Like so many folks these days, my Cousin Ken was laid off from his job when they downsized. He chose to go to college and find a new career. While taking English II, he had to write an essay. He asked if he could interview me about my writing. I said sure.
It makes me sound better than I think I am! Here is it. Let me know what you think. By the way, he got an A on his paper.
Interview with Dee
By Ken Erhard
Cousin Dee has been one of the most out of the box thinkers I have ever known. I have always looked forward to spending time with her and listening to her stories of the antics of our family. For many years she threatened us with being placed in one of her stories but we took that for granted. It wasn’t until that last ten years that those threats became real when she began getting published. I never knew she was taking writing seriously until I started receiving reports through a social media site that she had one story published, then another and so on. I decided to interview her about her writing as I have also given some thought of writing from time to time and wanted to know her experiences while achieving her goal.
I first became interested in writing when my fifth grade English teacher pulled me aside to tell me how much she liked a short story I had written. To my surprise, this was also the case when I asked Dee the question of when did she start writing? She stated that “she always wrote but started giving it more thought during her senior year in high school when she received an A on an English paper”. She also stated that her mother was not very supportive and suggested she become a nurse and “not something crazy like a writer”. Dee kiddingly added her mother said she would never make any money as a writer and added that her mother was correct in the latter statement.
Dee and her family moved out of state around 1976 and kept in contact with the rest of the family through letters. It was through the responses to these letters that she started to become more serious about writing. She would write amusingly about her family and other things and I recall laughing hysterically over some of the stories while my mother read them. I remember when she started sending duplicated copies due to the number she was sending, and was always glad to see one laying on the dining room table when I got home. It was through our supportive replies that when she decided to go to college “at the old age of 38 I was asked what I wanted to do, I said write”. The first class she took was Creative Writing and followed that with journalism.
These family update letters became the basis for many of the stories she has had published and are the favorite subjects to write about. One that she is most proud of was titled “My Beloved Crazy Relatives” that was sold to Chicken Soup for the Soul. She also sells stories to True Story and True Confessions and all deal mostly with families. Selling to these publications may not sound like a large accomplishment but as she states later in the interview, “The competition is fierce.” She had to learn to toughen up and realize that not everyone will like what you write and can be harsh critics. I came away from that portion of the interview realizing in order to make money as a writer you have to sell stories to whomever is willing to purchase them.
Along with earning money from the stories I asked what writing does for her personally. “It keeps me sane” was her immediate response. She then jokingly reminisced of a bad winter shortly after moving to Indiana from Ohio. “The kids were out of school more than a week. If it wasn’t for writing home to family and friends, I may have ended up in a padded room, instead of a closed door bedroom, while the kids fought and were loud.” She has come to understand that if she doesn’t write for a while for whatever reason, she begins to feel “grouchy”. The next statement she made an impact on me; “Writing for most writers is like breathing. You have to write”. It made an impact because usually when I pick up my pen and paper, it’s to release something that’s building up inside me. It has been a way for me to release stress and tension over the years.
Another question I asked was for my own needs. I struggle with having many ideas for stories but letting them fall away as well as getting “writers block”. Here are some of the exercises she uses to deal with these issues. “I lay in bed early in the morning, eyes closed, and start concocting story ideas.” She warns that sometimes it can take days to get through a block but most times she can start writing again that day. To keep the creative ideas flowing she recommends is to journal non-stop for ten minutes regardless of what you are writing. I personally have used this method in the past with success. Still another suggestion is to pay attention to what you see and what you hear. An example she used was “Have you ever heard the news and thought who would do that?” She then will take the news report and see if she can develop a story from it.
As I stated earlier, Dee didn’t start getting published until more recent years yet her dream started over forty years ago in high school. I asked her what suggestions she would give aspiring writers. She replied she would have “quit letting life get in my way and sit my butt to the chair, block out everything around me and write more”. She explained that she needed to work to help make ends meet at home over the years and that took away from her writing time. She also added “Never give up your dream. Don't listen to the internal person saying you can't make it, why bother trying”. She also had to learn to take criticism and not let it impede her writing. She also added that if one story fails, go on to write another or ask a person you respect to give you feedback on the work. The key for her it seems is to just keep writing.
I have developed a new respect for Dee and what she has done to achieve her dream. It was not until this interview that I realized how long she has aspired to be a writer and how much strength it took for her to keep going. Thinking back over the years and remembering her telling us she had written stories but could not get them published never really occurred to me what that meant for her. The rejection she went through and so forth. Dee has become an inspiration to me and also one of my “respected people” I can go to for feedback and help with my writing.