I subscribe to KE Garland’s blog, kwoted, where she always “keeps it real” by writing honest and thought-provoking posts about societal experiences, personal relationships and insecurities; how and why we celebrate holidays, being reflective, and finding inspiration in daily life. In 2015 she published Kwoted, a book of original quotes which “encompass advice and mantras that the author lives by and offers to those around her.”
Early in the fall of 2016 I learned that K E Garland had written and was self-publishing a book titled The Unhappy Wife, and my first thought was “I’m going to read her book and review it.” But while reading this 112-page volume, I decided I wanted to do an author feature, instead. I asked Kathy – aka K E Garland – if she would mind me asking her some questions, and she was down, so what follows is our exchange. Enjoy!
Leslie Reese (LR): Okay, Kathy, let’s get this party started!
K E Garland: LOL okay…I’m ready!
LR: When and how did you first conceive of The Unhappy Wife as a project and a book?
K E Garland: I was actually on the phone with a friend. As usual, he was complaining about his wife. This seemed to be commonplace for many of my married men friends. Because I’d also begun doing the work of self-reflection about who I’d been in my own marriage, I was able to offer a bit of advice. But when that was over, he continued to complain. Right in the middle of his diatribe, I said, “I’m going to write a book called, ‘The Unhappy Wife,’ and I’m going to ask your wife to be in it.” He laughed and laughed. I didn’t. Three years later the book was conceptualized.
LR: Wow…that reminds me of a man I’ve known since high school. We’ve always had great talks…even during his 1st marriage, when he would say “I can talk to you in a way that I can’t with my wife.” When he said that to me early in his 2nd marriage, I thought “Why is he marrying women who he can’t talk to?” and then I started making myself less available for our chats….
K E Garland: Exactly. And so in my own self awareness, I’ve become less available to many of them as well, or I always ask, “So what are you gonna do then?”
LR: Was the title always The Unhappy Wife, or did you have some other titles that didn’t make the cut?
K E Garland: It was always going to be The Unhappy Wife. I thought it was kinda catchy. Every time I shared the titled with someone else, they would say, “Ooooh…I’d wanna read that,” so it stuck.
LR: Yeah, it makes you feel like unhappy relationships are about to be exposed, or secretly hopeful that you’re going to gain some insight into the unhappy parts of your own situation.
K E Garland: Yes, it’s the sense that wives are perpetually unhappy. Also, it suggests an air of insight into their lives.
LR: Can you talk about having the trust of the women you interviewed; and how you decided to write 12 women’s stories using the first person point of view?
K E Garland: Without going into details, I began with women I knew, which were one or two, plus myself. I have a story in there. Then I asked if they knew anyone who would want to talk with me. Then I branched out to friends who weren’t in the book. I literally sent out a text to a few people and asked if they knew anyone who wanted to speak with me. I didn’t have to twist anyone’s arm, although, the last woman, “Veda,” didn’t see herself as unhappy, until she read her story.
As far as writing in first person, I decided that would be the best way to personalize the stories. I wanted the reader to feel each woman’s emotion and inner thoughts. I wanted the focus to remain on the women. Third-person would’ve required me thinking of how other people in the story felt, and I just wasn’t concerned with other people’s inner feelings. I really wanted this book to give voice to the women.
LR: I’m glad you didn’t have to hurt anyone in order to get them to share their stories – LOL!
Can I go back to what you said about wives being “perpetually unhappy”?
Do you mean that women expect to be unhappy in relationships? Does it seem that many women are resigned to a measure of unhappiness in relationships without…examining how much is taking a toll?
K E Garland: So I guess I should clarify. Some women seem to be perpetually unhappy. For example, “Miss Sharlene,” who has married four times never seems to be happy in her marriage(s), but has never reflected on her own role in co-creating the situation. I don’t think all women expect to be unhappy in relationships. Although, I will share this story with you. Right before I married, my husband’s aunt told me that “I better have everything I wanted in my wedding, because after that, I wouldn’t have a say so in anything!” I thought it was the strangest advice, but reflecting, it seems that some women do expect unhappiness.
For some women, the unhappiness does kind of creep up on them. As you can see in the book, for some women it begins with a feeling that they ignore. I’m thinking of the first two women, “Jasmyne” and “Gina.” For others, they’re unhappy from the beginning, but for some reason they think it’s something they can handle.
LR: Is one of your hopes with The Unhappy Wife to help women become more self-aware?
K E Garland: THAT IS EXACTLY one of my goals with this book. I even had t-shirts made up with three relationship goals on the back:
• Know yourself.
• Love yourself.
• Be yourself.
I’m trying to raise women’s consciousness so that those of us who seem to have relied on men and relationships for validation will hopefully stop, reflect, and love ourselves a little more.
LR: It’s interesting that “Veda” didn’t see herself as unhappy until she read her story in print. What about the woman in the story “Thom” – did she realize that her own identity was so invisible?
K E Garland: A lot of them didn’t see themselves as I’d written the story. Many of them wept. They thanked me for showing them who they were in those relationships. “Crystal” said, “I had no idea my story sounded like a Lifetime movie,” which is astounding to me. “Thom”’s wife realized it after Thom died and she found herself in therapy. Through counseling, she understood exactly how she’d ended up married to him and how she’d given away her power little by little, eventually leaving her with nothing, not even a husband. By the way, I wrote the story purposely to omit her name. I wanted the reader to feel how powerless she felt. She was so insignificant that she didn’t even have a name, just “Thom’s wife.”
LR: I think it’s beautiful that your book is already instrumental in providing clarity and healing for some of the women you interviewed.
“KNOW YOURSELF, LOVE YOURSELF, BE YOURSELF” sounds so obvious but for some of us it can be a lifelong journey. At first when I was reading The Unhappy Wife I was feeling judgmental towards some of the women’s stories but then I realized I was feeling some residual shame from unhappiness that I used to allow in relationships when I was younger and less aware.
K E Garland: Thanks Leslie!
I’m so glad you said that about judging the women. That has been the case with a few people. The first inclination is to read the stories in disbelief, but I think you’ve hit the nail on the head, so to speak. “Residual shame” is exactly what it is for some of us. I find that if you’re judging these women, then there’s probably something tapping you on your own shoulder, you know?
LR: Was it a conscious decision to have women of different ages represented in your book?
K E Garland: The only part I was sure about is that I wanted authentic stories to be heard. The fact that the women ranged in age was a nice happenstance.
LR: One of the things I was thinking when I was reading The Unhappy Wife is that it would be good for discussion groups. Would you ever use the book to facilitate workshops, or was your “job” to get the stories written, and publish the book?
K E Garland: I would love to use the book to facilitate workshops. One of my goals is to focus on more mass distribution of the book. In fact, my goddaughter, who’s receiving her Master’s in Social Work, just texted me saying “Gina”’s story was approved for her healthy dating relationships curriculum in Granada! I never could’ve imagined something like that.
LR: Is there something you would like readers to know about The Unhappy Wife that we haven’t talked about?
K E Garland: The only thing I’d add is something I’ve been having a hard time explaining/showing. Although the title is The Unhappy Wife, it is not simply about wives and marriages. It’s about women and how we function in relationships, whether we choose marriage or not.
LR: Can you share something with us about your personal writing practice?
K E Garland: Sure. When I’m working on a project, then I write each and every day, until the project is complete. A typical day would include the following: exercise, meditation, a veggie omelet, and then 3-4 hours writing. Some of that “writing” includes researching the timeframe/setting of the story. For example, because I’d changed the setting of each story, I had to be sure the “characters” were doing things that were accurate for the area and the year. You know Gina and her bff couldn’t be going to the movies to see For Colored Girls… if it was supposed to be 1992!
LR: Can you share something with us about your personal reading practice?
K E Garland: If I’m working on a book to be published, or if I’m editing someone else’s work, then I read very little (other than blogs). This is because I don’t want what I’m reading to influence my own writing style.
I typically read fiction with or without a group. For example, last month I read The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom with a book club. I’m currently reading Zadie Smith’s Swing Time with a couple of blogger friends. After that I’ll read Whistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandall with a book club.
When I read on my own, I like to include philosophical books, like Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements and Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, every now and then. I’m very interested in reading We Should All be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.