Monday, July 29, 2013

Interview with Grace Peterson, author of "Reaching: A Memoir"

Grace Peterson. (Submitted photo)

I am very pleased to present an interview I did with Grace Peterson, author of Reaching: A Memoir.
I met author Grace Peterson through an online writers’ community called She Writes. That led me to her blog Subplots by Grace, where she blogs about writing, does book reviews, and discusses mental health and spiritual and religious abuse.
Grace also writes about gardening, one of her passions, and has a blog called Gardening with Grace where she shares her experiences among the plants in her garden.
Grace writes beautifully, whether it’s about mental health, memoir or gardening. And she has been a good friend. She has been very supportive of me and of others facing mental health issues and just the hardships of life.
When her memoir Reaching was published by All Things That Matter Press earlier this year, I was anxious to read it.
I was so impressed with Grace’s honesty in writing about her difficult childhood, the years she spent under the influence of a cult leader, and her recovery through the help of her loving family, good therapy and her garden.
And as I wrote in my book review of her book, Grace not only “reaches” out for healing in her book, she reaches out to connect with others and help them not feel so alone.
You can read my review of Reaching on Amazon here.

Grace, Please introduce yourself to us.
Thank you Tina, for inviting me to share a little about myself and my book. I’ve been married to my best friend since 1980 and we have four grown children, a boy and three girls. I live in western Oregon. Writing and gardening are my two passions.

What is your memoir about? How would you describe it to potential readers?
Reaching begins with the story of a very fearful girl tentatively navigating a confusing world. At 14, I have my first of many sleep disorder episodes and an increasing sense of impending doom. By adulthood I’m living a double life, trying to look normal to the world while constantly dealing with panic attacks. When my fourth child is born, I’m convinced that my postpartum visions and impulses are the work of the devil. I seek the help of a modern-day exorcist I call “Brock.” For the ensuing seven years, I am blinded by my cult-like adoration to Brock and his very cult-like teachings. Eventually I seek legitimate treatment for my mental health issues and reenter society.

Why did you decide to write your memoir?
In the beginning, my intention was to sort out my thinking and come to terms with a very difficult time in my life. To do so meant going back to piece together my messed up childhood. Although I have a very good memory, I needed to clear the pervasive fog and look my history square in the face. As I wrote, I realized my project would be good for my kids to read at some point. Eventually it dawned on me that I was creating something more universal and that if I structured it well enough, it could be a best seller. Well maybe not, but hopefully people can relate to it.

What difficulties did you face as you wrote your memoir?
There were a few times when I really had to psych myself into opening the vault. For example, in my earlier drafts, I had decided to skip the Hawaii years altogether. It was just too painful to go there. And also in my earlier drafts, I skimmed over much of the Brock years. Not only was it painful and embarrassing to come face to face with that era, most of it was spent in a stupor so recall was really sketchy. Fortunately I kept journals during those years which helped tremendously. 

What is the central message of your memoir?
To humanize mental illness. It’s all too easy to judge someone based on a snippet of observation. We’ve all seen that person who is a little “off.” We shy away because we don’t know what’s wrong or how to respond, or we’re too busy to care or grossed out. But all human beings have a story and there is a depth of compassion and empathy that comes with knowing the circumstances that surround that person. My hope is that my story, like so many others, will help humanize mental illness.

Did you experience any kind of catharsis or relief after writing your book?
I experienced catharsis at points all along in the process. As I mentioned, I had bolted the Hawaii vault pretty tightly so prying it open was no small feat. I went to the library and hauled home as many books about the Big Island as I could find. Reading about the history of the Hawaiian people helped me understand their animosity towards people who have my physical characteristics. Another form of catharsis was rediscovering the music I listened to during my teen years. I played songs over and over, re-feeling all of those buried emotions. Somewhere along the way, I was able to find closure from that very difficult time in my life which was very cathartic.

What kinds of responses have you received from your readers?
I’ve been extremely grateful for the positive feedback I’ve received and I make sure those kindnesses reach that scared, lonely kid from yesteryear. I’m an introvert by nature so I was a little worried about having my story made so public. Two powerful cult tenets are keeping secrets and not trusting “outsiders.” It’s taken a lot of years to muster the courage to break those tenets and the encouragement I’ve received has been a precious gift. It has restored my belief that most people are decent, caring and generous.  

What’s next for you in your writing life?
A calming counterpoint to my chaotic life was my pursuit of gardening. Last winter I wrote my second book, a gardening memoir. It is a much lighter read as I discuss my thirty years of blisters and blunders and how sweet it feels to have a plant actually do what the magazine says it’s supposed to do. I’m looking forward to sharing it with all of you. 

Thank you, Tina, for inviting me to talk with you and your readers.



Feel free to leave comments and questions for Grace in the comments section. And please check out her book Reaching, and her blogs, Subplots by Grace and Gardening with Grace.

45 comments:

  1. Since I grew up in a very dysfunctional family, I read with interest this post...Grace is very brave for facing the past and not only is she in a much better place but she is helping others to be brave with their stories as well....

    Thank you for sharing Grace and her book with us....

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    1. Hi Nancy, Brave or nuts, sometimes I wonder. Actually it's been very therapeutic to share my story and I hope it helps others. That is my goal. Thank you for commenting.

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    2. I agree, Nancy--Grace is brave to tell her story, and I believe that her bravery will help others share their stories or think about them in new, helpful ways.

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  2. Grace is a very brave, strong woman and I am sure many will benefit from her honesty.

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    1. Hi Jill, Thank you for your comments. I really don't think of myself as brave. The validation and understanding I've received from sharing my secrets has been such a blessing.

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    2. Jill, I think so, too. And Grace, I'm glad that you've been blessed in sharing your story.

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  3. What an experience. I can't imagine how hard it would be to write about and remember it all. But I'm sure it will help people.

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    1. I hope so Sharon. Thank you for your comment. Being where I am now, I can definitely say it was worth it. I hope others will feel encouraged to write their own stories. We can all learn from each other.

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    2. Sharon, I'm amazed, too, at how Grace pushed through her fear to write about very painful things.

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  4. graces story, a difficult story to tell!! thanks for sharing it!!

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    1. Thank you Debbie. Tina has been such a good friend. Her interest and encouragement mean the world to me.

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    2. Difficult stories, I've found, can be the most helpful to the rest of us. And Grace, I appreciate your friendship too.

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  5. Great interview. Her book sounds very interesting.

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    1. Hi Lisa, Thank you. One of my daughters started reading my book last night. I was really encouraged by this since I've put on pressure on them. I figure they'll read it if and when they're ready.

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    2. Thanks, Lisa. I think you would enjoy it. Grace, I'm glad your daughter is reading it.

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  6. I look forward to exploring Grace's blog as well as reading her book....thanks for sharing!

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    1. Hi ocdtalk. Sometimes in the beginning when my doctor would say, "that is your OCD," I'd get upset with him. I was kind of offended by the label. Now, I totally get it. I'm not crazy after all. A proper diagnosis really does empower us. Thanks for commenting.

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    2. Thanks, Janet. You will enjoy her blog and book. And Grace--I know how you feel. It's not easy to take in that label of OCD.

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  7. I enjoyed reading your interview with Grace, I am always impressed with people daring enough to share of themselves. I shall look at her blogs, thanks for sharing this with us Tina.

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    1. Hi Lynn, Thank you for your comments. It's funny, I don't see myself as daring at all. I just did what I had to do and hoped a publisher would see it as worthy. I know that sounds strange. It's very validating to think I could help others.

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    2. Thank you, Lynn. I think it takes a lot of guts to share stories like this. And Grace, you are helping others. :-)

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  8. You did a fine interview, Tina! Thank you so much for your kind words on my yesterday's blog post. I will continue my blog, as I find it to be very therapeutic. Sending you a hug.

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    1. Hi Linda, Tina is the best, isn't she? She's got such a huge heart and her honesty is incredibly admirable and helpful.

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    2. Thank you, Linda and Grace. You two are wonderful!

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  9. Thanks for posting this, Tina. Grace is a very strong woman. It takes amazing courage to face scary things in your life, and even more courage to share those things publicly. I'm sure a lot of people will identify with her pain and see that there is hope. I'm looking forward to reading her memoir myself.

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    1. Thank you, Sunny. I know you will enjoy it. It's a very honest story.

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    2. Hi Sunny. I love your name. I've got a grand-niece named Summer. I think if I were to have another child/daughter (which I won't at this point in my life) I would name her Sunny or Summer. I love it and I love this time of year.

      I'm not so sure it was courage that caused me to share my secrets as much as a need for validation. For so many years I felt alone and locked in my own pain. I don't any longer because of the sweet people I've met. I hope others can identify with my story and find the courage and validation they need to have a better future.

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    3. Grace, thanks for responding! I can SOOOOOOOO relate to feeling alone and locked in my own pain. I too have experienced a lot of healing, and I feel like sharing with others helps others to heal, and also continues to help us too. Really looking forward to learning more about your story.

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  10. What a wonderful opportunity that you had, Tina, to interview this very interesting woman who has shared so much of her personal life with us. Beautiful interview and I look forward to reading her story and her blog!!

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    1. Thank you, Deanna. I was blessed to meet Grace and I have been very touched by her story.

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    2. Hi Deanna, Thank you for your comments. Tina is such a jewel. I can't thank her enough for her generosity and encouragement.

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  11. Sharing Truth - Illuminating a way for others to follow . . Both YOU and your guest are doing this . . Thanks, -g-

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    1. Thank you, Georgy--I love the connections we can make with each other.

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    2. Thank you Maggid. I really need to visit each commenter's blog. I have a feeling you're all sharing the truth and encouraging others. What a fabulous group!

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  12. What a pretty lady -- both inside and out. Such an awesome post -- you rocked it! xo

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    1. Thank you, Nancy, for your support.

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    2. Hi Nancy, that photo shows a 50-something woman. I'm not really that old. Oh wait. Yes I am. Where do the years go? Thank you for your comments.

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  13. Wow what a testimony! With both mental illness and gardening I will certainly be a new reader at Grace's blog! I bet it was exciting to see the silver lining of her new book aand be published.

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    1. Thanks, Deanna. You'll enjoy Grace's blogs!

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    2. Hi Deanna, sometimes the mental illness overlaps into the gardening. I can be seen running from one project to the next and not getting anything done. But I enjoy it so much. The silver lining has been tremendous because of the encouragement from people who understand. Thank you for your comments.

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  14. Thank you both,Tina and Grace, for an excellent interview! What a beautiful testimony to the power of writing our stories. I enjoyed learning more about how mental illness and gardening overlap, Grace. You are both lighting the way for others as you increase awareness of mental health issues and share your hope for healing. Great job!

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    1. Thanks, Kathy. I appreciate your kind comment.

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  15. Thanks to both of you, Tina and Grace, for a thorough interview. Knowing Grace through her blogs, I am anxious to read Reach to experience more of her writing as well as to read her story. Mental health for too long has been a topic we shove under the rug, and both of you are making inroads into bringing topic into a much needed level of awareness.

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    1. Thank you for your comment. I know you will enjoy Reaching. I believe Grace is helping so many people by sharing her story.

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  16. Hi Sherrey, I look forward to hearing your thoughts on my book. I know we share some commonalities and not just in geography. And I look forward to the day when your book is published. I'll be first in line to get it.

    At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I'll say again how much I appreciate your kindness Tina. Thank you so much for allowing me to share my journey with you and your devoted readers. Hugs.

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