Bonded at Birth: An Adoptee’s Search for Her Roots

Bonded at Birth

“Our history begins before we are born,” wrote Scottish inventor James Nasmyth. “We represent the hereditary influences of our race, and our ancestors virtually live in us.” It’s a quote that aptly captures the popularity of genealogical quests but what if the paper trail goes only as far as a birth mother’s decision to leave her baby’s future in the hands of strangers and walk away, taking her own life story with her? In her poignant memoir, Bonded at Birth: An Adoptee’s Search for Her Roots, author Gloria Oren shares insights gleaned from 16 years of searching and 41 years apart.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Where, when and how did your journey as a writer begin?

A: My journey as a writer began years ago. My first published piece was a poem in a camp newsletter. I seemed to be writing something all the time. It strengthened during the “Breaking Into Print” course.

Q: Do you feel that you chose this profession or that it chose you?

A: It sort of chose me. One day I received a piece of mail from Long Ridge Writers Group offering a writing test to qualify for one of their courses. I thought, why not, at the worst I won’t pass. I received the test, filled it out, and sent it back. I didn’t think I would pass or qualify. A few weeks later I got that piece of mail I didn’t think would come saying I qualified for the “Breaking into Print” course. It included the application. I applied and the rest is history. I owe a lot for the improvement of my writing to my instructor, Lori Soard.

Q: Your new book, Bonded at Birth: An Adoptee’s Search for Her Roots, just made its debut. What inspired you to put fingers to keyboard and bring this story to life?

A: What inspired me to write my story was the realization that adoptees do have the right to their own information regarding their origins and medical histories. I had almost no information to go on, yet things have a way of happening, and because of them and the help of others, I was found. I had to share my story with adult adoptees who wish to search but hesitate, adoptive parents confronted by their adopted child’s wish to search, and by birth parents who fear searching not wanting to intrude on their biological offspring’s life. It will also attract memoir readers who enjoy a unique story. And couples contemplating adoption will learn the damage that secrecy can lead to and, with hope, this book will ensure that they will be the ones to talk to their adopted children about their adoptions.

Q: Describe your book in seven words.

A: Interesting, unique, roller coaster, engaging, motivating, descriptive, and page-turner.

Q: What was the most challenging aspect of developing this project?

A: Oh gosh, mostly technology, but also sounding good on audio clips and creating professional looking videos. That is yet to come.

Q: Did you allow anyone to read it as a work in progress or make everyone wait until you had typed the final chapter?

A: I had many beta readers at various stages of development. Feedback has been great.

Q: In earlier generations, adoption records were kept sealed, often as a measure to keep both the birth parent and the adoptee from having their respective lives disrupted down the road. Today there seems to be a greater emphasis on literally making those records an open book and even including birth parents as part of the extended family. What are your thoughts on this shift in accessibility? If, for instance, an unwed mother gives up her baby in order to avoid personal scandal, is she now offered no legal protection if/when the adult child demands to know her identity?

A: Since not all states have opened adoption records, I would venture to say that unwed mothers are still given the option for sealing the records or opting for an open adoption where they will have connection with the child.

My thoughts on this after being raised surrounded by secrecy and post reunion being told by my mom that she was forced to sign the papers not even knowing what she was signing says that records should be accessible to the adoptee at age 18 and that secrecy has no place in their lives.

Q: Aside from medical considerations, is “curiosity” a substantive excuse to expose past secrets about parentage?

A: I suppose curiosity has a play in it, though it is a right the adoptee has to know his ancestral roots, where he came from, and if secrets get exposed at some point, so be it. In the end it usually works out well for many cases.

Q: What do you know about yourself now that you didn’t know before?

A: If you mean before my reunion, then I didn’t know I was related to Col. William Prescott or that my sixth great aunt was the first North American nun.

If you mean before I wrote the book, then I now know that I can do it and can also do the marketing as long as I take it step-by-step.

Q: Like many authors today, you chose to go the self-publishing route. What governed that decision and was the experience what you expected it to be?

A: I’ve queried over a hundred agents and though they all had something good to say and responded, no one accepted it for publication. I knew it had to get out there, and I was getting tired fishing for a hooked bait so I tried the self-publishing route.

Q: What did you like best about self-publishing?

A: What I liked best was that I could produce a product the way I wanted to. It was a learning process for me as well.

Q: What did you like least?

A: What I liked least is that I didn’t have a backup marketing setup in the route I chose, but I will get the ropes of the marketing side and will do the best I can for now. I hope to sell enough books to allow me to find some marketing help in the future if needed. As they say, the best form of marketing is word of mouth and for that, no training is needed. So please tell everyone you know who likes to read a good book to check Bonded at Birth out.

Q: Advice to other authors considering the DIY route?

A: Do your research and don’t give in. You will get bombarded with phone calls from self-publishers out to get your money. I got quotes from $1200 up to $4000. I reached out to someone who published many books on the self-publishing route and he connected me up to the gal who helped him. It cost a lot less, the work was completed in a timely manner and the finished product is beautiful.

Q: What are you doing to promote your work and which strategies are proving to be the most successful for you?

A: My book just came out on the 15th of this month (June 2016) so right now I’ve sent out some press releases, some tweets, announced it on Facebook, and word of mouth. I’ve been working on creating a marketing plan. I plan on doing a small scale launch party now and probably a two week long (or longer) virtual book tour in November to coincide with National Adoption Month.

Q: Bad reviews are a fact of life. What do you do when you get one?

A: Not everyone will like your writing. If most reviews are positive and good, one or a few are the needles in a haystack. Most of the time they won’t be seen and if seen I pretend I don’t see them. I don’t respond to bad reviews.

Q: Morning person or evening?

A: Morning. I’m usually up and at it between six or seven.

Q: Dogs or cats?

A: Definitely dogs. I’ve had a dog since I was six. My last dog was a Doberman-Australian Shepherd mix. She died several years ago. I’ve been searching for a non-shedding dog since but all the good ones I come across seem to slip right through the cracks and I haven’t had luck yet.

Q: Coffee or tea?

A: Both, though mostly tea.

Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: On a trip to Sitka, Alaska, I visited a bear sanctuary and fed a bear apple slices.

Q: Describe yourself in five words.

A: Dependable, dedicated, helpful, creative, and caring.

Q: What is the oldest, weirdest or most sentimental item in your closet?

A: The most sentimental items in my closet are my children’s childhood blankets.

Q: If you could sit down at lunch with your favorite hero, who would it be and what would you most like to talk about?

A: Definitely Col. William Prescott of the Battle of Bunker Hill fame. I’ve always liked learning about him in school and thought he did some amazing things. After my reunion when I started genealogy research of my birth father’s family ancestral tree, I discovered that Col. William Prescott was my 1st cousin 7X removed. I would talk to him about his aunt, Sarah Prescott, who was my sixth great grandmother.

Q: Sent off to live on a deserted island (yet with all the necessities for survival), which three books would you want to have with you?

A: Foraging & Feasting: A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook so I would have something to eat; Making Shelter in the Wild so I could have someplace to sleep; and a Soduko booklet so I would have something to do.

Q: What do you do for fun when you’re not writing?

A: Let’s see, I like crocheting and needlepoint, paint by number, and lots of reading. I love doing genealogy research and trying to solve the puzzles brought upon by DNA matches. I’m also an avid Scrabble player but don’t get to play often. And when I have the opportunity, I love jigsaw puzzles.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I am in the research state. There were seven elected presidents before George Washington. I want to learn more about them, about the duties of those elected presidents, and how they were elected. What else they did in their personal lives. Did they have families and who were they. What were those years like and how did events of daily life affect those men. I became interested in this when I heard it mentioned on the radio and when I asked around no one seemed to know anything about this. I don’t recall having learned about this in school.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you and your work?

A: I can be found online at the following places:

Facebook: Gloria Oren Writing Ventures
Facebook Group (women only):
Women Writers, Editors, Agents, and Publishers
Twitter:
http://twitter.com/gloriaoren
Google +: https://plus.google.com/u/0/+GloriaOren
Goodreads:  http://www.goodreads.com/user/show/2049009-gloria
Pinterest:  http://pinterest.com/gloriaoren/
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/gloriaoren

And of course, they can visit my website at http://gloriaoren.com.

I also have two blogs: Gloria’s Corner http://gloriascorner.com and Family Links Matter http://familylinks.blog.com/ http://

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: If you do have a chance to read Bonded at Birth, it would be greatly appreciated if you took a minute to post a review on Amazon. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. It is available at https://www.amazon.com/Bonded-Birth-Adoptees-Search-Roots/dp/0692722289

 

 

 

Tales From The Family Crypt: When Aging Parents Die, Sibling Rivalry Lives

CoverDebbyEbook-3

What happens when sibling rivalry goes awry? As challenging as it is during one’s formative years when it’s an ongoing quest to prove via Mother’s Day gifts, handmade cards and good deeds that “Mom likes me the best,” fractious relationships with brothers and sisters tend to escalate in adulthood if a deceased parent’s final wishes are neither written down nor carried out. In her latest book, Tales From The Family Crypt: When Aging Parents Die, Sibling Rivalry Lives, Deborah Carroll serves up an entertaining and insightful retrospective of dysfunctional family dynamics as seen through the lens of personal experience.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: It’s often said that truth is stranger than fiction. Would you say that’s an apt label for the vitriolic interactions that transpire(d) in your own family tree?

A: Let’s put it this way: My family tree is so screwy, even monkeys are frightened! I leave it to the reader to decide if our story is stranger than fiction but I surely think it is. If what transpired wasn’t so bizarre, I’d have had no tale to tell. In a way it was easier than fiction to write because I didn’t have to create the plot or the conflict, I just had to live it. (Okay, maybe that part wasn’t so easy after all.)

Q: At what point either growing up or becoming an adult did you and your husband start to see that your respective siblings were teetering toward dysfunctional? Was there an inciting incident, for instance, that ignited a succession of destructive behaviors toward one another or did such behaviors actually exist all along and become more pronounced with the passage of time?

A: We thought we had normal families growing up. In retrospect we were forced to conclude something must have been rotten in Denmark (or on Long Island and in Philadelphia, respectively) for things to go so horribly awry. Kids know no reality other than their own, though, so perhaps very few find out early in life something is amok in their families. When my husband and I were young marrieds and beginning our life together, we began to notice things which didn’t quite fit our vision of happy family, though. When my sister-in-law had children – the first in the family to do so – she chose to have her kids call her friends “Aunt” and “Uncle” but they didn’t call their actual aunts and uncles that. My mother- and father-in-law were afraid to ask her about it. That began a lifelong pattern of people in the family not communicating honestly how they felt. When my sister inexplicably stopped talking to me and refused to say why, that was a red flag too.

Q: What prompted you to write a book about these unsettling experiences?

A: We didn’t see these difficulties coming and my husband and I are analytical people, so we’ve spent years discussing how the whole family saga played out. We wanted to understand our part in it and even more so to make sure we did things differently with our children. When the last of our four parents died and the drama reached astronomical levels of dysfunction, it was such an interesting story I thought it worthy of sharing. Maybe more importantly, the number of people who have similar craziness in their own family is astounding. Reading about how we dealt gracefully with the adult sibling rivalry and the isolation from our family could help others know they’re not alone and maybe learn strategies for dealing with this dysfunction.

Q: I take it that their reaction to your decision to publish was less than pleasant?

A: OMG! I didn’t use anyone’s real name or any identifiers so no one would have or could have known who our family members really were unless they told them. So, they could’ve just kept quiet and no one would’ve been the wiser but if our siblings were that smart, we might not have had a problem in the first place. Nope, they didn’t keep quiet. First they wrote scathing reviews of the book on Amazon. My brother-in-law wrote under the screen name MISC. I think he meant ANON as in anonymous but he’s not the sharpest tool in the shed. It was obvious it was his review from the things he said. Not only did he write a review (which started with “Hitler wrote a book justifying his behavior too.”), he began commenting on every review. All were 4- and 5-star reviews and there were about 20 or so fairly soon.

On every positive review he’d write:

Misc says:

I happen to know this is one of the authors (sic) friends and this review along with most of the other highly rated reviews is bogus.

Christ 1 star

Hitler 5 stars”

He’d add other abusive remarks and direct them to me personally. My favorite was, You and your husband Ned Carroll have once again crossed a line but this time it will not be tolerated. The real truth will be revealed and this fantasy that seems to play out in your head which you call a book, will soon be obliterated. The best is yet to come Debby and Ned Carroll.”

I was pretty curious to see what “best was yet to come” and what the “real truth” was because honestly I lead a pretty boring life so if he was going to say something juicy about me I wanted to hear it. Alas, he revealed nothing. And eventually Amazon deleted his comments (And then he’d write another comment about how I was deleting his comments but they deleted those, too.) but they did leave his “Hitler” review and you can see it if you check out the listing on Amazon.

My sister-in-law employed a different strategy. She and her daughter wrote nasty reviews, not of the book but of me, referring to me as “evil, controlling, egomaniacal and nasty.” They hired a lawyer who threatened to sue me. Ultimately, he had to admit there was no case and no lawsuit would be forthcoming. I think he advised them to delete their reviews or maybe Amazon did but both reviews are gone and I haven’t heard from them since I spoke to their lawyer and let him know he failed at scaring me because I knew I had a legal right to tell my story. My niece also Googled my name and contacted other places my work (unrelated to the book) appears to trash me and threaten them for publishing my writing. I sent her a few emails telling her what she was doing constituted defamation and eventually, after their lawyer told her to stop, she did.

Q: The argument could be made that certain things which happen in the privacy of one’s home shouldn’t be aired publicly. What are your own thoughts about that?

A: Believe it or not, there were anecdotes about our siblings I did not share. I included incidents germane to the family dynamic but left out personal aspects of their lives that would embarrass them but not add anything to the story.

Q: The book is defined as “narrative nonfiction memoir.” Why did you take this particular approach rather than penning it as straight fiction with just enough separation of personality tags so as to keep the wrongdoers from going ballistic?

A: I could have written this book as fiction. Many people suggested that would be a kinder and gentler way to go, rather than to present our family members as they are in real life. I opted for nonfiction because I thought if I made up characters who did the things our siblings actually did, readers would not find them believable. My story reads like fiction but I thought it important for readers to know every word is true. I felt the story was more powerful because it was real. Seriously, if you read a fictional work about a character who sued her sister over, among other things, 8 plastic corn cob holders, wouldn’t you reject that plot point as exaggerated and ridiculous? But it happened. As to the wrongdoers going ballistic, I suppose I just didn’t care anymore. None of our siblings speak to us anyway so I had nothing to lose. Readers fully understand why that estrangement is in many ways a gift. These are not people anyone would want in their life.

Q: Okay, let’s say that Hollywood comes calling and wants to make a movie about Tales From The Family Crypt. Who’s your dream cast or would you go with an ensemble of unknown actors so as to make the story more relatable to an audience?

A: I love this question and this is the first time anyone has asked that. Unknowns? No way, I want big names! My husband has to be played by Richard Gere because he’s always thought he looked like him. (No comment, I prefer to stay married.) Me? Young me should be played by Jennifer Lawrence. She works and plays well with crazy based on her performance in “Silver Linings Playbook” and she can shoot to kill based on “The Hunger Games,” so I think she could handle our crazies. Older me? Susan Sarandon. We have similar hair.

Q: What was the hardest part of the book for you to write?

A: The end. I try to look back and see where it all went wrong. It was painful and difficult to figure out but for the book to be an honest account, it had to be done.

Q: And the easiest?

A: My father’s death chapter. It was (and yes I know this makes me sound a bit nuts) beautiful to live through, to witness his graceful and peaceful transition from life to death. He died in my home with my husband, my three then-young daughters, and me. He lived his last few weeks surrounded by love and died the same way. It was my honor and privilege to take care of him.

Q: Did catharsis enter into the equation during the book’s development?

A: I’ve counseled others repeatedly – if you live through something like this and you are holding on to anger, to grief, to guilt, to unresolved issues, write it down so you can let it go.

Q: Litigious society we live in these days, did you consult an attorney prior to moving forward with publication?

A: I didn’t speak to an attorney but I researched the laws carefully. While I could have legally used their real names, I chose not to in order to have an extra measure of privacy protection for my siblings.

Q: Let’s step back to childhood a moment. There’s been no shortage of psychological studies on whether the influences of a dysfunctional home life will cause children to either repeat those patterns when they become parents themselves or do a complete reversal (i.e., a son whose father was frequently absent will subsequently want to be a very engaged “pal” to his own offspring). What was the case for you and your husband in terms of raising and guiding your children?

A: We have three amazing daughters, all of whom have grown up to be teachers, a lovely reflection of who they are. Our experiences with our families absolutely directed the parents we were and the way we raised our daughters to love and respect each other, to value the family and to understand that strong relationships require work and begin with love and honesty and trust.

Q: What is your family like today?

A: We are so grateful. We laugh together, we’ve worked together and played together and now it’s passing to the next generation as we have the most awesome two-year-old grandson who pretty much rocks the Carroll family world. I think the dysfunctional family made us treasure what matters most – each other. In a way we felt like it was us against the world at times and we came through it stronger.

Q: If you had life to live over, what would you do differently to change your family situation?

A: Hardest question ever… I’d implore our parents to communicate more or at least some and to be honest with all of us, something they were woefully unable to do. Maybe I would have tried to understand the siblings better earlier on. They are challenged people. I used to see some of them as evil. I’ve come to understand they’re not evil, just a mess.

Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: I’m not as nice as I’d like to be but not as bad as my siblings would have anyone believe. On a lighter note, I run 4-5 miles a few times a week. It helps me process and write.

Q: There’s nothing that can tear families apart faster or uglier than estate issues, especially in cases where beneficiaries assume a level of entitlement that doesn’t necessarily mirror reality. Is there anything people can do to prepare for – as well as avoid – the types of infighting, inheritance battles and rivalries that erupt when parentals pass away?

A: Absolutely! The power lies mostly in the parents’ hands, though. Communication is key. The battles can largely be avoided with open talks about end of life care and wishes, about death and money, three things people are loath to talk about. We need to tear down those taboos if we are to avoid the fighting. Newsflash: you are going to die, talking about it won’t make it happen and not talking about it won’t stop it from happening. But talking about it can make it easier on the dying and the living.

Q: Why should people read your book and what do you believe is its strongest takeaway value?

A: Read it first because it’s a good story, well told. (If I do say so myself. But then reviewers say so, too, so it must be true.) Second, it may help you deal with any family issues you might encounter and if you are like most people, sadly you may encounter them so forewarned is forearmed.

Q: Is this the first book you’ve written? Will it be the last?

A: I’ve written two parenting books, published by Penguin and Berkley Books in the 90s. I even appeared on Good Morning America with one of them. (One of the most embarrassing events of my life. If you meet me, ask.) I’ve just updated and self-published that one, “Raising Amazing Children: While Having A Life of Your Own.” It’s on Amazon. I’m currently working on a children’s book, “Real Grandparents: From A-Z, Everything A Grandparent Can Be.” I’m writing that one because I don’t love the way grandparents are portrayed in children’s books. They seem to wear nightcaps and knit (not that there’s anything wrong with that!) and spend a lot of time rocking and not in a good way! My grandparent friends are vibrant and active people. We run, we play hard, we work hard, we’re creative and talented. I think it’s time for an image upgrade for all of us grandparents out there redefining aging.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: If you read my book, please consider reaching out to me to let me know your thoughts. I’m so grateful to readers and especially to those who take a moment to check in and share their reactions.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: I’m blogging at talesfromthefamilycrypt.wordpress.com

Twitter @thefamilycrypt

You Came Here to Die, Didn’t You?

You CAme Here To Die

Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves and the only way they could do this is by not voting. – Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Visit Facebook any day of the week and you’ll see no shortage of political divisiveness, rants about corrupt government, and frustrations that American life as we know it continues to go from bad to worse. Is it any wonder that when people stay away from the ballot box on Election Day, it’s usually because there are either no candidates they feel they can trust or they’re convinced that their votes won’t make even an angstrom of difference?

During the turbulent 1960s, a young white California coed seized an opportunity to step up for something she believed in and embarked on a bold mission to register black voters in the Deep South, a decision that put her face-to-face with staggering poverty, rampant illiteracy, and the Ku Klux Klan. In her moving memoir about the Civil Rights Movement – You Came Here to Die, Didn’t You? – author Sherie Labedis paints a compelling picture of an era that is only a scant 50 years in the rearview mirror but which still resonates today.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: A lot of the best writers often declare that they were voracious readers growing up. Was this the case with you?

A: I had two passions growing up. One was riding my horse and the other was reading. My students often don’t like to read, but it’s the best way to flights of fantasy and trips to foreign lands. In high school I took a class called Advanced Reading. We had to read books from a list colleges would expect us to know and we kept a journal of our responses. My favorite author was/is John Steinbeck. My father used to play in Zane Grey’s backyard and he wrote about the West, so he was a usual companion. I also enjoyed the breadth and detail in books by Tolstoy.

Q: What/who are you reading now?

A: My husband and I are reading The Thurber Carnival by James Thurber aloud to one another. I have just finished Ken Follett’s Winter of the World, book two in his Century Trilogy. South Carolina: A History by Walter Edgar helps me understand the “whys” of my book. I am just beginning Carol Ruth Silver’s Freedom Rider Diary: Smuggled Notes from Parchman Prison.

Q: Was the craft of writing something that came easily to you when you were a student at Ponderosa (coincidentally, our shared alma mater)?

A: I was a very successful English student. I loved the little creative writing I did. However, I couldn’t get the knack of writing essays and reports until I started teaching.

Q: What did you imagine yourself doing as a career after graduation and who or what was the strongest influence in shaping that dream?

A: I didn’t know “what I wanted to be.” Cowboy was high on my list and I had great math skills. I needed more information on what the possibilities were. You and I went to a small high school with limited offerings. I transferred to the University of California Berkeley. Their schedule of classes filled a book. I didn’t even know what many of the words meant. I’d found the place to discover what the possibilities were.

Q: Where did your passion for civil rights begin and what led you to volunteer?

A: I blame an English teacher and my book is dedicated to him. Television brought all the pain and suffering of the Civil Rights Movement into our living room. My English and social studies teachers considered it their responsibility to get us to pay attention. Bruce Harvey, the Advanced Reading English teacher asked the class what we were willing to die for. It was a rhetorical question for most of the students. Not for me. I wanted to know. When I arrived at UC Berkeley, I was quite aware that the answer to that question was part of the possibilities I would consider.

Two events moved me. One was in 1964 and, in the world of civil rights, it was called Freedom Summer. Black civil rights organizations recruited white college students to go to the Deep South to register black voters. Mississippi and Alabama had made it absolutely obvious that they would not allow integration and that they didn’t mind terrorizing and killing blacks to keep it from happening. Civil rights organizations like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) thought that if white college students were beaten and killed on television, racists might back down. This was a miscalculation. Three voter registration workers, Mickey Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman, disappeared in Mississippi. Schwerner and Goodman were white and Chaney was black. It was forty-five days before their bodies were found, killed by the Ku Klux Klan. How could that happen in my country?

The second event was the Selma March in March of 1965. Six hundred blacks, men, women, children and old folks determined to march from Selma, Alabama, fifty-four miles to the statehouse steps in Montgomery to get down on their knees to pray for the right to vote. They never got out of Selma. They were stopped by a wall of police on horseback, carrying clubs, guns, and tear-gas. The beatings were so severe and so widespread the day is known as Bloody Sunday. Something in me snapped. I was now eighteen and when Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at colleges asking for volunteers for a second Freedom Summer, I signed up with his Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Q: You were only eighteen, white middle-class and educated when you arrived in Pineville, South Carolina. You write that you were simultaneously horrified and overwhelmed. Why?

A: My parents were struggling to be middle class. Even so, I had a horse. We could come and go as we pleased. We had food, a warm home and, even though my mom made most of my clothes, we had all the clothes we needed. We had medical care. My dad had a car and, although it was an old clunker, my mom had one, too. When I was accepted to Berkeley my mom had to get a job at the post office to pay my way. We didn’t get what we wanted when we wanted it – sometimes we never got “it.”

The black world of South Carolina was the opposite of what I had known. In Charleston I learned that black people didn’t have health care when I met a woman dying with a rotting leg that could be smelled for blocks. Flies flew around a sore full of pus and her leg ballooned below it. I was sure “someone” in the black community would do something. I was told to report the problem to the church and they would do the best they could.

People were starving, barefoot, overworked and illiterate. They had mules and wagons, not cars. Most had no electricity or telephone in their tumbledown cabins, some of which had existed during slavery. Plumbing was outside including the pump for water. They were controlled by the white power structure and the Ku Klux Klan. We were there to help them register and vote because until they did, nothing would change.

Q: Knowing that three volunteers had been murdered during Freedom Summer in 1964, how did your family react to your wanting to leave a sheltered upbringing in Northern California and immerse yourself in the thick of poverty, racism, illiteracy and Ku Klux Klan violence?

A: Remember the adage, “You reap what you sow.” I’m afraid that is where they found themselves. They taught us to do what we thought was right. If we believed it, we had to commit to it. They had no idea where that philosophy would lead. They didn’t preach at my brother and me, they modeled the behavior for us. So, when I showed up and said I was going south, they were in a hard place. They were afraid. They were angry. They gulped and backed me up.

Q: Speaking of the KKK, what sort of tactics did they employ to try to encourage you and your fellow volunteers to leave?

A: The most frightening situations involved fire at the elementary school and the church where we had our mass meetings. They did drive-bys. They shot into our parking lot. One night several pickups pulled up and turned their lights on high and just sat there while we cringed inside the office. I was driven off the road and there were miscellaneous beatings and arrests.

Q: Looking back, what was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome as the veritable stranger in a strange land?

A: I was one of three white volunteers from the Bay Area. Our job was to get blacks to register to vote regardless of the consequences and one of those consequences might be death. Other possible consequences included losing one’s job, being taken off the food subsidy list and there was always the Klan. So here I was at eighteen going door by door trying to get these folks to believe me and trust that what I was telling them was the truth. “Trust and believe.” Now why would black Americans – they were called “colored” then – not trust white people? Two hundred and fifty years of history was part of it. A second reason was that most of them had never been “touching” close to white people before. Theirs was a world where they had to step off the sidewalk or cross the street if a white person walked toward them. Third, every rule of southern culture was supported by violence and retribution.

We were aliens. We came from 3000 miles away. We had different ideas, manners and language. Language was a major problem. The people of Pineville, where I spent most of the summer, had a Geechee or Gullah accent. The Gullah People, who came from the west coast of Africa, live on the Sea Islands off the coast of South Carolina and Georgia. Theirs is the most complete and oldest “African” language in the United States. I expected to hear a southern accent, not an African dialect and it was very difficult to understand. We, on the other hand, spoke collegeese – long sentences made up of big words about things that were largely unimportant to them. Stated simply, we wanted them to risk their lives on something that probably couldn’t happen and they didn’t trust us, didn’t like us, were afraid of us and couldn’t talk to us.

Q: What is something about the Civil Rights Movement that most people don’t know?

A: One thing is that it was made up of “common” people. Local black teenagers – high school students – did most of the work for our project. We didn’t have a Martin Luther King, Jr. Newspaper men weren’t hanging around to watch what happened. No photographers caught the flames when our church was burned to the ground. We were just folks who thought change was necessary and we were willing to work until that change happened.

Most of the people I knew were not nonviolent. I was in a farming community. Men carried rifles because they were hunters and because they wanted to protect their families. If we took kids to a demonstration, we frisked them first to be sure they “seemed” nonviolent.

Recently I met a black woman who was part of The Movement in Atlanta, Georgia, in the early sixties. She was interested in my book, because she didn’t know there were white people involved in The Movement. Freedom Summer recruitment was about 1000 whites. Our Second Freedom Summer recruitment was about 400. Whites were part of the Freedom Rides, but most of the demonstrations were carried out by blacks. However, whites did take part.

Q: Tell us about some of Pineville’s bright spots that reinforced your commitment to the causes you believed in.

A: Let me refer you to your “Share your favorite scene from the book” later in thisinterview.Mrs. Crawford made a conscious decision to trust me with her life. Each time someone got on the bus to go to the courthouse they trusted us. That’s incredibly heady for an eighteen-year-old considering what the dangers were. This is my best example of “connecting” with local folks. It just took months to get to this point.

Q: If you were newly graduated today, where would you go to make a difference?

A: Register and vote. Pay attention to the issues. If you want to “go” somewhere, there are still a Peace Corps and a Teacher Corps. Many churches have projects helping the poor and disadvantaged here and abroad

Q: What inspired you to write You Came Here to Die, Didn’t You?

A: I have a South Carolina family I will describe in another question. We’ve been family since 1965. In 2000 I took my husband Joe down to meet them. He made a video of the family reunion our visit engendered. Later that year I was going to have lunch with a dear friend. I wanted to give her a special gift, so I took the video and shared it with her. “You have to write a book about this,” she said. She edited every word. The book went its own way as books will and it is not about the Sarah Butler family, but it definitely started with them.

Q: What’s the story behind the title you gave your book?

A: Let me share an excerpt from my book.

Monday, June 14, 1965

“You came here to die, didn’t you.” It isn’t a question. It’s a challenge from a scrawny Negroteenager in faded bib overalls. His bare chest glistens in the hot Georgia sunshine. He reeks of body odor and my stomach lurches as I look up at his black eyes, then down to his unshod feet in the grass.

I’m standing on the sidewalk at Morris Brown, a Negro college in Atlanta. The Civil Rights Movement is front-page news across the United States. As an eighteen-year-old, white, female voter-registration volunteer from California, I’d expected to be applauded upon arrival for a week of voter-registration training. Instead of a welcoming committee and pep rally, only this young man’s almost angry dare welcomes me.

“I’m talkin’ to you,” he snaps. I force myself to meet his eyes. “If you didn’t come here to die, it’s time you git back into that car and head back to New York, Chicago or wherever you come from.”

Q: Share your favorite scene from the book.

A: Canvassing I met a lady named Rebecca Crawford. She lived alone in a little cabin. She told me she had registered, but she hadn’t. I tried to convince her to go to the courthouse with us – to help other folks register. She said she would, but I was sure she wouldn’t. When the bus pulled out of the parking lot going to the courthouse, she was walking up the road to catch it. Once on the bus she told me she had never registered and that she could neither read nor write. I told her all she had to do was write her name. She tried, but the bus ride was too short. I promised to “Come and learn me how to write so I cain regster next time.” My favorite scene is about that day.

The road is just as long and as hot as before. Far ahead, I can see someone moving toward me. I recognize the straw hat first, then a basket on her arm and finally that beaming, delighted face.

“It’s you!” She sets her basket down in the middle of the road and raises her arms to heaven as if in thanks. I shake her hand and smile back into her eyes.

Before I can say anything, she says, “Chile, Ah bin wonderin’ where you was. Sunday Ah prayed that you come an’ learn me how to write.”

I explain I have been busy trying to get other folks to register.

“When Ah gots up this mornin’ Ah was feeling something extra good was gon’ happen today. Ah clean my house real good. Ah felt so gran’ I come on down the road. Ah saw you an’ Ah knew what that good was. Look what Ah can do.”

She bends down and picks up a stick. With a steady head she writes Rebecca slowly and deliberately in the sand.

Note: I remembered this story “purely.” I’d written it down in my journal in shorthand, but I’d never forgotten Mrs. Crawford. (I actually wrote to her until she died and I still write to her daughter.) This was the first story I published. It was the lead story in Chicken Soup for the African American Woman’s Soul and it is part of You Came Here to Die, Didn’t You.

Q: Were there any surprise rewards that came to you from penning your experiences for publication?

A: There were delightful rewards. The first came before the book was even written. I was at the release weekend for Chicken Soup for the African American Woman’s Soul. There were three days of book events.  We read our stories at dinner one night. After I read mine, a black lady came up to me with tears running down her face. She took both of my hands and said, “You were talking about my mother and grandmother, my aunts and all of my relatives. You made me see them in a way I never have before and I am so proud.” It doesn’t get any better than that.

I wanted to see if other folks remembered each event as I did. So, I interviewed everyone I could find who had been involved that summer. What a marvelous experience that was. I did the interviews in person and my husband videotaped each one. Why marvelous? I hadn’t seen most of them in over forty years. We’d been “in the trenches” together and seeing them was a powerful experience.

People come to my book-signings and tell me their stories about how they dealt with discrimination in the 60s. There was much more going on than we thought.

Q: Some voter rights volunteers served, went home, and lost touch with the communities in which they had worked. Fifty years later, what is your relationship with people in Pineville, South Carolina?

A: I have mentioned Sarah Butler’s family before. I met her canvassing. She was already a voter, but she wanted me to talk to her husband. She was in her sixties and she was so sweet to me. She was the place I would go when I was just a scared kid. I desegregated a black college in Columbia, SC. At Thanksgiving and Christmas my dorm closed and I had nowhere to go. So, I went to Sarah’s. We wrote and talked on the phone until she died. On her deathbed she told her daughter Lottie that I was a good one, meaning white. She said that Lottie should keep me, that we were sisters. And, Lottie and I have acted on that request. Lottie turns 93 in September and I will be at her birthday party as I try to be each year. I am Aunt Sherie to two generations of Butler descendents. I have other relationships in the community as well. I have been blessed!

Q: What were some of the difficulties you encountered in getting the book “out there?”

A: I had just begun the book when a book agent told me that the Civil Rights Movement was over and that no one would care about what I had to say. I couldn’t get an agent. I couldn’t get a publisher, so I published myself. I am not a marketer, but I am doing the best that I can. As my southern sister Lottie would say, I’m waiting on the Lord to show me the way while I plug along.

Q: What would you say is the book’s strongest takeaway message for readers?

A: VOTE! Get involved. There are problems that need to be solved. We can’t trust that someone else will solve them for us.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I’m writing about my family. I come from a bunch of characters and they all told stories.

You Came Here to Die, Didn’t You is not a finished project. Making it a household word – or at least a schoolhouse word – is an enormous endeavor.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: I have a webpage at sherielabedis.com. On the webpage you can find information about the book, about me, teaching resources, discussion questions for book clubs and my blog.

 

Who Am I? How My Daughter Taught Me to Let Go and Live Again

megan

Balancing single parenthood, work, anxiety, and everything else the world throws at our feet is difficult for anyone. Adding postpartum depression, divorce and domestic violence into the mix and a tale of survival emerges. In author Megan Cyrulewski’s debut memoir, Who Am I? How My Daughter Taught Me to Let Go and Live Again, readers will follow the author through a journey of loss, pain, hope and eventually, success. Written through the eyes of a young woman who battled life’s most heart wrenching events, readers will find a gripping, unforgettable story that will leave a mark on their hearts for a very long time.

Interviewer: Christy Campbell

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Give us some background on why you chose to write a memoir.

Basically, I did not pass the Bar Exam so I had to find something else to do before I was going to retake it. Everyone told me I should write a book about what happened with my postpartum, divorce and child custody battle, so that’s what I did. Lucky for me, Black Opal Books (my publisher) offered me a contract!

What kind of reaction do you hope to receive from those who your memoir? 

There are two main points I want to get across: First, postpartum depression affects millions of women and nobody should be afraid nor ashamed to seek treatment; and second, emotional domestic violence is just as traumatic as physical domestic violence – it’s just harder to recognize. I want women who might be in a damaging emotional abusive relationship to read my book and know there is help out there for them.

What genre do you feel your type of book fit well into?

Hmmm…I’m not sure. Obviously a memoir but I don’t want to pick a specific target audience. I think my book could impact anyone of any age and/or gender.

Tell us about when your desire to become an author became a reality–had you always wanted to write novels?

My major in undergraduate school was in Journalism but because I wanted to move out of my parents’ house, I took the first job I could find, which was a non-profit. I stayed in that career for 8 years and then switched to law school. I loved writing my memoir and I hope it helps people who are in similar situations. I look forward to continuing my writing career and will write crime fiction novels. There have been some things that have happened since the book ended, so maybe I will have a sequel in a few years.

Are there any memoirs you’ve read through the years that have inspired you when writing your own?

I loved “Her” by Christa Parravani. Her book was my inspiration. I thought that if she had the strength to write about the death of her twin sister, then I had the strength to write my story.

With today’s demands of self-published authors, how to you balance both the writing and marketing aspects of the job?

Luckily I have a wonderful publisher; however, I’m a total Type A personality and have been marketing nonstop since I signed my contract. I’ve had to learn a lot about the marketing aspect in a short amount of time. Now that I’ve kind of got the marketing part down, I am able to balance my writing and marketing.

Are you currently working on anything new?

I’m working on a crime fiction novel. I don’t have a title yet but hopefully it will be published next year.

Share with us one thing about yourself that readers would be surprised to learn.

I share a ton of stories on my blog about my daughter, Madelyne. Most people would be surprised to learn, however, that for 30 years of my life, I never wanted kids. In fact, one of the reasons my ex-husband and I got married was because neither one of us wanted kids. I address this in my book but it definitely shocks new friends I meet on Facebook!

I see you have a blog, which is such a huge means of reaching readers and authors. What in particular compelled you to start one?

Part of my contract with my publisher was that I needed to start a website. I did some research and I learned exactly what you stated in this questions – it’s a huge mean of reaching readers and authors.

What are some topics that you are passionate about that might be featured on your blog?

I have a series on my blog called Authors Supporting Authors. I have featured 100+ authors on my site because I never turn anyone away. I blog about motherhood and Madelyne because she is hilarious! Sometimes random things put into my mind and I write a post about it.

What is one piece of advice you would give aspiring authors?

Don’t let anyone’s judgment deter you from writing. Keep in mind that you can’t please everybody. Feedback is good as well as constructive criticism but in the end, you have to do what is right for you. Also, get an editor. I thought I was good at grammar – until I got back my first round of edits. Now I tell everyone that an editor is an author’s gift from God!

Lastly, tell us where readers can find your book, as well as your blog.

My book is slated to release on August 2nd. You can read any updates, pertinent information or my blog on my website, www.megancyrulewski.com

 

 

The Ugly Daughter

The Ugly Daughter

“Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it”-Helen Keller

Tragedy and heartbreak resulting from a past of horrific abuse may sound like the next bestselling fiction novel in a world of dramatic storytelling. But for Julia Legian, author of The Ugly Daughter, there is nothing imaginary about harrowing, life-changing subjects such as abuse at the hands of family members one trusts the most. Packed with a powerful message about finding your strengths and leaning on God to restore faith, The Ugly Daughter is a memoir readers will not be able to put down, and will remember long after they do.

Interviewer: Christy Campbell

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Tell us a little bit about yourself—Julia Legian, Author Extraordinaire!

I was born in 1972 in South Vietnam, though truth be told nobody in my family really knows my real date of birth. During the war time I suppose people had other priorities than birth registries. My childhood was pretty tough, and that is the subject of my memoir The Ugly Daughter. In the early 80s my family managed to escape Vietnam as “boat people” and after a few years in a refugee camp, we immigrated to Australia, where I live till this day. I’m happily married to my husband, Simion and I have a wonderful son, Jeremy.

Your latest book is autobiographical. Tell us about The Ugly Daughter.

The Ugly Daughter is my memoir. It covers the early years of my life from a young age till the time we escaped Vietnam and headed to Australia. I had what many would consider a horrific upbringing and despite all that, I managed to survive and become a successful person in my own right. I wrote the book to demonstrate that anything is possible as long as you have firm faith and believe in yourself. I also hope I can inspire and encourage others to persevere and better their lives.

Why did you choose the genre you write in?

I’m not a professional writer. I am just an ordinary person with an extraordinary story I’d like to share with the world in the hope of inspiring others.

How would you describe your writing style?

My writing style is brutally honest, simple and sincere and it’s written from my heart.

What are your preferred routines to use while writing?

I write at home in bed. The moment I wake up in the morning. I lie in bed and try to recall as many memories as I could. I have a notebook next to me and as soon as a new memory resurfaces I start to write it down. Later on during the day I go through my notes, sort them chronologically and refine the words until I am satisfied with the result. I have my favourite Buddha chill-out meditation music playing in the background to keep me calm and focused.

What genre do you consider your book(s)?

Definitely nonfiction; a memoir for women, I’d say.

Did you learn anything in particular that stood out for you once you began writing your book?

I learn the power of forgiveness, the power of letting go and to be compassionate towards the people that hurt me. I also the realization that I’m the only person that could free me from the prison of pain. And happiness is a personal decision and a personal choice and it has very little to do with our circumstances.

Are there any books that have most influenced your life?

Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill and The Power of Positive Living Norman Vincent Peale

The infamous question- what advice would you give to any aspiring and new authors out there?

Do what you love. Work hard and never give up on your dream.

What can we look forward from you in the future?

The Ugly Daughter Part 2 is the follow up to my first novel.

Where can readers find a plethora of information about Julia Legian online?

http://www.theuglydaughter.com/ would be a good start.

Also https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7827024.Julia_Legian

And https://www.createspace.com/4653825

 

A Conversation with Hollye Dexter

hollyedexter

I was introduced to Hollye Dexter through her work on Dancing at the Shame Prom (my review: http://blogcritics.org/book-review-dancing-at-the-shame1/). I gathered the courage to start sharing my writings, and pursuing my own kind of healing, from that collection, and as a fellow editor I could appreciate how much Hollye and her co-editor, Amy Ferris, put into bringing us Dancing at the Shame Prom.

When I met with her (via email), I was not surprised to discover that she has a huge heart, and a passion for empowering others and standing up for those who can’t always stand up for themselves. Some people have a way of expressing experiences so that others feel they are not alone, and they can get a new perspective, a chance to catch their breath, on something that previously felt suffocating and inescapable. It is an honor to converse with her, and to introduce her to others who may not yet know about her and her work.

Interviewer: Joanna Celeste

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Q: In your upcoming memoir, Like Wind to Wildfire, you share with us your journey through the darkness of self-doubt, anger, grief and loss at acute levels, to discovering the gift within your tragedy. What would you consider was/is most surprising aspect of your journey?

A: The fire was only the beginning of loss for us. For several years following, in an unbelievable series of disasters, our lives continued to be stripped from us layer by layer. I think what surprised me most was that I could find moments of true happiness while my life was falling apart. That I could play with my kids, laugh, sing, take long walks and even have a wonderful Christmas when we were financially destitute and alone.

Q: That’s a lovely example of the true strength of the human spirit. You mentioned in an interview with Huffington Post Live (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/30/value-of-suffering_n_4018582.html?mental-health) that you felt you had been trapped in your own grief—how were you able to gain the distance you needed to see the cycle and break free of it?

A: For a long time I couldn’t get over the injustice of what had happened to us. The constant thoughts in my head were: I was a good person, I didn’t deserve this, why is God punishing me? This is unfair. It turned around when I accepted the fact that, yes, it was unfair, and yes, it did happen. So now what? I broke free of it by getting to that place of acceptance, then physically forcing myself to do positive things, even when I didn’t want to, even when I didn’t believe it would help. I went to the library and checked out yoga videos and books on healing the spirit. I wrote a lot, which helps me to process. I literally pushed through it.

Q: Wow, and we’re glad that you did so you could share your story with us now. I loved how you talked about the art of discovering how to be happy when you had nothing. How has this philosophy shaped the way your life?

A: Being in such a broken down place while having two young kids forced me to be resourceful. The utilities are cut off? Let’s camp in the yard and roast marshmallows. No food in the refrigerator? I made pancakes and said, “Hey kids, it’s  ‘crazy-mixed-up-backwards-day.’” My kids loved that. I did those things because I had to – for them. But now I know that it’s possible, and it is the way I live. Even when we are in the thick of hellish problems, we will get outside and take a hike, go to the beach, sit outside and look at the stars. We watch comedies a lot when we’re stressed. Worry and fear are our worst enemies, and do nothing to alleviate a problem. It’s our choice to be happy, regardless of our circumstances. And now that we’ve already survived fire, bankruptcy and homelessness, we don’t sweat the smaller stuff. We know we’ll get through it.

Q: That’s a particularly fitting perspective to adopt during these tumultuous times. What is your process for writing memoir, particularly when you have to face things that are sometimes hard to re-experience or reveal?

A: My first memoir, Only Good Things, is the memoir of my childhood. It took me over eight years to write. It’s pretty explosive in terms of family skeletons and I will most likely never publish it, but publishing was never my objective with that one. Claiming my life, and embracing all of my truth, was the point. It was just something I needed to do. I was in a weekly writing group for several years while writing that book. Every week I’d read a chapter, and receive feedback from my peers It was invaluable. I learned so much from the other writers in the group as well. I am a big fan of writing groups.

With both memoirs, I sort of likened the writing process to vomiting.  You just get it all out, and it’s ugly, and it doesn’t feel great, but after, you feel lighter and freer. While writing Wind to Wildfire, my son was only in school for a few hours a day, so I sat my butt in the chair and wrote like my life depended on it. I did not answer the phone or the door. I didn’t wash a dish. If the cat puked I left it there until my writing time was up. I cried a lot. I had many, many revelations about myself and my patterns. And then my hours were up and I pulled myself back together as best I could and put on my mommy hat. It was intense, I’ll say that much. And I loved every minute of it.

As far as the revealing, author Debbie Ford said that keeping secrets is like trying to hold ten beach balls under water all your life. It’s exhausting. Letting it go was a hell of a lot easier than keeping those beach balls submerged, and freed up so much positive energy.

Q: That’s so true. On your blog, you share your passions for various activist programs, and the amazing things you have done to fight for the rights of others to be treated as they should (http://hollyedexter.blogspot.com/p/my-activism.html). What was the first moment that you knew, without a doubt, that you had to take a stand?

A: Oh lord. Well, I organized a strike against my sixth grade teacher for being unfair. Then I got kicked out of Girl Scouts for bucking the rules. So I guess I’ve got the personality for it —  I never could abide a bully.

But then again, life has tapped me for activism. I didn’t seek it out. Regarding my work in gun reform; my brother was shot at seven years old, my best friend was shot eight years ago, my husband’s best friend, a police officer, was shot and killed this year. And then there was Newtown. How could I not take a stand on gun violence? Animal rights- I was sued and had to stand up in court to protect my dog. LGBT Equality- I have two gay brothers.

Q: That’s awesome, because even with so many having reasons why they should take a stand, few are in the position where they feel they can. October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. What are some of the things you are doing to raise awareness of this issue?

A: Years ago I worked with Nicole Brown Simpson’s sisters on a domestic violence campaign. My own mother was a victim, and I witnessed it, so the issue is important to me. Now in my position with Moms Demand Action, we are focusing our efforts in October in raising awareness of the extreme danger guns present in domestic violence situations. Nine women are shot and killed every week by their partners. We are working on legislators locally and federally. I recently met with Congressman Buck McKeon (a man who bought his wife a gun for Mother’s Day) asking for his vote on background checks. Background checks aren’t the end-all solution, but they will save a lot of lives.

Q: Thank you. You are also speaking at the Women’s Leadership Legacy Conference in November, as the co-editor of your powerful anthology Dancing at the Shame Prom. Why is it important to speak at that conference, about the subject of shame?

A: I think that women carry so much shame, and it makes us turn inward on ourselves, and outward against each other. Much of it is self-imposed, but so much is imposed by society; body image shame, aging shame, mommy-shame. It’s rampant, and we need to eradicate it. The first step in destroying any kind of toxin is to expose it to light. That’s why I air all my dirty laundry in my writing and in workshops. I hope to set an example, encouraging other women to embrace their imperfection, and accept themselves exactly as they are. The first step is getting rid of the shame—it’s much easier to let it out than to hold it down.

Q: Amen to that! On your website, you offer consulting and editing to fellow writers, and workshops on “Righting Your Life by Writing Your Life” and “Rediscovering Your Muse”. What do you wish to give your clients/attendees?

A: Freedom. Confidence. Joy. Self-acceptance.

Q: Thank you for sharing the songs you wrote on your website/blog, for your previous memoir Only Good Things. You have four albums out, and as the President of the Music Heals Foundation, how have you seen music heal, not only in your own life but in those you have helped to find their own expression in melody?     

A: For almost a decade I taught music and art to teens in foster care and on probation. I ran a ten-week course. They came in angry, shut down and hurting, but within weeks of working on painting, songwriting, recording, I watched them blossom and become lighter. They smiled more. They built trust and friendships. They became more hopeful. It was the most rewarding work I have ever done.

Q: I hope you continue to have more of those kinds of workshops in the future. It’s lovely that you can sing with your husband and kids. Along with your family (and creativity), what are some of the things that have strengthened you and made everything else worth it? 

A: Faith. Hope. Nature. Beauty. Music. And my God I never would have survived without books— they are my lifeline.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to share?

A: I would like to thank you, Joanna, for your kindness and continued support for both this book and Dancing at the Shame Prom. And I wish you the very best and brightest future with your writing.

 

Learn more about Hollye’s work at http://hollyedexter.blogspot.com/, on Twitter @hollyedexter, and on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/DancingAtTheShameProm.

In The Shadow of Sacrifice: Thoughts on Life and Success

Calhoun

Born amid poverty, illiteracy, and abuse, Howard Calhoun lived his youth as a sharecropper’s son and spent a large portion of his formative years moving from one shack to the next. Saddled with a serious stuttering problem and demoralized by a succession of demeaning employment experiences, this soft-spoken observer of human nature went on to become an owner of several successful businesses with a workforce that numbers in the hundreds. For anyone who has ever felt overwhelmed, helpless or threatened by events beyond their control, In the Shadow of Sacrifice encourages them to look within, tap their faith and use that positive energy to recognize their own excellence.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Let’s start with the $64,000 question: who is Howard Calhoun and why is he here?

A: I consider myself as a simple person who acquired modest and humble values from an upbringing populated by a large, tight-knit family and a very involved community.  I believe I have been entrusted with some very important gifts that I have been compelled to share.

Q: You’ve had a number of diverse careers over your lifetime. Who – or what – charted your course to pursue each of them?

A: A relatively unknown school counselor was the first one to actually sit me down and tell me that he thought I ought to be thinking about something (college). That opened a world of opportunities to me! My successes from that point expanded my interests and desires and helped me identify and crystallize areas of strength without losing the value of multiple exposures.  I have tried to align my career choices with my passions and strengths.

Q: Which of your careers did you enjoy the most?

A: My last public job was as a school counselor. It was my most rewarding one. In a sense, it was as if I had come full circle from that afternoon as a senior when I had that conversation with a school counselor.  This has been my opportunity to give back as so much has been given to me. After I completed my public career, I have added several more professional counseling credentials to my resume and it has been a joy to make counseling and changing lives for the better my life work.

Q: Is there a single life-changing event that leads you to be the person you are today? If that event had not occurred, where do you think you would now be instead?

A: Actually, it was an event in which I did nothing. It occurred on the heels of a supervisor telling me that I would work where he damn well told me and that if I didn’t like it, then I could let the door knob hit me where the good Lord split me. And he finished with, “Now get the hell out of my office.” This occurred because I was inquiring about the fairness of being passed over for transfer to a shift of my choice by other employees with less seniority than me. The decision not to be rash taught me a value in restraint that I still use today.  It allowed me to continue my career without what most likely would have gotten me terminated, locked up and a criminal record. My young career did not have the sustainability at the time to take such a hit. Also, personally, mishandling that situation certainly would have placed me on a trajectory counter to my life’s choice.  A full recovery may still lay in wait.

Q: What was the inspiration that led you to tell your compelling story in the genre and format you chose?

A: My mother’s sacrifice and the encouragement of so many others.

Q: Tell us the meaning behind the book’s title and how it reflects the book’s core themes.

A:  The book is a loving tribute to my parents, siblings, and community; all who had a hand in my development, but especially my mother. With her life, she demonstrated unwavering love, strength, courage and faith. She encountered constant stress and uncertainty that was complicated by a disability (hearing impairment). I learned early that my speech impediment (stuttering) was not to be used for sympathy, pity, or an excuse. My personal and professional successes were made possible because of her examples. Amidst poverty, abuse, and illiteracy, the strength of my mother’s life in quietness proved too much not to be heard.  I am that voice. As a product of that sacrifice, her constant message of love, above all else, is the resounding inspirational theme throughout this book.

Q: Would you define your book in terms of being motivational or would it better fit the label of self-help?

A: It is both, but I could see how it may be considered more motivational because the format of loosely connected short stories easily translates into motivational pieces where self-help generally offers step-by-step guidance over many stories on how to achieve a specific goals. My book implores readers to draw comparisons and contrasts from my life’s experiences with theirs and to use those experiences as encouragement to enrichment their own lives.

Q: You’ve indicated that the book will resonate with anyone 15 years or older. What do you think a teen reader might have in common with a reader who is over the age of 60?

A: Life experiences and stories are common for all ages. A youth with few experiences can use help in connecting the dots.  As a more seasoned individual, I hope that telling my story is helpful in ensuring that youth get a better understanding of how their experiences at an early age can serve as a foundation for tomorrow.  Many of my stories in the book had their genesis before age fifteen.  For adults, many are still vibrantly chasing their dreams but sadly, many others have given up on what they deserve. I want my stories to keep the adult engaged, sober, and in pursuit of his or her dreams.

Q: Do young people today have it harder or easier than you did when you were growing up?

A: I think levels of difficulty are hard to compare and measure from one generation to the next because each era offers different variables measured against factors germane to that era.  So without a reliable tool to account for an accurate rate of adjustment for eras, I think to say one is harder than the other is…just too hard to say.  History has shown that advantages and disadvantages have neutralized each other so often by people failing to capitalize on advantages or others using disadvantages as motivation. One generation has limited opportunities and another generation, limits their opportunities. What gives!

Q: What are some of the takeaway values and lessons you’d like your readers to come away with by the final chapter?

A:  We are all products of sacrifice. If we are here in 2013, much has been sacrifice for us. We are a survival of billions of years of evolutions and to be tripped up by so many trivial matters shames our miracle birth, divine purpose, and our Creator.  My mother’s life was difficult, but it was as if her purpose was always greater than herself, perhaps connected to evolution in a way that always made the moment look small, yet appeared too important to waste in complaining or gossip.

Q: “Soft negative” is a recurring phrase in your book. What, exactly, does it mean?

A: A negative that camouflages not as a true negative. It may be even appear positive, but over times always produces negative outcomes. Human beings will stay in situations that they believe aren’t that bad a lot longer than they would in situations that are obviously bad.  Many times the negative effects of situations aren’t present at the outset or it may not be the intent of the person in charge of the situation, but it turns out to be negative, nonetheless. Often we just pass it off by saying that’s life or that is the way it is. Perhaps it is the lack of careful examinations of routine matters because they are routine matters that set us up for negative outcomes.

Q: How did you go about finding a publisher?

A: Actually, we operated as our own publisher, but did research to find the best support we could in helping us produce a quality product.  We were satisfied with much of what Book Master was able to do for us.

Q: What do you know about today’s publishing business that you didn’t know when you began this journey? Are there things you might have done differently?

A: It was a little harder than I anticipated and much more time consuming than I expected.  One pays dearly for what one don’t know. I did enjoy the experience. I wish I knew how to use a crystal ball. One of the things, I would do differently would involve learning more about the intricacies of book releases, so I would not mislead so many about release dates.

Q: How involved are you in the marketing and promotion of your new title?

A: I am involved in a lot of the promotion.  I try to do something at least every other day. I wish I could say daily, but because of the demands of my other ventures, I have to integrate marketing and promotion into my other commitments.  I could probably use someone dedicated to marketing.

Q: If your book were adapted to a movie, who do you think could best capture you?

A: Terrence Howard.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: Promoting this book to a larger audience, even foreign markets.  I do have enough material for an In the Shadow II, but I would like to maximize this project first.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you and your work?

A: www.facebook.com/calhoun705 and www.librikamedia.com.