What would you like readers to know about you as an introduction?
When I first seriously started writing over ten years ago I did it only for myself to prove I could. Secretly I’d believed I could write since childhood, but I’d done little to make that happen. When my first book was published in 2006, and I experienced the heady excitement of signings, conference engagements, and best of all, compliments and encouragement on my writing, I wanted that to continue. Now I have learned more about the ebb and flow of writing, and I have returned to a quieter approach of genuinely enjoying the process while giving and gaining what I can. One way I keep myself connected is working with writers as they prepare their manuscripts. I have been able to help as mentor/coach and editor, and I find it very enjoyable.
Tell us about Blossoms of the Lower Branches. Was it difficult to revisit these memories?
At times. Over twenty years had passed since my brother took his life, so the immediate sharpness had subsided, but as you know, true writing unearths more than writers sometimes want. I didn’t want to tell my story. I wanted to explain how the classic hero’s journey, first explained in myth, can be used to deal with grief from the death of a loved one, and I wanted to make it a “paper,” or a “study” that would explain like a teacher in front of a classroom. I thought that approach would give the subject more respect. I soon realized it needed a sincere, true story to weave through it to make it real and usable for others. After all, my readers are suffering grievers, not professors giving me a grade.
What was it like to publish a memoir? Was it a release? Freeing? Was there any anxiety in the publication process? Is publishing a memoir different from publishing fiction?
Publishing a memoir has been different from fiction where it’s easy to hide behind, “It’s just a story!” whether that’s true or not. A surprise has been that I’m happy to talk about the idea I really do believe in with the hero’s journey as a grief recovery model, but I’ve been reluctant to encourage people I know to read it because it is personal. I was conflicted about putting my story out there, which is why I started trying to write a “paper.” I’d like to have anyone struggling with how to settle traumatic grief read it while keeping ear buds in my friends’ ears.
Was it a release? Not in the way many memoirs are because many memoirists are often writing to themselves for the first time. I had chewed over the issues in the book so often, for so long, that I had comfortably settled them, so it became closer to putting a period at the end of a last sentence, and closing the book before lending it to another.
How did you get started writing?
First time: Fourth grade assignment when I wrote a two page love story and loved the process. That bout ended three years later with a puberty driven mania to write of a young girl who takes off to see the world. It started in Salt Lake City, where I lived, and traveled to San Francisco (Sounds like a bestseller, no?) where it abruptly stopped because I realized I knew nothing of China and I let it lock my creativity. Second time: When I wanted to expand my career and branch out to writing, I began interviewing and working for free lance articles. This bout ended when I was told of my brother’s death while I was having fun writing. I couldn’t settle how I’d been happy while he’d been so miserable. Third time: When I’d let so many years pass not doing something I thought I could be good at and I knew I had to try. Finally. Victory over myself in the third bout.
What is your writing process like?
I make notes in a small, carry around notebook, more notes in a spiral notebook, save clipped articles and related items of any kind in folders, and then I write on a computer. Next is revising for what can seem like forever. How do you get ideas for what you write? Ideas can seem to be in the air around me. Thoughts that sprout from nowhere, news stories, overheard conversations, a scene of people walking their dogs. Harnessing myself to develop them is often the harder task.
What are some of your favorite books?
As my eyes fall on them in my writing room, and in no particular order, books I have enjoyed are:
- The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
- The Science of Mind by Ernest Holmes
- Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes
- Down by the River by Charles Bowden
- My Secret History by Paul Theroux
- The Anthropology of Turquoise by Ellen Meloy
- Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
- Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky
That’s a tough one because I think everyone is an individual who needs different things, and often things I can’t imagine. Through my life I have felt the forces of dreams, realities, and drives collide. Dreams can be irreplaceable inspirations, but dreamers then need to square that with the realities of what is required for the dream to be real, and then again look at how dreams and realities connect with personal drives. It is possible to dream of something, understand what it takes to get it and still have to deal with personal ambition or lack of it, inability to deal with fear, or a need for approval that kills dreams. Sometimes there is a lot to push through. Everyone needs to understand their own situation.
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