I’ve known Jenny Feldon for a few years now. As with many other friends from the blogging and social media worlds, I can’t actually remember the first time I met or corresponded with her. But it was definitely years after we both had become mothers. Reading her new book, Karma Gone Bad, a memoir of the years she lived in India while her husband was on a work assignment, I was treated to a whole new side of her. In this brave, wonderfully descriptive book, Jenny lays it all out – her petulant, big-city-girl difficulty adapting to a new culture, the struggle it caused in her young marriage, and her path to redemption.
While the idea of living in another country seems adventurous to me, especially for people who don’t have children, Jenny’s experience was fraught with food poisoning, depression, and extreme heat. That would depress me, too. But her recounting of the tale is magical in places, ripe with my favorite kind of writing – the kind that takes you there.
Jenny recently treated me to the best kind of blog post in the world – one that someone else wrote, basically. Questions are mine, in bold:
India was quite a while ago now but the whole story and even the conversations are so vivid. When writing this book, did you rely on notes, or photos, or journal entries – how did you remember everything that happened and what you felt in such detail?
The blog I kept in India was incredibly helpful for remember specific details, moments and conversations. Photographs (our own and those taken by our families and friends) are also vital to the process. But mostly I’ve been blessed with a pretty awesome memory (my husband HATES arguing with me, I have almost total recall for past transgressions) that kept so many details as alive and fresh as the day they happened.
What was the hardest part of the book to write and why?
I’ve gone through a huge personal transformation since the day I got on that plane for India. Revisiting–and having to live in the mind of–the pre-India me was surprisingly painful. Also embarrassing. No one really wants to go walking around like the worst version of themselves. It did, however, give me new insight and appreciation for how far I’ve come. Also, the scenes between Jay and I when our marriage was dissolving were incredibly painful. I cried buckets over my keyboard, which was a part of the process I wasn’t expecting. Sometimes I’d finish working late at night, and watch him sleeping and think “Thank God you’re still here.”
I was surprised to learn about the pre-mother side of you, which is surprising to me because I’m all about “Rah rah woman! We are not just mothers!” It brought to light a shocking “judge a book by its cover” mentality that I thought I didn’t have. In a way that felt parallel to your story in the book! I do have a question here, and it is: what has been the reaction from other people in your present to reading about this experience of yours?
Most people in my life have been incredibly supportive and I’m beyond-words grateful for that. Because so many people in our lives (we moved to LA after India) only know the “after” versions of us, I think there are definitely some revelations happening about who we are (and were.) About me, obviously (some good, some bad…just crossing my fingers people will keep loving me anyway!) and also about Jay, who is being an incredibly good sport about the whole thing.
In really good memoirs, people share not just their best selves, but their inner assholes, too, and I really appreciated your bravery in sharing your low moments. I felt this about what you shared regarding your marriage, too, in parts, especially because as a blogger, I have always been wary of writing about my marital struggles even though everyone has them. What were your conversations like with your husband when you decided to write this book and share such intimate feelings about your marriage during that time?
My inner asshole gets a LOT of air time in this book. My friend Claire Bidwell Smith says in every memoir, the writer should be the villain of the story and that’s definitely true in Karma Gone Bad…I’m for sure the worst character in the book. Jay has been 1000% supportive of this book, and was actually the first (and only) person to read it before I sent the original manuscript draft to my publisher. I would never have done this without his blessing, and I’m grateful every day for his endless support for me and for this dream.
This is going to sound stupid but how do you do it? Parenting, wifing, blogging, editing, being generally fabulous, and writing a book? HOW?! No matter how many times you answer this question, remember that everyone reading your answer will love it because it’s their first time.
It’s actually a work in progress. And it’s FAR from a perfect science. I drink a lot of coffee. I don’t get much sleep. I work for several hours every night after the kids go to bed, 7 days a week. Showering is not a high priority. I try to put my kids first, always. The hardest part is focusing on doing each thing well–I’m forever guilty of sneaking in a few emails while we’re at the park, or sneaking off to play Candyland when I’m supposed to be working. I’m terrible at returning phone calls and even worse with emails. It’s sort of miracle I have any friends at all. But I’m doing the best I can. Every day I try to do a little bit more and a little bit better, with a lot of deep breaths along the way. Also a lot of coffee…did I mention the coffee?
Did you ever write the novel? What is happening with that?
Nope. Not yet, anyway. I still really want to. I have this dream of writing the sequel to Karma Gone Bad (working title: Baby Karma) but after that I want to get back to my roots as a fiction writer. I love fiction, and the experience of turning my experiences into a narrative have made me even more eager to tackle a novel. I’ve become much more realistic about writing the Great American kind, but writing a kind-of-good one is a dream I still want to chase.
Now that it’s out in the world, what is your biggest fear about Karma Gone Bad? What is your greatest hope?
My biggest fear was that people would hate it. And while that’s still definitely possible, the incredible outpouring of love and support from the people in my life has put it to rest. If nothing else ever happens with the book, knowing how many friends and family members have come out in support of me and of the book, and how many of them seem to truly enjoy it, is the true definition of success for me, even if they are the only ones that ever buy copies.
My greatest hope is that people will read my story and find something in it that they can relate to, that resonates with their own personal journey. You don’t have to travel to a far-off country to have a personal awakening, to screw up your marriage, to look in the mirror and realize you aren’t the person you wanted to be. Searching for identity and learning to find beauty in small moments are universal challenges, and I hope people read Karma Gone Bad and feel a sense of connection, maybe even inspiration.
What are you sending to Venkat [her indispensable driver in Hyderabad] when you make your first million?
Confession: We can’t find Venkat. He disappeared from Hyderabad shortly after we returned to the US and despite our best and most well-connected friends searching, we haven’t been able to find or communicate with him. If anyone knows where he is, I’ll send a reward! He was such a wonderful person and friend, and I think about him every day. My hope is that he’s happily married to Swapna, raising his beloved goats and surrounded by a bunch of kids with fabulous hair.