Kristine Gasbarre is a journalist and the author of the memoir How to Love an American Man. She lives in Brooklyn, where she writes about lifestyle, culture and relationships for women’s publications. In case you’re wondering, her last name is pronounced the Italian way except in her small Pennsylvania hometown, where it rhymes with “raspberry.”
In her debut memoir, which came out this summer, Krissy returns to her hometown for the first time in a decade to help care for her grandmother in the wake of her grandfather’s death. In sharing the nearly-lost love stories and transformative lessons from her 60-year marriage, Krissy’s grandma becomes the one offering comfort as she coaches her granddaughter, who has made a New York career of dating inaccessible men, through the fear of loving and being let down. Grandma’s unapologetic femininity and giving spirit open Krissy’s eyes about relationships, teaching her the single most important requisite for loving a man: a woman must learn the power of her own inner beauty.
The memoir is so funny and heartfelt, that the Huffington Post was casting the movie version (there’s sure to be one eventually!) before the book even came out! For what it’s worth, we vote for Anne Hathaway.
What talent do you wish you had?
I wish I could draw. Artists just amaze me, and I have a few friends who have created such beautiful works with their hands and their eyes. I’ve always been a pretty good singer, and of course I find a lot of joy in writing, but if I could draw, I feel like I could be even more expressive. Maybe it’s better that I’m not so talented in that department! The universe is like, “Enough out of you, Krissy!”
What is your advice for aspiring writers?
If you can, work even just a short time in book publishing. It’s not the only way to understand the business, but it’s a powerful way. Working at Simon & Schuster in my mid-twenties was absolutely crucial to my understanding why certain decisions are made for a particular book, what an author’s role throughout the process needs to be, and it helped me to ask important questions and celebrate the big developments when HarperCollins was publishing How to Love an American Man (like when Target decided to feature the book in their Emerging Authors program). Plus, you make such great contacts in book publishing, it can be like built-in elbow-rubbing with famous people and game-changers. Someone like Jen Bergstrom at Gallery Books is the type of professional every young woman should have the chance to know, just because she’s proof of all that can happen when you focus and go after what you want. Plus, working at Free Press was how I came to know awesome people like Lisa Oz and Peter Walsh — authors and media personalities who in some way have supported my writing since we first made contact through theirs.
There needs to be a book out there though — Book Publishing 101 for Writers. Is there? My old boss should write it.
What are the hardest and easiest things about your job?
Well, I wanted to be a writer so badly that the hard parts are a blessing, nothing I would ever complain about. I think the biggest challenge is finding that Big Idea. That hook that makes the book special, you know? It takes a lot of questing, a lot of brainstorming and eventually enough trust in your idea and in someone close to you to share it and ask them to be your sounding board as you really nail down the point of the story. Maybe that will come easier to me as I write more books. I hope so.Then, the other challenge is just locking yourself away from the world to write. It’s tempting to want to go to that picnic with neighbors in your building or drink wine with friends on a Saturday night. You feel so guilty doing it, and you feel guilty not doing it — as though you’re neglecting relationships. I had to write the book in my parents’ house, and even then, participating in “real life” was too alluring. Oooh, Mom’s baking? Dad’s watching football? I’d have to drive two miles to our lake house and hole myself up there for 10 hours just to focus. (Also, nobody talks about the first-book weight gain. I was writing non-stop, not working out, and after How to Love an American Man was written, I had 12 lbs. to lose! I have a friend who’s a playwright, and she told me, “Oh my gosh, writing this play the same thing happened to me!” Was it just us? I’d love to hear from really established authors on whether they combat it too.)
But the best part is getting to absorb all of life as a potential lesson, to let the most unexpected person change the way you see something, enough to include what they taught you as part of the story.
And of course working from home. I am such a homebody, I LOVE being at home. Right now my apartment’s a mess because I’d had the flu for the past two days, but I just had breakfast delivered and am sipping on tea, so even looking at the lump of sheets on the bed and the clutter around me on my kitchen table right now, I’m like, “Man, isn’t this the best?” Writing is such an act of self-caring, self-acceptance, and comfort. It’s just good.
What’s the strangest job you’ve ever had?
In college, I was a nanny for a very wealthy family in Cleveland, and after I graduated they hired me to work in their office and basically on their property as a personal assistant. They raised these alpacas, which, if you’re not familiar, they’re cousins to the llama. Sometimes they’d break out of their fences and the kids and I would have to chase them all over the wooded property, around the tennis court, and back to the pen near the house.
Well, one of them, bless her, was pregnant, and the family was going on vacation right when she was due. (I’d grown up with a friend who had horses, and the way I understood it, when one of your animals was about to give birth, you didn’t just leave her, you know?) So, the mom of the family says to me, “Listen, if you’re on the property and she goes into labor, you might just have to deliver the baby. You’d just get in there with your hands and rip the fetal sac open. Or, if you have enough time, call the vet.” I was like…WHAT?! I stared at my hands going, Rip the fetal sac open?So I kept the vet’s number in my cell phone, and all week the poor mama alpaca never gave birth, and in fact after the family returned, she delivered a stillborn. My heart broke for her, but even now I’m not sure I’d have had the confidence to help her through her labor. I’ve never even seen a human give labor!
Shortly after that, I was like, “Remember? It’s your kids that brought me to you. I can’t have an alpaca’s fate on my hands. I’m going to work in a preschool.”
Has anyone ever thought a character you wrote was based on them?
Well, yes. Of course, How to Love an American Man is a memoir and only my immediate family’s and my grandma’s names were left untouched, but it’s been pretty funny to see how the rest of our family has responded to the characters that are based on them. My one aunt said, “So, everyone in town’s coming up to me and saying, ‘You’re definitely the tipsy aunt!'” And I guess my “Uncle Phil” hasn’t read the book yet because he thinks it’s a Judy Blume book based on the very first paragraph, when I’m a kid announcing to my family that my cousin’s just gotten her period. And that cousin — even today she’s really shy! She came to my book launch party, looking amazing, and she goes, “It’s a big deal just for me to be around all these people, but do they know that’s ME in the first chapter?” Yikes. Love you, family. They’ve all been pretty good sports about the whole thing.
Thanks for being with us here at The Debutante Ball, Kristine. We’re so impressed by your book and loved your interview! You can find Kristine online:
Sound off below: What’s the best lesson you’ve ever learned about love?