Two weeks into the New Year… how many of you have bombed on your resolutions already? I’m not pointing fingers or condemning, as I have already failed (miserably, I might add). Resolutions are tough. They are always things we couldn’t bring ourselves to do during the year so it seems kind of silly that we talk ourselves into believing we can get them done simply because the last digit of the date has changed. But, the point I’m trying to make is, we plug along. Every year we go through the same motions, the same self-trickery, and why? Because deep down, we want to succeed.
Well, that is exactly what the authors I feature on Ink Drop Interviews are looking to do. Succeed. Writing is a tough business. There are many writers out there and there are many who write. I won’t go off on a tangent regarding the difference. There are people out there who will do a much better job than I will at teaching you the difference, among many other valuable lessons of writing. (I recommend Kristen Lamb, for one. She knows her stuff and is very generous in sharing what she knows).
The response to Ink Drop Interviews has been great. Even better than I had originally anticipated when I first began this blog. The one thing I would
like LOVE, to see improve is the feedback. Many are reading the interviews, but few are leaving feedback. Your feedback is the support, or in some cases, the honesty the featured authors need. After all, we all think our writing is the greatest thing since the invention of the GPS, but when we hear the truth from a stranger (good or bad), someone who took a minute from their day to read about us and our work, that’s when we step into reality.
So, if you read the interview, please take that extra minute to leave your thoughts for the author. They appreciate it more than you know!
And now… let’s chat with Christine M. Grote, author of ‘Dancing in Heaven – a sisters memoir’.
CG - Having a profoundly disabled sister had a profound effect on me. Annie was born a year after me with severe brain damage, although it wasn’t evident at first.When she got to be the age where she should have been sitting up and crawling, but wasn’t, my parents took her to the doctor. That eventually led to her diagnosis of severe brain damage, or cerebral palsy. She never outgrew the needs of an infant. I always knew I’d write about Annie, some day. When she died, I felt compelled to share her story. I didn’t want her story or the value of her existence to end with her. I wanted to give her a legacy. Annie never worked, never married, and never had children. So she didn’t have access to the ways most people have of making a lasting impression on this planet. But Annie touched a lot of people’s lives. She was like a shining star. I wanted her life to have mattered.
IDI – You’ve said where the idea for ‘Dancing in Heaven’ originated, but where do you get your ideas for other projects?
CG – I primarily write non-fiction, although lately I’ve been tempted to try my hand at fiction. I took a couple of fiction-writing classes in college a few years back, but mostly I still wrote non-fiction with the names and a few details changed. ‘Dancing in Heaven’ originated as a short story I wrote for one of the fiction classes. Because I write non-fiction I get my ideas from everyday life: what I see, read or know from experience. When my ideas come to me, they sometimes arrive in the middle of the night waking me, or while I am behind the steering wheel on an interstate from here to there. They are often compelling and insistent. Sometimes I think it is my ideas that are in control, and not me. When something I witness touches me, or moves me deeply, I often feel compelled to share it through the written word.
IDI – Pen and paper or computer and Word? The bustle of Barnes and Noble or the quiet of your study? Alone or within a writing group? Tell us, what is your most inspiring/productive setting?
CG – It’s interesting that when I first started to write seriously in my forties, I couldn’t write well at the keyboard but needed the feel of the pen in my hand to access my thoughts. Over time, I have found that now I can express myself directly on the computer. As I allude to in the book, I wrote a lot of ‘Dancing in Heaven’ in the early hours of the morning, here at my computer desk in our study where I sit as I type this interview. I don’t believe I could focus or write well in a group or noisy setting, although I have at times written in a coffee shop. I am most productive here at home with a hot pot of tea within easy access. I also like to print things out and edit or revise by hand at times, so being close to my printer is a big plus.
IDI – I’ve heard arguments for each side, but when writing, do you outline or sketch the entire book before you feel comfortable enough to begin your draft or do you prefer to fly by the seat of your pants?
CG – I am a messy writer. I jot ideas down on bits and pieces of paper as they come to me and shove them in my pocket. I write what is foremost on my mind, when it is there. Then I end up doing a lot of physical cutting and pasting and moving things around. This was especially true in ‘Dancing in Heaven’. I wrote each chapter in a journal fashion about the days leading up to Annie’s death. But for the second half of each chapter, I inserted a vignette or an essay about something that would flesh out the story of who Annie was, what she meant to us, and how our lives were affected by her. Then I threw photographs into the mix. So, I had little note cards of the current story line, the vignettes, and the photos, and I played something of a match game shifting things around from time to time.
IDI – What was the best advice ever given to you, and by whom?
CG – When I returned to college in my forties, for a second degree after raising our four children, one of my favorite teachers required that we use two or three resources in everything we wrote for a composition class. It was a nuisance at the time. I remember one time in particular I was writing a little fun essay about taking my dog for a walk in the park, and I threw in all kinds of referenced factual information about things like how leaves change color, the fact that female sparrows are attracted to males who not only sing a lot but know a lot of songs, an agricultural experiment about grasshoppers, and chaos theory in reference to the way leaves fall. I was trying to be obnoxious at the time by throwing all this technical stuff into a pretty little observation of nature and people as I walked my dog in the park. But I ended up really liking the essay. It worked out. And now I see that if I can add something I found in a resource it often gives my non-fiction substance. I used a lot of records in ‘Dancing in Heaven’ from the doctor, the hospital, and Hospice. The records added a lot to the story.
IDI – I know authors sometimes have trouble when writing about family members. Did your family support you while you were writing ‘Dancing in Heaven’?
CG – I think the difficulty that can happen with memoirs is that you can cross the line between public and private information. This line is not the same for all people. When I gave final drafts of my memoir to my siblings and asked them to sign release forms, my oldest sister and younger brother asked to be removed from the memoir for reasons I don’t completely agree with or fully understand. My sister felt my portrayal of her was too negative. I think both siblings were not comfortable with my writing about Annie’s death. I think my sister would have preferred the story be about the happy times, focused on the light that Annie shined. But I wanted to touch people’s hearts. I think that people, who don’t have first-hand experience with someone like Annie, sometimes aren’t able to fully grasp the humanness of someone who is so completely disabled. I thought that sharing my journey as Annie was dying would best illuminate how significant she was to my family and me. I didn’t want readers to just think that Annie was a wonderful person; I wanted them to feel the loss. I believe with some readers, I have accomplished this. So, I made a major revision of the story and removed all references to my two siblings. My parents and one sister supported me the entire way. The story now reads as if I am from a family of five people: two parents with three daughters, when in reality there were five of us children. I lost a couple of excellent vignettes I would have liked to share, but I believe that in the end, Annie’s story still shines through.
IDI – In your opinion, what are the biggest misconceptions new authors have about the publishing industry?
CG – As a novice author, I’m probably not equipped to answer this in general terms. But speaking for myself, I thought it would be easier. I initially wanted to go the route of a traditional publisher, but the more I read and researched, the more I realized how very long that path could be. And I am not a patient person. I also realized that the author loses control of a lot of things about the book when they have an agent and an editor. I just wasn’t willing to give up that control with this particular story about Annie. Maybe if i were writing fiction I would feel differently about this. Either way, traditionally or self-published, the responsibility falls largely on the author to build a platform and promote the book. That was my biggest surprise.
IDI – What do you do when you’re not writing?
CG – Right now I’m promoting my book when I’m not writing. But in addition to that, I love to read. I belong to the Book Addicts group on Goodreads and try to keep up with their reading schedule. I also hope to read a lot of Indies this year to support them, but also to find authors that I may enjoy. I also enjoy photography, travel and gardening, all of which I post about on my blog:
IDI – Define a great book.
CG – A great book is one that I can’t put down, one that I miss when I’m finished, and one that adds something to the content of my character. Readers have told me all three things about ‘Dancing in Heaven’, so I feel happy about that.
IDI – As a writer, what is the one thing you would like people to know about you?
CG – I write to touch reader’s hearts. I think the more we feel, the more or the deeper we understand the human condition, the more fully alive we become.
IDI – I think it takes an enormous amount of courage to write a memoir, especially on a subject that has had such a profound effect on your life. I admire you for that. I would also like to thank you for sharing a part of your story with us. Is there anything else you’d like to say to the readers?
CG – I would like to let them know where they can get in touch with me and/or my work….
I’d love to hear from you. You can visit my website at
where you will find links to my Facebook page, my Twitter account (cmsmith57), and my WordPress blog. I try to respond to all comments I receive.
You can find excerpts and other reviews about Dancing in Heaven at my blog. (http://randomthoughtsfrommidlife.wordpress.com/dancing-in-heaven/)
Dancing in Heaven is available at:
Ink Drop Interviews are conducted by Kathy Reinhart, author of the award-winning novel, Lily White Lies.
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If you are a published author and would be interested in participating in an interview, contact me at ladybuggerly at hotmail for a questionnaire.
Beginning this week I am adding something new to my blogs. I come across many interesting, informative and just plain fun blogs during the course of the week and I have decided to include one in each of my blogs. I would like to thank Stephen Hise and Thea Atkinson for this one: