Mary Katherine Backstrom can’t help but wish she clicked a certain button on Facebook.
In 2019, Backstrom, then a popular mom-centric blogger, posted a video on her FB page. The video showed Backstrom in his car telling a funny story. Barely able to contain her own laughter, she had just stepped out of a Wawa convenience store, where she saw a man cleaning the window of his gray Honda Pilot SUV in the store’s parking lot, she said.
It was the holiday season. Backstrom thought, “Aww, how sweet” the man was doing a good deed in the spirit of Christmas. She walked over and hugged the man. The man was surprised as he was actually cleaning the windows of his own car, another gray SUV. (She now thinks the man’s car could have been a Honda CRV.) This video has gone viral and has been viewed over 120 million times to date.
So how much is 120 million views worth? “Let me tell you a very sad story about what it’s worth,” Backstrom says. “I didn’t know at the time that we could monetize Facebook videos. I didn’t have any ads on this video, so it was worth around zero dollars.
She laughs and adds, “But just to give a number, like a metric, if you had ads enabled for a video with 100 million views, that would probably be a six-figure salary. now I know how much influencers (social networks) earn, like the real greats. I mean, it’s just crazy.
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While Backstrom’s “Christmas Spirit Lady” video didn’t rain the sky, it did have incredible professional value. Its blogging platform has been elevated. She got an agent because of this video. A book offer too. Backstrom says the video “changed the course of my career and I will always be grateful for it.”
On August 3, Backstrom’s second non-fiction volume, “Holy Hot Mess,” was released, via Worth Books, after its Abingdon Press debut in 2020, “Mom Babble.” As an author, Mary Katherine, or MK as many people know her, writes in a conversational, fun, and relatable tone about parenting, faith, and, well, being a hot mess.
Backstrom spent his early childhood in Huntsville before moving to Dothan. She and her husband, who is a doctor, and their two children returned to Huntsville after a period of residency in Fort Meyers, Florida, where they were living at the time of the “Christmas Spirit Lady” video. Before finding his voice creatively, Backstrom worked in real estate and served tables at a barbecue restaurant. One recent morning, she showed up for the phone interview below. The edited excerpts are below.
Mary Katherine, did you write “Holy Hot Mess” entirely during the pandemic? And if so, how did that shape the book?
The book I set out to write was not this book. In fact, I signed the book contract the summer before the pandemic. The original pitch was that I was trying to help my readers work their way through the “mess” and the other side, which is a hilarious thing that I really thought I could do. The pandemic happened and all of a sudden I had no idea what it was like to make your way through the mess. And so what happened was I kind of had this crisis, where my editor called me up and said, “You lost direction, it just doesn’t make sense. “
I had to sit down and reassess things. And what I realized is that there is a certain mess that by the time you have no way out of it, you just have to go through it. And sometimes the only way to find purpose in these (moments) is to wait.
So I ended up changing the book. It’s become more than that, it’s life, life is a mess, we’re in the same boat and sometimes you have to wait until the dust settles to see God’s fingerprints in it all. I mean, it’s a tough time (during the pandemic.) I don’t want to downplay the importance of the fight there. But even now I’m starting to see some of the goodness that comes with it.
There are three main sections in the book. One is about identity and parenthood, the second is about love, and the third section is about faith. What was the most difficult to write?
Faith has always been the hardest thing for me to write. Like many Christians of my generation, I have a little trouble with my relationship with the church. I never had a problem with my relationship with Jesus, but sometimes his fan club can be difficult. [Laughs]
I actually sat down to write about the importance of church needed, and had to edit the chapter four or five times because it turned into a rant of what I felt like. that all the problems were.
And that is not encouraging. And so I had to really dig into my own spirituality and heal some of the wounds I had suffered in my church past and in the process of growing my faith. This last third of my book, I am the one who heals fights in real time. I worked on them while writing the book.
Based on your appearance on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” (to talk about the viral video “Christmas spirit”), what is interesting about how this show unfolds?
Well, two or three things. First of all, my experience on “Ellen” was not typical. It was a Christmas show, so they gave gifts, which she doesn’t always do. Kim Kardashian was there. Lord have mercy, Harry Styles. I can’t remember the other girl’s name, just so many people and I was overwhelmed. I was in a little green room and I went to the bathroom and walked past Kim Kardashian. And how can you even explain this? It’s just a strange thing to experience.
I think the coolest thing behind the scenes, the staff on her show looked a lot like family. They wanted me to feel comfortable and loved. They really put the emphasis on the family environment. A funny little thing is, I’ve been told not to like breaking Ellen’s back. They’re like, “Please don’t run around and stage yourself and just hold her.” Give it a little pat and move on. I bet she gets a lot of over-enthusiastic hugs.
Are you taller or shorter than Kim Kardashian?
It’s hard to know because his shoes were about six feet tall. But I’ll tell you, she looks exactly like what she does in magazines. If I get nervous I use that really weird voice like Muppet, it sounds like Kermit the Frog. And so when I pass Kim I go [speaking in Muppet-like voice], “Oh hi!” And she kind of looked at me and her security pushed her away. Well, it was a failure. [Laughs] Good job, Mary Katherine.
In the new book, you write about being a “messy Christian” and trying to live up to a standard of perfection. Do you think southerners feel extra pressure to live up to a standard of perfection? And does that change?
Yes, I think that is changing. I have the impression that in the South, we have a fairly strong culture of hospitality, gentleness and friendliness. There is definitely a tension between my generation and my mother’s. At a baby shower, for example, she writes down the details of each gift so that I can handwrite (thank you) cards and send them out. Not to say it’s not a wonderful thing to do. But I have the impression that my generation is a little more discreet. We don’t care so much about paper invitations. You know, we don’t bring out fine china for our Sunday dinners. I like this transition. I think we still have hospitality and gentleness. I think the pressure for perfection is waning now because who could keep it going during COVID-19? No one.
The title of the book describes you as a “Holy Hot Mess,” but what’s the most focused or detailed thing about you?
Well, I was recently diagnosed with ADHD, which, the interesting thing about that diagnosis is you think people with ADHD are all over the place. But in fact, we can really focus and focus when it’s something we’re passionate about. So I can really focus on my writing. I’m actually kind of a workaholic when it comes to writing, publishing, and working. I love my work. So I can hyper fix and work for hours and hours and hours almost like a bad degree. Everything else though, I’m a disaster.
Which book or two have you read the most?
One of my favorite authors would probably be Jen Hatmaker. One of his books is “For Love”. I can read this book over and over again. It still encourages me. I also like Jenny Lawson. She’s a bit more of a firecracker. I wouldn’t say she falls under the category of Christian spirituality, but she’s a strong advocate for mental health and I love her frankness. And honestly, I love how much she possesses about being a disaster. She and Jen inspire me, and if I could be anything, I would be their “baby author”. Stephen King recommends reading twice as much as writing. I love it because now that being an author is my full time job, my husband comes home and I’m sitting on our couch with a book and I’m like, “I’m working.”
There will be live music at some of your book signings. It made me wonder about the place of music in your life.
My writing actually started in the musical world. I switched to sort of editorial style writing when I had kids because I can’t exactly drag a baby to a bar for an open mic night. I found myself home after losing a very important outlet and place of joy with a newborn baby and struggling with postpartum depression.
That’s when I got into blogging, writing, and freelancing. Music has always been a big part of my life. That’s where it all started, and so it was a natural thing to have this at as many events as possible. Life sometimes changes direction. But I think what’s really cool is the creative hearts, we have to find our outlet and sometimes it takes a little while, but our stories find a way out.
On August 6th, Mary Katherine Backstrom’s “Holy Hot Mess” Book Tour will be at Ferus Artisan Ales (address 101 Beech St., Ste. 111) in Trussville. On August 8, she will be in Huntsville at Stovehouse (address 3414 Governors Drive SW). Both events are from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tickets are $20 by eventbrite.com and include a signed copy of the book, chapter readings and live music (Rob Aldridge at Ferus Artisan Ales and Preston Watts at Stovehouse).
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