I think you answered my first question in the book: “Autobiography? I didn’t want to write a book about myself. Who would be interested? ” So, taking off from that answered question, instead, what has it become to you since its publishing?
I’ve received some wonderful reviews and emails from readers who it touched, either because of my personal story or because they related to it in their own experiences. My greatest hope was that it would help others, so these contacts are very meaningful to me.
Much of your story—or as you say with Jennifer’s help—is the story of your daughter’s murder. Yet again, in your book, you state you had no need for catharsis for her death. Why do you think—or feel—it is necessary to share your spiritual journey at this point in your life?
I was pushed and prodded by Spirit into writing the book. As I have said, I thought at the beginning that I would write Jennifer’s story, but the ending was too sad. Now, 23 years later, I have a story to tell—what I’ve learned from my spiritual journey since her murder. I have learned a lot—and there is much more to learn. I speak about my experiences to anyone willing to listen. What I’ve found is—many people have spiritual experiences, but are afraid to share them in case people think they are crazy. I don’t worry about that—at this point in my life I believe that someone’s opinion of me is not my business.
You share your experiences of having been brought up as a Jehovah's Witness. Without that part of your life journey, do you think you would have reached this point?
I didn’t realize just how strong an influence those twenty-seven years as a JW had on my life. If I had grown up in Church of England or Jewish, I have no idea who I would be now—maybe a medium! I wish my maternal grandmother had been able to share her experiences and beliefs with me about Spirit. That would have been a very different path than the one I’ve been on.
What would you like your readers to come away with from having read your autobiography?
I didn’t mean to write an autobiography, but as I was writing the memoir, which is supposed to be about a specific part of one’s life, it kept expanding. I let it because it felt as though all the details I included were necessary. What I would like readers to get from it is, there is more to life than what we see with our physical eyes, and we don’t need to fear the unseen. After all, none of us question or worry about microbes and bacteria—we can’t see them, but we know they are there and we feel their effects, many of which are necessary and beneficial. Being willing to accept the unseen world is the first step to spiritual freedom.
Rarely have I read a memoir—ok, I hear it, “no autobiography”—that was so honestly written. Many write their life stories to review the past as a means to move on to the future. But for you, I felt in writing this you were embracing the present. Am I off here?
This is a comment I have heard from many readers, and it makes me wonder if I blabbed too much; was too self-revealing. I wrote the book in 27 days, which makes me believe that Spirit was helping. Therefore, I guess I wrote what I was supposed to. Or is that a cop out? 😊
If you were to advise someone on how to write their life story, where would you tell them to begin? Some of your chapters didn’t always seem to be sequential, yet flowed together as one. Did you write them In order, or write the different chapters and then put the book together?
We live life in a linear fashion, but it may not be as interesting when told that way. I recommend reading a few books on memoir and biography, such as Rachael Herron’s “Fast-Draft your Memoir in 45 hours.” I applied much of her advice, plus what I’ve learned as a mystery writer. Reedsy also has an excellent free video on the topic.
I started with index cards, giving each one a chapter title that covered a part of my life. Later, I shuffled them around a bit, got rid of some, added others. Once I had finished writing in Word, I uploaded the book to Atticus, the software I use for formatting books, and was able to easily move chapters around when it made more sense for them to be elsewhere.
As an author, I see “my story” through my fictional characters and plots. As the adage goes, “There is a little truth in every story.” Can fiction be used as a memoir tool?
I guess I anticipated this question in my previous answer. We may be writing fact, but the parts we use in fiction are a great way to keep it interesting—dialogue, setting, characterization, etc., takes those facts that might have otherwise just been a dry recitation and brings them to life.
Pema Chodron’s book, “How We Live Is How We Die” states that appearances manifest as powerful sights and sounds in the bardo (afterlife), later as specific forms. This is, to some degree, how we experience things even, or if we slow down enough to notice. In any encounter, first, there’s open space. Something moves toward me and the encounter is wide-open, full of possibilities, not solidified in any way….Then it comes into focus…” Sometimes it is not until I have written something that the embodiment of why I felt compelled to offer the story comes to me. It is after I give the work space that I see the need for the storytelling? Since the writing of your story, what clarity if any has come to you, or what has manifested showing further possibilities?
That was so poetically put, DJ, but I am probably too pragmatic to go there. I got the story down as I wanted to tell it. I published it, and released it into the ether. I have not wanted to return to think about any of those details because they are often painful. I do feel that in some way my actual writing skills advanced to a different level, which is my goal with every book I write.
It has been fun interviewing an author on such as interesting topic. Is there anything you would like to tell others about your fictional work, or what you are working on now?
Thank you, it’s been fun for me, too. I write two suspense fiction series, and one of them is about a young woman who communicates with Spirit—okay, she talks to dead people and helps solve murders. In my forensic series, my protagonist Claudia Rose does the same type of work I do—forensic handwriting examination. She doesn’t directly solve mysteries with her skills, but she does get to understand the characters that people the story through their handwriting, and that helps solve the mystery. I also write nonfiction books about handwriting. My next project, MAXIMUM PRESSURE, is a Claudia Rose story of murder at a high school reunion.
Any offerings of what it takes for someone from wanting to be a writer, to being a writer, and how to stay on
"Being a writer” can mean so many different things and what it means is highly personal to everyone who writes. My first book (nonfiction) was published when I was about to turn 50; my first fiction came 7 years later. I can’t say I like writing, but I do like having written. Editing is the part I like best. For me, writing is a compulsion. I don’t do it for fun; I want readers to get involved in the story and I work hard to make that happen. There is no greater compliment when someone sends an email or posts a review that says, “I was up all night turning pages; couldn’t put it down!”
What I tell aspiring novelists is this: first, hone your craft. Be a good writer before you ask the public to invest in you. And be prepared—writing is hard, getting published is harder (even if you publish independently), and getting your books in the hands of enough readers to make all your efforts pay off is the hardest of all. There are loads of resources to help you take all those steps, so educate yourself and, in the words of Neil Gaiman:
"(1) If you’re going to be a writer, you have to write. (2) You have to finish things.”
And knowing that unless you are unique, you are going to face many rejections, keep on going. It’s been 16 years since Poison Pen was published by Penguin and I’ve just finished re-editing my entire forensic series, applying what I’ve learned over those years. Improving is an unending process, and it should be. I wish you well.“
Again, thanks for the chat, Sheila.