Love Alters

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Talk about living a life outside the box, Michelle Tupy, author of Love Alters, certainly accomplishes that on many fronts. What a pleasure it’s been to connect with Michelle and learn about her work and her unique lifestyle. A content writer, ghostwriter, and self-confessed lover of words, Michelle, her husband and two young children are currently travelling throughout South America on an adventure and learning experience of a lifetime.

Interviewer: Debbie McClure

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Q In your latest book, Love Alters, you write about the many ways people connect and fall in love. What inspired you to produce this book?

A In truth, it was my own love story which got the ball rolling. It was a story I had been meaning to write for quite a while but I didn’t have enough substance to pen a whole book. While browsing a second-hand bookstore in Canada I stumbled across a small anthology of stories based on friendship and had an aha moment. The rest is history.

Q Where did your love story take place?

A My love story took place in China over 11 years ago. I had travelled to China to teach English with my good friend, Sharon, and on our second teaching assignment we were headed to Jilin from our home base of Changchun to work in a school for the winter holidays. Standing at the train station, also heading to Jilin, was a Canadian man named Matt. We struck up a conversation immediately and over the course of the next few months we started our courtship amongst the snowy backdrop of the wintry city. Two kids and many continents later we are still travelling and still very much in love.

Q Were you amazed at the range of the stories you received?

A At the beginning of the process I must admit I felt a little nervous. What if no one wanted to contribute to my anthology? However not long after I had put the call out, the stories came in little by little, bit by bit until I had enough to fill an anthology. I was blown away. The stories were all so different and varied and the only thing connecting them in actual fact was the theme of love. I received stories of young love, reconnected love, love that connected couples until the day they died. I must admit I shed a tear or two when I was reading them – all moving and totally inspirational in their own way.

Q How did you choose who to feature as contributors for Love Alters?

A I didn’t want the book to have different versions of the same story – I wanted to represent the young, the middle aged, the elderly – different people from all walks of life. I wanted to show that love could come to us at any time, at any age and quite often presents us with a second chance at happiness or family that a previous relationship may not have provided. So I purposefully chose a mix to fulfill my general requirements.

Q Was there one story which stood out in particular? If so, why?

A Early on in the process, Maree Crosbie sent me a beautiful story about this woman she met in hospital many years ago. Over time she learned their amazing story.

Prior to the war, Nancy had been engaged to Dennis. George was Dennis’ best friend and during the course of the relationship, a strong friendship developed between the three of them. When the war broke out, Dennis and George were sent away to fight. Then the war ended and Nancy waited for her husband-to-be to return. But his friend George returned home alone. Dennis, she was told, was believed to be a prisoner of war and the official statement received was ‘whereabouts unknown’. Finally after several years, Dennis was formally declared missing in action and believed to be dead.

Over the years Nancy and George maintained their friendship, supporting one another through life and as time passed, this genuine affection blossomed into love. After a number of years, they eventually wed, grateful that they had one another to share their life with.

Then the unexpected happened. Dennis came home. All three parties found themselves in an unavoidable situation. Nancy and Dennis were still very much in love despite Nancy’s marriage to George, however, to honour their friendship and the marriage vow made between George and Nancy, they made a pact not to act on their love. Over the years all three remained great friends helping each other through good times and bad. Dennis never married and despite her undying love for him, Nancy remained faithful to her husband George, right up until the day she died.

In this age of break-ups and divorces, you just don’t hear many stories like that these days and as I told Maree, I had to feature their story. Great fiction cannot rival stories like this.

Q How long did the book take you to produce?

A For the first year I had it slowly simmering away while my family and I were working on a travel project of our own, but I had always had the date of February 2015 at the back of my mind. As that date approached, I started to firm up the stories and contributors and arrange for a designer to help with the cover. All told, it took me two years from start to finish.

Q You and your husband made the momentous decision to gather your two young children and head out on an incredible cross-country adventure; touring South and North America. What has been the greatest personal lesson you’ve learned so far, and why?

I am not the most patient person in the world, which my husband will happily attest to. Travelling, especially to foreign countries means you have to develop or at least get used to the fact that not everything (or hardly anything) will go your way. Time is indeed relative – half an hour in Peruvian time is a whole lot longer than in the time zone I usually operate in. I am getting better but I still find much of the situations I have to deal with extremely frustrating.

Q Can you share with our readers one of your funniest stories, or more difficult trials, about your cross-cultural and/or travel quest?

A My daughter has a huge desire to be famous – whether through her singing, dancing, modelling or otherwise she doesn’t mind – so bearing this in mind, I signed her up to participate in a beauty pageant in Arequipa to gain some modelling experience. As we don’t generally travel with a formal dress or two in hand, we were told that the organisers of the pageant would take care of our “Australian” cultural dress. On the day of the pageant when we went to collect the dress, our dress was far from the traditional “Australian” outfit we were expecting and instead turned out to be more Austrian than anything representing the Australasian continents. So we had to run around – just hours before the pageant in a city we didn’t know, trying to find something suitable. While we didn’t rival the creative costumes of the Brazilians with their huge feathers and boas, we did learn that not everyone has as good a knowledge of other cultures as we do. And I would like to add, my daughter totally rocked the pageant – and I just hope we never have to do it again!

Q How do your children feel about this massively altered life-style, and what would you say are their biggest challenges to date?

A This has always been their life – they know no different. My husband and I have always travelled and since we have had children, we continue to travel. Our lifestyle is a little different to many others but we make it work for the most part. Our daughter, who is turning 10 this year, has lived in China, Australia, Canada and Peru – that’s pretty great in my book. One of the biggest challenges we face is arranging play dates for the kids, although in reality I think we struggled with it more in Canada when we had a permanent base. We are very keen to meet with other travelling families on the roads and are always looking for opportunities for the kids to make real connections with others, however briefly.

Q What would you say are your children’s greatest take-aways?

A I think for the most part we are trying to encourage our kids to have a broad awareness of the world and the people in it. We want them to understand that people, regardless of where they are from, think the same, feel the same, and love the same, despite their cultural upbringings. We want our children to be citizens of the world rather than one nation and to know that they can go, do and see whatever they want. They are a little too young to understand it all right now, but I think it will hold them in good stead when they are older.

Q Who came up with this idea, you or your husband, and how did that conversation play out?

A It was a conversation which was carried out over many years. Before coming to Peru we joked about driving from Canada, although without having lived there we didn’t really know whether it was viable. But upon seeing and hearing other travel stories, especially those stories featuring kids, we thought we may be able to just pull it off. We talked about buying a vehicle and my husband managed to find us a 1982 Volkswagen Kombi in Cusco, Peru, which we painted in bright colours in preparation for the trip. Of course the conversation is still occurring as we work out our next destination and which country we will head to next. Tomorrow we leave for Puerto Maldonado in the Amazonian jungle in Peru to start the next leg of our world schooling adventure.

Q You and your husband ran a hostel, Casa Emilia, in Cusco, Peru for twelve months and lived among the locals. What was your greatest take-away from that experience, and why?

A Yes we did – it was a lot of work and the kids really enjoyed having their own “hostel” to call home for the year. We definitely learned that the process of setting a business up in another country is not as easy as one may think. We had a lot of people promise things which just did not materialise in terms of support and assistance and in reality, we quickly learned, it was just us and was always going to be us and we just had to find a way to make things work. And that patience thing I talked about earlier, well it was needed tenfold in these circumstances.

Q The next leg of your journey has the four of you packing up your old kit bag and heading out in a van to traverse across South and North America, back up to Niagara Falls, Canada. To help you accomplish this, you managed to gather some wonderful supporters. How were you able to do this, and how can our readers contribute if interested?

A We have had an amazing amount of support for our trip from all levels – we set up a fundraiser to help us out initially selling my writing services and we have received offers of free accommodation from great sponsors like The Meeting Place in Cusco (http://www.themeetingplacecusco.com/) , Percy’s Family Home in Pisac (www.percysfamilyhome) and Anaconda Lodge in Puerto Maldonado (www.anacondalodge.com). We don’t have a huge kitty to dip into in terms of our travel fund and are actually earning and volunteering on the road as we go to help make ends meet. So any form of help or assistance we get whether on or off the road is very welcome. We are open to support in terms of financial assistance, particularly as a little can go a long way in many countries in South and Central America, and we would love to receive more accommodation offers as we travel. My husband, Matt, is a hotel manager, so is happy to work with hotels en route in exchange for help or a review or two while I am happy to assist hotels and hostels with their social media side.

Q Do you plan to write a book about your travel adventures with your family? If so, when can we expect to see it?

A Most definitely. The love story anthology whet my appetite in terms of book publication and I am planning to write a book covering our travels entitled “And Off We Went” showing that it is possible to travel with young kids and still provide them with an amazing (yet slightly alternative) education on the road. We are going to show our trials and tribulations while featuring other families who are travelling and educating on the road as well. As we don’t know how long the trip is going to take us, I am aiming for a 2017 publication date. Although for those interested and who want to see more than the snippets, we post on our Facebook page and blog, we are pre-selling the book for $40 on our website, and this presale will also include special behind the scenes access to our trip.

Q Do you intend to do a follow up anthology?

A Absolutely. I am following up the love anthology with a kindness of strangers anthology – this will have a 2016 publication date so slightly earlier than our travel adventure book. If your readers, would like to contribute a story, they can contact me direct through the Love Alters website. I am looking for true to life stories approximately 1,500-2,500 in length.

Find Michelle here:

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Love-Alters-All-Seasons-ebook/dp/B00SIEFHF8/

Website: www.lovealters.com

Website: www.andoffwewent.com

Website: http://www.andoffwewent.com/pre-order.html

Website: www.michelletupy.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Love-Alters-An-Anthology/363489527107413

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/andoffwewent

Twitter: https://twitter.com/MKileyTupy

 

 

 

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Chance Encounters

Chance Encounters

So many of us dream of travelling, writing, and sharing our amazing experiences, but Colorado-based journalist, editor, and producer Janna Graber has done more than just dream. In addition to writing for publications such as Redbook, Reader’s Digest, The Chicago Tribune, etc., in the interests of travel and gaining invaluable life experiences, she’s gone dog-sledding, saddled up for excitement and riding at some of Colorado’s dude ranches, and even toured my ownOntario Wine Country to sample our finest wines in the Niagara Valley! But for Janna, it’s more than just the travel that drives her; it’s the personal connections she makes with people all over the globe that resonate most deeply with her. Now, she’s written a book, Chance Encounters: Travel Tales From Around the World (World Traveler Press, 2014) that focuses on experiences and personal connections she and other globe trotters have enjoyed. To learn a little more about this fascinating woman, her newest book, and what inspires her, read on.

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Interviewed by Debbie A. McClure

Q: Tell us, Janna, how did you get the idea for the book?

A: In my travels, I often crossed paths with extraordinary people — people who lived in situations different from my own, but who touched me in some way. Some of those encounters enriched my journey, inspired me or even changed my way of thinking. I knew other travelers experienced this as well, so I decided to create a book that would celebrate these unique and incredible travel encounters.

Q: How many authors were featured in the book?

ANineteen top international travel writers were featured in the book.

Q: How were pieces selected?

A: We received hundreds of submissions from writers around the globe and selected 23 final stories. I looked for well-written pieces that followed the writer’s internal journey, as well as his/her external experience. Each story in the book provides a you-are-there feeling, allowing the armchair traveler to experience a unique part of the world from the writer’s perspective. The stories are all very different from each other, which makes reading the book so enjoyable. 

Q: What are some of your own stories that were included?

A: “My Friend, the Enemy” was actually the story that inspired the idea for the book. In 1987 while on a short student trip to East Germany, I met a young East German student who reached out in friendship, even though it was dangerous for him to do so. After I left, we had to write in secret through this grandma. It’s been 25 years now since the Berlin Wall fell, and we have been close friends ever since — simply because we crossed paths long ago.

Another story of mine, “The Parisian Angel” tells how a young French woman helped me after I had been robbed in Paris. She reached out to me when I needed it most, and helped to restore my faith in Paris.

Q: Tell us about some of the other tales in the book.

A: Christina Hamlett writes of a treasured encounter in Hawaii that she has never forgotten. Kimberley Lovato’s tale of an elevator ride with a courageous woman in Paris packs deep emotions into a matter of minutes, from recollections of childhood memories to profound realizations of life.

Nithin Coca’s conversation with a taxi driver in Dubai leaves an impression that he won’t forget, and during a hike with a young monk in Bhutan, Shilpa Gupta learns a lesson not about Buddhism, but about herself.

Cece Romanyshyn is moved by the strength of three young Kenyan sisters who are faced with a heart-wrenching local custom, and Rob Woodburn marvels at the resourcefulness of two young men from Malawi in their quest for a decent pair of shoes.

These are just a few examples. The book is packed with incredible tales of chance travel encounters that touched or changed someone’s life.

Q: Travel writing isn’t something most people just jump into. What is your background?

A: I began my journalism career covering women’s news for Chicago Tribune, Redbook, McCall’s and other publications. When the Columbine tragedy happened in my own backyard, it was very difficult for me to write about. These were my neighbors, and I couldn’t help but feel their sorrow. After that, I decided to turn my energies to covering positive stories of travel and the strength of the human spirit.

After 9/11, travel writing changed. I was told that Americans weren’t interested in international travel. But I knew that wasn’t true. In 2003, I started GoWorldTravel.com, an online magazine devoted entirely to world travel. We work with travel writers around the world covering stories in more than 90 countries. I’ve been covering travel ever since.

Q: When you travel, you do much more than visit resorts and tourist attractions; you learn about the native cultures and people of the places you visit. What is the most interesting fact you discovered about a place, people, or thing on your travels?

A: What I’ve learned is that people are more alike than they are different. Yes, I may have a different home or lifestyle than a mom living in Shanghai, but deep down we are still mothers who hope for the best in our children. I always find so much in common with those I meet on my travels – and that provides a genuine connection that cultural differences can’t erase.

Q: Most of us choose to travel the paved roads, but you go off-road all the time. Can you share with us your most funny, or difficult, travel situation?

A: I love small towns and rural and rugged landscape. Some of my favorite travel experiences have been snorkeling with belugas near the Arctic Circle in the 800-person town of Churchill, Minnesota, and going on safari in the Outback on an Aboriginal Reserve at the northern tip of Australia. The people who live in these kinds of rugged environments fascinate me, and I enjoy being around them.

Q: What inspires you to write and travel, Janna?

A: I’m always curious and eager to learn about new places, people, and cultures. Travel allows me to step out of my comfort zone, broaden my view, and experience new things.

Q: Although travel writing looks exciting and glamorous, I’m sure many, many times it isn’t. What advice would you give to writers who would like to learn more about or get involved in travel writing?

A: Ten years ago, it was possible to make a passable living with travel writing, but the media world has changed. Fewer print publications cover travel, and online writing just doesn’t pay as much. Nowadays, travel writing is a good second career. You have to pursue it for the passion, not the money. It helps to have another source of income while you do that.

Q: How do you choose the places to visit and write about?

A: Since I went to university in Vienna, I feel at home in Europe. European destinations continuously draw me. I’m also in love with Australia, so travel there whenever I can. Generally though, I simply look for opportunities to travel and experience new things. I’m open to almost any place where travel is safe.

Q: Is there someplace you haven’t been to yet that you are determined to go to? If so, why?

A: I’d like to go on safari in Tanzania and Botswana; Mongolia is also on my wish list. I’ve never been to any of these places, but have read other writers who have inspired me to put them on my Bucket List. 

Q: What book projects are you working on next?

A: My next book in the series, called “Adventures of a Lifetime: Travel Tales from Around the World”, is also now available. Like the name says, the book includes 24 incredible travel stories from some 20 top travel writers.

My own story in the book is called “Filling in the Holes”. It’s about searching for family roots in Latvia that were tragically lost during war. It was an incredible adventure. Latvia is an undiscovered treasure.

In mid-2015 I’ll start work on an anthology devoted solely to women’s travel stories. I’m really looking forward to that one.

Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us today, Janna. I, and I’m sure many of our readers, are looking forward to reading Chance Encounters: Travel Tales from Around the World, and your future works as well.

LINKS

Amazon link to Chance Encounters: Travel Tales from Around the World
http://www.amazon.com/Chance-Encounters-Travel-Tales-Around/dp/0990878600/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1420764694&sr=8-1

Amazon link to Adventures of a Lifetime: Travel Tales from Around the Worldhttp://www.amazon.com/Adventures-Lifetime-Travel-Around-Traveler-ebook/dp/B00R5NJZQA/ref=dp_kinw_strp_exp_8_1

World Traveler Press: www.worldtravelerpress.com

Go World Travel Magazine: www.goworldtravel.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Go.World.Travel

Twitter: https://twitter.com/GoWorldMagazine

Website: http://jannagraber.com/

 

 

 

 

 

Dancing at the Shame Prom: Sharing the Stories That Kept Us Small

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As a member of the WOW! (Women on Writing) Blog Tour Partnership Program (a community of bloggers who participate in doing book reviews and/or author interviews as part of Book Blog tours organized by WOW!) I had the opportunity to interview Amy Friedman on her contribution to the nonfiction anthology Dancing at the Shame Prom: Sharing the Stories that Kept Us Small. Amy is a longtime teacher, author, journalist, and editor, with writings ranging from fairy tales to bittersweet memoir. She shares her thoughts on shame, the power of fear and truth, and the transformative freedom of “speaking one’s truths aloud.”

This interview was originally published on Blogcritics at http://blogcritics.org/culture/article/interview-author-and-teacher-amy-friedman/  on New Year’s Day. It was scheduled to be posted on my book blog (www.notionsofagirl.wordpress.com) on January 11th, in coordination with a Blog Tour manager for WOW! (Women on Writing) but when I received Ms. Friedman’s answers during the holidays, I considered her message symbolic of the struggles we all go through when we straddle the expectations, the failures and the accomplishments of the previous year with our hopes and concerns for the new year.

Interviewer: Joanna Celeste

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Q: How were you approached for your contribution to the anthology Dancing at the Shame Prom: Sharing the Stories that Kept Us Small?

A: I’ve known [coeditors of the anthology] Amy [Ferris] and Hollye [Dexter] for a few years—Hollye took a memoir writing class with me a while back, and Amy and I met when I discovered there was another Amy F on Shewrites.com (in its earliest days, when only 40 or 50 people were involved in the site). At the time Amy’s Marrying George Clooney was on pre-order. I pre-ordered and fell in love with the book, which began a correspondence that has turned into a lasting friendship. I think we’re all mutual admirers of each other’s work, and because they knew a great deal about my memoir in progress at the time, they knew the subject matter I would likely deal with.

Q: What drew you to the project?

A: To be honest, it took me a while to figure out what precisely I would write, and for a while I thought I might have to write about the shame of not feeling shame—that sounds, well, perhaps preposterous, but I’m rebellious, and whenever people have tried to make me feel shame (as certainly happened during all the years I was married to a man in prison and certainly happened to the girls I raised, daughters of a prisoner). But shame permeates our world—I knew the book would resonate with a great many people, and the process of thinking about the subject led me on a long, difficult journey.

Q: Who is your target demographic for Dancing at the Shame Prom?

A: I never think about that question, not ever. I actually think it’s a dangerous question for writers to consider. Writers need to write those stories that knock at their hearts and heads and souls. They can’t worry about what others want to hear. So, well, I don’t. Besides, I’m always surprised by what resonates for people. Always surprised.

Q: Please take us through your process of writing [your piece in the anthology] “The Men Who Stayed Too Long.”

A: Oh, man, if I took you through the process, we’d be here for months. But in essence the process for everything I write begins more or less the same. I ponder the idea, I toss things out onto the page (handwritten—I write first drafts of everything by hand). I play. I read what I’ve written. I wonder about what on Earth I was thinking. I try to find the meaning inside the stories and snippets that appear on the page. For a short essay—2000 words or less—I don’t think a writer can contain more than one big idea, maybe one and a half ideas. I half-feel as if my essay for The Shame Prom fails because I think it tackles a few too many ideas. But I also have learned how to eventually let things go, so I won’t ponder that idea here.

Q: Everything in your essay felt like it dovetailed into one central idea. The major thing I walked away with from “The Men Who Stayed Too Long” was your concept that when we are ashamed of ourselves, we try to hide in our opposites, and in the fantasies of the person we wish we could be. How did that attitude affect your life and your sense of “self”?

A: I believe that’s true, and I’ve seen it manifested both in my life and in the lives of loved ones—we all, I think, imagine what perfection looks like. Take, for instance, imagining what the life of a perfect writer must be, how that person probably works, thinks, lives. It’s impossible not to think about it (in part interviews lead people down those paths, of course). I’ve long fantasized having the success of those writers who are everyday names, who write anything they wish and hand it over to an editor and the editor says, “Yes! Here’s your paycheck!” I lived (and published) in Canada for over twenty years and was not famous but was at least, well, a little known. When I was in my late 40s I moved back to the United States and suddenly I was a “nobody” as a writer, and it took me three or four years to climb out of the slough of despair (and shame) that created, to find my way back to writing because it’s what I love, what I do. I think there’s a constant struggle to look oneself in the eye and say, “This is who I am, and that’s just fine.” I don’t think that struggle ever ends; at least it hasn’t for me.

Q: By your definition, what is “normal”?

A: Ha! No such thing. By spending so many years so closely tied to prison, a little cynicism developed—and there are days “normal” frightens me. Sometimes I fear that if I were “normal” (whatever on Earth that is) I would be dull and uninterested in the world around me.

Honestly, I don’t know what normal is. I suspect everyone has a different definition–what seems “freakish” to one person might be perfectly normal to another, and vice versa.

Q: Among the signs of suicidal behavior are “excessive shame,” “withdrawing from people,” “feeling trapped, like there is no way out,” and “feeling hopeless.” How would you relate those feelings to your experiences of wishing to be someone else?

A: Well, I think people who wallow in a desire to be someone other than who they are usually wind up disappointed when they do not become that person—whether it’s a desire to look different, live differently, own more, know more, do more. Lack of acceptance of self can certainly lead to feeling hopeless, and there is nothing worse than that sense of hopelessness. I don’t know the cure. For me it’s always been fighting to be who I am and to find some way to be okay with that, and learning to surround myself with those who love me (and to shy away from those who do not).

Q: You wrote “What we see on the outside seldom even scratches the surface of an individual’s inner truths.” Please elaborate on this.

A: I think this probably is at the heart of the reason I’m a writer. I write to discover what I think, what I know, what I didn’t know I knew. Writing takes me to depths of understanding (of myself, particularly) in a way nothing else can (except perhaps meditation). I’ve been teaching memoir and personal essay for fifteen years, and if I’ve learned nothing else from this experience it’s that we never ever know at first glance (or the fifteenth) what’s going on inside a person’s head or heart. I believe in listening, closely, and in withholding judgment (every student I’ve ever taught has surprised me).

Q: You talked about the “transformative power of speaking your truths out loud.” How has speaking your truths out loud transformed you?

A: Absolutely—although I think I would amend that to say “writing truth” and I’ll amend that to add: It is vital to be open to what others say in response to your own truths, to listen with an open mind and open heart. But putting what I have to say out into the world has strengthened my sense of self. I know there’s more to say about this, but for now…

Q: What things were you once afraid of, but no longer?

A: I suspect I’ve been afraid of everything at some time or another, but the fascinating thing about fear is that once it’s gone, it’s gone. During the years I was involved with prison, I lived one big fear that all that I was working for—to get my husband released, to keep our family afloat, financially and emotionally—would come to nothing. And in a way that’s what happened, the whole dream exploded. And because I didn’t die, because I came out stronger and wiser and calmer, oddly, I think a lot of fear was burned up in that explosion.

I still sometimes fear rejection—that’s probably the biggest fear—that I’ll write something or say something or do something and receive in turn anger, cruelty, people turning away.

But here’s the thing: That happens, and still, I survive. Some days I hide under the blankets for hours and weep. Some days I can’t face the world. But a good long cry and those kinds of losses and sadnesses and terrors are oddly cleansing.

Q: What gave you the strength to share your truths with the world?

A: I have to say I was raised to be open and honest, by parents who spoke their truths. A vivid memory of youth: Many of my ancestors were lost in concentration camps, my paternal grandmother’s entire family wiped out in the War, my dad a POW during World War II. But when I was in high school, we had an exchange student at the school from Germany. My mom taught at our high school and one day Gaby (the exchange student’s name) came to my mom to ask if she could move in with our family (and out of the home she was staying in where some problems had arisen). My parents welcomed her with open arms, and years later I found out that they had taken much grief from many Jewish friends and family members still seething with anger at all Germans. But that was my parents. I’d seen my dad, an Atticus Finch type, stand up to angry neighbors who did not want an African American family to move onto our street in the early ’60s—I saw that the way to face the world was to face it honestly, and with strength, no matter the consequences.

And when I was 12 and writing came—my window to knowing what I thought, what I stood for and what I wanted to say—I came to see that writing is never any good unless it comes from those deepest and truest parts of ourselves.

Q: What do you know now that you wish you had known as a teenager?

A: What don’t I know now that I wish I’d known as a teenager is a better question. I suppose in a nutshell it would be that life would go on, no matter the angst and pain. But in some ways this question is just too hard—I’m not sure I know the answer. There is that old saw about wishing I were young again but knew everything I know now, but having just spent a good deal of time with my teenage nieces, I’m not sure that’s true. One of the beauties of their lives is the way they think they know everything already—I love that, and I love knowing all the things they’re going to learn, and learn, and learn…

Q: What would you say to someone who considers that keeping up the façade is safer than confessing who they really are, where sharing their true self or secrets might result in physical or emotional harm?

A: I would encourage, gently, that person to write. Honestly, that is what I do. And to meditate. I have done this. I raised two girls whose life in so many ways depended upon keeping up a façade—pretending their father wasn’t in prison because they had taken so much grief and rejection and cruelty from people for something over which they had no control—and throughout their lives I have tried to hold them close and teach them that they are not the people those who judge them believe them to be. One of them has found her way, one has not. I still hold out every imaginable hope.

Q: What are some of the resources for people who need a safe place to be themselves and speak their truths?

A: I think this depends—there are wondrous writing teachers around, and because I’m a writer, that’s where my mind takes me first. There are support groups. I think it’s important for people to find those who will help to nurture them and support them and listen to their truths, and to surround ourselves with those people. But this takes me back to the question of what I wish I had known as a teenager that I know now—I wish I’d known as a teenager that it is vital to surround oneself with those who love and respect us and to give wide berth to those who would judge us (and that those who judge us most harshly are usually merely projecting their own inadequacies and fears).

Q: We’ve talked about shame. Let’s explore the opposite. What are you the proudest of about yourself?

A: I’m proudest of the fact that I have followed my dream, that despite not having become “rich and famous” I am a writer still, a dream that began when I was 12 and from which I’ve never wavered, and that I’ve found my way to discovering how to make a living and to keep producing stories and books. I’m also proud of my teaching, and I’m proud of the people I’ve had a hand in raising—stepchildren (4), nieces and nephews, and some students.

Q: As a writer, what gives you the greatest joy?

A: My greatest joys come in those moments when I’m so deep inside a story, I am flowing, and I know I am onto something—it’s an indescribable sensation, but when I’m there, I know it, and it is, for me, the essence of joy and peace. That and going to the movies or for long walks with my husband who is the greatest imaginable partner and friend. And boogie boarding. I love boogie boarding and just about everything about the ocean.

Q: You have adapted some marvelous tales in your “Tell Me a Story” column, based on folk tales, fairy tales, and mythological stories. What drew you to that project?

A: Oh, alas, that’s a long-ish story. But the short version is this. I was working at The Whig Standard in Kingston, Ontario as a columnist (had been for nearly eight years), and I had a terrifically wonderful editor who was always open to new ideas. My dad was a newspaper junkie, so I grew up on newspapers—and I decided our paper needed something for kids. I told my editor I thought so and he sent me off to figure out what that should be. A librarian at the Kingston public library led me to stashes of old folktales and fairytales and myths and legends that people were forgetting, and she also led me to an amazing illustrator. I proposed the idea to Neil, my editor. He said, “Go for it,” and within weeks Jillian (my illustrator) and I were producing a column six days a week (in those days I wrote one story a week and solicited and edited the other five, but Jill illustrated all six). Within three months, ten Canadian papers had picked up the column, and a year later Universal Press Syndicate came to us wanting to syndicate the column in the United States. We started in 1992 and last month published story #1086 (they run in papers around the world). Jillian is retiring, but I’m still going, with a new illustrator beginning in February 2013, Meredith Johnson. Onward, upward. It’s been fascinating, frustrating, and always inspiring (and I’ve produced three CD audiobooks of the stories as well).

Q: Tell us about The Desperado’s Wife. What prompted you to share your story in its entirety now?

A: Ah, well, I’ve been working on the book for ten years, so it isn’t precisely now that I have been prompted. The book has been excerpted in several places over the years (in The New York Times as “Modern Love”, Salon.com and in a book by Katherine Tanney and Spike Gillespie called Stricken: 5,000 Stages of Grief), and my agent has been trying to sell it for a year or more. But when the Katie [Couric] show invited me to be a guest to talk about the subject and my book, I decided I was no longer going to wait for publishers to give me the green light, and so I have self-published the book and will be on the Katie show [on January 31, 2013]. I think it’s an important story—inspired in part by my longing for prisoners’ families to come out of the shadows, to not have to live in shame. That’s what I hope to talk about with Katie Couric.

Q: You have been teaching memoir for 20 years. What is your most memorable experience as a teacher?

A: I don’t know that there’s one “most memorable” experience as a teacher. The happiest moments are when students discover their voices, when they are able to dive more deeply inside their stories, when they realize—sometimes against their will—that they can tell a story they’ve been struggling to tell. I wish I could say the happiest moments are when students publish their work—and there is some satisfaction in seeing that happen. But I’m also frustrated by the whole publishing world because I think it is not often that truly good work is rewarded—sometimes there are too many other things (fame/hip-ness) involved in publishing decisions.

But I love teaching. I love seeing people making new discoveries about their stories.

Q: One of the success stories from your students is “Amy helped me to discover that a genuine writer did live inside of me and allowed me to grow and develop in an atmosphere truly free of judgment.” Many others speak of the environment you create, and the self-confidence you help foster. What is your teaching philosophy?

A: That’s it in a nutshell, to create an environment that both nurtures and pushes, that doesn’t coddle (I don’t try to be Mama), but that allows a writer to find his or her own way into a story, that doesn’t shut them down. I have a very particular workshop method I use (adapted from a choreographer) that allows only for questions of the writer. In other words, I don’t allow students to write each other’s stories but rather to open doors into the mind that might have been closed by asking who, what, when, where questions. I suppose the whole philosophy would be “don’t shut up anyone, inspire people to speak and discover what it is they have to say.”

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

A: Only this: It’s important to read and to write and to buy books. The publishing world is crumbling, but readers can keep it alive if they try.

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You may buy Amy’s memoir The Desperado’s Wife at her website and receive an autographed copy and bookmark if you place the order before January 15th. To learn more about the anthology Dancing at the Shame Prom: Sharing the Stories that Kept Us Small please check out their website.