Welcome to our newest blog series: Where Are They Now?
In this series, our editors interview past Literary Mama contributors to see what they’ve accomplished since publishing in LM and talk about their writing journeys.
This week, Senior Editor Christina Consolino connected with Teri Rizvi, whose writing was published by Literary Mama in 2017. Teri’s collection of essays, One Heart with Courage, is available for purchase through Braughler Books. All sales proceeds go to the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop Endowment.
Christina Consolino: Literary Mama published your profile of Anna Lefler in 2017, and since then, at least one big project has kept you busy. Can you tell us a little bit about One Heart with Courage, your collection of essays and stories?
Teri Rizvi: I’m not sure I can describe the book more eloquently than my editor and friend, Julie Fanselow: “Teri Rizvi’s collection of essays spans decades and continents. It’s a timely and timeless book that details Teri’s blended Pakistani-American family, the power of faith, and the beautiful bonds of lifelong friendships.”
CC: The book (whose prelude can be read here) covers a plethora of themes, including faith, sports, friendship, different cultures, motherhood, and more. Did you have trouble assigning only one theme to the pieces? Did anything not make it into the book?
TR: When I looked at my writing over the years, the pieces seemed to naturally shake out by theme. I view friendship as one of the greatest joys of life and have often written about the beauty of human connection. Few Americans write about life in Pakistan, but I’ve been welcomed into a loving family and given an inside view of ordinary, everyday moments in a country that’s filled with surprising paradoxes. Our common humanity emerges frequently as a theme in my work. I view faith as a compass for how you live your life and treat others, but, sadly, it’s been politicized in our divided world. A sense of faith and hopefulness in what the future holds is woven throughout the pieces. Julie and I threw out a half-dozen essays. Some felt dated; others had more of an op-ed quality to them and didn’t fit the tone.
CC: Of course, one of my favorite sections involves motherhood, and I loved reading the time capsule pieces. Motherhood shares commonalities, and yet, each mother-child relationship can be so vastly different. What is it about motherhood that makes it so compelling to read and write about? What facets of motherhood do you hope to highlight?
TR: Being a mother teaches you about true love, and you quickly realize there’s often no one more quotable than your children. I wish I had kept a notebook by the grocery list to capture more of their spontaneous musings and their creative way of looking at the world. Unlike adults, children don’t overthink life. I hope my pieces capture my boys’ innocence and growing awareness of their place in the world.
In her book, Motherhood: The Second Oldest Profession, Erma Bombeck characterized mothers perfectly: “Mothers are not the nameless, faceless stereotypes who appear once a year on a greeting card with their virtues set to prose, but women who have been dealt a hand for life and play each card one at a time the best way they know how. No mother is all good or all bad, all laughing or all serious, all loving or all angry. Ambivalence rushes through their veins.”
If you’ve been “dealt a hand for life,” why not play it out—and write about it? This book is my gift to my sons.
CC: In “It’s Not About Me,” you write: “My friends lead the same crazed lives, occasionally pausing to reflect on the passage of time, on whether dreams have been deferred or have simply changed shape because of the constant battle of balancing family and career—without seeing your sense of self swallowed in the process.” Many parents, mothers especially, share that sentiment. How did you manage to not swallow that sense of self? Do you have any tips for others in the thick of that right now?
TR: I’m not the ideal role model for finding that balance—it took me a long time to realize I can’t have it all. For self-care, I try to take a long walk in the mornings before the day slips away. Though I don’t always follow my own advice, I’d suggest carving out regular “me time,” letting go of perfection and giving yourself permission to take a break. One chapter in the book deals with the elusive work-life balance. It’s not always about quitting your job when you’re continually stressed. Maybe it’s about reinventing yourself—and stealing time to unplug and chase your dreams.
CC: One Heart with Courage is being published by Braughler Books, a Dayton, Ohio, hybrid publisher. How did you decide to collaborate with them? With your background in journalism and communications and your knowledge of the publishing industry, did anything manage to surprise you?
TR: In the prelude, I write, “When you ask for help, the universe answers.” I reached out to David Braughler, who’s taught publishing workshops for the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, with questions about self-publishing. I told him I planned to donate all proceeds to the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop endowment. He graciously answered my questions about upfront costs and the process, then offered to work with me as the publisher as a way for his company to support the workshop’s endowment too. “We look for stories that matter—those that can or are making a difference,” he wrote. “Your book WILL make a difference for a workshop that has had a positive impact on thousands around the world, so doing this work fits well with what we believe as a company.” His generous offer blew me away.
CC: This successful workshop has been around since 2000, and as the website reveals, “Its mantra is timeless: ‘You can write!’ ” At their core, writers know this—they can write. But oftentimes, fear and self-doubt can stop a writer before they even begin. What tips do you have for emerging writers to get past that fear and self-doubt?
TR: It’s easy to procrastinate rather than tackle the fear of writing. I’m guilty! I remind myself to take a deep breath, tap out a few sentences or jot some stream-of-consciousness musings in my journal. It doesn’t have to be Pulitzer-Prize winning material—and it won’t be. Embrace the imperfection, knowing you can step away and come back with a fresh eye and polish it. “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people,” says Anne Lamott, a writer I deeply admire. “It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.” You can always improve on your first draft, but you have to write one first.