Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Q&A with Mary Laura Philpott




Mary Laura Philpott is the author of the new memoir in essays Bomb Shelter: Love, Time, and Other Explosives. Her other books include I Miss You When I Blink, and her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The Washington Post and The Atlantic. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee.


Q: You write, “There will always be bombs, and we will never be able to save everyone we care about. To know that and to try anyway is to be fully alive.” Can you say more about that, and about the inspiration for this book?


A: This book is a memoir about a two-year period of my life, the aftermath of a medical crisis that struck terrifyingly close to home: my son’s first seizures and diagnosis with epilepsy. That’s sort of the metaphorical bomb that dropped into my life (and his) and divided everything into before and after.


But this story is about so much more than motherhood and that incident. As anyone who loves another person deeply can attest, it’s such a helpless feeling not to be able to cure or save someone when they're in danger.


It hurt to be slapped with the realization that no matter how hard I loved anyone — not just my son, but also my parents, my spouse, my daughter, my friends, my own human self — I couldn’t protect any of them forever.


There’s great vulnerability and a kind of grief in loving with all your heart, but there’s great joy in it, too. I find delight and hope in all those relationships! All the things that threaten our loved ones are the “bombs”; the love itself, and the comfort and happiness we get from that love, is the shelter.


Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: There’s a chapter in the book called “Bomb Shelter” that not only expands on this idea of metaphorical bombs, but also tells a wild story from my family’s past about an actual bomb shelter. I’d been playing around with a different title for the book before I wrote that chapter, but once I gave that chapter its title, I knew it would be the title for the book as well.


Q: What impact did writing the book have on you, and on your family?


A: Bomb Shelter is the most personal story I’ve ever written, and my family members appear in this book more than they have in anything I’ve written before. That said, it is indeed my story — a memoir in which I, the woman and mother, am the central character.


Keeping that storytelling perspective in mind helped form my sense of boundaries (which were also driven by a desire to protect my children’s privacy), in terms of what pieces of other people’s stories I did and did not include in my own.


My children, husband, and parents all read the book in its early stages and were wonderfully encouraging and supportive.


Q: The author Lori Gottlieb wrote of the book, “Mary Laura Philpott puts words to the human condition in a life-affirming, joyful, and surprisingly funny way — even as she leaves readers in tears.” What do you see as the line between humor and sorrow in the book?


A: I love that! And I think it’s a squiggly, scribbly line. To me, all aspects of the human experience are tangled up together: dark, light, tragedy, comedy, love, loss. There are certainly moments where we experience more of one than the other; but real life is a mix of all those things.


As a reader, I love books that light up my whole emotional circuitboard, and as a writer, I’m happy if I can create that full laughing-and-crying experience for readers in my own books.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m not writing another book yet, but I am working on some individual essays and other pieces that will hopefully be published here and there.


I actually enjoy being a part of the marketing and publicity planning process with my publisher –– maybe because I used to work in a bookstore on that side of things –– so I like to stay involved throughout the life cycle of one book at a time.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I love to see what people are reading, so I really enjoy Instagram. (On my account, I post little behind-the-scenes snippets and photos of the animals around my house:


I also send a newsletter once a month with short reviews of new books I’m reading, plus other fun tidbits:


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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