Nationally syndicated columnist Kris Radish has taken a somewhat winding road to her current status as bestselling feminist novelist, although a strong love of fiction has been in her blood since childhood. "I fell in love with words when I was a little girl (and yes I was short once) and discovered the joy of reading and hanging out with Nancy Drew," she explains on her web site. "By the beginning of eighth grade I had read every book in St. Joseph's Grade School library and knew I was going to be a writer."
Radish did not start out writing the kinds of tales she loved as a girl. She began in the more practical realm of journalism, which lead her to write her first book. Run, Bambi, Run is the true story of Laurie Bombenek, an ex-cop/ex-Playboy bunny who was sentenced to life in prison for murder. Bombenek's fascinating story -- which included a daring prison break and her subsequent recapture—was adapted into an equally riveting and critically acclaimed true-crime book by Radish.
Now with her first taste of the publishing world, Radish began work on her second book. The Birth Order Effect was quite different from her debut and miles away from the fiction she would eventually pen. Instead, it is a serious but lively discussion of birth-order and how it affects human psychology and development. Ultimately, The Birth Order Effect would take ten years to see publication, putting Radish's publishing career on hold for that length of time. By the time it finally hit bookstore shelves in 2002, Radish had shifted gears again and would never suffer such a hiatus again. The same year that The Birth Order Effect saw publication, Radish published her breakthrough work of fiction The Elegant Gathering of White Snows, the mysterious, hypnotic story of eight Wisconsin women who embark upon a pilgrimage. As they travel, each woman's story is revealed and the bonds between them strengthen. The Elegant Gathering of White Snows established Radish as an important new voice in feminist fiction and there would be no turning back from there.
Dancing Naked at the Edge of Dawn, the story of a wife and mother who sets upon her own journey toward self-actualization after finding her husband in bed with another woman, followed. Next up was Annie Freeman's Fabulous Traveling Funeral, another road novel in the vein of The Elegant Gathering of White Snows. By this point, Radish had gathered quite a following of devoted readers, all of her novels having found their ways onto bestseller lists throughout the United States. The Sunday List of Dreams, her next effort, should be no different. It is a funny, moving, sometimes ribald tale of a woman who reconnects with her estranged daughter, who now runs a successful sex shop in New York City.
After the somewhat tentative journey toward her current success, Radish promises that she has many more stories to tell. "I write fulltime because I never, not once, let go of the dream I had to do this," she says. "To put all my manic words into sentences and then string the sentences into paragraphs so that they could become chapters and then a book."
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Even though Radish is enjoying tremendous success as a novelist, she still writes "two nationally syndicated columns each week -- for DBR Media, Inc. and a regionally syndicated column in southeastern Wisconsin for Community Newspapers," as she explains on her web site.
Along with her many literary and journalistic accomplishments, Radish is an accomplished motorcycle rider.
While getting her career in journalism started, Radish worked a huge number of odd jobs. By her own account, she worked as a "professional Girl Scout, waitress, bartender, journalist, bureau chief, columnist, window washer, factory worker, bowling alley attendant and once, honest, I crawled on my belly through a Utah mountain field to harvest night crawlers."
Some fun and fascinating outtakes from our interview with Radish:
"I've skied with Robert Redford, been shot at while flying over Bosnia, almost drowned in a flash flood in the middle of a desert, worked undercover, interviewed murderers, and covered a national disaster that buried a town."
"Once I really did crawl through a mountain field to pick night crawlers for extra money...actually it was more than once."
"When I was a working journalist someone was stalking me for a very long period of time. It was terrifying. To end it, I worked with the local police and I still have tape recordings of this person's voice."
"I answer all my own emails -- which often takes hours but I do this because I have such a fabulous group of readers and if they honor me with a note -- with their own stories -- with something from their heart...well, I have to answer them. I just have to."
"Here are some of the things I love to do: Yoga and biking and I have recently rediscovered my passion for golf -- honest -- watch for the Kris Radish Open. I swim, and following a severe back injury am living with a ruptured L-5 but am kicking it in the rear end by working out at least five days a week and have recently -- well, over the past five months -- lost almost 20 pounds."
"I love to hike and often get some great inspiration when I am out hiking with my notebook. I adore the sounds of the outdoors and would live outside if I could -- sleep with the window open year round."
"Three years ago I got my motorcycle license and after two years on a put-put bought a new Yamaha. Hope to put some more miles on it in between deadlines and books and kids and hitting the golf ball and...."
"Laughter is the key to everything. I love to laugh and drink wine and walk in the rain and I find kindness and intelligence two of the most attractive traits on earth."
"I need a glass of wine now -- maybe two."
"Read Radish and live your list of dreams -- just go for it, baby."
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In the winter of 2007, Kris Radish took some time out to talk with us about her favorite books, authors, and interests.
What was the book that most influenced your life or your career as a writer?
The Secret of Shadow Ranch: A Nancy Drew Mystery by Carolyn Keene -- I am crying as I write this, and it's not because of menopause (well, maybe). I can actually remember reading this the first of probably 50 times when I was about 11 years old and already dreaming of adventure and writing and living out west -- all of which I did, because this book set my heart on fire. Nancy Drew made me believe that I could do anything. I could travel and forge raging rivers and solve mysteries and ride horses into the sunset and because a woman wrote this book and a girl was its star -- well, that meant I could do those things too. I keep this book by my computer and every single time I see Nancy on that black horse with the snow-capped mountains in the background on its cover, it makes my heart sing.
The magic of writing and of books spread itself from these pages and set up shop in my heart. One Christmas after I had gotten in trouble because I kept checking out all the Nancy Drew books from the library, I asked for my own set of books for Christmas -- a tall order for my family of six. But when I opened my package and saw that I had gotten The Secret of the Old Clock, The Hidden Staircase, and The Bungalow Mystery, I could not stop crying (early menopause!). Nancy and Carolyn helped forge my writer's heart: I am ever and always devoted to both of them.
What are your ten favorite books, and what makes them special to you?The Girl Scout Handbook -- Girl Scouts was almost as important to me as Nancy Drew. Growing up pre-Title IX, this girl/woman's organization was the center of my universe. The Girl Scout Handbook was the center of the center. It was for me a book of possibilities and challenges and spellbinding fun. I still have all of my Girl Scout books and this book and what it stands for remains a driving force in my life.
Goodnight, Moon -- This children's book by Margaret Wise Brown is lodged in my mother's heart. Who does not know the infamous line, "I'll love you forever. I'll love you for always. As long as I'm living my baby you'll be?" I read this story to my two babies hundreds of times and the simple beauty of its lovingly placed words, the searing reality of babies growing into big people and mommies growing older -- well, it's brilliant and so beautiful nothing written since has come quite close. I still read it to my "babies," recite that line when they are sad, and I can actually feel my heart move when I see the cover. What a book.
One Writer's Beginnings -- Eudora Welty remains a national treasure and this particular book -- all of them actually, every word she wrote -- is beyond grand, but this particular book came out just after I had the unbelievable opportunity to have a private interview with her. My hands still tremble when I think about it. I was a reporter living in Utah, and when Eudora spoke at the university the woman in charge of the event asked me very suddenly if I wanted to speak with her. What a stunning moment! She was gracious and beautiful and after I finished with my inane questions, she asked me about my own writing. Imagine that. When I told her my own dream, that I longed to be a full-time novelist, she leaned over, touched my hand, looked into my eyes and gave me some of the most powerful and lovely advice of my life. I keep this book at eye level when I write. Eudora Welty and her book and her life will always be an inspiration for me. I treasure the moments I spent with her.
An Angel at My Table -- The autobiography of Janet Frame. I adore this book. I love this book. I slept with this book in my arms for weeks, and when Janet Frame, the New Zealand author, died just a few years ago, I wept. I have her obituary taped to my computer. Her story, her tenacity, her need to write continues to fill me with awe and inspiration. Jane Campion's movie of the same name is also one of my favorites, but this book captivated me, perhaps because I could see so much of myself in its author. To stay on the writer's path, to risk it all, to write because not to do it would mean to die -- well, that is Janet Frame. Now I've written about it, I have to read it all over again.
The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde -- In an instant I would leave the world behind, live in the desert, and write poetry every moment for the rest of my life. Audre Lorde's poetry and her life are filled with the brazen and brilliant strokes of someone who dared -- someone who actually lived without regret. Her poetry speaks to me of a life lived, not merely tolerated or endured but lived, and this copy also sits at eye level in my office and it is so worn the pages are beginning to fall out. I wish I could have met her.
New and Selected Poems -- Or any word Mary Oliver has ever written. To see the world through the eyes of this graceful and quiet woman is to see the nature of us all, the nature of all living things, the heartbeat of the earth. When I read her work, I take each line into my lungs as if I am swallowing pure oxygen. What a talent to take a word and make it sing, to take a line and turn it into an orchestrated dance of life -- I love her work. I adore Mary Oliver's work.
The Journals of Lewis and Clark -- Edited by Bernard DeVoto -- This may seem a strange choice to those who think they know me, but I have been a lover of history and all things "West" since I read that damn Nancy Drew book and my tattered and water-stained copy of this book has been with me since the 1970s, when I paid $5.95 for it. This real memoir takes me to places that I have seen and felt. This book so inspired me that once I took several months, lived in my car, and tried to see as many places mentioned in the book as possible on a western road trip. These guys were fabulous writers, brave as hell, two of my favorite heroes.
Sights Unseen -- Kaye Gibbons, will you marry me? This book is fiction at its finest and when I read it the first time, in one sitting, I was unable to move because of the story, because of the way Kaye took me there, because I knew she had captured manic depression so eloquently that anyone else considering trying to do so should just give up and get some medication. I actually slept with this book under my pillow, hoping that it would seep into my brain and help me become a better writer. The jury is out but this searing story continues to stay with me. That is great writing. It is.
West with the Night -- In another lifetime I like to think I would have been a Beryl Markham, the author of this absolutely astonishing memoir. Beryl wrote this book to recount her life and her solo flight across the Atlantic but what is so "oh my God" about West with the Night is not the story, but the fact that this is some of the best writing I have ever read in my life. There are few books I read more than once but this book -- this book I could read every day -- maybe twice a day. What a woman, what a life, what a writer. Read this book. Get it now.
Runaway -- Alice Munro is the greatest living writer. You can quote me. This is her 2004 book of short stories that I also keep at eye level, but I may as well have every book she has written right next to it. Her prose is rich with the tones of real life and when I read her work I do it very slowly -- about the only thing I do slow -- because every sentence is a work of art. Sometimes, when I am working on my own novels, I just open her novel, read a line, and I am totally inspired. Alice is the queen.
What are some of your favorite films, and what makes them unforgettable to you?
I am a Sundance type of movie woman. I love funky, offbeat films, hate horror and science fiction, and have recently become addicted to Netflix, which has changed my life -- isn't that something? Here's a couple I love.
Pieces of April -- Real. Funny. Well scripted. I have seen it three times, which may be a record for me.
White Christmas -- Come on. Dancing and singing and snow and a happy ending. This movie I see several times a year. It makes me so damn happy.
Sophie's Choice -- Meryl Streep. Breathtaking acting. Fabulous writing. How sad. How real. Poignant in every scene.
Out of Africa -- I am a huge Streep fan and this movie combines my love of her and history and the place -- well, what movie in the last five years even comes close?
When Night Is Falling -- One of the best love stories I have ever seen. Terrific filming, loopy characters, an ending that makes me jump up and laugh every time I see it.
March of the Penguins -- Come on. No explanation needed.
The Station Agent -- Try and stop watching this quirky gem. It's offbeat and no one gets shot in the head and it's a lovely story of friendship that goes great with a nice bottle of something red.
Billy Elliot -- All movies should be like this. Engaging. Pure. Characters you want to meet. Empowering.
What types of music do you like? Is there any particular kind you like to listen to when you're writing?
Here's a not-so-secret secret. I have this wild desire to sing blues and jazz and that is what I Love. Someday I will sing at a book gig. I just recently put a stereo back into my office, and it's really helped me smooth out the rough edges when I write. I wrote lots of my first novel while listening to Nancy Griffith and I love the old '70s stars -- you know, the Joni Mitchells of the world. I adore Carole King, Anita Baker, Diana Krall, and I have been listening to Corinne Bailey Rae's CD for like a month without stopping. I adore music... sing all of the time, and find much inspiration in so many marvelous artists.
If you had a book club, what would it be reading?
A really hot memoir. I love nonfiction -- please do not tell my editor. Hot would be something moving and well written. We'd also plough through tons of women's literary fiction -- you know, all the Barbara Kingsolver and Dorothy Allison stuff -- fabulous work.
What are your favorite kinds of books to give -- and get -- as gifts?
Well, I like to give my own books (Is that too much or what?) but it depends on the person. I think books are as personal as underwear and unless I know someone really, really well, I tend to give something like a coffee table book. I am a book junkie. I cannot give books away and I stopped lending them out. (Give them all back, you pigs!). I love to look at them and sometimes -- please do not call for help -- I just stand in front of a bookcase and look at them, touch them, smell them... really. In my next house I want those floor-to-ceiling bookcases and one of the saddest things that ever happened to me was once I shipped some boxes of books and they got lost. I was like a nutcase at the post office. "Where are my books....?"
Do you have any special writing rituals? For example, what do you have on your desk when you're writing?
I write naked... no just kidding. I always light a few candles, make sure the bird feeder outside the window is full and the right music for the scenes is playing. This is my first "real" writing office and I could live in this room. It's just a tiny bedroom, really, but it is all mine and I am protective of this space because it took me so long to get it. I write all of the time -- rarely take a day off and do not really consider what I do work. Do you know what I mean? I just love what I do so much it's almost painful -- in a good way. Because I have been a working journalist all of my life -- I still write two nationally syndicated columns -- I am very disciplined and used to deadlines. I love being early -- big change -- and getting started in the quiet of the house. I often work all through the day and into the night.
Many writers are hardly "overnight success" stories. How long did it take for you to get where you are today? Any rejection-slip horror stories or inspirational anecdotes?
It has taken me 30-plus years and I have worked very, very hard to get here. I sold my first novel by myself after 40-plus rejections and then the publisher could not pay to get the books out of the printer's office. An agent took my money. I wrote my first two novels while working 60-plus-hour-a-week jobs and raising two children and yes, I walked through the snow barefoot to work. And every single thing I did and sacrificed to get here was worth it and has added so much to my work and writing.
If you could choose one new writer to be "discovered," who would it be?
The one who cannot stop writing, who has a story that keeps her from eating and breathing, the one who writes because she has to, the one who talks to her characters in her sleep and who would rather write than have sex, eat, or get a free beer.
What tips or advice do you have for writers still looking to be discovered?
Just do it, for crying out loud. Write and work at it and do it because you have a story to tell and not because you want to be rich and famous -- because I am here to tell you being rich and famous is not going to free your soul.
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