One Year After "A Double Life"
A Few Questions Answered about Winning the River Teeth Book Prize
It has been one year since the debut of the 2010 River Teeth book prize winner, A Double Life: Discovering Motherhood by Lisa Catherine Harper. We asked Harper to share a little about her experiences winning the prize.
What has it been like working with University of Nebraska Press on your book?
University of Nebraska has been a terrific home for A Double Life--professional, responsive, and committed to the book from the beginning. They supported every stage of the project: from acquisitions to marketing. My editors understood immediately the book’s unique mixture of science and story, and I think this was one of the greatest benefits of being with a small press. They were committed to producing a high quality book that was somewhat different from other books of its kind. It was deeply satisfying to work with a team so dedicated to my vision and the book’s success. Because of the timing of the River Teeth Prize and the production schedule at the Press, we had a pretty compressed timeline--less than a year from contract to printing—but it was smooth sailing. My favorite part of the process was probably working with the copyeditor, who was fabulous. She brought another level of consistency and precision to the manuscript. As a word junkie, I found that part of the process really fun.
The design team also came up with a striking cover and elegant section breaks. They gave me a beautiful, inviting book. My experience speaks to the tremendous benefit of turning your manuscript and production over to people you trust and with whom you can have a solid, responsive working relationship.
What about publishing this book caught you by surprise?
The intensity of the marketing exceeded my expectations. I was warned that it would be a full-time job, and it was. I knew what I was getting into, so I felt well-prepared to jump into the marketing—setting up readings, writing guest posts on blogs, giving radio interviews, keeping up with social media, doing events. Overall, it was tremendous fun. I enjoy giving readings, and I especially loved meeting readers, who had so many interesting things to say at events. I also met booksellers and radio hosts; I broadened my online community; I met lots of new writers and ended up feeling truly connected to a rich and thriving literary community. But marketing demands a very different kind of energy than I usually expend. Instead of long, solitary hours crafting sentences and revising stories there was lots of face time and focused conversation. I appreciate the public dialogue, and will happily do it again, but I did find that after about four months I was pretty exhausted and needed time away from the ongoing conversations (online, on the radio, in person) to recharge. I’m just now beginning to cautiously re-enter my online/social communities and begin some new work.
What changes has the first year of A Double Life brought to you and your family?
I’ve certainly had more opportunities to publish, which has allowed me to develop work for new audiences. I’ve written a few OpEd pieces for The San Francisco Chronicle and was approached by Huffington Post Parents through my publisher. I was part of the launch of that site, which was exciting. I don’t post there too often, but I love having the forum when I do have something I feel strongly about. On the one hand, these platforms aren’t strictly literary, but I value the role of the writer as a public voice, so I find taking part in a wider conversation satisfying.
My family life is much the same, and my husband continues to be really supportive of my need for time and creative space. The kids don’t really put their lives on hold for a book, and at the end of the day, I’m still (only? just? always?) their mom before I’m anything else. But my kids do have a more concrete understanding and appreciation for what I do. When the book was first published, the first thing my 7-year-old did when his best friend came over was to show him his name in the dedication. Both my kids still get excited when they see the book in the bookstore, and when they found out the book was going to be in the library, well, that’s when I achieved rock star status. That said, I still have to cook dinner and remind them to feed the cats and sign off on homework. They still complain about cleaning up the Legos.
Have you received any unusual or unexpected feedback on the book?
The most unexpected—and exciting—response was being chosen as the #4 book on the National Book Critics Circle Small Press Highlights for 2011. I’ve also been humbled by responses from women—and men—who aren’t parents, but who read the book and take the time to tell me how much it meant to them. The most moving responses have come from the readers who say, “now I understand how my mother felt.” That was, in the end, one of the primary motivations for writing the book: to translate the experience of becoming a mother for people who maybe never really thought much about it.
Do you have other projects in the works?
I’ve just finished co-editing, with Caroline M. Grant, Editor-in-Chief of Literary Mama, a collection of original, literary essays about family food. The Cassoulet Saved Our Marriage: True Tales of Food, Family, and How We Learn to Eat will be published by Roost Books in Spring 2013. As part of that project, Caroline and I blog about the food stories that define our families at Learning To Eat. I’m also in the first stages of a new book, but I’m still too superstitious to say much about it right now. I can tell you it’s loosely about the post-millenial domestic life in suburban California.
What difference did winning the River Teeth Prize make in the reception of your book?
Being published as part of the River Teeth Prize series made a huge difference for my book. Books about motherhood tend to be self-help or straightforward personal narrative. Mine is neither, and I lost count of the number of editors who said they wouldn’t know how to market a book like mine. When I won the award, Daniel Lehman wrote to me that “this book meets the test of a memoir with a public dimension” and praised its lyricism and clarity. Considering what a hard road my book had to publication, these were words I had been waiting a very long time to hear. It took River Teeth to understand first that a nonfiction book about motherhood could also be literary, and that a deeply ordinary experience was in many ways extraordinary. They were the first editors to understand what I had done and be in a position to publish it. It’s been fantastically satisfying, too, that the book has been received in exactly the way that River Teeth hoped it would. I’m honored and deeply grateful that the series made room for my work. It’s great company to be in.
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