Judy Batalion just released her memoir White Walls: A Memoir About Motherhood, Daughterhood, And The Mess In Between. She wrote candidly about her experience growing up with her mother, a hoarder and how she grew up and became a minimalist until she had kids. Writing through generations of trauma this incredible memoir is a must-read. Judy and I had a great discussion.
After The Show Q & A
Did you make writing a part of your daily routine when you began to write White Walls?
Once I had the book contract, I first finished all my other outstanding projects. Then I worked on White Walls full-time for 8 months. More or less Monday to Friday, 9 to 5.
Do you have any sort of ritual you do when you know you are about to sit down and write? Ie) light a candle, say a prayer, lasso the muse?
When you completed the first draft of the book, how many words/pages did you have?
I’m embarrassed to admit it… 585 pages. I always tend to write twice as much as I need at first. Most of my editing is in the form of cutting.
I see early drafts like slabs of stone that I need to carve through in order to find the sculpture.
After editing, how many pages/words had you polished the manuscript to?
It’s hard to say exactly since the formatting changed, but I think it was about 330.
Did you save any of the work you had edited out of the final cut of the book?
All of it. I may get rid of things, but I do “hoard” my old work!
From absolute beginning of writing the proposal, then the book and submitting to be published – how long did it take?
From beginning the proposal to submitting the final proofs = 2 years. But I’d been writing about these themes, including related personal essays, for years before that.
Was there any particular part of the book that the publisher/editor wanted to have taken out that you had to fight to keep? I know many authors say the edits are the most difficult because it’s hard to be unbiased and cut your own work – did you find it difficult to let go of certain pieces you wrote?
It depends on my mood. Sometimes I find it liberating to slash whole chapters. Other times I get hung up on a word. Seriously. I changed “Jarlsberg wedge” to “pizza slice” and obsessed about this for a week.
We talk a lot on the show about queries with our authors, but we haven’t delved into the book proposal, which is an entirely different beast. And I say beast because it seems like a very daunting task, outlining the entire book, who you will market the book to and how etc… For our readers and listeners who maybe don’t know about proposals maybe you could explain why the proposal is so important and what it’s really about.
Well, a proposal is an easier beast than a whole book! The point of the nonfiction proposal is to show agents and editors that you understand your story’s arc and its audience, and to share your voice and style.
A proposal usually includes an overview, a discussion of similar books (and why yours is unique), a bio, and several sample chapters.
You had the opportunity to work with someone fantastic that helped you craft the perfect winning book proposal, how did that process/timeline go?
I worked with the incredible Kimberlee Auerbach Berlin (www.kimmiland.com). She listened as I talked through the project and worked with me to come up with an overall structure. She explained the elements of the proposal and we discussed my drafts of it. She was warm and encouraging but also a strong critic – she was particularly good at pointing out when my writing tended toward the cool and uber-cerebral. She helped me keep things hearty and emotional.
Once you had completed the proposal, did you package it with a query letter and send out to agents? How many?
I sent a query note first, to see if the agent was interested in reading the proposal.
I approached around 15 agents – I was introduced to some of them by writer friends.
Was there any point where you really doubted your ability to write the book and put it out there?
Every day. Still.
We spoke about your mother’s reaction to the book, but what were the reactions from the rest of your family members?
My husband has always been supportive of my writing (then again, he’s usually the hero of my stories!). My father just started reading the book, and so far, he “likes the style.” My daughters can’t read yet…
Now that you’ve written through your childhood, the anxiety, a tumultuous delivery and pregnancy – do you feel a sense of peace and comfort knowing that you’ve healed your past and perhaps even your mother and grandmothers?
I am healing. Work in progress. I feel more comfort than I’ve ever felt before – emotional and domestic – but there are always more neuroses to tackle.
What are you reading right now?
Freud’s Blind Spot, a collection of essays about sibling relationships edited by Elisa Albert.
You are sent to a desert island to live for several years and you can only take 3 books with you. Which three books would you choose?
Sorry, this question is too hard. But the two books I’ve probably read the most times in my life are David Rakoff’s Fraud and Judy Blume’s Are You There God It’s Me Margaret.
What’s the one message you’d like for readers to take away from White Walls?
Change is possible. Oh, and life’s messy. I guess that’s two messages. What a mess!
Never, you were great! Thanks so much Judy, I’ve really enjoyed talking to you and having the opportunity to get a sneak peek at the book before it’s release. Wishing you continued success!
Listen to our LIVE interview here: