It’s book launch week for my friend and writing ally Candace Walsh as her yummy, page- turning memoir, Licking the Spoon, hits bookstores everywhere. Many of you may know Candace’s work already; the brilliant essay collection Ask Me About My Divorce was her brainchild (in fact, that’s how I met Candace, which I wrote about in this post). And Candace and her then-partner now-wife, Laura Andre, cooked up together the anthology Dear John, I Love Jane.
I admire Candace’s work for many reasons but respond to the most is her ability to articulate emotional experiences that rarely get named and her willingness to write about the hard stuff of relationships.
Lucky me, I got to read an advance copy of Licking the Spoon this summer. Here’s what I wrote about it: Licking the Spoon is a sort of Jane Eyre meets Nora Ephron’s Heartburn. Walsh is the ultimate girlfriend writer—a smart and funny writer who takes our common and raw experiences of girlhood and all our coming-into-ourselves years and translates them into her own story that makes us understand ourselves in a new way. Like Jane Eyre and Heartburn, Licking the Spoon is a ride of a book that ultimately speaks volumes about our collective search for love and identity.
And, oh yeah, if you haven’t heard already, Candace will be teaching classes on “Turning our obsessions into memoir” and “Writing about sexuality and sexual identity” at Wild Mountain Memoir Retreat, two topics that are sure to pack the room.
Theo Pauline Nestor: How did you get the idea for Licking the Spoon?
Candace Walsh: Reading Nora Ephron’s book, Heartburn, sparked the idea in me. That was back in
the mid 90s, and I was in my twenties. I thought, “I want to do what she’s doing, mixing life with food memories, food recipes, very breezily and adroitly. This was before the food memoir thing developed, and when I told my writer boyfriend about it, he told me it was a bad idea.
I let him discourage me. But maybe part of me knew that I really hadn’t lived enough to pull it off yet. I hadn’t had enough meals, or discovered my purpose and truth enough to say very much. 13 years went by, memoirs with a food focus were being released, and the idea reasserted itself. I decided to name each chapter after a cookbook that was important to me. It didn’t end up being quite that neat and tidy, but it was close.
Nestor: You’ve written lots of personal essays before and even edited essay collections, how was writing a full-length memoir different? What were the biggest challenges?
Walsh: It was so hard to corral the story. With the first draft, I was writing along, 40,000 words in, and I was still in…grade school. My editor was like, hello? Every time I’d set out to finish a chapter by getting a certain age behind me, it would end up being three chapters. Thousands and thousands of words were cut, but I’m glad, or else the book would have been so long it would have been unpublishable.
When I write an essay, I have a bird’s eye view of the whole thing. Writing a full-length memoir is more like stumbling around in the dark, stubbing my toe and feeling bats’ wings brush my face. Terrifying. Yet I enjoyed it very much, too, when I was on a good writing streak, or was even able to call one good page mine for the day.
Nestor: Open, honest, brave, intimate are some of the words I associate with your writing. How do you find the courage to open up so much in your stories? Does it come naturally for you or do you have to push yourself to be vulnerable on the page?
Walsh: It comes naturally. I grew up with a mother who was and is always so open, transparent, uncensored, that she didn’t teach me to cloister my truth from the world. As I grew up, I had to construct a certain amount of restraint, rather than having to remove a bunch of inhibitions. But at the same time, there were definitely times when I’d push myself to be more vulnerable, because we all have the parts of our attics that we’d rather not have anyone shine a light on. Talking about how I felt when my marriage was falling apart didn’t feel good. I didn’t get to be sassy or heroic in those moments.
Nestor: What are some of your favorite books? Are there any particular titles or writers who influenced you in the writing of this book?
Walsh: I love so many books. All of the cookbooks I chose as touchstones for Licking the Spoon were nearby as I wrote, but I actually made a tower out of the food-related memoirs I admired and kept it by my side, rubbing it for good luck and courage on occasion. Ruth Reichl’s Tender at the Bone, Gabrielle Hamilton’s Blood, Bones, and Butter, Kim Severson’s Spoon Fed, My Life in France, by Julia Child…but most of all, Ephron’s Heartburn.
Nestor: We’re in total agreement about Heartburn! I love that book. Let’s turn to the “I Don’t Know How She Does It” portion of our program, shall we? You work full-time. You have kids. How do you fit book writing into your life? What advice do you have for writers who can’t seem to find time to write?
Walsh: I maintained a superhuman schedule while I wrote the book, at least for the last six months. It would have been a lot easier if I’d written consistently every Saturday or Sunday. That would have been sane. But I really prefer to write on consecutive days, not to drift too far from the page. So I’d wait for chunks of time, and they didn’t occur. It’s best to not give yourself any excuses not to write, except for the clearly urgent ones. I spent the last six months of my book-writing going from my day job to a cafe that was open until midnight. I wrote for 4-5 hours and then drove home and fell asleep. In the morning, I had brief snippets of family time with my wife and kids. It was arduous. I missed my wife and kids a lot. When I write my next book, I’m going to have to develop a sane, disciplined schedule that ticks along. Hear that, subconscious?
Nestor: I love your essay collections Ask Me About My Divorce and Dear John, I Love Jane. Do you think you’d do another collection like that again. Or if not, do you have any other future projects in mind?
Walsh: I’d be open to it! You know what I loved most about doing the anthologies? Each group of writers was like a sorority. I’ve never been much of a joiner, but I loved the camaraderie and supportiveness, the experience of going to readings all over the country and meeting women for the first time, but also already feeling very intimate with them. We had so much fun. Next, though, I’d love to try my hand at a novel. I just got the spark of an idea from an article in the New York Times. I’ve been feeling it gestate.
Nestor: Thanks, Candace!
Readers: You can learn more about Candace at her website.
Follow her on Twitter: @candacewalsh
Find her on Facebook: facebook.com/WriterCandaceWalsh