Saturday, October 1, 2011

Another Bad Dog: Interview with Joni B. Cole

 Joni B. Cole is one of the busiest women I know. When she isn't taking care of her family, teaching, conducting writing workshops or public speaking, she is writing.    
She is the author of Toxic Feedback: Helping Writers Survive and Thrive, the three volume "This Day" book series which includes This Day in the Life and Water Cooler Diaries: Women across America Share Their Day at Work, and the soon to be released Another Bad-Dog Book: Tales of Life, Love, and Neurotic Human Behavior.
Joni has published numerous magazine articles and essays in literary journals, and is a frequent contributor to The Writer magazine. She has been a guest on CNN and dozens of radio and news shows and I am honored she took the time to talk with me today. 

1.Gina Barreca, columnist for the Washington Post, says Another Bad Dog Book: Tales of Life, Love and Neurotic Human Behavior, is, “funny, smart, original, and--just to keep us on our toes--occasionally heartbreaking.”  That's quite a review! How do you see it?
Gina is a bigwig author, humorist, columnist and academic so I appreciate that she took the time to review the book. A lot of reviewers mention that I’m funny and, apparently, someone who makes you pee your pants. But what I particularly loved about Gina’s review was that she also commented on the quality of the prose, which is important to me. Here’s an interesting experience I’ve had related to reviews. While they’ve been consistently positive (and if they weren’t, do you really think I’d bring this up?), the reviewers differ widely on how they see me in the book. If all are to be believed, somehow I am at once “friendly,” “arrogant,” “lyrical,” “crude,” “vulgar,” and the “Queen of Mean” “whom you will feel much fondness for” by the end of my “little” “tour de force” book.

2. One of the essays, "Strangers on a Train," was nominated for the 2011 Pushcart Prize. That had to be a great feeling.
You better believe I manage to squeeze in a mention of that prize nomination in almost every conversation, so thank you for bringing it up. But here’s the icing on the cake. That particular essay is about me having the worst hangover of my life, stuck on a long, hot train ride, fantasizing about Halle Berry to avoid puking on my fellow passengers, and experiencing an epiphany about myself and Western culture thanks to a momentary encounter with a Muslim woman. This reinforces to me that a story such as this can be meaningful and literary.

3. Interesting title. Where did that come from?
It’s the title of the first essay, which features my Chihuahua mutt. But I’d like to clarify that the essay isn’t about the dog; it’s about confronting (or not) a midlife crisis. As Publisher’s Weekly aptly wrote, this is “a person book…for better or worse.” For readers who buy the book and expect a lot of dog stories, I’m sorry. (But please know that I am sincerely a dog freak!) I’d also like to add here that at least I’m not the author Sloane Crosley, who entitled her first essay collection I Was Told There’d Be Cake, yet as far as I can tell, she didn’t even use that line anywhere in the book.

4. Any big plans for release date? Any rituals, etc?
This is my fifth book and I have never made a point to stop and celebrate any of them on their release dates. In fact, a few friends have offered to host a release party when Another Bad Dog Book is officially out (Oct. 4), but I feel squeamish, almost superstitious, about this. I love parties, and lord knows I never miss an opportunity to promote my books. But I have this feeling that if I acknowledge my success with a celebration, the Cosmos might think I’m getting too full of myself, and make a point to bring me down a notch. Of course, now that I’ve reread what I’ve just written, I can see how warped my thinking is—so bring on the party!

5. You wrote a book called Toxic Feedback: Helping Writers Survive and Thrive. Why? 
I’ve taught writing workshops for about fifteen years and know that, for most writers, getting feedback is the difference between writing and not writing; and it’s often the difference between writing and writing well. Yet, too often writers shy away from showing drafts of their work because they’ve been hurt or set back thanks to what I call toxic feedback. In addition, writers often avoid feedback for fear someone will try and railroad their creative process. This book shows both writers and feedback providers how to make the most of the feedback interaction in order to help you write more, write better, and be happier (because who isn’t happier when writing more and writing better). 

6. Tell us about your three-volume “This Day” book series, including the most recent release, Water Cooler Diaries: Women across America Share Their Day at Work. Where did the idea come from?
The idea for the book series came to me when I was having a bad day, and
started wondering if any other woman could possibly be feeling this low. But of course you can only wallow in self pity for so long, so then I thought, hey, what are other women doing and thinking and feeling right now, at this very same moment. And so a book series was born out of a bad mood, curiosity, and a need for connection. For each book, about five-hundred women across America and from all walks of life contributed a “day diary” to the project. Moms, celebrities, soldiers, nursing home residents, madams, nuns—the selected day diaries in the book are remarkably candid and intimate, showing how women really spend their time, and what’s really on their minds.

7. Other than writing, teaching, mentoring, public speaking what is your claim to fame? My daughters, ages 12 and 14 are perfect in every way, and I am their mother so I take full credit. Also, I’m a nice person.

8. What is life like for Joni now?
Timothy Olyphant-in a cowboy hat
I’m focused on shamelessly self promoting my book (hear that any reviewers out there, or book groups, or women’s organizations, or bookstores...) I run the Writer’s Center of White River Junction, Vermont, and have some conferences and retreats lined up. I love going to my daughters’ field hockey games (reliving my own glory years)! I’m working on staying positive and productive. Life deals some hard blows—to witness this first hand I just have to go a half mile down my road in either direction to see the devastation to families and businesses caused by the recent flooding in Vermont. So the fact that my house isn’t layered with mud makes me all the more aware of my current good fortune, and the need to give back.

9. What turns you on?
People who try. Good conversationalists. And Timothy Olyphant in a cowboy hat.
10. What’s next?
Professionally speaking, another book, I hope, preferably written under contract, which would be a first. I’m shooting for 2013. In terms of what’s next today—a much needed shower (I went jogging about an hour ago); critiquing some manuscripts for my workshops on Thursday, finishing a freelance project, picking up my daughters after practice, and two hours of Netflix if I can stay awake long enough. 

Another Bad-Dog Book: Tales of Life, Love, and Neurotic Human Behavior is scheduled for release October 4, 2011.  Ask for it at your local bookstore, or order through Amazon by clicking on the book title above.



H.F. "Pete" Grimm III said...

Great interview!

Anonymous said...

Great interview, Kelly! Joni, I say invite the cosmos to your party and live it up. You're allowed. :)
Good luck with Another Bad Dog! I'll RT this.

Joni Cole said...

Hey Pond Hopper and "Pete", thanks to both of you for commenting. And know you're both invited to my book release party, wherever you may be! I hope you check out the book and if you like it, spread the word. (If you don't like it, well let's just keep that our little secret, shall we?)

Marjorie Nelson Matthews said...

Definitely partying on Oct. 4.

Erica Lucke Dean said...

What a great interview! I'm so excited to have Joni guest blogging for me on Friday, and thank you so much Kelly, for introducing us!

-G said...

I sort of have the same reaction to Tim Olyphant in a cowboy hat, but it might be more envy than lust. Brother can wear the hell out of that hat.

Amberr said...

Enjoyed the interview and I love the title. Very catchy.