How Kamy Wicoff helps women tackle the biased world of literature (EXCLUSIVE)
Ever wish you could be in two places at once? There’s an app for that! At least, a fiction app in Kamy Wicoff’s new book, Wishful Thinking. SheKnows got to sit down with the entrepreneur, author, founder of SheWrites.com and one of our 37 impressive leaders on the BlogHer 2015 advisory board?.
SheKnows: Where did you get the idea for Wishful Thinking?
Kamy Wicoff: I was reading the Harry Potter books with my older son, and absolutely loving them, when I thought, "I wish there were a book like this about a mom, rather than a 10-year-old boy." And then I thought, "If I could give a modern-day mom any power, what would it be?" The answer came instantly: the ability to be in more than one place at the same time. Every harried parent I knew could use that!
I soon decided, however, that rather than bestow this power on my main character through magic, I wanted to grant it to her through science — in part as a play on our contemporary obsession with technology as the answer to all our problems. I’ve always been an amateur lover of physics, and I did a lot of reading before settling on the concept of a smartphone app that would make time travel possible via wormhole, enabling my main character to be where she had to be and where she wished she could be, too. (The app, called Wishful Thinking, is based on Stephen Hawking’s theory of how time travel through a wormhole could actually work.) From there, the book took off.
SK: In an age when there's an app for everything, you've imagined a story in which there's an app for time travel. Do you think time travel is something that could be possible in the future?
KW: When Dr. Diane Sexton, the physicist who invents the time-travel app in the book, explains how it works to Jennifer, she is actually explaining a theory that physicists like Kip Thorne, who consulted on the movie Interstellar, have put forward as a way time travel could be possible within the known laws of physics.
Stephen Hawking believes wormholes can be found in a substance called quantum foam, and others have theorized that by using a substance called exotic energy, you could stabilize them long enough that they could be traversable. The problem is that the amount of energy it would take to keep a wormhole open and stable long enough for a human being to pass through it is almost unimaginable! (And some people question the existence of quantum foam.) And, of course, the likelihood that a traversable wormhole would come from an app on your smartphone is pretty much zero.
SK: Do your main character Jennifer’s experiences in the book mirror your own or those of women you know?
KW: Of course. The opening scene of the book shows Jennifer Sharpe, my main character, trying to get her two boys dressed, fed and out the door for school in the morning; and every mom who has read it has identified with that immediately, because what parent hasn’t been there? (I was there this morning. Put on your shoes. Put on your shoes. Put on your shoes!)
Like Jennifer, I have also literally found myself running from one place to another, not “running an errand” in the figurative sense, but actually running down the street because I am late. As a divorced mother of two boys, I struggle to balance work and family, and often feel I am failing a little bit at both as I hold myself to impossible standards. I know many women who feel the same way. I wanted to write something funny and cathartic, but also something that asked deeper questions, like, "How can we be kinder to ourselves? Is more time what we need, or is it a mindful shift in the way we spend it? How do our smartphones help us manage modern life, and when do they actually contribute to — or even create — its pressures?" Jennifer is not me (I keep explaining that to my kids), but she is someone I know well and have a lot of compassion for. It was almost like I was writing the book for her, trying to make her think, to feel less alone, to laugh. And wanting to give her a happy ending, which I did.
SK: You've already released one book in the nonfiction genre. What's the best part about being a debut fiction author?
KW: I really love, and feel very proud of, being a first-time novelist at age 42. Writing is something that gets better with age (I know this from experience) and it was great fun — on the one hand, to do something I’d never done before (write fiction) while also bringing years of life experience to this book that I just didn’t have under my belt when I wrote my first one. And as an over-40, first-time novelist, I’m in very good company! Just peruse this terrific post by She Writes member and author Randy Susan Meyers: "Debut Books By Writers Over Forty." It’s so inspiring.
SK: You started the She Writes online writing community several years ago and you’re a cofounder of She Writes Press. What prompted the creation of each?
KW: I started SheWrites.com in 2009 because I wanted to help the authors I knew cope with the enormous changes that were occurring in publishing — changes most of us weren’t prepared to deal with. Suddenly, in addition to being writers, we were supposed to be marketers, social media experts and publicists, and none of us knew where to start. My thought was that if we created a community online where we could share what we learned as we navigated these new roles, we could at least be spared the misery of reinventing the wheel over and over again alone. What I didn’t anticipate was how many writers all over the world, beyond those I already knew, needed and wanted a resource like that, too. She Writes now has more than 25,000 members worldwide, from famous writers like Dani Shapiro, A. M. Homes and Cheryl Strayed to beginning writers just starting out. Everyone who cares about writing is welcomed and treated with respect, and that message has spoken powerfully to many people.
SK: Why was starting a site and publishing company specifically for women important to you?
KW: She Writes has an IRL mother, of sorts — a series of salons for women writers I hosted with my late mentor and friend, the poet and biographer Diane Middlebrook. The character Dr. Diane Sexton is, in part, in honor of her. Diane’s wonderful vision was to create a space where women could exchange practical information relevant to the profession of writing, share inspiration and knowledge of craft, and through that sharing and support, improve their chances of success in the wider world.
Neither of us ever considered having men in the room — we knew intuitively what Sheryl Sandberg has been highlighting since the publication of Lean In, that when men are in the room, women are often less likely to speak and more likely to be interrupted when they do.
We also wanted to create a tool that would empower women writers as they faced continuing prejudice in the world of literature, where they are consistently reviewed less often, awarded fewer major literary prizes and generally treated as “lady scribblers” rather than human beings qualified to speak for the human experience, not just for the “intimate” world of women.
SheWrites.com was founded in that spirit and She Writes Press was, too. I have always loved supporting women and I will always do it in any way I can. I am on the board of an organization called Girls Write Now, too, that mentors high school girls from underserved neighborhoods through the power of writing.