Author Mary Lou Quinlan's mother wrote down her prayers and put them into a God Box. Mary Lou and her brother had no idea how often, though -- when their mother died they found not one, not two but many God Boxes filled with loving wishes for family and friends. I got the chance to talk to Mary Lou about this book and the God Box Project.
BlogHer: You’ve worked with traditional and hybrid publishers. The God Box is published by a hybrid publisher, correct? Why did you decide to go that route for this book?
Mary Lou Quinlan: I’ve had success both with traditional publishers (John Wiley and Broadway Books) but also published my third book with a hybrid independent, Greenleaf Book Group. Although I pitched The God Box book proposal to traditional publishers first -- and got a good response -- their direction leaned toward a longer, deep-dig memoir, and I felt that the book had a different mission.
From the beginning, I knew that the book ought to serve both the truth of my Mom’s story/our loving relationship and the needs of the busy, caring female readers who would love the story best. That defined the book clearly: it needed to be small (to carry), short (to fit in women’s hectic lives), beautiful (to hold and to give), and filled with photos of my Mom’s handwritten notes as well as selected vintage photos. Those specs of a keepsake gift book that would be designed with ultimate care fell outside what traditional publishers were interested in at the time. And after my first "hybrid" experience, I wanted control of the look and feel and speed to market, and I knew that Greenleaf editorial would bring so much to the party. I am happy I chose this route.
BlogHer: I didn’t even make it more than a few sentences into the excerpt before I got misty. Every mother would want her daughter to feel such respect for her. Did you talk much to your mom about your writing? How did your relationship with her affect your confidence as you grew up?
Mary Lou Quinlan: Both my parents encouraged my writing. I believe I said I wanted to be a writer as early as age six. I just didn’t know that I would spend so many years of my career writing business proposals rather than writing from my heart. My mom was always saying how proud she was of everything I wrote, from school papers through to national women’s magazines. She threw a book party for me in her Florida retirement community when she was 81 ... and she was beaming. “My daughter writes books, you know!” she’d happily crow. She gave me confidence with my morning cereal and on my pillow every night. “You can do and be anything,” she said. She really believed there was nothing I couldn’t do if I put my mind to it. She instilled in me not only the confidence to try, but the confidence that if I failed, she’d love me just the same ... my cheerleader with a safety net. What more could a daughter ask?
BlogHer: My sister, my daughter and I have ceramic cupcakes that we use to stow our problems, but for us it is more of a mental health strategy to let the cupcake worry about it than a prayer. Do you think your mom used her God Box in that way as well as for prayers?
Mary Lou Quinlan: That’s what the God Box was ... a place to contain her runaway worries. Once in the God Box, she let her worries go into God’s hands. She had a rule for anything that she put in on our behalf: I’ll put it in the box, but if you keep bringing up that same worry because you think you can handle it better ... it’s coming out of the box!” Enough to make even type A me knock off the re-worrying and let it go for a while. Like the cupcakes (very cool), it wasn’t about the box ... it was about the letting go, the relief even more than the resolution.
BlogHer: Can you tell us more about the play? How did you come up with the idea, and which charities will benefit from its proceeds?
Mary Lou Quinlan: From the first moment, I also knew I wanted to write the play because I knew the book would have certain restraints in order to appeal to a wide audience of women and to invite them to reflect on their own lives, rather than dig into the nuances of mine. The play gave the story more room to breathe, to cry, to laugh and even to be dark.
I love to be onstage and have been kind of an entertainer/speaker for the past dozen years and like so many women, was wrapped up in high school and college theater but put it aside for my business career.
The play is demanding because it’s just me onstage for over a hour in a roller coaster ride of emotions. I have been so fortunate to co-develop the script and be directed by a fabulous actor/playwright Martha Wollner of The Labyrinth Theater in NYC and together, we continue to hammer this out in rehearsals and workshops.
I am performing a shorter version of it as part of the book tour and looking to the Fall to run the full show in a few geographies outside of NYC. The charities benefiting will be cancer-focused, family-related and locally-based. Examples include a show in Pittsburgh on April 18th at the Adat Shalom synagogue in Cheswick, PA where the Jewish Family and Childrens Services will receive the dollars. Then on May 4th, a performance will benefit the building of a new hospice wing at Morristown Hospital in New Jersey. And the American Cancer Society will receive an advance donation from me since I want to direct the lion’s share to resolving the disease that took both my parents.
Scenes from the God Box Project play
BlogHer: Jeffrey Zaslow blurbed your book. We discussed his last book, The Magic Room, in BlogHer Book Club. We were actually still discussing it when Jeff passed away in a tragic accident. It was hard to discuss a book showing such fatherly love for his three girls and the family love showed at weddings knowing he’d never see his daughters marry. Do you see parallels between The Magic Room and The God Box?
BlogHer: First, Jeffrey Zaslow ... what a heartache to lose such a magnificent person and writer. He and I had never met but he agreed to read my book and blurb it, even as he was about to launch The Magic Room. I think that the parallel is the idea of a magical place that is a crucible for family portraits, love and relationships. Like the bridal room of his book, where love is revealed in all its forms, the God Box was just a little bunch of castaway boxes that held the gems of just how much my mother loved, cared, feared, hoped and prayed. In life, we are all searching for those truths of those we love and sadly, many don’t get to know the full story in other’s hearts. Jeffrey’s daughters must treasure that book, as I do my mother’s God Boxes ... but no matter how wonderful, nothing replaces the jewels we’ve lost.
BlogHer: You’ve been blogging for a few months now. We’re all bloggers here and know it’s a huge commitment to post with any sort of frequency. Is it hard to keep up your blog with your busy schedule?
BlogHer: Well, I am writing to you at 5 am so ... yes, it can be hard and I have missed some posts on my social calendar. I am a fast writer so coming up with ideas, editing them and getting them out isn’t the hard part for me. Posting and staying on top of the multitude of platforms -- while running a business, rehearsing a play, traveling with the book and being a human -- that’s the hard part. I have to get over my technology-phobia too. I tend to learn something and want to stick with it. I won’t even let blackberry upgrade my software, let alone switch to a coveted iPhone just as I’m about to go on the road. I don’t want to be in a rut, yet each time I add another layer -- Pinterest, Twitter, blogs, Youtubes to my everyday -- I feel a little more worried that I am spreading myself too thin. But then I add another. Is this addictive?
BlogHer: Do you have an idea in mind for your next project?
Mary Lou Quinlan:Trying not to answer, WHAT??? This project still has so much more in the works -- an off Broadway dream, an app next month, more films, a community -- and I already have my first offer for foreign rights and hoping for more reach globally. And honestly, until I get in front of people with this story, I won’t even know just how it will unfold. I hope it leads to sharing the stories I bet I will hear ... about mothers and daughters, about the power of belief, about rituals of letting go. And that might give birth to God Box II ... and related merchandise to bring the God Box into more lives. I trademarked a number of things under the name in the hope that this isn’t a one shot effort; this is an ongoing project and a commitment, not only to the causes I will support, but to Mom. Nobody better, in my book!
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