Preventing Domestic Violence/Interview with Dr.Sally Dorman


M
My longtime friend, Dr. Sally Dorman, will return to Alaska next week for a summer visit.

Twenty-something years ago, I worked at an agency that served battered women and children. Abused Women’s Aid in Crisis. Sally was one of my favorite coworkers. We worked in the trenches together with other dynamic staff members, facilitating groups for battered women, creating school curricula for grades K-12 on family violence, and giving countless school presentations on the topic.

In the late ’90s, Sally moved out of Alaska to advance her education, and I became a social worker. We lost touch. Two years ago, we reconnected through Facebook.

Today, Sally is Dr. Dorman, a school psychologist in Maryland specializing in violence prevention programming. Her research on the impact of training school personnel to recognize the signs of childhood exposure to domestic violence was funded through a grant from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) and  published in the Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma. in 2008.

Thank you Dr. Dorman, and welcome!

How did you go from working with battered women and children in the battered women’s shelter to the violence prevention work you do today?

I did clinical work for my master’s degree at a community health center while attending Mansfield University for a degree in Community Clinical Psychology. As a part of that, I worked at a local community mental health center for my internship, which got me thinking of the dire need for mental health promotion and prevention.

After the prevention work we did back in the day, it was only natural that my interests lie in violence prevention and decided to enter a doctoral program in school psychology. I wanted to do the prevention work through policy change.

What kinds of projects have you worked on to address kids affected by domestic violence?

I worked on a coordinated community response around domestic violence in western New York.  We used a public health model, looking at primary, secondary, and tertiary responses. The response focused on getting everyone in the community to realize domestic violence is a problem, and we all have a role in solving that problem.

As an example, if the police respond to a home in which 8 year-old Suzi is a child witness of domestic violence, they’ll make an arrest if applicable, and give community referrals to the family to address their concerns. The officer would notify Suzi’s school staff the next day so that they can follow up with Suzi to make sure she has counseling or supportive services that she needs at school.

With the coordinated community response, everyone in a community has a role in the intervention and will have training to know what that role is. The state of Texas has a project that outlines agency roles related to domestic violence. It is very innovative.

What’s the focus of educators today with regards to children exposed to domestic violence?

The study I worked on for OJJDP demonstrated the importance of giving educators information on how to recognize kids exposed to domestic violence and how to respond individually, in the classroom, and school wide through policy. It was important because those same kids were being mislabeled as having ADHD, and were getting medicated for symptoms that mimicked ADHD symptoms like hyperactivity, inattention to classroom work, and fidgety when they may be reacting to trauma.

I’m at a the US Department of Education’s Safe and Healthy Students conference right now, and yesterday, the topic of bullying was being covered. The definition given for bullying was just about the same as the definition of domestic violence; when one person uses emotional or physical force to gain control of another person. The behavior has to be repeated, intentional, and used to gain control in both cases.

That really surprised me, and I think we’ll be hearing more about the link between domestic violence and bullying in the future.

Please give some examples of how we can support kids we suspect are witnessing the abuse of one of their parents by an intimate partner.

I think it’s important to let them know that if abuse is happening, it’s not their fault. Domestic violence is an adult issue, and it’s not theirs to fix. Let the child know you believe him/her, and tell them where they can get support.

For more information about a coordinated community response to domestic violence, go to or Close to Home.

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Saying Goodbye to Page 139/Remembering Judge Ira Uhrig


Bellingham Police Department

At times, something long-expected arrives unexpectedly.

I’d been deliberately scaling back on Facebook in May. Partly to manage my writing time better and largely to reduce anxiety, for a while, I embraced the calm.

And then, I had a sick feeling. I’d not heard from my old friend Ira in a couple of weeks, even after writing him twice about his birthday.

I pulled up his Facebook profile, and there it was.

His death announcement.

***

It never occurred to me that my dear friend would not be there to speak with me about the death of my dear  friend. It never dawned on me that I would find out on social media that his non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma he’d fought for years was finally over.

I met Ira Uhrig when I was 19. He was a young lawyer in the town where I first attended college. A friend set us up on a blind date, and while I wasn’t mature enough then to understand that a loyal, humorous, intelligent, artistic, compassionate, and hard-working person could indeed be the catch of a lifetime, we became instant and lifelong friends. (Not too much later, a lovely mutual friend was smart enough to realize what I didn’t, and wisely scooped him up!)

Ira tried to teach me to drive back then. He failed. Ira tried to teach me guitar back then. Again, failure. Ira then searched for my long-lost father. And that was a huge success.

In June of 1985, I met my father and so many more siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins than I knew existed. What a lifelong game-changer. Ira thanked me for the opportunity, and after every family reunion I have attended since then, he’d been so ecstatic to get my family’s updated photos.

Ira had his own chapter in my memoir in its early drafts. By the time the final edits were complete, he was mentioned in a page, a fact he loved to tease about. He couldn’t have been more supportive, buying copies of Pieces of Me for friends and colleagues alike, asking them if they wanted him to autograph his page.

I will miss getting daily Facebook updates on what happened on this day in history. I will miss Ira’s corny jokes and frequent YouTube forwards of old gospel or country music. I will miss his words of encouragement, his genuine interest in all of the people in his world, hearing stories about his work as a judge, and the updates about his large and talented family.

Last year, after a Seattle book reading/signing event at the University, I took a train to see Ira one last time. It felt like a goodbye. But then he bounced back. It seemed as though he was beginning to make gains on his health concerns.

At times, something long-expected arrives unexpectedly. And the hurt inflicted is both dull and sharp.

Ira’s death is sad for his family, the Whatcom County community,  and for all who knew him. 

I read that death leaves a heartache no one can heal. Love leaves a memory no one can steal.

Thank you, Ira Uhrig, for not only reuniting me with my father, my birth name, and my family, but for decades of memories. I will hold them close, forever.

Author Interview with Lisbeth Coiman/I Asked the Blue Heron

May is Mental Health Awareness Month.

A perfect time to spotlight author Lisbeth Coiman’s memoir, I Asked the Blue Heron.  

Lisbeth’s new memoir is described as covering the trauma of abuse, the joys of motherhood, and the challenges of immigration alongside the vagaries of mental illness — and the power of a friendship that saw her through it all. I Asked the Blue Heron begins with a simple sentence:

 I was 16 when my mother chased me with a hammer.

Q. Did you always know that this would be the beginning line of your book?

A. No. I didn’t know that was the beginning of the book. When I started writing my story, my writing teacher at the time, Theo Pauline Nestor, suggested to start there, but I contradicted her and decided I didn’t want to make my book about my childhood experiences. Instead, I wanted to honor my friend for guiding me for most of my adult life. With that in mind I started the book with the moment I met Zoe Graves.

I finished my manuscript, revised it the best I could, and started sending it out to publishers. A year later, I was disappointed and frustrated with the rejections, and vented on Facebook. I was extremely lucky. Out of the blue, a Los Angeles poet I admire, Ashaki Jackson, offered to have a look at my book. On the first note she wrote, “move this line to the opening page.” Still I refused. She said, “mine are only suggestions. This is your book.”

Many more hours of editing down the road, I started looking for other writers to blurb my book. I reached out to Suzanne Finnamore, author of Split. The same night she received the manuscript she wrote me back a beautiful email that I will keep in safe box for the rest of my life. She started saying, “your book starts with this line. This is your voice.”

It was the third time somebody pointed it out to me, so it was time to pay attention. It took a while to rewrite the first chapter, but I kept an eye on my schedule and worked night and day to do it. It changed the focus of the book completely, but I hope my story still honors my mentor and best friend.

Q. How have you promoted I Asked the Blue Heron.

A. I have found that book promotion is the hardest part of self-publishing. I still don’t have it under control.

I network a lot, and I’m grateful to several reading series in Los Angeles for inviting me to read from my book. I have promoted online, through social media, and through my blog. I’m constantly speaking about “I Asked the Blue Heron” to anybody I meet. For that purpose I carry it in the trunk of my car.

I will have more time this summer for book promotion, and plan to travel to a few cities in the US and Canada to promote my memoir.  I have been lucky. People keep inviting me to events. This week, for instance, I will attend a meeting in Torrance, CA  to tell my story and bring my memoir with me.

In July, I will speak to the congregation of a Unitarian Church in Redondo Beach. Little by little, by word of mouth, one book at the time, I continue to sell it.

Q. You’ve bravely shared your experience with mental illness. Can you give a few tips for others experiencing mental illness?

A. Stay on top of symptoms. If I tell my doctor, “I’m fine,” and I look fine, the doctor doesn’t have any way to know I am spiraling down (or up). I can’t wait until I believe helicopters with cameras are chasing me on the street to get the doctor’s attention, say, on a psychotic episode. Those things don’t start full-blown. Subtle symptoms show up before a crisis, and if treated on time, I can prevent crisis. Catching my symptoms requires honesty and understanding of my condition. If I know that I have a tendency to become paranoid, and I feel that NPR is talking about me, I have to tell my doctor as soon as possible. I’ll require smaller doses of medication to treat mild symptoms than those required to treat a full-blown mental crisis.

B. Work or volunteer. I have to do something that requires to wear clothes other than pajamas during the day, and get out of my house early in the morning. A well-earned pay check at the end of the month feels much better than medication, and doesn’t have side effects.

When I couldn’t find a job because I didn’t have a specific certificate, I went back to school to get the certificate. When I wasn’t able to work because of my immigration status, I volunteered. I shelved books in my son’s school library, planted flowers in a public garden, gave water to runners in 5K events, or taught English As a Second Language free. I kept myself busy to change the focus of my thoughts.  Human beings need to feel useful and appreciated. I suffer from a mental condition that makes me feel like crap, and if I don’t find a reason to get out of my bed, I feel worse. Apart from money, satisfaction, and a sense purpose, volunteer or paid job also provides me with a starting point to become part of a community.

C. Structure. Structure helps me live through my days with a sense of normalcy. People who do not understand my condition may think I am fastidious, or compulsively organized. I’m neither, but I want to prevent crisis. I prepare the entire wardrobe to wear each day of the week on Sundays because I freak out and cry if I don’t know what to wear in a hurry (which looks like Monday morning for every other woman I know, only they don’t become paralyzed.) I do shopping lists even to buy underwear because I can’t decide and get frustrated. I take pictures of where I park my car and where I enter malls because I get lost and panic. I have a large planner and know exactly what I will do every hour of the day. If I don’t, I literally walk around in circles. I write to do lists every day. Most importantly, because I live alone, and I’m responsible for my life, I have a Safety Plan posted on the refrigerator door, above my bed, and above my desk. If I start considering to harm myself, I have a plan to safe myself from harm. Nobody is with me to watch over me.

Still, there are things that are beyond my control, but I keep working on them. Self-destructive thoughts and unpredictable reactions when I am extremely frustrated continued to be a challenge for me.

To reach Lisbeth Coiman to book an author event or to find out more about her story, you may find her here. I Asked the Blue Heron is available here in both kindle and paperback.

Inspired by Mothers

With Mother’s Day approaching, I’ve been thinking about my daughters more than usual.

Then I saw the movie Tully yesterday. Without giving away the storyline, it made me think about what my younger self would say to me now about how the journey of motherhood has transformed my life.

When writing memoir, most classes on the topic will ask the opposite. They ask the student to consider what he/she would say to the younger self. What would you now like to tell the younger you about life, now that you know better? What encouragement or cautions would you dispense?

But now, as I flip through old photo albums, I’m left wondering: What would the 20 year-old me say to the older me as I wobbled through the different stages of my kids’ lives? What would she say to the 53 year-old empty-nester I am now? What would her insight be about motherhood if she knew how it would all turn out?

I remember (not always fondly) thinking that I’d never sleep all night again, or take an uninterrupted shower, or have time and money for self-indulgences like reading a book in bed for hours or getting a pedicure. I wondered then if I would ever find a profession or learn to write and become an author, an out-of-range wish I’d dreamed of.

I also remember the fun. Being a broke single mom and implementing a no-shoulds Friday. After a long week of following all the rules, the girls and I ate unhealthy food, stayed up late watching too much television, and they slumbered in my room. When they got too old for it, we had doughnut and chocolate milk Fridays before I dropped them off to school.

I’m pretty confident  the pre-mom me would say to take it one day at a time. To let the dishes sit in the sink longer to simply enjoy the sight of my little girls as they played. As they fought. I’m sure the younger me would advise me not to take the girls’ teen rebellion so seriously and so personally, and to hold my tongue more often. She would want me to have faith that everything would turn out alright. Not picture-perfect, but as they should. And she would want me to use restraint when offering a steady stream of advice to my now 30-ish daughters.

This role will change your life, the young me would say. You will raise a person so much and so little like you. It will be the best and the worst thing that ever happened to you. This role will bring out your finest and scariest qualities, and provide so many opportunities to refine them.

Happy Mother’s Day to us all. To the mothers who pushed through labor and fell in love with the homeliest and yet most beautiful little human the world has ever seen. To the mothers who pushed through months and years of paperwork and investigations to adopt. To the mothers who married into the role, raising someone else’s children as her own.  And to the men and women who enjoyed mothers or survived mothers, and who may be now mothering their mother, Happy Mother’s Day.  

Don’t wait for someone else to make it special. Treat yourself.

 

 

 

And before I now dash off to my pedicure, did I mention my memoir is now an audiobook? Thank you Vibrance Press and Suzie Althens for the narration. Thank you to Alaska Writer’s Guild and Eleanor Andrews for the nudge. If you buy it, would you please review the audiobook online?

And I’ll be interviewed today as Writer of the Week by Universal By Design and will post the link later, thanks to a tip by author Rebecca Gay Smith Galli of Rethinking Possible: A Memoir of Resilience.

Finally, the Taylor Stevens Show will kindly look at my new novel at my request to explain writing in the third person this week. I may have to rewrite the book, but better to know now. It will be as fun as getting on the scale in front of a room full of people at a Weight Watchers meeting, but she’s such a great writer that I’m fortunate to have her ear.

Thank you for stopping by. I know you have many other things you do with your time, and I’m very grateful to be included.

Lizbeth

The Calm Before the Summer

It’s hard to believe it’s already mid-April.

In Alaska, we went from 20-something degrees to 50-something almost overnight, and I couldn’t be happier. There’s still enough darkness at night to fall asleep, and enough warmth put my winter boots and coats away. As I write this, I’m sitting in a sunny atrium at the local university, watching college students walking around outside in their shorts.

No one appreciates springtime more than sun-starved Alaskans!

A few bears have awoken early and been seen in the city, and the moose are getting ready to calve. It’s a time to stay alert while enjoying a stroll in the beautiful outdoors.

I’m also gearing up for a busy summer. In the spirit of transitioning to retirement, I’ll be working at Holland America/Princess Cruise lines on the weekend in addition to my job in probation. If I like it, I may continue the work fulltime seasonally beginning in summer 2021 no matter where I live in the winters. If I don’t, I’ll finish the season and likely have great stories to write about. Plus I’ll make minimum wage and work with a crew that are even older than I am, so I’ll feel like a kid again. A real win/win.

So in the interim, I’m trying to get stuff done around the house. And I’m writing a little more, sending work to my editor, and appreciating this period of quiet.

I was invited to participate in both National Library Week and Crime Victims Rights Week, and can I tell you how much fun I had at both?


 

It never ceases to amaze me how many non-monetary benefits being an author has. I continue to meet lovely and inspiring people at events I speak at. And did I mention there’s free food? I ate some unidentified appetizers last night and a chocolate cake that was life-changing. And people I’ve never met email me, telling me their stories and how mine intersected with theirs. I once had a man write after his relationship ended to say he’d considered taking his son from the child’s mother to bypass government red-tape and to retaliate for their parting, but decided against it after reading the long-term impact on my own daughters.

That was a wonderful note to receive.

And I’ve written an essay on the challenge of letting adult kids live their own lives called Conscious Unhovering. It’s early draft won a contest an netted me $100! (Nothing to sneeze at for a freelancer today). Stay tuned to my author Facebook to see which blog or magazine publishes it!

Thank you for your support and for staying in touch here with me.

Truly yours,

Lizbeth

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Author Interview with Author Angela Ackerman of Writers Helping Writers

 

I first found Writers Helping Writers while I was working on my memoir.

I felt like I’d struck gold. This online support group, co-founded by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi, is a resource for writers and editors, providing tools and support as well as a place for writers of all levels to connect.

Ms. Ackerman and Puglisi have now co-authored more than a dozen description thesauruses, including the most recent addition, The Emotional Wound Thesaurus.

I’m honored to have Angela Ackerman as my guest today.

Q. Can you describe that magical moment when you and Becca Puglisi realized you’d stumbled upon a recipe for success with your thesaurus series?

A.When we started the Emotion Thesaurus, we posted entries on our blog, one per week, and immediately saw our hits skyrocket. That helped us see that people struggled in this area and liked the idea of these unique lists of brainstorming ideas we were providing. Years later we self-published The Emotion Thesaurus and it quickly climbed Amazon’s bestseller lists. More incredibly, it has stayed in the top 5 in different categories ever since (six years and counting). People seem to be huge fans of our list style and we are so grateful. Word of mouth referrals are so important in our industry.

Q. What have you learned about the book promotion process that you’d be willing to share using your readers/supporters?

A. I am not a fan of promotion but I love marketing. Marketing is all about understanding who your audience is, what they need, and then making sure to provide it. My best advice is to take the time to know who your readers are and what they are interested in. and then supply whatever it is that they will find the most entertaining, helpful, or interesting based on who they are. (I have lots of marketing handouts, interviews, and swipe files on marketing at Writers Helping Writers, so people can check those out for more help.

Q. Can you give a simple description for how writers can best use one of your thesauruses?

A. All of our thesauruses take a challenging area of description and break it down. Each book is part instruction, part brainstorming list. The Emotion Thesaurus looks at how to show the body language, thoughts, and visceral sensations for over 75 emotions, offering a huge list of ideas to describe each feeling. The Negative and Positive Trait Thesaurus books tackle character personality and how writers can show, not tell, different traits through behavior and actions, creating deep, compelling characters. Our Urban and Rural Setting Thesaurus books explore the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures for 220 different story locations…and a lot more. Our Emotional Wound Thesaurus book investigates nearly 120 different types of painful events in a character’s past which explains their behavior, how they view the world & themselves, and fears they will have in the current story.

Q.Was it ever difficult when compiling the Emotional Wound Thesaurus?

A.Oh yes. I would say this was the hardest book we’ve written simply because emotional wounds aren’t fictional. Each traumatic event we profiled is something that people, including some of our readers, would have experienced. Some of the wounds in our book were personal ones too, forcing Becca and I to dig around in our own pasts. This wasn’t easy. We spent hours researching the accounts of people who have experienced things like domestic abuse, childhood neglect, racism, and rape. It took a toll on us and we needed to take a lot of breaks to mentally recharge (I ended up baking a lot of cookies for my kids!) Once we finished, we had a psychologist vet every entry for accuracy, because we knew writers would see themselves in some of the entries as we so often write about things that are personal to us.

Q.What has been the most surprising feedback you’ve received from publishing it this past fall?

The most wonderful feedback we’ve had is that people are finding this book is actually helping them work their own unresolved wounds, which is wonderful. This isn’t something we’re surprised by because Becca and I both found the process of looking at our own past trauma and thinking about how important it was to move past such things to live a full life very cathartic. This book does exactly this, showing writers how characters will behave when influenced by trauma, and how internal growth is the key to them becoming stronger and more capable so they can achieve their story goal. If anyone wants to see an example entry of this thesaurus, it can be found here.

I should also mention that we have many more thesauruses than books, too. If anyone wants to see all 14 of our description thesauruses, they can be found at our second site, One Stop for Writers.

To meet Ms. Ackerman in person, consider attending the Alaska Writer’s Guild Conference 2018 in Anchorage, Alaska with me this next September.

Or follow her on Twitter or Facebook.

 

 

Thank you for stopping by, and for making Pieces of Me a #1 e-book on Kindle this week in domestic partner abuse category more than a year after publication. I was ridiculously excited.

Here’s the link to my Arctic Entries story I mentioned during the last post.

Have a great day.

The Memories of March

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 PressMy 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.

Thank you for stopping by.

 

On Love After 50 and Books/Author Interview with Ashley Sweeney

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Just before my initial book launch, I had the pleasure of meeting author Ashley Sweeney and her husband Michael as they were wrapping up Ashley’s book tour in Alaska. Their chemistry was obvious, as was their mutual respect. And as it turns out, their romance ignited the spark that turned in to the award- winning novel, Eliza Waite. I’m thrilled to have Ashley as my blog guest today.

Welcome, Ashley!

Q: What was the inspiration for your debut novel, Eliza Waite?

A: The idea for Eliza Waite was born on my first date with my husband, Michael, in the fall of 2008. While hiking across largely uninhabited Cypress Island in Washington’s San Juan Islands, we came across an abandoned cabin perched steeply above the beachfront on the island’s remote north side.

We were curious. The small, rustic cabin sat in sad disrepair, missing its door and windows, and sporting a sagging roof and mouse droppings throughout. It was evident that no one had lived there for a very long time.

But who had lived here? And what was his or her story? I couldn’t get the image of the cabin out of my mind, and from that chance discovery, I began crafting the novel.

Q: How did you research and promote the novel together?

A: Eliza Waite recounts the story of a disenfranchised woman who finds her way in the world, first as a lonely preacher’s widow in Washington, and then as a successful business owner and enlightened woman in Skagway, Alaska during the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898.

Both Michael and I derived much pleasure researching for the novel, which took a full six years. We especially enjoyed our first trip to Alaska together in 2013. We cruised up the Inside Passage and stopped in Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, and Anchorage (Michael had spent much time in rural Alaska in his career as a fisheries biologist; I’m a native New Yorker and had never been to Alaska before). At each of the stops, we conducted interviews and pored over myriad archival media: books, photos, essays, magazines, diaries, and cookbooks from the late 1800s.

Returning to Alaska with the finished product in 2016 was satisfying, particularly when we revisited bookstore owners, editors, museum curators, librarians, authors, and locals who helped with initial research. Michael and I often joke that Eliza has been with us since our first date, and we talk about her as if she’s an old friend.

Q: What are the unique challenges of a new relationship over 50?

A: Michael and I were 51 and 58 when we met at a party at a mutual friend’s home in the late summer of 2008. I had been married for 28 years and was newly divorced; my husband had never been married.

We took our relationship very slowly. For three years, while we were both still working fulltime, we visited only on weekends. Then we lived together for three years before our marriage in 2014.

Kindness is the basis of our relationship; it cannot be underestimated in any union, marriage or otherwise. We also share base values and political views. On a personal level, we have learned to give the other what he/she needs the most. I crave emotional support; Michael is a strong listener and offers steady encouragement. Michael craves independence; I give him lots of space to hike, explore, and do projects. Another key: we laugh a lot.

Q: Do you have any encouragement for singles looking for love after 50?

A: Enjoy yourself, your friends, your job, your activities. We’ve all heard the old adage that you’re apt to meet someone when you’re not looking. If you do meet someone with whom you feel a genuine spark, be gentle, honest, and kind with him/her. Trust your intuition. And don’t force it. Everyone comes with his or her own life experiences, and oftentimes by our 50s (or older) hearts have been bruised or broken more than once. Give it time to see if your lives mesh and the relationship evolves to a deeper level.

Age alone is not a dead-end for possible happiness with another partner. Michael had given up on marriage after many failed relationships; I had sworn off marriage after a long and unhappy marriage. Just goes to show you that our perceptions were shattered when we met each other.

Q: After the success of your first novel, do you have another in the works?

A: My second manuscript is finished and out on review. It centers on a feisty young Scottish botanical illustrator who is forced to accompany her authoritarian uncle to Oregon Territory at the height of the fur trading empire in the early 19th century. The novel spans 29 years and four continents and is filled with intrigue, deception, heartbreak, and lust; it chronicles one woman’s desire to be recognized in life and love.

I’m now working on a third manuscript that follows the ill-fated Donner Party as they travel west on the Oregon/California Trail in 1846. Just recently, I was turned on to another story, which may develop into a fourth novel set in the desert Southwest at the turn of the 20th century. It’s interesting that all my stories have come to me by chance, so I’m always listening!

Q: How can readers contact you?

A: Please visit my website: www.ashleyesweeney.com. There you’ll find info about me and my novels, and you can access my monthly newsletter, Word by Word.

A Writer’s Mentor/Interview with Author and Professor Dr. Virginia Carney

In 1992, when I was a welfare mom trying to finish my degree before my girls were old enough to feel the stigma of poverty, I met a professor who immediately felt like family. Later, it made sense. Not only was Professor Ginny Carney an inspiring and nurturing person,  her roots from Southern Appalachia were close to mine from Eastern Kentucky.

Before she moved  to Kentucky from Alaska to live near Berea College,while she attended graduate school, Dr. Carney became Ginny to me, a treasured friend and confidante who helped me believe that anything was possible.

Though I’ve not seen her in person in more than two decades, Ginny Carney remains a mentor and a dear friend.

January in National Mentoring Month, and I’m so pleased to have one of my favorites here today.  Thank you, Ginny!

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Who mentored you and fostered a love of stories and literature?

Neither of my parents was a high school graduate, and they were probably never aware of what a strategic role they played in cultivating a love for words in their children; both my mother and father, however, were avid readers and would often tell stories, sing ballads, or recite long poems from memory. Although we were very poor, they always subscribed to a newspaper and a couple of magazines, and when I was about three, they found a way to “buy on time” a set of the Book of Knowledge Encyclopedia. I loved those books, and somehow, I learned to read from them by the time I was four years old. Since our family had no car and no electricity, reading introduced me to worlds far beyond Southern Appalachia, and I developed an insatiable appetite for books.

When did you know you wanted to mentor others? How did it begin? Was it through foster parenting or parenting?

I’ve never really thought of myself as a mentor, but for as long as I can remember, I have had a passion for learning—and I have always wanted to share that passion with others. By the time I was four years old, I already had three younger siblings, and playing “school” with them was excellent preparation for my years ahead as a mother/grandmother/great-grandmother.

 You enjoyed a second career after nursing. How did that come about? Was there a pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a professor?

My childhood dream was to become either a medical doctor or a registered nurse. Due to lack of financial resources, however, completing college was a much greater challenge than I had anticipated. After getting married in 1963, I did begin applying to nursing schools, but was stunned to discover that none of these programs accepted married women (a story in itself!).

I did eventually complete nursing and work for several years as a pediatric/NICU nurse, but adopting a sibling group of four (ages 2-6) in the late 1980s, eventually compelled me to think about a profession that would allow more time with my family. Subsequently, I enrolled at UAA, where Dr. Arlene Kuhner (Professor of English) became an incredible mentor/friend, encouraging me to be proud of my Cherokee/Appalachian heritage, and to incorporate that into my writing.  I completed an M.A. degree in English in 1990, was privileged to teach at UAA for three years prior to my acceptance into a PhD program, and I continued working in higher education until my retirement in 2016 at age 75.

 Do you have any advice on how emerging writers can find a mentor? Are there secrets you have learned in being a mentor?

Of course, it would be wonderful if every emerging writer had a trusted mentor of his/her own. Often, however, mentors are individuals who don’t necessarily think of themselves as mentors, but who, as a result of life’s experiences, have gained a wisdom, compassion for others, and encouraging spirit that they instinctively share with others—especially with those who may be going through similar experiences. Therefore, emerging writers (of all ages) often find that their greatest support comes from authors like you, Liz—writers whose stories they may have only read, but whose words light an inextinguishable flame of creativity and hope within them.

 Is there a story or two you would like to share that you’re most proud of?

Of the hundreds of narratives that I could share, this story of an elderly Ojibwe woman in Minnesota is one of my favorites:

After outliving three husbands and retiring as a Licensed Practical Nurse, 85-year-old Miss Lois said, “I’m bored! Maybe I’ll take a moccasin-making class at the tribal college!” So, she enrolled in that one class, and she so enjoyed being with young college students that she decided to enroll as a full-time student.

One of the classes she took was my American Indian Literature course—a course in which we read about and discussed a number of emotional topics, including the Indian boarding school era, which has resulted in PTSD for thousands of American Indian/Alaska Native students and their families. At first, Miss Lois only alluded to the sexual abuse she and other young children had experienced at the hands of their “teachers,” but one day, she began joking about a group of girls “ganging up on a priest and tying him up.” Her young classmates (who had never attended boarding schools themselves) did not laugh.  Instead, they voiced indignation that their elders had “put up with” the physical and sexual abuse inflicted on them in many American and Canadian boarding schools. At that point, Miss Lois, who always seemed full of laughter and fun, shocked her classmates by breaking down in tears, and she began pouring out things she had kept inside for almost 80 years.  During the next several classes, other students began openly sharing their stories of incest/sexual abuse, and Miss Lois became their trusted (and highly esteemed) confidante/mentor. She went on to graduate from college, touching untold numbers of lives with her stories in newspaper and television interviews, as a participant in numerous panel discussions, and in her handwritten memoirs.

Miss Lois died in 2013 at the age of 95.

 

The New Year’s Cruise and Other Updates

Happy 2018!

My New Year began with a cruise vacation on Holland America’s Eurodam, where I enjoyed sunshine, fireworks, good friends, and a break from social media and work.

I’d needed a vacation. And here’s what I loved most:

    • The days at sea.
      I slept well. I went to the library to write. I found quiet spaces to read. There were workshops to attend, a book group. I especially loved a lecture on pirates, past and present. And the music- from the jazz band to the orchestra- was fantastic.
    • The days at shore.
    • In Key West, I went to Judy Blume’s bookstore. I’d emailed her to see if perhaps I could meet her and have her sign a copy of her latest book.   I didn’t expect anything. While I lost my internet access on the ship, her assistant wrote with a date that we could meet. Rats! Missed her. But I liked the Ernest Hemingway Museum. I’d never seen six-toed cats before. I won’t miss them in the future, but it was a fun day.

    • Turks and Caicos was pristine. The Dominican Republic was nice, and I especially liked feeding and snorkeling with stingrays in the Bahamas. Did you know stingrays are affectionate? I was surprised to be spooned by them when I was holding their fish dinner. They wrapped around me for a little appreciative hug. Very nice (once I realized I wasn’t going to die).
    • The return to home. Coming back to the cold and dark season, I was refreshed. I’d missed my life here in Alaska. I knew I wanted to keep some of the vacation gains going. Like going to bed earlier, shutting my phone off for some time every day, writing more, etc. I’d given up nearly all coffee, a true love of mine I’ve maintained for 40 years which had been aggravating some health issues. And I want to take time off more regularly, just to recharge.
    • And guess who got herself a part-time job this summer in tourism?
    • Me! I’ll be working at Holland America/Princess Tours (HAP) on Saturdays, earning a little cash and meeting some great people, who will help me figure out where to go next with my HAP travel benefits. I know it seems I’m moving in the wrong direction, wanting to take more breaks and all, but if it’s enjoyable, I’ll work there fulltime for a few months every year after I retire. It’ll give me travel money and focused time to write. An inexpensive or no-cost writer’s retreat every year.
    • If you’re in the neighborhood on a cruise, please say hello. I’ll be stationed in Whittier.
    • Another fun fact—I joined MoviePass just before I left on vacation. For just $10 a month, I can see all the films I like. A movie membership that will save me easily $40 plus dollars a month. I highly recommend it if you like seeing movies at the theater. It’s terrific.At the theater, I saw Molly’s Game, All The Money in the World, Darkest Hour, and The Post.
    •  I just finished reading In the Game by Peggy Garrity and In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume.
    • So that’s what I’ve been up to. How about you?