Give us your elevator pitch: what’s your book about in 2-3 sentences?
If you’ve ever had that “What the hell am I doing with my life?” feeling, I hope this memoir-in-essays will make you feel seen. It started as simply a collection of funny stories from my life, but the more I wrote, the more it evolved into a deeper look into the limits of perfectionism, the conflicting pressures of modern adulthood, and how much we all need to be able to reinvent ourselves in small ways from time to time. I’ve been getting emails from people saying it’s making them cry, but they swear they’re laughing, too.
Which essay did you most enjoy writing? Why? And, which essay gave you the most trouble, and why?
The most fun essay to write was probably “A Letter to the Type A Person in Distress,” which breaks from the essay format a bit and directly addresses the reader. It appears midway through the book like a little half-time break. The first draft of it rolled right off my tongue in one sitting.
I struggled with “Wonder Woman,” the essay early in the book about the root of my perfectionist tendencies. In early drafts, I was talking out of both sides of my mouth, as if I couldn’t reconcile two conflicting angles. Sometimes it sounded like I was saying my perfectionism is my mom’s fault, and at other points I was letting her off the hook and saying it’s too easy to blame all our problems on our parents. A dear writer friend suggested I stop struggling and embrace the contradiction, which was great advice. So rather than pick one way of telling that story, I revised it so the story unspools both ways: I tell it once, then midway through I start over and tell it again. That approach served to illustrate something I really wanted to get across in the book: that multiple, seemingly conflicting, things can be true of us at once.
Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.
For a couple of years, the highs and lows came on a predictable cycle: start a new essay, struggle with it and fear that it’s garbage, then finally reach a breakthrough draft that really sings. Again and again, every time. Then there was the big high of selling the manuscript, which, once my agent took it out on submission, happened so much faster than I expected. Probably the lowest low was trying to summon the energy to make revisions based on my editor’s feedback. It wasn’t even difficult feedback! I was just absolutely wrung out from perfecting the manuscript to sell it, and I had such a hard time getting back into editing mode. Normally I love editing, so the fact that I was having trouble sent me into a spiral of self-doubt. My agent reminded me everyone goes through the same thing. She calls that part of the process “the pain cave,” and I’d say that’s accurate.
What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?
Air it out. Put some time and space between the drafting of a piece and each stage of editing. There’s a part of the writing process where you’ve got to slog through a piece daily, building it up and tearing it down word by word. But then comes a time to put it away for a while. After a break, you can see and hear what you’re doing with so much more clarity and perspective.
My favorite writing advice is “write until something surprises you.” What surprised you in the writing of this book?
I was honestly surprised at how it came together as a memoir. At first, I thought the common element in these essays, other than my own voice, was humor — that this was just a pile of funny stories. But the more essays I wrote, the more I veered into less-funny territory, and the more I realized how much these pieces related to one another. It took me a long time to put them in the right order, but once I did, a narrative arc formed over the whole collection. I hadn’t really expected that to happen, but I was thrilled that it did.
Who is your ideal reader?
My dearest hope for this book is that friends will pass it around and word of mouth will help it find its way to its people. I mean, of course I’d love to say, “It’s for everyone!” but it’s especially for anyone who’s feeling a little stuck in one of those small crisis points that seem to come around about every five years in adulthood: the quarter-life crisis, the midlife crisis, the job-change crisis, the relationship crisis, the should-I-have-a-baby crisis… Anyone who has a decision to make about what to do next or is generally the type of person who stresses over doing the “right” thing — that’s someone who might need or enjoy this book.
Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book? (Any recipes to might share?)
Something called “hot buttered crackers” make an appearance in this book, and if I recall correctly, they’re made by tossing saltines in melted butter — and optionally, the powdered salad dressing mix of your choice — then baking the crackers until they crisp back up. This is not a low-sodium snack, and it is addictive. Proceed with caution.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: I love these crackers so of course had to look up a recipe to share! https://www.southernkitchen.com/recipes/eat/piedmont-driving-club-s-buttered-saltines]
READ MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR: https://marylauraphilpott.com/
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