Kris Radish has paid her dues. She's picked tomatoes, washed windows, tended bar, waitressed, worked in a factory, managed a bowling alley, reported for local newspapers and harvested nightcrawlers.
"What kept me going was, I'd close my eyes and think, 'Someday I'll write about this experience,' " she says.
At age 53, Radish has finally earned the luxury of writing full-time. She is the author of three bestselling novels: The Elegant Gathering of White Snows (2003), Dancing Naked at the Edge of Dawn (2005) and Annie Freeman's Fabulous Traveling Funeral (2006), all Bantam Doubleday Dell trade paper originals. Bantam will release Radish's fourth novel, The Sunday List of Dreams, on February 1, with a 100,000-copy initial print run in trade paper.
There's a formula to Radish's tales: a small group of women, fortified by frank conversation and alcohol, take to the road, celebrating friendship and fulfilling their dreams.
"I'm writing what real women are thinking. I like to think I've tapped into this wonderful female blood vein," Radish says over the phone from the Oconomowoc, Wis., home, east of Madison, she shares with life partner and business manager, Madonna Metcalf, and her two teenage children.
Although Radish's first three novels focus almost exclusively on friendships, The Sunday List of Dreamsalso explores the fraught relationships between mothers and daughters. Connie, the middle-aged protagonist, stops compiling lists of her dreams and starts living them—the first step being to leave her home in Indiana and reconnect with her estranged daughter, a sex toy retailer in Manhattan.
"Your relationship with your daughter is at least as important as your relationships with your friends. It was time for me to address that relationship and how it evolvese," Radish says, confiding that she drew on her own experiences with her mother and her 16-year-old daughter.
Though she'd wanted to be a writer all her life, Radish was nearly 50 by the time she had her first novel, The Elegant Gatheringof White Snows, published by Spinsters Ink, a small feminist press that has since been acquired by Bella Books. The Elegant Gathering of White Snows came out in trade paper in March 2002, with a 3,000-copy print run. The book almost didn't make it to the stores. The printer hadn't been paid and refused to release the copies until that spring and summer. One of those copies landed in the hands of Susan Wasson, a bookseller at Bookworks in Albuquerque, N.Mex.
"The Elegant Gathering of White Snows was the epitome of what women do for each other, what we give each other emotionally," Wasson says. "So I sent e-mails to everyone I knew in the business, begging them to read this book."
Meanwhile, Kate Miciak, an editor at Bantam, picked up a copy of The Elegant Gathering while browsing in a New Jersey bookstore during her Christmas vacation. "I took it off the shelf, sat on the floor, read about 10 pages and called an acquisitions editor right away. I said, 'Pull this book in, it's amazing,' " Miciak says. "It was that instant sensation of recognizing the women Kris wrote about, the intimate choreography of that dance women do to sustain our families and our friends and ourselves," Miciak recalls. "But what made me reach for my cellphone was the amazing sense of irrepressible hope and optimism that shaped that opening scene."
Hope and optimism being, of course, Radish's specialty.