• Caitlin Shetterly
  • Caitlin Shetterly, Author of Made for You and Me, Talks About Love & The American Dream
Caitlin Shetterly, Author of Made for You and Me, Talks About Love & The American Dream

Questions for Caitlin Shetterly, Author of Made for You and Me: Going West, Going Broke, Finding Home (Caitlin on SheWrites)


Liza Bakewell, Author of Madre: Perilous Journeys with Spanish Noun (Liza on SheWrites)



1.     Let’s start with the story of your book, Made for you and Me, published in March by Voice (Hyperion). I wondered if you think of your book as a love story. Or do you think about it more as a contemplation of the American Dream? Although it is too early to tell, I haven’t seen one review that has mentioned the love story. Am I crazy?


No! You aren’t  crazy. I’d say the book is both: It’s a love letter to America and it’s also a love story about how my husband, Dan, and I went west, went broke and came home to move in with my mother and, somehow, despite all that change and stress our marriage got stronger—in fact, we had the adventure of a lifetime! Woven into my book are stories of the pioneers and, more specifically, the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. When I re-read those books as an adult (pregnant with our first child and in bed with an unusual pregnancy sickness), it hit me suddenly that those books are really the love story of Ma and Pa. How many times does Pa say to Ma, “It’ll work out.” And how often does she trust this? Their love was so inspiring to me. In my own marriage, I learned that we made vows for a reason. We were testing the “richer or poorer” one a lot sooner than we expected, but we believed in sticking by each other.


2.     And then there’s food, which I see, also, as part of your love story. You love food, which is so directly tied, for you, to place. Picking and eating apples while in Maine, the apple-producing state; avocadoes while in Los Angeles. Having said that, there is another aspect of your cooking in the book that concerns your shrinking budget, and then we learn what you end up doing with, for example, simple foods like lentils and beans and rice and, well, stone soups. I found myself writing recipes down and wanting to try them all.


An unexpected pleasure as the book has gone out into the world is the attention the food in the book has received. We recently did an event here in Portland, Maine, with a James Beard winning chef, Sam Hayward. And when he told the audience about my book, he said that he loved the way a recipe or a meal would unexpectedly appear in a paragraph, sometimes set apart by parenthesis. I loved this idea, but I can’t say that I self-consciously tried for that. I just wrote the way I think we all talk: One minute we’re talking about our marriages, another minute about our children and then we talk about dinner or what we had for breakfast and then we talk about politics. It’s a continuum. And this is how we, all people,  relate to each other.


3.     Returning to your earlier answer about your trip and how you related to the pioneers, I loved the way you used Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books as a backdrop to your road trip. For me, as a young girl growing up, she was the novelist! I, also, so much enjoyed the way you quote other writers and poets and songwriters, too, as you travel. What is it about Wilder, in particular, that you connected to so deeply?


When I started rereading the Little House on the Prairie books my husband and I had just driven across this great country. I related deeply to Pa’s belief in the American Dream,  that with hard work and drive, anything was possible. I was also so touched by the hardships the Ingallses faced and how things were never as easy as they had been in Wisconsin, where they had family and community. Needless to say, I related. There were just so many things I hadn’t remembered about those books so that,  for me, as an adult woman, pregnant with my first child, I was reading them with both the clean eyes of a first read, and, also, it was as if my childhood self was sitting right next to me reading, too. And their story became, immediately, inextricably entwined with our story.


As for the songwriters, well there are two road trips in this book—one east and one west. And it’s pretty hard to have a road trip with no music! Also, this book is such a celebration of everything---good and bad—that makes us American and that includes music that was literally invented here—bluegrass, the blues, rap, country, jazz.


4.     In Made for You and Me you mention the audio diaries you taped for NPR of your personal, intimate, recession-tale, which inspired the book. When and how did you make those audio tales?


Two weeks after our son was born in January of 2009, every job my husband, Dan, a freelance photographer, had booked had been canceled up through May. Suddenly we had a new baby and no income. So, I called one of my producers at NPR and said, “Hey, how about we do a story about young families with kids and how the recession is affecting them?” Anyway, one thing led to another and all of a sudden I had taken a job making a series of audio diaries that were about my family’s experience with the recession. And, as hard as it was to put our personal story out there for the world, I needed the work. So I started taping our conversations about what was happening to us; our vulnerable moments, our time in the car. And I was able to pull together a series of really palatable, immediately accessible audio pieces about people who sounded just like you and me…wait, that was me! You can listen to them at www.npr.org.


5.     On the same topic, what did you learn from taping and blogging about your story? How was it different from writing a book? Did they inform your writing? What advice would you give to writers who might be thinking about performance and/or blogging, but have not started yet?


This is a really interesting question. The only thing I can say about this is that you must write what you feel is true. Hemingway said,  “Write one true sentence,” with the idea that you then write another, followed by another. I would add to that, write how you would say it if you were telling a friend—in your voice and your voice only—but tell it with that kind of intimacy, with no artifice.


6.     Once you tell part of your story via the audio files and your blog, you draw the attention of three agents in New York, who you go to meet. How did you decide on the one you did to represent you?


When I first talked to my agent, Kate Lee, Dan, my infant son, our dog Hoper and I were on our long journey home from California back to my mom’s, and we were sitting in front of a Red Lobster restaurant in Virginia. She had read my blogs and she just understood what we’d been through, how my story could resonate with so many others. Although I met with some other lovely agents, I felt a deep connection to her, and I was inspired by her gumption, her intelligence, her feistiness and her sensitivity. I thought she’d represent me fearlessly and ferociously which is what has happened. The day she sold my book we had $16 in our bank account and an empty fridge. She called and said, “Caitlin are you sitting down?” I had no idea that my life was about to change. If you ask her she’ll tell you that for her that moment of being the “agent” of a life changing event—and not just mine, also my son’s and Dan’s—was so incredible for her. It was a moving day for both of us and really bonded me to her.


What is your next move? Another book? Would you ever consider writing a sequel to Made for You and Me that emphasized recipes, food and your life, in that order?


Gosh, I’m just trying to get this book out there! I love that so many people have been clamoring for a cookbook from me. I have no idea if that’s something I’d want to do—I mean, I feel like the really terrific cookbook authors are the ones who really, really know food inside and out and are more than just food lovers (as I am). But food will always be a part of my work because it’s a part of my life. I’ve begun a few tentative pages of something else, but who knows what it will become. Right now they’re just words on a blank page. 



Caitlin has a question for the reader: What does the American Dream mean to you?  Find Caitlin's blog at www.caitlinshetterly.com and write in your answer OR leave it below--Caitlin will read both! From all of the posts she gets over the next week (end date: midnight, April 17th) she will choose 2 people to whom she will mail a copy of her BOOK, Made for You and Me --FREE!


Caitlin's son, Master M. and her dog, Hopper, on their long road home across America.



 Liza can be found at www.lizabakewell.com. Check out her book! Madre:Perilous Journeys with a Spanish Noun

And Caitlin can be found at www.caitlinshetterly.com or at Made for You and Me: Going West, Going Broke, Finding Home.

Click here to read an excerpt from Made for You and Me OR check out the blog Passage West that inspired the book! And here to watch Caitlin's video.

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  • Jennifer Johnson

    I guess the first thing I think of when I hear "American Dream" is the 2 kids, house with a picket fence, great jobs, happy suburban life.  But after living part of that dream and seeing that it's not all it's cracked up to be, it causes me to reflect on other things.  It seems to me now that the American Dream involves more being able to choose your own path of education and career, having lots of choices about how to raise your family and educate your children, how to eat, how to be healthy - overall, a feeling of vast choices.  Not that it's always possible to achieve our dreams, but we have so much freedom to change our direction in life. Especially as women, we have a lot to be thankful for with all the possibilities here.

  • Widdershins

    As a non-american, I find that an interesting question, and I'll try for an answer from all the thoughts that it buzzed through my brain.

    Growing up in Australia, my concept of the American Dream was defined by what we received via TV. The eternally happy-ending-ed heterosexual nuclear family/cop/medical/sit-com show.

     As a young adult I saw it as the enemy (as well as the U.S.S.R) as defined by the anti-nuclear/environment activist movement and the second wave of feminism. It also encompassed a pantheon of brilliant SF writers who tried to convince me that american made technology was the way of the future. (It may still be, but we've yet to catch up with that future.)

    Now I live in Canada and from close up I see that for millions of my neighbours, that dream, if it was ever real, has become a nightmare.

    Like all national identities that are made up of rewritten histories of the wealthy and victorious and half-truths, there is so much to be found in the gaps.

    Those who have honestly striven for the American Dream have created great things and left lasting legacies. (the means by which you are reading these words not the least of them!)

    But in the end  the Great Australian Dream, and the Great Canadian Dream, and the Great American Dream, etc, were all created as chimeras for a world that no longer exists.

  • Liza Bakewell

    Engaging answers, Caitlin, and thanks to She Writes for a fabulous set up.