A Conversation with Susan Beecher, Author of Muffins and Mayhem
1) You end your book with the same line you end your blog posts and website entries, “Thanks for reading with me. It’s so good to read with friends.” Is there a special significance to this phrase?
When you grow up in a small town, like I did, the feeling of belonging to a community of friends comes naturally. Whenever I’d go for a walk, or ride my bike down the street, frequently I’d stop to say hello to a neighbor. So even though over 365,000 people read at my book club every day, when I’m working on my column it feels like I’m writing to one single person. Just sitting at the kitchen table, drinking coffee and chatting with a friend. The ending for my column, “Thanks for reading with me. It’s so good to read with friends,” wasn’t planned. It’s simply the sentiment this small town girl feels in her heart each day when she finishes writing her column.
2) In the preface ofMuffins and Mayhem, you write about how you only have four childhood memories. Did writing your book help you recapture any additional memories, or do you still draw a blank when the topic of childhood memories comes up in conversation?
Writing Muffins and Mayhem definitely helped me recall other childhood memories. Antiques stores have become another trigger for helping me remember past. Whenever my husband and I walk through an antiques store, he’s amazed at how many times I’ll see something and say, “Ah, look at that! It looks just like the one Grandma Hale used to have in her kitchen.” Every old cookie jar, potato ricer, or serving bowl for sale in the antiques store reminds me of another childhood memory that I’d tucked deep away.
3) You’ve had a range of jobs, from publisher of In Business to Volunteer Coordinator at Sunny Hill Nursing Home. Which one of your past jobs is your favorite? Why?
That’s easy, Meals for Madison, my free lunch program in Madison, Wisconsin. My life was in crisis when I started the meal program. In Business magazine was losing huge amounts of money, so in a way it was kind of crazy for me to start a program that gives away free food. Yet I knew in my heart, I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing. The lesson I learned from the meal program is that helping other people with their problems, also helps me with my own. Meals for Madison didn’t solve my financial problem with the magazine, but the experience of helping someone else brought joy and peace into my life. Now whenever I’m consumed with my own problems, I’m reminded it’s time to do something for someone else.
4) In Muffins and Mayhem you talk about the importance of role models and the impact Mrs. Creswick, one of your role models, had on your life. Can you think of another adult figure from your childhood who was as influential as Mrs. Creswick?
Two people immediately come to mind; my Grandma Hale and Andy Griffith from the television show Mayberry. I realize mentioning my grandmother probably doesn’t come as a surprise, but why Andy Griffith?
Mayberry was a small town, much like the one I grew up in and Andy Griffith was the father I wished I could have. To this day watching reruns of the Andy Griffith show, while I’m cooking in the kitchen, is one of my favorite pastimes. I think I know the story line of every episode by heart, but that’s okay, because it makes Mayberry feel even more like home to me.
I spent a lot of time at my Grandma Hale’s house when I was young and even though Grandma was on the quiet side, she cared for me as I always wished my own mother would have. It’s the little things that stand out in my mind. At my house when I wasn’t feeling well, my mother actually got angry with me, sort of suggesting somehow it was my fault that I was sick. So pretty much, I was left to take care of myself. But if I wasn’t feeling well at Grandma’s house, things were different. I remember one time when I was visiting Grandma and I was up in the middle of the night sick to my stomach and throwing up. But Grandma Hale loved me anyway and she never left my side all night long.
5) You and your husband have collaborated on numerous projects and business endeavors throughout your relationship. Do you still work closely together now that DearReader.com has become so successful? How has the time demands of running the online book club and blog affected your business partnership?
My husband and I continue to work together and we couldn’t imagine it any other way. But we don’t work on the exact same project, that’s a bit too close. I think my husband and I work well together because we trust each other completely. Consequently we never feel like we’re in competition, but rather a working team. Of course sometimes our relationship does get off course, and when that happens the sentence that brings harmony back into our conversation is, “We’ve been here before, let’s start again.” It’s our cue to reevaluate the dynamics of what’s really going on.
6) You talk very candidly about learning to live with Benign Essential Blepharospasm, and how you learned to love your illness. Do you still have a good relationship with BEB? Can you offer any advice for others who are currently learning to love their own illnesses?
Yes, my disorder and I are still buddies, but we continue to discover new things about each other’s personalities. In some ways my eye disorder is kind of like living with a roommate. I’m an only child who still prefers her own space, so periodically my BEB and I get into a disagreement. My eyes get tired, my nervous system needs a nap, but Suzanne wants to keep going. I’m upset that I can’t do what I want, when I want, so I say some unkind words about how my stupid eye disorder slows me down. But my “roommate” doesn’t appreciate my choice of words, or my stubbornness. So my disorder retaliates with a one-two punch in return, which completely drains my energy, and then I have no choice but to rest in bed for a couple of days. Eventually we both come to our senses and negotiate a way to live peacefully together again.
7) If there’s one personality trait readers of Muffins and Mayhem learn about you, it’s your entrepreneurial spirit. Do you have plans in the works for any future projects outside your DearReader.com program?
I’ve never planned any of my new business ventures, opportunities just seemed to show up and I simply jumped on board. So I don’t have any plans at the moment, other than to continue creating new ideas for my online book clubs, and I’d like to become more personally involved with libraries around the country. I do have plans for a second book. But as far as launching another new business venture, I think I may have exchanged some of my entrepreneurial spirit with the desire to spend more time with my four grandchildren. I’m amazed at how they’ve affected me. I have such fond memories of the time I spent with my Grandma and Grandpa Hale and I sure hope I’m creating those kinds of memories for my grandchildren, too.
8) You run multiple websites, including the DearReader.com book club and your own blog. Have you always been so web-savvy? Do you have any advice for someone just starting a blog or web-based business?
My website is one of the survivors from the early Internet boom when folks had the attitude, “If you build it they will come—and you don’t have to worry about making money.” That kind of thinking remains a mystery to me. I guess I’m old school, because to me it doesn’t matter where the business is located you need to have customers and you need to find a way to make money. If you’re going to start a web-based business, don’t quit your day job until your new business is making money. Having said that, I do believe if you love what you do, the money will follow—at least enough money to live a joyful life.
9) What’s your favorite recipe in Muffins and Mayhem?
Skunk Beans. This is going to sound a little strange, but whenever I make Skunk Beans, I remember as a kid singing this little ditty:
Beans, beans, the musical fruit The more you eat, the more you toot. The more you toot, the better you feel, So eat more beans with every meal!
Pork n’ Beans were frequently on the dinner table when I was a kid. After saying grace and before we started eating, I’d sing the bean song out loud. Each line with a little more emphasis than the last, so by the time I reached the crescendo at the end of the song, my arms were waving high up in the air and I’d be laughing. There wasn’t a lot of laughing in my house when I was a kid, so the little girl inside of me loves the Skunk Bean recipe the most. But not to worry, these beans are toot-proof! That recommendation comes from experience, because I’ve served these beans to my family for years and we’ve never had a toot outbreak yet!
10) How different was the process of writing Muffins and Mayhem from your online writing? Do you prefer book writing to writing your daily blog column?
There’s an art to writing a column for the DearReader.com book clubs because space is limited and in my case, there’s a daily deadline. The ideal number of words is 360. That’s not a lot of words when your goal is to tell a story, including a laugh or a tear that you hope will touch someone’s heart, and then wrap it all up neatly in the end. I love what I do, but it’s a pretty big assignment every day. Since I only have a few words to tell a story in my column—there’s not much sauntering allowed. I have to stay on track with my original idea. But in a book, there’s room to wander, as long as it’s an interesting journey. I don’t know how most authors approach a book, but since it was all new to me, I had no choice but to let the book take charge. I can honestly say that I never knew for sure what I was doing, until it was all over. Looking back I’m amazed at where some of the chapters took me. Writing a book was a magical journey for me and I’m ready to begin again.