|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.