What Connects Us? Interview with Michelle Elaine Kennedy
Michelle Elaine Kennedy wrote Don’t Pee in the Wetsuit: A Worldwide Romp Through Grief, Laughter and Forgiveness while traveling. “It was an eleven-country trip around the world,” she says. “I was grieving the loss of my father on a rollicking adventure with a best friend.”
The result is part memoir, part travelogue, part grief manual, and all heart. I caught up with Michelle to discuss the book, the writer identity, and what’s sexy about writing.
Kristy Lin Billuni: One thing I love about this book is how you explore the relationship with your dad as well as the loss of that relationship.
Michelle Elaine Kennedy: It is incredibly difficult to lose a parent who you have unfinished business with. How do we find peace with a relationship that hurt us in many ways? How do we move on when we are mad at someone who isn't here anymore? I explore this in the writing and show how I did it.
KLB: I think that part is the most powerful and generous: showing us how you got through it.
MEK: The story balances grief with a lot of humor. The larger theme here is about finding the courage to face grief as a way to finally move through it.
KLB: Have you found community in your readers?
MEK: Through doing this, I have connected with others who are working through similar things. Women ages 20 to 60 will love this book. Although, 60-year old men have written that they appreciated the courage in the writing as well.
KLB: A book project is so big. How has the process changed you?
MEK: This project has opened me in a thousand ways. Releasing it showed that I am proud of who I am. I am comfortable with putting the most insecure parts of myself on the table.KLB: You have worked really hard to build a platform for your book. That’s a part of the process that intimidates a lot of writers. Building a platform really requires claiming that writer identity.
MEK: I've published more than 30 articles and a book, but it took me many years to feel "real." I struggled with needing the validation from others. I needed a publisher to say that I was real and good enough. I needed to get paid to write. When none of those things happened, I finally realized that believing in myself is where it needed to start.
KLB: So you really had to embrace that identity. Has that been hard to do?
MEK: I am a writer. It took me many years to say that and believe it. I guess I finally realized I am the only one who can really call myself that.
KLB: Tell us about your process.
MEK: I write best in the morning, with coffee. I don't write every day. I wish that I did. I write when things come into my head.
KLB: You’re so prolific. I expected you to be really disciplined.
MEK: No, my writing comes in spurts. Usually, something happens good, bad or funny and I have an article pop up in my head and the whole thing is already written. All I have to do is sit down and put it on paper.
KLB: But there are days when it doesn’t work like that?
MEK: Of course! When that inspiration doesn't come for a while I feel sad sometimes and don't know what to write.
KLB: Where do you turn for writing support or to get back on track?
MEK: I have gone to retreats. I read books on writing. I read other writing. I like to get help in any way I can.
KLB: Do you exchange feedback with other writers?
MEK: Yes, I love to work with other writers to get feedback. I always get feedback. I know that what I see is not what the world will see, so I seek other eyes.
KLB: Who’s inspiring you right now?
MEK: I've been reading Lindy West. I really enjoyed her book Shrill, and I like her articles on the election. I saw her speak this last summer and I find her to be so brave. She puts it all out there and she is really smart. I would like to be that brave in my writing some day. I also enjoy Ann Patchett because she is simply so good in her description and storytelling.
KLB: And what about your earlier writing heroes?
MEK: Creative influences originally were Kerouac and Salinger. One gave me courage to travel and let her rip in my writing and the other taught me about writing funny.
KLB: What aspect of your book makes you feel most proud?
MEK: I think what’s special is that it has depth and also makes people laugh.
KLB: What’s next?
MEK: I am working on a second book, but I have not taken the time yet to sit and start it fully. I think there is a little bit of fear there. I am afraid it won't flow like the last book. But, it will come. I just have to be patient and kind with myself.
KLB: Sounds like you have a plan.
MEK: Yes, for longer work, I like to be away from home and away from work and all responsibility. So I am planning to travel this summer, get on a plane to somewhere, rent an apartment for a month and start to bang out the second book.
KLB: There’s a lot of sex in this book.
KLB: Do you think there’s anything sexy about the writing process?
MEK: It is sexy to me when people open up about their feelings into love, what connects us, what sustains us, what hurts us, and that is what my writing is all about. We connect most through shared experiences, which usually involve pain. I find it sexy when people find the courage to talk about that.
KLB: You do that in your book!
MEK: Yes, I do!
I love to talk to writers like Michelle Elaine Kennedy about the process of writing. Follow Michelle on Twitter and Facebook. Check out Don’t Pee In The Wetsuit’s stellar reviews on and GoodReads and buy it here. To meet more writers in social media, follow me, The Sexy Grammarian, on Twitter or share books with me on GoodReads. Yearning to jump into the writer’s life yourself? My free ebook, Arouse Your Writer Self, will get you going. Want more? Private sessions with me are more affordable than you think, and the first one’s free.