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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I first met her at a farmer’s market, and with our common interests in writing and Alaska life and our kids, we developed an easy friendship. I so enjoyed her book Homestead Girl, and now follow her writing in the local newspaper. Now, knee-deep in writing a second book, Chantelle reflects on her process of writing and connecting with readers.
When did you know that you wanted to share your stories in the form of a book?
It sounds kind of hokey to say that I wanted to write a book since I was a child, but it’s true.
After I read The Outsiders when I was about ten years old, I had a distinct thought: “I could do this…” I thought it again after reading The Prophet and after I finished Jonathan Livingston Seagull, which was my favorite book as a young child.
I knew that I loved writing, but I didn’t pursue it as a serious craft until I was in my early thirties. My education and professional background is in Human Services, not journalism, so it took some time and permission-seeking from others, before I finally told myself, “If you want to be a writer, just write!” I had notebooks and computer files full of writing, but when I shared my first piece with friends and family, I was trembling. Any offering of writing is an act of vulnerability, and most of my stories are very personal in nature, so it was scary.
I discovered that my writing resonated with people, beyond my friends and family, when I started submitting pieces to the Anchorage Daily News as well as to local and regional publications. I began getting feedback and encouragement to keep writing. I even received phone calls, letters, and emails from some state officials after certain essays were published in the paper. At some point I decided that I had earned the right to write a book. I didn’t have a degree in journalism or creative writing, but I had a body of work that I could stand on. I applied for, and received, an Individual Artist Award from the Rasmuson Foundation, which funded my first book project.
What was your favorite part of Homestead Girl to write? I don’t know that I have a favorite story, but I love the process of story making. One essay in Homestead Girl describes the feeling I get when a story is ready to come through. I liken it to a “joik”, a style of song that is native to the Sami, the indigenous people of Northern Europe. They don’t joik about a person, place, or thing. They joik it into being. It’s not a retelling, it’s a conjuring. I don’t even bother sitting down to write, unless I feel the story coming. It’s not a thinking process, it’s more like feeling the spirit of the story and giving it a body. Sometimes a story will flit about for days, or weeks, before it’s ready to come through. When it does it’s a great relief, and frees me up for other things…until the next story starts whispering. What surprised you the most about writing and publishing nonfiction?
I am pleasantly surprised that I don’t get more hate mail! I get a bit, and it’s to be expected because some of the subject matters that I explore are controversial or uncomfortable. My intention, always, when I write about things that are not so pleasant (a recent sexual abuse article comes to mind), is to shine a light and offer solutions. I also write from the ground level, not up on a pedestal. I promised myself a long time ago that if I were going to write about sensitive subjects I would put myself right in it, and share my own failings, not just point out problems and act like I’m perfect. I had to get over the desire to want to be liked or to look good.
Generally, people appreciate the honesty in my writing. I know it’s not always easy for my family or community when I share certain things, but I do believe that the truth sets people free. Your book has done very well, and I’ve noticed your articles that appear in the local newspaper reference your book, increasing its visibility. You have also done some out-of-the-box promoting.
What promotional advice would you give prospective author about publishing his or her book?
You have to put it in front of people. Your friends and family will buy your book, but others won’t unless they know about it. I go anywhere that will have me (book fairs, farmer’s markets, book clubs, craft fairs, etc.), but I don’t think of it as marketing. I think of it as an opportunity to meet new friends and readers. This has truly been the best aspect of the book release. I did a Books and Brew tour that was really fun! I was able to do readings and pop-up book signings at some of our Alaskan breweries, and met really fantastic people. That’s what it’s all about for me. How can readers best connect with you? Go to www.chantellepence.com and fill out the form on the Contact page.
While de-cluttering my bedroom recently, I found an old magazine that reprinted my first published article in 1993. First posted in Alaska Women Speak, later in The Radical, I wrote it about the epidemic of domestic violence.
How novel it seemed at the time to be writing about what was then considered to be a deeply personal matter. Pre-O.J.Simpson trial. Pre United States Surgeon stating that domestic violence was (then) a leading cause of injury to women in certain age brackets.
It was truly wonderful to be a part of making a positive difference. Along with the other domestic violence advocates, I got to give a series of presentations and trainings. Trainings for judges, police officers, and employers. Presentations for clergy and public assistance workers, concerned citizens, and eventually for doctors, once it was confirmed how many victims presented with mental and physical injuries that needed attention. No matter who our audience was, we encouraged people to get a little nosy. “Ask when you see injuries if you have a private moment with the possible victim. Address concerns in a non-judgmental way.” Easier said than done.
Initiating this conversation can be difficult. Some tips to help:
Tell what you see
“I noticed a bruise on your arm…”
“I am worried about you.”
“No one deserves to be hurt.”
Refer them for help
“I have the phone number to…”
If your friend begins to talk about the abuse:
Just Listen: Listening can be one of the best ways to help. Don’t imagine you will be the one person to “save” you friend. Instead, recognize that it takes a lot of strength and courage to live with an abusive partner, and understand your role as a support person.
Keep it Confidential: Don’t tell other people that they may not want or be ready to tell. If there is a direct threat of violence, tell them that you both need to tell someone right away.
Be There and Be Patient: Coping with abuse takes time. Your friend may not do what you expect them to do when you expect them to do it. If you think it is your responsibility to fix the problems, you may end up feeling frustrated. Instead, focus on building trust, and be patient.
This past year, I’ve had the chance to join domestic violence advocates in a number of community presentations since publishing my memoir.
Abuse in relationships is still far too common, and well over 1,000 women every year die because of it in the United States alone. Millions of kids are still being raised in homes witnessing domestic violence.
It’s natural to wonder Are we making a difference?
Then I had coffee with my friend Ruth. She used to manage the Abused Women’s Aid in Crisis (AWAIC) shelter I worked at 20 years ago and we left our jobs around the same time. Now on blood thinners, Ruth bruises like a banana.
“Does anyone ask you about the bruising?” I asked.
“All the time,” she told me. She’s been asked by friends and strangers alike if she’s okay. “Even the groundskeepers downtown have asked me if I was safe.”
So Happy 30th Birthday to Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and to all who’ve stuck their neck out to ensure we’re making progress.
I encourage you all to become a part of the conversation and part of the solution when opportunities arise. Or donate to or volunteer at your local shelter.
As a side, I’m grateful to my friends at AWAIC for honoring me for sharing my story. Without them, there would be no story.
Today it’s been a year since my memoir was officially launched.
More than 65 events, 103 online reviews (and counting), and three awards later, what a year it has been.
Thanks to your support, Pieces of Me has enjoyed national attention, and has garnered international fans as well. None of this would be possible without your support. There just are not enough thank you’s to go around.
The gifts that followed after publishing my book are the relationships that have been strengthened, the new friendships made, and the opportunities to talk with family, friends, and strangers about issues that have been traditionally have secret. Like family violence. Parental child abduction. Intergenerational trauma.
When giving presentations to high school and college students, I love recalling that pre-internet time when people across the community united to help me bring my kidnappped daughters home. What a diverse group my support network was made up of, and their generosity was duplicated in beautiful Greece. And what a special time it was in history in general when people actually spoke to one another instead of at each other. It reminds me that together, we can accomplish most anything. It reminds me that when we are divided, we accomplish very little.
There have been some stressful times promoting the book. I ruffled a few feathers. I got very tired. And I relived some very horrible moments in my family’s history. But the good has far outweighed the negative.
I have some more events coming up. Indeed, I am about to get on a plane and speak at it conference this weekend. But after October, it is time for me to slow down and work on my next book. I’m excited about it, having pitched it to a literary agent at a writer’s conference last weekend, who deemed it the “most promising manuscript,” of those pitched to her in that event.
I plan to begin charging for book trips that cost me both money and personal leave time so I can break even financially. But I have treasured this year and these moments together.
I will continue to work toward getting my memoir into universities, and welcome any help to that end.
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.
Imagine raising a family in the confines of a boat or catamaran on the open seas.
I picture the closeness. The sunshine. The fun.
Then I read Bluewater Walkabout: Into Africa by Tina Dreffin.More than a travel memoir about the misadventures of a woman and her family sailing the world, Bluewater Walkabout tells how Tina’s travels promoted the healing of deeply rooted traumas in her life: a sexual assault like the loss of her first born baby.
A 2017 Independent Publishers Book Award (IPPY) Silver Medalist, Tina has established a thriving writing career while managing family responsibilities on a boat in exotic locations.
I’m happy to have connected with her recently, and to have her as my guest.
Thank you, Tina!
You endured so many hardships during, or even as a result of your travel, including losing your first child. What is the takeaway you want your readers to embrace as they pursue their own dreams?
Never allow hardships to minimize you.
After losing my baby, I needed to release tremendous guilt in having failed my child as a new mother, especially since I felt partially responsible for her death. Trauma inflicts emotional pain. To recover from the pain, I needed to forgive myself and learn how to love myself better. If I hadn’t, I knew I would lose my life and my marriage.
Travel brought me full circle to where I could look at myself clearly and make healthy changes.
When I journeyed to Africa, Asia, and South America, I witnessed women suffering the agony of war, lack of clean water, and disease.
Suddenly, my issues appeared less painful. I may have suffered sexual abuse and my baby’s death, but I still had my family who loved and cared about me. I lived in a safe community and had access to clean water and proper health care.
What was the most difficult part of the book to write?
Writing about my sexual assault proved the most painful episode in writing my book.
No one in my family knew of the attack, not even my good friends. I told my friends first before I told my husband. I felt women would understand and relate more. I also wanted to test their reaction, to prepare for how my husband and sons would react. My friends advised me to leave out the history of my sexual assault in my book. They only wanted to read ‘happy books,’ they told me. My sons didn’t want to talk about their mother’s sexual assault. And my husband … I failed to find the words to reveal my history with him. I chose instead to include the rape in my book, allowing him the freedom to decide whether he wanted to know about it or not.
The night my husband finally learned of my past in the book, he looked me tenderly in the face and held my hand. No words came. It felt good. I had been right, after all. Still, the reaction of my family and friends left me baffled. No one wanted to talk about it. As a result, I doubted myself and began to drink too much. I drifted away into solitude. I grew angry and depressed. Where was my support? When our forty-year marriage began to unravel from my self-inflicted strain, I knew I needed to jump-start personal growth. “You’re only hurting yourself, Tina,” I told myself. Only I could fix the problem. So, I looked at my rape differently and in a short time, the way that I looked at my abuse, changed. I now saw it as an experience that I had recovered from successfully.
My book became the tool to bring women out of the closet. The conversation about rape had begun, and I would never stop sharing again. I would tell all who would listen because the more I talked about it, the quicker the healing came. Upon the release of my book, young girls and women began to open up and reveal their sexual assaults on Facebook. Their stories were even more devastating than my own. Many responded, sharing their own sexual assault experiences and discovering support from complete strangers who shared theirs as well. Suddenly, I knew I had healed my soul by taking a direction to open the conversation of sexual assault, giving others permission to do the same. As a result, we all found healing.
And which part was the most fun to write?
Recounting our wild adventures in the African bush while on safari proved to be a delightful experience. I relived the remarkable experience with my mother who has since passed. Mother proved to be an adventurous soul when a bull elephant- arguably one the world’s most dangerous predators-held us captive after trumpeting and charging at our van. He was followed by a herd of Cape buffalo.
You recently won an Independent Publishers Book Award for your memoir. Congratulations! How did that feel, being an indie author getting this great nod?
I felt elated when “Into Africa” won the award since it was my first book. I felt validated of my feelings in wanting to save other women from making the same mistakes as me. Suddenly, I knew I was on the right path. Inspiring personal growth and healing in others today remain a critical motivating factor of my writing.
What’s next for you?
I currently reside in Exuma, Bahamas, aboard my catamaran, Yacht Freebird. I’m finishing BluewaterWalkabout: Into the Pacific, due out in 6 weeks. It continues our adventures in the South Seas, the 2nd leg of a global circumnavigation by boat with our family. All of us about Yacht Scud.
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.