The Power of Sisterhood

Isthmus | October 13, 2005
A journalist, nationally syndicated columnist and best-selling author, Kris Radish is a 1986 Pulitzer nominee and holds investigative reporting awards from the Associated Press and the Society for Professional Journalists. Her 1992 book, Run, Bambi, Run, focused on former Milwaukee cop Lawrencia Bembenek’s conviction on charges she murdered her husband’s ex-wife, was optioned for a movie and published in France, Germany and Czechoslovakia. Radish’s second book, The Birth Order Effect, has been followed by two best-selling novels centered on the powerful sisterhood of women: The Elegant Gathering of White Snows (2003, now in its 11th printing) and this year’s Dancing Naked at the Edge of Dawn (already in its ninth printing). A third, Annie Freeman's Fabulous Traveling Funeral, is due for publication in January. Radish also volunteers as a consultant for the Milwaukee Women’s Center and has taken a role in that city’s production of The Vagina Monologues. She lives with her teenage son and daughter near Milwaukee, where Radish’s partner completes the household. In an email interview, she creates a 110-word genre for her work; confesses to a handful of guilty pleasures; assesses her capacity for empowerment, restlessness, anger and joy; offers a few words of advice for men; and talks about her tattoos.

Q: Why are all three of your novels 352 pages? Does the number hold personal significance for you?

A: I had no idea. I was busy working for world peace and focusing on all the women in the novels who have now become my sisters, friends, fabulous companions – I totally neglected to count the pages. That does it. My new novel is going to be 353 pages. Wait, I hate odd numbers. Make it 354.

Q: At least a few people have assigned your fiction to the Chick Lit category. Leaving aside the dismissive connotations of that label, what genre would you create right now, off the top of your head, to encompass your novels?

A: Real World Women Who Worry About Menopause, Their Teenagers Having Sex Before 39, Their Aging Parents, Love, Sex, Friends, What They Might Have Missed By Not Watching Television -- Especially From What I Hear Sex In The City, How in The Hell They Will Ever REALLY Loose 20 Pounds, If Anyone Really Cares If They Have a Glass Of Wine At Noon, More Sex, The Grounding Total Solid Bonds of Female Friendship And Love, Change as A New Form Of Religion That Requires Only Following Your Own Heart And Soul, Happiness And For Once Eating The Last Donut. In Other Words -- Writing That Gives A Damn About Real Women.

Q: If your health care provider diagnosed you with a condition for which the prescribed treatment required you to give up either dancing or nakedness, which would you choose to keep -- and what would be your rationale?

A: This is tough because I have a screwed up back right now and when I am naked I look like myself. So I’ll go for naked which is a form of dancing, letting go, being who you are, embracing every inch of what you ate, where you went, how you fell, how you got up and where you are going.

Q: Which is more gratifying: seeing one of your books go into a sixth printing, having a book optioned for a movie version or having it translated into French, German or Czech?

A: Oh, honey the sixth printing. People are reading. They are liking. They are getting it. I have reached women and touched them and they get it.

Q: What is your favorite wine, and did you choose it because of its label, its name, its Wine Spectator rating, its price or some other factor?

A: What’s Wine Spectator? I buy what is on sale at Pick and Save. I’m a writer for crying out loud. I have two kids to put through college and no money saved. Isn’t that funny? When someone else is buying I love dry reds. So dry you have to hit the edge of the bottle to get out the last glass. My friend gave me this bottle of Peterson of Carignane -- a 2004 Rose for my 52nd -- let me repeat that 52nd -- birthday that was so good I keep the glass under my pillow and lick it every night. I love that wine. I LOVE it.

Q: All the photographs I’ve ever seen of you show you wearing a broad smile. What brings you joy -- and does anything ever make you angry?

A: Angry is so easy. A closed mind. Unacceptance. An unforgiving heart. Joy is embracing myself for who I am, writing -- oh, I love to write so much it makes me weep with joy to just write this, knowing I have been a good mother, knowing that this moment is the best moment I will ever have, knowing I touched a heart, that glass of Peterson -- maybe a whole case, being outside, accepting people for who they are, embracing life for it’s totally awesome opportunities, making people -- especially readers -- feel or see something, those birds outside my window, emailing you, fall, the look on my daughter’s face when she sees that I have changed her sheets, my partner’s face after a week long absence, my son explaining how he wants to change the world politically….well, stop me -- obviously writing is way up there.

Q: When, where and how do you prefer to write?

A: Naked. Just kidding. In the quiet. No phone. My candles burning. The windows wide open. Early and late. Also in the middle. The house clean. Office door shut. In my office or a place with a view of something wild -- remote. And all the people I am writing about sitting at my feet -- drinking really good coffee.

Q: Your novels bespeak restlessness. When did you first recognize this in yourself, and what were you doing at the time?

A: When I was being potty trained. It’s always been there. There’s always something more to see, do, experience. Life is so, so much -- I want to see it all -- touch it. Take a short break and start jogging again.

Q: What was it about Lawrencia Bembenek that compelled you to write her story?

A: When I got to her she had been languishing. It started out as a magazine piece and as an investigative journalist who was not here for the initial trial -- well, nothing made sense. It was like touching a wall and it starts to crumble.

Q: What is your definition of elegance?

A: Honesty. Intelligence. A pure, kind heart. A sense of self.

Q: Your son marked his 18th birthday on Oct. 1. What advice do you have for him that might be of benefit for other men out there?

A: The exact same things I tell my daughter. Listen. Intelligence is attractive. Never compromise. Passion is everything. Look ahead -- not back there -- you’ve already been there. Tomorrow everything will be different. I’ll always be there. Never, ever, ever settle. Read my books -- it will help you see how women think and especially feel but it’s a good thing to ask too.

Q: When were you first conscious of your own capacity for empowerment -- and when did you realize you could help other women cultivate theirs?

A: That’s not something you just get. It’s like a string of beads and finally you hit one and something deep and wide inside of you opens like a canyon in Utah. But I had this terribly emotional moment in New Mexico with a reader who drove five hours to see me, came to me with The Elegant Gathering of White Snows clutched in her hand and told me the most poignant story of how my book changed her life, gave her her own life back and changed everything and I sobbed with her, took her in my arms -- I’m actually crying as I write this -- and realized that my words, my gift from the goddesses of the universe, the emotional soul of myself that I had placed on those pages, was something that really did empower women.

Q: Where were you and what were you doing when the notion of dancing naked at the edge of dawn occurred to you as metaphor?

A: I was writing the scene in the book, the mystical part where Meg feels it for the first time, and I went away with her. Right there. I saw her, felt her heart beating. The fear in her entire body was a ripple down my spine. I remember it like it was yesterday and I wrote as if my hands were on fire and when I was done -- way into the late evening -- I was dancing naked myself.

Q: Who is Annie Freeman and exactly how fabulous is her traveling funeral going to be?

A: Annie is a funky lust-for-life woman who has left no stone unturned, who has made a huge impact on the world and who has left it way too soon. The funeral is remarkable -- an honoring for all women who have loved and lost and who grieve and who still need to live. It’s a book, I think, that is very real and that will touch many hearts. It’s a hell of a lot of fun too -- which is a big theme of mine.

Q: What was the last book you read that you would recommend, and why would you recommend it?

A: Alice Munro -- Runaway -- Stunning, electric, beautiful prose. Left me breathless. I keep this book by my bed simply to touch it. This is elegant. Stories of life so real, so true, so human the pages burn your fingers. I kiss her feet. I read each page slowly. I love this book.

Q: Who or what is your muse?

A: The women who contact me, my readers are my muse. The stories they share of what my work has done for their lives, their honesty, their openess. Also, a fabulous woman writer human in California Sally Miller Gearhart who is always there and kick started me and still does whenever I lag behind.

Q: Why do you live where you live?

A: Child custody stuff. Kids need to finish high school and then we may leave. Southwest? Who knows. I’m already putting it out there. Change is good. Really good.

Q: Do you have any tattoos?

A: Yes sir. A radish on my right thigh in case I forget who I am after the Peterson which I show to anyone who buys the wine. A lovely ankle thing-a-ma-bobbette that is a work in progress. A lovely C-Section scar from t h e r e to t h e r e and several wounds on my fine heart.

Q: customers who buy your books have also bought books by Elizabeth Berg, Cassandra King and Barbara Herrick. If you went out and bought a copy of one of your novels, what other book might you buy to go with it?

A: Talk Before Sleep by Elizabeth Berg to go with Annie Freeman’s Fabulous Traveling Funeral and because she gets women.

Q: Any guilty pleasures we should know about?

A: Riding my motorcycle. A really, really good cigar. A vodka martini, straight up that sings as it touches my lips. A quiet morning with a strong cup of coffee and a whole day to write. Swimming -- I love to swim -- alone and for a very long time. I sing too -- jazz and blues and not just in the shower. Sigh. Just sigh.


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