Q&A with Brenda Knight, WNBA-SF Chapter President and Nita Sweeney, WNBA-SF member
Brenda Knight (BK): When did you know you were a writer, Nita?
Nita Sweeney (NS): Way to lead off with a stumper! Did I know I was a writer in 5th grade when I held the one and only copy of my “first” book, Sheshak the Wild Stallion, which I both typed and bound myself as a class assignment? How about in 1996 when Dog World published my first feature article or when Dog Fancy published my cover article? Definitely in 2019 when Mango published Depression Hates a Moving Target, my first actual (not typed or bound by me) book and I held it in my hands.
Still, self-doubt arises again and again. I have befriended it. Part of me may never think I’m a “real” writer, but I don’t let that deter me from writing.
(BK): Runner biographies and memoirs are a “thing.” Did you ever think you would write one? (or did you?)
(NS): At 49, when I took up running, the last thing on my mind was writing a running memoir. I just didn’t want to be miserable anymore and hoped exercise would help me crawl out of an emotional black hole. Soon, friends and my mental health providers began to comment about my improved mood. They saw it before I did.
But I’m always writing something. So, in 2011, after my first half marathon, I used National Novel Writing Month to record how this middle-aged woman leashed up our dog and went from eating Hershey bites on the sofa to running a half marathon. It took another year and a half for me to realize I wasn’t writing about how I took up running. I was writing about saving my life. That’s when I knew I had a story.
(BK):What is your favorite memoir, running or otherwise?
(NS): Chris McDougall’s Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen enjoys a cult following among runners. I’m proud to be part of the fan club that finds it so inspiring. The book is memoir-ish but also includes copious research. And, it reads like a novel. I’ve stayed up all night reading the physical book and been dismayed to arrive at my destination while listening to the audiobook in my car.
(BK): You have received several impressive awards for your prose; has that helped your writing career?
(NS): Thank you for mentioning these! Awards provide a sense of legitimacy. I’m an anxious person full of self-doubt. Having well-respected strangers say I write well boosted my confidence. I also believe those external stamps of approval helped Mango decide to give this first-time author a chance. Hopefully the awards entice readers as well.
(BK): What advice do you have for aspiring authors who hope to have a first book published?
(NS): Pitching to agents and editors is like dating. You don’t need every single person to love you. You just need one person to fall in love with your book and hopefully you will fall in love with them too. I’m so grateful to have found Mango when I did. I was ready. They were ready. The world was ready.
(BK): What has been the single most satisfying part of your publishing journey?
(NS): Needing to move the tissue box closer to my laptop. When I receive a note about how a reader relates and that the book gives them hope, my heart bursts.
Recently, a virtual book club picked up the book and the administrator messaged me a screenshot of a post. A woman’s teenage son who struggles with depression saw the book on their coffee table and asked if he could read it. Then, her daughter, not to be left out, asked if she could read it too. In her post, the mother explained they were reading the book as a family. She hoped it would open a much-needed dialogue about her son’s issues. There is no way I could have imagined that kind of scenario when I started jotting down the random thoughts that eventually became this book.
On a lighter note, one woman posted that she was creating a design to have the “Depression hates a moving target” tattooed on her arm. I haven’t seen a photo of an actual tattoo yet, but that was a pretty good day as well.
(BK): Do you have any trade secrets to your writing craft you could share for the Women’s National Book Association?
(NS): I swear by Natalie Goldberg style “writing practice.” Set a timer and go. Her admonition to “keep your hand moving” and the idea that you often have no idea what you’ve written until after you’re done gets me through. Yes, I edit, study craft, and revise. But nothing helps me get the work done better than a digital kitchen timer.
(BK): Who gives better critiques on your first draft – your husband or your dog?
(NS): Clearly my husband. Scarlet, the #ninetyninepercentgooddog, just shreds everything!
Seriously though, when I was working on Depression Hates a Moving Target, Ed read every stinkin’ draft, and there were many. And then, when we received the author copies, I came home one day to find him on the sofa with a copy of the just-published book, reading it again from page one!
(BK): Any new projects up your running jacket sleeve?
(NS): Yes! I’m writing a proposal for a book of simple, daily meditation “practices” to promote living in the moment. The book is in the standard 365-day format, but each page includes a teensy exercise to promote mindfulness in daily life. Many people don’t realize you don’t have to sit in silence to meditate. You can meditate all day long. This book will help them learn how.
(BK): What question do you wish I asked and what is the answer?
(NS): You’ve asked great questions, but I wish people would ask about my favorite stuffed animal. No one has asked that since I was four. At that time, it would have been a stuffed red dog I still have. But now my favorite is a stuffed Capricorn goat I bought after Ed and I began dating. Ed’s a Capricorn. I still adore both of those Capricorns.
Nita Sweeney is the author of the memoir, Depression Hates a Moving Target: How Running with My Dog Brought Me Back from the Brink, which was short-listed for the William Faulkner – William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition Award. Her articles, essays, and poetry have appeared in magazines, journals, books, and blogs including Buddhist America, Dog World, Dog Fancy, Writer’s Journal, Country Living, Pitkin Review, The Taos News, Spring Street, Pencil Storm, WNBA-SF, It’s Not Your Journey, and in several newspapers and newsletters. She writes the blog, Bum Glue, publishes the monthly e-newsletter, Write Now Columbus, and coaches writers in Natalie Goldberg style “writing practice.” Nita has been featured widely across media outlets about writing, running, meditation, mental health, and pet care. She was nominated for an Ohio Arts Council Governor’s Award and her poem, “Memorial,” won the Dublin Arts Council Poet’s Choice Award. When she’s not writing or coaching, Nita runs and races. She has completed three full marathons, twenty-seven half marathons (in eighteen states), and more than eighty shorter races. Nita lives in central Ohio with her husband and biggest fan, Ed, and their yellow Labrador running partner, Scarlet (aka #ninetyninepercentgooddog).