Jennifer Margulis, Author of Why Babies Do That, Talks about her Writing Life

Wednesday Nov 24th at Noon Pacific Time, two names will be randomly drawn as winners of the grand prize of the Author Interview Series Giveaway:  A stack of nine signed books.  To see the list of titles and to enter the giveaway, go to Author Interview Series Book Giveaway: Enter Here!

Today I’m talking to a writer who’s not afraid to take on big issues. Jennifer Margulis describes her current project as a Fast Food Nation for the baby industry. Jennifer is the  author of  the giveaway book, Why Babies Do That: Baffling Baby Behavior Explained, and I’m delighted to have her here today as the final author in the interview series. (photo: Christopher Briscoe)

Theo: Can you tell us a little about the project you’re working on now?

Jennifer: I’m writing a book that will be published by Scribner in 2013. The book is called The Business of Baby: How Corporations and Private Interests Skew the Way We Parent. It combines investigative journalism with first person narrative, following who makes money in America from what we recommend for babies in the first year of life. Think Fast Food Nation about the baby industry.

Theo: I read that you’ve gone from “blogophobe” to “blogophile”?  How does blogging fit in with your writing for your book?

Jennifer: Yikes! What an excellent question! I think I should have a brilliant and cogent answer for this one but I’m not sure I do. What I can tell you is that I’m a contributing editor at Mothering magazine and I write a blog at mothering.com called “Mothering Outside the Lines,” which is an alternative, outside-the-box look at contemporary parenting culture. Many of the topics I cover on the blog (I update it three times a week) are similar to topics I’ll be investigating in much greater depth in the book. I’ve also had tremendous support from the editors at Mothering magazine for the book. Peggy O’Mara, the Editor in Chief, read a draft of the proposal and already wants to publish an excerpt.

Theo: What does your writing time look like?  Do you have a routine?

Jennifer: My best time to work is in the mornings. We have a new baby who wakes up at about 5:00 a.m.—the time change is killing us. I play with her, make everyone breakfast, pack lunches, and then bike the older kids to school. Then my husband takes the baby and I work for as long as my brain lets me (dried mango helps a lot), taking breaks to nurse her.

Theo: What parts of the writing process do you love?  Loathe?

Jennifer:My favorite writing is projects like the book I’m doing now and the cover story I wrote for Smithsonian magazine —intense research projects that involve traveling, interviewing, reading scientific literature, and then putting it all together. When I’m at the point that I know I’m ready to write I get giddy—that white knuckled feeling you have when you’re riding a rollercoaster and you’re about to plummet. It’s when I start writing after that—fitting all the pieces of the puzzle together and really getting into a groove—that I’m happiest.

What do I loathe? I write for a living and sometimes the revision process—especially for the magazine work I do—can get me down. I actually love being edited but some magazines edit by committee and you make changes for one editor only to have a different editor hate it, or ask you to add something the other editor told you to lose… That can be a bummer.

Theo: What are some of the ways you’ve built your platform as a writer?

Jennifer:Like so many writers, I really want to keep my head down at the keyboard and my nose in a book but I’ve come to understand in the past few years that you have to be an authorpreneur as much as an author, so I’ve been working to understand all the facets of writing and publishing—including social media, public relations, and branding or, as you call it, platform-building. I’ve become an avid blog reader and I’ve been connecting with other bloggers—like you!—and learning so much from them. In the past year I’ve been featured as one of the main sources on a PBS Frontline documentary about childhood vaccinations, the subject of an AP article about unassisted birth that went out to more than 40 papers nationally and as far away as India, and appeared (is that the right term?) on our National Public Radio affiliate JPR.

All this media exposure, and my job as a contributing editor for Mothering magazine, has really helped build my platform and was crucial, I think, to getting the book contract I just signed. I would be omitting a big part of the story if I didn’t tell you that I’m fighting imposture syndrome through all this but I’m trying to ignore the negative voices in my head and my own self doubt in order to become the Michael Pollan of babies. My colleague Alisa Bowman (who you interviewed on this blog) says you have to “own” your platform and assert that you are who you want to be. Deep breath. I’m becoming nationally known as the Michael Pollan of babies. That’s the platform I’m building.

Theo: Who are some of the authors who’ve inspired you?

There are so many! But Barbara Ehrenreich, who wrote Nickel and Dimed and Colin Beavan, who wrote No Impact Man are two of my favorites right now. I’m also a huge fan of Charles Dickens and in awe of the way he crafts a story.

Theo: What’s your favorite writing tip?

Jennifer: To write is a verb. In order to be a writer you have to write. Every day. Preferably for several hours. No excuses.

Theo: Where can readers find you online?

Jennifer: My website is: http://www.jennifermargulis.net/ but the best place to find me is probably at my mothering blog, which is here: http://mothering.com/jennifermargulis/ I also have a writerly blog but I only update it sporadically: http://jennifermargulis.net/blog/ and I have a blog to inspire dads and babies to bond, that I created to promote the book I co-wrote with my husband, The Baby Bonding Book For Dads. And, on Twitter, I’m JenniferMarguli.

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4 Responses to Jennifer Margulis, Author of Why Babies Do That, Talks about her Writing Life

  1. The Writer's [Inner] Journey says:

    Great interview – I’m looking forward to reading Jennifer’s newest book. She explores avenues many shy away from.

  2. Excellent advice on building a platform, and Jennifer really owns hers.

  3. Pingback: Author Gossip: Who’s Doing What Now | Writing is My Drink

  4. Pingback: Sunday Reads: when mom's values are embarrassing, babies in bars, some mother's story, "brat bans" — The Happiest Home

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