We all have those anniversary dates that plague us. The death of a loved one. The accident that changed our lives. The day we got fired. Something.
For me, the month of March holds most of mine. My children were kidnapped on March 13th, 1994. We reunited on March 27, 1996 in Greece. But it’s March 5th every year that is the most sobering.
In March of 1990, when I was 25, I got up off the floor after being strangled by then-husband, gathered my daughters, and left. But mid-strangle, I knew that life would never be the same. If life continued, I would stop tolerating abusive behavior as though I’d earned it. From everyone. My mother. My husband. Whoever.
I didn’t know then what leaving an abusive partner would entail, or the unintended consequences that would occur.
Now, 28 years later, I’m creating happier anniversary dates this March.
Like yesterday, an essay I wrote got published in the fabulous Sunlight Press. My e-book has climbed to #4 in it’s category on Amazon. And I get to hear and share stories at Arctic Entries on Wednesday, a truly terrifying and wonderful opportunity I’m pushing myself to do.
But most of all, I have two amazing grown daughters who have created their own lives. Beautiful friends who have sustained me. And a wonderful family I’ve been able to find and enjoy for decades now.
I’ll never forget the importance of March. And, it turns out, I don’t really want to.
Writers Helping Writers is an easy site to navigate, and offers a number of author reference books. Books like The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression and The Positive Trait Thesaurus are in giving writing dimension.
I checked in with author and co-founder Becca Puglisi about what’s new in Writers Helping Writers community since I ran the below Q and A originally in 2015.
Coming soon to the Writers Helping Writers Collection…TheEmotional Wound Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Psychological Trauma. Of all the formative experiences in a character’s past, none are more destructive than emotional wounds. The aftershocks of trauma can change who they are, alter what they believe, and sabotage their ability to achieve meaningful goals, all of which will affect the trajectory of a story. Enter The Emotional Wound Thesaurus, which explores over 100 possible traumatic experiences and how they can impact the character in the present. Armed with this unique resource, authors will be able to root their characters in reality by giving them an authentic wound that causes difficulties and prompts them to strive for inner growth to overcome it. Look for this book to be available by the end of October 2017!
I’m happy to have author Becca Puglisi as my guest in today’s post.
Well, it started when I noticed that my characters were constantly smiling and shuffling their feet. I wanted to get rid of those repetitions, but I didn’t know how else to show the emotions. Angela was having the same problem with her characters, and there just wasn’t anything out there to address the issue. So we started making lists of different emotions and brainstorming how people often express them.
When we shared the lists with our critique group, they jumped on it, sharing how they each struggled with the same problem. Years later, when it was time to start our Writers Helping Writers blog (then called The Bookshelf Muse), we wanted to include practical and fresh content that would keep writers coming back for me. We decided to share our lists, releasing a new emotional entry each week. And The Emotion Thesaurus was born.
You write Young Adult Fantasy Historical Fiction Writing in addition to the series of guidebooks for writers, two vastly different forms of writing. How did you develop the structure for The Emotion Thesaurus?
Well, in its original state, it was just a bunch of simple lists: one for fear, one for anger, etc. By the time we started our blog, the lists were so long that we needed something a little more organized and user-friendly, so we split each entry into fields: physical signals, internal sensations, mental responses, and so on. And when we decided to publish the books, we added a few more fields that we thought would be helpful to writers.
What is the process like of working with a co-author? Did you each divvy up sections in advance or teleconference occasionally to check progress?
Our process is fairly smooth because Angela and I complement each other very well. I think that in comparison to many people, we each tend to over-communicate; we talk A LOT—about possible ideas, problems that we anticipate in the future, how to break ideas down into a process and format that make sense, how the final product should look.
For any potential idea or project, we do a ton of pre-writing before we ever put pencil to paper. At the end of this stage, we usually have a template and a list of overall entries that we’d like to include. At that point, Angela writes one half and I write the other. When the drafting is done, we switch halves to edit—usually a few times. By that point, the writing has blended into an end product that is a mixture of` both of our styles.
I imagine you receive a lot of feedback from readers about this book, your site Writers Helping Writers, and the other great tools you’ve shared with the writing community. Is there any one example you would like to share that is especially gratifying to you?
Oh my gosh, there are so many examples. We’ve heard from Special Ed teachers using The Emotion Thesaurus with their students to help them read and identify other people’s emotions. Another time, I led a workshop on backstory that shows writers how events from the past can determine who a character becomes. Afterwards, one of the attendees told me that during the workshop she had identified an emotional wound from her own past that she hadn’t realized had impacted her so much, and now that she’d named it, she was going to be able to deal with it.
It was incredibly gratifying to see how a book of ours had impacted someone so meaningfully on a personal level. But I think the best note I’ve ever received was from a visually-impaired writer. Blind from birth, this writer had always had trouble describing character emotion because he had never seen it. With The Emotion Thesaurus, he said he could finally picture what a frustrated, excited, or terrified person looked like, and he was able to write those emotions realistically. I was floored. Who would’ve thought that our book would be able to help someone in such an amazing way?
I read that you were a teacher long before you were a writer. What inspired you to take the plunge and become an author?
This is my favorite interview question, because it exemplifies how good God is—and also shows that he has a sense of humor. My church was running a ministry project and, as a private school teacher, I had very little money. I prayed, asking God how I could make some extra money, and he told me to write a book. Haha. ‘Cuz writing is so lucrative, right? I had never written anything before, but I started working on what would become a middle-grade chapter book. And I was hooked.
It was eight years before I made a single cent from my writing, and that ministry opportunity never benefited from it, but with the sales of our books over the past three years, I’ve been able to pass on the blessings in ways I’d never imagined.
What has been the most surprising part of being a writer?
When I considered a career as a writer, I had this image of me happily writing—in a café somewhere sipping a drink, sitting by the fire in winter, staring out a widow at a picturesque view while contemplating my plot line. It was a shock to discover how much of my writing time was spent doing other things.
I spend an awful lot of time networking on social media, blogging, reading about writing, keeping up on industry news, bookkeeping, and responding to emails. It was discouraging at first, because with two small children at home, my writing time was very limited. But it’s all part of the deal. And for me, it’s been totally worth it!
Author Bio–Becca Puglisi is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others. This is one of her reasons for writing The Emotion Thesaurus, The Positive Trait Thesaurus, and The Negative Trait Thesaurus. Her website, Writers Helping Writers, is a hub for all things description, offering tons of free resources to aid writers in their literary efforts. A member of SCBWI, she leads workshops at regional conferences and teaches webinars online.
I’ve enjoyed the slower pace of summer the past few weeks.
Nearly a year post-pub, I am fortunate book event requests continue for Pieces of Me: Rescuing My KidnappedDaughters, but at a slower yet steady pace. Now I have time to do the other tasks associated with being a writer.
Things like endorsing books for authors upon request, which requires reading said book and summarizing the impact of it in a sentence or two. Like reviewing writers grant applications local writer’s guild, posting on social media, and prepping for two upcoming conferences I’m a presenter at. Like reading voraciously and giving online reviews for other writers, and meeting with hopeful authors upon request. Like researching new affordable ways to market my memoir online and introduce it to new readers. Like writing essays and posts for blogs and magazines about this writer’s journey. Like reaching out to universities and requesting my book be considered as extra reading or texts for their sociology, psychology, or gender studies program.
These are other duties as assigned for writers. They are optional. But writing, much like the rest of life, is best done in a supportive community. There is a time to take and a time to give.
Thanks to so many giving writers in my local and international community, I’ve learned a lot and had some successes, and have found a safe place to land when sharing failures.
I’ll be the first to say I’ve said yes to a few too many things this year. I’ve skimmed special moments with family and friends or during events because my mind has been racing to the next thing on my list while I’m working through the present one. And I’ve let my savings whittle away as I’ve dug deep in my pockets to make sure I’d be available for events wherever requested. And I’ve loved every bit of it.
But it’s time to slow down. I’ve begun requesting speaking fees to cover writer’s events that cost me. It’s a shift in thinking and inevitably results in some no’s, but that’s alright.
I’ve taken the time to enjoy conversations without feeling I need to get back to work. I’ve cuddled my cats with wild abandon. I once snuck away for tent camping with my daughter. And I took an afternoon to watch a rescued porcupine baby learn tricks. And every morning, I listen to the breeze blowing in the leaves before I get up and start my day. Not exactly a state of Zen, but it’s a start.
In three years, retire from my all-encompassing day job, and will face a lot of big decisions then about what’s next. How will I fill my days? Where will I fill my days? Will I become a fulltime writer? Will I leave Alaska permanently to live closer to family, or split my time between states. Everything is unsure.
But what I do know for sure is that I can work as much or as little as I want in writing, and enjoy the love and support of an irreplaceable reading and writing community that will be with me, wherever I land.
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.
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.
I surprised myself by getting a little protective of my estranged mother at a book event recently as I answered readers questions. While my mother made a complicated and fascinating character in my memoir as she did in life, I know it wasn’t only her children she made miserable.
By the time my memoir Pieces of Me: Rescuing My Kidnapped Daughters was published, I was years past being angry with her for her wackadoodle and sometimes sadistic parenting. It helped to assume she was mentally ill, and to look at the time from whence she came.
Being stuck in a trailer full of their unending demands threatened to choke the life right out of her. She fancied herself a Hollywood starlet waiting to be discovered. But the discovery never happened, and her home became littered with ungrateful children.—page 78.
My mother was born in a time when women’s choices were defined by gender. The expectations of women were, in short:
To marry. To have children. To be satisfied with being married and having children. To turn the other cheek when struck by the father of those children. To accept having as many children as she became pregnant with.
That didn’t turn out too good for those who had different wants.
Not everyone is cut out to be married, and not all people are built for parenting. Just ask my mom. Better yet, ask any of her children.
When I went away to college in my late teens, I first heard the term feminism. It surely didn’t fit into my then-conservative belief system. Sure, I was pursuing an education to do something beyond having children, like working, but I was no feminist. Or was I?
When I looked up the definition of feminism in the dictionary, I found it to be pretty simple:
The belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.
Oh. That’s it? Nothing in there about not liking men or rejecting God like I’d been told feminism was. Just a simple belief that we should have equal rights and opportunities.
Today, I shudder when I hear young women today disavow feminism. “I’m not a feminist, but…”
Do you enjoy the right to vote? I want to ask them. Are you glad you can work and have kids, or not have kids? Or have kids and stay home with them? Are you tickled that you can stick with having pets instead of children? Pleased not to replicate 19 Kids and Counting unless you want to? And are you grateful that it’s no longer legal in the US for a husband to beat his wife?
In this loud and divisive time in history, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the constant images of protests. Then I’m reminded of role protesting has played in our nation’s history, and that those who’ve historically risked their lives for our freedoms weren’t only soldiers. They were also the soldier’s brave and sometimes unruly wives and mothers and sisters who wanted better for us all.
I like to imagine who my mom would have been had she been born a generation or so later. I picture her as an artist of some sort, living a quiet yet contented life, although given some of her other issues, that’s unrealistic. Still, I remain committed to appreciating mine, a most imperfect life filled with more work than I can accomplish balanced with a spectrum of friend and familial relationships and hobbies of my choosing with no pressure to get remarried.
It’s deep December, and I’m a bit late in checking in.
Then again, I’m also late on Christmas shopping and cards and decorating and the like. But I’ve found my Christmas cheer and am enjoying myself silly instead of feeling engulfed in guilt about my failings.
Yesterday, I saw Collateral Beauty at the theater with a friend. It’s a sweet film with a not too subtle message that has always resonated with me: In the middle of a tragedy or even a prolonged period of bleakness, don’t forget to look around for the splendor that’s right there in the middle of it.
I’m pretty good at finding collateral beauty in the midst of tragedy, having had much practice. But when life is simply too busy, or when it’s dark out around the clock in Alaska, or when my car stops working, it’s a different story. The little stuff bugs me. A lot.
But lately, I’ve found myself at so many events related to my memoir this season, recounting the endless acts of collateral beauty I’ve experienced. I can’t remember a time when I’ve cried more or felt so vulnerable. And so grateful.
Just this week, I met with two classes of high-schoolers for a discussion about the book and on recognizing signs of unhealthy relationships. Their insights were both sharp and gentle. I was in a daylong online dialogue on We Love Memoirs, and finished the week with a book signing at Kaladi Brother’s Coffee, my second home and the place where I logged many hours of evening writing. New and old friends joined me and settled in for a relaxed talk about our community, twenty or more years ago to now, and where they were when my girls were abducted, and the role they played to aid the recovery.
Holidays can be tough. I remember feeling stung in years past when I’d look at social media posts or holiday letters from what appeared to be closer or wealthier or just happier looking families than my own here in Anchorage. My friend and blogger Jen Singer wrote a beautiful post about her similar sentiments here in The Holiday Card No One Ever Sends.
Isolating during the holidays is a tradition for some of us. I don’t enjoy big groups, especially when I’m feeling blue, but this year, there’s been no time for that. Whether it’s been through book events or my day job, volunteer work or time spent doing nothing in particular with my girls, I feel a part of something great. And I can’t even begin to say how much love I feel with every email or post on social media and Christmas cards I’ve received. Thank you.
Truth is, I still live an imperfect life, but so long as it’s filled with love and connections and purpose, I wouldn’t trade it.
I wish to you that same feeling of connection. I hope you know that if you are alone, you don’t have to be. I recognize that just you stopping by to check in with me here is a wonderful effort. There are volunteer opportunities and other people around, looking for connection and meaning, looking for you.
Later today, I get to meet up with a woman who phoned me after a book signing a week ago. She reminded me that in 1990, she’d sold me her TV at a garage sale. I was in my mid-twenties then and was already on my own with my little girls. It took me a moment to place her, now nearly 30 years later.
“Don’t you remember?… I let you pay me for the TV in installments.”
I can’t wait to see her. Anyone who is kind enough to allow a broke young woman to essential rent-to own a garage sale item is definitely a part of my collateral beauty.
Merry Christmas. Happy Holidays. Thank you for being here with me. I’m happy to report that Pieces of Me:Rescuing My Kidnapped Daughters has been a popular Christmas gift this year. Thank you!
It may sound negative, but I learned a long time ago that if did, I would rarely be disappointed. Instead, I’m often happily surprised when things turn out better than I could have expected.
I didn’t know what to expect when I published my memoir. Picking apart memoirs seems to have become a national pastime over the last decade, and I braced myself for a challenging launch and turbulent landing afterward. I decided early on that I wouldn’t whine when people gave me negative reviews, and I wouldn’t check my Amazon ranking often enough to make myself nuts. Above all else, it wasn’t wise to assume that simply because I spent two decades writing a book, the world would pay it any mind.
I’d carefully identified my target audience. If I was lucky, women readers from ages 35-75 would be interested (and maybe a brother or two of mine).
I’d carefully planned the release date to be timed close to Domestic Violence Awareness Month since it’s a theme in my book.
And I decided to be intentionally open to new experiences, not simply including local agencies in my launch, but welcoming their invitations when they included me in their fundraising or awareness-increasing efforts.
So how did my expectations measure up to reality?
First came the heartfelt messages from family and friends, in Alaska, then in Kentucky, followed by other states,and finally in Australia and the UK.
“As you probably already know, dad bought 7 of your books to give all of his kids and grandkids. I got mine Sunday night and could hardly put it down.”
“We’re at the cabin. Dave was up early. I found him downstairs, riveted, by the time I needed coffee. He is engrossed! Liz — it’s really, really good. No surprise, but still needs to be said.”
“I’m so impressed, and I just can’t say how proud I am! I hope you feel that way too and are walking two feet taller!!!”
That’s just a few. Meanwhile, my amazing public relations team at SparkPoint Studio made sure that Pieces of Me met the rest of the world.
“A stunning, adrenaline-inducing memoir that could double as a thriller, Pieces of Me is the story of one mother’s spiritual fortitude and the limitless measures she takes to protect her children.” — She Knows
10 MEMOIRS FOR FALL BY TRAILBLAZING WOMEN – The Spark
5 Memoirs That Remind Us Of The Meaning Of Family- Buzzfeed
I’ve been so grateful for the reviews on Amazon and on Goodreads also, and from them learned that my readers are from men and women alike. And within a month of its official release, a local high school student made international parental child abduction her topic to report on at school after she read Pieces of Me: Rescuing My Kidnapped Daughters and interviewed my youngest daughter about her experiences.
In all, I participated in 14 events related to Domestic Violence Awareness Month, reconnected with old friends and family, and was even joined by my daughters for some of the events.
Thank you for every bit of it. Thank you for being with me and cheering for me and for advocating that others read my book. Thank you for the reviews. I am truly surprised and honored.
But if you’re wondering if I might change my approach to expectations, the answer is a resounding No.
I went to treat myself to a hair color and style at an Anchorage beauty school as a reward to myself for making it through the hardest parts of publishing my memoir.
I think you’ll agree that the results below validate how I manage expectations.
The why now question comes up a good deal, and there’s more than one answer:
I waited for all the signs of healing to be in place, and when they didn’t come, I knew it was time.
I fiddle-farted around with writing it. Then one of my brothers gave me a nudge, telling me if he worried that if I didn’t finish up, he wouldn’t be around for it’s release. (No pressure there!)
I couldn’t ignore the feeling that there was a cloud over my head. I’d committed to tell the story of addressing intergenerational patterns and then didn’t do it. It felt like I was one class shy of a degree for more than a decade.
But the bigger question is– why bother to write a memoir at all?
At first, it was based on the fact that I loved to write, and thought the double-abduction theme would make a great story. But I was angry for a long time, at the kids’ dad, at the failed judicial system. It would have been an angry book.
It took me a while to figure out that writing a memoir is as much about connecting with readers as it is sharing my story. And during these last few weeks, I’ve heard from family, friends, and new reader friends about parts of the book that resonate with them, triggering memories about their own challenging times. “During my divorce…” or “After my wife died…” or “When my insurance didn’t cover the chemo…”
Stories of strength and survival are what join us as humans. We all have them. And I’ve been so honored to hear other people’s stories as I share my own.
Thank you so much to everyone who has posted, texted, e-mailed, or published reviews. I would be lying if I said this has been an easy and stress-free process. It has not. But I’m increasingly convinced that now was a good idea to publish my memoir, thanks to you.
Special thanks to Dorit Sasson, Tracy Sinclare at KTUU, and Carol Krein for making this past week successful in getting the word out about my book.