An Interview with Pamela Ferdinand

March 5, 2011

"Three Wishes" author Pamela Ferdinand

Pamela Ferdinand is an award-winning journalist who covered breaking news for The Boston Globe, Miami Herald, and Washington Post for over a decade.  She is a former adjunct journalism professor at Boston University, has written on wide-ranging topics for The Economist and National Geographic News, and most recently, co-authored the empowering memoir Three Wishes: A True Story of Good Friends, Crushing Heartbreak, and Astonishing Luck on Our Way to Love and Motherhood.  Picked as a “Tome of the Brave” by Oprah’s O Magazine, Three Wishes is the candid, braided story of how Ferdinand and friends Carey Goldberg and Beth Jones sought their dreams of motherhood with the help of eight shared vials of donor sperm rather than waiting for Prince Charming to arrive.  With the talisman of Donor 8282, the trio soon found unexpected luck and love while navigating the compromises and complications inherent in becoming mothers.  On Sunday, March 13th, you can hear Ms. Ferdinand read from Three Wishes when she visits EPL’s 1st Floor Community Meeting Room at 2 p.m. along with fellow local authors Christine Sneed and Suzanne Clores.  In anticipation of her visit, we recently spoke with her via email about appearing on the Today show, the realities of motherhood, her enduring friendship with Goldberg and Jones, and Three Wishes going to Hollywood . 

Evanston Public Library:  First off, congratulations on the incredible reception Three Wishes has enjoyed including its selection as a “Tome of the Brave” by Oprah’s O Magazine.  What is your reaction to how well Three Wishes has been received?  Have you had any particularly memorable encounters with readers this past year?  What was it like appearing on the Today show?      

Pamela Ferdinand:  It’s been gratifying to see how well Three Wishes has been received, and from a much wider audience than we ever expected.  I’ve had wonderful feedback from everyone from young women in their 20s who are wondering how to juggle career and family to fathers and grandfathers who felt like the book helped them better understand their daughters and the challenges they might face or have faced.  The Today show was a lot of fun, even though it went very quickly.  I was amazed at how friendly and warm the hosts are, especially Meredith Viera, and it was interesting seeing what it’s like behind the scenes.  But frankly, for someone who co-wrote a memoir, I’m actually a pretty private person so the publicity part of the book business has not been nearly as appealing as the writing and editing and readings.

EPL:  What motivated you to write Three Wishes, and when did the idea for the book first strike?  Did you, Carey Goldberg, and Beth Jones make the decision together, or did one of you serve as the ringleader in getting the project started? 

PF:  It was actually other people who encouraged us to write the book and got the ball rolling.  Every time we told someone our story, they said, “You have to write about that!  That’s a book.  That’s a film.”  It finally reached the point that we all decided to start talking about actually doing it, and after several months of struggling and trying to figure out how to organize the structure, we began to just write down our individual stories, drawing on our journals and memories.  It was much easier to figure out the organization once we had actual material to work with, and it came together fairly quickly.

EPL:  Could you give us a window into the process of writing a collaborative memoir?  Did you primarily work separately or as a group?  What were your biggest challenges?  How did the experience of writing Three Wishes compare to projects you undertook as a journalist?  

PF:  We each wrote our own stories first, so it was fairly straightforward.  On a couple of occasions, we went on long weekends together to concentrate on writing, particularly the parts of the book where two or three of us were together and we could help each other remember conversations and what happened.  Later, we did a lot of the editing by email, especially after I moved to Chicago, and we took time to craft the interludes that come between each chapter.  It was similar to a journalism project because we were dealing with the true story of what happened, and we had to stick to the facts and occasionally talk to people who remembered better than us what happened.  But I think the biggest challenge for all of us was reliving the more difficult and emotional events in our lives, and sitting in rooms on our own recreating and really reliving the most painful and sometimes embarrassing memories. 

EPL:  In the book you write candidly about some very personal topics including dating a married man and having a miscarriage.  Was it difficult to write about those times in your life?  How did your family feel about your decision to share them?  Did you ever have any second thoughts about doing so?

PF:  It certainly wasn’t easy, as I mentioned above, but the book wouldn’t have been worth doing if we weren’t prepared to be honest and personal.  I think readers are smart, and being superficial is doing them a disservice as well as us.  My family was supportive, and I made sure to make sure they were comfortable with everything I wrote, even though they said they wouldn’t want to censor me.  No book is worth jeopardizing or hurting the people I love, as far as I am concerned.  I have only had second thoughts when I’ve felt like I’ve been misunderstood or when I am feeling especially shy or private and am making new friends who already know a great deal about me when I know little about them. That can be a strange experience.

EPL:  What is motherhood like?  How does the reality compare to the dreams you nurtured while contemplating a date with Donor 8282?  Now that you’re a mom, do you have any advice for parents struggling to strike a balance between a career, their kids, and life with their partners?

PF:  Motherhood is better and harder on a day-to-day basis than I imagined, especially as I embark now on having a second child (due in mid-May).  All the cliches are true — our daughter gives us unbelievable joy, and I can’t imagine my life without her though I do remember my life before her.  I never thought motherhood was easy, but I find the things I struggle with have perhaps less to do with being a mother and more to do with moving to a new place shortly after having become one.  I would never dare to give advice to other parents.  I have to believe that we’re all doing the best we can, and for me, it’s been a matter of setting expectations about the kind of life Mark and I want to lead — working and traveling and maintaining our individual interests as well as being devoted parents — and living it.  We like being out and about in the world with Emma, and working from home together for more freedom but less money, so we have chosen to lead a kind of fluid life that may or may not work for other people.  I guess the other thing is that I don’t believe as a parent that I have to reinvent the wheel.  Whenever we have issues with Emma, and there haven’t been many, I’m not afraid to seek help and advice.  Personally, I don’t believe in suffering as a parent for very long if someone else has come up with some good ideas.  It’s not like I’m one of the first mothers on earth!

Carey Goldberg, Pamela Ferdinand, and Beth Jones (Photo by Mark Thomas)

EPL:  In addition to being about motherhood and romantic love, Three Wishes is a story of true friendship and your incredible bond with Carey and Beth.  Can you talk a little your special relationship with them both?  What are they up to these days?  How has your return to the Midwest impacted your friendship?

PF:  One of the best parts about our book release is that I got to see them on a regular basis as we went to interviews and readings together.  My move to Chicago hasn’t impacted our friendships; it just means I miss them.  Carey and I first met as work colleagues/competitors, so we became friends later. Beth and I met as single girlfriends, and I think what astounds all of us is how conventional our lives have turned out after we encouraged each other to take unconventional routes to motherhood.  People so often read about female rivalries and fights, and we were really excited to tell a story of female friendship and support about three women who truly wanted the best for each other and tried to help each other find happiness.  Carey is currently a reporter and blogger for the health site of National Public Radio in Boston; Beth is freelancing, which includes writing for the divorce blog on The Huffington Post.  And I think we’re all considering our next book projects.

EPL:  When you visit EPL on March 13th, you’ll be reading along with authors Christine Sneed and Suzanne Clores.  How did you become acquainted with these two local writers?  How do you see your respective works relating to one another?  

PF:  I became acquainted with Christine Sneed through the Chicago Writers Association, and I am looking forward to meeting Suzanne.  I don’t know how much our works relate to each other, and I don’t want to speak for them, but I think we all have tried to show in our own personal ways the beauty and challenges of being human, and I think we are proof that being a woman writer isn’t a singular identity.  That women as writers, while sometimes sharing uniquely female experiences, can tell very different kinds of stories in very different ways.

EPL:  Can you give Three Wishes fans a sense of what you’re working on next?  Do you have future plans for another book either collaboratively or by yourself?  Also, word is out that Three Wishes might be coming to the big screen.  Can you give us any updates, and most importantly, what actor would you pick to play you in the movie?

PF:  Right now I’m working on a second child!  Mark and I have a photography business in Evanston as well, doing event and portrait photography.  And I’m doing a bit of freelancing but also trying to come up with another book idea that I’m excited about.  Carey, Beth and I are likely going to go in different directions with our next projects, but this was a great joint experience.  And we’ve been really excited to see that the producers who optioned our book for a film have been winning awards for “The Kids Are All Right” and were just nominated for an Academy Award.  They seem excited about our book and have hired someone who is working on the screenplay.  I wouldn’t presume to know who should play me!  I’m just happy to have been able to be an author and have made it this far.

Interview by Russell J.

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