A Conversation with Lindsay Kavet

Last month a group of us from the Unlocking Your Story workshop field-tripped it to the Expressing Motherhood show in Silver Lake. We opted to forgo the LA traffic and traveled limo-style... It was so much fun and the show was fantastic!

So fantastic that I'm featuring an interview with Lindsay Kavet—an amazing mom, writer and the creator of Expressing Motherhood, which is now in its 10th year! The good news is that the Los Angeles show has been extended into June—see full details below!


Lindsay Kavet

Lindsay Kavet is a mother, writer and creator of the spoken word series Expressing Motherhood. She has three kids and created the show as a means to be creative and also meet fellow creative moms.

Since 2008, Expressing Motherhood has given women (and a few men) a platform to share their experiences with the wondrous world of mothering. Whether it be on stage, locally or nationally, in small groups in someone's living room or online, Expressing Motherhood celebrates the creative outlet of spoken word, written word and video as a way to communicate the effects of motherhood on all of us.

Listen to the podcast here!

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Karin Gutman: Tell us how Expressing Motherhood came into being?

Lindsay Kavet: Expressing Motherhood was co-created in 2008. I called up fellow stay-at-home-mom Jessica Cribbs and said, what if we put on a play about motherhood? She was along for the ride and so it was born. I really wanted to take a writing class through UCLA extensions but there's no way I could stay up that late—the class started at 7pm, meaning I'd be home and asleep around 10:30pm. My child was one-and-a-half and with no nanny or family, I needed to do something that worked for my new mom life.

Do you consider yourself a writer? If so, do you share your own stories about being a mother? And what kinds of stories do you tell? 

I do consider myself a writer. I have written for multiple publications over the years since becoming a mother. I used to blog about my kids but stopped in 2008 once the show was launched. I felt an urge to have some privacy. I began writing again publicly about a parent who is an addict and mentally ill three years ago when I cut them off. It was a scary feeling but ultimately fulfilling. I write a little about my kids but want to protect them. When they grow up they can write about me. I will share a few funny things they say and I have shared their inquiries into why we don't see their grandparents anymore. Driving around LA we see so many homeless so the issue of drug/alcohol abuse and mental illness is a weekly discussion and it has offered a 'way in' to ease the truth of our family situation. I felt passionate about sharing about that as I held it in as a secret for about 37 years.

How has Expressing Motherhood grown over the years?

I took the show to NYC within a year of its conception and it sold out, off-off-Broadway, but as I told my kids, “Hey, that's close enough to make me happy!” The show has been to cities all across the nation, from Boston, Sioux Falls, South Dakota to Tacoma, Washington. The show was actually snowballing the first few years and I had two more babies so I made the decision to keep it at a sustainable level. My own mental health could not parent well under too much additional stress so it was a little heart wrenching to not see it catapult into something bigger. But, I was so fulfilled with the stage show and enjoyed it and reminded myself that is why I started it in the first place. Now, that my kids are older, I'm pushing it again. I am now putting the shows up on our podcast as well.

As someone who used to produce a spoken word series, I’m curious about how you approach casting the line-up for your shows? What kinds of stories do you look for?

I look for stories that are specific. I don't want broad, “motherhood is hard” pieces. I cast people off of their story via email. I never even meet the person until our one and only rehearsal. I believe in the power of their story. A lot of people have never performed before.

Do you work with the writers in developing and shaping the stories?

Absolutely! Curating the pieces for the stage and the show is something I always do. Some shows I make intentions to carve out more time so I can help a piece that needs more direction than others to get it ready for the show. Some shows I simply don't have as much time so I cast more polished pieces. But with most pieces, I nip and tuck it to make the show shine. 

How did you decide to start producing in other cities? How do you choose the locations? 

Selfishly, I thought a trip to NYC with my friends would be great fun so I took the play there. There was a demand for the show and I wanted to get it there. I obviously couldn't be jetting off to multiple cities at a time with three kids under five so I would take it to a new city about once a year. I didn't want to franchise the show for a few years—too many variables. It was important to me to make sure the quality was right. A few years ago I started having local producers bring it to their communities. They're either women who have been in the show or seen the show multiple times. Fortunately, it's worked very well.

What challenges have you encountered?

Diversity! That's been a challenge. I try to get it but it is a challenge. I even reach out to different groups and have gone to meetings where I'm one of the few white women, because I'm just trying to get more women of color to submit. I am very happy that the cast we have going on right now in Silver Lake is our most diverse cast ever.

What are some of the recurring themes and nuggets of wisdom that you have gleaned about motherhood over the years?

I marvel at the bravery many of these women have had to conjure up and I doubt my own ability to have it, should the moment arise. But, at least I have their phone number now! 

Have you ever thought of publishing an anthology of stories? Or even writing your own narrative about motherhood that incorporates various stories from the show?

I have thought about both! I started to work on an anthology about four years ago but again was swept into mom life. I only have so much time I can spend working on the show and I found working the book to take up a lot of time and not feel that fulfilling. Again, my kids are now older so I now have more time than I have had in a long time. 

What are the details for the upcoming LA show and where can we buy tickets?

I extended the most recent Silver Lake show you can see it June 5 or June 12, 7pm Silver Lake at The Lyric Hyperion. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased here.

I have some people asking… when is the next call for submissions for an LA show?

I don't have a Fall show set up just quite yet, but people can join our mailing list and/or follow us on FacebookTwitter or Instagram. Thank you!

What are the first THREE WORDS that come to mind when you think about Motherhood?

Oh God.

That's honestly what popped up, only two but loud and clear.

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Upcoming Expressing Motherhood shows in Los Angeles!

Tuesday, June 5th and 12th
7-9 pm


Lyric Hyperion Theatre
2106 Hyperion Avenue
Silver Lake

Buy tickets

See a list of on-going spoken word venues in Los Angeles

 

 

To learn more about Expressing Motherhood, visit the website.

See all interviews

A Conversation with Nina Lorez Collins

A couple months ago I was invited to join a private Facebook group called “What Would Virginia Woolf Do?” I didn't know anything about it at the time, but was immediately struck by the candid conversations happening among the other members -- and so I took a closer look.

As it turns out, this closed online forum for women over 40 was created in 2015 by Nina Lorez Collins in response to her aging body and a craving to talk about it with her closest friends--without apology. It quickly attracted more people, and to date, has grown to nearly 16K members with a companion book just published by Grand Central Publishing.

In the interview below, Nina brings the same intimate, candid, and witty talk to our conversation. You might even decide to become a Woolfer yourself!


In 2015, at 46 and out of the blue, Nina Lorez Collins started waking up drenched in sweat every morning at 4am. She soon discovered that she was entering peri-menopause, that netherworld state which will take her from relatively young to relatively old, and that realization jolted her into creating a closed Facebook group for her girlfriends so that she could ask some questions, commiserate, and get advice. She called it “What Would Virginia Woolf Do?” in what she thought was a funny nod to a brilliant feminist she admired, a woman who chose to end it all in her late 50s.

Her goal was to create a haven where she could talk about aging without feeling ashamed, and where she could get information and support that would help her on this rocky road to crone-hood or aged bliss. What started as a small network among her closest friends has since blossomed to nearly 16K members and counting, along with the release of a companion book by the same name.

To order the book, visit:
Amazon

See Nina's Upcoming events

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Karin Gutman: Oh my, what a phenomenon you’ve created… Is this what you imagined would unfold when you first set out to create the original “What Would Virginia Woolf Do” Facebook group back in 2015?
 
Nina Lorez Collins: Not in a million years—this was intended to just be a place for me and my closest girlfriends.
 
How do you think Virginia Woolf would have responded to all of this?
 
(Laughs) Hard to say. I do think she would applaud our feminism and study of our internal lives.
 
Who is the WWVWD group for and how does one join?
 

One has to be a woman over 40, ideally smart and funny and willing to be open and supportive. Just search on Facebook for “What Would Virginia Woolf Do?” and answer the three questions that pop up.
 
Totally off topic perhaps, but I loved learning that you received a Master’s degree in Narrative Medicine from Columbia University. I have been circling around it for some time. How does that inform who you are and what you do in the world?
 
Hugely. My mother died of breast cancer when I was 19 and she'd had cancer for years and kept it a secret from everyone including her children. I'm very interested in ideas around loss, transition, how we live in our bodies.

I am the kind of person who gets a little wary when online communities take on an aggressive edge. I know there have been some heated banters and conversations in the WWVWD Facebook group. What is your take on that, beyond “it's par for the course.” Is it constructive?
 
Of course it can be upsetting when things get ugly, but generally you can see that it's someone who has been triggered in some way—there's some pain underneath the reaction. We try really hard to soothe people, but sometimes it's just not a good fit and people have to leave.
 
Where will all of this go from here? Do you have a vision for the Woolfers? Also, what’s next for you, within or outside of this community?
 
I'm really not sure yet… I absolutely love the women and the conversation and take great pride in the fact that it's been so meaningful for so many women. I'm hoping we can turn it into an identity brand for women over 40 with a website, blog, podcast, etc.
 
I recently read about the recent break up of your marriage. How do you manage everything that’s going on personally and professionally?
 
It's been really hard, harder than I expected given that it had only been a four-year relationship. I'm wondering if these things just get harder as we get older? The feeling of failure, the missing him; it's all been pretty awful. I suppose I'm grateful that WWVWD has kept me so busy and been such a distraction and a delight. Also, I really have incredible support from so many women!
 
What I just asked feels like such a personal question, but you seem to be comfortable with self-exposure - is that true? If so, where does that come from?
 
Yes, totally comfortable. I'm much less comfortable when people aren't saying what’s really going on. I think our pain is what's real and it should be discussed; how else can we grow?
 
I work with memoir writers, largely women, who are looking to discover and write their truths on the page… and out loud. What advice would you give them?
 

Write every day. It's a craft and it's hard as hell.
 
It seems to me that there is a movement happening - women gathering with women - empowering each other to live out loud and speak their truths. I have been experiencing it in my ongoing memoir groups for the last 8 years and it feels increasingly like it’s part of a growing historical movement. What do you think?
 
I think it's certainly happening now but I'm not sure if it hasn't always been true in different forms. The consciousness raising groups of the 70s etc. 
 
How did you land your book deal? I imagine having a background as a literary agent helped.
 
One of my oldest friends is my agent and we worked closely together and got lucky getting a deal.
 
With your background as an agent, what are your candid thoughts regarding traditional versus self-publishing?
 

It's all hard and sort of awful, but I'd say it's always better to go the traditional route if you can.
 
What does your writing process look like?
 

Way too erratic. I don't write nearly enough. When I'm working on a project I spend a ton of time in bed with my laptop, often crying.
 
What do you know and trust about your creative process?
 
It's new and I've barely scratched the surface. I need to work harder at it.
 
Tell me THREE WORDS you live by.
 
Honesty, bravery, love.

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~ Meet Nina ~

Writers Bloc presents:

Nina Lorez Collins in Conversation
with
Annabelle Gurwitch and Sandra Tsing Loh

Friday, May 4th, 7:30pm

Temple Emanuel
Beverly Hills

Buy tickets

See other WWVWD events happening around the country

 

 

To learn more about Nina Lorez Collins, visit: www.thewoolfer.com

See all interviews

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A Conversation with Amy Wallen

Years ago, I met Amy Wallen through mutual writer-teacher friends. At the time she was producing a spoken word series based in San Diego called DimeStories, which she also founded. Amy had published a novel and was also hosting salons at her home featuring her delicious pies (hence the name, Savory Salons). Like me, she was creating community through storytelling and I felt I'd met a kindred spirit.

Next week Amy's debut memoir When We Were Ghouls: A Memoir of Ghost Stories is being released into the world through the American Lives series edited by Tobias Wolff. In the interview below, I had a chance to ask her about the differences between writing fiction and nonfiction, how she found the keys to structure, and what advice she would have given herself in retrospect. You'll also find her upcoming readings and signings in LA and across the USA! 


Amy E. Wallen is the author of the soon-to-be-released memoir When We Were Ghouls (University of Nebraska Press, March 2018). She is the associate director at the New York State Writers Institute and teaches creative writing at the University of California, San Diego Extension. Her first novel, Moon Pies and Movie Starswas a Los Angeles Times bestseller. Amy is the creator of Savory Salons, an intimate gathering with a conversation springing from the author’s latest work. If you want to be invited, message her and she'll put you on the list!

When Amy learns her parents are grave robbers and her memory is out of focus, she tries to figure out what truly happened. When We Were Ghouls, A Memoir of Ghost Stories is about a search for family. It follows a family that has been dispersed around the world, a family who, like ghosts, come and go and slip through Amy’s fingers making it unclear if they were ever there.

"Lyrical and haunting."—Booklist

Buy the book

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Karin Gutman: Tell me about your book!

Amy Wallen: When We Were Ghouls is, as the subtitle suggests, a memoir metaphorically in ghost stories. The book opens with a memory I have of my family digging up a pre-Inca grave in Peru. I soon discover my memories are not quite what I thought and yet at the same time frighteningly just as I remembered, so I start to dig even deeper into my family’s adventures. As a young kid my blue-collar family was transferred to Nigeria, Peru and then Bolivia. All of my family members, like ghosts, came and went during this time. I begin to question everything that happened, although the physical world suggests my memories are real, the stories seem unbelievable to me. The stories suggest that my family were looters, grave robbers and hideous people with no regard for humanity. The opening scene/chapter is exactly how the story came to me. I had no intention of writing a memoir, but I soon realized that’s exactly what I had to do. 
 
I know you have also published a novel. Can you describe the difference between writing fiction versus nonfiction?

I struggled with the transition from fiction to nonfiction. Not because I didn’t want to tell the truth, and not because I wanted to make things up (although I do find that to be more fun), but because I had a hard time with the narrators of experience and innocence. I had learned psychic distance in fiction but those characters felt more stagnant or controllable, maybe. To apply that to myself, to who I am now AND who I was then was a mind-bender for me. I had to learn compassion for my complicity, for my family, dig inside deep to admit to how I felt then versus how I feel now, or rather how I felt as I wrote the book. I say the last bit because I think even as I look at the pages now, a few years after they were written, I have a new way of looking at the story, but I had to realize that was the story I was writing then. Once it clicked, once I realized the juxtaposition versus the commonalities, once I realized that I was writing the story that I had to tell at that moment about that part of my past, even though it would be different at every stage of my life, I felt right at home in the genre of creative nonfiction. It’s a very “of the moment” genre and yet is about the past. Or at least, that’s how I came to decipher it.

What does your writing practice look like? Has it morphed over time?
 
My writing practice varies with my life, somewhat, but also stays the same. I believe in writing every day because otherwise I lose the momentum. But I have also learned that I can’t always make this happen because life gets in the way, and mostly I get in the way of myself.  I wanted to get another book started so it wouldn’t take me as long as it took me to write this last book. So, this time I’m writing every day but not putting on any pressure and I’m just committing to 250 words - no matter what. That’s about a page a day and so I figure at the end of a year I’ll have at least 365 pages. I usually write more than 250 words, but even if that’s all I have some days, then at least I’ve kept my finger in the pot and the momentum going. So far it’s working. I’m on page 73 and I started Dec 29, 2017 so I’m about 35 pages ahead of where I thought I’d be.

Writing memoir at times can be painful, as we go to our most vulnerable places inside. How did you take care of yourself during the process?

I’m not very good at self-care, then again, I’m too good at it. I tend to be a workaholic, but I also go to a lot of spas and get a lot of massages. As far as taking care of me as a writer, I really focus on only showing my work to the people I trust and only when I feel it’s got enough heft that the input won’t turn it to dust. I am way too sensitive and take everything that people tell me about my work to heart. So instead of trying to teach myself to be tougher, I try to find ways to receive input that isn’t going to make me quit writing, but instead will make me a better writer. Sometimes though I wish I had one of those mothers that would just tell me everything I do is perfect. 
 
To me, writing a memoir is about uncovering the deeper underlying truth of our experience… how did you do that?
 
I agree with you completely. I think I did this by doing what I mentioned above—showing drafts to only people I trust. When I say I trust them I trust that they will tell me where to dig deeper, where they want to know more, where I am being superficial. I think I also asked a lot of questions about myself and why my memories would be so distorted. I assumed that the answers were inside of me. I kept to the truth by realizing there is never just one truth—that everyone’s point of view and reality is valid. But the story I was telling was my reality and my truth wrapped up inside all those others.

What kind of feedback did you seek out along the way? Are you a part of a writing group? Did you work with an editor?
 
I have a very close reader and we share work. We have read each other’s books probably over 10 times. We have seen them at every stage. I did pay another good friend who is a professional book reviewer to also look at a later draft. He gave me the keys to structure. Then, after I got my book deal through the University press, the peer reviewer gave me comments that pushed the theme to a whole new level and I felt took the story to a much deeper and honest place. So yes, I sought feedback along the way, but very carefully. I belonged to a writing group when I wrote my novel and they were incredibly helpful, and I also learned the key to having trustful readers along the way. It’s not good to have the blind leading the blind, but to have a fabulous guide and teacher and a group of intelligent readers and writers—that’s invaluable, whatever form it comes in.

I am curious about what “keys to structure” you received?

It was David Ulin and he gave me the idea to start with the grave digging as the opening scene and then use the metaphor of digging up the remains of my family’s history throughout the rest of the memoir. It seemed so obvious when he said it, but it also seemed somewhat awkward at first since it changed the order of how I had it structured. Originally I had started with the grave digging, but hadn’t considered the slipping of memory and the continuation of the conversation with my parents in the current day. At first I tried to break the grave story up and spread it out, but I soon realized it was more about the metaphor, about slanting the details, than about scattering the physical scene. Again, another lesson learned about what memoir is about. But this “slanting of details” is something I really learned to the bone when I worked with Sue Silverman in grad school and from her book FEARLESS CONFESSIONS. She discusses the slanting of details, of taking the moment in time, finding the metaphors in the details and using them to create momentum and continuity to go into deeper and deeper places. So I guess I really was given the keys from many teachers and friends

How did you get a publishing deal for the book?
 
That’s always a question that I think every writer can answer differently, but still the same. I was seeking agents in New York since that’s what got me my novel book deal years ago. But this book was so different I also thought it may need a different kind of publisher. My NYC experience with my novel had been more about selling the book and getting it out into the world rather than about the words on the page. I wanted this book, maybe because it was so personal, to be treated with kid gloves. So I also researched independent presses. A good friend and mentor referred me to the University of Nebraska American Lives series edited by Tobias Wolff, and they made me an offer. They sounded like exactly what I was looking for and the perfect home for Ghouls. I have found the experience to be everything and more of what I dreamed of.

What has the publishing process been like?

A university press is so much different than a New York City publishing house. First of all, they only publish a handful of books a year and publish a more narrowly focused story, like the American Lives series which is basically memoirs of a variety of Americans. They also publish novels that focus on the Flyover States.  Because of the smaller focus they can spend more time on every word and detail. Before any contract is signed, the editor sends the book out to be peer-reviewed. This is when I was given the keys to the bigger question I needed to bring to the overall story. I never got this kind of depth of discussion before. This required another round of revisions, and the possibility that my manuscript would be rejected. I guess I must have done the job right. The cover was designed by an award-winning book cover artist, the editor read the manuscript with a fine-tooth comb, and again even after the copyeditor had cleaned it up. All this attention was both nerve-wracking and fabulous to have such intricate attention paid to my work. I feel I learned more in this process than in any class.

How encouraging to hear that your publishing experience was so positive. Again, you mention that the peer review gave you the keys to the “bigger question” that took the theme to a whole new level. Can you share more details about that?

The first round of peer review was positive, but only recommended publication with the contingency that I needed to find a bigger overall question that threaded through the entire memoir. See above where I am considering the slanting of details. I understood what the reviewer meant and he suggested that my early question in the grave digging scene—“Are we hideous people?” which my mother keeps calling us—seems the best question. That statement hit the nail on the proverbial head for me. I immediately saw how the question, which is asked in the opening, could be asked about every scene and memory and about myself and my family throughout the whole book. It also helped me see how to edit out some scenes because they were not essential to this question. The big question helped make the memoir feel whole, feel complete. Before that, it was a conglomeration of memories. The editing was so easy with that one key question.

You say you learned more in the process than any class. Can you elaborate?

I LOVE classes and take more than the average person. I think I went back to grad school after having published my novel because I just love being in the class setting so much. The camaraderie, the friendships created, and the bonds from sharing bad drafts (being vulnerable) are essential to surviving the writing process. But as someone who works on book-length work, I have found that it’s hard to get big-picture input when a class or group is only looking at 10-30 pages at a time. I craved to have someone read the entirety to give me those keys I mentioned before: David Ulin seeing the opening scene as a metaphor for the whole story; Sue Silverman teaching me to look for the metaphors throughout, the one metaphor that repeats itself; and the peer reviewer, Lee Martin, to see the Big Question that was hidden in the grave scene and that really was the thread that pulled all the repeating metaphors together. Maybe I’m dense and should have seen all of this myself, but I think that it becomes difficult to see our own stories from a longer perspective when we are so close to them. I think classes are fantastic for providing deadlines, to give input on the prose style, the intrigue of the story and the development of individual scenes. They teach us how to write, and I am an honest believer in that as writers we never stop learning how to write.  I think Big-Picture readers are essential for the later drafts. My own frustration with the later drafts and big-picture input is why I started the 200-page workshop I do with David Ulin in my living room. I think the peer review process at the university press was ideally the best kind of reader—one who wants you to get published, wants to make your book the best it can be—not the kind that is just looking for what isn’t working, but instead looking for what will make it work.

Did you have to deal with any legalities, in terms of exposing other people? Did you have any personal concerns about telling this story?
 
I have not had to deal with any legalities, but I did worry about it when I was writing it. I considered using a pseudonym so that if any of the issues of what my parents did came to the attention of someone who wanted to try to cause a problem, I could avoid it. I did a TON of research on whether or not I was exposing anyone, namely my parents, to some kind of legal hassle or even jail time. I called attorneys, museums, archeologists, and of course googled every variation of negative thought I had. Everything I kept finding out was that my parents would have had to sell the artifacts they dug up in order to be arrested or even fined. But I still worry that there will be some kind of problem that will arise. My parents are in their late 80s and that would be a real drag if they were hauled off to prison. I asked my mom if she would have a problem if Homeland Security showed up at her door, and she said, “Good gosh no, I wish they’d come and haul all that stuff out of here.“

Now in hindsight… looking back at yourself at the beginning of the process, what advice would you have given Amy?
 
I’d tell myself to not resist whatever story wants to show up on the page, and to remember that just because I am writing a book all about myself that I’m not a narcissist, but a storyteller. And, that even though I’m writing a book all about myself, people will want to know my story if I tell it truthfully. And to be me on the page, even if 'me' is sometimes a little shit.

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~ Meet Amy Wallen ~

Upcoming Readings + Signings:


February 24th, 7pm @ The Foundry (San Diego)

March 3, 5pm @ The Book Catapult w/ Jim Ruland (San Diego)

March 8th @ AWP Tampa Bookfair (Florida)

March 15, 7pm @ The Innovative w/ Samantha Dunn (Orange County)

April 26, 7pm @ Book Culture w/ Philip Lopate (NYC)

See full details

 

 

To learn more about Amy Wallen, visit: www.amywallen.com

See all interviews

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