Author Kamy Wicoff on her new novel, publishing, and switching genres
Kamy Wicoff is the bestselling author of the nonfiction book I Do but I Don’t: Why the Way We Marry Matters. Wishful Thinking is her debut novel. 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. She lives with her family in Brooklyn, New York.
Rachel Sherman: In your new novel "Wishful Thinking" the protagonist - a working mother with too much on her plate - finds a magic app "For Women Who Need to Be in More Than One Place at the Same Time." As a working mother yourself, what has your experience been managing multiple businesses, parenting, and writing and publishing your novel?
Kamy Wicoff: My first book was nonfiction, and for years I’d been wanting to try my hand at writing a novel. But the idea I had wasn’t going anywhere. I researched it and worked on it over the course of several years—though admittedly during that time I was mostly focusing my energy on the community for women writers I founded, She Writes—and never could get it off the ground. It was very scary and discouraging; I was trying to make a genre leap and felt like I’d landed in a crevasse. I joined a writing group to try to get unstuck, asking to be the last one workshopped, and was composing an email to my workshop leader to let her know I didn’t have anything, when the premise for the book came to me in that clichéd, bolt-of-thunder way.
I don’t know that I’ve ever been so grateful for anything in my life.
In some ways, having to balance my writing time with my time with my kids helped me both find the discipline and the motivation to use the time I could find to the fullest. But it wasn’t easy. It’s hard when you are in the groove and you have to stop to go to Pickup.
There were definitely days when I thought, “It can’t be time to pick them up, they just left!” But I also love what playwright Sarah Ruhl made so clear in her essay collection 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time To Write: you have to be in life to write about it.
Why do you think satire lends itself so easily to the subject of working motherdom? How has humor helped your life as a writer, and your writing?
Frankly, I think if you don’t laugh as a working mom, or as a parent - period - you are pretty much doomed. In our house I’m known for pulling crazy u-turns and for losing my keys twenty seconds after they were in my hand, among many other things. When those things happen my kids howl, “That’s classical mommy!” (I thought it was too cute to correct the use of “classical” rather than “classic.”) Humor, of course, is also a way to approach things that are difficult and even painful to address—my main character, Jennifer, really needs her humor to protect her when she drops her boys off with their dad to discover he’s got a new, twenty-nine-year-old girlfriend. I gave her some good lines in that scene, and I think her humor clears a path for readers to feel for her without feeling sorry for her, too.
What has your experience been like switching genres from non-fiction to fiction?
I was going to say that with nonfiction I am trying to make an argument, and I want to be as persuasive and compelling as possible, while with fiction…and then I realized that when I wrote "Wishful Thinking," I was also making an argument, and wanted to be persuasive and compelling as possible. The impulse was the same. The difference was what was available to me—and required of me—when it came to getting at the truth in either genre. In nonfiction I had the advantage of a narrative that was already written (the portion of the book that was memoir); I also had the disadvantage of a narrative that was already written. With fiction I could do anything, which was scary at first, but which I admit I eventually found more fun.
As far as the experience of publishing my first book and this one goes, with my first book I published with a traditional house, and this time I’m publishing with my press, She Writes Press. Our model is entrepreneurial; authors invest up front in exchange for much better returns on the backend. (For more detail about how it works, read this.) It’s scary but I am also relishing the freedom and control, and am a big believer in providing this new third way for authors. The other big difference is in getting press for the book. My god it is hard with a first novel! With my nonfiction book, about weddings, we published in June, and it was relatively easy to get local morning shows, media, coverage, etc. With this novel it is pulling teeth. Thank god for blogs about writing, like this one—and for you, Rachel Sherman!
I know that getting feedback is important to your experience as a writer. Can you talk about the community you founded, SheWrites.com?
I founded She Writes with the author Deborah Siegel because publishing was changing at an exponential rate, and writers were scrambling to learn to do things they had no idea how to do, like use social media, or design author websites, or be the principle promoters of their work. I wanted a place online where writers could share what they knew and inspire each other, too. Writing can be a lonely, isolating endeavor, so community is and has always been important. But now that writers are expected to also function like “authorpreneurs,” a term that used to make me nauseous but that I’m now trying to accept and even embrace, organized ways of sharing what we learn are more important than ever. And the community is so generous. I blogged my way through writing my book, and it helped me so much!
Any advice for young writers?
There are all the obvious things, or maybe the two most obvious things: 1) read; 2) get a day job. But I would also say that my experience becoming a publisher has been eye-opening and, I think, crucial to my career. Young writers would be very wise to learn every part of the business and experiment and innovate in the publishing space rather than focusing solely on landing a book deal within the traditional system. The prestige and status those deals grant is still enormous, but it’s eroding, and the fact is that what you get in exchange for what you give up is a more and more dubious proposition. Writers are much more powerful when they control, or at least understand, the means of production in this rapidly changing landscape, and young writers especially can dive in and make a difference quickly.