Casual murders in a brownstone, deadly decorating wars, a reality show revolt, rehabilitating pageant kids who many or may not be willing, and a book club with unique benefits are just a few of the situations that Helen Ellis spins with sharp satire, leaving you laughing, groaning, and saying amen. Do not miss this collection of short, short stories. Addictive and stunningly spot-on, once you start you won’t be able to put it down. Begging to be shared, this little book is going to be one of this year’s big things. -Ms. Alderman
Helen graciously answered some questions for me! Just like her book, her answers left me laughing, thinking, and eagerly awaiting her next book! Read on for her frank talk on writing, feminism, and how to type with a cat who thinks it’s a parrot…
Book Club Advisor: Your stories all infuse humor and humanity to the main characters. Everyone’s behavior is up for sharp-eyed scrutiny, but everyone is also a relatable human. How do you make that balance work?
Helen: Why, thank you! Alice McDermott once told me at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference: no one is 100% good or 100% bad. I, myself, am a very nice lady, but I appreciate a mean streak.
BCA: Do you think scrutiny over women’s choices hobbles them in creative pursuits?
Helen: I think you’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t, but with today’s technology, scrutiny is easier to come by than coupons in a dumpster. I wrote American Housewife in the privacy of my own home. There’s a power and freedom in such privacy. With no one to judge you, you get a job done.
BCA: You write with great humor and wit about issues that are very political and personal. Is there a message in your short stories that you want the reader to grasp?
Helen: Home is where the har-dee-har-har is.
BCA: You mentioned in another interview that these stories come from your experience. Is there any particular story that you feel is you the most? One that you were nervous to include?
Helen: Yes, “How to Be a Patron of the Arts” is the most personal. It’s the story of a woman letting go of her own writing to foster the creative pursuits of others. In that process, she comes to appreciate her marriage. Being a housewife becomes her art and she excels at it and falls more and more in love with that art. And deeper in love with her husband. At the end of the story, she happily stops being a writer. By writing that story, I started writing after a long period of silence.
BCA: Are there any stories that got left out of the final draft? If so, how did that decision occur?
Helen: Nope! All in!
BCA: For my writer/readers, talk about the experience of submitting to magazines and journals. What do you know now that you wish you knew when you started?
Helen: Keep a spreadsheet of where you submit. Submit to 20 – yes TWENTY – places at a time. When one rejects your story, immediately submit to another. When one accepts your story, squeal and run around in circles. Then pull your story from wherever it’s on submission.
BCA: What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
Helen: I can write with a 25 pound cat wresting on my arm like a parrot.
BCA: Which writers inspire you?
Helen: Ann Napolitano and Hannah Tinti. They have been my writer’s workshop and dear friends for 20 – plus years.
BCA: What are you reading now?
Helen: The Secret Life of Violet Grant by Beatriz Williams, which was recommended to me by John Kwiatkowski from the Houston bookstore, Murder by the Book (@johnnie_cakes on twitter and instagram).
BCA: Coffee or tea?
Helen: Ice Latte with extra ice, please and thank you.
Follow Helen @Helen_Ellis and @whatidoallday
Great article on the genesis of this collection: http://www.elle.com/culture/a33063/american-housewife-helen-ellis/