We Zoomed with the best-selling author whose dirty little secret is out: She’s more than just Mike’s mom.
Q: What was your occupation for most of your working life?
A: I stayed home with our children until our youngest was about 10. During that time I did some substitute teaching and I worked as an administrator in my church’s preschool. Right out of college I taught third grade.
Q: How many kids do you have?
A: Three sons. Mike (of Dirty Jobs fame) is our oldest, Scott is our middle one and Phil is our youngest. The two older ones went to Towson.
Q: Did you meet your husband, John, at TU?
A: I did. I met him in physical science class. He was a veteran. I admired that about him. He was quiet, and then one day he was sitting behind me and he pulled my chair backward, to the floor practically. I screamed and everybody laughed—even the professor. That was all she wrote.
Q: Where did your passion for writing come from?
A: I didn’t begin writing until I was in my 40s. I wrote two children’s novels and shared them only with my grandchildren. They loved them, which was very heartening. I went on to start writing for newspapers and magazines, including the Baltimore Sun. They were human interest and humor stories. They were very well received, especially when I wrote about my mother. That’s why I did my first book, About My Mother.
Q: That book wound up on the New York Times best sellers list. Did you anticipate that success?
A: When I finished it, no. I knew it was as good as I could make it. I had taken creative writing classes, I had joined critique groups, I had gone to writers’ workshops and conferences, so I kind of knew what I was doing. But you never know what people are going to like. My son Mike encouraged me to write it, but I didn’t know any publishers. So I sent it to Mike, and he loved it. He sent it out, and publishers said, ‘Your mother writes well, but nobody has ever heard of your mother or your grandmother. It’s going to be a hard sell.’ So Mike published it. They had 10,000 copies printed and they sold in weeks. Then the publishers came calling. If it weren’t for Mike, it would still just be on my computer.
Q: What was it like to see your name on the New York Times best sellers list?
A: Of course, I cried when I first found out. The publisher called Mike and asked if he would like to tell me, so he called. John and I were having breakfast. John answered the phone and Mike said, ‘Put it on speaker.’ He said, ‘Dad, I want you to look at Mom. You’re looking at a New York Times best-selling author.’ I was 80 in 2018 when the first book came out. I had never done a book tour, but I did one, and I learned to get up in front of big audiences and speak. I’ve loved it. This year my second book came out during the plague so I’ve been doing virtual presentations.
Q: What was your inspiration for the second book, About Your Father and Other Celebrities I Have Known: Ruminations and Revelations from a Desperate Mother to her Dirty Son?
A: One of the things my publisher expected of me was to be on social media. He said you just cannot be a successful author these days without a social media presence. So I went onto Facebook—and I hated it. But I got used to it. In the last two years, every other day, I publish a 200-word column on Facebook. About 160,000 people read me every day. It’s a big responsibility, but it’s been so rewarding in that it gives me a sense of what people like, what they want, what they will read. I discovered there’s a real hunger out there for lighthearted, feel-good stories. So that’s what I went with. I’ve been writing essays for many years about our family and our celebrity. Everybody in my family has had their 15 minutes of celebrity, from my parents down to our grandchildren. I had so much material on my husband I decided to call this About Your Father. In it are my letters to Mike about his father.
Q: What is it you love so much about writing?
A: I’m a quiet, reserved person. When I speak out in social situations people listen to me but they don’t think it’s anything special. But when I write, people take it seriously. They read it, and they enjoy it. It allows me to share feelings. I love to make people laugh. This has been a way to do that.
I have written several things through the years that have given me great satisfaction. When my mother was 90, she fell and broke her hip and almost died. She lost all hope. Mom had been an avid Baltimore Orioles fan since ’54 when the team came to town. So I wrote a letter to the Orioles front office, and I made it the best letter I could. I told them about a faithful fan’s unwavering love for the Orioles and how she had fallen on bad times and given up hope. I thought, perhaps they would send her a card. I got a call a few days later saying they wanted her to throw out an opening pitch. She went into physical therapy that day and told them, ‘I have to be able to walk to that pitching mound in July. We’ve got a lot of work to do!’
There is nothing more gratifying than when your writing makes a difference.