Before I begin this week’s interview, I would like to take a minute to thank Kenyan Smith for her graciousness. I have been plugging her interview since last week, but due to a scheduling conflict, she has agreed to let her interview post on an upcoming Wednesday. Kenyan, thank you for making my job a bit easier.
This week, I will talk to Katherine Mayfield, author of ‘The Box of Daughter’, which is a memoir about her journey from emotional abuse. I always admire people who can share such a personal part of themselves.
IDI – Katherine, why did you decide to write this memoir and share your story with others?
KM – During the seven years that I acted as the family caregiver for my parents, almost every time I talked about my experience, other people revealed that they also felt manipulated and demeaned by their parents. We were victims of what Martha Beck refers to as ‘Spider Love': a love that’s consumptive and draining, rather than giving.
I’ve known so many people who have endured ‘Spider Love’ in their families of origin, and most of them are still stuck in the darkness and despair that comes from unresolved emotional stuff. I wanted to tell the story of my process of healing from the trauma and moving into a much more authentic life because I believe reading about someone’s experience of healing helps others to take the first stops into their own journey of healing from the past. We all need validation, especially if we’ve suffered in life due to a difficult childhood. It’s my hope that ‘The Box of Daughter’ will offer validation and healing to everyone with a painful past.
IDI – Something every writer is asked to the point of exhaustion – where do you get your ideas?
KM – I have file folders full of ideas! Because of my history, I have a different way of looking at the world than most people. I seem to make connections with information through my emotions and intuition as well as my logic, so I can see under the surface of the ‘rules’ we follow in society. So much of life is distorted because we value money, success, and organizational structure over feelings, art and intuition. When you look under the surface and search for deep truth, there is so much richness – an abundance of insight and understanding that’s not validated in our society. My ideas probably come from a blend of my intuition, my perspective, and what I like to call the Divine Creative Force.
IDI – What do you find the hardest aspect of writing?
KM – In memoir, it’s getting down to the dark nitty-gritty of “What did I really feel when this was happening? What words will express that so readers can glean the specific meaning I want to convey?” In memoir, you totally have to relive what happened in order to bring it to life in words. It can be hellish, but one benefit of reliving it, whether you’re writing about difficult experiences or reading about them, is that then it’s easier to let go of them and move on. Writing memoir can be very cathartic.
IDI – Online cafe’s or writer’s groups (aside from social networking). Do you belong to any and if so, do you find them to be more helpful or more harmful?
KM – I’ve belonged to several different writing groups over the years, and they can either help or harm, depending on the individual group. If the critique comes from a place of jealousy or competition, it can clobber a writer’s self-esteem and cause writer’s block. If the critique is truly supportive, and the critiquing is constructive rather than destructive, a writer’s group can be a true boon in a writer’s life.
It’s my belief that a writing group should provide a safe critiquing experience. It helps if the critiquing writers comment from their own perspective – “I got confused in this part of the story,” or “I didn’t get a clear understanding of the theme,” or “I’d like to see this character in more depth” – rather than, “This has problems,” or “You haven’t got the theme (or character) right.” The same point can always be made in a supportive way, rather than in a way that suggests the writer is wrong.
It’s also important in a group to be working with writers at your own level, whether you’re a veteran author or more of a beginner.
IDI – Have you ever experienced writer’s block, and if so, how do you overcome it?
KM – Yes! When I get blocked, it usually means that my inner critic is trying to make everything perfect before it even gets out on the page. Sometimes it means that I’m ‘keeping myself small’ in order to please someone else, as if I’m following the old rule that I’m not supposed to express myself. That comes from my personal history.
The best way I know to overcome writer’s block is to tell the inner critic to go away, and just blurt words onto the page – just write whatever comes to mind. Sometimes the source of the block will reveal itself if the writer starts writing about what he or she is feeling about the block. There’s a great book called, ‘Writing from the Inside Out’, by Dennis Palumbo that is specifically targeted to the psychological issues that writers face. I highly recommend it for every writer.
The other thing I do to overcome block is look up writing prompt online. Prompts often get my creative juices flowing. Many of my blogs on dysfunctional families and care giving were written after reading a prompt.
IDI – What advice would you give to new/unpublished writers?
KM – I was a professional actress for almost 20 years, and when I decided to move into writing, I thought it would be easier. But competition in the writing business is at least as intense as it is in acting. So first, I would say if you can be happy doing anything else, do that. The other thing is that if you’re determined to be a writer, you must learn to rewrite. Writing isn’t just putting your words down on paper, it’s reworking and reworking the text to make it as good as it can possibly be. There’s a real craft to the writing process. Edit, edit, edit. Ask others to read it, and rewrite some more. I finished my memoir, ‘The Box of Daughter’ in one year, but the rewriting process took another year and a half before I felt it was clearly saying what I wanted it to express.
IDI – In your opinion, what are the biggest misconceptions new authors have about the publishing industry?
KM – That all you have to do is write a book, and an agent or publisher will come knocking on your door. Or, all you have to do is publish an ebook, and people will come running to buy it. I know authors – very good writers – who’ve been writing for decades, and have published books, but haven’t been able to get an agent, and have difficulty even getting publishers to look at their work. There are millions of writers now trying to get their words out there,a nd the competition is incredibly intense. And most publishers no longer do much in the way of marketing. Three-quarters of a writer’s job is marketing their work – before and after its published.
My advice would be to write for yourself – for the enjoyment you receive from it. It’s so unlikely that you’ll get any of your emotional needs – for attention, respect, etc,. – met in the publishing industry that you have to write for your own pleasure more than for marketability. Someone once said that a writer has to write a million words before they can write quality material, and I believe that’s true.
IDI – When reading another author, do you find yourself taking in and enjoying what you read or are you more likely to critique as you go? And if you critique, what is the one mistake you see the most?
KM – A really well-written book will pull me right along, and I get bonded with the characters and lost in the story. When a book is not so polished, or the characters are not well-defined, I start critiquing in my head, and usually give up early in the read. That’s why it’s so important to get a manuscript edited, and keep rewriting until it’s really polished. I would say what I see the most when I end up critiquing is a lack of clarity. A professional manuscript critique can help an author really turn a book around.
If I really love a book, sometimes I re-read it with an eye toward figuring out how the author accomplished certain things in the writing.
IDI – That said, define a great book.
KM – In my mind, a great book offers readers a telescopic look into another world, brings great characters to life, exposes truth – whether it’s a truth about a culture, a particular aspect of society, or the human situation – and validates some portion of the reader’s heart and experience. I love books that are both entertaining and healing.
IDI – How has your life’s journey contributed to your writing process?
KM – When I began to discover in therapy how horribly dysfunctional my family of origin had been, I started journaling as a way to get all the feelings that swarmed up from within outside of me onto paper. When I didn’t want to face what was coming up from my unconscious mind, putting it on paper helped me feel as if I had begun to let go of the grief, the anger and the pain. And during the seven years I was caring for my parents, and especially in the last year when my health began to decline, journaling offered me the opportunity to put my feelings into words, to reflect on what I was going through, so that I didn’t overburden all of my friends with seven years’ worth of complaining. Though I have to admit, everyone I knew was extremely supportive during that time. All of that journaling eventually turned into my memoir, ‘The Box of Daughter’, along with some short stories about those care giving years like, ‘The Last Visit’.
The process of journaling over so many years helped me learn how to clarify a feeling or insight and to choose very specific words and phrases to express exactly what I want to communicate. That has become a foundation in my writing: specifically about feelings and situations that hopefully leads to clarity and a deep understanding in my readers. I want to validate other people’s feelings, and the more specific I can get in my writing, the better I can do that.
I would like to thank Katherine for joining me today and for her willingness to talk about her emotional experience. If you would like to contact Katherine or would like more information on her work, please use the links below.
Please join me next week when I’ll talk to Fran Pergamo.
Ink Drop Interviews are conducted weekly by Kathy Reinhart, author of 3 novels, most recently, ‘Missouri in a Suitcase’ and ‘Lily White Lies’.
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*Views and opinions of the authors who participate on Ink Drop Interviews do not necessarily reflect those of the interviewer and should be viewed as personal and individual.