Mother’s Day Memoir Giveaway. Interview with Jo Giese, Author of Never Sit If You Can Dance: Lessons from My Mother

by Matilda Butler on May 6, 2019

catnav-interviews-active-3Post #252– Memoir Writing Tip – Matilda Butler

[UPDATE: Congratulations to Steff for her great comment. Jo Giese chose that comment as her favorite (although she mentioned she had several others she really liked). A free copy of Jo's memoir, Never Sit If You Can Dance, has been sent to Steff.

Thanks to everyone who read Jo's interview as well as those who left comments. I read all of the comments and so appreciate what all of you bring to this community of memoir writers. -- MB]

[NOTE: In honor of Mother's Day, Jo Giese is giving away a copy of her new memoir - Never Sit If You Can Dance: Lessons from My Mother. To enter the giveaway, leave a comment below in the comments section. Jo will choose one. That person will be contacted for an address.]

Matilda Butler of Womens MemoirsMATILDA BUTLER: I’m pleased to introduce Jo Giese in this week before Mother’s Day as we celebrate the publication of her memoir featuring her mother.

Jo, welcome to WomensMemoirs, a community of women who are writing or considering writing their life stories. Congratulations on the publication of your new book. Will you tell us a little about your memoir, Never Sit If You Can Dance: Lessons from My Mother?

Jo Gives Memoir AuthorJO GIESE: Thanks Matilda for inviting me to talk about my new memoir. At a turbulent time in America, when personal connections are fleeting and shared values are rare, I’m so pleased to be able to offer uplifting lessons in old-fashioned civility in my new book. My mother, known as Babe, was no goody two-shoes: she drank, danced, and stayed up very late. She favored colorful clothes, liked giving parties, adored her husband, and told me, “Never sit if you can dance.” Hence the name of my memoir.

As I have had the opportunity to share this joyful book with readers and audiences, it’s exciting to see that the lessons from my mother are serving as a jump-starter for important mother-daughter conversations.

Matilda Butler of Womens MemoirsMATILDA BUTLER: Jo, although many people want to write about their life, deciding to commit to actually writing a memoir can be a difficult decision. It takes time and determination. It means going outside one’s comfort level. What made you decide to write your memoir at this point in your life?

Jo Gives Memoir AuthorJO GIESE: Thanks for asking. For me the decision was fairly easy. My mother, Babe, had died, and I kept remembering and savoring all the fun, good, goofy things we’d done together.  I wanted to capture and share them before they evaporated.

Matilda Butler of Womens MemoirsMATILDA BUTLER: Writing a memoir is such a worthy goal, but it can be quite difficult. I wonder what was the most difficult part of writing your memoir?

Jo Gives Memoir AuthorJO GIESE: Why prejudice the writing process and presuppose it was difficult? It was a pure joy.  I loved revisiting these favorite family stories and having the chance to get them down on paper.

Matilda Butler of Womens MemoirsMATILDA BUTLER: That’s a good point Jo. Some stories are certainly easier to tell than others. Looking back on your writing life, what is the one piece of advice you’d give to a woman struggling with writing her life story?

JO GIESE: In my writing classes I’ve found time and time again that students struggle with the thought “But what will Thelma, my grandmother, think about what I’ve written about her.” This fear about what family and close friends might think can paralyze new writers to the point that they never write or publish anything.  

Early in my career I was writing about my seven years with infertility and it was awkward writing about such an intimate, personal story. It must have showed because my writing teacher said, “Keep your mother away from your typewriter!” I’d advise women to bravely forge ahead and write their story in their voice.  After they have their story down, only then they can revisit the material for family suitability. 

Matilda Butler of Womens MemoirsMATILDA BUTLER: Jo, thanks for that advice. I think all writers will appreciate the line “Keep your mother away from you typewriter.” (or computer in an updated version). It is easier to listen to the don’t-do-that-don’t-say-that voice than to develop one’s own voice and perspective.

I have a final question in honor of the upcoming Mother’s Day. I wonder if you have one of your mother’s favorite recipes that you might share.

Jo Gives Memoir AuthorJO GIESE: A number of years ago, I wrote The Good Food Compendium. Here’s one of my mother’s recipes from that book.

No family get together was complete without Mom’s clam dip. Mom was from Seattle, an area where memorable family outings included digging for clams on the shores of the Puget Sound. Maybe the omnipresence of clams inspired Mom to make this dip, but she used canned clams. She always used cream cheese, but for a softer texture it could be made with creme fraiche. Now Babe’s party dish appears so simple it seems like it hardly requires a “recipe” with instructions.

Babe’s Clam Dip

from The Good Food Compendium by Jo Giese

16 ounces cream cheese
1 12 ounce can minced clams, drained
Worcestershire sauce

Makes 2 cups
1.  Place cream cheese in blender or food processor.  Add drained minced clams and blend until smooth. If it needs more liquid, add some of the clam juice.
2. When well blended, spike with as much Worcestershire and Tabasco as you like.
3. Refrigerate overnight so the flavors penetrate.  Sprinkle paprika on top and serve at room temperature with carrots, radishes, celery, fennel, steamed green beans, asparagus, crackers.  As an alternative, slice the tops off of cherry tomatoes, and stuff the dip inside.

More About the Author
Jo Giese is an award-winning radio journalist, author, former TV & radio reporter. As a special correspondent, she was part of the Peabody Award–winning team at Marketplace, the most
popular business program in America. At Marketplace she won an EMMA for Exceptional Radio Story from the National Women’s Political Caucus and a GRACIE from the Foundation of American Women in Radio.

She has contributed to Ira Glass’s This American Life and is the author of Never Sit If You Can Dance: Lessons from My Mother (She Writes Press/April 23), A Woman’s Path (St. Martin’s Press) and The Good Food Compendium (Doubleday). Giese has written for scores of publications, including The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Vogue, LA Weekly, European Travel & Life, and The Malibu Times. She lives in Southern California and Bozeman, Montana, with her husband, Ed Warren.
For more information on Jo and her books, visit her website:

Be sure to leave a comment below to enter the memoir giveaway contest sponsored by Jo Giese. She’ll read your comments and choose one. That lucky person will receive a copy her memoir: Never Sit If You Can Dance: Lessons from My Mother.

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

anne May 6, 2019 at

A memoir this memorable and unforgettable interests me greatly since mothers are treasures who are never given enough love, kindness and care. They dispense so much to others and are so giving, kind, generous and warmhearted. I am speaking from my experience as a mother and now a 4 time grandmother. Your mother sounds like a unique and wonderful individual and should be memorialized with your captivating memoir. Thank you for giving me insight into your life and your mother who was a unique and very special mother.

Jackie May 7, 2019 at

Hello Matilda and Jo: Thanks for this interview. I am quite interested in this memoir as I had a mother who was quite a character.

Sherrey May 7, 2019 at

As Matilda and Kendra know from my short memoir pieces they’ve published, my mother was indeed a character. Although abusive emotionally and verbally to her children, mom could also be lots of fun. In rewriting my manuscript, I’ve attempted to show not only the hurtful side of mom but also the side that shared wisdom, faith, and fun with us. Mom loved to dance, Jo, and would totally agree with your mother’s advice. Thanks for sharing your writing process and memoir with us.

joyce May 7, 2019 at

Mothers mould children and I am no exception. The comments from Jo delve into today’s life and gave me food for thought. When she added the recipe to share, that is giving to others and I would love to meet her. Jo is an inspiration to an eighty-two-year-old grandmother with twelve grandchildren, embarking on my first memoir about my travels to over 137 countries and how I changed. The title of your book is my philosophy of life, thus your book is on my must-read list. I can hardly wait.

Mary May 7, 2019 at

Thank you for this interview. Very inspiring and uplifting.

Jean May 7, 2019 at

How fortunate you had a mother that was so cool and fun. Thank you for sharing her with us. That is awesome you wrote all these memories into a book. I’m glad you enjoyed it and didn’t find it daunting. I have 15 filled journals and I don’t know where to start or even if I want to write a memoir with it. I’m contemplating shredding them. I would love to read your book.

Barb May 7, 2019 at

Enjoyed the interview and really want to read the book. I am, on and off, working on a memoir myself, to leave for my niece and nephew. I don’t care if it is never published. I just want them to know a bit about the younger me and what it was like growing up in Southwestern PA in the 50s and 60s and to hear my version of what their mother (my little sister) was like as a kid.

Berta May 7, 2019 at

Hi Jo and Matilda,
I have read your interview with interest, I visited Jo’s website and watched her promo video about her Memoir.
In the interview and the video, I realized that Jo’s mother gave her good advice. Sometimes we have the opportunity to have a mother who lives a long life, and when she disappears we realize how much she gave to our lives. Your mum, Jo, is a good example of a mother who knew how to enjoy life and taught you to do it. Mine was a good example of how to fight difficulties.

I am writing the draft on my Memoir, so I am interested in reading yours. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to enjoy it.

Best wishes with its promotion.

Rolanda Chaney May 7, 2019 at

Thank you so much for accepting all of us for this giveaway on such an interesting book. I think having a mother who just turned 92 which makes my life so blessed.

Matilda Butler May 7, 2019 at

Hi Everyone: Sorry…I got behind in responding to these wonderful comments. I love the different approaches each of you has taken. You have unique voices in your writing and that comes through even in these comments. What appeals to one person contrasts with the emphasis of another person.
It was a pleasure to interview Jo and her responses have clearly spoken to each of you.
Best wishes on this contest. And if you are not a winner, I urge you to get a copy of Jo’s memoir, if not from Amazon then from your library. I know you will both enjoy reading it as well as learning from it in terms of your own writing.

Kim May 8, 2019 at

I look forward to reading this book. My relationship with my own mother was tumultuous when we were younger, and in the end we made our peace and grew very close.

Matilda Butler May 8, 2019 at

Hi Kim: Thanks for your comment. I feel lucky when there are enough years for mothers and daughters to go through the various phases. It is wonderful when there can be peace and closeness in the later years.

Susan Majewski May 8, 2019 at

It takes a special person to earn the nickname of Babe!
My Mom had a very special high school girlfriend named Babe & during my high school years, I had the pleasure & honor of meeting my Mom’s friend, Babe. It will be fun to get to know this dancing & fun-loving Babe through Jo’s writing. In a few moments, I’ll be ordering several copies of Never Sit if You Can Dance for myself, my Mom & my four sisters. I’ve had the honor of meeting Jo Giese & can tell you that she’s pretty fun-loving & spectacular.

Steff May 8, 2019 at

I love the title of this memoir, and would love to read more. I lost my Mum before I was able to become a mother myself, and I often share pictures and memories of her, and my childhood, with my children. She was infamous for unintentionally mixing her words up, one day she was trying to find the word to describe a relative’s medical condition, and the only thing she could remember was that the word was “not profiteroles” – it soon became a stock answer at home for anything we forgot the word for. The word she was searching for that day was, in fact, spondylosis. Definitely not profiteroles.

My mother in law, who I am lucky enough to call a second mother, tells me often that I should write, and about a month ago I was chatting with my sister in law about a story idea I had, based on a life experience that I and her grandmother shared, albeit almost 100 years apart. We both emigrated from England to Canada, and I think it could be neat to describe our experiences in journal form, switching between my and her viewpoints.

Jill Chaffin May 8, 2019 at

After reading your interview, your book sounds like an uplifting fun Memoir which would be nice for a change. I’ve just finished the first draft of my memoir. I find the commitment to publish is more difficult than the commitment to write. It’s nice to see that so many others that have succesfully led the way.

Matilda Butler May 8, 2019 at

Hi Susan, Steff, and Jill: Thank you for visiting our blog, for reading Jo’s interview, and especially for leaving such interesting comments.

Arete Nicholas May 10, 2019 at

Hi Matilda and Jo,

I remember my own mother, Patricia, this Mothers Day weekend as I read your interview. My mother was a gardener and so am I…a San Francisco Master Gardener.
In her last Spring season on earth she shared with me, “ when I lose my yearning for Spring, I know I will lose my longing for life.” That day came for her on the winter solstice of 2011 – the night of her death.

I have been writing stories about her ever since. As I till the soil and layers of memory to excavate the stories I want and need to tell, I am reminded of the word, patience. Patience is a key part of the recipe for both successful and contented gardening and writing. Your interview inspires me to keep writing and thank you for sharing.

Mary May 11, 2019 at

Do you accept submissions which are not “happy” stories about mothers? My mother was mentally ill and my memoir of growing up with 2 mentally ill parents is unique, but not a “happy” or celebratory memoir.
I’m finding it difficult to find entry level (chapter or two ) places to submit.
Thanks for any advice.

Matilda Butler May 11, 2019 at

Hi Arete: I appreciate your comment. It’s lovely that you have your mother’s gardening gene. My mother passed her’s on to my sister, but it seems to have skipped me. When I asked my mother about a favorite activity she remembered from her childhood, she relied, “We had a vacant lot next door and I liked to weed it.” As you can tell, she appreciated all aspects of gardening.

Matilda Butler May 11, 2019 at

Hi Mary: I certainly appreciate that your mother-daughter story is not a happy one and is probably one of survival, or what I call thrival — thriving in spite of circumstances. How wonderful that you are writing your personal narrative. In a few days, I’ll contact you separately with any ideas that I have.

Naomi May 12, 2019 at

Thanks for the interview and the inspiration. I’ve just had Mother’s Day lunch with family, including Mum (now 94), at her care home. I’m thankful that the food there is very good! It’s a blessing to have Mum in our lives. She was a fabulous cook in the past — solid British fare like roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, and trifle to die for. But your recipe reminded me that when I first met my husband, he took me clam digging — and then impressed me with his clam chowder! Food memories are so tasty, and thank you for sharing yours.

Matilda Butler May 15, 2019 at

Hi Naomi: Thanks for your comment. And funny coincidence — I have been trying to figure out how to make a vegan, gluten-free Yorkshire pudding and am getting close. I’ll work on it in the next week or so. (Probably use aquafaba for the eggs.)
We appreciate you reading the interview and leaving a comment.

Diane May 21, 2019 at

Thank you for sharing your memoir and tips on writing about personal subjects.
Your mother was indeed, a unique indivdual living life to the fullest and look forward to reading your book.
I can relate being the matriarch of four generations, all females, since 2004.
Written stories and poems about my mother, Following in My Mother’s Footsteps and Wishes for Mothers – celebrating their day.
“When I say my mother, I mean ours, including four brothers. She was our guiding light; all of us scattered to the winds after we graduated from high school.
Dad and Mom sold the farm and moved West. She had worked along side of him maintaining our livelihood and raising five kids.
When asked to do something, out of her realm, she would say, “I will try.” Mom accepted a position at the County Courthouse doing topography maps and other duties, pertinent to her work.
Later, she became County Librarian where she remained until she retired.
I traveled East 100 miles and was hired as a Secretary for the County Superintendent of Schools…..” (Continued)
Diane Lockard

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