Welcome to our newest blog series: Where Are They Now?
Every other month, we will publish an interview with a Literary Mama contributor to see what they’ve accomplished since publishing in LM, and talk about their writing journeys.
This month, Senior Editor and Literary Reflections Editor Libby Maxey sat down with Cindy House to talk about her first book, her experiences writing as a mother, and opening for David Sedaris. Enjoy!
Libby Maxey: Literary Mama published your essay “Comfort in Stories” in September 2017, as well as your story “Kiddie Pool” in December 2010. How has your life as a writer changed in the past few years? What doors has your work unlocked?
Cindy House: The quick answer is that I got an agent and then I sold my first book and it will be published by Simon & Schuster in 2022.
But the longer reply is to say that I ended up writing something I did not imagine would be my first book. I went to my MFA program for fiction at Lesley University in 2015, and I thought I’d write short stories, which is what I’d always written. But then I found myself writing nonfiction and coming back to the same subject matter, which was my long-ago history of depression and addiction. I kept coming back to what it meant to me now, in my current life, after twenty years. It was such a lesson in the idea that the core of what matters to us, what has most affected us, what has almost broken us, is the thing that will insist on being written. And it’s good not to fight that. A reader or an audience can hear when you’re telling the truth—and isn’t that what we want when we read, some kind of truth? The work that moves me the most is always work that feels like it came from the writer being open and brave.
In my MFA program, I was lucky enough to work with Mitchell Jackson and at one point, he said, “Everything I write is about my mother’s addiction.” And that stayed with me. We all have certain life-changing experiences and even when we think we don’t want to go there, if you’re a writer, you kind of have to go there.
LM: “Comfort in Stories” was a memorably candid essay about your own struggles, before and in the course of parenthood. Now that you have an older child, do you still write about parenting? Does parenthood impact your writing in more subtle ways?
CH: I do still write about parenting; my book is a memoir in essays entitled Mother Noise, and many pieces include parenting in some way. My son, Atlas, is 13 now so it looks very different at this point. Most of the essays in the book that mention him take place when he was younger, and he has read and okayed all of them. As he’s gotten older, I am a little more careful about what I write about him, and the novel-in-progress that I’m hoping will be my second published book is fiction, with nothing in it based on my son.
It’s also very different now because he’s really coming into his own as a creative person and has his own stories to tell—which is incredibly wonderful to witness. He’s an actor and he’s done four short indie films and also makes his own short films. He’s been very serious about screenwriting lately. Being able to have craft discussions with him is kind of my dream come true. I wouldn’t have cared if his interests were very different from mine, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love this period that we’re in.
I don’t know if I’ll keep writing about motherhood, but the thing about parenting is that it causes you to examine your own childhood very thoroughly, which is useful for a writer. And loving your child regularly guts you in a way that is beneficial for the creative process.
LM: For many writers, parents especially, the pandemic has not been a particularly productive time. Have you found ways to keep writing this year? What are you looking forward to working on in the future?
CH: Honestly, I don’t know how anyone is getting any work done at all. I have to finish edits on my book and it’s good that I am forced to do that work because of the external pressure of my contract. Having that deadline and being forced to edit Mother Noise (which has included adding a couple of new pieces) has been difficult, but it’s something I’m thankful for at the same time.
It also helps that my kid gets a cup of tea and sits down at his desk every day to write; it shames me into getting dressed and getting to work.
I try to give myself grace when I can’t write. The week of the election, for example, was just me eating cake in my pajamas for days on end. And then feeling sick from all the cake and convincing myself I was coming down with COVID. That’s just not a place where you’re going to get a ton of work done. And that’s okay. I think anyone creative is taking it all in and will probably use it later. This year is a lot to process.
I’m looking forward to opening for David Sedaris again. I did about twenty shows in the two years before the pandemic and although I was terrified at first, it forced me into writing new work and figuring out how to write something funny. And I miss seeing David and laughing my head off backstage.
I’m looking forward to just seeing the cover of my book when that time comes—to the entire experience of publishing a first book. But the timing is fine. I’ve been so sad for writers who had their books come out during this pandemic. I am sad for what they’ve missed in the same way I’m sad for kids and young adults who have missed huge milestone events like graduations and proms. I’m looking forward to less sadness and outrage. It’s been a really rough year.
Are you a former LM contributor with a story to tell? Please reach out! Email our blog editor at firstname.lastname@example.org