The ONE that went the most viral, as far as I can tell, is this post from February 2014, in which you call for Christians to stop saying they are “blessed,” as we are prone to do. It has received, to date, over 1100 responses on the original post, the HuffPo linkup has been shared on Facebook more than 78,000 times, and continues to garner new comments now, two and a half years later. It’s unlikely that you foresaw the impact that post would have (what makes something go viral??), so I’m wondering if you knew it would strike a chord with those around you… and those around them and around them, or if was just something weighing heavily on your heart? Do you feel like recognizing that phrasing in your own life (and subsequently changing to saying “I’m grateful”) has led to any lasting change or made you more introspective about the “blessings” that others receive?

Oh yes.  Viral blogs.  I had been posting stories and thoughts for a few years before writing the “Blessed” post.  I had no idea it would strike such a chord with people.  It was just something that was weighing on me.  I would like to say that my immediate reaction to the blog’s success was joy or fulfillment, but honestly, it was an initial nightmare. As hundreds of thousands of people read it, and the comments started rolling in, I focused on the negative.  Some people strongly disagreed with me, and didn’t mind telling me so in very creative ways. Calling me everything from a damaged person, to a heretic, to a complete idiot.  You name it. I read all of the comments and internalized them.  For this reason, I was complete wreck for three weeks.  I could barely function.

Finally, in a desperate attempt at sanity, I did the math.  Roughly a million people read the post, and just a thousand or so sent me disparaging comments or emails.  This translates to a fraction of a percent of the population.  Such a small number!  Once I realized this, I could finally focus on the messages from those who said the blog helped to strengthen their faith, or bring them back to church.  But the ones that were most inspiring to me were the testimonies from people who had endured terrible tragedies.  The death of children, the loss of a spouse, debilitating disease.  Each of them taught me so much about what it means to be grateful given unthinkable circumstances.  I have never endured such hardship, and am uncertain I would have the strength to endure like they have, but I keep their messages close by in case storms come, because their perspective on life, faith, and the grace of God is beyond comprehension.

Next, I found this article, also from 2014, particularly timely based on our current political climate and national fears. Even though it was written two years ago, it seems to speak exactly to where we are right now as well as a nation: calling for change, security, black lives matter, gun control, gun rights, border control, amnesty, SOME KIND of control! You ask us, as Christians, to consider that what is legal and above the law isn’t always (or even, often) what Jesus would have advocated. How do you recommend we balance living in a nation that HAS laws that we are bound to follow, legally, and belonging to a holy nation, governed by God’s laws? Or is this more of a “what is permissible under the law might not always be the best way to go, but what is prohibited under the law is definitely a good plan” type of qualifier?

Wow!  You really dig deep for these interviews!  Kudos for finding this article and reminding me how it resonates so clearly with current events.

You raise some incredible questions, and I am not sure I am qualified to answer them.  But, I’ll throw in my two cents with the caveat that I have a biased opinion. toward those on the margins.  And, at best, have limited knowledge of what it is to live their struggle.

Jesus’ command to Christians is to love your God with all your might, and love your neighbor as yourself.  And Jesus modeled his life on sacrificial love.  So, as Christians, we are called to sacrifice ourselves for the good of all God’s Kingdom, especially the stranger and the outcast.

In contrast, the leaders of our country take an oath to protect this nation and its citizens at all costs.  Which is also a good and noble cause. And, if you are accountable to our nation and its laws – a nation that has separated the church and state – then your first call is to serve citizens.

Many people see these two positions in stark contrast to on another and therefore, frame arguments as either/or propositions.  Either we protect our citizens or let all the immigrants in.  Either we let citizens defend themselves or we take away all their weapons.  Either we support our police force or we support the African American community.

Unfortunately, in the halls of power, the voice of the marginalized is often softer than the voice of the majority.

And to this, we have two responses as Christians,

First, we must be the change we wish to see by framing arguments as “both/and”.  There are ways to protect our citizens AND welcome refugees who are suffering the persecution of politics and poverty. There are ways for us to protect the rights of gun owners AND help families feel safer. There are ways for us to support the police force AND recognize that systemic racial injustice needs to be addressed.

Second, as Christians, we must advocate for the voiceless while listening to the concerns of the majority.  Progress requires us to speak for those who have been silenced, but have open ears and hearts for all.

Finally, because I don’t want to take up your whole week, even though I could with all you’ve written, I wanted to touch on this article about protecting our daughters. You wrote it as a father of a daughter, and I am a mother of sons (third one due any DAY now!), so even though it was directed to the counterpart to my demographic, it was VERY pertinent to me as a parent. I’m definitely in step with the “change begins at home” idea in this post, and am wondering if you have other causes close to your heart in which you encourage parents to be the change, as it were? The purchasing decisions? The racial tension in America? The protection of our daughters? We surely have our work cut out for us!

Congrats on the new baby!  So exciting!  I pray for an uneventful delivery, and a happy, healthy, good-sleeping child.

Let me just say this.  If parenting were like any other job, we all would have been fired the moment we left the hospital.  So, I’m not sure I am any more qualified than another parent to answer your question.

With regards to racial tension, I firmly believe that today’s kids know more about equality than we do.  I wouldn’t call them color-blind, but they do tend to see the absurdity of the ways in which we treat one another.  We can certainly do our part to encourage this and speak out for justice, but they will be the ones to lead us.

The bigger issue for parents today is allowing kids to be kids.  I wrote a piece called “Busy is a Sickness” about how we are turning our children into mini-adults.  Our culture is addicted to achievement, and we perpetuate this by over-scheduling our children and pushing them to their limits.  Yet we never ask “what’s the purpose?”  Because if I asked you to name the past five best actress Oscar winners, or the past five Super Bowl MVP’s, or the five richest people in the world, you probably couldn’t do it.

But if I asked you to name the top five people who have meant the most to you in shaping who you are, you could create that list in a heartbeat.

Achievements are fleeting.  We must teach our kids what it really means to make a difference in someone’s life and reinforce it constantly.  And, in doing this, we will have done our job.

Thanks for indulging me today.  It’s been a pleasure.  Peace!

Thank you, Scott! Even without being an “expert” in politics, or parenting, or even spending, you have proven to be a wealth of knowledge. I am SO glad you agreed to an interview and so excited to share this one with my readers. Thanks for your time!

Author Interview – Bianca Olthoff

Bianca3Hi Bianca! Welcome to the blog! I love that I get to interview authors here and think it’s even better when I get to help promote a book before it comes out, so thanks for making time for me!

First, I always ask for the 2-minute intro and a little-known fact about you (your favorite song to turn up REALLY loud in the car, the best food to eat on a winter evening, some weird human trick you don’t share with anyone except those close to you). Tell us about Bianca!

I’m a writer and teacher in love with two men: Jesus and my husband, Matt. [You might not find this funny, but I laugh at myself, so it all balances out.]

I didn’t learn how to read until I was eleven, but now I can’t put down books. I ask questions, but most times I don’t want the answer unless it’s something I want to hear. I believe in a faithful God, even when I’m faithless. I’m a woman who loves God and is committed to speaking truth when it hurts, loving when it’s hard, and living life out loud.

I spend most of my time working as Chief Storyteller for The A21 Campaign, a global anti-human trafficking organization. By day I’m a freedom writer who advocates for justice, but at night I’m a step-mom who loves to have dance parties with Parker, Ryen, and Ricci [aka The Cutest Dog In The World].

Passionate about God’s word, I teach around the globe and blog about life, love, and the pursuit of Jesus. Whether discussing topics from justice to pop culture, I’ve spent ten years building the Church and mobilizing God’s people to action alongside Matt, Lead Outreach Pastor at Mariners Church in Irvine, California.

I LOVE hot yoga. Like, obsessed. And if you are thinking I’m all New Age and whatnot, I promise you I’m not. I have injured my back over ten times and this stretching and praying routine has changed my health and relationship with God. 🙂

3 - Play with FireAlright, let’s dive in to Play With Fire first: your debut book, set to hit bookstore shelves on August 30th ! Since this is your first book, I’d love to ask a few of those “writerly” questions that help us see how you crafted this baby of yours. How long did it take you to write this out? The book is much more memoir than how-to guide, so I’m curious as to what that writing process was like for you since you had to get so vulnerable in the pages. Does it look the way you expected it to when you first started thinking about a book?

Well, technically the book took ten years to write because I had to live it before I could write about it. 🙂 But overall, the book took a year to write. I had some complications with my “baby” and it was on life support for about two months (I accidentally deleted my entire edited manuscript two days before it was due. I can’t….)

I don’t really have a method to writing, other than I really wanted a narrative arc that didn’t TELL people what God can do, but rather SHOW them what God has done… and can do.

Next, I first saw you this year as a speaker at If:Gathering and my best friend and I just LIT UP after you delivered your message about Mary and Martha and Lazarus. We spent WEEKS quoting you afterward because your personality just shines on stage. I was so excited to see that humor and wit come through in your written words as well! You seem to be speaking at various events all the time and then writing blog posts constantly for various outlets. How do you keep your stories new and fresh and exciting? I feel like straddling that Bible-scholar/Comedienne line has to be difficult, but you pull it off with grace!

Pull it off with grace? Oh Lawd have mercy, can I hug you?! I think I walk off the platform most times and think, “DID I REALLY SAY THAT?!” Or worse, “Mom will be so mortified I told that story!” But in all honesty, I really pray hard. As in, on my knees and sometimes even with leaking eyes and ask God to show up. No amount of study, prep, exegesis, and notes can do what the Holy Spirit can do through a person who is willing to be God’s mouthpiece.

a21-share-whiteThe other HUGE part of your life is the A21 campaign, where you serve as Chief Storyteller. Tell us a bit more about A21, and how that became such a passion for you (especially since this must have happened after the point in which you decided to end the book, since you don’t go into it in the pages). You also have this series of training videos on RightNow Media (subscription required), the most pivotal of which for me talks about moving from Awareness to Advocacy to Action. It’s a big world out there, fraught with so many problems. How do you recommend that people find the right “niche” passion to pursue and enact the steps you give for moving from awareness to action? I feel an almost decision paralysis on this issue and feel like picking ONE issue means giving up the rest of them! But by not choosing one to focus on, I’m not making progress on any of them!

Oh my word, I can’t believe you found that video. First of all, WHY was my makeup so bad?! Jesus, take the wheel! But secondly, this is a great topic. Passion is often birthed from compassion. The word for compassion is a hybrid of two Latin words, con (meaning with) and passion (meaning burden, or broken heart). So what breaks your heart? What keeps you up at night? What are you so angry or shocked about that you have to talk about it? Once you identify that, you can ask God to give you spiritual wisdom on how to move at a solution.

One of the realms that I feel like I found a lot about you and where you seem to have ministered/written quite a bit is in the area of Christian singleness and waiting for the person God has in store for you. You’ve got these great articles about “It’s Just Coffee” and the “Lonely Hearts Club” in which you speak directly to the single women in the church. How did that become a sort of hot button issue for you?

Well, I was the 30 year-old virgin so I felt like I could speak with authority on singleness. 🙂 But in all seriousness, I love cultural commentary and how the Church responds to issues not clearly defined in scripture. We don’t offer camels for commitments nor are we betrothed at birth, so how do we as 21 st century Christians respond? I don’t like to give prescriptions, but moreso, offer up dialogue so we can rightly divide the Bible and also work out our beliefs (like Paul tells us).

Finally, just a few weeks ago, you published on your own blog about reading The Hunger Games for the first time two years ago. In your signature style, you let us know immediately that even though it seemed silly to read YA at first, within a few chapters you wanted to “change my name to Katniss, date Peeta, and stand in a three finger pose while whistling like a Mockingjay.” Don’t worry, we’ve all been there! 😉 But then you pull it around and remind us that “the attraction to Katniss Everdeen is the reality that she could be you, she could be me. At the core of us is a desire to do what is right, good, true, and just. The sacrifice is big. The risks are daunting. But reward is worth it.” I feel like this is a great reminder for what we need to hear RIGHT NOW with the political, racial, and societal divides in our country. If we do something big and daunting, but aim for good, true, and just, we are maybe going to be able to change the world. Is that something that you’re hoping people take away from your book as well? You have to walk into the fire in order to experience it, and not just admire it from the outside. Our good, true, and just God wants to meet us there, where it burns. Thanks for writing your story, Bianca!

ABSOLUTELY! Change is inevitable, but transformation is a choice. We must CHOSE to do good, CHOOSE to walk into the fire, and CHOOSE to let God have full reign in our lives. My hope is that an ember of transformative faith spark in the hearts of all readers

XO,

B

Oh, Bianca, you are just so much fun! I knew you would be, since I’ve enjoyed your humor ever since seeing you on that big screen in February! But I just LOVE that I got the time to write back and forth with you in person. Thank you so much for your time!

Author Interview – Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

headshotHello Cynthia! Thank you so much for taking a chance on me and my little blog! I have read so much about you, since your debut novel made headlines across the internet/media and there’s just a glut of Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney interviews to read! I know you must be so busy with all the book stops and publicity touring, so I’ll try to keep this short!

Even though I usually ask for the 2-minute intro, I’m going to just go ahead and use the bio from your website and then ask for one other “little known” fact about you (your favorite band to listen to, your favorite comfort food, your least favorite smell, etc). Something that not many know outside your immediate circle.

 Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two sons. She has an MFA from The Bennington Writing Seminars. Previously, she lived and worked in New York City for more than two decades, writing copy for a variety of clients, including American Express, McDonald’s and more defunct Internet start-ups than she cares to count. Her non-fiction essays have been published in The New York Times Magazine and Martha Stewart Living.

The Nest is her first novel.

I don’t really like ice cream, which based on other people’s reaction is the most shocking thing about me.

I loved reading this interview on Electric Literature about your writing process and your plot development. I feel like many authors take a different approach, where the story arc has to be completely revealed before they even put an opening sentence on the paper. Do you feel like this method of writing freed you up to write a better story? Do you feel like it was the right method for you? Or will you try anything different in the future?

I know very few writers who know the story before they start writing and I’m not sure I would even want to if I could figure out how to plot in advance. I have a general sense of a situation and characters and the most exciting part of writing, for me, is discovering what the story will become. I was probably a little more than halfway through The Nest when I figured out how I was going to resolve all the plot threads and to be honest the writing became a little less interesting once I knew where everyone needed to end up, the work became more about playing out the inevitable and less about surprising myself. So I’d like to maintain that element of surprise as much as I can in the next project.

The Nest CoverYou’ve spoken in various interviews about the “inheritance” that your parents are leaving for you: one of experiences instead of funds. What kinds of experiences from your childhood do you look back on most fondly? Special trips? Adventures? Classes that really allowed you to explore your passions? My parents have taken a similar approach to my brother and I, and I could not be more grateful to them for the countries I’ve seen, the cultures I’ve encountered, and the broadness and depth of life that they have given me. It’s definitely an inheritance that I hope to leave for my own children some day!

My parents loved to travel and they took us to as many places as they could, sometimes tagging a family vacation onto a business trip of my father’s. We went to Maine every summer starting when I was 10 and we still go to the same small town and my kids have gone every year of their life. My parents rent the same tiny cottage they found in 1970 and my siblings and I rent places nearby. My cousin has even bought a vacation house in the same spot, so that place is deeply entrenched in our family history and no doubt will be for many years to come.

As another note on inheritances, you talk about the inheritance of a “family narrative”. How it’s something we don’t get to choose or control: who else is part of our story, what place we take in the family. And that THIS is where your readers will really get to connect with this story, even if they don’t have to make decisions about what to do WITHOUT a large family inheritance. How do you feel like your own family narrative shaped your life? With regard to your family of origin as well as your married life and your children?

We are all born into a story that we have little control over, including who the other characters in the story are and what part we’re assigned to play out. We just become the youngest or the oldest and all the birth order stuff is potent. For example, I was the oldest of four and the defacto babysitter of my younger siblings and I have to remind myself that I’m not the boss of everyone anymore! My youngest brother has to remind us he’s not “the baby.” Siblings know how to push each other’s buttons quicker than anyone else on earth but, ideally, as we get older we can take each other’s feelings into account and occasionally bite our tongues or soften our judgments. People need to be allowed to grow up and cast off some of the family labels acquired as kids. We’re all trying our best to make sense of the world and so it’s tempting to reduce people to easy identifiers: the bookish one, the funny one, the shy one, the jock. But there comes a time when you want to write your own story and breaking free from a family narrative can be hard. I think my husband and I have tried to show our kids that being open to people and experiences in life is important, as is not letting other people’s opinions or needs define who they are or how they move through the world. The world will always offer up standard definitions of success; the challenge is to figure out what your definition is and to stay as true to that as possible.

New York City plays a huge role in this novel, almost as a character unto itself. You were a New Yorker for 27 years before moving to Los Angeles. Do you feel like removing yourself from the city allowed you to see it more clearly? Or being in a new location helped you to recognize what makes New York so unique?

Both! When I moved to Los Angeles, I missed New York City and I was excited when I realized I was writing a novel that would take place in New York and I could pay tribute to the City I knew and loved for decades. Writing while in California gave me some valuable distance. New York is a very in-your-face city—one of the things I love about it—but I do think the distance helped me render it more clearly. That said, before I finished revising the book, I went to New York City for a week and all I did was go to all the places in the book and make sure I’d gotten things right.

I sometimes try to end on a bit of a personal note if I can find the connection, so here we go:

I’m in my thirties, with two boys (and a third on the way), so this advice that you’d give to your 30-year-old self is so timely for me:

“For the love of God, stop worrying about your children and their homework and their grades and their extracurriculars and instrument practice and should they have another sport? Don’t think about summer activities in terms of college admissions. They will go to college — or they won’t — they will figure it out and be funny and smart and kind, so RELAX.”

From your interview with Parnassus Books (Kaytee’s note: this is my favorite interview… I wanted to pull something from every question and every answer!).

In that same interview, you talk about how dysfunctional families are the most fun to hang out with because they are more interesting. I feel like those two items are almost mutually exclusive though! The most dysfunctional families, in my experience, are the ones that “relaxed” the least when it came to control and their children. On the “relax — dysfunctional” spectrum, where would you put your own family and (grown) kiddos? Is that where you expected to be? 🙂

I’m pretty sure family dysfunction comes in all shape and sizes and endures within all parenting styles. Although I talked about being a more relaxed parent and family dysfunction in that interviewing, I don’t equate the two, and I’m not sure there’s a connection between parenting style and dysfunction. I know dysfunctional families who are super controlling and ones who could have benefitted from a little structure and better control. My point was more about needless worry than parenting styles. Having kids is stressful! I am a born worrier and continue to be. I do wish I hadn’t spent so much time when my kids were growing up worrying about whether I was doing the right thing, or questioning my decisions or second-guessing the kids’ choices . I say this from the perspective of having two older kids, so it’s easy to look back at my younger self and say “Oh, relax.” It’s not so easy to relax when they’re little!

Oh, Cynthia! What a treat to have you on the blog and get to chat with you. You are such a presence right now in the lit world (even chose one of this month’s Book of The Month selections! –> If you want to try it out, click through on my affiliate link and use code JULY35 to get 30% off and a free tote and sunglasses!) and I feel extremely privileged and grateful in that you took the time out of your life to answer my questions. I LOVED your book and can’t wait to see what else comes from you in the future! 🙂

Author Interview – Jill Smokler

Hi Jill! Thanks for doing this interview for us! I’m so excited to welcome you to my blog. My friends and I recently had a girls’ weekend, which involved a 6-hour car ride. It was the perfect length of time to devour your first book, Confessions of a Scary Mommy, together on audiobook, which provided so many laughs for us (all Scary Mommies ourselves) as we made our way down the road. Of course, then I found out you have two other books as well: Motherhood Comes Naturally (and Other Vicious Lies) and Scary Mommy’s Guide to Surviving the Holidays. I can’t wait to dig into those as well when I need another laugh!

IMG_9788To start out, I always like to ask for the 2-minute intro (the standard stuff) and then a little something that not many know about you (your favorite song to jam out to, your go-to food when you are sick, or your least favorite smell in the world…).

I started Scary Mommy simply as a blog in 2008. A few months in, I realized that this little mommy blog might actually be something that could become profitable and keep me from returning to an office job – pretty much my idea of hell. So, I worked my ass off on the site and it grew and grew. First was the Confessional, then the message boards, then guest authors and the books and ultimately, the sale of the site. I still work as president and EIC of Scary Mommy, which pretty much means making sure the site feels to readers the way it always has. It’s definitely different working with (and answering to!) people, but it’s also amazing to have resources I never had on my own. And going to the Scary Mommy NYC office every other week is pretty freaking cool.

My go-to jam is Man in the Mirror. Or pretty much anything from the 80’s.

You are all the places. Your own blog, of course (which sold last year and is now sourced from many writers and produces tons of content every day), Today Show, CafeMom, HuffPost, and interviews galore. Of course we have to assume that you are taking speed to get all this done and still BE a Scary Mommy at home, right? Any tips for those of us that feel like we can’t even keep the children fed and the house from tornado-level status without losing our minds? Asking for a friend…

Well, I’m not really at all those places at once. 🙂 I haven’t written for other sites in a while, or done any interviews lately for that matter! But at the times when work keeps me really busy, my home life totally falls apart. For years, I have been trying to figure out the great secret of balance and all I’ve learned is that there’s really no such thing. Something always seems to suffer – you simply can’t do everything well at the same time. So, I pretty much strive for “good enough.” Kept the kids fed and clothed? Good enough. Didn’t break the site or horribly fuck something up? Good enough. Good enough is success.

One of my favorite things that I found while researching you for this interview are all these different numbered lists of 25 Things Kids Never Say, Murphy’s Laws of Family Vacations, and others. They remind me of the classic, David Letterman-esque, top ten lists. I realize that parenting itself is a landfill of content, but how in the world do you continue to find fresh, engaging content week after week and year after year?

When I was writing every day, the kids were little and it seemed they would just always give me new content! When my youngest was around five, I vividly remember thinking I really ought to have another baby for blog fodder alone. Fortunately, I came to my senses, but not having a little kid really did have an impact on my writing – older kids aren’t nearly as entertaining, and their stories are not mine to tell. But I do love me a top ten list – those are definitely the easiest thing for me to write!

In this interview on SheKnows, I loved reading about your ideal family vacation: 7 days in Tahiti, reliving your honeymoon, with your kids (and nannies), and just getting beamed there to avoid the travel. Sounds like heaven to me too! That was 5 years ago now. I assume you’ve vacationed since then? How has publishing books and blogging affected your ability to travel? Are you a traveler at heart? Do your kids enjoy traveling? Has blogging/writing provided a push in the income department to make more exciting trips possible?

We have always been a traveling family! When the kids were little, we mostly drove to visit family and friends, but these days we do take bigger trips. They are pretty good on planes, and everyone is so busy these days so I really appreciate the alone time for the five of us. I’m very thankful that not only has blogging enabled us to take vacations, but also that I can work anytime, from anywhere. Kinda makes a life in Tahiti sound pretty doable… almost.

I loved reading about your Thanksgiving project a few years ago, but since the ScaryMommy blog has changed so much since then, I couldn’t figure out if it continued in 2015 (post-sale). It seems to me like even five years ago it was an insanely huge project to organize, but you helped so many people! Have you been able to continue with that? Or has the company that purchased your blog assured that they will continue that tradition? What a blessing to so many!

The Thanksgiving Project was amazing for the first few years it existed. We were able to help so many struggling moms and it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Unfortunately, the bigger the site got, the more out of control the project became. People would share the application on Reddit and Facebook as a “free turkey dinner!” Applicants had no idea what Scary Mommy was and we couldn’t find a way to serve only the Scary Mommy community, which was the goal. So, when the site was purchased we made the decision to close the project and partner with other non-profits who have better systems in place instead. But it does kind of break my heart that we couldn’t find a way to make it work.

Finally, you asked me to keep Screen-Shot-2016-01-04-at-8.54.38-PM-600x277this kind of short, since you’re crazy-making-busy,
which I get! So, I guess what I want to end with is this: we laughed and laughed at your book in the car, but then wondered what we would think if we found “our mom’s book” that was written like yours, and what you think about your kiddos reading your book someday. I joked, but I’m guessing it’s true, that it would be better for them to wait to read it until they have kids of their own! Do you have any hopes or plans for that day when it comes?

I was always very aware, where ever I was writing, that the kids might someday read my words. Fortunately, they all have great senses of humor and an appreciation for sarcasm, so I hope they find the books comforting and entertaining. I always kind of thought of the blog and books as a modern day baby book for them – it’s certainly more interesting than the book of weight and first foods that I have from my mom… at least I hope so! But for now, the books are off limits – they need a little more perspective to appreciate them!!

Thank you, Jill, so much! I continue to be amazed by the people who just AGREE, for no apparent reason, to be part of this blog and be subjected to an interview by me. It is so flattering and humbling. You are a delight. To check out all of Jill’s books, you can follow the links at the top of this post, or pop over, here, to her Amazon.com author page.