One of my dreams has always been to interview writers, artists and activists who inspire me to do better, be better and take better care of myself. Today the dream comes alive! This is the first official interview (and book giveaway) in my new "inspiration series."
I can't think of a more inspiring person than Katherine Center. Katherine's book The Bright Side of Disaster has been a huge success and she's busy finishing her second novel. Bright Side was recently released in paperback and is currently being featured as a "Bookmarked Breakout Book of Month" at my favorite store - Target!
I met Katherine at her book release party at Brazos Bookstore in Houston. Her warmth, humor and sincerity filled the book store (along with a gazillion people). We read Bright Side in our book club and the reviews were unanimous: authentic, funny, warm-hearted and honest! But please, don't take my word for it. Check out these reviews:
“Charming. . . Cleverly told and uncommonly appealing.” -- PEOPLE Magazine
"Center’s debut is fast-moving and pleasantly diverting, thanks to sharp dialogue and a narrative that’s heavier on the sass than the diaper rash.” -- Publishers Weekly
“This story of a youthful-but-optimistic single mom rings bittersweet and utterly authentic . . . Novels as polished and mature as The Bright Side of Disaster just don't come along very often from first-time novelists or, for that matter, from those with much longer résumés.” -- Dallas Morning News
"In her stellar first novel, Center paints an accurate and humorous view of motherhood from the physical changes to lack of sleep and exhaustion, as well as the changes in friendships and feelings about men."
For me, the Bright Side of Disaster is a story about letting go of expectations and living a joyful life on life's terms. In my own work (and in my own life), I see how easy it is to miss out on the greatness of our lives because we're so busy grieving over the way it was supposed to be. This is a beautiful example of what can happen when we finally let go of what should have been and find the courage to seize what is.
I'm so convinced that you'll like it that I'm giving away a signed copy. Just leave your name in the comments section and I'll pick the lucky winner on 5/1.
I just love the back jacket summary - what a hook:
Sometimes the worst thing that can happen is exactly what you’ve been waiting for.
Very pregnant and not quite married, Jenny Harris doesn’t mind that she and her live-in fiancé, Dean, accidentally started their family a little earlier than planned. But Dean is acting distant, and the night he runs out for cigarettes and doesn’t come back, he demotes himself from future husband to sperm donor. And the very next day, Jenny goes into labor.
In the months that follow, Jenny plunges into a life she never anticipated: single motherhood. At least with the sleep deprivation, sore boobs, and fits of crying (both hers and the baby’s), there’s not much time to dwell on her broken heart. And things are looking up: Jenny learns how to do everything one-handed, makes friends in a mommy group, and even gets to know a handsome, helpful neighbor. But Dean is never far from Jenny’s thoughts or, it turns out, her doorstep, and in the end she must choose between the old life she thought she wanted and the new life she’s been lucky to find.
The book is great and, in just a minute, you'll meet get to meet Katherine and learn more about her life as a mom, writer, sister, friend, hot cocoa mix eater, and superhero. But first, let me tell you a little bit about how she inspires me . . .
Katherine has no idea, but she taught me about the power of getting excited about my own work. Katherine and I are both newbies on this awesome local list-serve. When the queen of the list-serve asked us to introduce ourselves to the group, I reluctantly posted something like: "Hi. I'm Brené Brown. I'm a professor. I study shame, empathy, compassion and vulnerability. Have a nice day." I didn't mention my great new parenting work, or my book, or my upcoming events. Just name, rank and serious stuff. It was a terrible introduction for a list-serve that's about networking, sharing ideas and celebrating successes.
I can't help it. My academic training is "work your ass off, publish, stay quiet, resist excitement, be bitter and resentful because 5 people know about your work."
A day or so later, Katherine posted her introduction. You could feel her energy bubbling over the computer monitor. I'm paraphrasing . . . "Hi everyone! I'm so excited to join the group. I just published my first book and I'm thrilled. If you want to blog about it or have me talk to your book club - I'd love to do it." By the time I finished reading it, I was so excited with her and for her. It was one of the most authentic displays of enthusiasm and gratitude that I've ever seen.
Many of my friends are artists, writers, photographers and other creative types. We spend countless hours trying to figure out how to talk about our work in a way that conveys our passion and excitement, but doesn't come off like slick self-promotion. Katherine answered that for me by simply being Katherine: Be real. Don't filter your excitement. Don't be afraid to ask for support. Don't apologize for believing in yourself. And, most of all, if you get to do what you love, be grateful and share your gratitude by sharing your work!
Katherine - you inspire me!
Blog friends - meet Katherine. Katherine - meet my blog friends!
One of the great things about having my own blog is getting to ask my own questions. This is not a book review. It's not a book club discussion guide. It's an opportunity for us to learn more about an authentic, complicated person who is chasing dreams and practicing ordinary courage.
I've decided to channel James Lipton and ask the same questions to each of the "inspirees" (and I even borrowed a few of his questions). I'm also stealing questions from the JL Uncle Jessie meme, the "weird things about you" meme and, of course, everyone has to give us a six-word memoir.
Take a look!
When I ‘m working on something, I just re-read constantly. I’ll write a little way forward and then, when I get to a stopping place, print it off and read what I’ve just done. Usually, then, if I can possibly swing it, I go to sleep. When I wake up, I start writing, and do it all over again in a kind of syncopated rhythm of real life, sleeping, and writing.
2. How would you characterize your relationship with writing?
I am happiest when I’m writing. Other things make me happy, too—a night out with my cute husband, reading Charlotte’s Web to my kids—but writing is a particular kind of interior happiness. I guess I should say I’m happiest with myself when I’m writing. When I’ve written something I’m proud of, I walk around all day with a glow that I don’t always have.
3. What are your greatest creative inspirations?
When I something I read just knocks my socks off, I want to read it over and over again. I’ll find a poem or a novel or an essay that I love—that seems to get at something very true or very poignant or very funny about the human experience—and I’ll read it over and over and over. This has happened to me with so many writers: David Sedaris, Richard Ford, Joan Didion, Billy Collins, Jane Austen, Ian McEwan, Elisabeth Robinson, Laura Zigman, Catherine Newman, Tina Fey, Louise Gluck, Amy Hempel, Jenny Holzer. With writing, it’s always inspiring to see the way other people try to distill the human experience into something manageable enough to fit into language.
4. What are your greatest creative barriers?
Exhaustion. Sleep deprivation. Lack of hours in the day. Hypochondria.
I’m basically trying to cram a full-time writing career into the off-hours when I’m not parenting. And of course, when you’re a parent, you’re always parenting somehow, even if you’re just Googling “dry skin patches” in the middle of the night. Our kids are not big sleepers, and so I’m constantly being woken up in the night. I’m getting fewer—so many fewer—hours of sleep than I used to. And when I get tired, I start to worry about crazy things. What if the house catches on fire? What if there’s lead dust in the flower-bed soil? What if my daughter’s cough turns into pneumonia? When I’m worrying, it’s hard to relax and let my mind float around making up stories…
5. Truth-telling is a vulnerable and sacred process for most of us. How do you stay honest in your writing? Well, the only reason to write is to be honest. I mean, that’s it! That’s the whole point! Writing is all about getting at what’s real and what matters. And that’s especially true of fiction. Because it’s made up, I guess, it has to be extra true. It’s easier, really, to get at the real stuff in life when you’re writing fiction. Much easier than talking about real people and real things.
6. How do you manage your life (family, partners, children, friends, etc.) when you are writing?
Sheesh! I still don’t know. I have a very helpful husband, and a very helpful mom. When I have a story going in my head, I always feel desperate to get it down before it disappears. And they are always willing to step in and give me the time to get it down on paper. But it is hard to reconcile the dreamy, spacey, writerly me with the mom me who must remember carpool and make doctor appointments months in advance. Being lost in an imaginary world and functioning well in the real one can be at odds. I’m not sure I’ve figured out how to do it gracefully. I’m just keeping my fingers crossed.
Now, for some fun!
(questions from James Lipton, host of Inside the Actor’s Studio)
1. What is your favorite word? Wishes.
4. What sound or noise do you hate? Leaf blowers.
5. What is your favorite curse word? I love, love, love to curse. Something about using those forbidden words feels so powerful and brave. Especially if you’re a girl—using words that are so often reserved for boys can be quite thrilling. Of course, with little children, I have to hold myself back. Still, old habits die hard. The other day, I dropped something and said, “Shoot!” And my five year old said, “You mean ‘Shit,’ Mama.” She knows not to say them. But she’s kind of got my number, too.
From JL’s Uncle Jessie Meme
1. A song/band/type of music you'd risk wreck & injury to turn off when it comes on the radio?
The Beach Boys. And I was going to declare that I detest all falsetto-singing boy bands. Until I remembered that I totally, totally love the Bee Gees.
2. Best show on television? 30 Rock. Hands down. Hallelujah for Tina Fey!
3. Favorite movie? I’m going to go with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It’s so sweet and sad and feels so real. And funny. I love the love story going backwards—starting at the end of the relationship, when things have soured, and then working back through memories. Of course those memories are being erased, so as the love story gets love-ier, its also disappearing, which makes everything so tender and crisp with loss and longing.
4. Favorite room in your house? My bedroom. There’s nowhere I’d rather be than curled up in my bed, and I’ll go to great lengths to find a way to be there. I’d do the dishes in bed if I could.
5. Best concert? I got to see Maceo Parker at a local club called the Satellite Lounge one time. That was pretty great.
6. Brass or strings? Brass, for sure!
7. If you could have anything put on a t-shirt what would it be?
LET THE GIRLS
HAVE A TURN
8.The best part about being your age? I think there’s less agony than there used to be. Less angst. Less fearing that my life will not turn out well. Less of a crushing pressure that every decision I make is narrowing my choices for later. Many of my big choices have already been made, and though there’s a bittersweetness to that, it’s also very freeing. Now I’m just seeing a lot of things through. I have many of the things I used to want—or worry about not having—and now it’s my job to appreciate them. Though, of course, I can still always find things to worry about.
9. Favorite Girl Scout cookie? Thin Mints! I don’t think I’ve ever eaten another kind!
10. Poker or gin or bridge? Gin, because it’s the only one I know how to play. Though I used to play a mean game of Canasta.
11. Shower or bath? Shower, mostly. Unless it’s just one of those cold days when I can’t get warm. Then it’s into a hot bath with a book. Though I take books into the shower, too. Multi-tasking!
12. Favorite pajamas? T-Shirt and sweats. Of course, a wash-load later I might put on those same clothes to go to the grocery or the gym. And my kids will say, “Mama! Why are you in your PJs?” It’s gotta be confusing to them. I should really delineate better.
13. Nightmare job? Anything involving numbers. Or hot weather. Or a sense of futility. Or a boss who tries to give you a backrub.
14. A talent you wish you had? Juggling. My brother-in-law can juggle, and it is totally mesmerizing. How cool would it be to walk around knowing that you could pick up any three objects at any moment and toss them up into a circle like that?
15. Dream vacation? It would involve snow and skiing and a big stone fireplace and hot cocoa and a fluffy comforter. And hour upon hour of sleeping.
16. What’s on your nightstand?
An Ikea lamp
The Boden catalogue
A glass of water with a baby blue straw
A coaster with a bird of paradise
And, of course, books in a To Read stack:
A Perfect Mess
Listening Is an Act of Love: A Celebration of American Life from the StoryCorps Project
Love Walked In
I Am America, And So Can You
The Mathematics of Love
(Looks like I’ll buy just about any book with “love” in the title…)
From the famous “Weird Things” blogoshpere meme
Tell us 3 weird things about you:
1. I love to eat packets of hot cocoa mixed into a paste with a tablespoon of milk.
2. I have not totally ruled out the possibility that I might be a reincarnated war widow.
3. I talk to myself constantly, revising conversations I’ve just had and improving everyone’s dialogue—even if it was fine to begin with.
From Smith Magazine’s Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six Word Memoirs from Writers Famous and Obscure
A six-word memoir that captures your life as a writer OR your writing life.
I stumbled into a Cinderella story.
Last question (you didn't think you'd actually finish reading this interview without hearing about shame???).
BB: Katherine, I know you're interested in the relationships between shame and storytelling and connection and humor (or what I call "knowing laughter.") Tell us more!
KC: The first time I ever heard you talk about your work (via YouTube!), I was practically jumping up and down with excitement. Because the things you are talking about are the very things that swirl around in my head. You talk about the importance of storytelling—of women being brave enough to tell their stories and also brave enough to listen to others’ stories, you talk about vulnerability and the difficulty of embracing the imperfections that make us who we are.
The works of fiction that have really meant something to me over the years have been the ones that were able to articulate something I knew about my own life but had never been able to articulate. I think we are all looking for those insights. We all want to understand the our churning human hearts. But when you say we are “wired for story,” you are dead-on. I see it every day with my kids. There is nothing they would rather do than listen to a story. And I think it’s because they are ravenous for information about the world around them and human life—and stories convey so much more than simple explanations ever can. A good story tells many stories at once, and the nuances and complexities are what hold our interest.
And the jokes. I am always drawn to humor. My very favorite writers are the ones who can make you laugh out loud and then turn and break your heart. I’ve given a lot of thought to the role of humor in the kind of fiction I write and I’m still not sure I’ve figured it out. But I know that finding the humor in situations makes it easier to talk about them--and easier to listen, too. You talk about how stories are only a form of connection if people can listen—and you also talk about how talking about shame can make people uncomfortable... I think part of my attraction to humor (other than just loving to laugh!) is that it helps make it possible to talk about real, uncomfortable things. If there are some laughs involved, you can go places in a story that you might otherwise never want to go.
It fits with the idea of “knowing laughter”--the kind of laughter that comes from seeing yourself in a character, recognizing your own struggles and fears and frustrations and imperfections. I think it can be easy to dismiss books or movies that are funny as just entertainment. And many comedies don’t strive to do much more than entertain. But at its best, humor provides a counterpoint to our human agonies and struggles. In storytelling, as in life, the lightness makes the darkness easier to bear.