Saturday, May 14, 2016

Growing Up as The Author's Kid: a guest post by Youngest

The Youngest, The Smithie, and The Author
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: People used to raise children because they were economically useful. Ever since those pesky child labor laws got passed, however, kids have generally been in the outgoing, rather than incoming column in the ledger. Living in the countryside of Maine, Ross and I have still managed to get our money's worth out of having our offspring rake, mow, haul brush, stack wood, etc.

However, now that I have two daughters who show great promise at writing, I've found another way to put them to work: blogging. Ladies and gentleman, I present Youngest, who is here to give us a fifteen-and-a-half year old's perspective on growing up as The Author's Kid.

Growing up and having to share your Mom with the world isn’t easy. A common question from people I meet at mystery conventions and book signings with my Mom is “What is it like to have an author for a Mom?” Normally I’ll giggle and respond with “It can be weird sometimes”, so I decided to share what it’s really like with you. DISCLAIMER: This post is based on my life/experiences/feelings, and a few of my brother’s and sister’s.

I try to hide it
While most people may be excited at the thought of a parent having fans, I actually try to hide it. While I have to share both my parents with other people(1), my Mom is the hardest to share. Unlike my siblings, who were born years before my mom became a writer, my entire life has been spent as the child of an author. This means all my life has , random people have known who I am, and who my mom is. 
At an LA book festival (ed note: with Tammy Kaehler)

While I love my mom and all her readers(2) it can be really weird to have people compliment me on my mother’s work. So, when it comes to MY life, I try to keep my Mom’s life under wraps, and luckily for me she supports that. She’s fine when I tell people she’s a stay-at-home-mom, and outside of work introduces herself as my mom and uses the same last name as me. I want one place where Julia Spencer-Fleming is just the name on my mom’s birth certificate.

Things are normal to me….that might not be to others
My entire life I’ve considered normal dinner conversations to include:
  1. Who’s finishing their book, and when
  2. Mergers between publishing houses
  3. The most efficient way to kill someone
  4. How to hide a body

A fundraiser for my middle school
Needless to say, the same doesn’t apply to my friends. I also consider it perfectly normal for people I’ve never seen before to come up to me and start telling me how much they love my mother’s books. I’m used to my mom’s readers knowing various things about my life. 

I’m also used to my mother being gone for periods of time. Whenever my mom gets around to publishing a book(3) she also has to go on book tour. Which means she can be away for weeks at a time. I understand when she has to miss my concerts, recitals, and plays, I know she’s sad about it too, but I just have to accept it. 

Don’t get me wrong, I benefit from book tours. My mom’s a lot more open to taking me to California when her ticket and hotel are paid for! This also means I have very few vacations that are actually vacations. Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I went on a trip that didn’t involve my mom’s work. This makes sense though, even a New York Times Bestselling, Award Winning author only gets paid 4 times a year. This means the family is used to going for months at a time with much money until she gets paid or, you know, FINISHES A BOOK LIKE SHE’S SUPPOSED TO(4). I’ve also learned that you can’t just say the phrase “I’ve been flapping for as long as I can remember” without lots of questions, eyebrow raises, and at least one person asking if that's appropriate to say.(editor's note: "To flap" means to open a hardcover to the title page and tuck the front flap over, making it easier for the author to sign.)

At the Fort Lauderdale Book Festival
I develop a way to interact with readers
Due to my age, I’ve done the most traveling with my mother, and consequently have met many readers. I’ve noticed many people ask very similar questions, for instance; “Do you want to be a writer when you grow up?”, “Have you read your mother’s work?”, and “What it is like to have an author as a mom?” Due to how common these are I have answers that are my immediate response: “No. I’m hoping to go into forensics or diplomacy.”, “No. It feels weird, plus there are sex scenes and I DO NOT need to read those.” and I’m answering the last one in this post! Once my friend told me “I find it funny that you can go from smiling and being all happy and talkative, to being completely composed.” I laughed and thanked her. I was good at it cause I was used to it. When you’re representing your mom at events you can’t show that you’re:
  1. Tired
  2. Hungry
  3. Grumpy
  4. Sad
  5. Angry
A good deal of my life has been spent smiling and making small talk with strangers while my mom is elsewhere. So I’ve become a bit of an expert at the old stiff upper lip thing (5).

You wouldn’t trade it for anything….probably
It’s all worth it when I see how much my Mom loves doing what she does. The way she genuinely enjoys speaking at events(6) and talking to fans makes it all worth it. After all, she’s happy and I get free vacations.

  1. My father is a teacher.
  2. Thanks for paying for college!
  3. Trust me, I’m as eager for it as you readers, my birthday is in a few months
  5. This comes in handy when someone who I don’t like is talking to me.
  6. BTW I’ve memorized her speech and will do it for half the price and/or a box of cheese pizza. 



  1. This is very interesting, fun to read, and quite insightful. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with all of us who love reading your mom's books.
    You do your mom . . . and yourself . . . proud.

  2. Thank you! Just snorted coffee through my nose -- so funny and on point. Off to show to my 11-year-old son, who not only gets dragged to author events with novelist mom but comic cons and the like with muppeteer dad.....

  3. Great post, Youngest! And thanks for prodding Mom about getting that book done - because we all want to read it.

    One question: how do you feel being referred to as Youngest? :^)

  4. This is so much fun to read, Youngest! You done good.

    My kids were in college when I started to write, and therefore OUT of school by the time I was first published. Neither of them would know how to "flap" a book. And one of my greatest pleasures is to read what they write, when they do and let me read it.

  5. Always nice to hear from you, Youngest! Say hello to Oldest and Middle for me and tell your mom and dad they owe me a phone call or an email! (And by the way, this is an insightful and well-written piece, so if the diplomacy thing doesn't work out, you might want to think about writing, maybe on the side...)

  6. A box of cheese pizza, huh? I might be able to arrange that.

    I think The Girl might be able to relate to some of this. Like the time I pick her and classmates up from a field trip while I was working on a short story and she got into the car and said, "So, you figure out a way to kill the guy yet?" Silence from the back seat. To The Girl it was a perfectly normal question.

    A very honest, thoughtful post and yes - I think you'll have the writing side of diplomacy well in hand. Maybe I'll meet you at one of your mom's book events some day.

  7. I am crying. This is the sweetest tenderest most honest and touching essay I have ever read. You are amazing (1) and we are all changed by it (2) Also I will get you all the pizza you want. (3)
    1. Do you truly know how well-written this is?
    2. So often people don't tell the truth, you know. And it'll be fun for you to read this again in ten years.
    3. And we would love to hear you give The Speech.

  8. Well done, Youngest! And well done, Julia and Ross.

    Both my kids have authors as parents, plus my husband, as a wildlife photographer/filmmaker/education video producer, works all. the. time. Every "vacation" we've ever taken has centered around his needs/wants for photos or footage for whatever current project is in the pipeline. On the plus side: all our kids, their friends, and other random people's kids have gotten their time onscreen, or in print. And, he gets paid four times a year. So I can relate.

    Our kids enjoyed it, I hope you do, too. Unique is good, I think.

  9. Well done, Youngest! You are a delight on the page and in person. I grew up in a family business, too, although what my parents did wasn't as interesting as killing people for a living, so I know exactly what you mean about the vacations!

    I'll pass this on to my daughter, too. She was ten when I published my first book, so she's pretty good at answering all those questions, too.

  10. Hi, it's The Youngest here!I'm SO glad you all like my post. I was really nervous about putting it up. Edith, I don't mind being referred to as "The Youngest", not only is it true, but it gives me another level of separation from my Mom's work life [She did ask if I wanted to use my real name]. I'm really glad all the parents out there can see some of their child in this post!

    Also, I'll be popping in and out of comments today to answer any questions you have!

  11. It might take our guest blogger a little time before she chimes in today, since Saturday they get to sleep in at her boarding school. Her composition teacher there has praised her creative writing...the formal academic stuff still needs a little work, however. :-)

    When Youngest was still a toddler/preschool-aged, she used to play "Book Tour." She had a tiny, child-sized rolling suitcase, which she would pack with all sorts of things, then she would give me her baby doll with instructions to take good care of her. She would explain to the doll what she was doing and assure "her baby" that she was thinking about her even when she was away. Then she waved good-bye: "Bye! Bye! I'm going on book tour!"

    She would get back home from tour in about five minutes. When I asked her how it went, she always said, "It was fun, but I'm SO tired."

  12. Ooops! She's up and at 'em after all! I should also mention Youngest will be getting ready for an important event today: The Prom! At her school, it's for all grades. If I get a picture of her in her dress, I'll post it on the front page.

  13. Omigosh, that story is adorable, Julia.

  14. Prom photos! Yes! And the book tour story is touching in so many wonderful way...

  15. Wonderfully written! And Youngest, I think you will find that skill of appearing composed on demand will serve you well in either forensics or diplomacy -- or honestly, any field you end up pursuing.

  16. Youngest, you are so entertaining! You have written a great post, full of wit and interesting information on your life as a book flapper. You definitely have the gift of gab in writing. Your sense of humor and not taking it all too seriously will take you far in life. I imagine that whatever you choose to spend your time doing in the future, it will be a successful undertaking. Thanks for sharing with us today, and thanks for the reminders to your mom that we fans are itching to get our hands on a new book. Enjoy your prom tonight. I'm betting you will, though, because you seem to be a person who gets the most out of life's experiences.

    Julia and Ross, whenever I see pictures of your children, there is something that stands out. They have an air of confidence and good humor about them that radiates. I know that it is a result of having had parents who foster those traits. Julia, you and Ross have done an outstanding job with your children. Youngest is an absolute delight. Oh, and I loved the story about her playing book tour!

  17. Thank you all so much! As for the book tour story, I find it kinda embarrassing (as most teenagers do of their childhood stories), but it really shows what it was like for me as a child. My Mom went on tour so often when I was young that I just figured that's what parents did.

  18. Thank you, Kathy! I think they're pretty special kids myself.

  19. I enjoyed this post immensely--lively, well-written, and honest! So true, Julia, what Kathy Reel and others said--it's clear what a great relationship you and Ross have with your kids--and it's clear the kids are proud of Mama!

    Best of luck to you, Youngest--whatever career you end up in--you're going to do more than fine!

  20. Beautiful blog post. I loved having students like Youngest in my classes, bright, delightful, full of surprises. Playing book tour perfectly exemplifies how quickly children model what they see and hear, and author seems to me a perfect role model. <3
    Just remembered storyteller Kathryn Tucker's son being asked if he ever disliked all the attention paid to the resident ghost in his mother's songs and stories. "Heck no. Jeffrey paid for my college!" Wonderful grasp of the necessities of earning the wherewithal. Hugs! <3


  21. This was so insightful, well-written and enjoyable. Kudos and best of luck to you, sweet Youngest. We're all fans of your mom's work. Have a great time at the prom, and hope we'll hear more from you in the future!

  22. Julia and Ross--you should be very proud of all your children. Youngest--thanks for sharing.

  23. Loved reading this, Youngest! Thanks for sharing. Hope you'll pop in as a guest blogger again!

  24. Dear Youngest, so sorry for getting to this late, yesterday was a crazy day. What a thoughtful, lovely, funny post--thank you for being part of Jungle Red writers over the years too, helping give out prizes and prod your mom into FINISHING THAT BOOK

    Julia and Ross, I know you are proud of the people you've raised--and you should be! Congratulations all around!