Teresa Strasser stops by to discuss her book , Exploiting My Baby, and answer some tough questions posed by our book club members. After you read her interview, come back tomorrow to read posts inspired by Teresa’s book.
Q:Where is your favorite place to write?
A: I like the public library. When I get stuck, I can let my mind wander as I observe homeless guys reading USA Today. What I won’t do for free Wi-Fi.
Q: When and why did you start writing?
A: started writing professionally at age 19 for a small weekly newspaper in San Francisco. Mostly, I was writing obituaries. I started out as an intern, but the paper was short-handed and I was cheap. My dad was a mechanic, so it was an appealing concept to make a living without getting in a jumpsuit and spending my day under a car.
Q: Is there a message in your writing that you want readers to grasp?
A: No. There is no message. I just try to be as honest as possible with the hope that a reader will think, “Holy crap. I feel exactly the same way, but I’d never admit it.” While I don’t have a message, I do find myself always looking for better questions, because I never have answers. Recently, I auditioned to be on one of Oprah’s new shows. The producers told me they were looking for someone who was “far along on the spiritual journey.” Don’t get me wrong, I would kick my cousin down a flight of stairs to work for Oprah, but I had to say, “I’m not your girl.” I have questions, not answers.
Q: What was your favorite book as a child? As an adult?
A: To Kill a Mockingbird was my favorite book as a child, but I was also obsessed with Of Mice and Men, which I discuss in my book Exploiting My Baby. See how I did that plug? You hardly noticed. These days, I can only read non-fiction — Joan Didion, Mary Karr, Malcolm Gladwell, etc. I just want to learn, and since I have a baby, I can’t follow plots anyway.
Q: What book are you reading now?
A: I’m reading the Patti Smith book [Just Kids] because it won the National Book Award. I picked it up when I was doing a reading here in LA at Book Soup. I feel it’s my duty to buy at least one book everywhere I do a reading, because supporting local independent bookstores makes me feel righteous and morally superior.
Q: How does your family feel about having a writer in the family? Do they read your work?
A: My mom hasn’t read this book, which is ostensibly a pregnancy memoir but which centers on my own life as a daughter. My mom didn’t exactly greet motherhood was joie. In fact, she should have named me and my brother Bummer and Buzz Kill for all the excitement she brought to the process. I was terrified motherhood would suck, because it didn’t seem appealing based on my family of origin, so along with writing about the regular pregnancy stuff, it became a story about tangling with the abject terror that motherhood wouldn’t be something at which I excelled.
Q: Do you write full time? What did you do before you became a writer? Or still do?
A: Now, I work in radio and do a syndicated column that launches next week. I’ve been a freelancer forever, working for newspapers, magazines and TV, but I just take work where I can get it.
Q: Jen Bush, of Anybody Want A Peanut asks: I notice you have a quote from Jenny McCarthy, who also wrote a pregnancy book, on your cover. She has since become quite controversial for promoting the non-existent link between autism and vaccines. How far is too far when it comes to exploiting your baby?
A: People get really angry at Jenny McCarthy, either that, or they are madly in love with her for being a “mommy warrior.” I’ll tell you this — her pregnancy book still sells like crazy. I’ve never met her, but I wrote her a letter — ice cold — she read it, read the book, loved the book, and did me – a total stranger, a solid by giving me a blurb. As for the autism thing – wow — she really raised awareness, but now it’s so high all the moms I know spend our days going, “is he looking me in the eye or does he have mild autism?” It’s scary.
Q: Lisa from Hannemaniacs asks: How has having a child changed your career? Are you more strategic about jobs and what you’re willing to say on air/in print? How does the role of working mom impact the offers you receive now?
A: Like most people in show business, I used to operate solely on fear and desperation. Thus, if there was an audition for some idiotic pilot about doggy diets airing on deep cable, I would drive an hour to get there and spend three hours prepping. Now, for the first time, I’ve actually said no to some auditions. On the one hand, it feels pretty good not flinging myself all over town because I need to pick up my kid from daycare. There’s a sense of shifted priorities that I hoped would happen. Still, there are days I worry that my days of hustling hard to stay working are over, because my kid takes precedence.
Q: Lisa also wants to know: Based on how you mention her in the book you really had a horrible step mother who treated you terribly, yet you seem to think very highly of your father… Now that you’re a mother and know what it feels like to want to protect your child above anything else, is it hard to accept that your father didn’t insist that you lived with him (rather than your mother) and protect you from your stepmother? Has it complicated your relationship with him?
A: Good question. For whatever reason, I stopped watering my grudge garden toward my dad years ago. He did his best, which wasn’t that great when we were kids. However, he was a great dad to me in my 20s and 30s, so we’re square. In much the same way, my mom has thrown herself into redemption lately. People are shocked to find that she moved down the street from me after I begged her to come and help out with the baby. She shows up when I leave for work every morning at 5 a.m. to help with the kid, and she’s a spectacular grandma — warm and hearty – because childcare at this age is mainly a physical sport.
Q: April of It’s All About Balance asks: Is a follow-up in the works? I would love to read about her first year of motherhood and how that’s changed you.
A: Well, it depends on how this one sells. It’s doing alright so far, but unclear if the publisher would want me to write another one yet. So stop buying the Tiger Moms book and make this your go-to gift for moms or moms-to-be. Lots of feedback has been coming in from male fans (from my Adam Carolla Show days). Even dudes with no kids seem to enjoy it, because really, it’s just a dark memoir that happens to cover the time during which I was pregnant.
Q: Brenda Bartella Peterson wants to know: As an older mother and grandmother, I’m wondering if motherhood has changed your values in ways you would not have predicted.
A: Let me put it this way: I hate gambling. It gives me a stomach ache because I’m risk-averse. When I go to Vegas, I play nickel poker. Having a child feels like I’m all-in every hand, every minute, every day, because now that I have something with so much value, I have something on the line all the time. Or as my husband would say, I’m “pot committed.” It’s a hard feeling to explain, and I’m hoping you get used to having something you love so much who is so fragile just walking around in the world – or toddling, as the case may be. When I think about it too much, I panic, so I just remind myself how many people who are serious dunderheads get through motherhood without too much damage done, and I feel okay.
Q: Do you have any advice for other writers?
A: Just write. Writers write. They don’t talk about writing, they don’t dream about writing, they don’t sip a coffee and read the paper, they write. The best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten about writing are 1) just write it like you would explain it to your best friend 2) if it doesn’t read write, ask yourself, “how can this be more true?” That second one I use all the time if a sentence is clunky. When the sentence structure doesn’t read, it’s usually because there’s a small lie in there mucking up the prose.
Q: What’s your favorite thing to do on the weekend?
A: Watch nine straight episodes of “The Wire.” That series is as good as book.
Q: Are you in a book club? Tell us about it.
A: I started a book group when I moved to LA because I was lonely and needed to make girlfriends — we read only female authors, and rotated monthly between fiction and non-fiction. We met for years, rotating houses, but we kind of disbanded, as Hemingway would say, first gradually, then suddenly. Those women were cornerstones for me when I moved here by myself, and many of those books were life-changers.
Q: Teresa thanks so much for taking the time answer our questions! Our readers can stop by tomorrow and read post inspired by Teresa’s book. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
A: Thanks for having me. It’s been a pleasure. My baby was up all night because he ate pizza and cake at various birthday parties where I’m sure tubs of plastic bubbles were filled with hand, foot and mouth disease particles. The point is, as per usual for the new mom, I am sleep deprived and just finishing my shift here at KABC. Pardon any errors – in grammar or judgment. Thanks for loving books.
Her book Exploiting My Baby is available now.