Author Interview with Elizbeth Silva/Another Cheesy Family Newsletter

Author Elizabeth Silva

“I ALWAYS WONDER WHEN I GET my friends’ and family’s annual holiday newsletters what really happened in the writers’ families. What titillating tidbits are they leaving out?” –Elizabeth Silva in Another Cheesy Family Newsletter.

I met Elizabeth Silva at on online writers forum we belong to, and was drawn to her story immediately. I enjoyed the searing honesty of her memoir, which follows the twists and turns of her adult children making unexpected choices that leaves Silva and her husband raising their three grandchildren.

I’m happy to have her as this week’s guest.

When did you decide to write your book? Was there one pivotal moment, or did you always know you’d write your memoir?

I really had no intention of publishing a book, though I’d written for a magazine and The Dallas Morning News for the last few years, and I’ve always written about experiences that were important to me, a sort of hit-and-miss journal. It wasn’t until I found all my Christmas newsletters at my parents’ house after they died that the idea of writing a memoir took hold.

The structuring of your book is brilliant. Tell us how you arrived at it?

I remember several years ago, as I was writing my annual holiday newsletter, I thought to myself that the people we never see any more haven’t a clue what’s really going on in our lives. Yet the idea of including all the family drama in each letter was absurd. These were Christmas letters, after all. But I never kept the letters, and I never backed them up. It wasn’t until I found all of them together in an envelope that I decided how to structure my story. With the letters as an outline, once I got on a roll, I churned out the story pretty quickly. I would write while my husband was watching the Texas Rangers play baseball, after the boys got settled in to whatever they were doing for the evening.

What was the most difficult part about writing Another Cheesy Family Newsletter and why?

The hardest part was that the more I wrote, the more I realized to what extent I had enabled my daughter and my son to become helpless – over and over again- and how I had allowed my daughter’s outrageous behavior to affect her children. Even now, it’s hard for me to admit how toxic our home was at times. When I remarked recently to my other daughter how surprised I was by a reviewer’s insight into our family, she said, “Mom, you’re just now realizing this?” And this was AFTER the book was out.

What kind of feedback have you had from other people in your position who are raising their own grandchildren?

Relief that they are not alone – that their feelings of anger, disappointment, and resentment are normal and ok, especially when others tell them that they’re saints for taking on such a responsibility. We’re not saints. We’re doing what almost anyone would do for these kids we love so much.

How did you arrive at your pen name? Why did you use one?

My grandmother’s name was Elizabeth. I just chose Silva because it starts with an S and has 5 letters, like Sisco. I ridiculously thought if I changed all the names and places, no one would connect my family with the story – still thinking of my daughter’s feelings. If I had to do it over, I would have used my real name, and I still may put out a new edition under my real name someday.

What message would you give to parents of adult children who are struggling to launch? Where can they find support as they find the middle ground – somewhere between assisting their adult child and enabling them?

That’s a hard one. You love your kids so much, and you take on their failures as your own. But I think you have to examine your own behavior and ask yourself whether what you’re doing for your child is supporting them in their quest for independence or simply making it easy for them to rely on YOU, delaying the “growing pains” we parents had to face and conquer to become independent ourselves. Especially today, we live in a different society. I was expected to move out when I graduated and never come back. Somehow, though, in the way we raised our kids, we conveyed the message that we would fix everything for them along the way, and they would always have a soft place to land.

What are you working on next? And where can readers find you and your work?

My granddaughter is a phenomenal artist. We are working on a children’s picture book specifically for children raised by people other than their biological parents.

You can find Elizbeth Silva on Facebook: @lizsilva47 Twitter: @pattysisco2 Website and blog: elizabethsilvawriter.com, or order Another Cheesy Family Newsletter by clicking here.

Wondering if you’re an enabler? Elizabeth has a quiz on her web page.

Thank you for stopping by. Feel free to share this link if you like what you’ve read.

The Importance of Sharing Ugly

Yesterday, I had a conversation with the Seward Library Book Group about coming clean in my memoir, or, as one member put it, telling on myself.  Referring to the times I mentioned my own flaws and frailties, being judgmental or quick tempered, that are sprinkled throughout the book.

Then conversation quickly morphed to social media sharing, how we can feel so alone as we scroll through picture after picture of seemingly perfect images posted, and the disconnect so many of us feel, now that we’re all “connected.”

It reminds me of the memoir I’ve been reading, Another Cheesy Family Newsletter.

The author, Elizabeth Silva, structures her story with chapters beginning with the sunshine-y newsletters she sent out over the years tucked inside Christmas cards, followed by the backstory of what was really going on. Her feelings of helplessness as her now-grown children did not launch as planned. A daughter’s heroin addiction led Silva and her husband to become parents all over again of three vulnerable and resilient grandchildren. A second daughter’s divorce, and a son’s prolonged lack of ambition only added to the stress.

The Christmas newsletters and the social media phenomenon bring up the same feelings. When we only share only our best side, where we look attractive, accomplished, our kids seemingly brilliant and irrepressibly happy, we perpetuate the notion to others that they’re alone in their loneliness or failures or even despair. Even though that’s not the intention.

I’ve struggled with sheepishly giving optimistic updates on my Facebook author page. While it doesn’t make sense to draw attention to negative reviews or my angst about the financial hits I’ve taken to keep my book positioned well, it feels dishonest. So I’ve written essays about writing and parenting to present a more honest view.h

If one compared my author Facebook page with my real life this week, they would see an information gap that defined my days.

While it is true that I loved my youngest daughter’s 30th birthday soiree and the various writerly events, they were sandwiched between an increasingly impossible day job and an even more impossible, never-ending job as the parent of an oldest child experiencing profound mental illness who continues to flounder as an undue amount of tragedy is thrown her way.

Last week, her only asset, an old Camry, was shot repeatedly in the commission of a crime in downtown Anchorage while she slept nearby in her apartment. The car was parked at a meter outside. It was totaled. But worse than that, it triggered her PTSD, and has set her back further. The crime is unsolved, so no one will be paying restitution to compensate her loss.

Of course I’m fortunate she was not physically harmed. She’ll get through it, but not without a lot of support.

On good days, I remember to be thankful that I can give said support.

On many others, I’m angry or just worn out for having to.

I so appreciate social media for the many positives it brings, the same way I do when I get a chatty Christmas newsletter. But there is no substitute for real human contact, and authentic interactions. Sometimes, it’s important to share the ugly.

We all struggle. We all fail. We all get overwhelmed.  And none of us have to be alone as we slog through our journey, or keep our struggles a secret.

Maybe one of the greatest gifts given me post-publication is going place to place, finding pods of community where ever I’m invited to speak, and feeling encircled with caring readers and writers who often share their own stories.

I hope you have a supportive circle to both celebrate and grieve all life dishes your way. And thank you for being a part of my community.