Author Caitlin Kelly Talks Disclosure: How Much is Enough?

Caitlin Kelly is a freelance writer who has written for The New York Times, The New York Post, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Glamour, Business Week, Town & Country, Family Circle and Penthouse to name a few. She is also the author of two non-fiction books: Blown Away: American Women and Gunsand her latest Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail.

Today and next Friday, July 1, Kelly shares some writing insight with us. Having been in the business since 1990 and worked as a freelance writer in addition to salaried writing jobs since 1996, she has plenty of hard-earned wisdom to share. As a bonus, if enough people ask questions (you can comment or email me directly at oc2seattle dot gmail dot com), Kelly has generously offered to do a Q and A to answer those questions, so don’t be shy, give us your questions!

Without further ado, please welcome Caitlin Kelly.

Thoughts on Disclosure
By Caitlin Kelly

Writing about yourself is a dangerous business.

You know how you think and what you feel. You’ve got strong opinions and powerful memories. Why not use them as material for essays, articles or books? 

What if you’re wrong? Does it matter? To whom?

And, once you start your emotional striptease, when do you stop? When is a coy flirtation insufficient – or a raw flood of confession the cringe-making equivalent of a lap-dance?

Welcome to the minefield of disclosure. The only way to know you’ve overstepped is when you’ve lost your legs. Which is where a tough agent, editor and first readers are essential.

I’ve written a great deal for publication about my own life: my marriage, my divorce, my desire not to have kids, putting my dog to sleep, a noisy hospital stay.

For Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail, my second non-fiction book, I had to dig much deeper than ever before. I found it difficult, painful and frightening — what would the people I was also describing have to say about it? I did not tell them they were about to be in a book, that our private conversations were now scenes and dialogue, shaped by my memory and the exigencies of the book’s narrative arc.

There’s no rulebook on how much to disclose. Every writer, and editor, has their own notion of too much or not enough.

In my first draft of Malled, two close friends and first readers – one of them my sister-in-law – both cautioned me to purge the manuscript of a specific family member and our ongoing conflict. “It’s too much,” said Salley. “We don’t need to know that much. It makes me uncomfortable.”

“You don’t want the fallout,” warned Sheena. “Do you really think it’s worth the family drama to leave it in?” 

Now that Malled is out and widely reviewed – with 34 amazon reviews as I write this, plus some terrific professional assessments from USA Today, The Globe and Mail, Forbes. com and others – I’m also facing the cost of my own candor, of disclosing facts about myself and my worldview that people are now using to attack me, not as a writer but as a person.

For daring to feel them, and daring to include them.

I’ve been called a princess, a racist and an elitist, partly because I chose to disclose that – before working $11/hr in retail – I’d traveled the world, worked for three major daily papers, speak two languages. These are deemed problematic because….?

I could have said nothing. 

Should I?

I think not, and I’ll tell you why. Context.        

I recently read a memoir by a young woman, whose quixotic life choices seemed silly and misguided to me. (She found then charming and compelling, and so did her agent and publisher.) When I dug a little deeper, it was clear she came from significant privilege and had graduated from one of the nation’s most costly and exclusive colleges. Did her background shape her narrative? Of course it did.

Maybe it’s because I’ve worked as a journalist since college, but I want to know the facts! I want the larger contextual framework of who is talking to me, demanding my full and undivided attention for the length of their book. Not for fiction, obviously, but for non-fiction – for me – this is an essential element. Writers who try to disguise their filters cheat us, their readers, of the truth.

Whether we like it or not, we all see, think and write through multiple filters: race, age, education, ethnicity, class, religion, politics.

With no signposts at all to my narrator, a silence where I need context, I lose interest fast.

Who are you?

Why should I listen to you? Or believe you?

So, while some Malled readers continue to beat me up for candidly and honestly admitting in print who I am, where I come from and how I think, I’ll take the hit. I’d rather be that than James Frey or any one of the many “memoirists” whose work — it turns out later – is more deceptively artful fiction than accurate disclosure.

If you’re not willing to share your truth, don’t write.

You don’t have to share everything, nor can your readers listen to it all. It’s up to you, your agent and your editors to determine how much is too much, or too little.

And, no matter what you all decide, someone is bound to hate it.

And love it.

Welcome to the writer’s world!

Part 2: On July 1, Caitlin Kelly gives us her take on the writer’s life.

Writing Tips from Malled Author Caitlin Kelly, A Two-Part Series

Life works in mysterious ways. Really, I can prove it.

One day I was listening to an NPR interview with Caitlin Kelly about her new book, Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail. The next I was reading about it in Marie Claire. And then I found myself in the midst of an email conversation with the author herself asking if she would give the rest of us some words of writing wisdom. And you know what? She said yes.

Writing Chops

Caitlin Kelly is a freelance writer who has written for The New York Times, The New York Post, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Glamour, Business Week, Town & Country, Family Circle and Penthouse (yes, Penthouse) to name a few. She is also the author of two non-fiction books, Blown Away: American Women and Guns and her latest, Malled. 

Malled is an expose of the plight of the retail worker told from a memoir perspective.  It details Kelly’s two-years working in retail at The North Face after she lost her salaried job at The New York Daily News and wanted some steady income to supplement her freelance career and allow some breathing room in the never-ending story-pitching cycle.  For USA Today’s review of Malled click here.

Guest Blog Writing Series

For the next two Fridays (June 24 and July 1), Kelly will share some writing insight with us. Having been in the business since 1990 and worked as a freelance writer in addition to salaried writing jobs since 1996, she has plenty of hard-earned wisdom to share.  As a bonus, if enough people ask questions (you can comment or email me directly at oc2seattle dot gmail dot com), Kelly has generously offered to do a Q and A to answer those questions.

June 24: Disclosure

Because Malled is a memoir, Kelly had some interesting discussions regarding disclosure with her publishers. How much disclosure is enough? How much does an investigative journalist have to bare her soul in her memoir? 

The issue of disclosure is one us bloggers face all the time.  Do we talk about our families? Our friends? Our day jobs? List our last names? How much information is too much information? Where is the line between voice and privacy? 

On Friday, Kelly’s first guest post will wrangle with the unruly issue of disclosure and share the decision making process she used when writing Malled.

July 1: The Writer’s Life

Many of us dream of ditching our day jobs and writing full time.  On July 1, Kelly will give us a humorous and poignant look at the reality of the life of the full-time writer.

Can’t wait til Friday to start asking questions? Comment now.

Easy, Elegant Appetizer: Crispy Pancetta, Gooey Blue Cheese and Sweet Dates

Pancetta Wrapped, Blue Cheese Stuffed, Dates

When trying to pull a cocktail hour off on a weeknight, my goal is simple: provide an array of elegant, substantive, appetizers that I can put together in the hour or so between work and the minute the first guest arrives.  Ambitious? Perhaps, but very doable.  Here’s my secret.

Appetizers

  • Nuts and/or olives:  Interesting is always better. Think salt and pepper pistachios from Whole Foods or lemon stuffed olives.
  • Cheese: The perfect cheese plate contains a hard cheese (a sharp aged cheddar, pecorino or manchego), a soft cheese (chevre or brie), a cheese of interest like Humboldt Fog or Stilton with apricots, and a blue or gorgonzola cheese. Garnish with fresh raspberries, strawberries, grapes, honey and/or fig spread.
  • Baguette from the best bakery available, preferably French.
  • Something Sweet: I prefer cookies, like Chocolate-Cherry cookies, truffles, anything individual sized.

And then there’s the secret weapon:

Pancetta Wrapped, Blue Cheese Stuffed, Dates

  • Pitted Dates: 4-6 per person
  • Blue Cheese Crumbles
  • Pancetta: 4 ounces for 24 dates
  • Toothpicks, one per date

Preheat  oven to 375 degrees.

Cut dates in half and lay them on a cutting board for easy assembly.

Using a spoon, fill one half of each date with blue cheese and place the other half on top to “close” the date.

Tear the pancetta into strips.

Wrap each date with a strip of pancetta and secure with a toothpick. Place on the baking sheet.

When the baking sheet is full or you’ve wrapped as many dates as needed, put the baking sheet with dates into the oven for 20-30 minutes.

After 15 minutes, flip the wrapped dates and turn the cookie sheet around for more even baking.

These can be served warm (not hot) or at room temperature if you want to make them a few hours before serving.

When I serve these there are rarely any left. What’s your secret appetizer weapon?

Fortune Cookie Says . . .

Image: © Amy Halucha | Dreamstime.com

It is better to have beans and bacon in peace than cakes and ale in fear.”

Hmmm . . . I’m not so sure about that, cakes and ale are pretty good and what’s life without a little adrenaline?  What do you think?

Cherry and Chocolate Affair Conceives Captivating Cookie

 

For years I’ve baked by the book, deviating only once or twice. But I decided it’s time to let creativity into my kitchen, damn the mistakes and bowls of dough donated to yard waste. 

I began dreaming of cookies. I wanted something rich and indulgent but with a tangy, sweet edge.

The indulgent part was easy – what’s more luxurious in a cookie than chocolate? With chocolate as a base, I started thinking of fruity pairings. Apricot? No, better with white chocolate. Pineapple? Possible, but still seems to miss the mark. And then it became obvious, cherries. But not any old cherry, Bing cherries.  

I began whipping the components of a recipe around in my mind and then took to the test kitchen and failed. Hmm, sometimes you can’t use salted butter in a pinch. With round one a yard waste donation, it was time for round 2. It yielded success in the form of:

Chocolate-Cherry Cookies

Ingredients

  • 3/4 c. unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 oz. unsweetened chocolate
  • 1 1/2 c. flour
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 8 oz. dried Bing cherries

Melt chocolate. You can do this using a double boiler or go the easy route and follow the microwave directions on the package. Just microwave in 30 second bouts at a reduced power level (like 5) and vigorously stir between each round as sometimes the chocolate keeps its shape but is actually all melty inside and just needs a good stirring.

Melt butter in microwave until 80% melted (about 50 seconds on Power Level 5).

Combine sugar and butter in a medium bowl. Use electric mixer on low to beat together.

 Add egg, vanilla and chocolate and mix until combined.

In a separate bowl add the flour, salt and baking soda. Sift together (or stir if you don’t have a sifter or don’t want to be bothered).

Add flour mixture gradually into chocolate mixture until well blended. 

Stir in cherries.

Refrigerator at least 1/2 hour.

When you are ready to bake. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Roll dough into balls and place on cookie sheet (you can roll the balls  in sugar first if you like). Gently press the middle of each ball to flatten it 1/2 way, as if you were making a shallow thumbprint cookie.

Bake 8-10 minutes. Remove to wire rack and let cool.

Makes approximately 2 dozen.

Can’t get enough cherries? Check out Eat the Love’s Bing Cherry Goat Cheese Tart and see what he does with fresh cherries.

Baking Cookies on Foodista

Charcuterie and Cheese

Memorial Day weekend the stars aligned and Jim and I escaped for our overdue weekend alone in Westport.

As we neared the end of our two-hour drive to the Washington coast, hunger set in and Bay City Sausage Market appeared on the side of the road like a forest oasis.

Bay City Sausage Market features fresh home-made sausage and beef jerky. You can also order smoked whole turkeys year-round and if you’re the meat raising or fish catching type have your fish or clams vacuum packed and your meat custom cut, processed, smoked and packaged to your specifications. But we were on a search solely for sustenance.

We were greeted by the smell of pepper jerky just out of the smoker and a case stuffed with smoked sausage variety. We chose three in sliced, ready-to-eat snack packs: the Mulligan, a beef and pork blend billed as “EXTRA HOT,” Hungarian, a mild pork sausage smothered in paprika, and German Garlic, a beef and pork blend with a “super garlicky flavor.”  With sausage in hand, I started dreaming of a charcuterie and cheese plate paired with a bottle of red, devoured in the sun. Better get something for the road . . .

Gnawing on hot peppery beef jerky, we drove on toward Westport, with a quick stop at the Westport Winery for a wine tasting, bottle of syrah and cheese.  Washington State University Creamery Crimson Fire, Wilamette Valley Cheese Co. Farmstead Herb de Provence Havarti, and Rogue Creamery Smokey Blue.

We arrived in Westport and headed straight to the condo’s kitchen to assemble our finds and pour our wine. Then it was out to the back patio to take in the salt air, sun and watch our neighbors below filleting their catch of the day. The cheese and sausage combinations danced and whirled together on our palates. First a fiery blast of jalapeno in the Crimson Fire Cheese, then the mellowing taste of the Hungarian sausage. Next the sharp tang of the Smokey Blue and the heat of the Mulligan. All accompanied by the steadying boldness of the syrah.

No crackers, bread, almonds, or olives needed. This cheese and sausage combination can stand on its own.

What’s your favorite item on a charcuterie plate?  Have any cheeses to recommend?

A Taste of Harrods Royal Wedding Tea

Jim’s daughter Jamie spent last semester in London, just in time for all the Royal Wedding pageantry, commemorative stamps, plates, coins, and other assorted “collectibles.” Knowing my obsession with all things legally ingestible she brought the most iconically British Royal Wedding collectible home for me – tea.

Before opening my gift, I was instructed to smell the wrapped package. The heady scent of rose overwhelmed me and caused me to guess “soap” when prompted. In truth, potpourri flashed through my mind but I’m pretty sure no one’s actually purchased potpourri since the 1980s. Some thin bar like substances in the package – which turned out to be chocolate – also hindered my guess work.

She laughed no and I opened my package to reveal Harrods English Rose Wedding Tea. A mix of black tea riddled with rose petals. Naturally, it needed to be tasted immediately.

When steeped, the tea became a rich caramel color. The rose emitted a luxurious scent that translated to a feeling more than a taste; a pleasant pulse in the middle of the back throat. The tea tasted slightly floral but predominantly soothing like a cashmere throw on a chilly spring night.

It did not need to be gussied up with cream and sugar. Like Kate’s dress, it was simple and elegant. How very British.

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