By Guest Blogger/Interviewer Sue Campbell
Today I’m interviewing author Betty Auchard. Betty’s first book, Dancing in My Nightgown, the Rhythms of Widowhood is her memoir of losing her husband of 49 years, getting through the grief, and learning to live again—in a whole new way. Far from being a morose downer, Betty’s stories are touching, inspiring, upbeat, and even funny. Betty had a lot to learn having married at 19, and never having lived as a single person before. Betty’s quirky, loving, and funny personality makes her one of my favorite authors to know and to work with. In this interview she shares her thoughts on the writing process:
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got started writing. Did you always have a secret desire to be an author?
My secret desires were to be invisible, to fly, and to play the piano. My unconcealed desires were to be a movie star and an artist. I became an artist, so I still have time to become a movie star. But all my life I loved writing letters and telling true stories because I saw, and still do see stories in everything. And I’ve always jotted things down that I didn’t want to forget—sort of like a grocery list for my life.
Becoming a widow at 68 when I had never been single before meant I had more to write about than ever. I wrote about everything that was happening to me because life felt like the twilight zone. It was unreal. I had no way of knowing then that writing was my tool for healing.
Grief recovery was the hardest work I’d ever done in my life and grievers must be allowed to babble about the same old things over and over. It’s the only way we can accept that our loss is real. Writing was like talking to paper. If I felt good I wrote about it. If I felt bad I wrote about it. One day I saw that Postum (Denny’s favorite beverage) was on sale and I almost put a jar in my cart. I was so blindsided by that unconscious act that I had to abandon my grocery cart and run outside to cry. Naturally, I wrote about it. I knew that someday I would look back on my experiences and realize how far I had come.
Writing was more important to me than eating. Naturally I lost weight, but gradually, I regained consciousness and the act of writing took on a life of its own. I became aware that my journaling on junk was starting to use a lot more paper and my writings were becoming pretty good stories that I liked a lot. One thing led to another and I started taking writing classes. This all happened over about six months. By six months I was in love with telling about life from my point of view which sometimes made me cry, but it felt good; like vomiting from my eyes. Sometimes my quirky point of view made me laugh at myself. As hard as I tried not to come off as a widow I always revealed that I was one. It made me feel vulnerable. I may as well have worn a talking T shirt that shouted, “This Lady Lives Alone.” But, to be honest, I liked my stories so much that I practically forced strangers to read them. I knew then that Betty, the Writing Beast had been born.
2. Tell us about your writing habits. When you write do you need music? Or quiet? Is there a special place, time or ritual you use to get in the groove? And has this changed over time? For example from the time you wrote the first draft of the first book until now as you work on the second?
Eleven years ago when I wrote all day long in my nightgown, I didn’t know how to use the computer so I did a lot of writing in bed where the light from the window was perfect. If not there, then I wrote in my lounge chair where the good lamp was located. I wrote on a lined tablet on a clipboard, and used only a fine tip Pilot Precise pen. My thoughts landed on paper as easily as I talk.
Once I learned how to use the computer I relocated upstairs to what used to be my art studio and is now my computer room. I first TELL myself the story out loud a few times and then I start typing without stopping, typos and all. It’s still a lot like free writing but it’s on the screen and I feel as though I’m still talking. I write best in the mornings when my brain is awake and lively. But I still write at night or any old time I’m in the mood or when I know I won’t be interrupted. Sometimes that’s into the morning hours. I let other things go unattended, which is slothful but true.
My best writing time was two months ago when I treated myself to a hotel room. I checked into a Holiday Inn Express, 25 miles away so I wouldn’t be tempted to dash home for any reason. I told my children not to call or e-mail unless it was really important and a request for a recipe was not important. It was wonderful. I stayed one week, went home for one week, and returned for one more week. I ate sparingly and used the small fridge and microwave in my room for simple food. I managed to get ahead on my second manuscript. The cost? About $2,000, but I told myself that I deserved it.
When I think a story is finished, it’s imperative that I read it aloud. Only then do I hear what is clunky or awkward. The sound of the words and the cadence of a sentence are critical. A radio is distracting and never on when I write, which means that it is never on. I watch TV only when I eat something or to watch Dexter or The United States of Tara. The truth is that I sit way too long at my computer because I’m in love with it. And where the day goes I’ll never know. Time just races by when I’m in the writing zone.
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