Kiri Blakeley’s hot new memoir Can’t Think Straight: A Memoir of Mixed Up Love recounts the crazy period in her life that followed her boyfriend’s announcement that actually he’s not quite as straight as he once thought. Today Kiri Blakeley is here to talk about her process as a writer and is giving away a copy of her funny, action-packed memoir. If you love a memoir in which the narrator is twice as forthcoming about her own transgressions as anyone else’s, you’ll want to leave a comment below. I’ll announce the name of the randomly selected winner here on January 24th at 9am Pacific.
Theo: What was the most challenging aspect of writing Can’t Think Straight?
Interestingly, writing the book was the easiest part. It’s everything that came after that that was a challenge. The book was essentially a cri de coeur, a journal, emotions I was bleeding onto the page because I was in so much turmoil. I had so much drama happening in my life, I didn’t need to formulate a plot or narrative. I just wrote it all down as it happened. Truth is stranger than fiction. I doubt I will ever have an easier time writing anything again.
After the writing process is where the difficulties cropped up for me. Everything from the proofreading to picking the title to the seeing the book cover to marketing the book and trying to get press, to dealing with wacky people on the Internet who hate you because you wrote a book, you name it. Everything after the writing part was like pushing a boulder uphill with one arm. No, make that one finger—my weakest finger. No, wait, make that my toe.
Theo: This book is as much—if not more—about your own sexuality as your former boyfriend’s. What was it like to write so openly about your life? Had you written personal essays/memoir before taking on this project?
It came very naturally to me to write about my sexual experiences during this book because, as I said, I was just journal writing. I didn’t think at all about anyone else reading it, which is why it’s a bit brutal and embarrassing in some places. After I knew it would be published and I was editing, about a year later, that is when reality set in and I had a few panic attacks. Literally. I had to call my editor and she would talk me off the ledge. At one point, I desperately wanted to soften some sexual things I’d written and she said, “Kiri, please don’t.” Whether I liked it or not, this was a sexual journey as well as an emotional one, because it was sex that took my fiance from me. There was nothing else wrong with us. But he was homosexual, and I am not a man. That’s a bit of a deal breaker. So it would have been a bit disingenuous, and unfair, to talk about his sex life, but not my own. And maybe I’m deluding myself, but I thought I talked much more about my thoughts than my sexual experiences—which I tended to dispatch in a couple of sentences. But people focus on that stuff because, I guess, people are a bit sex obsessed.
Theo: What does your writing time look like? Do you have a routine?
Kiri: With the book, I wrote whenever my brain went wild—which was quite a lot. I didn’t write while at work, but I wrote whenever anything else happened to me. I did a lot of writing at 5 am when my brain synapses were on overload and I couldn’t sleep. And I’m not a morning person. That will never happen again! Otherwise I wrote pretty much in real time. My memory is not the greatest, so I knew if I had a conversation I wanted to include, I had to write it down right away after it happened, or it wouldn’t be accurate. That is really where my reporter’s experience kicked in.
Theo:What was it like to balance your work as a writer for Forbes with the writing of the book?
Kiri: For about a year, I was running on the adrenaline of emotional trauma (and cigarettes). I didn’t sleep much. So I was able to write before work, catch a quick nap, get into work, do my job, come home, eat, and write some more. Rinse, repeat. If I had to do that again, I’d kill myself.
Theo: What parts of the writing process do you love? Loathe?
Kiri: I love the editing process. I love going back, trying to make sense of what is on the page, finding the exact word you want to use (I usually go by sound—to me, writing is like music, it’s all in the sound), and I especially get a little thrill out of cutting things that I’m attached to. In journalism school, they call it “killing your kittens.” Parts that you think are so wonderful and you are so attached to—those are usually the exact things that don’t contribute anything and have to go. There’s nothing I loathe about it, though occasionally I’ve had assignments I was kind of bored with, and it would take me awhile to start them.
Theo: When did you first think of yourself as a writer?
Kiri: I always expressed myself with writing and enjoyed doing it and it came naturally to me. As a kid, I would write plays, cast them, and put them on for the entire school every week. When I was 14, I spent the whole summer inside on an old typewriter, tapping out a screenplay—which took place in a jungle in the Ivory Coast. Makes sense for a teen that had never been out of the country, right? In terms of trying to be a professional writer, I didn’t really think of that until I was 21 and had just graduated from college and wasn’t sure what career I should pursue. I just thought, “Okay, I can write. Guess I’ll do that.” And then I spent three years writing a really bad novel. But you have to get that first bad novel out of your system.
Theo: What are some of the ways you’ve built your platform as a writer?
Kiri: My biggest platform was my writing at Forbes—especially in the last year, when I got a column at ForbesWoman. I would just pick a topic, usually about women or entertainment, and sound off on it. The editors there seemed to really like it, and the columns were pretty popular.
Theo: Who are some of the authors who’ve inspired you?
Kiri: Jane Eyre is the first thing I remember reading, at 21, where I thought, “Oh, I want to write like this.” I thought Charlotte Bronte’s writing really grabbed you by the throat in a very visceral way. She has a very strong personal voice. Maybe she didn’t write about world events or the human condition, but she didn’t need to because all of that was encapsulated in the microcosm of her overpowering personal feelings, which were often romantic in nature. My first novel was basically a Jane Eyre retread, but we won’t go into that. Bronte also had a wicked sense of humor, a very sharp one, yet she could be painfully vulnerable. I enjoyed the combination, and felt it spoke to me. I love Anais Nin too, who is extremely emotionally truthful in her writing, but she’s never funny.
Theo: What’s your favorite writing tip?
Kiri: I get so many people who tell me they want to write a book, but they aren’t writing. It really can take years to learn a skill, so you have to write. No one would say, “I want to be a violinist” and only pick up a violin once every few months. But even more important is to get edited. Constantly—by brutal people. By people who make you cry. I eventually stopped crying, but at journalism school, and at Forbes, I was subjected to a constant vigorous editing process. Without a cold impersonal truthful eye on your writing, you are never going to get good. So when I say get edited, I don’t mean by your mother, unless your mother is a professor at Columbia Journalism School or is an editor at the New York Times or something. (And if she is, please introduce me!)
Theo: Where can readers find you online?
Kiri: People can email me at my website, kiriblakeley.com. I’m also on Facebook and Twitter. And I email back! So email me!