Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Kamy Wicoff talks about WISHFUL THINKING, magic mushrooms, motherhood, writing, and so much more

 Kamy Wicoff is the bestselling author of the nonfiction book I Do but I Don’t: Why the Way We Marry Matters. But let's celebrate her debut novel now, Wishful Thinking, an exhilarating satire about modern motherhood, with a soupcon of fantasy throw in. She is the cofounder of one of the world’s largest communities for women writers, www.shewrites.com. She is also cofounder, with Brooke Warner, of She Writes Press. She Writes and She Writes Press are part of the SparkPoint Studio family.  Thank you for being here, Kamy!

You've touched THE nerve of working mothers--how can we possibly be there for our kids AND for our bosses. Why is this so difficult and do you think it gets easier? 

It is THE question isn’t it? I wrote the book because it’s something I struggle with myself, and I often feel like I just don’t have enough time to do everything I need to do. But is lack of time really the problem? My main character, Jennifer, is suddenly given all the time she needs; she can be at afterschool pickup and at an important work meeting; she can go on the school field trip and show up for her job. The question was, would her life then be great? What Jennifer (and I) discovered is that unless you address the underlying “it’s never enough no matter what you do” mentality our culture constantly enforces on us both as workers and as parents, no amount of time will provide the balance you seek. Part of why it is so difficult is that workplaces are still designed for men with stay-at-home wives, a la Don Draper, and the standards mothers are held to, are, incredibly, higher now than they were then! But I do believe it can, and will, get easier if we do two critical things: 1) stop blaming ourselves for our personal failings in a system that isn’t set up for us to succeed, and instead fight for workplace reform (everyone should join MomsRising!); and 2) take a long view when balancing being their for your kids and for your work. Sometimes one has to take precedence over the other, but over time, if you are mindful, it will all even out. I find that’s true for me, anyway.

I love the whole Time Travel appeal of the novel, of using time to solve our problems the way your heroine Jennifer THINKS that she can. Can you talk about what sparked this ingenious idea for you?

I was reading the Harry Potter books with my son several years ago and I thought, I wish there was a book like this for moms. And then I thought, if I could give myself, or any working mom I know, one power, what would it be? The answer came immediately: the ability to be in two places at once. (As my sons would say, duh.) I knew from the beginning, however, that I didn’t want to bestow this power on my main character through magic. I have always been an amateur lover of physics, following the construction of the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson particle, etc., and I have also always felt that women in science suffer some of the worst sexism around. (This fabulous Science Friday podcast underscored that for me.) I loved the idea of writing a strong female scientist into the book, and after consulting with some real physicists, I determined that the time travel app, via wormhole, was the most realistic way to go based on what physicists believe is possible. The notion of harvesting of wormholes in quantum foam, for example, is an idea from Stephen Hawking himself.

What kind of writer are you? Do you have rituals, do you have a Post-it addiction, the way I do, do you map your stories out, or do you like to be surprised?

I have to say that for this project, I became a devoted user of Scrivener, which I had never used before. (It even includes a form of Post-it notes, Caroline, where you can create virtual index cards!) I love to be thorough in my research when I am creating a world: I knew, for example, the exact building in the West Village Jennifer lived in, down to its GPS coordinates and address. In Scrivener, I could collect links and facts in an organized way and draw on them throughout the writing of the book, which was a life saver, because when you are attempting to write something that involves time-travel, things get complicated fast. As for mapping the story out—I started by just writing, about fifty or sixty pages, to get a sense of the voice, the characters, and whether I had a viable idea, and then I pulled back to outline. (I wrote about this for She Writes and got lots of feedback and tips from other writers, too.) I felt free to go off the outline when needed, but it was tremendously helpful in giving me a sense of direction and a sense of accomplishment each time a plot-milestone was reached.

There is so much witty and sharp social commentary in Wishful Thinking that I found myself laughing even as I underlined passages. Can you talk a bit about that?

Firstly, thank you! Christina Baker Kline, when she first read the manuscript, also commented on how much she loved the social critique contained in the book, and urged me to emphasize that as we marketed it, rather than simply selling it as a “fun read.” (Though you were definitely meant to laugh. I cracked myself up a few times while writing it.) I think it was an enormous asset to write this book as a forty-something woman with some life experience under her belt, and years of observations about this particular part of life ripe and ready to go. Jennifer’s is a world I know well, and it’s an amalgam of the work and life experiences of many, many women I know, and of the confidences and conundrums we’ve shared.

You also are the co-founder of the wonderful SheWrites Press. Tell us about that, please, and has running a press influenced your writing in any way?

One huge thing it did for me – and that it can actually do for any writer who is producing a book worthy of being published, whether or not she has a big “platform” because of the way our model works – was to free me from fretting during the writing process that the book might not ever see the light of day. When it was finished, I did have my agent take it out to traditional publishers to test the marketplace (my first book, I Do But I Don’t, was traditionally published), and I got an offer, but in the end it wasn’t good enough to justify the terrible royalties traditional presses give. (If you want to read more about that decision, you can check out the post I wrote here.) At this point, of course, I am incredibly nervous about having chosen to publish as a true entrepreneur rather than taking an advance up front, but I believe in this model as the future “third way” of publishing and am happy to be one of its pioneers, along with my other amazing SWP sisters.

What's obsessing you now and why?

I am obsessing about my book and about whether anyone will buy it, why do you think!? (Ha.) I am also obsessing about George Saunders, this article I read in the New Yorker about magic mushrooms helping cancer patients face their fear of death, and this beautiful four minute video by the artist Alexandra Posen, who is also a mom friend. How did she do that?

What question didn't I ask that I should have?

This was perfect. J

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