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Watch me talk about my debut as an author, Sex & Cupcakes: A Juicy Collection of Essays, in this Q&A with my publisher Thought Catalog Books

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Interview with The List author Gail Belsky

Remember when I said I was going to do weekly Q&As on this blog? Well, um, yeah. That didn't happen. So it'll be more of an occasional series. Here's one!

Find out more about at www.shakeuplist.com - here's an interview with The List author Gail Belsky.

The List cover

How did you get the idea for The List, and how did you go about choosing what to include?

The List began when I started feeling itchy to try something new. My kids were older and I had more time to think about me, and all the possibilities out there. And because I generally live vicariously through others, the idea of interviewing women who'd done the things in The List was really appealing!

Choosing the items on The List was hard at first; I didn't see how I was going to think of 100 adventures. But every time I thought of one in a particular category it opened the floodgates to other ideas.

Were there any shakeup list items that didn't make it into the book (that you can share) and if so, why didn't they make it in?

I didn't have any extra ideas floating around...I was just glad I made it to 99! But I bet if I went in reverse and asked women for their shakeups, there would be enough for a whole other book. Or two.

Who would you say is your intended audience? Did you receive responses from people outside that group that surprised you?

Since the book focuses on women between the ages of 40 and 60, that was my intended audience. I knew they were interested in breaking out and trying new things. But the surprise responses have come from men. I never thought this book would resonate with them, but more than a few have asked if I would write The List for Men. Apparently they want other ideas for mid-life shakeups besides buying a sports car or having an affair.

Which item do you wish you had the guts to do, but know you probably won't?

Oh, there's a bunch. Sky-diving would be number one, I guess, because I would have to overcome two fears: the fear of flying and the fear of dying. It's so scary, I can hardly think about it. Scuba diving is another one. I'm claustrophobic and afraid of water, and I know I'd panic the entire time. But if I could get over myself, I'm sure it would be extraordinary. And writing a novel. I would love to be able to do that, but I'm not sure I have it in me, so I'll probably avoid trying for a long time. Although that's all about fear of failing, which is much easier to overcome than a fear of falling out of the sky.

Which was your favorite to research?

Burning Man (#83) was fascinating to learn about. I'd heard about it before, but never really understood the scope of it. Just looking at pictures was an eyeopener (Google "cupcake cars at Burning Man" for a good idea).

Which one story was the most inspiring to you?

Jan St. John's story about sky-diving (#50). Her motivation hit home on so many levels. At 56, she decided she didn't want to be limited by her own fears and expectations. She wanted to be able to let go of her grown children (they went up with her, and she made them jump first) and confront her fear of flying. She wanted to do things differently than she always had, to push herself beyond her comfort zone, and to make her life bigger instead of smaller as she got older.

I, of course, especially enjoyed the sex-related challenges (Buy Yourself a Sex Toy, Go Commando, Go Topless, Have Nude Pictures Taken, Make a Sex Tape, Skinny Dip, Strip, Use Food as Foreplay, Watch Porn). Do you think there's a generation gap when it comes to some of these? It seems like for my generation and younger (I'm 33), most of these are things almost everyone has done.

I think there's definitely a generation gap—but often within the same woman. I went topless in my twenties and thirties, but not since. Same thing with skinny dipping and watching porn. I might have taken nude pictures then, but I wouldn't dare do it now. Why not? I'm older, wiser, and arguably more confident. Now's the time. In fact, if I could overlook the stretch marks and love handles, I bet the pictures would be a lot more interesting. The one thing in the book that I think is truly generational is getting a Brazilian Wax. I'm sure women in their 30's and younger don't think twice about it.

Along the same lines, your last book was the anthology Over the Hill and Between the Sheets, which you edited. Is there any connection between the two?

Only in the fact that they both explore the mid-life experience. But Over the Hill focuses on relationships, while The List is all about your own potential. It's about self discovery.

The List has a Facebook application where you can add things to your own list. What do you see as the connection between the Internet and social networking sites and The List?

They're both about community, and finding support, inspiration, and motivation. The more women you can connect with, the bigger a cheering squad you'll have.

What's the most important lesson you learned from working on the book?

Never say never.

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