An interview with Tania Elfersy, co-author and publisher of Purple Leaves, Red Cherries
Q: What is behind the name Purple Leaves, Red Cherries?
A: We were looking for a name that would portray a healthy world of journey and discovery, where in the end you get to enjoy the fruits of your exploration. In the book, we describe Purple Leaves as: “The pages that invite you to reflect on the complexities of motherhood, inspire you with the words of other mothers and encourage you to create your own stories.” We described Red Cherries as: “The moments of enlightenment that surface as you examine how motherhood flows through your life.”
We hope that Purple Leaves, Red Cherries can mean different things to different readers as each one moves through their own personal journey of discovery.
Q: How did the book come about?
A: While at home with my third child, I came across a picture of Isis, the Egyptian goddess of motherhood and fertility. I was holding my baby. She was holding her son Horus. Seeing Isis inspired me by offering a glimpse into the enormous history of motherhood. And I started thinking how I could package a picture of Isis and other inspirational items as a gift for new mothers. I was always on the lookout for a great new-mom gift – something more helpful than anti stretch mark cream! I started noting down some ideas and shared them with my dear friend Andrea Katzman. Soon after, Andrea and I started working on the project and Purple Leaves, Red Cherries was born.
Q: Can you describe how you gathered the stories for the book?
A: We sent out emails asking for written contributions to just about every mom we had ever known and anyone else who we thought would know moms and could forward the email. We asked for stories about motherhood written in 140 words or less and suggested 12 subject areas that the stories could fall into. The subject areas later became the story chapters of the book – In the Beginning; Boundaries and Balance; Body; Who I Was, Who I
Am; Love; [In]Sanity; Relationships; Difficult Days; Work; Sex; What is a Good Mother? Expectations; Wise Women.
As we began receiving stories, we realized that a) it was difficult for many moms to actually write about themselves (and not their children, or theories on motherhood in general) and b) when they did start writing about their lives and their experiences as mothers, they had a lot to say – a lot more than 140 words.
We were careful to stick to our editing rules. Each story would have to be kept within the 140 word-limit (so that it could be easily read by busy moms) and the stories would have to be descriptive and not prescriptive. We wanted the stories to display the wide range of experiences women have as mothers but not to tell other mothers how to mother.
Q: What makes your book so different from other books about motherhood in the market?
A: Over the last decade or so, there have definitely been welcome developments in the discourse on motherhood. Today there are many books that acknowledge that motherhood is complex and not all about the children. There is a wider recognition that when a woman becomes a mother, the identity shift and loss (to varying degrees) of a sense of independent self are not necessarily smooth periods of transition. We are happy to broaden the dialogue on these issues and believe that our approach is unique in the following ways:
Purple Leaves, Red Cherries (the gift book/enhanced book) includes short stories, personal journal space and a Mothers’ Toolkit. The book relays different experiences of mothers and provides tools to help mothers cope with the complexities of motherhood. We encourage women to write down their experiences and understand their new needs as mothers. We hope to provide women with inspiration and food for thought. We do not prescribe solutions.
The whole book is very accessible for busy moms. The stories are short, many of the ideas in the Mothers’ Toolkit can be completed in as little as five-minutes and the journal space has writing prompts to help women note down even just a few words that describe how they are feeling.
We have created an online infrastructure to further the discussion around the issues raised in the book. Through our forum, blog, Facebook pages and more we hope that women will find channels to express themselves, create a dialogue around the topics in the book and read more about the experiences of other mothers.
Q: The book contains a number of beautiful illustrations? How did you end up working with Nomi Melul Ohad, your illustrator?
A: I came across Nomi’s work on the Internet by chance. Immediately I was drawn to the very strong sense of a woman’s story that can be found in so much of Nomi’s work. Andrea and I went to meet Nomi in her studio and we knew we had to work together on the book. We believed that Nomi could paint tales of motherhood and bring to life the title Purple Leaves, Red Cherries. In the end, working with Nomi even exceeded our high expectations. Her illustrations in the book are simply stunning.
Q: Do you have a favorite story in the book?
A: I have a few but the truth is that I seem to carry the stories around with me wherever I am. In my day, through my week, I relate to them all the time. Something will happen and a line from one of the stories will pop-up in my head. Sometimes it will make me think about the story and/or whatever is happening at that moment in a new way. I think that each and every story has an important message within and each story will also resonate differently with the reader depending on her experiences with motherhood.
Q: As a mother of three young children, how did you manage to bring a book to market within 18 months of starting the project?
A: Like many moms, I pack a lot into my day and night. I have learned to use time more efficiently and maximize any spare 10 or 20 minutes that comes my way. I can’t remember what I used to think about while walking to pick up the children from kindergarten, washing the dishes or folding the laundry but these days I edit in my head, develop new themes for our online channels and create new marketing strategies, all while on the go.
Q: Is there room for a Purple Leaves, Red Cherries for dads?
A: I would hope there is but I am sure the market would be smaller. Purple Leaves, Red Cherries came about because the impact of motherhood on every part of a woman’s life can be so significant. In the majority of families, mothers continue to be positioned as primary parents to the extent that the average mother is doing five times as much child care as the average father (Lisa Belkin, citing Sampson Lee Blair, associate professor of sociology at the University at Buffalo in “When Mom and Dad Share it All,” New York Times Online, June 15th, 2008). From this and other similar findings, we can understand that in general, the impact of fatherhood on a man will tend to be less identity changing.