Today’s post features an interview with women’s fiction writer Samantha Wilde, whose latest novel, I’LL TAKE WHAT SHE HAS, just released from Random House. Publishers Weekly praises its “wit, compassion, and keen ear for dialogue,” and RT Reviews calls it “a gem of a read.” Welcome, Sam—it’s such a treat to have you!
Samantha Wilde actually wrote I’ll Take What She Has and This Little Mommy Stayed Home by eating chocolate. Sometimes her three children, six, four and two, find her in a heap of chocolate and complain that she doesn’t share (she doesn’t!). She’s a graduate of Concord Academy, Smith College, Yale Divinity School, The New Seminary and the Kripalu School of Yoga and an ordained minister. She’s taught yoga for more than a decade and still holds a weekly class in Western Massachusetts where she lives with her children and husband, a professor of chemical engineering. If she could do anything, she would probably sleep. Read more at samanthawilde.com.
AM: Your novels address the joys—and trials—of balancing family life with one’s career. How have you managed to find that balance as an author? Any advice for new mothers and fathers who write?
SW: I don’t know if “balance” is the right word for what I do! My scales tip quite dramatically in the direction of my children and family. For a few years after I got my two-book contract, I had childcare help for about 3-5 hours a week, while giving birth to child number two and then child number three. The rest of the time, I have used nap-times and night times to write. That said, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Despite the fact that I have written and published these two novels during my tenure as a new mother, I still consider myself a stay-at-home mother. Which means I probably have at least one piece of advice: get clear on your identity. It really helps to know what your personal focus is right now (and that it can change). For some, having the identity as a writer or novelist takes precedence over all else; it motivates, inspires and helps one rise to the occasion when things get hard. Take that on if you haven’t already if you think it will help with the balance. What we do and who we are aren’t necessarily the same!
In my work as a mother who writes, I have absolutely had to relinquish all my old myths about what it means to be a writer, how much time it takes or how much focus or concentration I need or the importance of an individual line of text. I write interrupted, I write in fragments, I write when I’m tired, I write with my mantra: “Go, go, go.” Life requires that we readjust our expectations. You as a writer don’t need to look like any other writer. Here’s what makes someone a writer: they write!
People often ask me how I can be a novelist, minister and yoga teacher—and my answer is I don’t know how not to be. I became a yoga teacher before I became a minister and I did both before I published my first novel, although I have written since childhood (and wrote a few unpublished novels along the way). These different pieces work in me like different instruments in a band; it’s the song I make. The yoga and spiritual practice give the harmony. Without them, I don’t know where I would be. Writing and the journey of publication can be stressful, lonely, frustrating and disheartening. Yoga is an oasis. I always say if I had to choose only one job (besides motherhood), I would choose teaching yoga. To me ministry is a way of seeing the world—a commitment to seeing the good in the world—so I take that with me everywhere and apply it to everything I do. When I write, I always draw on these different aspects—and when I live! Some people are specialists (really good and focused at one thing) some are generalists. I have always been a bit of a generalist, loving to write, speak, teach, and also dance (though no one has ever paid me for it!).
You write about characters who are also stay-at-home moms with echoes of your background and interests. How much of your real life goes into your stories, and how do you decide where to draw lines between fact and fiction?
In both of my novels, I feel like the emotions represent a truth about my experience as a mother, the plot lines, not so much! With This Little Mommy Stayed Home, people often asked if it was autobiographical. For I’ll Take What She Has, friends have asked “Which character are you?” I was conscious, while writing the novel, that I wanted each character (including the much envied Cynthia) to represent some part of myself. In that way, they are all me. Or I can say, more accurately, I have, at one point or another, felt exactly as they have. I don’t write autobiographically. I appreciate the distinction and freedom fiction allows to say something true about the life I know without writing anything about myself!
It seems writing is in your blood—your mother is bestselling women’s fiction author Nancy Thayer (her most recent novel, ISLAND GIRLS, releases in June from Ballantine). What’s that like, having a parent in the business?
It’s like growing up on TV dinners!! My mother possesses a tremendous drive as a writer. She has influenced me in countless ways; sometimes I can’t parse out the particulars. Now that I have published, I turn to her constantly for advice. She always serves as my first reader for my novels. She’s an excellent editor for me. We don’t write with the same voice and we don’t experience writing in exactly the same way, but nothing can compare with what I learned as a child growing up in a house of books with a mother who could make books out of the thoughts in her head! I aspire to her tremendous level of success, but I’ll tell you the real truth. My mother loves what she does. She always wanted to write—she only wanted to write. To be able to witness a person living out their calling and dream with such joy and satisfaction probably counts as her greatest gift to me—and all who know her.
Reviewers and fans often praise the wonderful combination of humor and poignancy in your books. Are there other writers who have inspired you? Who else should we read?
I always say it’s hard to write a funny novel. It’s much easier to kill your characters! I have a voracious appetite for novels and read widely in the comic genre. I adore Elinor Lipman. She’s a bit of a modern day Oscar Wilde, writing hilarious comedies of manner. (Of course Oscar Wilde is a must!) Maria Semple’s latest, Where’d You Go Bernadette? has everything I love in a smart, funny book. I like Carol Snow and Claire Cook and Katherine Center. I enjoy comic memoirs: It’s Hard Not To Hate You by Val Frankel, everything by Jen Lancaster, Jenny Lawson’s Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, Bossypants by Tina Fey, I Hate Everyone by Joan Rivers, to name a mere few. I find a great deal of inspiration reading naturally humorous writers. When I find a good, funny, intelligent, sharp, true novel, I feel like the happiest person around. I like to laugh, and in the context of a rich, redemptive, meaningful and brave book, there couldn’t be anything better than humor (no, not even death!).
Thanks so much, Samantha! You’ve been wonderful.
About I’LL TAKE WHAT SHE HAS:
Perfect for fans of Marisa de los Santos and Allison Winn Scotch, Samantha Wilde’s new novel is a funny and heartfelt look at friendship, marriage, and the dynamics of modern motherhood.
Nora and Annie have been best friends since kindergarten. Nora, a shy English teacher at a quaint New England boarding school, longs to have a baby. Annie, an outspoken stay-at-home mother of two, longs for one day of peace and quiet (not to mention more money and some free time). Despite their very different lives, nothing can come between them—until Cynthia Cypress arrives on campus.
Cynthia has it all: brains, beauty, impeccable style, and a gorgeous husband (who happens to be Nora’s ex). When Cynthia eagerly befriends Nora, Annie’s oldest friendship is tested. Now, each woman must wrestle the green-eyed demon of envy and, in the process, confront imperfect, mixed-up family histories they don’t want to repeat. Amid the hilarious and harried straits of friendship, marriage, and parenthood, the women may discover that the greenest grass is right beneath their feet.