We’re so happy to have Wendy McClure taking a spin on the Ball today to celebrate the release of The Wilder Life!
Wendy McClure is an author, a columnist for BUST magazine, and a children’s book editor. Her essays have appeared in the The New York Times Magazine, The Chicago Sun-Times, and in a number of anthologies. Her previous books include the 2005 memoir, I’m Not the New Me, and the 2006 humor book The Amazing Mackerel Pudding Plan.
Her new book is The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie, a funny, irreverent memoir about her adult rediscovery of the popular children’s book series and her quest to visit the places in the books she’s never been to yet somehow knows by heart.
Wendy McClure’s Deb Interview!
Talk about one thing that’s making you happy right now.
The fact that I get to spend the next three months talking about Laura Ingalls Wilder and all things Little House. It’s not always easy to discuss your own book in interviews—you find yourself wishing that everyone would just read it instead of having to go around and explain it. But as soon as I finished the first draft of The Wilder Life, I realized that I was really, really looking forward to promoting it and sharing everything I knew. I’d learned so much—about Wilder, her daughter Rose, the Ingalls family, the history of the Little House books themselves, the homesites, butter churning, everything—that every time I had the chance to geek out and talk about it all with someone else, it was such a blast. And now, with promotion of the book ramping up, I’m doing it on a daily basis. It’s as if I went to take the SATs and found out that the whole test was on Laura Ingalls Wilder. I’m like, yes! I know this!
What time of day do you love best?
Early mornings (well, reasonably early): typically they’re a quiet time to think about my work and the day ahead. And if I get to witness the first light of day it usually means I’ve just accomplished something very virtuous—I’ve hit the gym early or done some morning writing. I suppose I must like dusk, too, based on the fact that so many of my desktop wallpaper photos are pretty photos of pink and orange skies.
What three things would you want with you if stranded on a desert island?
It depends on the island. Is this one of those tiny little islands like you see in New Yorker cartoons, with exactly one palm tree? Then I’d have to bring a laptop, a really long cord, and some kind of food. But let’s assume it’s a desert island with amenities like electricity and wireless and a minibar. Nothing too fancy, just a basic business class desert island. In that case I’d bring a laptop, an e-reader, and some decent tea, like Stash Ginger Lemon or Good Earth. Because drinking tea at night is one of those things that makes me feel at home, and if mid-level desert islands are anything like cheap hotels, they have lousy tea bags.
What is your advice for aspiring writers?
In order to get published, tenacity is crucial. Everyone knows that: you have to keep sending your work out, blah blah blah. But don’t be afraid to let go every now and then. We struggle for years just to give ourselves permission to be writers, and sometimes, once we’ve gotten that far, we’re reluctant to change.
I attended a prestigious MFA program for poetry but I stopped writing just a couple years later. I’d convinced myself that writing was too difficult, though the truth was simply that poetry wasn’t working for me anymore—a truth that I didn’t admit, since I’d invested so much (financially and emotionally) in that degree. But I didn’t understand that until I “started over” and began writing what I wanted instead of what I thought I ought to write.
As an editor, I’ve seen a great many people who endlessly rework their first manuscripts, or who can’t let go of this one “great idea” they have—they think that if they abandon these efforts, they’ll lose whatever it was that first made them envision themselves as writers. They don’t want to throw away their golden tickets! But it’s okay to move on; moving on is not the same as giving up. And starting something new? Well, that’s terrifying. It’s all the more reason to try it.
What’s the strangest job you’ve ever had?
After grad school I had a telephone survey gig for a major university’s social science fieldwork division. At first the job simply involved interviewing subjects for government research projects, but eventually I was put on a special project locating missing respondents in long-term studies. If, say, Respondent 2421 wasn’t at his last known phone number, you’d have to call the friend or relative he’d listed as a contact and find out where he’d moved. But then sometimes the contact had moved, too, so you had to figure something else out.
This was in the 1990s before you could just Google someone, and the fanciest technology we had was a CD-ROM phone directory. I called people with the same surname. I called landlords, workplaces, hospitals, prisons. I even called neighborhood bars. People often assumed I was a bill collector. I’d just say, “Ma’am, I am calling about a very important survey.”
One day I somehow managed to call a ship off the coast of Alaska looking for a respondent. I didn’t find him, but the man who answered the phone was friendly and I asked him if he could see the ocean from where he was. He said he was. It sounded lonely but peaceful. I sat in my awful cubicle and thought I could hear the cold waves over the phone line. It’s still kind of a favorite memory.
Wendy, thanks for visiting the Ball! If you’d like to learn more, check out Wendy’s site right here: http://www.wendymcclure.net