Yesterday, I reviewed a very interesting memoir called ACCIDENTALLY ON PURPOSE: THE TRUE TALE OF A HAPPY SINGLE MOTHER by Mary F. Pols. I found her story to be both funny and heartwarming. I am so glad she has taken time out of her busy schedule (and her vacation) to answer a few of my questions.
Booking Mama: You were a movie reviewer for quite awhile before deciding to write a book. What made you decide to write your story?
Mary F. Pols: I'd thought about writing about my path to motherhood since a day or two after my son was born, but in a very vague way. One of the doctors at the hospital where Dolan was born noticed me with "Operating Instructions," Ann Lamott's book, which I was re-reading and said "Oh you're a first time mom, huh?" And I said, "How did you know?" And he said, "They all have that," indicating the book. I loved "OI," but it occurred to me then that there was room in the marketplace for another literary memoir about motherhood. That thought percolated for nearly two years before I actually got started. What motivated me to start was the sense that there was a societal shift about single motherhood, and that the time was ripe to write about it; if I didn't, someone else would and then I'd feel regret.
Booking Mama: How different was it for you to write a book versus writing critical reviews? Being a single mother, how did you even find the time to write?
Mary F. Pols: It didn't bear any relation to writing criticism for me. To me it was more like writing a very long news story -- I was a news reporter before I was a critic -- reported in an emotional sense. As for time and single motherhood, I don't know, it all seems like a haze now, and yes, sort of impossible, particularly as I try to write a novel, which is such a slower process. But I was blessed to have been on a fellowship at Stanford for an academic year, and that's where I got the crucial first few chapters done, or at least in condition to write a proposal. Once I'd sold it and had an official deadline (world's best motivator), it was all late nights and stealing afternoons on the weekends. Matt was so great about taking Dolan off for the day to give me time to write.
Booking Mama: Was it difficult to write about so many personal things? Were you afraid of the response you'd get from family and friends?
Mary F. Pols: Well it wasn't easy, but I felt it was necessary, in order to write an honest, open memoir. There was some digging into my own past that I found painful. I didn't want to hurt anyone, particularly Matt. Which is why I offered friends and family a chance to read it in manuscript form, in case there was something they couldn't live with. One person apparently had a very bad reaction to something in there -- I never heard what -- but I believe there was a lot more at play in terms of an already dissolving friendship rather than anything in the book itself, because that friend had been treated very tenderly in the narrative.
Booking Mama: What have you found to be the biggest challenge of single parenthood?
Mary F. Pols: Honestly? Money. We've had enough to get by on, but I am constantly faced with the realization that I can't afford a mortgage on my own, at least not in the kind of urban center I need to live in in order to still be a movie critic. Is there anything wrong with being a renter? I guess not in this economy. But I'm very home oriented; I love to feel settled, I love to cook and decorate, and I feel like we're in a permanent state of the temporary as renters. But what can you do? Just work harder and try to be smarter about money. The other stresses, like time management, can be exhausting, but never enough to make me forget how grateful I am to be a mother. The payoff in love is so deep.
Booking Mama: I think it's terribly hard to be a mom sometimes, and I have an incredibly supportive husband. I honestly don't know how single mothers can do it. What's the best advice you have for single mothers or even moms in general?
Mary F. Pols: If you're lucky enough to have a co-parent with a decent heart, as I am, make it work, no matter what it takes. I started my co-parenting relationship with Matt believing that I was doing it for our child's sake; I wanted him to know and love his father and be known and loved in return. That was my priority. Matt is an exceptionally good person, which was my great good fortune, because in the end, he's really there for both of us. That's huge. So we're both single parents, but we're joined in our wishes and dreams for our son. A lot of single mothers by choice don't have that built in support system, and I find what they do so admirable. In comparison, I'm a single mother lightweight.
Booking Mama: Do you have plans to write additional books in the future? Would you ever consider writing a novel?
Mary F. Pols: I'm working on at least one novel (another one keeps slipping into my head), and a children's book, and am slowly putting together some stories that could be a collection someday. But mostly I feel like a beginner, just teaching myself how to keep going. With the memoir, the narrative was so clear; I'd lived it. It was the shaping that was hard. This time, everything feels hard. I just decided to treat myself to an extra week in Maine though, during which Dolan is going to day camp and I'm going to hole up in a shack and write. One of the benefits of being a freelancer...
Booking Mama: CBS is making your book ACCIDENTALLY ON PURPOSE into a television series starring Jenna Elfman. What was your first reaction when you learned that your life was going to played out on screen? How was it to see your story brought to life?
Mary F. Pols: My first reaction was, "Really?" I mean, obviously I'd sold the option so I knew it was a possibility, but I thought the chances were so slim. Books are optioned all the time and then just sit there. Then when it began to move forward it seemed as though it went at warp speed. It's really weird, but I'm trying to just stay detached about it. They're making something that doesn't appear to bear much relation to my memoir at all, and that's their right as the purchasers. I do think a single mom sitcom is a fine idea for right now, and I really hope it all works for CBS. They've put it in the dream time slot, right after "How I Met Your Mother" and they've got a smart, funny cast, so here's hoping.
Booking Mama: I have a feeling that writing a memoir could be almost therapeutic for an author. Did you learn anything new about yourself or see yourself differently after writing this book?
Mary F. Pols: It's great therapy, and for that I apologize to readers who pay $14 or what have you to endure my process of figuring myself out on the page (although I hope it's also just an enjoyable, good yarn). I learned so much. My whole relationship with Matt changed as I made my way through different drafts. I guess you could say revising the book helped me revise myself. I'm so grateful to the people who helped me go through that process, particularly my amazing editor at Ecco, Lee Boudreaux, who was simultaneously editing "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle." (If I'd known that at the time, I would have probably been paralyzed. Intimidating!)
I have a copy of ACCIDENTALLY ON PURPOSE to share with one lucky reader. To enter this giveaway, just leave a comment with a valid e-mail address telling me why you want to read this book. To double or triple your chances, you can blog and/or tweet about this contest with a link back to this post. This giveaway will be open until Friday, August 21st at 11:59 p.m. EST, and I will notify the winner the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. and Canada mailing addresses only. Good Luck!