Writers write for many reasons. Some write because they simply feel that they must, because they know — without a doubt — that it is what they were meant to do. Some write because it’s their job or a scholastic requirement. And others write for its therapeutic virtues, because writing helps to flesh out feelings that need to be expressed before they can ever be spoken. Author Julia Alvarez is attributed to a quote about such writings. “It’s like my whole world is coming undone, but when I write, my pencil is a needle and thread and I’m stitching the scraps back together.”
Today’s Author Spotlight is on Stephanie A. Collins, author of the best-selling, amazing novel With Angel’s Wings. The book has had a tremendous reception, and has received numerous awards, including:
Listed on the Summer 2015 Spirited Woman Top 12 Book List
Stephanie stitched together a touching novel and a must-read when she penned With Angel’s Wings. Following is my interview with her:
To begin, I would like to congratulate you. Not only have you written a wonderful, touching novel, but you’ve received well-deserved recognition for it. Were you surprised by the response that you received?
I was very pleasantly surprised! I prided myself on the honesty of my writing, and I worried about reader judgement. I’m blown away by the positive reviews. The most meaningful feedback thus far came from another mother of a toddler who has the same rare genetic disorder as my daughter (Wolf-Hirschorn Syndrome). She messaged me on Facebook and said that before she read my story she didn’t think anyone could possibly relate to how she felt. When she finished the book she bought 4 more copies to hand out to her family members, in hopes that if they read and understood what I went through/how I felt, they’d better understand her. That right there made any work and uncertainty of publishing Totally. Worth. It.
Let me say first, in case any of our readers aren’t aware, this is actually your story. Is that correct?
Yes. This is my story. I changed all character names out of respect to (and fear of, in one case!) those who did not want to be named (I’m “Laura” in the book), but aside from names, the story is 100% true.
So, what made you decide to write the novel?
In what felt like the blink of an eye, I went from being a young woman wrestling with a temperamental marriage to a single mother of an asthmatic, autistic toddler and an epileptic infant in heart failure. There were suddenly an overabundance of WTF moments, OMG moments, and “I can’t even remotely believe this is happening” moments. I began writing therapeutically, and I found my recollections came in layers. I would first write what happened (like, “The baby stopped breathing in my arms, but I didn’t start CPR right away as I should have.”), and I would think, “Oh, I handled that horribly; I’m such a rotten mother!” Then I’d remember, “Oh yeah; this was going on, too,” (like, the fact that I was a young, sleep-deprived, postpartum mother who had just bore witness to hours of failed IV attempts; was reeling over a rare, potentially fatal diagnosis – holding onto hope for survival, but not having any idea what that survival would actually mean for me or my baby, while simultaneously preparing myself for the very real possibility of her passing…oh, and also “mourning the death of the healthy child I thought I had” before receiving her diagnosis). Then it would hit me that 3 other things were happening at the same time (for instance, a failing marriage, pathetic financial woes, and my other daughter’s increasingly bizarre behaviors), and so…if that portion of my parenting career didn’t exactly resemble June Cleaver, well…no wonder! Those were some pretty extreme circumstances!
Then other people (specifically nurses and therapists) began to read what I had written, and said things like, “Wow, I’m working with another family right now, and I’m certain the mom is struggling with the feelings you wrote about here, but she doesn’t seem comfortable sharing her thoughts. I think she’s ashamed or afraid to open up, and I think reading something like this would really help her to know she’s not alone…that the way she’s responding to what life is throwing at her right now is only natural.” After many similar comments, I decided to take a deep breath, close my eyes, and bear my exposed, bleeding heart to the world. I figured if sharing my tale would help just one family facing similar challenges, my fear of criticism from the rest of the reading world would all be well worth it.
Because there are so many aspiring novelists out there, perhaps wanting to write their own story, what would you recommend as a starting point? What was your writing process like?
Boy, I don’t know I’m the best person to answer that question, since my writing began as no memoir at all. It was simply “mad scribbling” – a coping mechanism that helped me through some stressful times. As such, my thoughts were not conveyed in chronological “chapters”; there was no seamless timeline. There was no regard for proper sentence structure. All I had on paper was my truth. My gut. My soul. While my writings were far from refined, they painted a picture in vivid enough detail to inspire my daughters’ nurses and therapists to encourage me to publicly share my tale in its entirety. From there I just created a timeline/table of contents, and filled in the content my original writing hadn’t included. I would encourage anyone to write if he/she feels it might be therapeutic in any way, and to write honestly and from the heart. Everything else can be worked out later.
Since you were writing your own story, did you come to any obstacles in your writing process? For example, were there times in your storytelling that you wanted to add something but didn’t? I would think that it’s even harder to tell a story when it’s 100% true.
I think it was easier to make a commitment to honesty when my honest thoughts/feelings were already down on paper. Because I didn’t intend to publish in the beginning, I had no incentive to embellish or omit content. I would say my biggest challenge was also what made the whole process so therapeutic. Like I mentioned earlier, I wrote in “layers”. I’d begin with a challenging incident, then I’d fill in with another thing that was going on at the time…and another…and another, until a full, robust picture of the actual situation formed. Sometimes, “digging” through the layers of emotions was a challenge – mainly because it forced me to re-live some of my most difficult times over and over. There are scenes that are still difficult for me to read…some I still can’t read without at least tears in my eyes. Interestingly, the decision to rewrite the story in the 3rd person perspective (a suggestion from my editor/publisher) and change the character names, ended up adding to the therapeutic nature of the book. I found I wasn’t as hard on Laura as I was on myself. I had more compassion for her. It even opened my eyes to the extent of the role depression played in the story. I could more easily acknowledge and appreciate the power of the diagnosis when thinking of it affecting someone else. While I don’t “spoon feed” the significance of depression to my readers, I hope they can see as clearly as I can now see, just how much it can influence all in your life and just how damaging (and potentially dangerous) it can be.
How did you go about promoting your book?
I began my position of Chief Director of Advertising/Marketing CEO with the “Deer In Headlights” approach. It took me a good 4 or 5 months to fully realize that creating a website and Facebook page doesn’t equate a marketing plan. I needed to step it up. Then I became a Reluctant Marketer. I associated marketing with “tooting your own horn”, and I hate that. Not only did I feel I’d have to yell out, “Hey! Know what you need? You need to read my book!”, but I’d have to add, “You need to read this book – this book ALL ABOUT ME!” I found that focusing on networking helped me to see marketing in a much more pleasant light. I set out to just get “out there” in the cyber world. I got more involved in Facebook groups, Goodreads, Google Plus, and Pinterest. I began “collecting” connections and followers on Twitter and LinkedIn, etc. I learned how to run a promotion – and effectively advertise said promotion. That’s when I started to really see some success reaching my marketing goals.
From the epilogue on your website (http://www.withangelswings.net), I see that you’re no longer working in the nursing field, so as to devote more time to your children. Have you thought anymore about writing? You obviously have a gift for storytelling!
I have no plans of writing another book. A number of people have asked me to write a sequel, though, so I decided on a “compromise”. In June I began writing a monthly blog post as something of a continuation of my epilogue. I call it “With Angel’s Wings: The Later Years”. I’m having a lot of fun with it, and once again I’m finding it therapeutic. A post I wrote in August, for instance, addressed conflicting feelings I’ve been struggling with over advanced directives (and the reality of having to follow through with those advanced directives in an emergency situation). Other parents in similar circumstances have thanked me for the post, telling me they could completely relate to it. Interestingly, the conversation ends there. It’s a subject that is very difficult to discuss [when it’s your own family you’re talking about]. I’m glad I could at least let other families know they aren’t alone in their difficult, conflicted feelings. And thank you for the comment on my storytelling ability. I don’t know how much of it is my writing and how much of it is my [crazy] family giving me AMPLE subject matter to share, but I’ll take the compliment, anyway!
Could you offer any snippets of advice to aspiring writers?
In my opinion, there are two aspects of authorship – writing and marketing. My advice is to write from the heart, then hire a really good editor. Trust me; it’s money well spent. Marketing is all about reaching a broad audience. Social media can work really well – as long as you follow the Golden Rule. If you wouldn’t want someone filling your Facebook notifications box with 20 updates per day, don’t do that to all of your Facebook friends by listing your book on every possible literary group page. If you want others to retweet you on Twitter, retweet everyone else. Good karma…it’s what sells books!
Thank you, Stephanie!