coverCurtis Sittenfeld is the bestselling author of American WifePrep, and The Man of My Dreams. Her latest novel, Sisterland, is a gripping, intimate portrait of identical twin sisters Kate and Violet. A portentous adolescent choice forces the girls apart, but circumstance later brings them back together with fateful consequences for both. It is out in paperback today from Random House.

As she does for many, Sittenfeld occupies a place in my personal pantheon of Contemporary Writers Whose Books I Buy in Hardback. Her American Wife, which was named one of the Ten Best Books of 2008 by TimePeople, and Entertainment Weekly, is one of my favorite novels of the century and it’s one I routinely recommend to others. In it and all her novels, Sittenfeld uses humor and pathos to paint multi-layered characters who transcend type. You leave her novels with a genuine understanding of the people in them, even if you don’t always like what they’ve done.

As a great fan of Sittenfeld’s work, I was delighted that she was willing to take the time to answer a few questions for the latest installment of my Mother-Writer series:

KL: How old are your children?

CS: They’re three and five.

KL: I once read that your goal was to write every day from 10 to 1. Has that goal changed now that you’re a mother? How do you manage your daily schedule to make time for writing and parenting?

CS: It’s safe to say that description of my schedule is completely outdated. I now sit down at my desk around 9, just after my husband leaves the house to take our children to pre-school. I do the first pick-up a few hours later and the second pick-up a few hours after the first. We have additional childcare after school that varies a bit from day to day, but I really try to get my fiction-writing done first thing, when my brain is sharpest. In other words, I use the exact time I once reserved for settling in, checking email, and futzing around to be the most productive. I usually set the timer on my iPhone for ninety minutes (based on this article) then I semi-gently toss my iPhone out of reach of my chair. Though I can’t say I never go down the Internet rabbit hole of celebrity gossip/viral videos/New York Times most emailed articles, I do so a lot less than I did before having children.

KL: Where is your favorite place to write?

CS: I have an office in our house. I recognize and appreciate this as the luxury it is.

KL: Has becoming a mother changed what you write or how you approach writing?

CS: I waste less time and am more efficient. I also see writing as more confined to a particular compartment of my life rather than defining it. I actually like existing in the world in non-writing capacities, as a mother, neighbor, etc. (you know, so I can spy on normal people as fodder for my fiction! Only kidding.). While I love getting together with other writers to gossip and talk shop, I’m not endlessly interested in hearing myself blather on in a public way about my own work and process (I mean, at this point I mostly know what I think). The fewer readings and events I do, the more I enjoy them.

KL: What do you like to read? Are there any books you loved as a kid that you now enjoy sharing with your kids?

CS: I loved Dr. Seuss as a kid, and I have new admiration for him now–his books are just so much fun to read and re-read and they deftly balance social messages with sheer playfulness (with the one exception of Oh, The Places You’ll Go!, which I find cheesy and pandering. And there’s also an illustration in If I Ran the Zoo that’s so racially uncomfortable that I ripped it out. But other than that…). I really love What Was I Scared Of?, which is about a pair of pants running around with no owner, or maybe it’s an existential meditation disguised as a tale about a pair of pants running around with no owner. I was reluctant to read Bartholomew and the Oobleck because it doesn’t rhyme (and is therefore less fast and fun), but after about twenty to fifty go-rounds, I’m a convert. In fact, I can’t believe it hasn’t been made into a movie, though if it does, it needs more female characters. Perhaps Bartholomew should become a girl named Barthia?

KL: Do you have any advice to offer fellow writers who are also parents?

CS: Hmm–beware of strangers who casually unleash advice on you? Or how about this: Read Jennifer Senior’s newish and really great book about the forces that have combined to create contemporary parenting, All Joy and No Fun.

Curtis Sittenfeld’s latest novel, Sisterland, is available in paperback today.

{ 17 comments }

COVER-3DAnyone who’s been reading Motherese for awhile knows that I love big projects. I’ve revamped my style with Big Little Wolf. I’ve launched a Happiness Project. More recently, I’ve sworn off sugar (she writes as she snacks on a leftover muffin…ahem).

Anyone who’s been here awhile also knows that I’m a big fan of Meagan Francis and her blog, The Happiest Home. Not only do I admire her ability to strike a tone that’s both realistic and upbeat in her parenting writing, but I also think she’s an awfully nice person (a trait I value above any other). Meagan was a teacher and mentor to me as I started my freelance writing career. She pushed me to submit my writing for publication and made me believe that I could do work I love and even get paid for it. She’s also been supportive of my work researching and writing about women in history, inviting me to start a Historical Motherhood series on her blog.

So it is with great excitement that I read Meagan’s new ebook, Beyond Baby, a forty week guide to “creating a life you love when your kids aren’t so little.” Designed for moms interested in expanding their horizons, whether their youngest is still in diapers or is headed off to college, Meagan offers her readers a game plan to help them reconnect with the women they were before they became mothers and to chart a mindful, meaningful path into the future. Walking readers through weekly projects that range from the deep (Week 35: Excavate an old dream) and necessary (Week 18: Make an appointment with your health) to the fun (Week 22: Give your cosmetics a makeover) and practical (Week 12: Overhaul your junk drawer), Meagan is a kind, motivating guide through this rewarding journey toward a new season of life.

With a lovely, clean design by the multi-talented Sarah Powers, the book is organized into five sections, each with a particular focus. Part One is “all about helping you dip your toe back in the outside world…and how you’ll fill your ever-growing free time as you move out of the intense period of new motherhood.” Part Two narrows the focus onto the home and invites moms to “reclaim [their] surroundings” as changing tables give way to sports practices and music lessons. Part Three centers on the Self, addressing the fact that sacrifice comes with being a mom of little kids and encouraging focus on one’s own needs. Part Four is about “strengthening the important relationships in your life, whether they’re crumbling or just a little confusing.” And Part Five urges readers to dream big and start taking small steps to make those dreams come true. Each project includes a challenge checklist to keep readers on task. Meagan is big into honesty, accountability, and assessment. At the end of each section, she asks readers to review and reflect on which changes worked for them and which ones didn’t so that the work they’ve done sticks and feels tailor-made.

I’m so excited about Beyond Baby and the invitation it offers to “look ‘up and out’” that I’ve decided to try it out myself. While I’ve already tried out a few of the projects since receiving my copy (you should see the inside of my car!), I can’t wait to put the whole program into effect. Stay tuned for updates.

Feeling “beyond baby” yourself and looking for a guide for how to “fill the hours, find inspiration, and capitalize on the energy that you once directed toward caring for tiny children?” Grab your own copy and join me!

Disclosure: Meagan provided me with a free review copy of her book, but the opinions expressed here are my own.

{ 15 comments }

Heart-Shaped Box

Apr 21

I’m thrilled to be making my debut at Mamalode today with “Heart-Shaped Box,” an essay about my three high-risk pregnancies and the lesson about parenthood that I took from them: I have a bicornuate uterus. A septum divides the two sides of my womb. This “Müllerian anomaly” is a birth defect that affects less than 1% of […]

Read the full article →

Peeps? I’ll Pass

Apr 16

Two months ago I declared war on sugar, on Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Gobstoppers, on orange juice and molasses-sweetened bread. In the comments section of that post, you generously shared with me tips and tricks from your own battles with sugar, many of which I’ve called upon over the last several weeks. So did […]

30 comments Read the full article →

Interview at Brain, Child

Apr 10

Hi friends! Brain, Child magazine posted an interview I gave for launch of our new book, This Is Childhood. I’d love for you to check it out. Thanks!

Read the full article →

My Writing Process

Apr 07

Fascinated as I am by the work habits and routines of fellow writers, I’ve been greatly enjoying the “My Writing Process” meme that’s making its way around the blogosphere. So I was delighted when the very talented Andrea Lani invited me to join in and talk a little bit about my writing. Like so many of us here, […]

23 comments Read the full article →

On Flexibility

Apr 02

Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows that I’m a big fan of KJ Dell’Antonia’s Motherlode blog at the New York Times. And it was with particular interest that I read last week’s post in which she addressed a reader’s question asking her whether, in hindsight, she would advise a new mom to stay at […]

31 comments Read the full article →

All Joy and No Fun: A Review at Brain, Child

Mar 28

Nearly four years ago, journalist Jennifer Senior wrote a piece for New York Magazine that examined “why parents are no happier than nonparents, and in certain cases are considerably less happy.” The article, called “All Joy and No Fun” and provocatively subtitled “Why parents hate parenting,” went viral, inviting comments from parents and the childless alike. In her new book,  All […]

Read the full article →

“How We Spend Our Days Is How We Spend Our Lives”

Mar 26

As I told you last week, Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life is one of my essential books on writing. Among my favorite parts are Dillard’s reflections on time and, what Maria Popova of Brain Pickings calls, “the tradeoffs between presence and productivity.” Before sharing tales of some of history’s most disciplined writers, Dillard reminds us […]

23 comments Read the full article →

6 Essential Books on Writing

Mar 19

If you’re anything like me, you have perfected multiple methods of procrastination you employ when you know it’s really time to write. Among my favorites are organizing my desk and catching up on my favorite blogs, not to mention this one employed by Liz Gilbert: Sometimes you can’t start writing for the day until you […]

23 comments Read the full article →