Coeditor of Dear John, I Love Jane, Candace Walsh dishes on the writing life

I know it sounds crazy, but one of the reasons I wanted to become a writer is so that I could be friends with other writers.  I knew writers were my tribe and that if I could hang with them I would feel understood and happy. But before I’d written a book of my own, I felt like I was pretty much doomed to shuffling up to authors after readings and stuttering out something adoring.

I met Candace because she was the editor of Ask Me About My Divorce, a collection in which I had an essay.  We really hit it off even through email, and then we got to hang out when she came to Seattle for an Ask Me reading.  And we talked about divorce and writing and everything else. And I felt understood and happy.  You’re going to love her interview.  And oh, to enter the giveaway, leave a comment on the post Welcome to the Author Interview Series Giveaway: Enter Here!

Candace Walsh is the co-editor of the giveaway book Dear John, I Love Jane, a collection of essays by women whose sexual identity has shifted over time.  Candace was also the editor of the Seal Press collection Ask Me About My Divorce and is at work on a food memoir called Licking the Spoon. She is also an editor at Mothering magazine (my first question should’ve been: how do you do it all?)

Candace Walsh

Theo: For both Dear John, I Love Jane and Ask Me About My Divorce, you were both one of the editors and a contributing writer. I’m curious how those two roles might’ve interacted. Did the editor role interfere with you when you were writing your essay for the collection? In general, is it tricky to leave the editor role aside when you write?

Candace: With both books, I wasn’t sure if I’d contribute an essay, since I was the editor, too. But both times, I was hit with lightning flashes of inspiration that I couldn’t ignore. The kind that throw you into a chair, glue your fingers to the keyboard, and don’t let up until the last word is written. I felt confident in the essays, because they came from that particular otherworldly place that Elizabeth Gilbert talks about in her TED Talk—that freight train that runs through a writer.

But I also felt that I should request support—outsource editors as a way to check myself. For Ask Me About My Divorce: Women Open Up About Moving On, I asked Amy Hudock, editor at http://www.literarymama.com, to serve as editor to my essay. And I sent my Dear John I Love Jane essay to several editor friends to review.

Theo: When did you first think of yourself as a writer?

Candace: Here are five things that come to mind:

My mother planted the seed, by thinking of me as a writer and talking about me that way, before I thought about myself as anything in particular, when I was in elementary school.

When I was a baby, she read to me every night, from birth on, from The Anthology of Children’s Literature (Third Edition). She’s no stranger to hyperbole, but she does claim that she read it aloud, cover to cover, twice. It’s over a thousand pages.

But more specifically, I was selected, in 4th grade, to write and read aloud something about Flag Day in front of the whole school. I was terrified. I thought that I’d get booed. I didn’t know what to write. I didn’t want to write something boring or churned out, but the pressure was on. My mother sat with me and basically gave me the story idea, of an alien from outer space who landed in Long Island and asked me “What’s that piece of fabric hanging from the tall pole?”

What I remember most about that day: I was wearing a red gingham dress with a white lace ruffled collar, and as I sat there on the little outdoor stage before everyone filed in, a teacher’s aide told me to sit like a lady, because my underwear was showing. I snapped my knees together, hard, and blushed. She saved me from epic schoolwide ridicule.

I was completely unpopular in 4th grade—had just transferred from a tame parochial school to a big, bumptious, hardscrabble public school—and not only was I the new kid; I was also a little Christian hippie girl with handmade clothing, in a no-TV household. My classmates looked like tough little Charlies Angels wannabes. I cried all the time, read the rest of the time, and got picked on for being a nerd. But after the performance, everyone was nice to me…for about a day and a half. Kids went out of their way to tell me that my story was good, and they enjoyed it.

Theo: Your writing is very honest. In both the Ask Me About My Divorce collection and the Dear John one, you have included scenes that are very candid about how your marriage dissolved and your sexuality. First let me say, bravo! And now the question: What’s the source of your courage?

Candace: Thank you. I don’t know. I get caught up in capturing the story. Everything else is secondary. Sure, I feel embarrassed or shy later on. But I feel like that’s part of what I signed on for, as a writer. Those feelings go hand and hand with the exhilaration and the ecstasy of nailing an essay, an article, a memoir. Pussyfooting around is hard to disguise as anything but. And, that candid writing is my very favorite kind of writing to read.

Theo: What writers have inspired you?

Candace: These are some of my favorite books by my favorite writers:
Ann Patchett’s The Magician’s Assistant, Eileen Myles’ Chelsea Girls, Willa Cather’s The Professor’s House, Dale Peck’s What We Lost, Nora Ephron’s Heartburn, Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex, Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, Sarah Waters’ Tipping the Velvet, Deborah Copaken Kogan’s Shutterbabe, Joan Didion’s Slouching Toward Bethlehem. I also really love Alice Munro, Ntozake Shange, and Audre Lorde. Sometimes my favorite writers earn that status because they seem to just put a frame around a story so that I can see it. Other times, their idiom plunges me into another reality, and I glory in being pummeled by it.

Theo: I know you somehow juggle motherhood, editing work at Mothering magazine and on the two collections, as well as your own writing. Do you have time that is carved out for writing? How do you make sure you get to it?

Candace: I’m going to have to figure that out more thoroughly, now that I have a new book to write. I usually jam my own (short-form) writing into my life as it unfolds, which is much easier now that the kids are school-age. I’ve been able to fold editing anthologies into times already spent in front of the computer. Co-editing with Laura André is a joy. We are so compatible in that regard. My food column, Good Taste, for AfterEllen.com comes from my

Candace Walsh and Laura André, partners and co-editors of Dear John, I Love Jane

daily hobbies: cooking, entertaining, reading about chefs and new recipes…so that’s an extension of something I already do. But I’m going to have to make a new plan for my next book.

Theo: Tell us about you’re the book you’re work on now.

Candace: My next book, Licking the Spoon, is a food memoir. Each chapter is named after a cookbook, which then refers to the period of my life in which that cookbook played an important role. Betty Crocker for childhood, Enchanted Broccoli Forest for college years, Martha Stewart in my twenties, The New Basics post-divorce. And so on. It will include recipes. The Publisher’s Marketplace announcement refers to it as “a food writer’s memoir about her
post-divorce sexuality shift, falling for the woman of her dreams, and
examining America’s changing perspectives on food and relationships, from
Betty Crocker and the Prince Charming fantasy to cooking and forming families
based on the new basics: taste, bliss, and instinct.”

Theo: Do you have one writing tip or piece of advice you want to share with readers.

Candace: When I was in my twenties, I felt this huge pressure to be successful as a younger person. I was in junior high when the Brat Pack (Bret Easton Ellis, Jay McInerney) were in the height of their ascendance. I thought I needed to be as precociously successful. I put a tremendous amount of pressure on myself, and it didn’t benefit me. When I was in my twenties, I had so much to discover. I knew so little. I’m glad I didn’t get a chance to blow it back then, because I probably would have come off as callow and arrogant. So my advice is: be patient with yourself. Do the work, show up, but don’t give yourself an ulcer fretting about other people’s success in relation to your own. Have faith in the wisdom of things rolling out when they should. And one more piece of advice: read. One of the best ways to develop as a writer is to read excellent books. So be choosy. Steer clear of the badly written stuff, the mediocre stuff…and when you do notice something ill-advised in an otherwise good book, remember not to be seduced into making the same mistake sometime down the line.

To enter the giveaway for a chance to win a complete, signed set of all the books featured in the giveaway, visit the post Welcome to the Author Interview Series Giveaway: Enter Here! and leave a comment.

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11 Responses to Coeditor of Dear John, I Love Jane, Candace Walsh dishes on the writing life

  1. Mandy says:

    I especially like the advice to be patient. 🙂

  2. Tara says:

    I felt like I was pretty much doomed to shuffling up to authors after readings and stuttering out something adoring.

    I am exactly at this stage right now- I have nothing published (well, a few poems from forever ago, but whatever) but have dozens of half written stories. I love writer people, but am so intimidated!

    Best advice I’ve received: Do the work, show up, but don’t give yourself an ulcer fretting about other people’s success in relation to your own.

    I absolutely adore Candace and can’t wait for the new book!

  3. Cheryl Savit says:

    Thanks for this wonderful interview full of great insights and advice. Glad to have discovered both the writer and interviewer. Continued success…Cheryl Savit aka savvywords (http://savvywords.wordpress.com/)

  4. Jodi says:

    I’m glad I didn’t get a chance to blow it back then, because I probably would have come off as callow and arrogant… Have faith in the wisdom of things rolling out when they should.

    Wise words from a wise and witty woman.

  5. Excellent interview. I can’t wait to read the Dear John book and Candace’s new book when it comes out. And, of course, now I need to invest in a copy of Ask Me About My Divorce (even though I am married and very much hoping to stay that way!). I loved reading all of this wise and articulate advice. And it is so true that just because you don’t bloom early doesn’t mean you won’t bloom when you’re ready!

  6. Wendy Colbert says:

    Great interview!

  7. Melissa Jane says:

    Having patience with one’s self is wise advice for any artist on any kind of creative path.

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