WOW! Interview with Contest Runner Up Evelyn (Evie) Preston for "Death by Compost Bin"

Sunday, July 04, 2021
Congratulations to Evelyn (Evie) Preston and Death by Compost Bin and all the winners of our 2021 Quarter 2 Creative Non-Fiction Essay Contest!

Evie's Bio: I always high school, college, the PTA. Spanning several careers, my writing life professionally launched in 1973 when Redbook magazine featured my Young Mother’s Story, “Mom Are We Jewish or Christmas?” in their holiday issue. Published! Invited to speak! I wrote on. 

The ‘80s brought some local fame writing a humor column in the Palo Alto (CA) Weekly and wound through the foibles and follies of marriage, kids, teaching and dabbling in the food business. Echoing Nora Ephron’s mom that “Everything is copy,” over the years, I continued to chronicle my angst and adventures via essays, articles and features for local and national publications: Seventeen, Talk, Eternelle, S.F. Chronicle, Sunday Supplements, the trades and more. 

After 25 years surviving the financial field, my book, Memoirs of the Money Lady, took a lighthearted look at this serious subject and aimed at women eager to understand “all this money stuff.” Then, widowed and retired, I wrote features for Active Over 50 magazine. Currently, I’m the Money Lady columnist for online Scoop for seniors. 

I’m again writing humorous essays on life in Silicon Valley. I also earned notice for a recent “passion project” that bloomed into a family affair, a self-published, non-profit, from-the-heart magazine of my almost 50 years of written snapshots gladly shared with family, friends and loyal readers. Results? Better than a Pulitzer. 

WOW!’s contest—my second try in all these years—proves that the best recipe for aging backwards is to follow your own passion and—Write on! Check out my best at:
If you haven't done so already, check out Evie's talent in writing with the humorous story Death by Compost Bin and then return here for a chat with this talented author.

WOW: I'm still laughing and I know I'm not the only one - thank you for writing this essay - what is the take-away you'd like readers to gain from Death by Compost Bin

Evie: Take time to laugh at ourselves! 

There’s not nearly enough humor in our “oh so serious” society—everyone’s so darn dour! And sensitive. Let’s remember everyday absurdity. The essay hit a universal nerve with the ridiculous and suddenly frustrating subject of garbage with which we all must grapple while feeling guilty for using a paper towel. Also, poking fun at our new world of “tricky trash” and “bin decisions” rather surprised and delighted readers, I think. I dared to joke about plastics! I gave readers permission to see the funny side of trying to save our planet single-handedly. 

The essay’s message hit home more than I realized due to being so immediate. It so easily mirrored the Covid “at home” lock-down which the marvelous critique editor, Chelsey Clammer, did pick up at once. “We stay at home to feel safe,” she wrote, “and it turns out our homes are trying to kill us.” Hilarious—and I suspect readers had that in mind. My take added the annoyance and inconvenience of all the constant new demands crowding our daily lives; we may cheer the idea of “going green,” but it’s not so easy living it. Besides recycling, I piled on the grit-your-teeth, good-for-us mandates we endure, like maddening, middle-of-the-night smoke detector beeping, and a litany of potentially lethal but laughable at-home maintenance. It’s always the small stuff that drives us crazy, the obvious irritants overlooked in print. I hope readers connected with my slant and enjoyed it as a chance to lighten up. 

For a WOW audience, the essay turned into a primer of effective writing. (Sorry, the teacher in me cries to come out.) Although I knew many tricks of the writing trade—ie: refer back to the beginning at end, use action verbs, emphasize with a one sentence transition—I opted for a critique. This gave me a perfect blueprint, a succinct, PhD level writing lesson, made more meaningful by using my own copy, point by point, word by word. Best of all, knowing I’d be in competition (gulp), and that an expert, senior editor would take a close look, the contest and critique pushed me to do more than my best…and I did! 

For a writer, it’s never too late to grow and shine. 

WOW: Such great insight and yes, the everyday absurdity! Love it! You're such a great cheerleader and example, but who is your support - what have you found to be most supportive in your writing life as well as in life in general? 

Evie: I first enjoyed a small writer's group in the ‘70s (can you believe?) and I’m the last gal standing!

They encouraged my first success as Redbook’s “Young Mother,” which should have spurred me on toward a full-time writing career. However, I did collaborate with one of the group writing general articles which were published from Seventeen to Sunday supplements. Writing’s so solitary, we kept each other going while doing our own thing. Much later, this friend, a published short story writer, helped me fictionalize my book, a teacher as well as a booster. 

After several decades, I’ve gotten back to Ca Writer’s Club--love Zoom meetings--and had several pieces printed in Writers Talk, our newsletter. Unexpectedly, I earned a prize. Peer support’s the best! The newsletter editor is delightful third party support enticing members to dabble in haiku, double dactyl poetry, flash fiction and to showcase our own entries—a welcome connection to the writing world. I must say that WOW borders on becoming family—you can’t lose with them even when you don’t win! I have two first readers…a long-time financial biz colleague—a guy and best friend—who’s great at squashing excesses and incoherence. I also depend on a newish female “pen-pal” who’s more nuanced and literary. They keep me on track. 

 My kids buoy my efforts and constantly ask, “So what have you done lately, Mother?” And I’m grateful for a lovely exercise group of women who admit we mainly go to class in order to coffee-klatch afterwards. They embraced me after my husband died with their friendship and inclusion, the proverbial new lease on life! Insightful readers, they cheer me on. 

WOW: I love that your circle is so large - I can see your smile while you were thinking about all the positive influences in your world! Sounds like you're a busy gal involved with other amazing people; but let's talk self care. What advice would you give to others (specifically female authors and mothers) when it comes to self care? 

Evie: Oh how I wish I knew then what I know now! Women of my era were raised to be good little girls, to others--husband, kids, boss. I zeroed in on being good to yourself when I gave Take Charge Now financial seminars for women. I spoke about the “cracked plate syndrome;” mom always came last and took the least, rarely had her own checking account, let alone her own life and career. Money stands for power in our society, but it’s merely a symbol of doing/having one’s own thing—the inner power to remain autonomous within relationships, marriage, family, work—not just being paid. 

Change happened. But there’s still a hangover, a lag time between cementing new standards from old cultural mores that weren’t all bad. My experience; “take it slow” especially as a mom. Don’t miss out on those manic but magical years. No regrets later! How well we treat ourselves, live our values, achieve our goals come through to children. Kids are mimics. Attitude is everything! And catching. 

Yes, anger and anguish can breed best sellers, but who wants to wind up like Sylvia Plath!? 

A more concrete example of self-care is that simple exercise class. Feeling fit and looking good truly releases those positive endorphins; in the middle of my dance aerobics, the most amazing ideas or clever essay subjects will just bubble up. Sensing “wellness” from within comes from giving yourself the gift of becoming physically and mentally whole. We are works in progress that can give rise to works of true creativity. 

I daily give thanks that I’ve lived this long to be my best self after years of errors and omissions. It’s a given, all experience counts in writing--especially humor. To poke fun at yourself and share flaws that may speak to others calls for some inner strength, a sense of security. But whether creating a great character for literary fiction or a 500 word take-off on dieting, you bring yourself to the page. 

Part of self-care is to savor the journey. Never regret spending family time; the rewards—and copy—are huge. My big win is that my adult children have become my best friends. Over the years, life, and the writing life, shift into place—like wrinkles that only turn up. It worked for me since I reached my goal of aging backwards. 

WOW: I'm so glad I asked that question - you are definitely a wealth of knowledge - thanks so much for sharing!

Tell us more about your book "Memoirs of the Money Lady" and what prompted you to write this lighthearted book about the serious subject of money? What did you learn from your publishing experience - what can you share as far as publishing advice for other women authors? 

Evie: The prologue spells it out. After being a teacher, I fell into the financial world which was not my “métier”—I’m a word person!! In a nutshell, I threatened to murder the broker who wined and dined me but lost my recent inheritance. “Not to worry, Evie,” he said, “trust me! I’ll teach you how to make money.” Therein lies the tale. I had no idea what I was doing. But life is sales, and I simply switched from “selling” French to teenagers to selling “deals” to reluctant investors. “Now, now, Mr. Important Attorney; if you don’t want to come to the tax shelter seminar, you’ll have to bring a note from your mother!” Just like the PTA, I thought…until it wasn’t. 

Unfortunately, the book tried to combine my two careers, 1) education (the money game, market swings, insurance options—serious,) and 2) finances (a man’s world, cold calling, cling-y clients—funny.) Big mistake. Way too long—really two books. 

Also, my local publisher, Happy About, (talk about a red flag!) wasn’t right for my story. Their titles screamed Silicon Valley…Happy About Being a CEO, Happy About Being in Human Resources, etc. which aimed at a high tech audience. The female editor was simply a manual writer with no experience in publishing. My book was slated as the first in a proposed new series, Savvy About, for business women, but my fictionalized account was not the right genre. The editor and I became friends—another error. She gave halfhearted suggestions so as not to hurt my feelings, and I unprofessionally balked at the mere suggestion of “killing my darlings.” My “baby,” that I’d nurtured for countless months and endless rewrites, was sacred, every polished word. 

I did receive modest local success. Borders Books (Look what happened to them?) let me promote it in-store, so I merely tripped anyone who happened to walk by. But in the end the best thing about my book turned out to be the autograph party! Catered! I never gave up my endless marketing for a wider audience. It didn’t work because the book was neither a straight “how to” nor a romp through the thickets of the financial field with a middle-aged crazy-lady. Worse, I didn’t know my real readers. I thought I was writing for Every Woman, anointing them with my experience and teaching them about all this “money stuff.” But the readers who praised and enjoyed my journey were professional women who experienced my same struggle. And men! 

I never considered how much they’d identify with the investment info? 

A tough, judicious edit would have made a massive difference and better play to the average reader. Short humor works best. “How To’s” need step by step clarity. 

Too late I signed on for an expensive seminar with a well-known editor and learned that from press release to paper choice, Memoirs needed an overhaul. The “pitch” needed to state a well-defined problem, and in a catchy phrase or two, “shout” why only my book would solve it! By then I’d burned my bridges with dozens of initially interested promotion possibilities from talk show hosts to print reviewers. No capsule sentence! No sale! 

WOW: Thank you for sharing some of your mistakes; that's not always easy to own up to! Since you give such great advice - it begs the ask: What advice do you have for others during this turbulent pandemic time? What's working or not working for you? 

Evie: I’ve enjoyed the best year of my life! It was summed up in the local paper featuring readers’ responses to the pandemic: “One Year In.” Most residents moaned and groaned, boo hoo-ed and lamented missing real life. I cheered my good fortune. Under “house arrest” with my kids taking care of everything, I had uncluttered time to do my own thing—morning exercise to the TV lady (I lost a dress size), unlimited time to write, a few snuck-in-the-backyard, properly distanced friends. Like a long vacation with literally all the comforts of home, I leaned in and thrived. Neighbors who read the piece actually thanked me for sharing my positive view via fan mail. 

The feature had pictured me holding a home-grown “magazine.” It started as a solo stab to update and revamp some of my articles and essays as a possible legacy for my kids. It bloomed into a family affair, a Covid 19 bonus. (Dubbed a “passion project” by a Ca Writers Club editor, she later championed our efforts in a three page spread in their newsletter.) 

“You can’t proof your own work,” said my son when I initially asked him to review some copy. Suddenly, he turned into a tough-as-nails editor. His wife, my clever daughter-in-law, morphed into an art and layout director as well as professional publisher. My granddaughter contributed the cover. The other two kids chimed in. Together, via email and phone, we produced Life Lines—self-published, non-profit and from-the-heart—my 40 plus years of written snapshots. 

Starting March ‘20, we got serious over the summer and ramped up to produce a sleek, picture-laden compilation well before Christmas. We mailed it to family, friends and loyal readers as a holiday surprise, the right time and era for a unique greeting and the perfect time to reach out and touch someone…on paper. A gift for all of us! Reward? Better than a Pulitzer Prize. 

I was on a roll! Happy, positive, powerful. Somehow that led to WOW!—confidence to enter a contest, interaction with experts, and a prize. All this during a year shut down and shut in. I appreciate that I had it easy where others weren’t so fortunate. I counted my blessings, embraced family and brought some pleasure to others. A few of my essays shared sadness and losses mirroring the Pandemic. However, life moves on after this devastating detour, and all things change. It’s time to prove our inner resources, share, give back and of course, plan ahead. 

WOW: Dearest Evie, I could chat with you all day - but as our time comes to a close I'm going to sneak in an extra question. Who is your favorite author and why? 

Evie: My finest compliment was being called the Erna Bombeck of Palo Alto. She’s my idol whose column hit the suburban nail on its hilarious head—line after line, day after day, plus her delightful books. She’s my favorite bookend to Nora Ephron, so funny, yet unlike Erma as her humor’s more subtle, a glancing blow that grabs you when not quite expected. Erma’s our-town, Nora’s uptown! Echoing Nora Ephron’s mom that “Everything is copy,” over the years, I continued to chronicle my angst and adventures via essays, articles and features aiming for Erma’s punch and Nora’s grace. I mourn them both and haven’t really found any comparable replacements.

WOW: Thank you ever so much for sharing your essay, sage advice, and your laughter today - we look forward to reading more of your work! Congratulations again! 

  Interviewed by Crystal Otto who just keeps on keeping on!

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