The sisterhood of the traveling chance

July 7th, 2008

An interview with Shari MacDonald Strong

A couple of years ago, I shut my eyes and clicked the Send button to shoot a brand new piece of mine to Literary Mama. I’d been published before, but in my case, that little squeak seemed but a faint coda on the fabulously imagined career that had never quite materialized. I was a writer, but I was not yet a part of any community of writers, and I wasn’t sure I’d ever get the chance. I heard my little story swoosh into the brittle darkness where so many of my brave queries had disappeared. Shari MacDonald Strong, the creative nonfiction editor of the site, waited, oh, all of eight hours before she emailed me back with the message I still have: “This is beautiful. I love it. Let’s run it next month.”

Now that I look at those, her first beneficent words, I’m not surprised that such powerful collaborations come from this woman, the editor of the new anthology, The Maternal is Political. She gives fellow writers faith and love and chance. When I saw Shari a week ago, I asked if I could interview her for the blog. I want you to know her. Indeed, if you are serious about your writing, and all of you should be, you will want to know her. Here’s Shari about mothering, writing, editing and the great good chance we have right now to change the world. Change your own world by entering my giveaway at the end of this post. (I’ll give you every chance I can!)

As the creative nonfiction editor for Literary Mama, you “discover” many new women writers. How does reading, editing and supporting other writers affect your own writing?

The process of editing (among other things) makes me more aware of what I respond to as a reader, puts me more in tune with the magic and impact of a writer’s voice. It makes me feel more a part of the greater writing community, which nourishes me and gives me strength for my own writing.

When you assembled this book, whom did you envision as your reader?

It sounds egocentric, and possibly is, but I pictured myself and other women like me: women who care about the welfare of others, but aren’t sure how they, themselves, can make a difference during this frenzied, chaotic phase of life that is mothering. I pictured women who are making a difference in the world, and/or who want to make a difference, and women who want to learn what other mothers are focusing on, are managing to do. In the end, though, really, it’s for all of us who care about the world.

Where did the idea for this anthology come from? What is the first thing you did to act on the idea?

The title popped into my head one day, and I knew exactly what the book would be. I half-thought maybe it already existed somewhere. I come from a marketing background, so I immediately wrote up a proposal and started asking around, to find out if any writers I knew would be interested in participating. I got an agent. The book came out about 16 months after I got the idea. It was a concept that really wanted to be born, and it truly felt like the universe conspired to make it happen.

What are some of the ways this project evolved differently from what you had expected?

It came together faster than I expected, and the pieces I received were better than I ever could have hoped. I couldn’t be happier with the result. I also became friends with the contributors, and that has added a richness to my life that I absolutely cherish.

Do you believe words can change the world?

I’m counting on it.

How do you distinguish politics from partisanship?

Ha-ha! Hard to do. The Maternal Is Political is definitely left-leaning, no doubt because I am, and those topics in the book are the ones that spoke to me. I tried to pull in a couple of conservative voices, but those pieces fell through for one reason or another. The reality is, the lines between what’s political and what’s personal are blurred, and the lines between politics and partisanship are, too. What I see as political today I may view as partisan tomorrow. All I can do is listen to my conscience – my own, not the words of anyone else – and do what I can to help create a better world. That’s what it means to be appropriately, responsibly political, to me.

You have a book under your belt, a book with your name on the cover. Tell me what that feels like.

It doesn’t feel like it’s “mine.” I feel like I can brag about it like crazy, because I didn’t write most of it! I wrote the intro and one essay, and I got to work with some of the strongest writers I know of. Now that the book is out, I’ve participated in a few readings, and I’ve sat and listened to the writers read their work – or, alternately, I read the pieces at home, again and again (I never get tired of them) – and I just feel so, so proud of the work we’ve all done together. I feel like the most fortunate woman around. I really do think this book has the power to help change the world – maybe it will, if people find it and read it – and that gives me chills.

What advice do you have for mothers who write, want to write, or wish they’d written?

Get real and raw. No pat answers. Don’t wrap things up too neatly. Tap into universal truths with your own personal story. Get specific. Have fun. Do it, no matter what.


Now, here’s your chance: make a comment any time, many times, this week and you’ll be entered to win a signed copy of the book. In return, you must review the book on your blog (I promise you Shari will be reading) and then pass along the chance by hosting your own giveaway to a reader/reviewer. Why all this? Simple. We only have a short time to give this world a better chance. And this is your chance to join the community.


  1. what a lovely interview! And I’d love a chance to win a copy…

    Comment by Libby — July 7, 2008 @ 7:52 pm

  2. Just last week I was thinking I should submit a piece to Literary Mama. Maybe this is a sign…

    Comment by Jen Lee — July 7, 2008 @ 8:05 pm

  3. Here’s to giving the world a better chance 🙂

    Comment by Wendy — July 7, 2008 @ 8:17 pm

  4. Count me in please…

    Comment by Mika — July 7, 2008 @ 9:56 pm

  5. Me too.

    Comment by DQ's Windmill — July 7, 2008 @ 10:36 pm

  6. Well, this seems awfully perfect as I wade ankle deep into politics, and trying to change the world just a tad myself. Where do I fit in? Hmfph. The biggest question I’m asking myself right now. Anyway, would love a copy, and would love to review it.

    Comment by Shawn — July 8, 2008 @ 12:32 am

  7. Count me in. This political season find me paying close attention to the world that that my children inhabit. I love the idea of changing things for the better, one word at a time.

    I would love to receive and review this book. Equally wonderful is passing it along.

    Comment by Sharon Delman — July 8, 2008 @ 1:00 am

  8. Seeing as we are namesakes, Ms. Strong and I, and that you posted this at 11:11 AM, I have no choice but to interpret these co-incidences as signs that the Universe is conspiring… Not to mention the irresistible prospect of winning, of course.

    I love and appreciate what you’re doing here, Karen. In every sense.

    Comment by Jena Strong — July 8, 2008 @ 2:04 am

  9. P.S. Regarding obscure reference in last comment: I was born at 11:11 AM.

    Comment by Jena Strong — July 8, 2008 @ 2:05 am

  10. Hey, Jena, you just doubled your chances! Coincidence or conspiracy?!

    PS: If you were born at 11:11 a.m. then we were all born at 11:11 am. Trust me.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — July 8, 2008 @ 2:07 am

  11. Me! Me!

    Was that too eager?

    Comment by Mama Zen — July 8, 2008 @ 2:07 am

  12. Promise me that someday I’ll have some spare brain cells for thinking about stuff beyond poop, naps, and child-proofing. I miss reading (and thinking and writing about stuff). I can barely form a sentence in my rare free moments.

    Comment by kathryn — July 8, 2008 @ 2:41 am

  13. Thanks for doing the interview and for the giveaway. Sometimes it does seem as if the world is giving us messages. We should listen.

    Comment by Rowena — July 8, 2008 @ 3:56 am

  14. raw, would describe the state of my weeding fingers and remnants of nails. these and the way i want to be in the world, raw, awake, intuitive, and inspiring.
    back to the dirt!

    Comment by the Uprising Crew — July 8, 2008 @ 4:07 am

  15. i love that shari is out there, helping all of us little ones and encouraging us to raise it up, raise up our voices and show our collective strength. thanks for an insightful and inspiring interview–can’t wait to read the book!

    Comment by Holly — July 8, 2008 @ 2:55 pm

  16. Hi, just wanted to let you know I love your blog and have “awarded” you a little award thingy on my blog. It’s kind of chain lettery, but oh well. Congratulations.

    Comment by Mrs. B. Roth — July 8, 2008 @ 3:18 pm

  17. I’m going for triple!

    Comment by Jena Strong — July 8, 2008 @ 3:32 pm

  18. i read literary mama in awe and hopes of one day being there. i just lost some work, so i have a bit more time on my hands these days…maybe its a shove

    Comment by latisha — July 8, 2008 @ 5:21 pm

  19. oh and my favorite parts: Get real and raw. AND I’m counting on it. I love the force in that answer.

    Comment by latisha — July 8, 2008 @ 5:23 pm

  20. Great interview. Sounds like a great book. I love the “get real and raw” part too.

    Comment by Shelli — July 8, 2008 @ 8:53 pm

  21. I can feel my brain coming alive! Would LOVE to get a review copy!

    Comment by Anissa — July 8, 2008 @ 9:33 pm

  22. Anissa, you might win, so please leave me a way to get in touch with you if you do! You can send your email address via my profile page.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — July 8, 2008 @ 9:40 pm

  23. wow. there is so much amazing energy in all of this. i want to be a part of this real and raw truth telling.

    Comment by jessamyn — July 8, 2008 @ 11:35 pm

  24. I never usually win anything. But I need something really stimulating to get me reading more these days, hint hint…
    I too believe in coincidences.

    Comment by Mika — July 9, 2008 @ 12:20 am

  25. I’d love a chance to review the book!

    Comment by nyjlm — July 9, 2008 @ 5:29 pm

  26. I think it’s about time I review some books rather than movies. Of course, I did win a copy of Momma Zen and I (ahem, hanging head in shame) still haven’t read it yet. (But you’re in good company. I can’t remember the last full book I read.)

    I’m just worthless without deadlines. She’ll give me a deadline, right?

    Comment by Mary P Jones (MPJ) — July 10, 2008 @ 4:08 am

  27. I just stumbled on this brilliant community this morning. As soon as I visit everyone’s blog I am off to get the books! I feel like it’s Christmas! Thanks!

    Comment by Kathleen Botsford — July 10, 2008 @ 5:39 pm

  28. Loved “What to tell the children”. You are so right. It should all start with the parents taking responsibility and then action. We seem to abdicate our freedom of choice at a drop of the hat! I can’t wait to read more!

    Comment by Kathleen Botsford — July 10, 2008 @ 8:19 pm

  29. The early mommy years go so quickly, so it is wonderful to learn of communities that embrace that time. Later there is more time to reflect, but the moments of responsibility and action will make a lasting impression on you and on your children. On the other hand, I hardly remember the mornings of dog poop and spilled milk.

    Comment by gpc — July 13, 2008 @ 4:38 pm

  30. I’d love to read this book


    Comment by dolls123 — July 14, 2008 @ 2:47 am

  31. I Heart Literary Mama.


    Comment by mb — July 14, 2008 @ 4:06 am

  32. Hooray! So great to see so many lovely comments from such incredible women! I just got back from a week’s vacation, and this was the nicest way to be welcomed home. I hope you’ll help spread the word about the book. And please do share your thoughts about it, here on Karen’s blog, or on mine.

    Happy summer to all!



    Comment by ShariMacD — July 14, 2008 @ 6:02 am

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

archives by month