When you live in Anchorage, Alaska, and the sixty days are (this year) cold and rainy, what can you do?
Anchorage is an artsy place. And while I like the balance of trying new things while tending old routines, there’s nothing as satisfying as enjoying a good book.
Stories are like an empathy pill. You get to learn about the experiences of others. Even when reading fiction, you learn so much about the writer, and sometimes, more about yourself.
Below is a perfect example.
“Her job as a mother—she believed this then, believed it now—was to make sure that her children would be loved by the maximum number of other people. This was the source of all her anxiety”–Elizabeth McCracken, Thunderstruck & Other Stories.
I read this. Stopped. Re-read it. Then called both my grown daughters and read it to them. And apologized for the many times I’ve forgotten that they’re not extensions of me.
In the past many days, I’ve read a lot of books.
Below are just a few. Memoirs. Novels. And yesterday, a neat piece from the Haftorah at a friend’s son’s Bar Mitzvah.
This was how I knew my recent two week trip to Kentucky and Indiana, a combined book event and family reunion, was a success. Moments after getting home after sixteen hours of travel including layovers I was home, diving in to chores I often dread.
What a trip it was. I wish you could have been there. First, there was time with my niece and her kids, and with my sister, her mom. Then Great Day Livewith the amazing Rachel Platt. What a terrific opportunity, and how lucky was I that my brother Danny encouraged me to reach out to her.
Then time with my brother, more nieces and nephews, a cherished ritual of driving to family reunion with my favorite aunts, family reunion, and more sister/ brother time. And a trip to Berea, a place I’ve felt a magnetic pull to, was the icing on the cake.
But the single thing I’ll never forget was my book event itself at Barnes & Noble. The arrival of family, one by one. Some I knew. Some I’d never met. And I finally got to meet my brother Bill.
It had been five decades since I’d seen Bill. I was a wee one when we were separated, and don’t remember he and I hanging out as kids. But he did.
And then on June 8th, thanks to the intervention of my sister Maddy, I got to meet him. The final introduction. No more missing pieces in my sibling puzzle. Sure, I blubbered as I read from my memoir about a time when I was looking for my little girls in Greece without the benefit of family. But they were good tears. Tears of appreciation for the family Alaska was to me, and tears of joy for the family I later fell in love with. My big, loveable, sometimes dysfunctional, always colorful family.
Never did I believe I’d meet all of my missing siblings. We’d been scattered across the country growing up. But it happened. And it was spectacular.
Returning to Alaska, I tackled my little life with gusto. I mopped. Slept a bit. Went to a memorial service of my daughter’s old kindergarten classmate. And slid in to my first tango lesson. More relaxed and centered than I’ve been in a long, long time.
Thank you for joining me today. Thank you always for the Facebook shares and online reviews also.
Next stop: Washington, then Sitka after a summer break.
“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
― Dr. Seuss
Just as I was packing for my Portland book event, I got the call that a friend died. Jim was more than a friend. To my little girls, he was a hero that defended their right to safety when they were in Greece, a rare rescuer who tried to stay in regular touch with them as they grew to be women. A great lawyer. An even better uncle. We will miss him, and will always be grateful for his love and support.
Portland was a comfort. From my hostel owners to the bookstore owner (thank you, Elisa at Another Read Through!) to the community at large and the other authors from She Writes Press, I couldn’t have had a more restful/low stress venue.
This May I joined Zonta International, and am excited at the many people and possibilities that membership will provide to work empowering women and children around the globe. Since Zonta has chapters virtually everywhere, the opportunities will follow me into retirement, wherever I am.
Pieces of Me: Rescuing My Kidnapped Daughtersis a finalist for the International Book Awards! That, and a finalist for the USA Best Book Awards and a silver medalist for the IPPY’s in memoir/personal struggles. If I had endless personal leave and cash, I’d be flying to New York right now for the fancy IPPY ceremonies. Instead I’m plugging away at work and other writing projects, excited about next week’s event in Louisville Kentucky, the city of my birth. I’ve not ever had two sides of my family under one roof. I’m sure I’ll be a nervous wreck in the moment, but for now, it’s exciting to think about.
And that’s life in a nutshell. Still loving book groups and other events, but finding time for rest. Eight months after publication, I’m able to finally take a deep breath and look at both my book life and my regular life with calm energy. I stayed in my PJ’s last Saturday until 3PM and made myself an amazing smoothie, and was mindful to appreciate each ingredient-the spinach, the avocado, the raspberries, and the chia seeds. I let myself listen to my cats purr and didn’t worry about the messy house.
If you have friends or family in Louisville, Kentucky, please tell them I’ll be at Barnes and Noble-Hurstbourne soon! And I’ll speak with Rachel Platt at Great Day Live! even sooner.
Life zips by quickly. It will forever be a mixed bag. It is so important to make a point of smiling before it’s over.
It’s estimated that one in five Americans lives with a mental health condition. All of us know someone who struggles. But despite this, mental health too often remains a topic we don’t discuss until it’s too late.
Why did you want to share your story with the world?
I needed to make something positive come out of my daughter’s death. I just couldn’t let scattered ashes be the end of her. While Sadie was alive, we didn’t share much about our mental health struggles. We thought no one else would understand—rather that our sharing would drive people away. A woman I worked with stated this thinking so well. She said “I am afraid to tell people about my mental illness because it might destroy people’s perception of me as normal.” We allowed the stigma to interfere with our finding the community and help that we needed. While I cannot change that, I decided I could share our story now, after Sadie’s suicide, to build awareness of the prevalence and cost of mental illness, to share resources and new developments that provide help and hope to those struggling and to inspire action that increases funding for mental illness services and research. Most importantly, by sharing our story, I hope to help others avoid my daughter’s fate. What are you most proud of about the impact your memoir is making on the world?
The book is building awareness of mental illness, helping others that are struggling and inspiring improvements in the mental health system. This is best illustrated by feedback I have received:
From a 20+ year-old male relative: “I don’t normally read this type of book but reading it made me realize if someone as bright and full of life as was Sadie, someone coming from a good family, could be struck with mental illness—then it could happen to anyone.”
From a colleague who shared my book with her friend—She told me that after reading the book her friend was in tears saying I may have saved his daughter through my words and that he and his wife feel less alone in coping with things they have a hard time understanding.
Inspiring improvements in the mental health system
From a state government agency manager who is responsible for publically funded youth residential treatment programs—“When I read your comments about the lack of long term outcome data for residential treatment programs, I realized that we don’t have that kind of data for our programs either and should.” What do you think your daughter would say about your book?
My daughter Sadie had a great deal of empathy for people that struggled. I believe that overall she would have positive things to say about my book because it is helping others that struggled as she did. More specifically, I think she would be:
Proud that that she inspired me to write the book and proud that I included her writing so readers better understand from her own words how her mental illness made her feel.
Proud of me—that I reached way beyond my comfort zone to write a book and to share our story.
A bit embarrassed that I shared intimate details of our story—she would not have wanted people to think poorly of her.
Overall I believe she would be pleased that she and I are making a positive difference in the lives of people struggling as she did.
What resources would you endorse for parents supporting a child that is struggling with depression or bipolar disorder?
I included an annotated list of helpful, credible resources in my book and on my author website. Some offer information (e.g. signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder, latest research findings), others offer on-line community (e.g. blogs, connections with others, etc.), some offer support (e.g. crisis lines, chat rooms, etc.).
You are the first human I have communicated with today. I’ve sequestered myself in my room for hours to write a few posts for 49 Writers, so I’ll keep this brief.
This, after a week filled with wonderful moments catching up with friendships I’d been neglecting, hanging out with my adult daughters a bit, and savoring the retirement party of a coworker who reluctantly left her career of 27 years working with at-risk youth.
April is such a hopeful time of year. There’s more light, less snow, the summer to look forward to, and the triumphant feeling of surviving yet another winter. My energy is returning.
Completing nearly 50 book events in the past months since September has produced many results, not the least of which is fatigue. I’m tickled to report that word-of-mouth appears to be paying off (thank you, thank you!) and I’m slowing my schedule for better work/life balance.
If you will be in Portland, Oregon on May 12th, please join me at Another Read Through Bookstore where I will be sharing the floor with three delightful memoirists. Just in time for Mother’s Day!
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and I’ll have author Karen Meadows as my guest. Karen wrote Searching for Normal: The Story of A Girl Gone Too Soon. She shares from her book and from her heart.
I saw the movie The Sense of An Ending recently, and this quote jumped out at me.
“How often do we tell our own life story? How often do we adjust, embellish, make sly cuts?
And the longer life goes on, the fewer are those around us to challenge our account, to remind us that our life is not our life, merely the story we have told about our life. Told to others, but–mainly–to ourselves.”– Julian Barnes, The Sense of An Ending.
The last sentence. –Told to others, but–mainly to ourselves,” really sticks. As I wind my way through different towns and states promoting my memoir, talking to many wonderful others, I think about how I’ll remember this process in my final memoir. I suspect it will be published in my seventies if I’m fortunate enough to last that long, covering the process of healing where the last book left off, following getting to know my extended family, and the publishing my first book. What will I think then about this process of storytelling when it’s a memory?
I borrowed heavily from old journals, newspaper articles, and ingrained memories of awful events to write Pieces of Me. What comes later will be different, a more normal life.
What I hope old Liz will remember to tell about the one in her fifties is that both writing and promoting her book was a complicated process. Not glamorous as imagined in years past. Filled with extreme solitude and then extreme socializing. Many sleepless nights, worried about the feelings of those included in the book and those who weren’t, and hoping I did due diligence at each event to make it worthwhile, gnawing concerns about money, thank you cards needing sent, and emails needing care. And I hope the old gal will remember that in the midst of all that, there was an outpouring of love and support from family, friends, and strangers, and that people were empowered to tell their own stories, because a sacred atmosphere of vulnerability is created in writing memoir, and an understanding that everyone has a story, and every one of our stories is indeed important.
On this current trip, I’m so grateful to the University of Washington Bookstore and their staff, to friends and family and strangers who came out to show support, to my new friends I made at the Seattle hostel, and to King5 News for covering my book and the event. I loved seeing my dear friend Ira, who found my father for me so long ago.
At the University of Toledo’s Catharine S. Eberly Center for Women, I’m grateful to the passionate staff for including me in their mission to empower women, and for creating an elegant event that was covered by WGTV13abc and filmed for university students for later video streaming. I adore my friend Billijo for driving from Minnesota to Ohio to join the event and spend time with me before and after. And great thanks to my friend Jennifer Jarrett for coordinating this, and for tonight’s Meet the Author event at Luna Pier in Michigan and for being my host family. I’m indebted to my youngest daughter for caring for my home and cats and for her work to stop the flooding in my kitchen after a pipe broke.
If you’re interested in telling your story, I’ve long enjoyed the National Association for Memoir Writers. There are free coaching sessions run by Linda Joy Meyers, a therapist and author. It’s a gentle way to get your feet wet.
Dr. Jane Wilson Haworth has been my virtual friend ever since our stories both appeared in this anthology. She eventually gave me I terrific book blurb that I included on the jacket of my memoir Pieces of Me:Rescuing My Kidnapped Daughters. She was kind enough to give me a few last edits as well.
I’m really running her post, and please note that the children’s book she mentions below has been published. Wonderful, informational, and perfectly illustrated. You can find this and others on the link below or click A Himalayan Kidnap.
Taking to the road alone is a brave decision. A Girls’ Guide to Travelling Alone is an eye-opening, honest and inspiring on-the-road companion. Richly varied, these witty, inspiring, challenging and sometimes uncomfortable travel stories have been written by women of all ages, nationalities, backgrounds and experiences, each with a compelling tale to tell. Available now on Amazon and iTunes.
One of the best parts of being a contributor to a book like A Girl’s Guide to Travelling Alone is connecting with inspirational writers across the globe.
A prostitute’s “uncle” wouldn’t return Khalid’s deposit, and he was irate.
Dr. Wilson-Howarth is also the author of books like A Glimpse of Eternal Snows, Snowfed Waters, and How to Shit Around the World.
Welcome, Dr. Wilson-Howarth.
Q. How did you pick this piece to share it in Girl’s Guide to Travelling Alone?
A. I thought I’d share my impressions of sexual repression in Sindh as – years on – when I remember the incident with the shopping bag, I still feel like a Boudicca figure, fighting hopelessly for women everywhere. It still appalling to me that there are women in Pakistan who only ever leave their homes twice – once when they go from their father’s house to their husband’s and the second time when they die.
Q.What led you to doing the work that you do?
A.After I graduated first time (in zoology) I travelled overland to the Himalayas and ended up teaching villagers in a remote valley about wound care. I saw how small interventions can make huge improvements in people’s lives and this first sparked my passion for passing on the information that helps people avoid illness. Then once I was qualified as a physician I just tried to make myself as useful as I could wherever I was. I have a thing about championing the underdog.
Q. A Glimpse of Eternal Snows is your book about decision to live in Nepal with your newborn son despite his serious health challenges while you worked on child survival and health education endeavouring to improve the lot of the profoundly poor
What were your greatest challenges in writing A Glimpse of Eternal Snows?
A.It is an account of what proved to be the most important six years of my life. It was so hard to condense all this experience into one readable book. And I wanted to make it uplifting. I could have written at length about caste, slavery, wildlife, conservation dilemmas, linguistic gaffs and my work. I had enough material for many books on a range of subjects. It was hard not wandering off on tangents.
Q. How did you cobble together a support network of women in a foreign country while going through some of life’s most difficult times?
A. We were in the fortunate position to be able to employ reliable help, including women who were willing to travel with us. I found both my local colleagues and the expatriates I met were often kindred spirits – risk-takers. Most were able to see beyond the trivial and nearly all our friends and acquaintances seemed motivated to make a difference. It was inspiring to spend time with these people. We all supported each other.
Q. I read that it took many years for you to write A Glimpse of Eternal Snows. How did you know when you were finally on the right path to make your book its best?
A. There was a danger that this book from my heart would never be quite perfect, although it physically hurt to write some sections. I seemed doomed to continue writing and rewriting it – until publication stopped me fiddling. It still could be improved.
Q.You’re a doctor. An author. A mother. A humanitarian. Where do you see yourself in the next several years?
A. I’ve been kind of grounded in the UK for the last few years because of our sons’ educational needs. I’ve been contentedly working as a family physician as well as running a travel immunisation clinic. My boys are almost independent now so we’d like to do another big trip before my ability to learn a new language leaves me. I could see us moving to work in another remote corner of Asia soon – for maybe five years…. Then after that… who knows. I’m sure there will be scope for another book or two though.
Q. What’s your next writing project?
A. I’ve been working on a couple of eco-adventures for 8 – 12 year olds. These started as bedtime stories for my youngest son and he now is of an age that he considers them pretty naff. One is set in Nepal and the other in Madagascar. I hope to publish these soon.
Q. What advice would you give to busy women writers who have many other demands on their time?
A. Don’t ever expect to get a regular writing schedule going. Just grab writing time when you can. And always keep notes of choice sayings, snatches of conversation or turns of phrase.
March used to be one of those months for me that held dreadful anniversary dates.
We all have those dates. Whether it’s the dreaded anniversary of a death, or a divorce anniversary, or maybe even a natural disaster like a hurricane, there are the dates that split our lives in two. There was life before the traumatic event, and life after the traumatic event.
I left my husband on March 5, 1990. He abducted our daughters on March 13, 1994.
There was life before the abduction. There was life after the abduction.
This March, I’ve been busy with book events related to my memoir. The events have given me time to think not just about those anniversary dates, but the phenomenal amount of kindness my family was gifted that helped put trauma back in our rear-view mirror.
My coworkers at the battered women’s shelter donated their leave. Friends threw every kind of fundraiser imaginable to help with expenses. My Alaskan lawyers donated their time and resources, and then my Greek friends donated their time and opened their homes to me. People of diverse backgrounds, cultures, beliefs, sexual orientations, and ages worked along one another to help us achieve the impossible. When I look back on that awful period in my life, I am filled with gratitude.
What is it about a disaster that brings out the best in people? And would I have the same experience today, in this age of social media where too often we camp up and talk about each other rather than to each other?
Often, people do show up when help is needed. Think of a car accident with people inside a smoldering vehicle. A human is in peril. In that moment, it’s all that matters.
Alaskans have long had a rich history of helping one another, especially in the 90’s when my daughters were kidnapped. The weather, the location, the physical isolation serve as reminders that we need each other to survive.
After the girls and I returned from Greece in 1996, we resumed living small, quiet lives. And then two decades later, as I began promoting Pieces of Me: Rescuing My Kidnapped Daughters, all the memories came back. Not just the bad memories, but the beautiful memories of all the grace and love we’ve received.
I wish we didn’t need to go through hard times or traumatic events for people to unite for a common goal. But I’m so fortunate to have once been witness to the miracle of unity inside my community, both in the states and overseas. And to have commemorated that period in my book makes me both humbled and proud.
Today marks the 23rd anniversary of my daughters’ kidnapping. A reminder that I am one of the lucky parents whose kids returned.
Last year, I remember telling any number of loved ones in other states that I’d likely see them in the upcoming months as I launched Pieces of Me: Rescuing My Kidnapped Daughters.
“I’m sure I’ll have a book event somewhere near you,” I said with such conviction.
Looking back, I think I must’ve temporarily lost my marbles. Had I assumed a magic carpet would arrive at my door after my book launched?
No such luck.
Book events, especially those out of my hometown in Anchorage, Alaska, have been anything but easy to coordinate.
I’d thought as a debut author published by a small press, indie bookstores would open their arms and doors wide for me. I’m indie, you’re indie sort of deal.
But it hasn’t worked that way. I’ve commiserated with enough other authors in the same boat to know I’m not alone. We’ve learned that when our PR contracts end, we’re often invisible to the bookstores.
For example, I called The Village Bookstore in Bellingham, my old college stomping grounds where I still have a lot of friends. Village Books has a lengthy application form for authors (as do many independent bookstores), and they charge an hourly rate for consultations with authors to discuss the possibility of having an event. Really? Like I haven’t up-fronted enough costs on this venture, I wanted to say.
So I called Bellingham’s Barnes and Noble. It’s free to chat with them, and I know they’ll order the books and pay shipping for them and do some marketing, so essentially all I have to do is show up. The event planner told me to email her a follow-up request, and said since I was already in their system, having done a Barnes and Noble event before, it’d be easy. So I emailed. And emailed. And called again. Nothing.
I’ve found this experience duplicated with bookstores in other cities like Fairbanks, Seattle, and Portland. So I began asking the bookstore owners what I needed to do to convince them to host a book event for me.
Here are 5 tips they offered, and once I employed them, the doors opened wide.
Let the bookstore owner know that you have connections like friends and family or other affiliations nearby to fill the bookstore for your event.
Does your story have a connection to the town or city the bookstore is in? Emphasize this when pitching the event planner. I met an author from Washington who had Skagway, Alaska in her book’s theme. She enjoyed an extensive book tour throughout Alaska last summer because of it.
Demonstrate you have reach to a wide audience via social media and your author website, and that you’ll use your reach to publicize the book event.
Assure the bookstore owner you’ll not cancel your event at the last moment. One Portland owner said cancellations by out-of-town authors had happened too many times in recent history and resulted in wasting of the bookstore’s time and resources.
To sweeten the pot, authors should be willing to schlep their own books to consign with the bookstore. It’s less financially risky for the bookstore when the author manages the inventory.
I’ve found that coordinating events out of my home town is not a passive process. If I simply give up after one or two emails or calls, I will not get the desired results. So I’ve nagged and cajoled and made myself known to the events planners and bookstore owners.
And now, Pieces of Me: Rescuing My Kidnapped Daughters will meet some other parts of the country. And for that, I am truly grateful. I’m also grateful that Pieces of Me is in its second printing, and grateful for the reader’s reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. They make a huge difference in sales. Thank you.
Do you have friends in Seattle, Toledo, Portland, or Louisville that might like to attend one of my book events?
It isn’t every day that I’m introduced an actress and writer, especially one from the United Kingdom. I’m so pleased Angela agreed to be a guest today.
Angela’s novel, Messandrierre, is the first in her new crime series.
Sacrificing his job in investigation following an incident in Paris, Jacques Forêt has only a matter of weeks to solve a series of mysterious disappearances as a Gendarme in the rural French village of Messandrierre.
But, as the number of missing persons rises, his difficult and hectoring boss puts obstacles in his way. Steely and determined, Jacques won’t give up and, when a new Investigating Magistrate is appointed, he becomes the go-to local policeman for all the work on the case.
In this excerpt, a little boy named Pierre Mancelle, who dreams of one day becoming a policeman, inserts himself into Officer Jacques workday.
“Junior Gendarme Mancelle reporting for duty, sir,” shouted Pierre as he cycled past Jacques and stopped just ahead of him.
Jacques saluted and smiled as Pierre got off his bike and tried to match Jacques’ pace as he continued along the path to the top road.
Pelletier met him outside the farmhouse. “Beth all right?”
Jacques nodded. “She’s at home resting.” Remembering that Pierre was at his side he squatted down to talk to him. “This is a real crime scene, Pierre, and I’m needed to help with the removal of evidence. So I—”
“Are there any dead bodies?” Pierre asked with an inappropriate enthusiasm whilst straining to see what might be going on inside.
Jacques suppressed a smirk and glanced up at Pelletier who was grinning.
“We don’t know yet,” he lied. “But the thing is, Pierre, only senior gendarmes are allowed at a crime scene so that means that I’ve no one to look after and patrol the village. So I need you to do that for me. OK?” He rose.
“Yes, sir,” said Pierre and set off along the top road to ride around the village.
Thank you for being here, Angela!
Was there one event that led you to decide to write for publication?
Yes, I submitted a story for a competition in a magazine called Ireland’s Own. Then I forgot all about it and went to France. When I got back, amongst the mountain of post that I had received, was a letter from the Editor of the magazine offering me €40 for my story. I hadn’t won the competition, but my piece had been picked out to be included with others in an anthology. Naturally, I said yes. On my bookshelves, in my office where I write, I have a picture of the cheque. When the going gets tough, I look at it and remind myself that my writing does have value!
How has being an actor influenced your writing? And vice-versa, how has your acting changed, now that you’re a writer?
I think they have grown hand in hand throughout my life. I started acting at the age of 6 and quickly realised that I’d found something that I could do without my brothers and theatre became a permanent fixture in my life.
Telling stories is also something I’ve grown up with. Saturday afternoons reading fairy tales with my dad supplanted listening as he told me bedtime stories. As I grew older I began to make up my own stories. For me it was a logical step from telling stories to writing them down.
As an actor, I have to take the script and build the character I’m playing into a living breathing person for the audience to see and believe in. Once I’m in costume and make-up and I’m on that stage there is only 10 per cent of me there – that’s the bit of me that I need to keep me saying my lines, breathing and moving. The other 90 per cent is the character that I have come to know through rehearsals where, in conjunction with the director, I build that person from the toes upwards. I look for clues in the text, the stage directions, the emotions behind the lines. A character on stage has to behave like a normal person. They may have an accent, a particular tone of voice. All of these details I think about in advance.
As a writer, I build my characters in my books and stories in the same way. I know what colour their eyes are, I know what their greatest regret in life is, their most wanted hope, their favourite colour… It’s all about the detail. Being an actor and a writer kind of goes hand in hand, really.
Which writers have influenced you the most?
I suppose Shakespeare is one. I’ve been learning, reciting and reading his work since I began working on stage. I also love the lyrical quality of the books of Thomas Hardy, and Nathaniel Hawthorne and the colour with which D H Lawrence peppers his stories.
I started reading Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie as a teenager and they must figure in this list somewhere as I often revisit their stories whenever I can.
I studied William Golding at school and I’m now the proud owner of all of his books which I like to re-read from time to time.
Lastly, my earliest influences were the brothers Grimm, Hans Anderson, Perrault and Poe.