Motherhood & Words

I’m grateful to the fabulous Sonya Huber for inviting me to participate in the Next Big Thing, a blog meme for writers. I met Sonya a few years ago on a panel at AWP, and I have so much respect for her. I’ve interviewed her here on Motherhood & Words about her memoir Cover Me, and I’m thrilled that her first book, Opa Nobody, is being released in paperback. She was also a (hilarious) guest at my 5th Annual Motherhood & Words reading. You can listen to that here.

So, here it goes…Next Big thing:

What is the title of your book?

Ready for Air: A Journey Through Premature Motherhood

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Or three.

When I developed preeclampsia in 2003, my first daughter was born two months prematurely. Ready for Air is the often funny, often terrifying account of the final weeks of my pregnancy, the “this-was-not-part-of-the-plan” first weeks of my daughter’s life in the hospital, and the isolated world we inhabited after we took her home. It is a story of friendship, family, and the power of words to connect us to one another.

What genre does your book fall under?

Creative nonfiction/memoir

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I didn’t realize I was writing a book when I first began to write Ready for Air. When Stella was five months old, I went to the coffee shop near my house with paper and pen. I was feeling desperate for words, and I knew I needed some time out of the house. But instead of returning to the half-finished pieces I had been working on before her birth, what came out were images of my daughter in the hospital: a miniature thing on an open warming bed, her legs splayed like a frog’s, a white ventilator tube taped over her mouth, purple veins tracking across her skull like spider webs.

Just getting those details down on paper made me feel more grounded than I had felt in months, and I knew I’d be back to write more. I began to write one morning a week, focusing on those moments and memories from the previous months. That was the beginning of Ready for Air.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

It took me about two years to write the first full draft. Then I took a year away from the manuscript as it was shopped around. It was rejected that first time out (often for being too difficult to sell and market), and I decided to rewrite it. I didn’t want to alter the voice or even the basic narrative arc, but I knew I had more distance from the material and I was a better writer than I had been when I began writing it, so I wanted to start again with fresh eyes. I printed it out and set it to the side, and then I opened a new Word document and started from the beginning again. That whole process took me an additional two and a half years, and I’m so glad I took the time to do it. It’s a much better book now.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Having a premature baby is a traumatic experience—in fact, many preemie parents end up with various degrees of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Writing helped me process what we had gone through. I was also very committed to writing my whole experience with early motherhood and prematurity.  There is still a veil around motherhood, and it feels taboo to write and talk about the challenging parts of being a parent. But if we don’t write that reality, we are simply perpetuating the myths of motherhood—I wanted to write against that with this book.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

My fabulous agent, Amy Burkhardt, found a home for it at the University of Minnesota Press, and I’m thrilled to be there. My editor really understands my vision for the book. It will be released in October, 2013.

What other works would you compare this book to within your genre?

Hmm, that’s a hard one. It isn’t like any of the preemie memoirs I’ve read, though I haven’t read them all. I’ll let my readers make that call.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Well, I’d love to have Julianne Moore play me, because I love her and she can be both intense and funny. Wishful thinking, I know.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

There are a number of narrative threads in the book that I hope readers will relate to even if they haven’t had a preemie (and even if they aren’t parents). Part of the book is about marriage and how men and women deal differently with crisis. Other threads have to do with depression, family, faith, and learning to live with uncertainty. A little something for everyone, I hope. It will be out October 1st so stay tuned!!

As part of this meme, I get to tag other authors who I think will be the Next Big Thing.

Here are my picks:

Caroline Grant, editor of Mama PhD and The Cassoulet Saved Our Marriage

Katrina Kenison, author of Magical Journey and The Gift of an Ordinary Day

Amy Shearn, author of How Far is the Ocean From Here and The Mermaid of Brooklyn

Sheila Squillante, author of Another Beginning and In This Dream of My Father, forthcoming collections of poetry

Check their blogs in the next week and see what they have cooking up!


I have been teaching creative writing for almost twenty years. Reading about other women’s lives and experiences has expanded my world. To be able to walk in someone else’s shoes, whether it’s for a moment or an hour or a few days, is an incredible gift, providing me with insight into the human experience. It takes courage to write your truths, especially if it doesn’t seem as though anyone cares, as though anyone is listening. Let me tell you: your stories matter, I’m listening, and I’m here to help you find the heart of those truths, to get them down on the page, to craft them, and to send them out into the world. Together, we will change the world, one story at a time.


  1. Ann s on January 17, 2013 at 7:13 am

    Laura Linney could be a good choice if Julianne Moore is not available

    • Kate on January 29, 2013 at 5:51 pm

      Ah, I love that idea, Ann!!

  2. Jacqueline on January 17, 2013 at 5:56 pm

    Can’t wait to read your memoir and very intrigued by the dealing differently in crisis piece. I had pretty strong feelings about the way my husband distanced himself from our baby in the NICU while embracing fully his role of the moment as stay at home dad caring for our 19 month old. Looking forward to discussing more in WI!

    • Kate on January 29, 2013 at 5:52 pm

      I can’t wait to hear some of your story, Jacqueline!!

  3. Galit Breen on January 28, 2013 at 7:56 am

    Love reading about your NBT, and can’t wait to read your next book! Exciting!!

    • Kate on January 29, 2013 at 5:52 pm

      Thank you, Galit! (And I apologize to all for my delayed response. For some reason I’m not getting messages when comments are posted.)

  4. Angie Mizzell on February 2, 2013 at 7:43 am

    I love this post so much. I read it a while back, but I couldn’t comment at the time. Julianne Moore… great choice. I always envision Meg Ryan playing me. 🙂 I also appreciate the story of how your memoir came together, and that your one sentence synopsis is actually 3.

    Oh my goodness. As I was writing this comment, I got a text from a friend that a good friend of mine from college just had a very premature baby. Due in June. So I’m thinking this can’t be good. And also, I’m thinking about those universal experiences of trauma and loss, and how the words and stories hold us together, even as our hearts are breaking.

    • Angie Mizzell on February 2, 2013 at 7:51 am

      Wow. That was a false alarm. I texted my pregnant friend, she texted back and said she just found out she’s going to have a boy. She said she had sent our (male) friend a message, “It’s a boy” and he misunderstood. What a relief. I told her I was freaking out!

      She replied, “Men!”

      So while this isn’t a joking matter, I’m glad there was an element of humor to this story.

      • Kate on February 4, 2013 at 7:41 am

        What a relief, Angie. When I read your first comment, my heart was in my throat!

    • Kate on February 4, 2013 at 7:42 am

      Oh Meg Ryan would be a great for you!

      I’m so glad the pregnancy scare was a false alarm. I hope the pregnancy is long and uneventful!