September 16, 2010

Author SpotlightMary Kay Shanley

October 2010

What genre do you write in? What books have you written? What are they about?

I write in too many genres. Not because I’m brilliant, but because I am scattered. My first four were for women, including, a national-best seller about friendship. Finding a decent degree of success in the genre, I left it. The next three books were for McGraw-Hill and Barron’s. Two high-school-to-college transition books for kids and one for parents. I don’t know which group needed help more. Our State Fair—Iowa’s Blue Ribbon Story chronicles the first 150 years of America’s greatest fair. Published by the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation, this coffee-table book it is just plain fun to read and visually gorgeous because Paul Micich from Norwalk art-directed the project.

Tell us about yourself.

I began my career as a newspaper reporter in The Register and Tribune’s heydays. Rubbed shoulders with Pulitzer winners. Got run over by biker riders in the newsroom. Went to parties after the first edition of The Register rolled off the press at midnight.

I left when Baby No. 1 was due, vowing I’d be back. But those babies kept arriving and by the time the last one was in kindergarten, I’d moved into free-lance writing. Not a bad place to be in Des Moines—home of Meredith Publishing.

I never intended to become an author, but after a good friend (Karen Van Hon) died of cancer, I was asked by a company that published perpetual calendars to write a book about friendship based on Karen. I told the publisher I didn’t know how to write a book and she didn’t know how to publish one. Apparently that didn’t matter, because She Taught Me to Eat Artichokes has enabled Karen’s gentleness to touch hundreds of thousands of people. I never intended to write Book No.2, but on book tours, people kept asking about the next book.

Our three children live in either LA or Pasadena, my husband works at Von Maur in a second career. (I said he couldn’t be home during the day, what with my office being here.) And I continue keyboarding away.

What are you working on now?

A memoir. After teaching memoir at the University of Iowa’s Summer Writing Festival for nine years, the late Barbara Robinette Moss (Change Me into Zeus’s Daughter: A Memoir) suggested I try writing one myself. It’s hard.

Name three random things others would not know or guess about you.

I had jaw surgery when I was 48. Once back out on the streets, friends walked past without recognizing me.

I have been cleaning out the back basement for three years and the back basement isn’t even big.

I love teaching in workshops as much as I love writing.


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