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Interview with Heather Siegel, author of The King and the Quirky

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About the Book:

Thirty-four-year old Heather Siegel is eccentric, artsy, and independent, and she doesn’t believe in romantic fairy-tales. At least not until she meets her opposite in Jon, a man of science, logic, and kingly ego. She not only falls for the idea of love and “soulmates,” she goes one step further. Going against the advice of three waves of feminism, she moves to the suburbs of Long Island and invests wholeheartedly in marriage and motherhood. Naturally, it doesn’t take long before she finds herself lost and adrift. To regain a shred of her old self, she embarks upon a series of quirky and painfully humorous entrepreneurial and health adventures.
Can you be a stay-at-home mother and still be a feminist? Does the word soulmate have more than one meaning? Should we believe in the “true love” narrative? What is the goal of marriage and raising children, anyway? These are questions posed within this high drama of the mundane, in which (spoiler alert) no murder happens, no affair unfolds, and no death, illness, or trauma is suffered. What does unspool is an entertaining arc of transformation, a light introspective about a marriage of opposites, and boatloads of honesty. The King and The Quirky is sure to get you thinking about your own relationships and it will remind you that perhaps your most important relationship is the one you have with yourself.

About the Author: 

Heather Siegel is the author of the award-winning, coming-of-age memoir, OUT FROM THE UNDERWORLD (Finalist in Foreword Review’s 2016 INDIES Book of Year Award) and THE KING & THE QUIRKY: A Memoir of Love, Marriage, Domesticity, Feminism, and Self (Next Generation Indie Book Award Winner, Women’s Issues, 2020; Readers’ Favorite Book Award Winner, Women’s Nonfiction, 2020).
Her creative nonfiction has appeared in Salon.com, The Flexible Persona, and Entrophy Magazine. She holds an MFA from The New School University, and lives on Long Island where she teaches academic and creative writing for local colleges and continuing education programs. More about her can be found @www.heathersiegel.net
-———Interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on the publication and success of your memoir. You did a fantastic job, and I think many of our readers can relate to your story. What made you decide to dive into this project? 


Heather: Thank you so much– and I appreciate the question. It’s one I asked myself while writing, and again after the book was released… and the answer is that I honestly didn’t decide to dive and write this book. 
The writing of this really began with a series of questions that knocked around in my head—issues that irked me as I lived through these events, and also surfaced as themes of discussion amongst my friends, many of whom had experienced similar love trajectories. We would reveal our struggles with marriage and domestic life— what I call the high drama of the mundane—over coffee, wine, and walks. I guess the difference is I went home and wrote about it. 
WOW: Part of your story is about how you fell for the idea of love and “soulmates,” and you question whether we should we believe in the “true love” narrative (particularly with a marriage of opposites). At one point, you described how the things that you and your husband had fallen in love with about each other might end up being your relationship’s undoing. Perhaps that’s true of all relationships in some way—that what seemed so great in the beginning can be less than great later on? 
Heather: I definitely think this can be true of all relationships. And I think it may even tie into how my definition of soulmates evolved for me as time went on. I mean, do people really complete us? Or is every relationship a vehicle to work on our own shortcomings and complete ourselves? 
Examining this in my own relationship—as well as how my definition of soulmates—and the love narrative—evolved over the ten-year span of this story, has helped me think about the give and take of all my relationships. 

WOW: Another issue you explore is whether you can be a stay-at-home mother and still be a feminist. I related to a lot of your experiences of early motherhood and your thoughts about this topic. What would you say to someone struggling with the challenges of raising a family and staying true to oneself? 

Heather: I don’t know that I am the right person to be giving advice to anyone on their personal path. But if I were talking to my younger self? 
The first thing I would say is to be kind to yourself. And prioritize self-care. We need gas in our tanks, so siphon whatever me time you can and do what makes you feel good — whether it’s napping, taking a bath, going for a walk, reading crime thrillers, whatever it is. 
Second, I think I’d tell my younger self to connect sooner than later with like-minded people going through similar situations—for me that meant finding people who found humor in the struggle. 
Third—and this is something I actually do mention in the book I wish someone HAD told me– I would say, keep a lifeline to your former self, whether it’s to your career, hobby, or passions. Maybe you will need to put this on the back-burner for a while, but keep that pot on simmer! Self-invention can be challenging the second go around. 
Last, I’d tell my younger self to read about financial feminism. It’s difficult to admit when you’ve thrown your finances into a collective account, and have agreed to let your spouse handle the checkbook and earnings, but there is an autonomy and self-reliance in earning money. And unfortunately, in a domestic partnership that can sometimes translate to power. I’m not talking about tyrannical power—I’m talking tone and subtleties. I’m talking respect. 
It’s no accident that over centuries the patriarchy fought the matriarchy for so long, trying to deny us the right to work, own property, and eventually earn equal wages. 
In my relationship, unfortunately I took for granted all the waves of feminism, and all the players who fought for us, and being a self-made small business owner who didn’t get married until her mid-thirties, and who was marrying a liberal, pro-feminist, I didn’t think my not earning for a bit would create any imbalances of power. But as you know, since you’ve read my story, I was wrong. 
So basically what I am saying is I plan to tell my own daughter that whatever it is– I don’t care if its 100 dollars or 100K—it’s not a bad idea to have access to some finances that are separate from the household’s. 

WOW: Well said! In the book, you provide such wonderful detail about the phases of your relationship with your husband and the events of your life. Did you keep a diary or were you able to rely on your memories when writing the book? Or perhaps you just started writing and the recollections flowed? 

Heather: I did scribble here and there on my computer or in a notepad over the ten-year period during which this story takes place. Many of these—as you know from the book—were “Dear Universe” letters. Others were “Dear Jon” letters, usually written in the aftermath of an argument. (Luckily I spared my spouse at least some of these). 
I also kept a running list of Jon-isms, funny or unique things my spouse would say—which, as I think about it now, really began shaping his “character” in my mind. 
And I suppose at heart, I have always been a storyteller—perhaps it’s the middle child-attention seeker in me, or perhaps the closet performer. And when I would stumble upon one that really tickled me, I would “test” it out during those conversations with friends. Similar to when you share your dreams, this oral telling solidified several stories and made them easily accessible. 
WOW: One of the reasons your memoir is so compelling is your honesty and “realness” about your experience. Do you ever find it difficult to reveal your truths? How did the people in your life react to the book? 

Heather: You know, I do and I don’t find it hard to reveal my truths. A blessing of middle age is that I am less inhibited by things that used to embarrass me— say, my skin issues. I also understand as a memoirist that coming clean about my ambivalence, imperfections, and less than stellar thoughts and reactions is part of the pact I’ve made with the reader that says, “Here’s my story. I hope it resonates for you and gets you thinking about your story.” In some ways, this is like a friendship covenant: And you can’t b.s. your real friends if you want to have a meaningful relationship. 
But I will also say that not every truth needs to be revealed, which is why I ended up, during the editing phase, omitting a few anecdotes. I knew they would get laughs, but I also knew that my kid had started growing up. And I had to ask myself if she would really want to one day read about– hypothetically speaking here– her mother sexually fantasizing about Gordon Ramsey? (Probably not, I hypothetically may have decided). 
I also found, during the 20th pass through the manuscript, I didn’t want to read about certain things— like elongated marital spats— which is usually my barometer that probably no one else would either. 
In the end, I think the edits I made tightened the manuscript and helped clarify my intentions: that it wasn’t my spouse who was the villain so much as the crucible of marriage and the double-edged sword of domestic life. 
Apparently, I did okay, because my mother-in-law called me to tell me she loved the book. And I heard the same from my step kids, both of whom told me the book was a page-turner, which I found interesting considering that they know much of this material. 

WOW:  I enjoyed the quotes from married people that were included throughout the book. Can you share a few that you really like? 

Heather: Yes, I’d love to. These were so much fun to collect, and so interesting to see together, as they are all contradictory, and yet seem to make collective sense. Here are a few: 
“Don’t gaze into each other’s eyes looking for meaning. Look outward together.” — J.O, married 12 years.

“You go through waves. I lost and found myself many times. I just lost myself again now that my kids are grown.” — D.C., married 32 years.

“A marriage isn’t 50/50, it’s 100/100.” — J.D., married 16 years.

“Alcohol, lies, and time apart work like a charm for a good marriage.” — K.F., married 19 years.

“It’s very simple: You need to be nice.”—C.W., married 15 years.

“Everyone needs to understand that you can love somebody and still not like them once in a while.” — K.G., married 25 years.

“No matter how bad the fight is, come to bed.”—E.F., married 23 years. 

“Remember what made you say yes.”—M.I., married 13 years.

“Never tell them how much you REALLY spent on something.”–S.F., married 21 years.

“R-E-S-P-E-C-T.”—B.F., married 40 years. 

WOW: Those were some of the quotes I highlighted while reading! Do you have any tips or a piece of advice for our readers who are trying to write a memoir? 

Heather: Sure. I actually wrote a short craft piece recently about memoir writing for a site called Write It Sideways. I discuss the importance of reading other memoirs to absorb memoir technique, telling your story orally to find structure and meaning, going wider with meaning to bridge the universal, using a double perspective to add reflection and layers, starting with an inciting incident to pique interest, and writing your back cover copy to further concretize your structure, and to understand your takeaway and themes. You can read it here: https://writeitsideways.com/8-motivational-and-practical-tips-for-memoir-writing/ 

WOW:  It must be a challenge to promote your book during these unusual times, although we know you’re getting creative with it (from your blog post for us called “Notes on My Covid Book Launch”). You also have a book blurb from Phillip Lopate, widely considered to be a master essayist, which is so cool. Any advice for new authors who are contemplating how to market their book? 

Heather: Yes, I would say that for starters, as uncomfortable as it is, ask for editorial reviews which can then be parlayed into a press release that will hopefully entice more readers to continue reviewing. You can also do the following pre and post release: 
- Reach out to book podcasts to see if they will interview you, or discuss your subject or genre.
- Reach out to bookstores and see if they will host a zoom interview or reading.
- Reach out to organizations that work with your target audience and see if there is a synergistic way to work together. For my first book, for example, I connected with foster care organizations. For this book, parenting groups.
- Query relevant magazines, websites, blogs, and bookstagrammers and see if they will review your book or publish an excerpt.
- Enter contests.
- Connect with book clubs.
- Do a giveaway on GoodReads, and possibly through a virtual book tour.
- Once your pre-order link is up, email your list and offer to send the first chapter.
- Enlist Book Ambassadors to spread the word on social media. (For this, I gave out free ARC’s and enclosed a note asking people to do the following on launch day: 1. Post a copy of the book on their social media feeds. 2. Write a review. Not everyone will come through, but enough will to get some momentum going). 
- Team up with other authors, whether in your own publishing house, or outside of it. Find a common theme that unites your work and build a podcast idea or reading around it. This can be helpful in pitching your work and trying to get coverage, as it will ensure a larger audience for the host.
Also, give back and support other writers promoting their solo works. Share their links and books. Make reading and reviewing for others part of your repertoire as a writer pre- and post-launch.
Launching a book can be a daunting experience— it takes a village.
WOW: Are you working on any writing projects right now? What’s next for you? 

Heather: Yes, I’ve just completed two fiction manuscripts and hope to have some news for them soon. I’ve also been running my “Creative Writery” for some time—helping memoirists and novelists develop their stories. I run a private workshop through CW and do developmental editing. My journey as a writer began some 25 years ago, and I couldn’t have done it without the writing teachers and mentors along the way who helped me develop my voice and craft. To be on this side of things, helping others, is rewarding. 
WOW: Thank you for chatting with us today, Heather! We wish you continued success with the book and your newly completed fiction manuscripts.

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