An interview with Blended author Samantha Waltz
Blended: Writers on the Stepfamily Experience explores families from the inside out through the perspectives of thirty writers who have experienced stepfamily life firsthand. This compilation explores the truths of what non-traditional families look like along with the accompanying highs and lows unique to those families.
We asked Samantha to share her thoughts and insights on the book.
1) Samantha, tell us your stepfamily story?
When I compiled Blended, I was a stepmother to six adult children and a stepgrandmother to their ten kids. My husband had three children each from two marriages, and I had three children and two grandchildren. We had a big, bustling family on many occasions. For a long time, I didn’t feel like I fit in. As I explain in the introduction to Blended, there was far more to becoming a stepparent to adult children than I’d expected. But everyone made an effort and we did, over sixteen years, build strong relationships. When I divorced their father, his children were understandably angry and hurt. But I never quit loving them and kept channels of communication open. We’ve rebuilt relationships to a point, thanks to everyone trying and one stepdaughter and two of her children making an extra effort. Recently my older son re-married and I became a stepmother and stepgrandmother again. I wasn’t sure my heart could stretch enough to include more steps, but my stepdaughter is so lovely and her daughter so dear and my son so happy that my heart is doing just fine.
2) What prompted you to compile this book?
When I first became a stepparent, I looked for a book to help me through what I found was a surprisingly difficult time. My search turned up a number of “how to” books. It’s my deep belief that every family is unique, and no single set of guidelines will work for them all. Additionally, I, personally, learn best from story. There simply wasn’t a book out there offering what I needed. With my own writing and teaching of writing as a springboard, I set out to create the book I wish I had had when I became part of a blended family.
3) Describe the book.
Blended explores stepfamilies from the inside out through the perspectives of thirty writers who know what it’s like first-hand. The topics of these stories range from first encounters between new step-relatives, to marriages, honeymoons, daily experiences, and divorces. Parents, children, siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins — all are profoundly affected when families are blended. The diverse voices in Blended reflect the realities of today’s traditional and non-traditional families, exploring the truth of what these new relationships look like, and, especially, feel like. Sometimes funny, often poignant, and always deeply personal, the stories in Blended capture the essence of living in step.
4) How did you choose the writers?
I posted calls for submissions in a number of places including Seal Press’s website. I also contacted colleagues who knew other writers they thought might want to submit a story and worked from a “fishing list.” I had several criteria. The stories needed to be well written. Some came to me flawless, and having those stories felt like a generous gift from the writers. Other essays had compelling ideas I wanted to include in the anthology, but the authors were less experienced writers. Fortunately, those writers were willing to work through a number of drafts with me. I’m proud to have both well-known and new writers in Blended. I wanted to make sure I had stories from parents, grandparents, children and siblings who had lived or were living in step so I could present a full range of experiences. I wanted stories that were real. Sometimes you can love a child to pieces and never get the relationship you hope for because that child is so caught up in grief or jealousy or other powerful emotions that come with blending families. Other times you find you really are the Brady Bunch. I wanted to include stories from families with traditional and alternative family configurations. And I wanted some cross-cultural stories. Both the quality of the story and the shape of the book in my head determined the final selections.
5) What’s your favorite story from in the book?
That’s probably the hardest question you could ask. “Who Will This Be To Me” by Betsy Graziani Fasbinder is so beautiful and poignant it hurts. “Family Role Play” by C.S. O’Cinneide is one of the funniest stories I’ve ever read and also one of the wisest. “Nightshade Love” by Nancy Antonietti should be required reading for everyone part of a stepfamily. “A Tale of Two StepDaughters” by Amy Huddock will both break the heart of a stepparent and comfort him/her. I could go on and on. Every story is wonderful, and the experiences of the authors so varied that there is something in this book for everyone.
6) What do you hope that people will take away from this compilation?
113.6 million Americans have a step relationship. (PEW research.) Yet common as stepfamilies are, parents and children often feel alone as they face many challenges unique to living in step.
If readers are part of a stepfamily, this book will hopefully feel like a large dose of empathy and hard-won wisdom. As they read the stories, I hope they will get ideas for their own families and they will feel understood. If readers aren’t part of a stepfamily – rare these days – but want
to better understand what a friend or neighbor is experiencing, I’m confident they will gain important insights. Plus, as reviewers have noted the stories are a great read.
7) What’s your best stepmom advice?
Take good care of yourself – whatever that looks like for you and however you can manage it in your family. Problems that arise in the family might be but often are not anything you have done or not done. Do what you need to for yourself so you can love when you don’t feel that love reciprocated; stretch when you feel the elastic is as taut as it can get before it snaps; have enough energy and self-confidence to face the battles of everyday life with equanimity. Whether they act like it or not, everyone in the family is listening, watching, learning from what you say and do. Or don’t say and don’t do. Somehow get enough of what you need so that you can set a positive tone in the home and communicate clearly and empathetically with all family members.
Samantha Waltz has over sixty personal essays in anthologies including Ask Me About My Divorce and Midlife Clarity. Author of Parenting: Four Patterns In Child-Rearing and Gifted Child: Masterpiece in the Making, she has been a family therapist and taught classes and workshops on parenting and child development. She is a stepparent to her five adult stepchildren, and a stepgrandparent to their children and to her son’s stepdaughter.