New York Times bestselling author Stephanie Land – whose memoir “Maid” inspired the hit Netflix series of the same name – discussed the writing process behind her follow-up memoir “Class” at Wednesday’s Northwest Passages event.
“Class” picks up a year after her first novel left off, with a pregnant Land in her final year pursuing a bachelor’s degree after moving with her daughter to Missoula. It continues themes present in “Maid,” navigating systemic poverty, social services and the stigmas attached, and single motherhood – this time grappling with university. Land explores how her social class differentiated her from peers in her classes at the University of Montana, like when she attended lectures with daughter in tow.
Land took on around $50,000 worth of student loans to pay for living expenses pursuing her degree in English and creative writing. At the time, she thought it was a good investment, but she wasn’t crunching the numbers. She needed the funds to pay for car insurance and repairs, rent, her phone plan and more.
“When you are suddenly taking out all of these loans, you do it without thinking about it, because if you thought about it you wouldn’t go on,” Land said.
She “ranted” in her memoir “on her soapbox” about praise for her and others who struggle with being called resilient.
“To me, it is ignoring the fact that there are several systems failing this person, and instead we’re expecting them to be proud of survival instead of putting forth energy to fix what’s failing,” she said.
She wrote the book in 31 nonconsecutive writing days. Land said she tuned into a playlist of “Stephanie’s sad songs” and got to work.
Her first work was a more polite depiction of poverty, she said, though it was still praised for its honesty. In “Class,” she didn’t hold back, offering up honest depictions of her life: poverty, sex, motherhood.
Following the explosive success of her first memoir while writing her second, she said she was deeply aware of negative feedback from readers online, namely on Goodreads, about “Maid” and about yet-to-be-released “Class.” She invented a fictional persona to represent holier-than-thou commentary: Barbara from Michigan.
“Every time I wrote something, Barbara was clutching her pearls,” Land said.
But she didn’t let the naysayers, real or imaginary, restrict her pen. If anything, she intentionally added fuel to their fire.
“The book is pretty spicy,” Land said. “I maybe threw in an extra sex scene just for Barb.”
In making her money woes known on such a publicized level, “Maid” readers felt compelled to give Land unsolicited financial advice. She cut her hair shorter, unrelated to the cost, and strangers reminded her she could use less shampoo.
“I’m not dumb. I just didn’t have money; those things don’t go together,” Land said.
If there’s anyone’s hands Land hopes her latest falls into, it’s those of a single mother’s, she said.
“I needed so desperately to see a story about me that was authentic in some way,” Land said.
“There were so many nights of not being able to sleep, and with a new baby especially, and Google-searching for just anything.”