Stories, Blogs, and Hacked Recipes for the Newly Single Mother
Being a single mother means relaxing your cleanliness standards. A lot.
Being a single mother means missing your kids like crazy when your ex has them, only to want to give them back ten minutes after they come home.
Being a single mother means accepting sleep deprivation as a natural state.
Being a single mother means hauling a toddler, a baby and a diaper bag while wearing high heels and a cute skirt, because you never know when you’ll meet someone.
Being a single mother means finding out you are stronger than you ever knew was possible.
Since birth, Lara Lillibridge’s children wanted, “Mama, Mama, Only Mama!” whenever they were sad, or happy, or tired, or awake, or hungry, or full. Ten years later, not much has changed.
Written in the style of a diary with blogs, articles and recipes tucked between the pages, Mama, Mama, Only Mama follows Lara Lillibridge and her two children, Big Pants and Tiny Pants, out of divorce, through six years of single parenting, and into the family blender with a quasi-stepfather called SigO. Complete with highly useful recipes such as congealed s’more stew, recycled snack candy bars, instant oatmeal cookies and a fine chicken casserole that didn’t pass Tiny Pants’ “lick test,” Lillibridge grows into her role as mother, finds true love, and comes to terms with her ex-husband.
I started my writing career as a blogger. I went back to college in my late thirties, and one of my classes required us to start a blog. Although my voice for what I thought of as my “important writing” was intelligent and serious, my blog voice was a lot more fun.
After I finished my undergrad I started a blog about single parenting called Mama, Mama, Only Mama and posted 2-3 times a week. I loved blogging—it made me look at the world from a more positive angle than I was used to—but when I went to grad school my blog took a hit. Apparently blog voice and grad school writing voice don’t mix, and I needed to stop thinking in terms of blogs in order to write essays and longer chapters.
My first advisor in grad school told me, “When you can blend your essay voice with your blog voice, you will have found your true writing voice.” I didn’t know how to do that—in my head they were two different kinds of writing. I liked the idea, but I set aside my blogging for the most part and focused on what I considered my important writing.
When I was first shopping Girlish, I attended Hippocampus Magazine’s annual Creative Nonfiction Conference, HippoCamp. Nicole Frail, an editor from Skyhorse Publishing spoke, and had this wonderful energy and excitement. She explained that she personally loved books that taught things in addition to telling a story. She wanted to make books that included full color photographs of travel pictures or instructions on how to make aromatherapy items—beautiful books that you’d want to keep forever. I had read a memoir Skyhorse had published entitled, Why Do Only White People Get Abducted by Aliens? by Ilana Garon. In the book she had included emails, and they had formatted the page to look like an inbox. I was captivated. I was already working on turning my Only Mama blog into a book. I wanted to work with these people very badly.
I’ve always found that best way to deal with rejection and anxiety surrounding it is to write something else, so while querying Girlish I dove into putting Only Mama together with an eye towards submitting it to Skyhorse Publishing, never suspecting that they would pick up Girlish first.
My contract gave them an option on my second book, but no guarantee that they would take it. I asked about Mama, Mama, Only Mama as soon as it was finished and had gone thorugh a few beta readers—which was before Girlish came out—but I was told they needed to wait and see how Girlish sold before considering it.
I’m glad I had to set it aside for a while. The first ideation of Only Mama was a lot more flippant. One single mama beta reader accused it of being “too fluffy.” Publishing Girlish reminded me that laughter and sadness live side-by-side, and my goal was to be honest first, entertaining second. The final version was a lot more serious and less chaotic, but still retained the humor and craziness that I adored about the original version.
A few months after Girlish came out, I summoned my courage and queried Skyhorse again. This time, there was a lot more riding on my query. What would it mean if my publisher declined their option for my second book? Former Deb Jennifer Brown offered to help me make my query letter shine, and my current Debs read chapter selections and helped me decide which samples to send them.
Luckily, Skyhorse loved the concept and are as excited as I am to bring Mama, Mama, Only Mama into the world in time for Mother’s Day 2019. My editor, Chamois Holschuh, had even cooler ideas than I did about how to format the book. I love this project so much and just can’t wait to see how it all comes together.
Mama, Mama, Only Mama is a very different book than Girlish, and not exactly a sequel. It’s much lighter and funnier, and told in first person. I worry a bit about the flow between the two books, because it’s really different, but I hope it will appeal to a wider audience than Girlish, which was a bit of a niche memoir.
To give you a feel of it, here’s a bit I cut from the introduction, which talks about that moment at HippoCamp when I realized what form I wanted Mama, Mama, Only Mama to take.
Nicole Frail asked, “What can people do with your book?”
“Read it,” I thought to myself, because duh, that is the whole point of writing. And then I thought about it a little bit deeper. Books also make good projectiles. For example, if you are losing an argument and it is completely unfair because you are obviously so right that any idiot could see it, except this particular idiot is refusing to admit the rightness of your assertions, a book could be lobbed at their head. Apparently that’s bad role-modeling for children, I guess. Books make somewhat effective blocks for children to stack, unless they are slippery paperbacks, which are completely useless for stacking. We did use a set of hardcover encyclopedias as blocks in my house for a solid year, and they worked pretty well. Big enough books are great substitutes for booster seats, but I’m not planning on making something the size of the yellow pages. I know first-hand that books are handy for propping up legs of broken sofas. Also, you can make bookcases by creating two stacks of books of equal height and laying a board across the top.
I suppose the editor was asking, “Why should someone keep your book around after they finished reading it if they are uncreative people who have the resources to buy/fix furniture or they want to read it again?” I believe she was looking for amazing artwork or how-to manuals. I considered writing this as a How-Not-To manual, but I kept three human life forms alive entirely by myself for several years so I’m not really a bad example. So I decided that it would have to be recipes, because one thing I know is how to do is fake my way through life using a microwave.
Cover idea by my youngest, Tiny Pants.