Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I grew up wanting to be a writer but was never quite sure how to get there. (In elementary school I actually wrote short books with terrible pictures and tried to sell them to my friends.) In college my academic advisor gave me a reality check, and I put my dreams on hold to seek a more practical career, first in advertising and then as a high school journalism teacher. The desire was always there, though. The real world just kept getting in the way.
What finally got you writing?
The death of my daughter was the main catalyst, since my book is all about my experience with Avery. I remember the day I started writing. It had been just over a year since Avery’s death, and my husband had taken a job in Texas. I’d left my job teaching and was back in Michigan tying up loose ends before I joined him. It was November. It was cold and rainy, and I was cooped up in the house with my 4 month-old “rainbow baby” Carter. I was tired, I was lonely, and I was probably a little bit depressed. After Carter was born it was kind of like people stopped thinking about Avery, but I couldn’t stop thinking about her. Every time I looked at my son I saw her face. I just felt like I needed to tell my story, Avery’s story, if not for others then at least for myself. In the weeks following Avery’s death I wrote in unfocused spurts, not for any particular reason other than to get the thoughts out of my head. So that November I sorted through that random gibberish and started trying to put my story together.
How long did it take you to write Holding Avery?
It took a while. I didn’t tell anyone that I was writing the book, not even my husband. I’m not sure why, I guess because what I was writing was so personal I wasn’t sure if I’d ever be able to share it. When I made the move to Texas I put the book on hold for a little bit. When I finally started writing again, it was usually during naptime. Sometimes I wrote late at night while everyone was sleeping. All in all it took me about a year to do the first draft. Then I put it away for a few months, unsure of what to do with it. When I got pregnant with my second son in 2010, I couldn’t stop thinking about the book. I got it back out and promised myself I’d have it edited to perfection before Preston was born. I finished my final edit in July, and Preston was born in October. So when you add it all up, it took about 18 months.
Was it difficult writing about something so personal?
Yes and no. When I was physically writing the book I’d get in this zone where I kind of detached myself. But when I’d go back over what I’d written, I relived everything all over again, and it would get really emotional. I remember reading through the section about Avery’s birth saying to myself, “Oh my God, this really happened to me.”
Was telling your story cathartic?
Definitely. After Avery died, I was a mess. I had all of these thoughts and feelings running through my head, and I couldn’t make sense of anything. Putting my story in writing helped me truly understand the magnitude of what happened, and it helped me to finally process my grief once and for all. I got to know myself a lot better, and it also made me more confident, especially when it comes to talking about Avery. Before I usually avoided talking about her because it always made people uncomfortable. Now I talk about her all the time.
What finally made you decide to try and publish your story?
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit apprehensive about the whole thing. It’s a look at the darkest time in my life, and I actually felt a little violated at the thought of letting people read it. But one day I decided to try to read the book as a reader. As I went through the pages I thought of all of the books I read after Avery died, of how I was looking for something to relate to and couldn’t find it. There had to be hundreds, probably even thousands of people out there at that moment that were looking for the same thing and couldn’t find it. I wanted to put something out there that wasn’t so sugarcoated, something that was honest and raw and ugly, a book that mirrored what it was really like to lose my daughter. So I sent it out to agents and publishers and hoped for the best.
Who is your target audience?
I think when people see a book about stillbirth their immediate reaction is that if they haven’t had a stillbirth, it’s not for them. But this book is about more than stillbirth. It’s a memoir, but I think it reads a lot like fiction. It truly is a story about love and loss, two things every human being can relate to. It’s also a story of resilience, about finding your way through darkness when it seems like there’s no way out. It’ll probably bring out some tears, but I honestly think it’s a story that anyone, male or female, will find worth reading.
Is it scary to think that other people are going to get such a personal glimpse into your life?
A little bit. It’s hard having my family and friends read it, because they tend to feel terrible when they find out how I really felt, like they should have done more. Really, though, at the time the only thing that would have made me better was if my daughter hadn’t died. No one could fix that. It’s also a little weird to think that so many strangers will know so much about me. But it’s very rewarding to think that my story might actually make a difference in someone’s life.
What should readers take away from your book?
I hope my readers will realize how strong the human spirit is, and that life can be beautiful even in the face of tragedy. I hope that it helps people who have had a stillbirth feel less alone, and that it helps their friends and family understand what we really go through. I also hope it makes people realize how many of us there are. I hate to be preachy, but in the U.S. alone, an estimated 26,000 babies are lost to stillbirth each year. Technically, if stillbirth were included in the leading causes of death in the U.S., it would rank 11th. It’s such a taboo subject, something most people are afraid to talk about, yet it happens all the time. And it can happen to anyone.
How do you spend your free time?
I have two small children, and they definitely take up most of my time. But I also enjoy running, cooking, playing the piano, and reading, of course. We also have a boat, and that tends to be my happy place in the summer. There’s something about being out on the water that really puts me at peace.
Who are your favorite authors?
My literary taste is all over the place. I taught English for a while, so I have a soft spot for the classics. I love Orwell, Faulkner, and Hemingway, and two of my favorites from my high school days are Flaubert’s Madame Bovary and Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. On the flip side, I’m a Sookie Stackhouse fan, I’ve read just about every book by Dean Koontz, I love Tom Wolfe and Jeanette Walls, and last summer I couldn’t put down The Secret History by Donna Tartt.
What are you reading right now?
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson.
Are you going to write another book?
I hope so. I’ve always wanted to write fiction, and I’ve been tinkering around with various storylines trying to figure out my niche. It’s hard with two preschoolers at home, but I’m determined to find the time. Even if it takes me ten years to do it.