Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Author Interview: Marianne Walsh

I'm not generally a funny person. I try sometimes -- which in its own way is a little funny I suppose -- but I’m not naturally good at it. I am, however, pretty good at pegging humorous people when I find them. Hubs has been making me belly-laugh from the first night I met him. The women in my writing group are so witty and sarcastic I always come away feeling a tiny bit high. And then Marianne Walsh is…well. Well. She's answered a few of my questions about her writing process and if you’ve read her stuff you already know the glory of her humor, so any amount of my prefacing would simply fall flat. If you haven’t read her stuff? Your new life starts today – here’s where you get started:
Marianne Walsh is a columnist, wife, and mother from Chicago.  Her writing appears in the magazine Chicago Parent, in the new book, Epic Mom: Failing Every Day a Little Bit More Than You, and in her signature blog We Band of Mothers.  Marianne has also been featured in The Wall Street Journal, on WGN-Radio 720, and on BlogHer.  She was voted one of the Top 25 Funny Mom Blogs for 2012.  Marianne holds a BA and an MA in English, and currently spends most of her free time wiping pee off toilet seats. 

Have you always wanted to be a writer? 
I had originally planned on becoming a nurse.  Sadly, “The Great Dead Pig Debacle” of 1985 put an end to all that.  It was dissection week for the 7th grade biology class.  Yet the moment they plopped poor dead Wilbur on my lab table, it was lights out.  The school staff scraped me up off the floor and granted me “conscientious objector” status.  I knew I needed a Plan B as far as future studies and career choice.  I opted for English.  No blood.  No pigs.  No problem. 

What made you sit down that first day and begin to write your book?
My co-author, Julie Harrison, emailed me:  “Wanna write a book together?”  I’m sure Rodgers & Hammerstein started out pretty much the same way.  Except for the email part.

What challenges did you have in the beginning, and how did you push past them to continue?
Insecurity, a short attention span, and three young children were big obstacles to overcome.  I decided to sacrifice sleep for a few months, and it worked brilliantly.  My own fears were a little harder to shake off.  I finally decided that I didn’t want to be that eighty-year old woman on her deathbed lamenting how she never took a chance or a single gamble.     

How do you balance writing and being a very busy person?
3 cans of Red Bull a day.  And Cocoa Puffs.
When did you know your writing was good enough? 
I don’t believe any writer ever feels her stuff is “good enough.”  Writing requires a knowledge of language, emotional subtlety, and the human condition.  Most writers are extremely sensitive and tend to absorb criticism, or even perceived criticism.  One must develop thick skin in order to keep at the craft.  When that fails?  I recommend calling someone who thinks you’re fabulous.  Like your mom.   

In all honesty, I actually do read each one of my planned columns to my mom over the phone before I turn them over to my editor at Chicago Parent.  If I can get her to laugh, I know it’s a good one.  If I hear her say more than once, “I don’t get it,” I know I need to start over.  Moms are the best.     

What gave you the courage to make your writing public?
Bailey’s Irish Cream.

Who do you write for primarily; yourself or your readers, and are there some pieces you work on that are for your eyes only?
My style of writing is definitely reflective of my readership.  I do not weigh down my essays with anything terribly controversial, deeply personal, or potentially divisive.  I feel my “job” as a humorist is to provide some fun, laughter, and commonality to the human experience.  Bob Newhart once pointed out that it would be ridiculous to create a rift in an audience for the sake of a single joke.  I am honored that my readership is so wonderfully diverse.  As a humorist, I am let off the hook for taking sides on serious matters.  While I certainly have opinions on such subjects, you will rarely see them in my writing.  Funny trumps all.  The other, more serious stuff gets hand-written into my journals.  Good luck trying to decipher those!  I’ve got the handwriting of a 1st grader.    

What would the top three pieces of advice be for those who are working towards getting published?
First, writers need to write.  A lot.  They don’t need to share every last word, but the only way to improve one’s work is to practice.  There are also many phenomenal writers out there (far superior to me) who hold desperately to the notion that the universe will somehow discover their enormous talent.  It is the biggest mistake a writer can make.  Submitting articles and manuscripts to agents and publications is just as important as the actual writing.  It only takes one “yes,” but one needs to plan for a thousand “no’s.”  Lastly, I cannot stress enough the value of networking.  Meeting people in the industry, listening to the needs of editors, and developing relationships with other writers provide a wealth of information and direction for pursuing publication.  And the bonus?  The people you meet along the way are usually pretty neat. 

Huge thanks to Marianne for sharing these thoughts and laughs. Definitely check out her book. Here are a couple of reviews that make it an obvious must-read.

"I loved this book so much that I bought one for all the moms I know! It is laugh out loud funny. It highlights the day-to-day humor in parenting and never loses sight of how tough a job it is. Since this is a review, I though I'd be fair and highlight the negatives. I'm disappointed that the book didn't go on forever; I didn't want it to end!" -- Brett S. Boyer

"As a mom of two young boys, I barely have time to bathe or do laundry, much less read (and Goodnight Moon doesn't count). But, I laughed out loud reading Epic Mom. Julie and Marianne's everyday motherhood stories are witty, self depricating and sweet. Reading the book is like hanging out with a close friend, hearing about her latest adventure in motherhood. If you liked Tina Fey's or Mindy Kaling's humorous essays, you will love Epic Mom. These gals should have their own sitcom! It is better than a glass (or two) of wine and a great holiday gift for any mom." -- Rada Dorman


  1. Red Bull, Bailey's and insecurity.....this is all sounding a little familiar!!! There is hope for me yet ;-)

    I have recently discovered Marianne and she always brightens my day too! I also love these author interviews that you post, it reminds me that published authors are still human beans just like the rest of us and not something out of a fairy tale!! Thank you both!!

    1. Oh Sleepy Joe. I love you so. And don't forget the Cocoa Puffs. Those help, too.

  2. Great review and interview! I'm not even a mom and I still think I might want to give this a read! :-)

    1. Shucks, Tamara. I'm blushing. Hope you decide to give it a read! (:

  3. Marianne has a knack for unveiling the not-so-glamorous realities of motherhood in a way that makes us nod our head in affirmation and hold our bellies from laughter. We are our mother's daughters! Higher education does not allow us to escape the definite truths of motherhood...we are powerless re: certain universal truths. Being a mom is sometimes frustrating, boring, ridiculously challenging, yet always rewarding. Women who are capable of discussing the philosophical presentations of Soren Kierkegarrd now debate half-day v. full kindergarten at PTA meetings using the same elements of argumentation learned in universities. The essential skills of being a successful mom: humor, wisdom, humor, are woven through her anecdotes. At the end of the day, the funny, unpredictable mom moments are what bring us the most joy. Marianne's contentment with her life choices can be felt on each page. Epic Mom is a great read. It is unpretentious and real...traits that make her a well-received author. Definite must read!

    1. Have you guys met my mom?

      Kidding - thanks...er...."Neumann"...whoever you are.

  4. Marianne, you're just marvelous.

    Thanks for this interview Deb. Really, thank you.

    1. I feel the same way about you, Larissa! Thank you!

  5. Wow, you interviewed my BFF and I didn't even know about it? hmm. I guess I'll give her a pass this time.
    Seriously, what's not to love about Marianne?

    1. Well. There IS my driving....

      Love you, Jewels!

  6. I've been lost in the wilderness of the real world and away from blogs for a bit. I did visit Marianne a few times before my absence and have every intention of going back. Thanks for the opportunity to get to know her & her writing process a bit better.


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