Waffles With Writers

Waffles With Writers: Betsy Kerekes

Dee-licious!

Hello and welcome to the latest installment of my sort-of-monthy bloggy interview show, Waffles with Writers, where I chat with a working writer over a carbo-loaded breakfast. Today’s guest is the lovely and talented author Betsy Kerekes. She the author of Be a Happier Parent or Laugh Trying and coauthor of 101 Tips for Marrying the Right Person and 101 Tips for a Happier Marriage. She writes newsletters and edits for a non-profit, supervises her three homeschooled children while keeping an eye on the toddler, and blogs at parentingisfunny.wordpress.com. She can also be found on twitter @BetsyK1.

She’s nice, too!

***

“Did I smell waffles?”

Hi, Betsy! Come on in. Pull up a chair. How do you like your waffles?

Thanks, Mike! I’m so honored to be here. As to my waffles, normally I just have syrup, but since this is a special occasion, I say go all out: gimme some whipped cream, blueberries and strawberries. I feel like living large today.

Then live large you shall. How did you get started in the advice book business? Was there an epiphany, an aha moment when you thought, “Hey, this stuff I’m doing might help others?”

There kind of was. I remember lying in bed one night running through a potential scenario with my kids, advising them how to handle whatever situation had befallen them, as I tended to do whilst trying to fall asleep, and I thought, these situations may never happen, but I should still write this stuff down.

And then I never did.

Months later, a publishing connection fell into my lap, so I decided to pitch the idea of a humorous parenting book. It was accepted, and I finally made good on the promise to myself to let the thoughts in my head come out and play.

Congratulations on your new book, Be a Happier Parent or Laugh Trying! How would you describe your own parenting style? Has your style changed as you’ve had more children?

I like to think my style is a decent mix of permissive and authoritative, in that I know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, and know when to walk away. (But only when the dealing’s done, of course.)

My style has definitely changed. I’ve learned to let go of trying to be a perfect parent with a perfect home. I’ve become happier, accepting that I can’t achieve perfection. And that’s okay. I think my kids are probably happier as a result, too, since I’m less stressed and more able to focus on having fun with them. Fortunately, my older kids have been trained to clean up after themselves thanks to my earlier frantic years, so I guess it all worked out in the end.

What is the most awesome parenting moment that you have ever witnessed in public?

The first thing that comes to mind is something I witnessed while in the process of writing this book. Hence, it made its way into the book. I was at a playground and a mom of a boy and a younger girl were at the monkey bars. The boy made it across with ease, but the girl was crying because she couldn’t do it. The mom assured her daughter that her brother had had more practice. She told the girl, “Practice makes progress.” I respected that she didn’t use the usual trope of practice makes perfect, because in reality, no one can be perfect at everything. We can however, get much better with repeated effort. I found that to be a great lesson worth imparting to all children.

And what’s the worst? Because I gotta know.

Likewise at a playground, many years ago when my girls were young, the only other family there was a mom and her two sons. She wanted to leave. She told her boys it was time to leave. They kept playing. A few minutes later, she said, “Let’s go,” and they completely ignored her. I saw her throw nervous glances in my direction, and I knew she was afraid to discipline her boys in front of me. Though we’d barely gotten there, I was tempted to leave just to give her a chance to do what she needed to do, but I knew that would be unfair to my kids. We did eventually leave before her. She had long since given up trying to get her sons to come with her. I felt sorry for her. It’s too bad parents are afraid to lay down the law in front of strangers. No doubt her kids intrinsically knew that and were taking advantage. Ideally, she would’ve had them trained by then to know that when she says it’s time to go, it’s time to go—I say from my high horse. I’ve probably been in that same position at some point and have repressed the memory.

Most couples have a good cop and a bad cop. Who would your kids say is the more lenient disciplinarian?

My husband is Good Cop. I’m the one who lays down the law. I think that’s because I’m the more anal one who cares about a clean house and bedtime schedules. He’s far more laid back, but I love that about him. He balances me out when I get a little nutty.

I remember times, years ago, when he would look me in the eye to hold my gaze so I wouldn’t look past him into the messy playroom and say to me as he shut the door, “Just don’t look in there.” 

Well, thanks for stopping by, Betsy! Before you go, let me just ask you a quick question. I see that you have written a book in Polish! What’s it about?

Oh, how cool it would be if I’d really written a book in Polish. What you’re seeing is actually the Polish translation of my first book, 101 Tips for a Happier Marriage.

Oh, so you don’t speak…?

There’s also a Korean and Indian version. The Indian version is in English but reprinted by a in a way that makes it more affordable for locals, which I respect. It’s an honor that the book was found worthy of sharing in other countries.

That’s great, but I was hoping to get a Polish lesson.

By the way, these waffles are so good. I’m getting full. Could I have just one more?

Only if you ask me in Polish. So, no.

Waffles With Writers

Waffles with Writers: Cathy Ballou Mealey

Yummers!

Welcome to the latest installment of my sort-of-semi-regular bloggy interview show, Waffles with Writers, where I chat with a working writer over a waffle-based breakfast.

Today’s guest is the lovely and talented Cathy Ballou Mealey, whose debut picture book, When a Tree Grows just hit store shelves. Cathy is also a big fan of wee rodents—and, as most of you know, I am a big fan of big fans of wee rodents.

“Oh, hai! Gimmie peanut.” One of Cathy’s backyard buddies.

Cathy! Welcome! I just put breakfast on the table. How do you like your waffles?

Hi Mike! Thanks for inviting me. I like my waffles with real maple syrup, butter and a side of fresh raspberries please.

Since you live so close to the Marshmallow Fluff factory, I thought you’d prefer a Fluffernutter waffle sandwich. I have all the fixin’s if you change your mind…

I’d never say never, but eating that super-sticky Fluff would make the rest of this interview sound like “Mmwuff fuwmpf phampumf.” Maybe later.

So be it. First off, I love When A Tree Grows! It’s fun and funny and the plot moves forward in cheerfully unexpected directions. How did this story come about? What inspired it?

Thanks! I’m really happy that you found Moose and Squirrel’s antics funny!

A few years ago I was out in the woods, enjoying a nature hike with my family when we heard a distant, creaky Crash! Was it a falling tree? An animal? We froze, listened, and after a long silence, hiked on. I began to wonder: What if that crash had scared a bear or frightened a deer?

Building on that “OR” question, I framed a wacky story with two different possible outcomes, one rather expected and one funny, unexpected outcome. Readers will find that “OR” spotlighted on the bottom corner of each page with a clever curled paper art effect.

When A Tree Grows features a precocious squirrel. I know that you are a pro-rodent (prodent) writer. Were you always a fan of the little critters, or did your rodent fandom arrive later in life? 

Definitely a prodent fan for life. My first all-my-own pet was a guinea pig named Brownie. Yep, I came up with that super creative name all by my five-year-old self. He was a charmer. Brownie was followed by a second piggie, Eliza Jane, and a repetitive sequence of hamsters. These days I am befriending the wild squirrels in my yard with tempting peanut snacks so they will pose for my camera.

From left: Cathy, Brownie.

Your story also stars a moose. A moose and a squirrel, eh? Bullwinkle fan?

Of course! And Fractured Fairy Tales cartoons. I also like the visual/logical challenge of pairing two creatures with mismatched proportions. That naturally lends itself to picture book hilarity, much like the GINORMOUS guinea pig in Everybody’s Favorite Book.

Aw! Look at you, plugging my picture book! This is why we’re such good friends. But let’s get back to talking about you. I’m always interested in kid lit writers’ childhoods. What was the young Cathy like?

I am so glad that you are asking me and not my older brother. I was a perfect angel and my parents’ favorite child.

When did you first have the desire to write?

As a kid I loved to write and illustrate greeting cards, so my earliest efforts were short and to the point. I also wrote scripts for Muppet-like puppet shows, assigning the best roles to myself of course. When writing lost its luster as school assignments piled up, I stopped scribbling for pleasure.

As an adult, I drafted my first picture book manuscript for the Cheerios “Spoonfuls of Stories” contest. Even though “Ozzie the Oyster” was definitely not ready for publication, my prize was discovering a passion for the craft of picture book writing

You dedicated the book to your “astute forester” father and “elegant correspondent” mother. This intrigued me. Can you tell me a little bit about your folks?

They are enthusiastic supporters and paid for my first SCBWI membership, so it was a natural choice to dedicate the book to them. My dad, at age 89, still cuts, splits, and stacks the wood used to heat their house. Thus, Moose made a tree-crackingly excellent tribute to Dad’s arboreal skills. My mom attended secretarial school and has the most Palmer-method perfect, beautiful penmanship and shorthand. Like Squirrel, when she sets pen to paper her encouraging messages are irresistible and instantly recognizable.

Cathy’s father. He likes chopping wood apparently.

You have two not-so-little ones. What role do they play in your writing/critiquing process? 

My teens are too deeply into teendom to attend well to their mama’s picture book shenanigans. The youngest used to illustrate my stories when she was still at the crayon and marker stage. Alas, recent family contributions tend to be the type familiar to most of us: “You know what you should write your next book about? [Insert idea here.]” To which I always respond, “Great idea. YOU should write that book!”

Thanks so much for coming by, Cathy! One last question: If you could be reincarnated as a rodent, what kind of rodent would you be?

I live with a deep-seated insecurity that I would like to resolve by being reincarnated as a river otter. Doesn’t everyone love a river otter?

Well, sure, but…

OK, that’s not technically a rodent. But I am not always a rule-follower, and I am sure that otters and rodents of all sorts would be good friends. And would share their Fluffernutter waffles. “Mmwuff fuwmpf phampumf!”