Q&A With Ronit Plank
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Q&A With Ronit Plank
I have the honor of doing this Q&A with Ronit Plank who is an author, storyteller and podcast host. Ronit has written Home is a Made-Up Place & her memoir When She Comes Back. Ronit’s writing has appeared in many famous publications such as The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Hippocampus, Writer’s Digest, The HuffPost, and The Rumpus. Ronit also has three podcasts which are Let’s Talk Memoir, The Body Myth & And Then Everything Changed.
Q: Would you like to talk about both Home is a Made-Up Place & When She Comes Back?
A: Thank you for inviting me to do this interview, Bianca, I’m so happy to be your guest.
My memoir When She Comes Back is a coming-of-age story about the loss of my mother to Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, the guru at the center of the Netflix docu-series Wild Wild Country and our eventual reconciliation. It’s also the story of a family trying to find itself, parents who don’t always know how to be adults, and what happens when the person your life revolves around can’t stay.
Home is a Made-Up Place is a collection of short stories about characters from teens to mid-life searching for what it means to belong. They are stories about reclaiming personal power, recognizing the difference between what can and cannot be changed, and the pull of familial attachments despite the toll they might take.
Q: How did you come up with the concept for Home is a Made-Up Place? What made you decide to write the memoir When She Comes Back?
A: Most of the stories in Home is a Made-Up Place had been published in literary magazines, some earning places in contests, when I realized I had enough material for a collection. Though these stories take place in different parts of the U.S. and depict protagonists of varying ages and a range of lived experiences, the characters have in common a sense they are ready for something crucial to change. They begin to recognize over the course of their story that the way they are living and what they have come to accept from those they love may no longer serve them; that they need to make a decision about their future.
As for When She Comes Back, I had never intended to write a memoir. I was more comfortable with fiction and hadn’t even read much memoir before I got my MFA at Pacific University. That’s where I began to understand that what happened in my childhood was informing a lot of my fiction and short essays. Instead of ignoring my history or trying to tamp it down any longer, I decided to roll up my sleeves and begin excavating my experience and long-held beliefs about my family. Over the course of my Master’s program, I read lots and lots of memoirs and began drafting my own. My advisors were instrumental in helping me uncover the heart of what I was trying to tell and I completed the first draft as my thesis.
Q: Are you currently writing your next book? If so, is it fiction or another non-fiction novel?
A: I’ve been dabbling a bit in different genres lately, working on and publishing flash and lyric nonfiction, some poems, and articles on writing tools based on the memoir-writing workshops I teach. I am not yet sure in which direction I’d like to go for my next book but I’m definitely leaning toward nonfiction. Whether it’s narrative nonfiction, hybrid, or instructional, I’m not yet sure. But I’m having fun experimenting.
Q: What’s it like having work in famous publications like The New York Times and what is your advice to anyone wanting to submit pieces to famous magazines like the ones you write for?
A: That is very kind of you to say. I had some goals in mind once more of my work began getting published some years ago but didn’t dream that The Atlantic, The Washington Post, and The New York Times would one day run my pieces.
My first bigger byline was Salon – I practically dropped my cell phone when I opened my email 45 minutes after sending in an essay and the editor wanted to run it. I’d never experienced such a fast turnaround. I was excited and nervous and when friends in different cities sent me screenshots of that article on their phones, I could hardly believe it. I’ve had some other exhilarating moments like that along the way and some affirming acceptances but I still get rejected lots. When that happens, I usually take that piece, see what I can improve, and submit to new markets. I’m pretty tenacious that way but it can be hard to keep the faith after you keep getting no’s on your work.
My advice is to keep going. Keep writing, keep revising, and get feedback from trusted readers whose writing you admire. When your pieces are ready, send them in, with a brief and confident cover letter. And if you are approaching busy editors at magazines and newspapers, be sure to help your email stand out with a strong subject line and a dynamic, respectful message that helps them understand why your piece matters now and why you’re the voice they need. Help solve their problem. And then, if you don’t hear from them, follow up. They are so, so busy.
Q: How do you juggle writing and podcasting? What’s your advice to anyone wanting to do both?
A: Both are time intensive because they require your vision and voice. For writing you need time and space to create, time to revise and to hone your work. No one else can do your writing for you.
For Let’s Talk Memoir there’s a lot of pre-production involved: I secure my guests, schedule them, read their books, follow up with questions I write, record, check final edits, follow up again, write shownotes, promote, etc., Luckily I have an incredible podcast editor at Espresso Podcast Production who does my post production and graphics and loads assets into my podcast platform. I don’t think I’d come back season after season without her help. Delegating has become really important for me when it comes to podcasting.
But in general, I think podcasting is 30% logistics and 70% drive. There is so much planning, recording, editing, posting, and promoting that goes into getting a show into people’s ears, a podcaster must be motivated to keep going. If you’re not passionate you will drag your feet, miss deadlines and details; you may even grow to resent the obligation you have to your show.
Sometimes I’m more in balance than other times but when I’ve got a whole bunch of upcoming interviews for the podcast, I put my generative writing on hold so I can attend to the podcast schedule. No question though, my favorite kind of week is one where I’m caught up on podcast interviews and post production, I’ve published a new podcast episode that’s performing well, and I have lots of time to write and revise my own work on my own schedule.
Q: I know you have three podcasts. Would you like to talk about them and how you came up with the ideas for each one?
A: I’d love to!
These podcasts are available on all major podcast platforms.
My first is And Then Then Everything Changed featuring interviews with writers, advocates, and social justice leaders about the pivotal moments in their lives and decisions that have defined them. When I began creating this show, I was thinking about the many ways in which people can become derailed by circumstances and trauma; I wondered how we go on and try to build good, meaningful lives in spite of such difficulties. I wanted to learn more about the impulses in us to survive. The show ran for two years and has over a hundred available episodes covering stories of medical fragility and resilience, racial inequity, parental abandonment, addiction and recovery, adverse childhood experiences, and escape from high control groups and cults.
My second podcast is The Body Myth, a limited series that features conversations with women about when they first began judging their bodies, how that has impacted their lives, what they’ve come to understand about being female in the world, and what we can do to find body peace. Being a woman living in the west, I don’t go a day without hearing a woman I care about expressing self-consciousness or negativity about her body and how it compares to our impossible standards of thinness and beauty. I’ve interviewed friends, peers, and experts for this 15-episode series with the hope of creating a sense of community and finding answers together.
My third show is Let’s Talk Memoir which features interviews with memoir writers and teachers about the writing life and craft. I got the idea for this show when I spoke at the She Podcasts Live conference in 2021 and attended a session about niche podcasts. I realized I’d interviewed many of my most recent guests on And Then Everything Changed about their memoirs and we’d talked about the writing process and exchanged memoir craft tools. My memoir had come out 6 months prior and I was doing lots of events for it and meeting many memoirists in the process. I had this A-ha moment at the conference and followed my hunch once I was back home. Just a few months later I launched my first episode of Let’s Talk Memoir which is now in season 3.
Q: Your podcast Let’s Talk Memoir is a podcast for memoir lovers, readers and writers and you interview memoir authors. I see that your latest guest is Patty Lin the author of End Credits: How I Broke Up With Hollywood. I read an early copy of that book. What was it like speaking with Patty Lin? Who else have you had on your podcast and who will you have on there in the future?
A: I had such a good time talking with Patty Lin! She’s got a great sense of humor and shared so generously about her experience both as a TV writer and working on her memoir End Credits. That interview is here:
I’ve had over 50 guests on Let’s Talk Memoir so far, most recently Maggie Smith, Phillip Lopate, Abigail Thomas, and Camille Dungy. Coming up, I have Jane Wong, Brittany Means, Kelly McMasters and many more. This season I’m covering many aspects of the memoir-writing process including voice, revision, plot, structure, the divided self, writing with compassion and complexity, creating a creative life that supports us and a host of other topics.
Q: Would you like to put links to all of your podcasts here? Many of my followers I think would love it and I know I will too!
A: Sure! Thank you. Here is a link to my podcast page:
And you can always find me at Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ronitplank/
This was a lot of fun. Thank you very much for having me, Bianca!