What inspired you to write Lost & Found?
In June, 2006, I wrote a true first-person story for Guideposts magazine called “A Closer Bond,” about the reconciliation that took place between my mother and me in the years leading up to her death. At age 78, when my mother came to live in the in-law apartment attached to our house, I initially worried that it might not be such a good idea. For as long as I could remember, “prickly” was the best word to describe our relationship. We were different in so many ways. We got along better at a distance. But during those twelve years together, we had the opportunity to grow to know, respect, and love each other in a way I never would have dreamed possible. In the last years of her life, my mother suffered blindness from age-related macular degeneration, as well as congestive heart failure. The courage and optimism with which she faced these challenges was absolutely amazing.
Anyhow, the editor-in-chief at GuidepostsBooks liked the magazine story so much, she asked if I would consider expanding it into a full-length memoir. So I did.
What do you believe the reader might “take away” from Lost & Found?
While life is beautiful, it can also be very difficult. All of us have our struggles. It is my fondest hope and prayer that Lost & Found will help readers understand that in God’s economy, nothing in life goes to waste. Everything in life has value – even the pain – and something beautiful and good can come from life’s most difficult circumstances and mistakes. This is the miracle of God’s redemptive grace.
I hope the book will serve as a source of encouragement, hope and healing for anyone who struggles with a difficult relationship with a parent… or who is the adult child of an alcoholic… or who suffers from an eating disorder… or who finds themselves trapped in the “Sandwich Generation,” trying to meet the needs of their own family, while at the same time caring for an aging parent.
Like I said, life can be difficult! But as Helen Keller once said, “We could never learn to be brave and patient if there were only joy in the world.”
Have you always wanted to write your memoir?
No, I have not. For thirty years my specialty has been writing other peoples’ stories (hundreds of them) as a ghostwriter, and children’s books. Believe me, I prayed long and hard before saying “Yes,” to writing this book. At one point in the discernment process, I remember thinking, Well God, You gave me this life. So I’m just going to give it back to You as honestly as I can, for You to do what You want with it. Now that the book is completed, I believe it was worth the effort. It makes me so happy to think that it might be a source of hope and encouragement to others.
What does your family think of Lost & Found?
My husband Tom has been a tremendous encourager and sounding board for the book. Because the book is so personally revealing, I didn’t want to make the mistake of writing it in a total vacuum. Many evenings the two of us would go for a walk and I would read to him what I had written that day. Because I wear reading glasses, I had to be careful to not take a wrong step and fall off the sidewalk! The reaction of my two adult children to the book has been to tease me unmercifully, saying, “Just wait, Mom, ‘til our book about you comes out!” Now that (and I think most parents would agree) is certainly a humbling thought. My sister, who is my only surviving immediate family member, has also been very supportive. Frequently when I was working on the book, I would call her and read parts of it out loud to her over the phone. I hope she will be touched by how she is portrayed in the story. She is my only sister, and I love her very much.
Did your mother know of your writing this book before her death?
No, she did not. And, as you know, the book is very honest. Oftentimes heartbreakingly, painfully so. But I have dedicated Lost & Found to my mother, and I would like to think that she would be honored and pleased with the book. While working on the book – and even now – I am so comforted by the thought of my mother being alive and well and happy in heaven. In my mind’s eye, I can see her dancing with my father. They loved each other very much, and my father’s too-early death was such a tragic loss. One day, I believe that we will all be reunited – and what a joyful day that will be!
What do you feel your calling is as a writer?
I feel it is my calling, or my responsibility to the reader (especially as a nonfiction writer) to be as honest as I can be. Inherent in that calling is being true not only to others and myself, but also to God. Sometimes the simplest ideas can be the most profound. The three simplest ideas that I know and that permeate everything I write are: God is real. God loves you. God has a very special purpose for your life here on earth – it’s the reason you were born! There – doesn’t that make you feel just a little bit better about life?
When a person goes to all the effort and expense to purchase a book, clearly he or she expects something in return. You could say that there is an unspoken contract between the reader and the writer. The reader expects, at the very least, a good story. The reader expects to get their money’s worth of entertainment.
With a memoir, however, the contract between the reader and writer becomes a bit more complicated. The stakes are higher. With a memoir, the reader expects, in addition to a good story, an honest story. In a memoir, there is no place for a “willing suspension of disbelief.” In addition to getting caught up in a good story, the reader of a quality memoir should be able to actually walk alongside the writer, gain insights and learn lessons with the writer, and ultimately come to know the author like a good and trusted friend. There is tremendous power in a good first-person story well-told.
Danielle Trussoni, the accomplished memoirist, puts it this way: “The real pleasure of reading a memoir lies not in the consumption of confessions, but in watching a writer grapple with the reality that shaped him. War, love, addiction: no matter the subject, a good memoirist positions himself as a lens through which we can discern a universal experience.”
I hope that is what I have achieved with Lost & Found.
Who are your favorite authors?
My favorite authors are Anne Tyler, C.S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle, and Elizabeth Sherrill. And Margaret Mitchell and Harper Lee… if only they had written more! I go for writers with heart. P.J. O’Rourke, A.J. Jacobs, and Nora Ephron make me laugh.
Who have been some of your writing mentors?
My first writing mentor was the late Arthur Gordon, Editor in Chief of Guideposts, when I first joined the magazine’s staff back in 1977. Arthur edited our stories with a black Flair felt-tipped pen that worked absolute magic on the page. With his crisp, confident editing, he had the amazing gift of getting right to the heart of a story. Every manuscript he touched resulted in multiple lessons learned. Plus, Arthur was generous with praise (when it was deserved), and he knew just what to say to encourage a young, inexperienced, tentative writer. In recent years, Elizabeth Sherrill (The Hiding Place, All the Way to Heaven) and Anne Tyler (Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, Breathing Lessons, Digging to America) have also been tremendously inspiring – primarily by their example as excellent writers, but also through their personal words of generous encouragement. Never underestimate the power of an encouraging word!
Do you have any favorite stories of encounters with readers of your books and/or articles?
A few weeks after the story about my mother “A Closer Bond,” appeared in Guideposts, a woman wrote the most beautiful letter saying that the story had helped her make the decision to have her aging mother move in with her. She said that she had been wrestling with the issue for months, and that when she read the story it was like getting a sign from God about what she should do. Isn’t it amazing how God works?
As I write this, Lost & Found is still in the very last stages of being designed and proofread. I am grateful that the book has already received several lovely official “pre-publication endorsements” – also known as “blurbs.” Although I must admit, because of the deeply personal nature of the book, there are days when I find myself thinking, Oh, Lord, what in the world have I gone and gotten myself into?
But just today, an editor at GuidepostsBooks forwarded an e-mail from one of the proofreaders for Lost & Found which truly touched my heart. This is what she wrote:
“I have just finished proofreading Lost & Found, and just had to take a moment to write and tell you how much this book spoke to me. Please convey to the author what a wonderful book she has written, one I can relate to on so many levels: My relationship with my mother… my love for the written word… Now if I can only have her good fortune in finding a good husband! … Thanks so much for assigning this particular book manuscript to me, as it really spoke to my heart in a big way.”
How very kind and generous of this woman to take the time in her busy day to write! As you can imagine, I appreciate her thoughtfulness – especially now – more than words can ever say.
What excites you about the writing process? Is it a labor? Labor of love?
Some people tend to romanticize writing. By “romanticize,” I mean that some people think of writing as a purely artistic endeavor, and they think of writers as being uniquely “talented” or “gifted.” The truth is, writing is a skill. And, like any skill, the more you write, the better you write. True, like being able to draw or carry a tune, the ability to string words, sentences and paragraphs together can be an innate aptitude. Yes, there can be wonderful moments in the creative process where you “lose time,” and are utterly astounded at the words that, out of nowhere, suddenly appear on the page. But there is also a lot of truth to the old saying that good writing (like so many good things) is “ninety percent perspiration and ten percent inspiration.” And every writer will tell you the secret to good writing is… re-writing! In the end, writing is hard work. When it comes to the writing process, I guess I’m a little bit like Dorothy Parker, who once quipped, “I hate writing. But I love having written.”
What did you love most about your mother?
I read somewhere once that courage is not about being fearless, but about taking action and moving forward despite being afraid. My mother, in the positive way she dealt with her blindness, is probably the most courageous person I have ever known. Had I not been given the opportunity to observe her closely day-in and day-out as she confronted the challenges and losses associated with aging – especially blindness – I never would have fully appreciated her strength, optimism and courage. I hope when I am older, that I can be so brave.
How were your children impacted by your relationship by your mother?
Just the other day I overheard our adult daughter describe the years that my mother lived in the in-law apartment attached to our house as “three generations of women living together.” I had never thought of it that way before! Our daughter and son were my mother’s only grandchildren, and I know she loved them very much. Because she lived so close-by, she was a constant presence in their lives. When they were young, her back door was always open for their spontaneous visits, and she kept her fridge covered with their art work and photos, and filled with sweet treats. As the children grew older, she became their elder, trusted confidante. She was a non-judgmental “parental option” for them – always willing to listen, and not shy about dispensing her opinions, advice, and hard-earned wisdom. Sometimes I had to laugh. My daughter has a natural fashion sense, which she certainly did not get from me! But she was able to share it with her very stylish grandmother.
As years passed, our children were also exposed to the challenges and heartaches associated with growing old and – following their grandmother’s death – the acute grief experienced with the loss of a loved one. The good news is that they were able to witness first-hand a woman who faced growing old with incredible optimism and courage. In this inter-generational sense, my mother was a wonderful role model – not only for her grandchildren, but for us all.
What one piece of advice would you give, based on your experiences, to a woman who may have a strained relationship with her aging mother?
If you are a woman suffering a strained relationship with your mother, know that you are not alone. I mean this in two ways. First, do not feel unduly guilty or ashamed about your imperfect relationship. Mother-daughter conflict and stress is very common – it’s part of being human. Secondly – and most importantly – remember that God Who loves and cares for you, also loves and cares for your mother, and He is eager to work in both your hearts for healing… forgiveness… understanding… compassion… patience… reconciliation… whatever it is you need. The good news is that it is never too late to begin a new and positive chapter in your relationship.