Author Julie Klam is well-known for writing about her love of dogs: not one but two of her books chronicle her experiences rescuing Boston terriers in New York City. However, Julie’s newest book, FRIENDKEEPING, explores her relationships with her friends, many of whom who are also writers. I went to her to find out more about how to support friends who write, and how to write memoir about those you love most.
LS: So, do you consider yourself a memoir writer? How is the memoir genre changing?
JK: I definitely consider myself a memoirist. Even when I’m not telling about an event in my life, I still manage to insert my big butt into whatever I’m writing. I think the genre has exploded in the past several years. People realize it’s a way to tell a personal story, but it doesn’t have to be a whole life. When I wrote my first memoir (PLEASE EXCUSE MY DAUGHTER) in 2008, a lot of people said, “Aren’t you a little young to write a memoir?” Now people seem to get it more. It’s not an autobiography, it’s a certain aspect of a life and can take place over one year or 30 years. Of course, no one thinks I’m too young to do anything anymore, because, you know, I’m old.
LS: You write about your loved ones with affectionate candor. How do they react?
JK: I don’t write about anyone I don’t love or if I do I change their name. And of course anyone who is very close to me reads the book before it’s published. So if they are uncomfortable with something, I look at it again. There was something my mom wasn’t crazy about in my first book and I took it out. Nothing is worth hurting someone I love, especially when they’ve been so gracious to be all interesting (read: nuts) so I can write about them.
LS: Your best friend, Jancee, is also a writer. You write in FRIENDKEEPING about how in the early days of your writing career, Jancee was incredulous when she saw you deliberate over a pitch to a magazine editor. This resonated with me—sometimes it boggles my mind when my writer friends are so afraid to put themselves out there, when publishing their work is their dearest dream. Do you think writers who are also best friends have an extra layer of drama in their relationships?
JK: I think Jancee was much more ambitious and confident than I was. It took me a very long time to feel like my writing was worth something. I was always worried that someone would think I was a hack. And when I got the assignment, I would sweat that I’d made a big mistake, and that I would turn it in, and the editor would be like, “Huh?” And that has happened… more than once.
I guess I have a lot of writer friends, in the way that doctors are friends with other doctors and haircutters are friends with other haircutters. Aside from it being a weird field to be in, it’s a lonely business and you often find yourself thinking, “I have not uttered a sound in five hours.” It’s nice to have friends who get that, and who also appreciate what a big deal it is that you put on a bra at some point in the day.
LS: How can writers who are friends support each other?
JK: I think writer friends support each other in vast ways. There’s support with the [writing] process when you’re all alone and wondering if you can do it or if what you’re doing is any good. Then there’s support in the hideous launch of your book, when you think people are going to throw a brick through your window if you tweet one more review/appearance/news about the 3rd printing. I remember I was at a school trip with my daughter’s class when the first advance review of YOU HAD ME AT WOOF came out. I was in a place with no cell reception, so I had no idea. When I came home, I found that all of my friends had tweeted and Facebooked the review and I didn’t have to say anything except thank you so much (very humbled, of course). The other thing is writers know the reality of things, what matters, and sometimes especially when you’re in the first couple of weeks of a launch, you need someone to say, “This doesn’t matter, don’t drive yourself crazy” (or crazier than you already are).
LS: One of the things I love about your books is that Anne Lamott-esque way you have with honest but life-affirming adages, like this one:
“It’s important to remember that people can go off the deep end; it doesn’t mean they have to stay there. And when they come back, it’s nice to have a friend waiting with a warm towel.”
How does this happen for you, at the sentence level?
JK: Oh, well, I’m totally full of crap. No, just kidding. I think for me I know what I am feeling about something and as a writer it’s my job to describe it in a way that makes people say, “Oh yeah, I get that.” There’s a cool thing on Amazon where you can see the passages people have highlighted on their Kindle, and it gives you very direct feedback about what touches people. And whenever I look through that, they are always the things I wrote most easily, because I think that’s what feels the most comfortable to read. I mean, it’s kind of nervy to make declarations and I try to be careful not to overstep my place. I’m not a psychotherapist, though I’ve been going to one for so long I feel like I should have an honorary Ph.D. . . . or at least a P.
LS: Tell us about how you use social media to connect with your friends and your fans.
JK: It’s great for friends who are far away, but most of the time the stuff I connect with are funny jokes they make or in the case of my friend Ann Leary funny videos featuring her animals. I am pretty good about calling and emailing my close friends and also not sharing anything too personal on social media. People are often surprised to find out that there is a whole aspect of my life I don’t tweet or Facebook about. My daughter is 10 and no longer enjoys me quoting the adorable things she says (so I have to do it when she isn’t around.) But with readers, it’s fantastic. I’ve noticed that more than anything Instagram has brought out my dog readers. I always know when I’m followed by someone whose avatar is a Boston terrier that it’s one of my people. I think the fact is I use all of those networks because I really like them. I don’t use Pinterest or Google+, maybe because I’m saturated with the other stuff. Interestingly, I have accounts there and am always getting notifications that someone added me to their circle or is following me on Pinterest. I don’t do anything there so I imagine they appreciate that I’m not cluttering their feed.
Riverhead Books just released the paperback edition of FRIENDKEEPING in January. Along with authors Ann Leary and Laura Zigman, Julie is a co-host of the weekly NPR radio show Hash Hags. She currently writes a weekly friendship advice column, called “Ask Julie,” for Dame Magazine. You can connect with Julie on Goodreads, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
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