I completed this interview for Hambidge in July 2012.
· What are you writing?
I am writing Unreformed, my teenage captivity narrative, which is set in the Dominican Republic at the evangelical Christian reform school, Escuela Caribe, (also the setting of Jesus Land by Julia Scheeres).
· What inspired you to write your most recent work?
After my son was born, an event that coincided with the War on Terror and abuses at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, I returned to writing. (They read everything I wrote in reform school- I didn't write anything personal for years). The Iraq War and 9/11 triggered many repressed memories. I had to make sense of not only what happened to my me and my friends at Escuela Caribe, but to understand how and why individuals can be coerced into hurting others. I also had to face my worst memories in order to be a healthy parent.
How did you come up with the title?
Writing helped me reform the individual I was before I entered reform school.
What books or people influenced your writing?
The Lucifer Effect by Phillip Zimbardo, Help at Any Cost: How the Troubled Teen Industry Cons Parents and Hurts Kids by Maia Szalavitz, Jesus Land by Julia Scheeres, The Ticking Is the Bomb by Nick Flynn, The Adderall Diaries by Stephen Elliott, The Road to Whatever by Elliott Currie, To Be Human (essay) by Anouar Benmalek, the poetry of Langston Hughes and T.S. Eliot, the music of Vic Chesnutt, particularly North Star Deserter…and so much more….
· How did you research your book?
I transcribed journals and diaries from the time period about which I am writing, read the above books, and reflected upon them, connecting them to my experiences. I have interviewed people I went to school with.
· Did you base any of your characters on real people?
Everything I have written is based on actual events and people.
Do you have any other books planned in the future?
I’d love to write a biography of my friend and neighbor Vic Chesnutt. I would like to write about growing up in the Mississippi Delta, where my family lived for seven generations.
· Which of your stories or characters are your favorite? Do you dislike any of them?
I had a friend I call Crystal. She wasn’t raised religious. She constantly challenged my acceptance of dogma. I am trying to learn to love all my characters, even those who did me harm.
What advice can you give to young writers who want to publish their books?
Even if you have a full-time job, aim to write every day (I’m a school librarian). Revise. Revise. Revise. If you are writing memoir, when you begin, focus on scenes/ memories, as opposed to a chronological structure. Everything else will fall into place.(I learned this the hard way).
How did you hear about Hambidge?
I wanted to attend a residency in the South. Hambidge’s location, an hour and a half from my front door, is ideal.
What made you decide to come?
Initially I came because of its proximity to Athens. I returned because it truly is an amazing place. It’s beautiful, the staff is amazing, the residents are all creating inspirational art.
How has the experience affected you or your work?
Uninterrupted time for reflection cannot be overestimated. I love roaming the trails in between writing bouts.
· What do you do when you’re not writing?
Spending time with my family, taking my dog on runs or dancing to zumba with my girlfriends, reading, rocking out to one of Athens’ 500+ bands.
· Do you have any pets?
A Borador I adopted on my last Hambidge visit, named Mary Hambidge.
· Is there a specific place in the house (or out of the house) that you like to write?
My husband restored a ‘58 Mercury teardrop trailer….it’s my backyard studio.
If you could go anywhere in the whole world, either for a vacation or to live there, where would you go?
The Dominican Republic
What book are you reading right now?
I just finished Anna Jean Mayhew’s a Dry Grass in August and Erin Tocknell’s Confederate Streets. Both were written by Hambidge residents---great reads! I also am reading the Situation and the Story by Vivian Gornick, Come On All You Ghosts by Matthew Zapruder, and re-reading (Not That You Asked) by Steve Almond.