I was one of those kids who pleaded with my parents for "just one more" book every afternoon and night. The first one that my lips read - or just memorized and repeated out loud - was CINDERELLA. Interestingly, I was far from a classic pink-clothed, princess-loving little girl. What I enjoyed about Cinderella was that she was resourceful and kind-hearted. How many people can sew their own clothes, consistently help people they don't like, make friends with emotionally-responsive mice and birds, and set an example of patience? I saw many positive traits in "Cinderelly," as I called her, and tried to embody them throughout my childhood.
What do your fans mean to you?
Many people are uncomfortable with the topic of loss, especially spousal loss. To be honest, the fact that most people would rather ignore this extremely important part of my life is often hurtful. While I have moved forward with my life, finding a new career and deciding I want a family again, it doesn't mean that I've forgotten my past or am now unaffected. Accordingly, I feel grateful and loved when people ask about my first husband or my writing, take the time to read and reflect, and share their own insights or questions with me. The opportunity to help others with my experiences - through writing or personal conversations - gives me the most fulfillment and purpose I've ever known.
What's the story behind your latest book?
I started writing THEN & NOW: CHANGED PERSPECTIVES OF A YOUNG WIDOW in the third year after my husband died from a terrible motor vehicle collision. We were in our twenties and had been married for only 13 months. I felt so lonely as I read book after book from young or middle-aged widow(er)s who talked about their kids or saying goodbye after a long illness; I did not relate at all. Further, the books I found were written after one or two years in grief and spoke so highly of transformation and even remarriage. That timeline was fast and unrealistic for me.
In my third year, I started writing a Table of Contents, if the day came that I ever figured out how to deal with my toughest components of young widowhood. This included well-intentioned people, depression, being "strong," expressing anger, other widows, and fear. When I became a teacher (I went back to school after he died) and started sharing with my high schoolers why I changed careers and was standing before them, many asked if I would write a book about it. Many of these students would spend their lunches with me as they wanted to talk about their own losses and anxieties, and hear how I made it through mine.
These conversations made me wonder: Could I write a book that compared the raw first year with the fifth or sixth year to highlight how perspectives change? To highlight coping mechanisms that worked? To present a long-term picture of recovery? Even though I hadn't yet made it to year five, the idea was born and I started writing what I remembered about the first year. When I made it to year five, I revisited the half-written book over the summer and was amazed at how different I felt about life and what my life now looked like. Finding a way to show this to others became a worthy goal again, and I decided to finish the book.
Who are your favorite authors?
I'm a sucker the classics and cultural conflicts, and thus love Mary Shelley, Aldous Huxley, and Amy Tan. All of those writers take on the nebulous human condition when fear is rampant in society. I find their explorations captivating. That said, when I'm not in the mood for serious intellectual stimulation, I love picking up the wit of J.D. Salinger and the storytelling circles of Khaled Hosseini. I met Hosseini a couple years ago, and was absolutely inspired by his love of writing. When he was a doctor, he awoke at 4 or 5am each morning before the practice opened just to work on his first book about Afghanistan. When the book became a best-seller, he said goodbye to medicine and hello to changing the world with his stories and non-profit organizations.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Since most of my teaching time is about following research, grammar rules, and collegiate formatting styles as an English teacher, I love breaking the rules in my own personal writing. Using well-placed fragments and run-ons, creatively comparing fire and water through metaphor or personification, focusing on truths of the human condition, and hoping my insights connect with others in dark places.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
Wanting to be healthy and active as I prepare to meet my little girl. Honoring my dead husband and current husband by living my life fully. Feeling the morning sun on my face as I walk my excitable yellow lab, Walter.
What's your advice to aspiring authors?
Write what you know and don't plan/plot out the book. Let it develop organically, as life does.
How do you deal with writer's block?
I accept it and move on to another task of the day. I know it will pass. Sometimes I re-read an essay by Anne Lamott entitled "Shitty First Drafts," which makes me laugh and remember that the editing process is longer than the writing process. Accordingly, I should not censor myself; rather, I should just write whatever wants to come out.
What are you working on next?
I am creating a new series that reveals the life of an individual after they died, through the eyes of their family members, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. There will be no primary narrator; each chapter will be written in a different voice, highlighting the effects of death on various ages and relationships.