Too often, books are a forgotten part of the entertainment industry. Unless the book becomes a movie, it gets left out of the entertainment canon altogether. I previously interviewed a phenomenal writer, director, producer about his adaptation of a chilling novel that exposes one of reality’s darkest corners. Now I have the pleasure of interviewing the writer of another story that takes on one of life’s real challenges – parenthood. Rhiannon Ally’s hot new children’s book, “Mommy, Please Don’t Go To Work”, is as stunning as it is important.
Rhiannon is the evening anchor at 41 Action News KSHB (NBC Kansas City). She is a wife, mother, Emmy award winner, and writer.
Dru: Rhiannon, thank you so much for meeting with me today. I’m thrilled you’ve not only experienced something I often felt alone with, but you’ve turned it into a stellar book families will be sharing for ages.
Rhiannon: Hi Dru, thank you so much.
Dru: What spurred the idea to write your book?
Rhiannon: I switched shifts from the morning show to the evening shows when we moved to Kansas City from Miami and my son started begging me daily not to go to work. I knew I couldn’t be the only mom who struggled with the mom guilt and there had to be more children out there who wanted mom to be home with them.
Dru: Absolutely. I often wondered if I was the only parent with that problem. You’ve covered some pretty surprising moments in history, the Boston Marathon Bombing and Hurricane Sandy as examples. Do experiences like these affect you as a parent? Do you find it challenging to transition from covering shocking events to the predictability of parenthood?
Rhiannon: The key for me is completely disconnecting from the news when I’m not at work. It’s not always easy to do, when something really big or important happens. But, I try to watch “PJ Masks” or “Daniel Tiger” with them instead of CNN, FOX News, MSNBC, or even the local news. But, I try to limit screen time altogether for our family and do activities that we are all engaged in instead.
Dru: That’s great, family is so easily lost in the daily hustle. Those values are a key part of your book as well. As far as family goes, specifically, married couples, there are many reasons married couples would avoid working together, such as splitting up who watches the children, or even to have some time apart from one another. You and your husband, Mike Marusarz, both co-anchor the same news show. What effect do you feel this has on your relationship and career?
Rhiannon: This has been a blessing and a curse in some ways. The childcare struggle is real. I never imagined we’d have so much stress around childcare, especially since that was one of the reasons we moved back to Kansas City, to be close to family. But, both of us being on nights has been tough. But, it’s also provided us a lot of family time in the mornings. We all sit down for breakfast together every day and sometimes lunch as well. That’s more time than a lot of families get together during the week.
Dru: Isn’t that wonderful? When families are able to make that happen, it truly is magical. We moved from California to Wyoming, leaving our long commutes behind us. It was the best thing we’ve ever done. Our family has grown so much closer. Putting pen to paper, or finger to keyboard, to express something meaningful can be truly therapeutic. What part of creating Mommy, Please Don’t Go to Work was the most therapeutic for you?
Rhiannon: The story was so personal for me, as a mother who works outside the home and has young kids. So, for me, the story felt so real, even though I did create it. It wasn’t based 100% on my family or experiences. So, it was a creative outlet to help my kids and kids everywhere struggling with this. But, I also wrote it to connect to other moms having similar feelings as me.
Dru: I love that – connection. As a culture growing more digital everyday we are losing that personal connection. Art is still one medium our society bonds over. The illustrations in this book are spot-on. How did you come to work with Wendy Leach?
Rhiannon: Wendy is so incredibly talented. The publisher pitched her to me because they fell in love with her drawings first. I was very protective of the characters I created and the story as well. But, when I saw her interpretation, I knew she was the perfect illustrator to bring it to life.
Dru: She really did an impressive job. Tell me about your process. Did you write the story, send it to Wendy, and she decided what scenes to capture with her illustrations? Did this happen before or after approaching a publisher? Did you need to approach more than one publisher?
Rhiannon: I was very fortunate that I met Bob Snodgrass with Ascend Books a couple of years ago when he published a friend of mine’s book. I had been thinking about writing this story since the end of 2015, when my son first started begging me not to go to work. I finally sat down in spring 2017 to write a VERY rough draft. I met with Bob that fall and pitched him the idea and we decided to move forward that winter. I worked on my rough draft and tweaked it quite a bit before I sent them the first draft. The editor, Teresa Sosinski and I worked through probably 10-15 drafts before we had one we were comfortable with. That’s when they started looking for the illustrator. We still made tons of tweaks after that, but the basic story stayed the same. Wendy and I met and I explained my vision and then she pretty much nailed it! She also had tweaks to make after that, but nothing major. Just little things here and there. By the end, I had written about 20 drafts. It’s not easy writing a children’s book, because every word matters.
Dru: Ugh, so true. So few people really understand just how much is involved in writing for children. Are there any children’s books, or other books, you are thinking about writing?
Rhiannon: I am definitely not done writing! I will say, writing a children’s book is so much more work than people think, but I loved every minute of it! I have a few ideas, but haven’t decided which one to pursue yet. We have a baby due in 6 weeks and I have signings and interviews lined up through the end of this year. So, I will probably start working on a new book after the first of the year or in the spring. Right now, this one is my baby and I want to put all my extra energy toward getting the word out!
Dru: Congrats on your pregnancy! (And your book of course!) Your book sends such a beautiful message that no matter what, family comes first. What are some ways we, as working parents, can show our children that we put family first? How do you think they benefit from this value?
Rhiannon: I try to give my children my complete attention when I am with them. I put the phone away, I don’t even worry about taking a million pictures of them. I notice a big difference in their mood and behavior when I am completely engaged. I also find it extremely important to give each child their own time with mom or dad. As an only child, I crave one-on-one time with my loved ones, so I try to take them on mini-dates. We do a lot of festivals and things as a family, but sometimes my husband will take one to do something and I’ll take the other. They get so excited for these “dates”, even if it’s just a Target run or a trip to the park.
Dru: Yes! Dates! A few minutes makes such a difference to a child. All they want is your love and attention which are truly simple things that really will shape their lives. How do you balance a full-time career with parenting and still make time for yourself?
Rhiannon: This is one area I can definitely improve on! I think it’s critical to make time for yourself and the things you personally enjoy without your kids or husband. I think it’s also a good lesson for your kids about loving yourself. But, some weeks, there is just no time! Luckily, my husband is very good at giving me a couple hours when I need it to go get my nails done or just sit and read a book. I try to do the same for him.
Dru: That’s great. Parenting is definitely a team effort and we can’t forget to take care of the players once in a while. I read that you won an Emmy, can you tell me about that?
Rhiannon: Winning an Emmy was a huge moment in my career, especially because your peers are the ones judging the entries. I am so proud of the work I’ve done in my almost 14 year career. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some extremely talented people along the way, including my husband, Mike Marusarz. When you work with people with that level of talent, they lift you up and help you grow as well.
Dru: Definitely. I think parenting works a lot like that too. If we always strive to do better and be better, our kids and really everyone around us will do the same. People, especially kids, learn by watching us. Do your children get to watch you on TV?
Rhiannon: I often show them clips from our newscasts and they really enjoy it, but I feel they are a little young to sit and watch an entire show. If we’re covering something a little more light-hearted, like when the Royals won the World Series, I’ll let them watch.
Dru: I agree. What children see needs to be adjusted to suit their ages. Becoming a parent teaches us some big lessons. Is there anything you think parenting has taught you?
Rhiannon: It has taught me so many things, but one of the biggest things is what’s truly important in my life. I’ve learned to let a lot of things go, because in my life story, they don’t really matter. My family is what really matters. Raising my kids to be kind, happy and all around good people is now my #1 priority. I love my job and I love this book, but they come first.
Dru: To mothers or fathers trying to balance their careers with family responsibilities, what advice would you give them?
Rhiannon: I would tell them there are going to be good days and bad days. Days where you just can’t juggle it all and you feel like you failed that day as a parent or at work or with your husband or friends. But, one of my favorite quotes goes something like, “Don’t confuse a bad day with a bad life.” Give yourself some grace.
Dru: Oh I love that! Personally, I can attest to how true that is. Even with my kids, when they say the entire day was horrible, I ask them if little things were okay, like breakfast or sitting with me… suddenly they realize the the ENTIRE day wasn’t bad, just fleeting moments. What advice would you give to aspiring authors? Is there anything you would do the next time you publish a book?
Rhiannon: My advice is don’t put it off. If you have a story to tell, spend a little time each day or a few times a week writing it. Writing is an incredibly complicated, but beautiful journey that can wake up parts of you that you forgot were there.
Also, don’t be afraid of feedback. This was the hardest part for me. Not just from my editor, but when they initially sent our later drafts to have them critiqued, I felt very vulnerable and defensive. This was my baby! But, ultimately, some of the feedback was incredibly helpful and made the story better.
Dru: That’s fantastic advice! Rhiannon, thank you so much for taking this time with me. I am truly excited for all the wonderful things in your life right now. You are one busy woman who inspires others daily. Best of luck with this book, and I’m looking forward to ones in the future!