Media/Interviews


Interview with CBS-DFW


Interview:

How has being a Texan influenced your writing?

Texas—especially rural towns—has a huge influence on my writing. In The Patience Trilogy, Ashley Asher is transplanted from an affluent Dallas suburb to tiny Patience, Texas, and a country town of about 2,000 people.

This mirrors my experience of 2003, when my family moved from a Dallas suburb to a small country town on the edge of East Texas. The pace is slower, the people are often more open and approachable, and, of course, these elements reveal charming eccentricities that make for great storytelling.

Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre?

Edgy YA fiction chose me. I initially wrote the first draft of Courage in Patience as a therapeutic assignment. I was in recovery for trauma from childhood sexual abuse and learning to manage having Post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the experiences I had from the age of 8.

I was writing poems and short stories as a way of processing my grief and rage, and the only person I showed them to was my psychologist. He suggested that I try writing a novel. It took about four months of stopping/starting and always sending up stuck in asking, “Why?. . .Why did this happen to me?. . .Why did my mother ignore my outcry at age 14?. . .”

Finally, I gave myself permission to imagine the recovery process as someone else’s. That’s when the story began.

What was the hardest part of writing this book?

The main character, Ashley, experiences a horrific attack at the hands of her stepfather. Throughout the series, she has been unable to remember exactly what happened, because she blacked out. In the last book, Truth in Patience, she is triggered by something and remembers the incident in a visceral way. That was difficult for me to write, but I will say this: the growth and healing I experienced between writing Book 1, Courage in Patience, through Book 2, Hope in Patience, then in Book 3, Truth in Patience, enabled me to be able to address Ashley’s remembering in a way that I could handle it with grace and in a gentle way with myself.

I wrote The Patience Trilogy over the period of six years that it took me to go from a frozen-by-trauma eight year old in my mind to becoming an adult in the way I cope with the world.

What literary character is most like you?

Ashley Asher is basically me as a traumatized child/teen, and her stepmother, Beverly, is me as my adult “teacher self.”

Just as your books inspire authors, what authors have inspired you to write?

Chris Crutcher’s commitment to authenticity and truth telling are the reason I am the sort of writer I am. I happened to find his novel, Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, on my gone-away-to-college daughter’s bookshelf, and I read it from cover-to-cover in a matter of hours. That book changed my life, because after reading it, I knew there are stories inside of me that might help others.

I love Sherman Alexie for his honesty and no-holds-barred expressions of emotion, and Jennifer Brown’s ability to pull me into story is so keen that I find it difficult to adequately describe it.

What is something you want to accomplish before you die?

I worked so hard to overcome the first 38 years of my life in a highly dysfunctional family and claim my life as my own. Therefore, when I die, I want to leave a legacy of mentally healthy family members who have boundaries in place and are aware of their self-worth.


Big Fat Disaster Book Trailer (Official)


INTERVIEW

  1. What is currently on your nightstand or ereader itching to be read?

DARE ME, by Eric Devine.

  1. What is your go to cure for writer’s block?

I give myself permission to back away from physically writing and instead roll the story around in my head. Usually the breakthrough comes when I’m driving, and if I’m driving, I pull over and either email myself the idea or call and leave a message for myself on voice mail.

  1. Most people think about Anorexia or Bulimia when they hear the phrase “eating disorder” but Colby is an overeater. You have said that you yourself manage an eating disorder similar to Colby’s. Can you give readers some insight on what managing your eating disorder entails?

The first thing I learned to do when I was in therapy was to seek a way of soothing myself in other ways than food. Over time, I learned to recognize my eating disorder as me trying to take care of myself in a way that only created more problems, i.e. if I was having unpleasant feelings about a situation, if I binged because of it, the shame took my focus from the original situation and caused me to instead feel bad about having gorged myself. Plus, there’s the physical discomfort, which also serves to distract from the original problem.

I’m not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, and sometimes I slip, but I now recognize signals in myself—such as obsessively thinking about eating a certain food—as a sign that I’m on the edge of a compulsive overeating episode, and I can choose to prevent it. My first thought when I have unpleasant feelings—still—is to eat. Doesn’t mean I always act on it.

I have gotten to where I can just acknowledge a thought or feeling that previously would have sent me running for something sweet. It’s like, “Oh, hello. There you are again,” but I don’t act on it. I learned to distract myself with activities that don’t involve food.

There are some foods—like cookies—that I know that if I start eating, there will never be enough. It won’t matter whether I like them or how I physically feel. The urge to continue to eat until they’re all gone, because I’ve done it so many times, always has the same result: I feel rotten about myself and physically I feel ill because I haven’t eaten high-fat, high-sugar stuff in large quantities in so long that my stomach can’t handle much without getting really upset. Therefore, I don’t eat cookies, and I try really hard to not eat any sugary sweets at all since I have an endless appetite for them. As I said, when I give into temptation and do eat, for example, some cake, I get a really upset stomach and end up kicking myself since I don’t feel well.

The difference now, though, is that instead of staying stuck in a neverending cycle of shame and overeating, I recognize that I alone have the power to stop the binge, and to choose to take care of myself in a positive way.

The feelings Colby experiences—that shame, lack of control, and lapse in memory of what all she consumed—are coming directly from my own battle with Binge Eating Disorder.

  1. You went through six years of intensive therapy to help you recover from being abused as a child. A lot of people, young adults and adults alike, find starting therapy a very frightening and uncomfortable experience. What advice would you give someone who is thinking about starting therapy for the first time?

The six years of therapy I went through were with a clinical psychologist whom I clicked with at the same time that circumstances in my life came together in a way that I had a strong support system in my husband and then-teenage daughters.

I had been in and out of therapy many times since my early twenties, but I never had the support system in place to withstand what I had to do in order to get well: face the truth about my stepfather sexually abusing me and my mother not protecting me. This involved breaking with my family of origin completely—basically, when I insisted on no more playing “Let’s Pretend,” it was made clear to me in a variety of ways that I had done something so wrong (in their eyes) that they wanted nothing to do with me anymore. It was very, very difficult because my mother was an amazing grandmother to my kids, and they lost her in the process.

Recovery from childhood sexual abuse is very, very difficult. My therapist compared it to a barefoot walk from Texas to Alaska and back, with all the weather along the way. I would agree with that assessment; in fact, I used that comparison in my Patience books, Courage in Patience and Hope in Patience. I strongly believe that people who have been sexually abused and are seeking to heal from it and reclaim their lives need the guidance of an experienced mental health professional. If the first therapist (or second, or third) does not seem to be helping, keep going until you find one you click with. Don’t give up, because you are worth the fight to reclaim your life.

Outside of the therapist’s office, you need a strong support system of people who are aware of what you are going through, who will be safe for you to be vulnerable, and will give you emotional shelter when you need it.

And—be prepared to be completely honest with yourself and others in your life. It’s the only way to heal and find out how strong you are.

  1. I too have body dysmorphic disorder and I am well acquainted with the shaming voice that comes to reside within you and how hard it can be to silence that voice. (I call mine E.D.) How do you fight your shaming voices?

Isn’t that voice annoying?! I fight mine by asking myself if I would talk to my friends or daughters in the way I’m talking to myself. I know I would never say such hateful things to people I love, so I try not to say them to myself, either.

  1. Your Patience series has brought a lot of healing to readers that have faced sexual abuse, do you think Big Fat Disaster will do the same for those with binge eating disorders? Has writing these books brought you healing?

I hope that others who struggle with the cycle of bingeing and shame will recognize that they are not alone. That was my hope for The Patience books with respect to recovery from childhood sexual abuse and having PTSD as a result of being abused.

Here’s the thing that brought about the seed for Big Fat Disaster: when I started therapy, I was very overweight. Over time, I lost 100 pounds and was, for the first time, able to wear anything I wanted. I was walking and running on a treadmill—on an incline, mind you—on a nightly basis.

I noticed that my feet started becoming painful, and within a few years, I could not walk without limping. My feet literally crunched when I walked, and instead of working out when I got home from work at night, I just sat in a chair. I went back to some of my self-soothing behaviors with food.

And I gained back half the weight I lost.

Eventually, I had surgery on each foot over the course of two summers, and had to be completely non-weight bearing for ten weeks each time following surgery. So I sat a lot.

That shaming voice in my head—which had been silent for a long time—was back with a vengeance, and “she” was not whispering self-hate; she was shouting judgmental ugliness as I had to buy bigger clothes and boxed up my size Smalls and 6’s.

Losing the person I had become physically, by regaining some weight, felt as if it had happened overnight.

I had to have a really honest talk with myself, especially since I had worked so hard to learn to love myself. Prior to going through recovery, I didn’t love myself and I didn’t believe that anyone else really did, either. But I had grown to know that I AM worthy of love, both for myself and from others. Did regaining about fifty pounds make me less worthy of love? After everything I had been through in my recovery: losing relationships because I chose truth; enduring PTSD episodes and learning to manage the symptoms; choosing truth over lies even when it was scary; all my work to deal with having an eating disorder… did regaining weight mean that I was the same self-hating, broken person I was when I began my journey?

No. It didn’t, and it doesn’t, and whether I stay this larger size forever or lose weight again or whatever happens to me physically, I, you, and all of us are worthy of love, simply because we exist and are all on a journey together.

Exploring that question of whether weight equals being unlovable led to Colby Denton’s story. I knew from the beginning that she would not miraculously go on a diet and lose weight and get a boyfriend and the sort of stereotypical endings that YA fiction books about fat girls often have.

Instead, I wanted Colby to learn that regardless of her size, she is worthy of love.

  1. What is the number one thing you hope readers take away from Big Fat Disaster?

I hope that people who do not have an eating disorder will have some insight into what it is like for someone with Binge Eating Disorder: what it’s like to live inside our heads.

And, I hope that those of us who get up every day hoping that this will be the one day they can get through without hating themselves because of the way they eat or the way they look will know that they are not alone, and that there is hope for breaking the cycle of shame and self-hatred. Regardless of what they eat or the number on their jeans label, they are worthy of love. We all are.


Writing From Real Life PowerPoint


Fehlbaum in FTFT-1
Downloadable PDF: Fehlbaum in FTFT-1


Interview:

Let’s start at the beginning. What inspired you to write Colby’s story? Was there a particular point where you said ‘I just have to write this!’ ?

I was sexually abused from the age of 8 to my late teens, and I used food to numb my feelings from the time I was a teen. I entered recovery when I was 38, and the first thing we worked on was me learning to manage my life without binge eating. After all, it’s not about the food, it’s about the feelings, and until I could stop pushing them down by binge eating, I could not get well.

Over the course of a couple of years, I lost 100 pounds through eating more healthily and running/walking. Several years later, I began having problems with my feet and discovered that I have a birth defect in that some of the bones in my feet are too long, and when I ran, they were jamming into my toe bones. Eventually, I became crippled by it and had surgery on each foot over two summers. The too-long bones were shortened and I no longer have the mechanical problems that I did. My feet are now better—but I can no longer run, and even walking very quickly can be painful at times.

When I stopped running for exercise before I even knew the cause of the pain, I slipped back into eating to self-soothe—but not nearly to the degree I had done so in the past, and when I recognized the pattern, I pulled out of it, but the radical shift in my activity level caused me to regain about 50 pounds.

I could no longer wear the smaller sizes I had loved wearing; I was upset by what I saw as a failure when I looked in the mirror, and the hateful self-talk that I had worked so hard to overcome during my six years in therapy returned with a vengeance.

I had to ask myself if I was less worthy as a person than I was before I lost the weight? In other words, did weighing more make me less a worthwhile human than wearing a size six did? The answer was, and is, of course, NO, but the fact that I so quickly began hating myself again and engaging in the kind of self-hatred that I’d gotten used to NOT experiencing for so long was like a wake-up call to me. I decided to explore that through a teen girl who was not loved for who she is by the very person who should love her the most, unconditionally.

In your words, describe your protagonist and the life she lives (apart from what we read in the book, of course!)

Colby is a loyal person. She has a dry, self-deprecating sense of humor, and she’s not into “stuff” to the extent her parents are. At the same time, when all is lost because of her father’s choices, especially because she feels somewhat responsible for her family breaking apart, she becomes much more aware of “stuff”. She has a fear of not having “enough” in many ways –like she always feels she is in a love deficit from her parents, especially her mom, because she IS—but now she is literally fearful of not having basic needs such as food and clothing. Colby really needs someone to reach out to her with acceptance and love. Thankfully, she finds some allies.

What would you say to the Colbys’ of the world? Especially ones with families like Colby’s, “perfect” with the quotes?

There IS no such thing as “normal” or perfect. Even those classmates whom you look at and assume they could never feel ugly or unwanted—they experience intense moments of self-doubt, too. And, I would encourage them to remember that even when a person feels that others must surely be as aware of the faults and blemishes that she sees in the mirror, chances are, those other people are feeling just as insecure and not thinking about anyone but themselves. Hope that makes sense.

In your opinion, what would be the perfect song to showcase Colby’s life, struggle and story?

“After the Storm” by Mumford and Sons. Especially the line, “I’m scared of what’s behind, and what’s before.” ©

Describe your journey as a writer! Your writing schedule, how you handle writers block, how you got here, and anything else you would like to add!

I have always written, ever since I can remember. My grandmother taught me to read before I even started Kindergarten, and I was writing early, too.

I teach language arts full-time from late August through the first week in June, and I write full-time during the summer and as much as possible on holidays and weekends. I really have no creative “juice” left when I get home from work at night, because I put a lot into being “on” at my job in order to keep my kids engaged.

In addition to maintaining my website, I’m on Facebook daily, where I keep up with my daughters—2 of my 3 kids  live out of state—besides working to make readers aware of my work.

As far as story, I mostly plot in my mind and have the basic story arc—the beginning and the end for sure—before I start writing. Doesn’t mean that the plot does not change, but I know on a very basic level who my character is and what she wants, as well as what is getting in her way.

I began writing novels when I was in therapy for childhood sexual abuse. I had been writing short stories and poems, trying to process my anger, disbelief, and grief, and I was sharing them with my therapist. About a year or so into therapy, he suggested that I try writing a novel. After about four months of starts and stops—I kept falling into my own head and bumping up against the same question: “WHY?”—and I finally decided to step outside of myself and observe the recovery of someone else through her eyes. That person was Ashley Nicole Asher, age 15, who is removed from her abusive home with her mom & stepdad and placed in a tiny Texas town (“Patience”), where her life begins again.

Any writing tips to all of us aspiring writers/ bloggers reading this?

JUST. WRITE. Write without looking over your shoulder. Write fearlessly.

I have yet to decide if I will write a follow-up to Big Fat Disaster or if I will write a new stand-alone. My publisher, Merit Press, wants something “brave and actionful”. I will have time this summer to get a good start on the new book. I’ve been in grad school this semester, so weekends have been devoted to homework and my usual weekend duties.

We would love to know more about you, so we have some quick questions for you:

Favorite Movie?  “An Unfinished Life”; I also love the book trailer for Big Fat Disaster!

Favorite Song?  “Ghosts That We Knew” by Mumford and Sons

Favorite Book?  All of Chris Crutcher’s books. The first I read was Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes: reading that book is the reason that I became a YA novelist. I was in so much pain in the early days of therapy, and even though I was no teenager, Chris Crutcher’s stories let me know I was not alone in my pain.

Favorite TV Show?  I watch all the Dateline on ID shows, Snapped, 48 Hours: my husband calls them my “Killer Shows”. I have recently discovered Six Feet Under. I like Castle, and I never miss The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. I was a huge Breaking Bad fan!

Favorite Hobby? Writing novels and interacting online with family, friends, and readers.

Favorite Author? Chris Crutcher & Jennifer Brown. It’s a tie.

Favorite Character (from a book, of course!)? Sarah Byrnes.

If you could have written one book, for its literary excellence or amazing storyline, other than yours, which would it be?

Hate List, by Jennifer Brown. I couldn’t put it down when I picked it up.


Coming of Age PowerPoint- presented at the ALAN Conference:
coming_of_age_powerpoint


Interview:

What do you think most characterizes your writing?

I have been described as “writing without looking over my shoulder.” In other words, I am committed to authenticity and truth-telling and I’m okay with it if life appears messy in my books, because that’s how it is.

Are there under-represented groups or ideas featured in your book? If so, discuss them.

Homosexuality is mentioned in Courage in Patience, and in Hope in Patience, a teen lesbian character moves to Patience. The discomfort some people have with the character’s sexual orientation is addressed, and the character’s struggles to be accepted as she is are also part of the storyline.

Are you a full or part-time writer? How does that affect your writing?

I teach full-time during the school year, and I write full-time during the summer. I do write during the school year as well, but it is mostly on the weekends or holidays.

I teach seven periods a day, respectively 9th grade English, Pre-AP English, and an End-of-Course English I Lab class for students who have failed the test. When I get home in the evening, I do domestic goddessing as well as handle email related to my author job.  I’m lucky if I’m awake past 8:30, because I am T-I-R-E-D. Lately I’ve been prepping for The Patience Trilogy’s release, so I’ve been super-busy working with my editor as well as approving cover design, etc. So lately, I’ve been not just tired, but busy AND tired.What are some day jobs you’ve held? If any of them have impacted your writing, share an example.

I have taught for nearly 19 years, and my experience as a teacher impacts my writing tremendously because I consciously weave the study of a particular novel into the character’s English class. This enables educators who use my books to pair the study of my book with the book referenced in the story, which is usually paired in some way thematically with what is going on in the main character’s life. In addition, I write free teaching guides to accompany my books, as well as provide free materials such as videos, PowerPoints, and printable book marks. **NOTE 7/18/16: the teacher guides are currently being rewritten.

Where did your love of writing and reading come from?

My childhood was quite traumatic and dysfunctional. As a young child, I can remember fantasizing that I was a member of, for example, The Brady Bunch, or The Partridge Family.

I began writing stories and poems when I was quite small, and as a teenager, I wrote poetry as a way of processing what was happening in my life.

As an author now, my childhood imagination and “Let’s Pretend” comes in handy, because when I get stuck on a plot point, I can ask myself, “What…happens…now?” and try different scenarios on for size.

Is there one subject you would never write about as an author? What is it?

I would never write erotica or explicitly detailed sex scenes as an author. I would not be comfortable doing that. I’m not a prude, but writing those scenes would not be my thing. I would never write graphically violent scenes, nor would I write gratuitously violent scenes. I would never have characters swear for the sake of swearing, i.e. when my characters swear, they do so because to say those words in that way is the most authentic, realistic way I can think to communicate their feelings at the time. Finally, in terms of plot points, I will NEVER write about the death of a beloved animal, NOR will I ever have Ashley’s dog, Emma, die. The real-life Emma died suddenly at a young age, and it nearly killed me when it happened. She will live forever in The Patience Trilogy.


Interview:

What do you want your tombstone to say?

“She lived in the light of the Truth.” The reason is, I broke the cycle of childhood sexual abuse and secret-keeping in my family of origin, and I learned that living a life committed to truth-telling and authenticity is the only way to freedom and peace.

What question do you wish someone would ask you about your book, but nobody has?

“Will you allow me to make movies of your books?”
–“Why, yes. Yes, I will.”

If you had a superpower, what would it be?

I’d be able to cook without setting off the smoke alarm.

If you were an animal in a zoo, what would you be?

I’d be a prairie dog because I’m constantly moving but also aware of my surroundings.

What’s something fun or funny that most people don’t know about you?
All of my dogs have people-names: Chase, Kevin, Jake, and Indy.