Madeline Sharples and I crossed paths in a writing course at UCLA a couple of years ago and have stayed in touch. Her book is a moving account, full of poetry as well as prose, of her son's life and his death of suicide, called Leaving the Hall Light On. I'm very interested in how people create beauty from painful experiences, and I hope you'll find Madeline's thoughts on this subject as interesting as I do.
It seems that I always wanted to be a writer. Writing came so easy for me – even in grade school. I studied journalism in high school and wrote feature articles for the high school newspaper. Then I took all the course work toward a degree in journalism in college though I ended up with a degree in English because I transferred schools just before my senior year (that’s a story all its own). So, when I got out of college I wanted in the worst way to write for a magazine or newspaper. After a few attempts I turned to the aerospace industry. I got a positive response after one call asking, “Do you ever hire people with a degree in English?” Easy, right? But hard on my dream to become a “real” writer.And though I never gave up on that dream, for the next several decades I took creative detours and continued with my day job working as a writer/editor and proposal manager in the aerospace business. I learned to draw and paint, I learned to sew, I made needlepoint pillows, I quilted and gardened. And, I co-authored a non-fiction book, Blue Collar Women: – a little less technical than my work in aerospace. Anything to keep my hand in creativity, until finally I could stand it no longer.I took a workshop called, “Writing about Our Lives” at Esalen in Big Sur, California in the late 1990s. It was there that I wrote about my misgivings about ever being able to make the transition. Here’s what I wrote: “My writing is so factual, so plain, so devoid of descriptors, feelings, and imagination.” Later I learned that was okay. Once I discovered a private instructor in Los Angeles who taught me to “write like you talk,” I knew I was on my way.
What kinds of books do you enjoy reading?
You write both poetry and nonfiction. Is it a challenge to combine the two into one book?
Your book is about a very painful subject, the suicide of your son. Do you have any advice for writers who are dealing with such sensitive personal topics themselves? Are there ways the writing process helps with the grieving?
How long did it take you to write this book?I think my first piece of advice would be to take your time. Think about caring for yourself first and foremost, and if that means getting words onto the page, that’s good. Otherwise, don’t pressure yourself.Writing became my therapy. I just had to write or I’d feel itchy. Even the very act of pounding the keys on the keyboard helped. The page was always ready for my tears, my rants, my sorrow, my complaints, and my thoughts and ideas. The page never told me what to do or how to handle my grief. The page never told me it was time to stop grieving already. The page became my everyday friend – a special place I could go to empty my full heart. And, as a result, writing through my grief totally turned my life around. I made a “real” writer out of me.
What is your writing process like? Do you write in a special place or at a particular time?
Do you use music in your writing process?
Do you have an agent? What are your feelings about working with an agent?
Has your publisher helped with publicity for your new books? What thoughts do you have about publicity today?
Any other thoughts you'd like to share?
Do you have web sites the readers can visit?