Veteran book editor turned writer Jane Isay looks at the emotional-mine-riddled terrain of relationships between parents and their adult children in Walking on Eggshells.
As an editor, what prompted you to jump the fence and become a writer, and why this book?
As my kids got into their 20s and 30s, I found myself at sea. I didn't know how to relate to them. When I would open up the subject with my friends, there would be a flood of mutual stories. Everyone thought they were the only one with the problem. For an editor, that's bingo. So I tried to get someone to write about it, but no one wanted to. I think to write a book as complex as this, you have to be in the middle of it yourself.
Have you edited self-help books, and how did those books influence the way you thought about this one?
I've had a career in publishing that goes all the way from Anna Freud to Rachel Simmons. I was the psychology and psychiatry editor at Yale University Press for 15 years. I have published and learned from some of the greats. Mary Pipher's Reviving Ophelia and Rachel Simmons's Odd Girl Out were my two models.
How did you manage to create the intimacy and compassion that seems to exist between you and the people you interviewed?
My 40 years in publishing have made me a very good phone connector. And part of the joy of writing this book was that I had complete empathy for the people I was talking with. The hard part was to find empathy for the people they were talking about. Mary Pipher really helped me to make sure I was never judgmental.
You relegate your own very moving and pertinent story to an epilogue—why?
I didn't want the book to feel autobiographical. It isn't about me. And yet I thought it would be helpful to the reader to know that the author also struggled. And finally, as an editor, I always tell my writers the way you end a book is just as important as how you begin it. If the ending is fabulous, readers will want to talk to their friends about it.
What are you going to do next?
I'm thinking of writing a book that has to do with family strife: why do we fight so much with the people we love, and why do we still love the people we fight so much with?