Interview with the First Friend Who Read My New Book

We are just TWO WEEKS OUT from the North American release of my new book, ADVENTURES IN OPTING OUT! Last week, my publisher (Little, Brown Spark) sent me a few boxes of free copies, so I’ve spent the last few days packaging and sending them to friends across Canada and the US. Now that I’ve held it in my hand, it finally feels real! September 15th will be here before we know it.

While we’re all waiting for the official release, I thought it might be fun to share a bit more about the book with you. So I reached out to my good friend Shannon McNay and asked if she would help me with an idea. Shannon is the first and only friend who has read this book so far. Not only has she read it, Shannon actually helped me edit the first draft last year. She is an incredibly thoughtful writer and editor who understood the idea better than anyone, and helped me execute it in a way I couldn’t have done on my own. You could say, she was my adventure partner in this writing project. So I knew she was also the best first person to interview me about it. Thankfully, she agreed.

Below, you will find a Q&A between us. It’s a little long, so you might want to make a cup of coffee/tea and settle in for this. (And a quick note to journalists and podcasters: if you want to read a copy + do an interview about the book, send me a note at caitflanders at gmail dot com.)

Shannon: This book has been a long time coming, and I for one can’t wait to see it on shelves! One thing I think people will be curious about off the bat is how much of your story will be in it. We’ve gotten to know you well through your blog and your first book, The Year of Less. How much of your story can we expect in Adventures in Opting Out?

Cait: That’s a great question to start with, because it feels important to set expectations before readers pick it up. This book is personal, but on a different level than TYOL was. TYOL included a lot of background stories, as well as some of the emotional struggles I dealt with in the early years of my sobriety. AIOO was naturally going to be different, because you can’t write the same book twice! So it takes what you know about me, and shows you where I’m at today and how I’m showing up in this world. (My editor also said you don’t need to read my first book, in order to enjoy this one, which is great!) It includes personal stories, but my favourite thing about AIOO is that it includes other people’s stories too. It is also filled with the observations we’ve all made on our journeys, and the insights/guidance that might help you gather the courage to stop doing something that’s no longer serving you and start living life on your own terms.

What inspired you to write your next book in this format?

So by format, you mean the five-part structure where I walk you through the emotional + practical work it can take to change paths in life, and compare it to the five sections you might experience on a difficult hike. The answer to that is actually pretty simple. I was out for a solo hike and noticed how many times I was having to talk myself out of quitting before I reached the summit. I could finally hear the one voice that said, “nobody would even know, you have nothing to prove,” and then the second voice that replied, “just keep going, you’ll be glad you did.” After going back and forth a handful of times, it dawned on me that most people probably wouldn’t believe this is what hiking feels like for me. You might look at my Instagram and think I skip up every mountain I stand in front of. But more often than not, it takes a lot of encouragement for me, both to get started and to keep going. The more I paid attention to my hikes after, the clearer the analogy became.

How did you come up with ideas on who to interview? Did your interviewees have something in common you were looking for?

I interviewed a mix of long-time friends, new friends, and people whose work I love and/or whose lifestyle intrigued me. There were also some big asks! People I had never spoken with before, but who I really wanted to include in the book. The main reason I reached out to each person was because they had proven (either in previous conversations or online) that they weren’t afraid to show/talk about how difficult it can be to live differently from how they were raised/how their family or friends live. This book isn’t for the people who have endless enthusiasm and confidence that they can do whatever is right for them. It’s for the people who are afraid to enter the unknown, and who have questions and concerns about what’s ahead for them. I wanted to write something that felt like a guidebook, which you could open up and turn to whenever you needed a little support in your own journey. By sharing their experiences, that’s what the interviewees helped me create.

Did any themes/trends emerge as you did your interviews?

There were a few, for sure. If I had to break them down, I would say:

  1. People felt like they had no one to talk about the new way they chose to live, at first, because they didn’t know anyone personally who had made the same choice(s).
  2. Feeling misunderstood was a common thread. Feeling like most people didn’t understand what they were doing, and/or that they constantly felt like they had to explain themselves.
  3. And a handful of people described themselves as the “black sheep” of their family/friend groups. While some said this was a new feeling, others said this had always been their experience—feeling like the odd one out. They were just finally being open and honest about how/why they were different.

As our conversations continued, people said they eventually built friendships and relationships that were more meaningful. They described finding and/or creating new communities of like-minded people, and a deeper sense of belonging came after they started showing up as themselves. But it didn’t matter what people were opting out of—from going vegetarian/vegan to choosing a clean and sober life, moving to a new city or traveling full-time, changing careers or taking a sabbatical, quitting social media, deciding to be child-free, getting a divorce or having a non-traditional relationship—these were the themes that came up with almost everyone I talked to.

You’ve shared that hiking + an adventurous mindset doesn’t come naturally to you. And yet, anyone who follows you on Instagram can see that you love spending time outside. Can you tell us a little about what the outdoors means to you?

I could probably write a book about that. Or maybe I just did, haha. But to sum up my thoughts, one of the reasons I love spending time outdoors is because you can be your full self out there. Nature doesn’t care where you came from or what you do or what your goals are. It doesn’t care how much money you earn or how you earn it or what you spend it on. It doesn’t demand you to fit into a box or mold yourself to one identity. You can just walk among the plants/trees or next to a body of water and be yourself. No explanations required.

I love hearing about your adventures and seeing the pictures you post on Instagram, but my idea of adventure doesn’t go far beyond exploring new coffee shops and bookstores. Would you say this book would be useful for people like me, who love the idea of adventure but prefer a warm and cozy bed at the end of the day?

Well my humorous side wants to joke and say: that’s probably what adventure looks like for many of us right now! Who knew that getting to go to a coffee shop or bookstore would be such a challenge, and ultimately feel like such a luxury? (I didn’t even think bookstores would be able to figure out a way to re-open during the pandemic, so cheers to that!) But in all seriousness, I put the word “adventure” in the title as more of an offering: the suggestion that, in order to change paths and live a more intentional life, you might need to embrace an adventurous mindset. We can all learn how to do that. It’s something I think I will be practicing (not perfecting) for the rest of my life.

For those of us who nerd out on writing, can you tell us about what the publishing process was like from the time you pitched the book until now?

How much time do we have!?! The first thing I will say is that none of this would be happening if TYOL hadn’t sold well. A couple weeks ago, my UK publisher told me TYOL has sold over 190,000 copies across physical/digital/audio—so the fact that I got to write a second book at all is actually thanks to everyone who bought my first one. It feels really important to acknowledge that, because it could have gone differently. I am so grateful to everyone who has supported me, so far.

A few months after TYOL came out, I went on that solo hike and started to see a vision of what AIOO could look like. You might actually remember that we were sitting at a coffee shop in NYC, when I drew a messy squiggle line, pointed to different parts of it and told you what happens at each stage of the opt-out journey! I shared that idea with a few more friends who all seemed keen on it, or who nodded along in agreement and shared their experiences with me. After planting enough seeds, I told my agent and we agreed the idea was worthy of a full book proposal.

Non-fiction book proposals are a huge undertaking of their own. You essentially write 10-20,000 words explaining what you want to write, why, who will be interested in it, and so on. Some people can draft these quickly, but it took about 3 months for me to finish this one. You edited the first draft of that, too! After my agent and I had gone back and forth on it a few times, she pitched it to a bunch of publishers. Some didn’t understand the idea, which happened with TYOL too. But three made offers, and ultimately I went with the publisher who I felt most understood the idea: Little, Brown Spark.

That was in March 2019. Between then and now, I have honestly had the most supportive publishing experience I could’ve imagined for this book. And something I’m really proud of is that I’ve been more vocal about my vision for it, too. With TYOL, I didn’t feel worthy of a book deal, so I stayed quiet about a few things I would have done differently. But I think because AIOO started as the vision of this messy squiggle line (you will all see it soon, haha), it has always felt like a truly creative undertaking. From hearing my suggestion and hiring Amanda Sandlin to design the cover, to asking for my input on audio and marketing and so on, I have felt supported all throughout this project. I feel extremely fortunate to be working with such an incredible team of people right now. <3

You did have to let go of one idea you had for this book, and I know that was really hard for you. Do you want to talk about the audiobook?

Ooomph, yes, let’s do that. So, it’s safe to say that publishing a book during a pandemic is… less than ideal. For so many reasons. There are a lot of challenges with it. And one problem we had was figuring out how I could record the audiobook. I don’t have a professional studio at home, and it sounds like a lot of studios were closed in the spring for liability reasons. So my BIG publisher (Hachette) made the decision that all audiobooks would have to be recorded by professional narrators, not authors. I think everyone who knows me can imagine how disappointed I was by this decision, at first. I LOVE audio. I studied radio in school, recorded 5 seasons of a podcast with my friend Carrie in the past, and genuinely enjoy all parts of the planning + recording + editing processes. So I cried. I mean, I literally grieved this for a few days. And I’m kind of laughing about it now, because it’s not actually that big of a deal! But it felt big at the time, maybe because it was something I had actually been looking forward to, and so many other things (personal, not book-related) had been taken away because of COVID.

But here’s what happened next: Hachette had a bunch of narrators audition for the audiobook. I listened to them all, and there was one person who literally read it EXACTLY how I would have. And with that, my anxiety was eased. Christine and I got to chat about the book before she recorded it, so I could share my vision, describe how I wanted listeners to feel during each of the five sections, etc. Hachette let me pick some fun music to be played at the beginning and end. And in the end, we have an audiobook that I love—AND there is one more person who helped me bring the whole project to life. A true collaboration. I couldn’t do it myself, but it’s exactly what I would’ve done, if that makes any sense.

What kind of effect did writing this book have on your life?

Oh, I think it’s almost the other way around: what kind of effect did my life have on this book. Because, while it’s true that every creative project changes you in some way, it feels more true that I changed while I was writing it—and that change showed up in these pages. I’ve eluded to this (and am still not ready to discuss it) but I had a traumatic experience while I was finishing the first draft. And you know more than anyone how much it changed me, and how terrified I was to revisit this book as my new self. Now that some time has passed, I can read the final words and see how that situation might have changed me in a good way. It made me a little more tender; a little more clear and confident when it comes to setting boundaries; and somehow, a little more generous with my love. It made me want to hold people’s hands and model how to take good care of yourself. Because you are worth taking care of. And so, the book became a little less researched and a lot more support-filled. I’m very happy with the final product.

I know COVID is drastically changing the way many of us look at our lives, which makes me think this book is more important than ever. How do you think someone can relate what they might learn from this book to the world we’re suddenly and currently living in?

Well, I think it’s important to acknowledge that these first few months of life with COVID have been a different experience for everyone, and have been much more severe for some than others. Actually, my agent and editor will both remember how much anxiety I had at the thought of publishing this book during a pandemic, back in March. But now that some time has passed, you’re right, I think there are also a lot of people whose lives have simply been put on pause, and who are sitting with their thoughts/feelings for the first time (or at least the first time in a long time). And many people who are spending more time at home thinking about what they want to do differently on the other side of this. Right now, I think AIOO could help those people explore the feelings that are coming up for them, and maybe begin to plant some seeds/ideas about what they might do differently later. If you can mentally prepare for what might happen when you decide to change paths, I think you stand a better chance at actually following through with it. If AIOO helps with that, I can only be grateful.

TLDR (too long, didn’t read) Rapid Fire Questions

  • What should your readers expect from the book? I hope it feels like you’re having a conversation with a friend, which you can return to anytime you need to.
  • Will this book be another memoir? Not really, but also, kind of!? If self-help memoir is a genre, that would be the box I fit closest into, haha.
  • How is this different from your previous book? Less background info and personal stories, more insights and practical guidance.
  • What if the reader isn’t an “adventure” type? You definitely don’t need to be outdoorsy/adventurous in order to read this book. I can promise you that!
  • What does adventure mean to you? Adventure is a mindset. You embrace it by knowing a journey will come with ups and downs, and trusting you’re capable of dealing with them all, in order to get where you want to go.
  • What can we expect from your future work? I want to get to the end of my life and say I’ve tried to write a little bit of everything. I don’t know what I’ll try next, but you can expect something different from every piece of work!

There is still time to pre-order the book!

If you’re as excited about AIOO as I am, I hope you’ll consider pre-ordering a copy of it. Pre-orders help bookstores decide whether or not to carry your book, and help publishers calculate how many copies to print and where to send them to. It’s also a vote with your dollars, and a way to signal that you believe in an author—which helps them write more books in the future. There’s no “one right way” to pre-order. Through your local bookstores, online retailers, etc. It all counts. Here a few links that might be helpful, and don’t forget you can now pre-order the audiobook! :D

Amazon (US) | Barnes and Noble | iBooks | IndieBound

Amazon (CA) | Indigo | Powell’s | Book Depository

Thank you for your support, friends!

xx Cait