Author interview with Betty Hafner/Not Exactly Love

1. What motivated you to write a memoir about your difficult first marriage Not Exactly Love?

It wasn’t something I had ever thought of doing, actually, but about 10 years ago, I started taking memoir and creative nonfiction classes, mainly to work on pieces about funny experiences in my life. But one week, I needed to get a piece started for the next class, so I checked out a list of prompts in a textbook. One jumped right off the page at me: “If only…” it said. I quickly scribbled down the story of my wedding day in 1970, in my family home, when a stumble on the stairs leading to the ceremony, caused my heel to break off. Panic set in, so I hurried back up to my childhood room, certain that my stumble was some kind of sign that I shouldn’t go ahead with it. I froze in place, as the memory of my husband-to-be punching me angrily for the first time, just two days ago, loomed before me. But, too afraid to tell anyone, I chose to go back down to the ceremony an/d marry him

2. It’s difficult to publish nonfiction about traumatic events when some of the characters in your book are still living. Were you ever scared? How did you overcome this?

As I began to shape the stories of that marriage into a book, I definitely was concerned about my ex and his family finding out. I would remind myself that we live very far apart now and had no children together, that he doesn’t know my married name, and my book was never going to be the kind that got coverage in the Sunday New York Times “Books” section! Yet, I still took a workshop at a bookstore on the legal aspects of memoir writing to learn more. The attorney said it was important to change people’s names and identifying locations. She also stressed it was important to have a disclaimer in the front of the book stating that you’d done that and also mentioning your sincere effort to tell the truth to the best of your ability. She also left with the comforting thought that if a law suit is brought against you, it shines a strong light on the behavior of the complainant that’s brought out in the book. That usually works as a disincentive!

3. Your memoir was a #1 seller on Amazon for months on end in its category, and won numerous awards. Tell us what that was like, when you learned you’d reached the top of your heap as an indie author.

Well, until now, no one ever said that! Thanks for your assessment. It’s been an exciting development to see how successful indie and self-published books can be. I had been told that the average book sells about a thousand copies, so my early goal was to beat that, and I have, many times over, by far, the majority of them being e-books. I know most of us authors would love to help and support bookstores, but Amazon is the giant that gets our books in front of potential customers’ eyes, so I owe them a big thank-you. But I would say that a big part of being an author today, is learning how to get your book in front of potential readers’ eyes. I took up the challenge of promoting my book enthusiastically and regularly, so a lot of its success comes from what was daily efforts, way too numerous to name.

4. What has been the most surprising thing about publishing your memoir?

I’ve been enormously surprised by the amount of involvement I’ve had with the book in the years after its publication. I had written two very specialized career books twenty-five years ago, and once I turned over the manuscripts, the only feedback I got was a periodic, small check from the publisher. It’s been such a different story since the publication of Not Exactly Love.

First and foremost, no matter who publishes the book, its promotion rests mainly on you and your online involvement. An author could literally spend hours each day promoting a book. The more satisfying involvement, though, is how online reader reviews, be they on Amazon, GoodReads or BookBub, allow me to hear what reactions readers had to my story. Many readers talk about having had similar experiences of domestic violence. Others say they never understood how difficult it was to leave such a marriage. Many talk about sharing the book with daughters or friends. What a wonderful feeling to hear that your story moved readers.


When Showing Up is Enough

I was so in need of a break before I set off for what we Alaskans call the Lower 48 some weeks back.

Getting closer to retirement from a job I have loved and occasionally loathed, I’ve been searching for what comes next and where to live it.

I’ve hoped for a place with defined seasons that was closer to my extended family, closer to airports for big travel, and less expensive on a smaller budget.

I also wanted to escape from a job and a land too often punctuated by traumas like suicide and drug overdoses. Surely, in a world filled with both joys and sufferings, I’d stumbled upon a path that kept me overly steeped in the latter. Or at least, this is what I’d been telling myself.

And then, not too long before my scheduled trip to see family, we too were struck by the very things I’d wanted to flee. Three deaths as well as other unplanned emergencies that simply could not be helped changed the landscape of the journey.

After a few days of pure anxiety, picturing myself in strange towns, driving rental cars on the interstate, I got out from underneath the bed and began rebuilding plans, and challenging my own assumptions about my future as well. I’ve made a point to see family every other year that I’d not even met until I was an adult, and developed some close relationships that anchor me. So having less time with people I adore is still a gift.

It’s the quality, not the quantity, and this trip was a perfect reminder. I felt rich. Mini-visits and gatherings, hayrides and haunted houses closer to Halloween, and lots of time with my younger sister, nieces and nephews.

Thanks to the improvements with GPS systems, driving the interstate was completely doable. After the briefest jaunt in to Indiana, I got to see parts of Kentucky I’d long been meaning to, enjoyed my aunt and family in Rhode Island( another place I’d not been) and drove the length of North Carolina to visit my old professor and one of my editors.

It was on the way to North Carolina that I sat next to a thirty-something year old man who had the window seat. A few minutes in flight, we were swapping cat pictures and talking about his new relationship and successful business venture.

“I’m the only person in my immediate family whose not been in a psych ward or jail,” he said proudly. He attributed his success to an aunt that helped raise him after his father’s final incarceration. When I asked where she was now, his smile faded. He told me she died of suicide a year before. Then he shut down completely.

I haven’t any idea where I’ll be after I retire in October of 2020, but I know I don’t have to have it all sorted. I plan to have my own mobile business related to writing and speaking and teaching, so I can show up better for me and for my family. Maybe that’s all I need to know.

Just before we said goodbye, he said, “Life is a beautiful thing, so long as you keep showing up.” And somehow, the pressure I’d heaved on myself for figuring out the future, lifted.

I haven’t any idea where I’ll be after I retire in October of 2020, but I know I don’t have to have it all sorted. I plan to have my own mobile business related to writing and speaking and teaching, so I can show up better for me and for my family. Maybe that’s all I need to know.

Thank you for showing up for me. Always.