Meet Jane Porter. Jane is a successful novelist with more than 20 books under her belt. Her most recent is the uplifting Flirting with Forty, based in large part on her experiences as a single mom juggling work, kids and romance.
Once a junior high and high school English teacher, Jane now works as a writer full-time. Jane Porter lives in Bellevue, Washington with her two boys, Jake (11) and Ty (8).
In this candid interview, Jane Porter talks about how her own working mother inspired her, admits the isolation she sometimes feels working from home, explores the way her life has changed since her divorce, and tells us how she finds a healthy balance between work and family as a successful novelist.
Describe your work schedule.
I definitely work forty plus hours a week, and the more successful I'm becoming the more hours it takes, just due to reader fan mail and requests for book events and speaking engagements. I handle PR, media relations, promotional efforts and business mail from my desk at home. I do final revisions from there as well. But the big chunks of my novels are written at Starbucks as I don't seem to write well at my desk anymore, because of too many competing distractions (kids, phone, email, internet, bills, laundry, and you know the rest ).
What are the best and worst parts of your job as a novelist?
I love the creativity of my job. I love making up worlds, and developing characters women relate to. I want so badly to connect with other women, to start a dialogue, one that will hopefully continue with other women and their friends. I’m fascinated and disturbed by the state of our lives, and the intense stresses in it. My books give me a chance to play devil’s advocate and wonder if there isn’t possibly
a different way of living/feeling/being.
The worst part of my job? The hours, and the time away from kids and friends. To write well, I must be alone and yet I resent having to sometimes work so alone so much of the time when other people get to "see" friends at work, or have a more social environment. When I was a teacher, I loved the teacher staff room. I loved lunch and recess breaks because they gave me a chance to see other women and shoot the shit and be reminded we’re all in this together. But as a woman, a mom, that works from home it’s just me . . . and maybe like other moms, it’s alienating. I miss contact with the outside world. I also wish I had a better handle on the long hours. I think sometimes I could use three of me!
Would you work if money were no object?
Yes. I’d still work, and I’d be doing a variation of what I’m doing now. I love using my brain, I love tapping my emotions and passion and my intensity for life. Working isn’t a death sentence, it’s a gift, and a challenge, and a reward. But then, I come from a long line of working moms . . . all the way back to my great-grandmother. My Mom V (great-grandma) was a concert pianist and then a piano teacher. My grandmother headed up a construction company when my grandfather died young. My mom had her own speech therapy practice and was viewed as one of the expert speech pathologists in California when I was growing up. My sister works — and couldn’t not work. All my girl cousins work. We were brought up to value our minds, our goals, and our ability to contribute to the world
at large. And maybe that’s what it boils down to for me. I need the validation of work. I need to give, to contribute, however I can.
Describe your childcare set up.
I have a college student who comes in 3-4 days a week after school for 2 hours and helps oversee kids' homework and carpooling for sports, etc, although when I’m not on deadline or a booktour I prefer to do that myself. It just depends on the demands being placed on me. But my sitters are always gone by 5 and then it’s the kids and me for dinner and whatever else we need to do.
How did your mother's work impact your life?
I mentioned this earlier, but I’d like to add another note about my mom as I’m realizing the huge influence she had on my life, and in ways I didn’t know. But my mother’s intelligence, and success definitely impacted me. The fact that my mother was so good at something, so competent and
respected, made me realize at a young age that I shared her with the world. Yes, she was my mom, but she was also Marybeth Porter, and she had something to offer others, something the community needed. Of course there were times while growing up that I wanted to see her more at my school, bringing cupcakes for class parties, cleaning up after school events and she couldn’t, or didn’t, due
to work conflicts. But I also admired her from a young age for doing something that not every woman could do. She had an office in our home and people came to our house for their speech therapy and I’d hide outside her door and listen to her working with stroke patients and children with tongue thrusts and surgery following cleft palates and I thought her knowledge and skill were extraordinary. This was my mom helping people heal. This was my mom helping people find new life. It boggled me that my mom could do all that. I just hope that one day my boys can look at me
the same way, and not only think about the school events I’ve missed, but rather the positive things I’ve done with my work, too.
A lot of working moms feel guilty because they aren't there to help with the homework on a daily basis. How do you handle the homework issue?
I read all the kids' homework packets and handouts, do some of it, but also have my college student help because I stress my boys out with my perfectionism. I was such a school girl, and I was a former Jr. high and high school teacher and I expect the boys to do well in school and the fact that they don’t want to read and write freaks my brain a bit. (How can they not love to read?!?) so Lindsey is great at getting them started before I check it all over.
You must travel a great deal to promote your books. How do you handle the time away from the boys?
I do travel, and I keep an eye on how much and when, as I hate missing any of their events, like Back to School Night, or football and soccer games on Saturdays. Unfortunately most of my book signings are scheduled for Saturdays so when a new book comes out, it’s pretty stressful on all of us. Generally, I do like traveling and am comfortable being on the road, but am happiest when the kids can come with me, as they did when I just went to Australia in August to speak to the Romance Writers of Australia’s national conference. The kids have made some big trips with me before and they’re pretty cool about my speaking/work schedule. On this last trip, even though I wasn’t in the elevator, many of the writers and conference attendees recognized my kids and talked to them, or welcomed them to Australia. Maybe because my parents took me on trips with them, but I think it’s great to have the kids along when I’m “Jane Porter, the author," not just "Jane Porter, the mom."
What is your best tip for maintaining balance or at least some semblance of sanity?
Humor!! Laugh. Get enough sleep. Wake up a half hour before they do for coffee and email and whatever. But generally, be in the moment whatever the moment is and give it your best and then don’t beat yourself up when you’re done. We’re just women. Mothers. People.
Do you feel that you have made professional sacrifices to be a better parent or parental sacrifices to be a better professional?
Yes. I’ve cut back on my writing schedule, turned down contracts, speaking engagements, and other professional opportunities to be more available by 3 p.m. when the kids come home. I’ve also tried to work less during the kids' summer and school holidays. And maybe with some editors I’ve lost “points” but frankly, I don’t care. I’m not a machine. I’m a woman and my family relationships are
very important to me.
And god, yes I've made parental sacrifices to be a better professional. And it hurts. Missing baseball games or basketball games, award dinners, swim meets — any of it kills me. I want to be the mom in the stands, the mom cheering on the side and yet it's impossible to attend everything, be everywhere, especially as the boys are both busy, but I do my best.
What do you think of the so-called Mommy Wars?
Aha! The subject of my current novel. I definitely think in certain socio-economic groups there’s a perception of tension between the full-time moms and the working moms. Are there really wars? Probably not. But both sides drag around a certain degree of emotional baggage, and I don’t know that either side has it easier, or better. All moms work. And all moms feel guilty.
What accomplishments are you most proud of?
My boys. My friendships. My home. My books. I love the life I’ve cobbled together. It’s the one I always wanted to have.
What are the best and worst things about being a working mom?
The best thing about being a working mom is I feel a sense of purpose, a sense of accomplishment that has nothing to do with my estrogen. The worst thing about being a working mom is that I never feel as though I've done a good enough job as a mom, I’ve never given my kids enough of whatever it is they need.
If you have a spouse or a partner, how do you share the household tasks?
I’m divorced, have been for a couple years now so it’s changed everything. And that’s an understatement. And I think the fact that I worked hard, and loved my writing and books so much, led to an undermining of our marriage. My former husband’s mom didn’t work while he was growing up and I think he didn’t understand the role model I’d internalized. For me, working just made me more me. For him, my career meant I wasn’t as dedicated as a wife and mother.
What would you do if you had more time?
Travel. And be with my kids more. Maybe even have another baby . . .
What inspires you?
Art. Beauty. Nature. My children. I want to be great for my children. I want them one day to say with pride, “My mom was amazing. My mom wrote books. My mom could do anything.” But I also want them to not just know they’re loved, but feel loved. I want them to think their amazing mom loved them more than anything.
Who is your hero?
My heroes are other women who just keep putting it out there, doing their best. Life is such a quilt of
hope and hurt and dreams and heartbreak. I’ve lived and experienced amazing things and been confronted by such pain I never thought I’d survive it, but here I am, alive and still hoping and loving and that is how it is with women. Women — mommies — rock.
Want to hear more from successful women writers like Jane Porter? Don't miss our Working Mom interviews with The Town on Beaver Creek author Michelle Slatalla , Perfect Madness author Judith Warner , and The Modern Girl's Guide to Motherhood author Jane Buckingham .