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March 30, 2020
By PW Staff
Four guest authors are judging the semifinal round of the BookLife Prize Nonfiction Contest.

Successful nonfiction authors Anya Yurchyshyn, Jackie Ann Ruiz, Erin Lowry, and Melanie Shankle are serving as the judges for the inaugural 2019 BookLife Prize Nonfiction Contest. The authors have read each of the BookLife Prize Nonfiction Semifinalists and will announce their picks for finalists within each category on April 1. PW chatted with the authors about writing, reading, and how they are weathering these unpredictable times. The authors also shared their favorite indie bookstore for readers to support during the current crisis. 


Learning Your Story

Anya Yurchyshyn is the author of the acclaimed memoir My Dead Parents (Crown), which PW called “a fascinating and insightful memoir about how relationships evolve and change, even after death.” Yurchyshyn received her MFA in fiction from Columbia and has received fellowships from the university as well as the MacDowell Colony.

 

Memoirs are funny things. They are so personal, but often so relatable to outside readers. As you were writing My Dead Parents, did you look to other memoirs for inspiration or guidance? To other genres?

I looked to many other memoirs for inspiration. The best ones usually made me feel so unqualified and hopeless that I threw them across the room. When I could handle it, I’d return to Mary Karr’s The Liars' Club, Jesmyn Ward’s Men We Reaped, Mira Bartok’s The Memory Palace, Margo Jefferson’s Negroland, and Jenny Zhang’s essays. In addition to being welcome, if humbling, breaks from writing, rereading them reminded me to focus on voice and experiment with structure.

 

Do you have any advice for aspiring memoir writers?

Be strong, be honest, and be open. As you write and think about your life, make new connections, confront blind spots, and allow your feelings and perspective to develop and change. Memoir is as much about discovery as other forms of writing, and it’s an integral part of the process. Don’t decide what the story is before you begin and believe you have nothing to learn. Welcome surprising insights as you work, pursue unexpected threads, and force yourself to think about what you’d rather not.

 

What are you reading during this peculiar time?

The news, of course, though I’m trying to find a balance between staying informed and staying at least mildly sane. I recently read and loved Taran Khan’s memoir Shadow City and Dan Bevaqua’s novel Molly Bit. I have also been rereading a lot of my favorite books, something I find comforting even when the content is not, like Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth, Fleur Jaeggy's Sweet Days of Discipline, and Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go.

 

Do you have a favorite indie bookstore?

I love Greenlight Bookstore and was thrilled when one opened in Prospect Lefferts Gardens. You can’t currently purchase My Dead Parents from then online, but IndieBound, which supports independent bookstores, is a great alternative.

 

'Validated by the Truth'

Jackie Ann Ruiz, who is judging the self-help category, is a writer, illustrator, mother, and performer. She cowrote and illustrated her first book, There's No Manual: Honest and Gory Wisdom About Having a Baby, with Beth Newell, her friend and founder of reductress.com.

 

What did you learn about yourself as you were working on There’s No Manual?

I learned a lot of things while writing There's No Manual: Honest and Gory Wisdom About Having a Baby (Avery). Aside from the wealth of vaginal knowledge I now possess (and wield like an inappropriate sword at family gatherings and coffee shops), I learned something about myself: I can finish things. As a person with ADHD, I have often left projects by the wayside, either because I became discouraged or distracted. This book felt like an urgent message that needed to be delivered to every woman possible, and harnessing the passion behind that urgency carried me through the process of writing and editing and into a new level of self-confidence that I'm really hoping is a permanent addition to my personality, because it's quite a relief to believe in myself now. 

 

Can you talk about what motivated you to write about pregnancy with such refreshing candor?

Beth and I chose to write There's No Manual in our honest, BFF voices because the origin of this book is our long-distance friendship during pregnancy and early motherhood. Beth and I texted each other to cope with the crushing realities of some of these milestones, and our honest and funny text banter not only sustained me, but inspired me to begin taking notes on the harrowing realities that we could not find any information about in books or on the web.

Why does no one tell women that their armpits will smell like a stranger's armpits when they are pregnant? Or that breastfeeding is truly excruciating and you might hate it, even while wanting to do it for your kid? Why do pregnancy books not warn you that you will probably drop your baby at least once, and it doesn't make you a bad person even though you will wish you were dead for a few minutes as the guilt consumes your very being? We wrote this book for all of the women who aren't as lucky as we are, and also for the women who are, but want to laugh and feel validated by the truth. 

 

Favorite indie bookstore?

My favorite indie bookstore is Chopsuey Books, in Richmond, Va. Ward Tefft (owner) has been endlessly supportive of our book, and even threw us a book release party at a lesbian bar. Need I say more? Please buy our book and all of the books that you want from him; this pandemic demands that we support local businesses, many of which have closed their doors and are relying on online sales to help flatten the curve.

 

The New Face of Financial Guidance 

Erin Lowry, who is judging the Business/Personal Finance category, is a finance expert and founder of BrokeMillennial.com. She's the author of Broke Millennial: How to Stop Scraping By and Get Your Financial Life Together and Broke Millennial Takes On Investing (TarcherPerigee), which offer straightforward guidance for millenials struggling to make sense of the financial world.

 

What are some of the unique professional and financial challenges facing millennials today?

There is always talk about student loans, graduating into the Great Recession, and both stagnant wages and job markets being the biggest issues for millennials. Certainly elements of all that are true (but Generation X experienced much of that as well). Truthfully, a unique professional and personal challenge is how the rise of technology and the constant connectivity has really started to blur the lines on a work/life balance. So many jobs can be done remotely and you can be reached after traditional working hours that it's harder to disconnect and find balance. This is also true for gig workers and the self-employed. 

Financially, social media certainly changed the way people would showboat their success and wealth (or create the illusion of both). It's also helped change how we flaunt the trappings of success. Prior generations cited nice cars and large homes as keeping up with the Jonses, but now your vacations and nights dining out can instantaneously be uploaded. While millennials might value experiences over more traditional consumerism, it still costs money. 

 

During tough and uncertain times, what are your go-to resources for finding security and stability?

Depending on the type of uncertainty, any books that help give you a sense of control and/or the warm and fuzzies. This is going to vary for everyone and at a risk of being too self-promotional, my books Broke Millennial and Broke Millennial Takes On Investing both focus on handling money when you're intimidated, fearful, or just confused. Of course books like Brene Brown's or Dan Harris's 10% Happier can be helpful for mental health work.   

To be completely honest, it's also a perfect time for some escapism with truly mindless television. For me, there's no better fix than any of the Real Housewives franchises (but New York, Atlanta, Orange County, and Beverly Hills are preferred). 

Yoga with Adriene, especially any of her practices focusing on handling stress and anxiety, is a way to get my body moving and release physical tension at the affordable price point of free on YouTube. 

 

 Do you have a favorite indie bookstore, and are readers able to purchase your books through their website?

I have to support local on this question with Astoria Bookshop! And yes, currently, both my books are available and can be purchased through the website. Astoria Bookshop was the first place I saw my second book Broke Millennial Takes On Investing on shelves. The Strand is my runner-up and also sells my books both instore and online.

 

Looking on the Bright Side

If there was ever a time for spiritual guidance and inspiration, it’s now. Melanie Shankle, author of numerous books, including Sparkly Green Earrings (Tyndale), Church of the Small Things (Zondervan), and On the Bright Side (Zondervan) is selecting the finalist from the Inspirational/Spiritual category. In addition to writing her books, Shankle speaks at events nationwide and runs a blog, Big Mama. She lives in San Antonio, Tex., with her husband and daughter.
 

Where do you find inspiration? 

I find inspiration in my daily life. To me the very best stories come from just the ordinary, average days when something doesn't go as planned or you find yourself in a weird situation. I also love to read other great writers because I'm always inspired by the way they use words and find creative ways to spin a thought.


What is your advice to readers looking for security, comfort, and meaning during these trying times? 

Take deep breaths and remember it isn't going to be this way forever. Take one day at a time and be kind to yourself. Embrace the positive aspects of having more time at home when you can. As challenging as this time is, we have a chance to be our best self. Read more, relax more, and try not to stress eat a dozen chocolate chip cookies a day. Hypothetically speaking, it won't make you feel better about yourself.

 

Do you have a favorite indie bookstore, and are readers able to purchase your books through their website?

Yes, I love The Twig Bookstore here in San Antonio. They always have signed copies of my books and are willing to ship all over the United States. 

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