A Chat With Steph Young

No Plus One cover.jpg

In the sort of “perfect” world the mothers of an earlier generation envisioned for their daughters, every “meet cute” that transpired in a laundromat would magically end up in a fairy tale wedding, every blind date set up by well intentioned friends would be Hugh Grant and not Eddie Munster, and every man who ever whispered all the right words would actually fulfill them. In the wackily imperfect world of the 21st century, however, finding “Mr. Right” has more likely become a quest for “Mr. Right For Now” or a reluctant acceptance that maybe matrimony just isn’t in the cards one has been dealt.

In her new book, No One Plus One: What To Do When Life Isn’t a Romantic Comedy, author Steph Young embraces a mirthful message of female empowerment – that instead of lamenting you’re seated at a table for one, you should be happy that you neither have to share your dessert nor be chided about whether you’re cheating on your diet.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Why do you feel the message of your book is important, especially in an era where we’re constantly bombarded with messaging that we’re not meant to live our lives as singletons?

A: My friend Jill Dickman and I dated a lot and we were single all the time. Though we were still working through our own disappointments, our friends would always come to us for advice when they were newly single. The common themes were boredom and loneliness. The loneliness seemed to stem from a lack of self-confidence. They wanted reassurance that they were desirable – don’t we all?

Predominately media makes a fairytale ending seem like the norm, which becomes the ultimate success for women. Try to think of a movie – even those with strong female lead characters – that doesn’t end with a love connection. So when your life isn’t turning out like the movies, women tend to assume something is wrong with us. Jill and I recognized this and set out to tell women that it’s okay to be single. And while we are single, whether for 2 weeks or 10 years, we should still enjoy life, not pine away for a perfect relationship, which seems to be up to chance or luck anyway. We promote the idea of feeling complete as is.

Q: If you could time-travel, what would you most like to go back and tell your younger self about romance, sex and happily ever after?

A: I probably did tell myself this, or somebody did…But really, just stop worrying, analyzing, fretting. Time will take care of everything. We are all on the right path to where we need to go. Single or taken, life is to be lived so don’t waste time analyzing if somebody likes you back or not. Just keep it moving and do what makes you happiest. Another huge piece of advice that finally clicked for me recently is to stop beating myself up. So much energy is spent feeling bad for what’s not going right. This is the biggest time waste/energy suck there is. It has absolutely no positive value. It doesn’t make you feel better; it doesn’t motivate or inspire. It just makes you feel like shit. It was a hard shift to stop doing this, but once I got some mastery of it, my life changed.

Q: What’s the stupidest thing you ever did in the name of love?

A: I haven’t done many stupid things in the name of love, but when you fall sometimes insecurity seeps in and gets the best of us. One time I was fearful that a guy I was dating was sleeping with other girls, so one night I waited outside his house in my car to see if I could catch a girl coming in or out of his place. Now as an older, wiser me, I would handle this insecurity with good communication and getting up the guts to talk to him about it. Or if I felt he wasn’t showing me the kind of love that made me feel secure, I’d probably just stop seeing him. I really admire a friend of mine who moved to Europe in the name of love. She left her whole life and started over for a really, really nice guy. It’s been working out so far. They are now married and have lived together for four years. We all have different paths; we can’t judge our own life on somebody else’s. I don’t know if I would be able to take a leap like that but I love that she did. It’s all part of the adventure.

Q: What inspired you to put pen to paper (or rather, fingers to keyboard) and turn your perspectives about living an unapologetic single life into a book?

A: The book started on a whim. It happened one day when Jill and I were sitting in our living room (we were roommates at the time) and going through old journals and cracking up at our ridiculous dating stories. Then we said out loud, “We should write a book” and so it was. We put together an outline and some ideas that afternoon and picked it up every so often. The slow process lasted for years until we got serious about it last year and set the goal to complete and publish No Plus One.

I had no idea what writing a book would entail, and I really didn’t think it was going to be so hard. I don’t think all messages make for good books, but we agreed the story + “how-to” nature along with the homework would warrant a short and snackable book.

Q: What governed the decision to write a book from two people as one?

A: We initially started writing the book as a fictional story from one character’s point of view, however it wasn’t really coming together, so we decided to switch to a non-fiction, how-to / self-help style. Our stories were so similar, we felt it would be less confusing to the reader for us to seam our stories together rather than following two separate narratives. We also wanted to get to the heart of the issues rather than drag the reader through backstory and set up.

Q: Tell us a bit about how the day-to-day development process worked for both of you.

A: We worked really well over Google docs. When one of us would get stuck, we would hit the other up and say, “Can you pick this up?”  Since we knew each other so well, we could essentially fill in the missing pieces. We were friends for a long time and we had both lived through a lot of the stories together.

Another tactic that worked was when we’d jump on the phone while both of us were in the live Google doc and talk and write. That was really efficient because by working together we didn’t let writers block settle in for too long. Either the other person would pick up and write, or we could talk through what we were really trying to say. Talking out loud often helped us find the right words to write down.

Q: How do you manage to stay away from envy, ego or jealousy from getting in the way of your friendship/partnership?

A; It can be an easy to fall into the trap of wanting individual success or feeling resentful if you feel like you’re contributing more than another person. When we decided to finish the book, Jill and I clearly outlined our individual goals, desires, and expectations on how we wanted to contribute to the project and what we wanted to get out of it. We agreed that our number one goal was to get our message out. We weren’t using this platform to turn a huge profit or grow our personal platforms, though either of those would be an added bonus. We really believed in our message and wanted to help women. We also outlined a partnership contract that identified how we would split everything should we turn a huge profit. The important part of that process wasn’t necessarily having a signed contract, but rather working through the contract together. It gave us a forum to communicate. It can be awkward approaching a friend about a contract. It can seem insulting, like you don’t trust the other person, but I’ve been on the loosing end of a friendship agreement before, so I was happy to go through any awkwardness if it meant saving our friendship in the end.

Q: What was the greatest challenge during the creative process?

A: The biggest challenge was writer’s block. It’s really hard to make a streamlined and cohesive story, especially sustained over nine chapters. Getting the words on the page was difficult, editing and re-writing parts that didn’t make sense was even more painful. Being persistent was also really hard. It took over a year of intense and consistent writing and editing. I have a full time job so the time I would write was at five o’clock in the morning. Getting up and doing this everyday was a challenge but it soon became habit.

Q: What do you know now that you didn’t know when this journey toward publication began?

A: I didn’t know how long the marketing process would be. Books are different than other products because the word of mouth is much slower. People need to read the book before they pass it along. So after a year of marketing we are still gaining interest and audience, we haven’t reached a tipping point yet, but I know with consistency of messaging we will find the right fans. With a traditional publisher, they will typically do a big marketing/PR push for you at the beginning. I talked to people who had gone the traditional route and still were not satisfied even though they had a big publisher behind them. They also had less control of the outcome. The decision to self-publish meant we had to do all the work, but we also control all the profit as well. We also can continue hitting new audiences and trying new marketing tactics long after the launch.

Q: Did you ever encounter writer’s block along the way? If so, how did you get past it?

A: All the time. Writer’s block, frankly, sucks. One tactic we used was to talk through it. I would call Jill or she me, and we’d say what we were trying to say. By the time we had talked for five minutes, we had formulated the words and could continue writing. Another tactic is free-form writing. When you can’t find the right words, sometimes just writing any words, even if they don’t make any sense, can get you past writer’s block. The last part is to read. When I run out of inspiration I remember to look outward. Sometimes I’d find the nugget I was missing while exploring other articles, books, artwork, etc. Also, the same goes for getting out of your house to experience the real world. Our life experiences give us insights that we use, so it’s important to take time out to go get some new material and perspective.

Q: Tell us about the decisions you made regarding a publisher once the book was done.

A: We made the decision to self-publish before we completed the book. Often when pitching to a traditional publisher, you don’t need the final manuscript, you need a pitch. Early on we pitched our project to literary agents and got a few bites, but after a year of this we grew impatient of the process. We decided that getting the message out was far more important than signing with a publisher so we set on self-publishing. It’s a much more involved process, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody who doesn’t have an interest in anything business minded. If you only enjoy the writing process, I would suggest trying to find a publisher (even a small one) who can help with the publishing details. I personally love business and new projects, so it was something I wanted to dive into. There is a huge learning curve, so it was important to give myself time and do a ton of research throughout the process.

Q: What has been the response by your readers?

A: The response has been more fulfilling than either of us imagined. While I feared scrutiny, mostly I just wanted to make sure people “got it.”  It was really important to have the message land. We wanted women, and especially single women, to feel good. We designed the book from the format to the length to do just that. When I see comments or reviews and women say that single or not, they’ve gained a sense of empowerment or self-confidence, it fills my heart. It means a lot that our message and experiences can directly connect with somebody and impact their life. I believe in paying it forward and in the power of positivity, so I feel good knowing that I’m spreading positive messaging around in the world.

Q: What are you doing to promote this title and which methods have yielded the most success for you?

A: We’ve run the gamut to promote No Plus One. The biggest goal is awareness, so all marketing is done with that in mind. I’ve got a great PR person who continuously reaches out to get placements and features. I worked on an influencer seeding strategy using my personal relationships. I also write articles to promote my book along with other articles that are a cut down of the book to help find and hook potential new readers. The most effective network I have are my Facebook friends and family. They are the most supportive and engaged audience. I’ve also tried paid tactics like FB and Twitter ads as well as iAds, but these aren’t my favorite methods. All the tactics should be done in tandem to be really effective. Writing for platforms, like Thought Catalog or Mogul, plus PR and influencer seeding have been the most effective.

Q: What do you feel sets your book apart from similar self-help titles about relationships?

A: Most other self-help focused was on how to change your behavior to remedy being single (i.e. find a relationship). Our book focuses on discovering the beauty in being single and feeling confident in yourself so that you are comfortable being single. It neither promotes finding a relationship or being single, it just recognizes that being single is a special phase that we can all benefit from.

Q: Are you currently writing full-time or does another career absorb a lot of your waking hours?

A: I have a full-time, well, more than full-time job in marketing. All my writing happens early in the morning. It was a huge commitment to get this book done while working the hours my day job requires. I bordered on the verge of obsession. I needed to set a really aggressive goal in order to finish. For about a year I woke up at 5 a.m. to write for as long as I could before I needed to get ready for work. Other times, I’d spend all weekend writing. I don’t write the best at night, but even sometimes, I pined over chapters just to stay on my self-imposed schedule.

Q: When and where do you do your best and most energizing creative thinking?

A: I love writing first thing in the morning. I pour some coffee and sit in front of my windows and just write. The Internet is a really distracting place, though, so I do my best not to get sucked into mindless surfing while on my computer. I also found that putting on vibey, calming music was really effective. I loved the idea of working before the rest of the world was up.

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

A: That I am actually quite good at my day job in marketing, which has little to do with writing self-help. I’ve become somewhat of an industry expert in digital marketing based on the portfolio I’ve built with the brand I work for.

Also, I didn’t really start writing before I wrote my book. The extent of my writing was journaling or the occasional blog post. Writing the book made me feel comfortable enough to call myself a writer.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I’m starting a new job in brand marketing in a few weeks. I’ll be heading up a team so that will be an entirely new challenge in leadership. I’ve been taking a breather from writing so I hope to start up again in a really authentic, no-filter style for a new project. I am also working on a screenplay – which I have no idea how to do.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: Following me on Twitter or Snapchat (@StephYoungMC) is a really quick and unfiltered look at who I am as a person. I also write a lot of articles on onMogul.com; I can be reached on any of those platforms if anybody has questions. I’m always happy to help other writers / entrepreneurs.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Don’t ever be afraid to go after your dreams.

 

 

The Music Girl

Kain Fairbrooks cover

“Music is what feelings sound like,” wrote an unknown author. In Kain B. Fairbrooks’ new release, The Music Girl,” a victimized child kept in isolation by her own parent not only discovers that the timeless power of music holds the key to express her emotions but also to facilitate her freedom. At just 20 years old, Fairbrooks is a newcomer to the writing scene but has made the inventive decision to ignore many of the conventions of fictional storytelling and write The Music Girl as a poem.

Interviewer – Christina Hamlett

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Q: For starters, tell us a bit about your journey as a writer and what (or who) inspired you to pen your first story?

A: Ahhh the one who inspired me was my mom. She used to tell me and my sister stories only using her imagination. And I absolutely loved it to death! She would even encourage us to tell stories back to her and this started my whole “I wanna be a writer” when I was five years old. In first grade, the principal of my elementary school noticed that I wouldn’t go out for recess but I would spend my time writing inside. I showed her a short story I wrote and she loved it and got it published. It sat in the school library for years while I was attending there. After that I played around with my writing, improving it- learning more techniques until the end of high school where I started getting…haha somewhat serious!

Q: Did you read books before bedtime as a child?

A:Yes I did! Just quite a few, though.

Q: What are some of the titles we might have found on that childhood bedside table?

A: The Complete Tales of Beatrix Potter was one. The Road To Elyon, Dr. Seuss’s array of stories, a bunch of fairytales, Mother Goose, and newspaper comics!

Q: So what might we find on your bedside table these days?

A: Haha nothing! I know, it’s weird.

Q: One book at a time or multiple books?

A: One book at a time. It tastes better that way.

Q:  Would you describe yourself as an introvert or an extrovert and what influence does that have on your creativity, energy levels and response to feedback about your work?

A: I would think I’m an extrovert. Sometimes my creativity runs really high and boosts up my energy causing me to write multiple stories at once. Especially when I’ve had a social interaction.

Feedback can either make me go “I like your criticism! Let me get started on that right away! Oh! I can even do [insert a bunch of random things]” or “gbvaghvbdhbj why did I even start writing this- I’m a horrible being.”

Q: Tell us what The Music Girl is about.

A: The Music Girl is about a young lady who went through ten years of abuse and neglect from her envious mother who locks her in the attic. In the attic, she realizes that she wasn’t alone. There stood a very old piano that still worked and so she began learning how to play. Crying out her pain through music. One day, she escapes her mother’s wrath by killing her mother and burning down the mansion she was held captive in. She throws away her name and all that she is and begins her musical journey, learning how to play various instruments from people off the streets and professionals.

Q: The choice to craft The Music Girl as a poem story is an interesting one. What governed that decision for you?

A:  There was this story before The Music Girl that I wanted to write in the fashion of a poem but tell a story. Though, my inner thoughts told me that people wouldn’t like it- I shouldn’t try it- what if people don’t get it? So I dropped the idea, now regretting it horribly! But a few months later, I thought of The Music Girl and went…maybe it won’t be so bad? What’s the worst that can happen? A few chapters later and I absolutely loved writing in such a strange way. Also the people on Figment* helped me see that this was a great decision to write it like this, so I kept it!

(*Interviewer Note: http://www.figment.com is an online forum where writers in a multiplicity of genres meet, create, share and connect with one another.)

Q: Did you work from an outline or just allow the scenes to flow spontaneously?

A: I let the scenes flow naturally. Though sometimes I wished I used an outline.

Q: Writers often spend a lot of time editing, editing, editing. Did you do your edits as you were writing or wait until the entire thing was finished?

A: I edited as I was writing it. Because I posted each chapter on Figment every day, I had to make sure that it was on point or else my conscious would get to me. ‘Why did you post that crap?’ it would say.

Q: Was there anything significant you ended up editing our prior to publication?

A: I’m pretty sure I ended up doing the opposite and adding more in than editing out.

Q: Who’s your target readership for The Music Girl and what would you like them to take away from it by the time they reach the end?

A: Probably adults who had a horrible past and couldn’t let it go. I wanted to show people that things happen, horrible things, and it’ll try to pop itself up back in your life and make you afraid of the future. But you can’t let it do that. You can’t let it ruin you. Something like that, I suppose.

Q: The choice to self-publish has become a popular one for today’s writers, especially insofar as the desire to control one’s intellectual property and move it on to the market as quickly as possible. What are some of the things you learned during this process and what are you doing to spread the word that your new book is available?

A: Some of the things I learned are that there are people willing to help you spread the word but also to do your research beforehand. I ran into a lot of free promotional things while trying to spread the word. People do free postings on Facebook, tweets from Twitter, and give your book a read and make a blog post about it. Even book tours. It’s really incredible!

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m in the process of publishing two illustrated children’s books by Light Books and working on a horror novel called Thy Broken Mind which you can vote for online!

Q: What do you do if you come across a dry spot in your writing or hit the all-dreaded writer’s block?

A: I usually walk away and go hang upside down on the couch while looking at Oblique Strategies on my phone. Or play video games! Depends how bad it is.

Q: Ever have a bad day? If so, what gives you strength to get through it?

A: Yes I have! Laughter and music. Sometimes when it rains, it pours hard and you forget to laugh.

Q: Morning person or evening person?

A: Evening!

Q: Cats or dogs?

A: Dogs all the way!!

Q: Boba or Cheesecake?

A: Oooh….cheesecake. I’m sorry my beloved Boba.

Q: Movies that make you laugh or movies that make you cry?

A: Movies that make me laugh.

Q: The most favorite thing you have in your closet?

A: My Alucard cosplay coat that I got autographed by Crispin Freeman, an English dub voice actor!

Q: Pandas, polar bears, koalas or grizzlies?

A: Pandas!!

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

A: That I enjoy raves!

Q: Where can they learn more about your work?

A: Probably the best place is my Figment page, which has all the rough drafts of a lot of my writings, Basilica Press, and Twitter!

Homing Instincts

Homing_Instincts_cover

Seth Hingham has hit a dead-end. At 35, he returns to his New England hometown after losing his job and the woman he had planned on marrying. Homing Instincts – a new novel by Karen Guzman – traces Seth’s struggle to redirect his life and lay to rest lingering ghosts, including one from a long ago accident that killed a childhood friend.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: So tell us how your journey as a writer first began.

A: It seems I’ve always been writing. As a child, I wrote short stories and descriptive passages of things that caught my fancy. I must have been about nine when I began writing short stories and stapling the pages together to make “books.” I began writing fiction seriously in my twenties.

Q: Were you a voracious reader as an adolescent and teen?

A: Maybe not “voracious,” but pretty enthusiastic. I still am. One of my greatest pleasures is curling up in bed with a good book. I’m always reading something.

Q: Who are some of the authors whose books we might have found on your childhood bookshelves?

A: As a young child, I liked animal stories best. In grade school, some favorites included:

Meindert DeJong, whose children’s classic Hurry Home, Candy stole my heart. I didn’t want to return it to the library. I went on to read most of his books.

Walter Farley, wonderful animal tales.

E.B. White, Charlottes’s Web, bittersweet even as a child.

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. The Yearling was a landmark book for me. I loved the natural descriptions, the relationship between the boy and his fawn and the dramatic turn it all takes.

Jean Craighead George. Julie of the Wolves is a sophisticated, sensitive children’s masterpiece. Love her work.

Marguerity Henry. I think I read every “Misty” book. Couldn’t get enough.

Jack London, Call of the Wild and White Fang.

Oddly enough, Booth Tarkington’s The Magnificent Ambersons had a big impact on me in about 5th grade. My parents had the book in their own collection and I somehow began reading it.

Q: As an adult, what kinds of stories are you naturally drawn to?

A: I seem to be dawn to stories that feature protagonists who must remake their lives, or find their way again, after major disruption or loss. Why? Good question. I guess because we all encounter this scenario so often in our own lives. I also like stories that include spiritual elements or longing.

Q: What was the inspiration behind your debut novel, Homing Instincts?

A: I attended the funeral of a man I had never met the summer before I began writing Homing Instincts. He was the father of my husband’s good friend, and judging by the turnout at the funeral and the tributes paid him, he was a dearly loved and respected man. I began wondering what kind of life a person leads to be remembered so fondly. At first, I thought I wanted to write about the deceased father, but it didn’t take me long to realize that it was really the man’s son whose story I wanted to tell.

Q: It’s interesting to note that your first-person narrator of the story is a man. What, for you, are the challenges of writing from a male perspective so as to keep the voice and mindset authentic?

A: I’ve always been close to and comfortable with men as people, as individuals. I have three brothers, and I’ve always had male friends who tend to confide in me. That said, when Homing Instincts, I did have to occasionally stop and ask myself would this male character say this, like this? I sometimes had to back up a bit, not just because the character was a man, but because he was a unique, individual character, who also happened to be a man. I just followed his lead.

Q: Aspiring writers often forget that the physical environment and backdrop of the story can play as much – and as crucial – a “character” role as any of the actual people in it. For Homing Instincts, why did you choose the picturesque landscape of New England? Give us an example of a scene that you believe could not have been played better somewhere else.

A: The forests and coastline of Connecticut play such a big part in this book. As a wildlife biologist, the main character is drawn to the natural world. He finds comfort and a connection to all living things. New England was a natural choice, because I live here and I love the landscape and the seasons. The ambiguity of the weather—its dramatic swings and the resilient natural world that bends to them—is a wonderful, atmospheric tool for scene setting and for character development. One scene that would have been difficult to place elsewhere: the politically tinged protest when state officials cull the deer herd at a state forest preserve. The shifting, provocative skies overhead and charged atmosphere are pure Connecticut. The scene is, in fact, based on a similar, emotionally charged issue that pitted deer lovers against deer haters years ago.

Q: Describe your process for developing your first novel. For instance, did you work from a formal outline, make things up as you went along, do extensive research, etc.?

A: After writing about fifty pages just to capture the voice and get something on paper, I created an outline. I like outlines, because they keep me moving forward. But my outlines are very broad and I fill them in as I go along. I never project more than a scene or two into the storyline. I kind of just lay out plot points, big things that I know I want to have happen. The arc of the story connecting these points is created on the fly as I write.

Q: How long was the process from start to finish?

A: About four years. But they were four years when I also changed day jobs twice, moved, and had a baby, so, you know, a lot was going on!

Q: How do you find – and make – the time that being a serious writer requires?

A: As best I can. It’s not easy. All the writers I know face the same challenge of struggling to find time for our writing while living a life in this demanding world. Lunch breaks at work are crucial, so are the stolen hours late at night when my husband and son are both asleep and the house is at last quiet.

Q: Did you allow anyone to read Homing Instincts while it was still a work in progress or did you make them wait until you typed “The End”?

A: My dear friend and fellow writer, Cathy Cruise, did read pieces of Homing Instincts in progress. She stopped me from making all kinds of terrible mistakes. My husband and a second writer friend didn’t read the manuscript until it was finished. They both offered interesting insights, too.

Q: How did you go about finding the right publisher for it?

A: When I reached the point where I just honestly didn’t know how to improve the manuscript anymore (3-4 drafts in), I just started sending it out. I queried agents as well as small presses. Several agents really liked it, but felt literary fiction was just too hard to break into at the moment. Some offered helpful criticism. I did another rewrite and kept sending it out. Then Michele Richmond from Fiction Attic Press contacted me in late December 2013 to say my manuscript had won the Press’ First Novel Contest and to offer me a publishing contract. I was—and still am—overjoyed.

Q: What do you know about the publishing world now that you didn’t know when you started?

A: That selling a book is even tougher than I’d realized. That persistence matters more than anything. That good writing does get noticed. Agents will read your query—and so will editors—if your sample is well written…having solid credentials helps, too. That small presses are publishing some of the best literary fiction being produced today, and we should all support them. And that as writer trying to publish today, you absolutely need a social media platform and a website. Authors have to work really hard to build readership.

Q: Tell us some of the things you’re doing to promote your book. Which ones seem to be the most effective in generating a buzz?

A: It’s still early in the process since my book just came out this month but I’m networking with other authors, especially around New England. I’m reaching out to independent booksellers, libraries and writers groups to arrange for readings. I’ve announced the book’s publication on my social media platforms, and I’ll ratchet it up in the coming months. I’m also tapping into my old MFA crowd, down in Virginia and around the country to raise awareness and get the word out.

Q: What’s next on your plate and how is it different from – or similar to – Homing Instincts?

A: I’m working on a new novel, and it’s a huge departure from Homing Instincts. It’s about a woman facing a sort of midlife crisis in the wake of her divorce. It’s a third-person narrator, so different from the first-person voice and so freeing.

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

A: Please visit my website, www.karenguzman.com, and follow my blog at www.writedespite.org

 

 

Interactive Ethics

Thomas Schear

Honesty. Integrity. Sincerity. Respect.

On any given day, we’d be hard pressed to use any of those words in a conversation about national politics. The erosion of trust and ethics, however, is just as evident in our day-to-day interactions in the workplace, especially when employees and employers have radically divergent views on each other’s value to the core organization. In his new book, Interactive Ethics, author and consultant Thomas H. Schear examines how sociological, psychological, economic, political and other factors interact to lead to ethical and unethical outcomes.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: There’s no question that ethics is a hot topic these days, especially in corporate and public governance. How did you first become interested in this issue and, subsequently, become hooked enough to want to write a book about it?

A:  The topic was mentioned in passing when I was in college in the 1970s.  One of my first jobs was as an alcoholism counselor – a profession that was in its infancy – developing professional standards for credentialing (certification), then along with that came the establishment of a code of ethics, boards investigating breaches of the code, sanctions for verified violations and formal training in ethics.  Occasionally I’d hear of a counselor violating ethical standards and their employer’s handling of the situation and so I began to sit up and take notice.

Q: How did your academic background and professional experience prepare you for the discipline of committing to a publishing project?

A:  When in college I would knock out the term papers for a course in the first week or so, thus giving me free time for the rest of the semester.  I rarely agonized over writing papers.  There were client social histories to write, then – as a clinical supervisor/ program director – there were policy and procedure manuals.  When I started my own business offering home-study, self-paced continuing education courses for counselors and therapists, there were tests to write along with documents to gain approval of various national and state organizations, writing the content of the catalog, two websites as well as tests and syllabi for courses I have offered through a couple universities online. I edited and updated a series of booklets written by a friend, Bob Hickle (now deceased), putting his five booklets under one cover, then making it available.  It seems to be no end to writing for me.

Q: What was the inspiration behind Interactive Ethics?

A:  When I attended the University of Iowa, doing some post graduate work, included in the packet for a course on ethics was one presenting the interactive model of ethics.  It struck a chord with me I think because it showed that things are not so cut and dried’ specifically, that there is as much of a possibility of an unethical result as there is an ethical one.  (I have since lost the original article and haven’t been able to find it online so in the book I ask if anyone knows of it to please let me know so I can give its authors due recognition.)

Q: How did you use or apply that source of inspiration to your life and your work?

A:  I used the model as a way of thinking about ethics mostly in considering how its lessons presented the mine field of choices, the pressures and influences on me, coworkers and the organizations where I worked.  As a clinical director, I taught it to staff as inservice and workshops; it then became a large part of college level ethics courses I taught.  As time went on, I gave the model some greater depth and breadth by modifying it by adding concepts and recasting the model’s flow chart.  When my modified model remained static for a couple years, I decided it was time to write the book.

Q: So what, exactly, does “interactive ethics” mean?

A: The model tracks the interaction of various individual and organizational, what the book refers to as “moderators” in five realms: first, their interaction within ourselves; second, your coworkers’ interaction in themselves; third, your employer’s internal interaction of moderators; fourth, your interact with coworkers; and finally your interact with management and the organization.  So for instance:  First you have your own perceptions of your job, of your career path and how your employer views and values you and what you do.  Second, the people you work with have their own perceptions of these same things.  Third, the organization gives its employees messages, more or less subtle, about how they view and value the work they are doing.  Fourth, you interact with your coworkers with their perceptions and finally, you are interacting with the organization with all its messages about you and your work.

Q: There’s no shortage of books about ethics on today’s market. What do you feel distinguishes your particular slant?

A: I’ve never seen a book like mine.  Other ethics books cover code of ethics, ethical principles, some step-by-step decision-making process and its applications to different situations, populations, etc.  My book gives proper recognition to these in chapter two but it is descriptive not prescriptive.   The bulk of it presents definitions of terms, lays out basic assumptions then picks apart the individual, social and organizational moderators, how they interact, influence, promote or impede decision-making.  Really the book is not about ethics per se, it’s about people and organizations and how they come to ethical and unethical outcomes.

Q: Let’s say that a business owner or the manager of a non-profit organization wants to promote ethical outcomes from his/her decision making and policy choices. How would they go about using your book to accomplish that goal?

A: Understanding the way events unfold, the terms, the assumptions and using the inventories to gain understanding of your moderators and the organization’s moderators helps people see why they are getting the results they are.  This is not intended to be done once and then be filed away.  Rather, it should be brought out periodically repeated over again and again.  The inventories provide you with scores so you can measure where you are and as you apply the book’s information, you can begin to measure changes over time.  Not everything reveals itself at once.

Q: In a corporate hierarchy, where does the buck stop in terms of responsibility and accountability for ethical results?

A: While management is responsible for setting the tone, being the example and following through, if they don’t have a clear picture of where they are at both individually and as an organization, they are just spinning their wheels.  Management is responsible for having that clarity. Properly used and understood, the book provides the means for getting it.

Q: Are there specific tools, concepts and inventories in the book that address some of the common ethical dilemmas in the modern world?

A: The inventories present the reader with a range indicating how much various statements “most sound like” themselves and, when it comes to the organization, which statements best describe it.  For instance, in the Identification With Work inventory, one set of statements range from “I have no sense that I am part of a profession” at one end, to “I clearly recognize I am a professional” at the other.  The reader has five choices.  On the extremes one of the statements describes you almost all or all the time. Less extreme, perhaps one of the statements describes you much of the time and finally the middle ground where the either of the statements can describe you depending on circumstances, your mood, or whatever.

For the Individual Moderators, there are inventories designed to get at your sense of coherence, ego strength, locus of control, field dependence/independence, moral development, identification with work, with your job and the organization where you work.  For the Organizational Moderators, the inventories are designed to get at its sense of coherence, normative structure, tolerance for risk, obedience for authority and several others.  There is a scoring system for the inventories which help you to see where you are and to measure changes.  Notice I said “changes,” not “improvement”.

The concept known as the Johari Window represents the major barrier to successfully completing the inventories and accomplishing what the book lays out.  This concept is defined along its implications and ways to deal with them are described in the book.  This is why it’s important to see this as a process, not an event.  I encourage readers to not take the inventories in the book but to make photocopies using them each time you go through the materials again.  Not everything reveals itself all at once or at the same time or in a way you might expect.  It’s important to not be too hard on yourself, not be fearful or judgmental.  This can help, over time, overcome the effects suggested by the Johari Window.

Q: In your view, what is the single biggest obstacle to the development – and sustainability – of an ethical relationship in either personal or business relationships?

A: One concept which plays a big role is Sense of Coherence.  What’s meant is that people have a sense of how life holds together or not.  We have a feel for how or if our lives, our social relationships and the world in general, makes sense and that you can rely on others to play their part.  It’s largely a matter of trust, believing life makes sense or it doesn’t, it matters what you do or it doesn’t.  Without trust – not just now but for the future – why develop ethical standards and sustainability is out of the question.

Q: Tell us about the coaching, counseling and mentoring services your company provides and how these interface with the concepts contained in your book?

A: In addition to the continuing education courses mention earlier I provide business and life coaching and counseling services online, via the phone and face-to-face.  Sometimes I offer a course based on the book which includes a series of YouTube videos, assignments and as a coaching client I can help the participant apply the information in their work situation as part of an overall change process.

Q: How did you go about identifying where and how Interactive Ethics would be published?

A: A previous publisher didn’t put money into marketing so I decided to just offer it as an eBook, available in pdf at my websites http://www.ccmsinc.net or http://www.ccmsinc.org.

Q: What are you doing insofar as marketing the book to your target audience?

A: Though my background is largely in counseling, the book is equally applicable to business, government, medicine, etc. but I haven’t really marketed it much lately except through the website.

Q: So what’s next on your plate?

A: Taking a different slant again, I am gathering informaton for a book on overcoming self-defeating/self-sabotaging behaviors.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: Either at the Get To Know Us page at http://www.ccmsinc.net or the Your Coach page at http://www.ccmsinc.org.

 

 

A Conversation with Carol Fragale Brill

Cape Maybe

How often we are drawn to those who struggle, love and persevere?

Carol Fragale Brill, author of Piece by Piece, and the upcoming release of Cape Maybe, offers You Read It Here First a candid look at what inspires her to bring readers emotionally complex stories that take us to the worlds of first love, family and individual issues that readers can relate to, and also tug our heartstrings along the way.

Interviewer: Christy Campbell

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I love the titles of your two books. What are they about?

Peace By Piece is about unshakable first love and complicated second chances, while Cape Maybe is about love and loss—the memories, addictions, and secrets that haunt mothers and daughters, and the power of hard-earned hope.

In addition to holding an MFA in creative writing, your list of publishing credits to date includes short stories, essays and a variety articles on how today’s aspiring authors can hone their craft. Looking back, what first ignited your passion for writing?

I have loved stories ever since my parents read me Grimm’s Fairy Tales and Black Beauty at bedtime when I was five or six. I know Grimm’s may not seem like the stuff sweet dreams are made of, but mostly they read the ones about princesses being rescued by the prince. I started dreaming about writing a book when I was 20-something. It took me another 20 years to join a creative writing critique group and get started. And, I’m still a sucker for love stories and happily-ever-after.

Do you have any interesting writing quirks? Fill us in on them.

I keep a box of 96 crayons—a gift from my husband—on my desk.  There’s a line in Peace By Piece where the main character, Maggie, says, “I never had a box of 64 crayons.” After reading that line in a very early draft, Jim bought me my box of 96—complete with the built-in sharpener. That green and yellow box is a constant reminder of his support, and I often skim through the box reciting the color names when I need creative inspiration.

What was the hardest part about writing your books?

Like many writers, I have to fit my writing life in around a demanding day job. Add to that, living in Cape May, an enchanting seaside town where we get lots of weekend visitors.

Lucky for me, I’m an early riser, and you will often find me at my computer in the gray light before dawn. I treat my writing time as sacred—as if it is a part time job and I have to show up. My guests know on weekend mornings, I will close myself off in my sunroom/office for several hours and unless the house is on fire—or Oprah calls with a Book Club offer—do not disturb.

Where did you get the ideas for your novels?

I’m an avid reader of mostly women’s fiction and rarely see realistically portrayed characters with eating disorders. I thought women were ready for such a character. In Peace By Piece, Maggie is a contemporary woman dealing with issues that resonate with women—unshakable first love, friendships, family, step-parenting, career choices—all overshadowed by anorexia and bulimia.

My experience developing Cape Maybe was different. I was finishing Peace By Piece, toying with starting another novel, but no real plot or plan. Cape Maybe’s main character, Katie, literally showed up in my head demanding to tell her story. It was like she was pushing out the Peace By Piece characters saying, “Your time is up, now it’s time for my story.” That may sound a little crazy, unless you are a writer who has been possessed by a character.

Are your characters based on yourself or people you know?

Years ago, I heard a writer say in an interview—sorry, can’t remember who it was—that every character and scene must be part of me somehow, since it all comes out of my head.  I have had pieces of Maggie’s and Katie’s experiences, or felt their feelings, but not always for the same reasons they feel them. Neither of them is me.

I’ve often been told I’m a good listener. I’m also a people watcher and pick up character traits, actions, and quirks by observing those around me. No one character is based on just one person I know. Many of them are composites, blending the best and worse traits I’ve experienced in myself and others.

Explain your method for writing a book. Are you a character/story builder or a plotter/outliner or some other method?

I am a blend of both panster and plotter. Usually before starting a new piece, I spend a lot of time in my head, envisioning the beginning and end of the story. For longer pieces, I write character bibles and what I call a lifeline with important plot points. Once I start writing, the characters reveal the middle to me, sometimes scene by scene. Other times, huge chucks of the character’s motivation emerge and it takes many pages for me and the writing to catch up.

What suggestions do you have to help new authors become better writers?

When I started writing creatively, I had no idea there were so many elements to writing craft. Put in the time to study craft—characterization, plotting, show don’t tell, creating a sense of time and place. Once you start to understand craft, grab a few books in your genre and read them like a writer, dissecting how the author uses craft to create emotion and drama. Also, the support of other writers has been so valuable to me. Find critique partners, join a writing group, and open yourself up to feedback. Perhaps the most important lesson is learning that writing is just the beginning, rewriting and editing is where the story becomes what it is meant to be.

Tell us who are your favorite authors and what are you reading now?

Adriana Trigiani is one of my favorite authors and I’m currently reading, The Shoemaker’s Wife, the final book in her Valentine series. She has a talent for creating strong, believable characters and a wonderful sense of place. Her love for the locations she writes about comes through in her books, bringing her settings to life, like another character.

I’m also a huge fan of Sue Monk Kidd, Alice Sebold, Sue Miller, Marisa De Los Santos, Michele Richmond, Lisa Genova (Still Alice is a remarkable book), and Matthew Quick. My diverse list of all-time favorite books includes, The Hunger Games, To Kill a Mockingbird, A Separate Peace, The Dive from Clausen’s Pier, Still Alice, and Ellen Foster and too many more to list.

Readers can learn more about Ms. Brill at Goodreads (http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6924892.Carol_Fragale_Brill) as well as her author page at Amazon.

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Four Letters

Four Letters

“Family quarrels are bitter things,” wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald. “They don’t go by any rules. They’re not like aches or wounds; they’re more like splits in the skin that won’t heal because there’s not enough material.” In her recently released family saga, Four Letters, author Diane Kasulis makes her publishing debut with a bittersweet story certain to resonate with anyone who has ever experienced estrangement with parents, siblings or their own children.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Your journey to become a published author undertook quite a circuitous route, starting with a college major in pharmacy and followed by stints in photography, sign painting, milking goats, and driving semi-tractor trailers from one coast to the other. Which of these pursuits do you feel was the biggest influence on your vision as a storyteller and the discipline it takes to stay with a project from start to finish?

A: Everything I have done has had some impact on me as a storyteller. I have always tucked away experiences and emotions that might fit into a story one day. The biggest influence, however, has been from any job involving driving either over the road in a big truck or school bus driving. The reason for this choice is because when you are driving for hours, it gives you a lot of time to think, and construct a story. When writing Four Letters, I was able to visualize the chapter I was writing that day, in my mind as if I was watching a movie. Once I had the scene perfected, I went home and just wrote it down. As the story progressed in my mind, it became easier to record it from chapter to chapter and scene to scene. The hardest thing was just beginning.

Q: Were you an avid reader when you were growing up?

A: I remember doing a fair amount of reading growing up, mostly the classics such as Charles Dickens. I was too preoccupied with art, drawing and painting, however, and that  took precedence.

Q: What are you reading now?

A: I am currently reading The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult. She is my favorite author and truly a master at what she does. I am learning from reading her. For example I have learned that I need to up my game and provide more plot twists and turns.

Q: What was the inspiration to write Four Letters?

A: Unfortunately, the inspiration for Four Letters was a wedding in my own family, where my youngest daughter got left out. I have five children, and after that wedding, two of my children didn’t speak to me for a while.  I was driving school bus at the time with too much time to think. I started a journal but that didn’t help. Then I concocted this storyline, took it to extremes, and started writing this story. By writing a story about other characters, it kept my mind off of my own issues, and gave me something to focus on. Fortunately, after a short time, my family did come around, and everything worked itself out. But I decided to tell this tale to the extreme that I did as I wanted to get my message across about the importance of family. I suppose this message was one that I wanted to impress upon my own children at first. Needless to say, they are proud that I published a book, and for now, wish to avoid reading it like the plague needless to say!

Q: Did you start with a detailed outline or simply make things up as you went along?

A: I had an outline of sorts in my head. I knew the beginning and the ending of the story. I knew just what I needed to tell of Ella’s story. The rest was made up as I went along.:

Q: Your choice of narrator for this story – Ella’s caregiver, Janis, rather than Ella herself – was an interesting one. What governed this particular decision?

A: From the beginning I pictured the opening scene where Janis is writing the letters for Ella. If I just told Ella’s story, it would not only make for a sad story, but a short one as well. Because Ella was the age she was, I felt I needed some young characters to weave a story around, as well as to lend some lighter moments to the story. So at times, it was very much like writing two stories in one. Perhaps, because of my own experiences, I needed to just get Ella’s story and feelings out in the open; however, I found that by telling Janis’s story and her up-and-down relationship with her only sister, my message about the importance of family would get across.

In my own life, I felt that this message wasn’t received by my own family, so I was in a position to put that in a book and maybe influence others, just as Ella’s message wasn’t received by two of her own children, yet she was able to influence another family, namely Janis’. I felt that narrating this story from Ella herself would be too limiting, too sad and too concentrated upon the family rift. At the same time I wanted to get a message across. I felt that by having a secondary character, Janis, through her eyes, the reader would, like Janis, learn a lesson, one taught by an older, wiser generation.

Q: How might this story have been different if told from the perspective of Ella or, for that matter, her offspring?

A: This story would probably not take place in today’s world, but instead it would a story centered around the family rift as it happened in the seventies. There would be no other family to advise, however it would concentrate more on Ella herself as well as her children directly. Being told through Janis, the message of family is clear. Being told through Ella, the message of family would be too intense, like beating a dead horse, perhaps. This is a tragic story that I lightened by telling it through a stranger’s eyes.

Q: What were some of the challenges of interweaving the two women’s respective family issues?

A: Presenting two different families and their issues was complicated. In a sense there were two protagonists, with the emphasis on Janis vs. Ella. I had to be able to relate to a younger, twenty-something and thirty-something generation, with the issues that they would face today. I had to do this side by side with Ella, who grew up in a different world, and portray her values from that time period, which differs from today’s.

Q: How much of the plot and characterizations in Four Letters are drawn from your own life or those of people you know?

A: There is probably more plot and characterizations drawn from my own life and people that I know than I would care to admit to. The wedding scenario was based on my own experiences, the rest is fiction. I did, however, draw on some experiences in my own life. For example, the ice cream run was something that my father would sometimes do when I was little. I remember past summers, being young, going to bed, and being woken up to be taken out for ice cream in my pj’s. As far as drawing from people I know for some of my characters, I did picture someone for the role of Charlie, as the fishing buddy of Janis’ dad. It brought this character to life. The fishing stories he tells, however, are pure fiction…then again, aren’t fishing stories always fiction?

Q: The premise of Ella’s story – the estrangement from her children and her desire to reunite with them – seems awfully sad. Won’t readers think that this is too much of a downer tragedy to add to their book list?

A: Ella’s story of estrangement is really sad, which is another reason why I chose to narrate it from Janis’s perspective – a younger woman with her own family, including all the happiness, love and laughter one would expect to see, along with some hilarious situations at work, to balance the tragedy.

Q: What are some of the lighter moments of the story?

A: The break room scene in chapter three is a hoot. It is a lively discussion about bridezillas. You just have to read it. The antics of some of the residents where Janis works will make you chuckle.

Q: What, ultimately, is the takeaway value you want readers to have by the final chapter?

A: Bottom line, the message that I have been trying to impart is that all you really have in this world is family. It seems that in today’s society, everything is fast-paced, and based on instant, Internet communication, losing the personal touch, and family bonds seem to become more strained.

Q: If Hollywood came calling to make a movie adaptation of Four Letters, who would comprise your dream cast for it?

A: If this book were to be made into a Hollywood production, then I would love to see it directed by Clint Eastwood. I think it would be right down his alley as they say. I would trust him to come up with a killer cast. There was a movie called In Her Shoes, about two sisters. That casting would work here. And Betty White could be Ella! And by the way, my oldest daughter, Krystal, who is also on the cover, would most likely love to do some acting as well. She majored in theater in college.

Q: Despite the popularity of e-publishing and the artistic control it affords today’s authors, why did you opt to go the traditional route?

A: I did my homework regarding the publishing field. The general consensus was that there was more credibility publishing traditionally through a publisher as opposed to self-publishing. Here someone, in this case North Star Press, was willing to take a chance on this book, as opposed to my paying someone just to print it.

Q: How did you go about finding a publisher?

A: I found North Star Press by taking a couple of publishing and writing courses that were offered through them. Each publisher seems to have something that they are looking for. North Star likes to publish new authors that have written about Minnesota, or the upper mid-west, which is why I set my story locally.

Q: What surprised you the most about the publishing process that you didn’t know before?

A: I expected to receive a little more advice and guidance from my publisher. I was surprised at how much editing and such that I was able to do.

Q:  What’s next on your plate?

A: I had an idea in mind, and then I decided to use Janis and Joyce in this story. Originally, I wrote Four Letters as a stand-alone book. However, I am taking the story further (Ella’s is done) and concentrating on Joyce. This story is narrated by Joyce, and follows her through her shaky college experience, as well as her bitter, almost violent relationship with her ex-boyfriend Ty from the first book.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Yes, I wish that the original synopsis for the back cover was what got placed there. It is on my website http://www.authordianek.com and went into the relationship between Ella and Janis. I was asked to also provide something short and snappy. This short paragraph only focuses on Ella. By reading this, one would assume this story may be a bit different than what it actually is. I think this also sells the story a bit short. There is a lot more to this story than what the back cover portrays, and is worth an extra look, or checking out my webpage.

 

 

A Conversation with Laura Davis

Laura Davis

Laura Davis is the author of seven non-fiction books, including The Courage to Heal, The Courage to Heal Workbook, Allies in Healing, Beginning to Heal, Becoming the Parent You Want to Be and I Thought We’d Never Speak Again. Not only have her groundbreaking books sold more than 1.8 million copies worldwide but she also leads weekly writing groups and memoir writing retreats in the Santa Cruz, CA region, as well as an annual summer writing retreat in Bolinas, California, a two-week writing and yoga retreat in Bali, 10 days in a Scottish castle, and other international retreats. She recently took time from her busy schedule to share what inspires her…and how she inspires others to learn more about themselves through the transformative power of writing. 

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Tell us about your journey as a writer.

A: Well, when I was in my twenties and thirties and maybe even into early forties, it wasn’t always easy to see the through line. I’ve always been such a maverick and I’ve never been one to follow a traditional path. But looking back now, I can see the connecting threads clearly.

I’ve always been deeply committed to writing—both as a tool for my own understanding of myself and as a means to communicate with others. I have always been able to be more honest on the page than I can be face-to-face. The page is the place where I discover what I think, what I feel, what I yearn for, what I need to say to somebody. The page is the place I come to a decision when I’m standing in the crossroads, and life is kicking me in the butt, screaming: “Move!”

On the other hand, I’ve never written just for me. I love the interplay of author and audience, writer and reader. I published my first book, The Courage to Heal, in 1988, and it unexpectedly (to me anyway) became a huge best-seller, catapulting me into a level of notoriety I wasn’t prepared for. That book was about healing from child sexual abuse, and it was the first book of its kind. My co-author, Ellen Bass, and I laid out the roadmap for healing in a simple, compelling way that just hadn’t been done before. It became the groundbreaking book in the field, the one that has made a huge difference in the lives of generations of women (and men) who had been abused. And it was through The Courage to Heal that I learned the power of the printed word and the awesome, humbling responsibility of being an author with, literally, the lives of your readers in your hands.

Q: You became famous because of the most painful thing that ever happened to you – incest with your grandfather. How did the challenges inherent with this constant exposure in the spotlight ever allow you to heal emotionally?

A: You have to realize, The Courage to Heal came out when I was only 31 years old. I was so young! For a number of years, I was the poster child for incest. Every TV interview I did, every radio appearance, every time I stood on a stage and spoke out to a thousand women who’d lined up around the block to hear me, all I had to work with was my own story, my connection to a power greater than myself, and the determination to reach out to the women in that room, telling them, yes, healing is possible. You can do this.

Because I was so young, and because I was so consumed by my own healing process, incest was my whole life at that time. It was as if the letters I-N-C-E-S-T were just screaming at me from my living room. They followed me everywhere. So for a time, what I was doing and what I was living were in synch. But as the years went by and I healed from my own abuse and began to move on, I no longer wanted to be known as the “incest queen.” I no longer wanted to meet people because of the worst thing that had ever happened to them. I wanted to meet them in a different playground, in a field where the past no longer had such a hold.

Q: Referring back to your desire to meet people in a venue other than than of victim survival, how did you reinvent your sense of purpose?

A: Once I had earned the scary right to create my own life, not one predetermined by trauma, I knew my work had to move on, too. And so I quit the lecture circuit and quit writing about sexual abuse. I moved to Santa Cruz, California (where I live now), met my partner, and started a family.

My books moved in new directions, too. A couple of years after my son, Eli, was born, I teamed up with a wonderful parent educator, Janis Keyser, and we wrote Becoming the Parent You Want to Be.

As I began to heal a long, very painful estrangement from my mother, I started researching, and eventually wrote, I Thought We’d Never Speak Again: The Road from Estrangement to Reconciliation.

Clearly, my books track my interests in life. Right now, I’m writing a memoir about my relationship with my mother and the unexpected, amazing journey we’ve been on together.

When I look at my body of work as a whole, all my books have a similar theme: growth, change, human evolution, healing. Since I’ve always been fascinated with peoples’ stories, all of my books include a lot of those as well – varied, gritty, real, honest, deep, human stories.

Q: “Forgive and forget” is advice that’s commonly dispensed but, in the case of truly heinous acts, is it universally practical, especially if the offender has no remorse nor seeks redemption?

A: “Forgive and forget” is one of worst things you can say to someone who is suffering after being grievously hurt. It isolates people and tells them that shutting down and smoothing things over is preferable to acknowledging and working through the hurt. I would never give that advice to anyone, and I challenge anyone who does. “Forgive and forget” is like slapping a band-aid on a festering wound. I don’t believe we can “make ourselves forgive.” The anger and unresolved feelings just go underground. True forgiveness, if it comes, only arises naturally at the end of a very long, committed process of healing.

Forgiveness is a personal choice on a religious, ethical and moral basis. I have always maintained that for trauma survivors, it is not a necessary part of the healing process. I’ve seen people live through terrible trauma and go on to live productive, positive lives without forgiving their perpetrators. Ultimately, we have to move beyond the injury, let go of our grief and rage – as well as our identification with being a victim, but whether that moving on ultimately includes forgiveness is an individual matter each of us must come to terms with on our own. How can anyone dictate another person’s spiritual evolution?

Personally, I have forgiven my grandfather, the man who abused me. But it wasn’t anything I tried to achieve. That feeling of forgiveness arose naturally and spontaneously after many years of healing, when I’d finally earned the right to put the incest to rest. I had released my grandfather long before that – letting go of my anger and neutralizing his impact on my life. The added forgiveness was a gift, but it was not something I consciously sought or created.

Q: What intrigues you the most about human transformation?

A: I’m fascinated with human evolution – how we carve away all the things that were laid on us or expected of us – in order to become the people we were meant to be. Not all of us make it all the way to the core, but I’m a cheerleader for that true self – for the true expression exists in each of us if only we can get out of the way.

That’s why I love teaching long-term writing groups, because often, students come in thinking they’re going to be working on one thing, and they do, often quite successfully. But then, over the course of months and years, they sometimes peel that initial goal back and something deeper, that they were really meant to write, comes bubbling up to the surface. Before that moment, they didn’t feel ready or safe enough; they never had the proper conditions and support to make telling that story possible. It doesn’t matter if it’s memoir or fiction; the process is the same. And then one day, they’re ready, and the real work begins.

Q: What do you love the most about your work?

A: It isn’t when a writer shares a beautiful sentence (though I can swoon over a well-turned phrase); it’s when a writer tells the real truth. It’s watching people crack open. I love watching my students find their strength, their voices, their own direction. One of my favorite students, Bonnie Harris, once said to me, “Laura, you say you teach writing, but you don’t really teach writing. You teach transformation.” It’s not exactly the kind of thing you go around saying about yourself, but it’s absolutely true.

Q: If your philosophy of life were printed on a tee-shirt, what would it say?

A: It’s the challenges in life that teach us the most.

Q: Tell us about the classes you’ve been teaching in Santa Cruz as well as the ways you’re creatively expanding beyond your own community.

A: I teach ongoing weekly classes in both writing practice (a “finding your voice” class) and feedback classes where people working on projects at home bring their work in to be critiqued. I love my weekly students and the intimate community that builds up in those classes.

To expand my geographical range, I’ve also started a free online community, The Writer’s Journey Roadmap, where I send out weekly writing prompts and people can post their responses on line. Over the past two years, that’s developed into a lovely online space for people who want to share their work in a safe, encouraging community. (http://www.lauradavis.net/roadmap)

Q: What’s your favorite thing that you’re doing now?

I love retreat teaching because of the intensity, because we’re all unplugged from life at home, coming together with one purpose – to write our brains out and go deep into our writing. People often arrive the first night of a retreat, looking tense and afraid, and then by the time they’re hugging everyone goodbye, their faces are cracked wide open and they look deeply refreshed. And it’s not just a quick high that fades. I’ve watched people make profound changes in their lives because of something they experienced on a retreat with me.  

I’ve been teaching an annual retreat in Bolinas, California, right on the high cliffs of the Pacific for a week every July–and I’ve been doing that for years. Last year, for the first time, in part because my children are getting ready to leave the nest, I also led an international retreat to Bali. My partner taught yoga and I taught writing, and we teamed up with a wonderful local eco-tour company who kept us in small, local hotels and introduced us to amazing artisans, dancers, shamans, and all kinds of incredible adventures. We used our writing time to document our travels and to dive deeper into the descriptive world. And starting our day with yoga was just divine. I fell deeply in love with Bali and the Balinese people. I can’t wait to go back this June (June 21st-July 5th) with another group of writers (http://www.lauradavis.net/cometobali).

I’ve also added a second international retreat this year–this time to the Scottish Highlands, near Findhorn. It will be at the end of the summer, (August 14th-28th) and we will be living in a Victorian mansion, a sister center to Findhorn. In addition to exploring the gorgeous Scottish countryside, and diving deep into our writing, we’ll be living in a successful sustainable community and witnessing what that means on a day-to-day basis.

Q: What can students expect to learn from these overseas excursions?

A: When I teach, I like to take my cues from the students who come, but in the trips to Bali and Scotland, we will definitely utilize a lot of what we see, hear and experience each day to develop deeper powers of observation and the capacity to better capture sensory detail. These are useful habits no matter what genre we work in. We will use our writing time to glean every bit of insight we can out of our trip, the community we’re visiting, to help us take full advantage of the kind of change and openness only travel can bring.

Writers at all levels – as well as their non-writing spouses – are welcome to join us. Readers can learn more at http://www.lauradavis.net/cometoscotland.

Q: Over the course of your career, what accomplishment are you the most proud of?

A: Like many parents, my marvelous children come to mind first. They’re amazing young people and I can’t wait to see who they become. I’m very proud to have been a foundational part of their lives.

But when I set them aside and look at my literary work, you might think I’d choose The Courage to Heal, and the three other books I wrote about healing from sexual abuse. Those books have been read and translated all over the world, with more than 2 million copies in print. I still get letters (well now, texts and emails and FB messages) from grateful readers who tell me that the books have literally saved their lives. That is immensely gratifying.

But really, to tell you the truth, the books I feel the most proud of are two books I wrote this past fall – two volumes conceived and completed on a very tight three-month deadline. My brother had convinced me we should do something special for our mother’s 85th birthday. We agreed to have a big family party for her around Thanksgiving because that’s when our relatives gather. He said he’d be in charge of the party and I said I wanted to make a book for her.

I put out a call to all our relatives and all of her old and new friends asking for photographs, tributes and stories. The material started pouring in! In three months, I created two incredibly beautiful books – using everything I knew about constructing and writing a book – and printed two copies through blurb.com, and gave them to her. They were filled with her own writings, pictures of her being crowned campus queen at City College in 1937, photos and reviews from her acting career, stories and photos from everyone she had ever loved. Considering where my mother and I were 30 years ago (she was the prime subject of I Thought We’d Never Speak Again), I have a lot be proud of. My mother does, too. We both worked hard at our reconciliation.

My mother has dementia and these books, A Tribute to Temme – Volume 1 & 2, literally gave her back her life. She lives in assisted living now and her world has shrunk dramatically, but every day she looks at those books and remembers her travels, her friends, her former life and who she used to be. That’s definitely the thing I’m most proud of today.

Readers can learn more about Laura, her books, and her workshop retreats at http://www.lauradavis.net. Email her at lauradavis@lauradavis.net.