How magazines taught Cathy Alter about dating, makeup and real estate

Just Asking

By Cathy Alter

Do you plan on having children?” asked the woman who was seated directly across from me.

Oh boy, I thought, here we go again.

The above question was not asked by my noisy mother-in-law, a potential (and lawbreaking) employer, or during my annual exam with my OB/GYN. It’s just one of the typical questions I get when I open up the floor to questions after reading from my memoir, Up for Renewal.

I suppose when you write a book that includes a blow-by-blow (quite literally) of having sex in a cubicle, you have to be prepared to answer a certain amount of personal, probing, and just plain obnoxious questions.

Is this really you?” asked another woman, holding up my book like the torch on the Statue of Liberty.

Figuring she was questioning the authenticity of my author photo (which is, ahem, a few years out of date) I assured her that, yes, it really was me.

I know the photo is you,” she responded with impatience. “You look much more tired in person, though.”

There were probably 60 people in the room and suddenly, all eyes were studying my burgeoning wattle.

What I want to know is,” the woman continued, “is this really you in the book?”

It’s a memoir, ” I reminded her. “It’s really me.”

Oh,” she sniffed. “I don’t like that character at all.”

Time and again, in reading after reading, I am reminded that when you throw yourself out there on the page, making your life, pardon the pun, an open book, it’s remarkable what readers feel entitled to know—and what they think I can tolerate to answer.

I know it’s rude to ask,” began another woman. “But since you already wrote about doing it in your cubicle, I figured nothing is off limits.

What she doesn’t understand is that I get to decide when I want to over-share, thank you very much. I’m in control of what I want to reveal – on the page or in the flesh. And what I don’t understand is that in sharing so much about myself on the page, I have either willingly or unwillingly entered a contract with my reader that I will—and should—tell all.

Yet believe it or not, giving a reading, doing a book club, chatting with Kathie Lee (Andrea, you can link to Today Show interview here), is what I love most about the publishing process. Whether the questions fly freely (scary!) or someone moderates and reads off of a prepared list (impressive!), meeting my readers in an intimate setting—having the opportunity to see up close and personal how my book is perceived and received—is one of the best perks of the writing process. Plus, if I didn’t have these gatherings to look forward to, I’d never get out from behind my computer.

Still, there are some questions that defy an answer.

Do you think you were too rough on your mother?” asked my father upon finishing the book.

You’ll have to read my next book,” I told him.

Find Cathy’s book, Up for Renewal, at amazon.com , and visit Cathy’s website at cathyalter.com .