Please welcome Elena Kirby to this week’s Book Country Member Spotlight. Almost the moment she posted her book THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID for peer review, it started getting a lot of attention. Below she explains how she’s writing and revising her Memoir, her approach toward truth-telling in creative nonfiction, and what she reads to inspire herself to work on her writing.
LS: Tell us about THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID, and tell us why you think it was immediately read and reviewed by so many members!
EK: The book is essentially about me re-entering the dating world and learning about the online dating culture as a thirty-something single mom, although the term ‘re-entering’ might be a stretch because I didn’t exactly date all that much in my twenties (or teens for that matter). So a lot of wild oats are being sown in my story as well. Any kind of dating situation can be awkward, so I’m trying to find the humor in it all to cope with all the strangeness that comes along with going out on a date with a complete stranger. There’s a nice release of tension and anxiety when I can make the stories funny. Maybe the humor is partly why some people have chosen to read it. Also, there is something universal about the experience of dating and meeting someone for the first time who could be “the one” (the anticipation, the nerves twitching, the excitement and disappointment). We’ve all been there and can relate. When someone takes the time to read my story and tells me they know exactly what I mean, I feel a little less lonely knowing other people have gone through or are going through the same thing.
LS: You’ve been revising and posting updated drafts here on Book Country. Tell us about the feedback you’ve gotten from other members. Is there a difference in the feedback you get from men and women? What’s been you favorite piece of advice?
EK: The feedback I’ve received from other members has been tremendously helpful. I really do take every comment to heart and go back and revise with everyone’s suggestions in mind. As far as a difference in feedback among genders, I’m actually surprised that men have opted to read my story at all. I honestly thought I was writing ‘chick lit’, but apparently men get what I’m saying, too. I will say — and I’m not purposefully appealing to the stereotypes; it just happens to be this way – most of the feedback I’ve gotten from men focuses on the sexual content whereas the women have commented more on the literary elements and emotional connection between the reader and narrator. I chuckle to myself whenever that happens. Regardless, I’ve absorbed it all. The best advice I’ve gotten so far is that I need to give the reader a reason to care about me and root for me, which has forced me to ask why I care so much about my story. I think that introspection has helped me with my writing a great deal.
EK: Ideally, I would hope to have this book published some day. I’m in the process right now of drafting a query that I’ll send to literary agents who might be interested in my story. I realize that it’s difficult to get something published, but I would regret not at least trying. In the meantime, I’m still writing and revising. And I’m still trying to put myself out there and date, so I never run out of material.
LS: What books do you read to inspire your writing?
I really loved reading MY BOYFRIEND WROTE A BOOK ABOUT ME by Hilary Winston. She is absolutely hilarious and so very honest. Her book actually inspired the voice I’m trying to write in. I also recently read LIFE AS I BLOW IT by Sarah Colonna and IT TAKES BALLS by Josh Wolf. Both very funny books that cover a lot of the topics that I’ve been exploring and much, much more. I’ve also been a huge David Sedaris fan ever since I read ME TALK PRETTY ONE DAY, which was maybe about twelve years ago (when I started teaching). I love his wit and aspire to write like him. I’ll have to cut back on the swearing though.
LS: When you write down an anecdote about your life for this book, how much flexibility do you give yourself in terms to sticking to the story? Are you like Jenny Lawson (The Bloggess), who wrote a “mostly true memoir”? Or would you swear to every thing that happened in the book? What’s your “creative nonfiction” philosophy?
EK: Aside from a few embellishments and some name changes, everything I wrote is true. I try to live by Stephen King’s philosophy and be as truthful as I can when I write, or else I risk alienating my reader. No one wants to be lied to. But I’ll admit, it’s hard being honest because the last thing I want to do it offend anyone (except maybe ‘Jacob’ from my book), and sometimes brutal honesty means hurting someone’s feelings. But a colleague of mine, who happens to be a very talented writer herself, recently told me that I have to write like everyone I know is dead. I’m trying to do more of that, and I think being as honest as I can has actually been cathartic for me as I continue to navigate blindly through this whole dating/casual sex thing. (Remind me to tell my mom not to read this).
LS: Have you learned anything from the world of online dating that helps you to attract readers and connections here on Book Country?
EK: What gets me about online dating is that the whole purpose is to make connections with other people, but my experience has shown that most people who participate are so picky that they turn down most opportunities to connect with others. There’s definitely a paradox embedded in that culture, and it can be frustrating. If there is anything I’ve taken away from that experience that I can transfer to non-romantic sites, it’s the idea that usually people join some sort of online group because they want to be a part of a community where the people are just like them and are searching for or working towards the same thing. Everyone on Book Country is a writer who wants to share his or her story with other great writers and hopefully tell one that resonates with their readers. Likewise, people on a dating site want to meet other people who are single just like them and looking for relationships. There’s definitely a parallel between a dating site and an online writing community in that regard. Except no one on Book Country has asked me out yet.
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