Monday, June 6, 2011

Best Kept Secret - An Interview with Amy Hatvany

I love the internet.

It brings people into my life who I would never had had the chance to get to know otherwise, and my life is so much richer because of it.

Amy Hatvany is one of those people.

In March I wrote a review of her latest novel, Best Kept Secret.   I am not exaggerating when I say this is one of the most important novels about mothers, alcoholism and recovery ever published.  Amy writes eloquently, and with heart-wrenching honesty, about the unique struggles mothers face when they are slipping into addiction, and then trying to get sober.  If you are wondering about your drinking, or love someone who is struggling, or you are a mother who grapples with the myth of perfectionism, you must read this book.

Amy is creative, smart, funny and down-to-earth.  I am so blessed that our paths have crossed.

Her book is released tomorrow, June 7th, but you can order the book anytime by clicking HERE.   It's less than $10, and I promise you it will move you to your core.  And the ending will leave you gripping your chair in suspense. 

Full disclosure:  I have not been compensated in any way to promote Amy's book, write a review or post this interview.  I'm doing it because I loved the book and I know you'll love it, too.

And now, my interview with Amy Hatvany:

1. Have you always loved to write? What inspired you to become a published writer?

I’ve been writing since I was in second grade, and my teacher helped me put together my first book, Amy’s Animal Stories. She typed up what I had written, then bound the stories together – the cover was made out of some crazy 1970’s, bright blue wallpaper. It’s on my bookshelf at home, as a reminder of where I began, and how much I love what I do.

In terms of what inspired me to attempt to get published, I think the only word that describes what motivated me was desperation! I never really considered writing as a career – I even had a college professor tell me I’d never be published because my writing was “too emotionally informed.” But after getting my degree and not finding any happiness in the work I was doing, I decided that I would never forgive myself if I didn’t at least try to write the novel that was simmering inside me. So, I quit my job, sold my car, and sat down at the computer.

2. You're a busy Mom - how do you find the time to write? Do you have any writing rituals?

I still work a full-time day job, too, so I have to fit writing into the corners of my life. I wish I could say I’m disciplined enough to get up at 5 AM every morning, but the truth is I more tend to write in fits and starts until the story begins to take on a life of its own. Suddenly, I become obsessed with getting to the end, and putting words on the page is almost a compulsive experience. The only ritual I have is to get my butt in the chair as often as possible. I find that I’m actually more productive when I only have small stretches of time to work, like “oh, dinner is in the oven for forty-five minutes…let’s see what I can get done!”

3. Best Kept Secret draws from your personal experience as a woman in recovery; how much does Cadence's personality mirror yours?

The biggest thing Cadence and I have in common is not feeling good enough, especially as a mother. Like Cadence, I spent too many years acting “as-if” – as if I were confident, happy, secure, and peaceful with my life, when in reality, I was insecure, scared, sad, and incredibly lonely. On the surface, I was cheery and social, but I had a hard time being truly vulnerable with the people around me. I also struggled with coming to grips with the idea that I’m an alcoholic – most of my life before I spiraled into drinking was all about my success. I didn’t know how to reconcile those two sides of my identity. I tried to capture some of that emotional struggle in what Cadence goes through in the story.

4. You chose to write a fictional novel rather than a memoir; can you talk about the creative challenges of developing fictional characters and situations that are so close to home for you?

You know, I didn’t give much thought to those challenges when I started writing. I focused on the story, attempting to portray as honestly as I could the wrenching emotions behind being a mother and an alcoholic. I only thought about telling the emotional truth of the experience – and honestly, fiction provides a much broader canvas for me to do that. This is how I think of it: my personal experience is only a singular grain of sand, and I wanted to write about the beach.

5. Best Kept Secret touches a lot on the perfection pressure experienced by mothers - how we are held to societal standards that are different than men's, and how we can be tough on ourselves (and to each other), too. How much do you feel this perfectionism plays a role in mothers and drinking? Do you feel that mothers face different challenges when it comes to trying to get sober, or participate in recovery?

These are huge questions, Ellie! I could talk about my thoughts around them for hours, but I’ll make an attempt at brevity. (I’m generally mouthy, so wish me luck!) I think as women in our culture – whether or not we are mothers – we are certainly driven by perfectionism. We are told we can do it all, be it all, have it all. Of course, we can’t – at least, not “perfectly” - so I wanted to portray how as a result, many women experience profound levels of shame and self-loathing, even as we smile brightly and tell ourselves that we can’t expect to always be perfect at everything in our lives. But deep down, perhaps subconsciously, I think we still believe that we “should” be. So we reach for behaviors that drown our shame out, at least temporarily. And then we become ashamed of the behavior, and a vicious cycle emerges. I’m not just talking about alcohol, here. Eating disorders, shopping, gambling, sex - even our careers can serve as an “escape” from the pressure.

In terms of getting sober and participating in recovery, mothers definitely face a different stigma and a different set of challenges. I’m not saying it’s harder, necessarily - just different. The lens society uses to view women and mothers who suffer from alcoholism is a much different prescription than the one used for men.

When I first got into recovery, I couldn’t even speak aloud about the fact that I had been drunk in front of my kids. And I didn’t hear other women talking about it, either. The shame we struggle with is so unwieldy, and learning to forgive ourselves – learning that we are worthy of that forgiveness in the face of society’s moral judgments against us – can be a rocky road to travel. The good news is that we don’t have to do it alone.

6. You are open about your own recovery from alcoholism. What made you decide to do this? Have there been any surprising positive or negative effects on your life because of it?

I wasn’t always so open about it! In the beginning, I was too filled with shame and self-disgust to talk about it, even with people who understood. It took time for me to work up the courage to speak the truth about my experiences, and now, I have chosen to be forthright because I believe that the only way to erase the painful stigma assigned to women who are mothers and are in recovery is to hold my head high and be honest about what I went through to become the woman I am today. Did I screw up? Yep. Did I learn from the experience and use it to practice becoming a wiser person every day? You bet.

I’ve had far more positive response than negative for sharing about my experiences. The subject of mothers and alcoholism is so taboo – and it makes me so happy when I get an email from someone who thanks me for broaching a subject they’ve lived alone with for so long. It also means the world to me when a family member of an addict/alcoholic writes me and says that after reading my book, they finally understand how their loved one felt in the midst of their addiction. Such a humbling experience to hear those words, and I’m incredibly grateful for it.

Of course, I’ve been criticized for my openness, too, but the fact is that there are no rules or “governing” agency for recovery. It’s a personal choice to share with others, and I absolutely respect those who chose to remain anonymous. I don’t speak for any one “brand” of recovery – I’m not a spokesperson or a preacher. I’m simply a woman who has made the personal decision to share my story in the hopes that another woman might feel less alone and perhaps find a way out of the dark place she’s living within.

7. What advice would you give a mother struggling with drinking?

I’m not a big one for giving advice, especially to someone who is struggling with drinking, but I can say that once I opened my mind to the idea that I didn’t have to figure out the issue on my own, my life began to get infinitely better. In my experience, there are no rules to follow in recovery, just gentle suggestions made by people who have stood in the same place as me. There is no judgment. There is acceptance and understanding and so much love and laughter. If you know someone in recovery, take the chance. Talk with them. There is no pressure to conform. There is only hope that you might find your way out of the dark.

8. What advice would you give a busy mother who dreams of publishing a book someday?

Stop dreaming and start writing!

9. What do you hope readers will take away from this novel?

Overall, I hope that women, especially, are able to see the similarities they share with Cadence, rather than the differences. I hope that the story widens the readers’ understanding and compassion, and perhaps makes them re-evaluate any preconceptions they might hold about women who suffer from alcoholism and mothers who don’t have primary custody of their children.

I also hope that any woman in the throes of active addiction sees herself in Cadence’s story and finds the courage it takes to reach out for help.

For me, that’s the inherent beauty of books – each person will walk away with something different from a story. My hope as an author is that readers will find a need met, perhaps one they weren’t aware they had to fill.

For more about Amy, you can follow her on twitter here, or like her facebook page here.


  1. Oh, I am going to buy this, and put it on my summer reading list! So excited!

  2. Well. Isn't it just MY day? I get to download Best Kept Secret to my Kindle and read while waiting at the doc office!!!

    I'm seriously excited. Today is GOOD.
    Thank you both. Your words are like life jackets to me.