Meet my friend Denise Malloy. She has a smile, southern drawl and genuine charm that lights up a room. And when you notice her perfectly straight white teeth, dimples and fashionably badass hairdo and think maybe she’s the type of lady who hangs with people above your ilk, well, she’ll say something to tip you off that you’ve got it all wrong.
“My hair?” Denise laughed when I complimented her short ‘do years ago and asked her where she’d had it done. “Umm, my house? My husband uses the clippers on me — has for years.”
I first met Denise years ago as a freelance writer writing for a local monthly women’s publication I edit called Balance magazine. She presented herself as a stay at-home mom raising two sons; it was years until I discovered she’d spent two years in Samoa as a Peace Corps volunteer, had a whole other career as a school teacher mixed in with law school and some years working as a lawyer. (Oops, slipped my mind!) Besides being humble, Denise has a self-deprecating sense of humor that saves her bacon from everybody hating her for her shining awesomeness. Witness how she describes herself on her website:
“After working as a lifeguard, a Peace Corps Volunteer, a middle school teacher, a Hickory Farms girl, a switchboard operator, a front desk clerk at a hotel featuring the Fashion Don’t uniform consisting of a turd brown, three-piece polyester suit with a bow tie, and finally, an attorney (but don’t hold that against me), I am uniquely qualified to do absolutely nothing. Recent job interviews confirm this sad but true fact. That’s why I write.”
These days Denise writes a popular humor column about her family and popular culture for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and just released her first book, A Real Mother, which is a compilation of those columns. (Last month instead of writing for Balance, she was the cover story.) I never read her columns without marveling at her cleverness, loving that her voice is so true on the page that I swear I can hear Kentucky from here.
What is the process of writing a column like for you?
It has evolved. I used to spend hours fretting over what I was going to write about (and then fret about not having it written already). I started keeping a list of stuff that makes me laugh or say WTF? I trust the process more now and let it flow more than trying to control it. It’s a lot more fun that way. Sometimes the process itself surprises me and the writing takes me in a direction I didn’t expect, which I absolutely love.
You’re known as a humorous columnist — does that ever feel like a lot of pressure?
I’m always worried about whether it’s funny or not. Especially when a column gets a big response, I worry about the next one. I guess worry a lot for someone who is supposed to be funny.
You’ve recently hit the big 5-0. How has that been for you? What is one goal you’ve set for yourself this year?
I had to combine these two questions because for me, they go together. I’d say 50 is great because it’s motivating as hell. Approaching the half-century mark is monumental — it’s a reminder that time is limited. And it forces you to make an honest assessment of your goals. One of mine for as long as I can remember was to write a book. So this seemed like the year to quit making excuses and do it.
One part of the 50-thang is not so amusing. When did the Andy Rooney eyebrows and a soul patch turn up on the peri-menopausal menu?
What’s your best advice for happiness?
1. I think there’d be a lot fewer Zoloft and Paxil prescriptions if there were adult-sized playgrounds. I’m totally serious. Think about it — swings, slides, teeter totters and those spinny things that make me puke since I had kids. It’s hard to be in a bad mood when you’re on a swing. Try it.
2. Stop taking yourself so seriously.
You always seem so darn sunny and spunky. Do you ever get down?
I am one of those annoying, pathologically cheerful people. I’m a pain in the ass to be around due to my perpetually optimistic outlook. I guess you could say my glass has always been half full, the secret is to make sure that sometimes it’s with gin and tonic.
How did you meet your husband?
After 4 years of teaching cute elementary students, I got bumped to a middle school where I taught twitchy, walking hormones known as 7th graders. That spring, I saw THE cutest guy — ever — walking around our school. Suddenly I became one of the walking hormones. He was rumored to be the new teacher coming over from the high school. I decided he was the guy I was going to marry.
Are there some things you’ve learned about publishing a book that you didn’t know before?
I’ve learned that whether you do it through a traditional publisher or on your own, you basically do everything yourself anyway. In 2007, Arcadia Publishing approached me about doing a Bozeman history book. I thought it would be a great learning experience and loved the chance to hang out at the Pioneer Museum and look through old pictures and documents. The publishers said they’d take care of all the details, marketing and advertising. While I’m proud of that book, I ended up doing a lot more than just the writing. So I guess I could chalk it up to that learning experience I was looking for.
While in the planning stages, I shopped around for publishers for A Real Mother trying to figure it all out. After doing months of research, I decided to start my own publishing company, One Red Dog Press and go with a Print-on-Demand company. So from start to finish, every aspect of A Real Mother was a true do-it-yourself project. I learned everything from formatting and cover design to marketing and advertising. I also learned if I had to sell stuff for a living, I’d starve to death. I really hate that part.
Writing a book was a lot like pregnancy — both of mine lasted about 9 months and made me crazy in the process. It’s all you think about and talk about. And when you finally show it to the world, you hope the world loves it as much as you do. Which is why I nearly had a stroke when I saw the first shipment of my new baby — the baby on the cover looked like Gorbachev with big purple splotches all over it — all 500 copies. Once I regained consciousness, customer service took care of it.
Tell us a bit about how you got started writing. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
I believe Flannery O’Conner’s theory about writers — if you survive childhood, you have enough material to write the rest of your life. But when your childhood looks like this, clearly the Humor Writing gods have smiled upon you.
I would tell every aspiring writer — run, don’t walk to the bookstore and get a copy of Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Read the chapters called Shitty First Drafts and Perfectionism. When you’re on the outside looking in, writing is so shrouded in mystery. I used to think all great writers sat down at the keyboard, cracked their knuckles and just began writing pages of perfect literary copy.
Not so. All writers write shitty first drafts.
I would also tell them to be fearless. Don’t be afraid to ask — like when I asked you if I could write a column for Balance magazine. I’m proud of that set of cojones. Don’t be afraid of rejection — it won’t kill you. It will piss you off. But who cares? Go for it.
END NOTE: I'm off to southeastern Montana this weekend to go turkey hunting with my guys. Because I am so into that shit. (I'm hoping you know that's ridiculous. I never go hunting with the guys.) Maybe it's due to Oldest Son graduating and Youngest Son entering high school next year, but I'm feeling this sense of time with my dudes slipping away. So I called their bluff and am going with.
I'm also going to take a few weeks off from blogging. Denise and Anne Lamott are inspiring me to get some outside-the-blog writing done. So I'll see you on May 14 or so, maybe with dead turkeys and such. Be well!