Meredith Towbin never wins things (except for a coloring contest when she was nine), so she is very excited to be recognized by WOW! After graduating from Wellesley College, she taught English literature to high schoolers. Her teaching career was short-lived, however, as she was repeatedly mistaken for one of the students and berated by a colleague for using the faculty bathroom. She left teaching and worked as an editor at a local newspaper and, later, as an associate editor for a trade magazine covering the salon and spa industry. After acquiring a lifetime supply of hair gel, she decided to give up the glitz and glamour, much like Grace Kelly, and become a stay-at-home mom. Over the past eleven years, she’s written five novels, which you can only read if you have access to her laptop. She has recently finished a sixth novel and is hoping to secure a literary agent once it’s all spiffed up. She’s been blogging about herself for seven years at www.adventuresinbuttercream.com.
You can also follow her on Twitter (@mtprose) and Instagram (@towbinma). One of her essays was recently published on Sammiches & Psych Meds (yay!). In her free time, she enjoys knitting, baking, reading, and binge watching Star Trek: The Next Generation. Her life goal is to teach her two boys how to load a dishwasher correctly.
----------Interview by Renee Roberson
WOW: “How Not to Get Kidnapped: A Suggestive Guide” is a humorous look at a common childhood fear adults instill in us as children, stranger danger. How did you first get the idea for this piece and what was the writing and revision process like for it?
Meredith: Last year, I took a class taught by author Dan White called “Story of My Life,” and I wrote the essay in response to one of his prompts. We were asked to write about a fuzzy childhood memory, and this one came to mind immediately. It’s been 37 years since that afternoon when my Hebrew School teacher decided to scare the snot out of me, and I’ve never forgotten it. She scarred me for life. I was fortunate to have lots of eyes on this essay. Not only did Dan provide feedback, but I was able to workshop the piece in a Zoom breakout room with my classmates. The more eyes, the better!
WOW: I love hearing about classes and workshop that inspire award-winning pieces, and that the workshopping aspect was so helpful. How do you think your training writing for a newspaper and trade magazine helped or hindered you as you work to craft other creative nonfiction pieces?
Meredith: Oh, this is a good question! And I had to think about it for a few days. First and foremost, having somebody actually hire me to write (and pay me to do it) gave me a big shot of confidence. I think all of us as writers worry that we suck, in between bouts of thinking we’re writing the next Great American Novel, but overall, there’s a lot of insecurity there. Having that outside validation from writing professionals who trust you can go a long way. I also think that writing professionally helped me develop as a writer simply because of the sheer volume of output I had to produce. I write both fiction and nonfiction, but writing is writing, and the more you practice, you better you get, just like with anything else.
WOW: That is so true. It's hard not to improve your writing when you are writing every day! I've heard a lot of writers talk about how much reading helps, too. What was the last book you read and what was it about?
Meredith: Last year was so hard for so many reasons, and all I wanted was to read books that had nothing to do with what was happening in the real world. Enter my first ever Regency Romance! I never saw that coming. Usually when I read a book I like, I devour almost everything from that author, and I indulged in quite a few novels written by Julie Klassen. The most recent one I read, Lady of Milkweed Manor, had everything I never knew I wanted—a vicar’s daughter who makes a terrible yet passionate mistake one fateful night, a love affair that can never be, a mysterious woman living in an attic, another woman driven to hysterics and madness. It was AWESOME. I highly recommend it.
WOW: I love it! I just finished Stephen King's latest (all 600 pages) book so I'm definitely in the mood for something different and Lady of the Milkweed Manor may fit the bill. But you've also been doing so much writing! Having completed six novels, what is your favorite genre to write, and how did you get the ideas for the ones you’ve written?
Meredith: I’ve written a bunch of different stuff through the years—three young adult novels, a memoir, and women’s fiction. My favorite thing to write is narrative nonfiction/memoir. I usually end up writing about things that happen to me and, even if those things were originally upsetting, I try to find humor in them. If, for example, a woman flips me the double bird as I’m turning into Bed, Bath and Beyond (true story) and it enrages me (also true story), I’ll sit with those feelings for a day and then try to find the humor in the incident. It makes me feel better to write it all out from a different, funnier perspective. It beats fuming for a week. Although I have to admit, I’m still pretty pissed about what went down. I mean, who does that?!? As far as my fiction goes, I’ve gotten ideas from places I’ve visited, people I know, and even dreams I’ve had. Years ago, my husband and I took a trip to Europe and toured the Pitti Palace in Florence. Both the palace itself and the surrounding gardens became the setting for one of my YA books (except I turned the palace in my book into a much darker place than it is in real life).
WOW: That sounds so intriguing! It also sounds like the pandemic has inspired some different creative works. Your essay, “Kitchen Scraps Gardening, or How I Made Dead Vegetables Even Deader” is hilarious.
Meredith: Yes! I actually wrote a whole novel during the pandemic. But before you become too impressed, let me preface it with this: Back in April 2020, I was reading all this stuff on Twitter about how Shakespeare wrote King Lear while in isolation during the plague, and it made me feel like a total loser. I mean, what was I doing? Not writing the next King Lear, that’s for damn sure. I was dealing with my kids’ remote school, inhaling thousands of calories a day thanks to my incessant stress baking, doing puzzles like it was my job, and worrying constantly about anything and everything. I put all this pressure on myself to be productive and write, which only made me feel worse. And made me avoid writing like the plague. (Ha!) On a whim, I ended up taking the “Story of My Life” class, which got my creative juices flowing again. I had a half-finished memoir that I had abandoned in 2019 because I got stuck, but after taking the class, I decided to take another stab at it and rewrite it into fiction. Although the novel doesn’t really deal with anything pandemic-related, I was able to be productive in short spurts every day, and eventually I had written a whole book.
WOW: I absolutely love that. Thank you for making me laugh out loud during this interview and also lighting a fire under me to get back to some of my own creative projects. Sending you good vibes on your agent search and I look forward to reading more from you in the future!
Congratulations, Meredith! Your story is great. Made me laugh out loud several times!ReplyDelete
Thank you so much!!Delete
Renee--Thanks for doing this interview. I loved your question about the relationship between newspaper and magazine writing and novel/memoir writing.ReplyDelete
Meredith--Congratulations. I've entered 3 WOW essay contests. I'm waiting on the results of the most recent one, but I'm sure it will be a hat trick; I'm sure I will--again, for the third time--receive a resounding, "Thanks, but no thanks." And that's okay. I imagine I will keep writing and submitting to competitions, along with submitting to editors and publishers.
Your essay made me laugh. Good luck with getting a publishing contract or representation by an agent. It WILL happen. You just can't give up.
Thank you! Keep going and submitting!! If I've learned anything, it's that perseverance pays offDelete
This was a great interview Renee. Congratulations Meredith. You touched on one of the greatest fears most of us had growing up, especially those of us who saw those photos of missing children on those milk cartons, but you also made me laugh along the way as I read your essay. That takes creativity and talent that you no doubt have a lot of. Continued success in all of your future writing endeavors.ReplyDelete
Thank you so much for your kind words!Delete
I've always wanted to write humor but sometimes people don't get my sarcasm in person, so I'm not sure they'd pick up on it my writing! Until I read Meredith's essay I never considered taking any of the spooky/scary experiences I had in my younger years and putting a humorous spin on them. She did this so expertly in "How Not to Get Kidnapped: A Suggestive Guide" I've been given some new inspiration. Thanks, Meredith!ReplyDelete
Thank YOU for such a great interview! And totally flex those comedy muscles - you can do it!Delete