TODAY, I have the privilege and honor of sharing my interview with Skye Blaine, author of Bound to Love: A Memoir of Grit and Gratitude.
I originally contacted Skye because I wanted to do a series of interviews with local memoir authors in the Napa-Sonoma region where I live. Skye is also a member of the Redwood Writers, a chapter of the California Writers Club, and I worked with her when I edited the club’s 2015 anthology, Journeys: On the Road and Off the Map.
When I first picked up Skye’s memoir, I wasn’t sure I would be able to relate to her story. Yet, what I discovered was a beautifully written, searingly honest, and heart-warming memoir of a young woman coming of age and learning to stand on her own — while struggling with the challenges of raising a child born with a congenital heart defect and requiring round-the-clock care.
And though Skye’s story is unique, the themes of fierce mother-love in the face of adversity and finding one’s voice while dealing with complicated (and often unhealthy) love and family relationships rang true for me as universally resonant and compelling.
In short, once I began reading, I couldn’t put the book down. And I can’t think of a better recommendation than that.
But don’t just take my word for it. Here are some of the words Amazon reviewers have used to describe her story: gripping, authentic, honest, powerful, compelling, heart-breaking, well-crafted, and — my favorite — this will make your heart fly open.
And so, without further ado, scroll down to read what Skye Blaine has to say about her story and her memoir-writing journey.
AS: When did you first know that you wanted to write your story?
SB: As you read in the memoir, I got hit by a huge falling oak branch. After I got out of the hospital and recovered enough so I could sit, I went to my computer to write a carefully-crafted letter to a night-shift nurse who had accused me of being an addict. When that was done, I promptly started the memoir. I hadn’t written in twenty-seven years — I stopped after my first writing professor tore up my short story and pitched it in the wastepaper basket in front of the class. Somehow, being struck by the tree cracked me open.
AS: Once you realized this was something you really wanted to do, what was your next step?
SB: I finished the first twenty pages and realized I needed feedback, so I joined a critique group. I also took online classes and, eventually, classes at the University of Oregon.
AS: How long did the memoir take to write, and what help did you receive along the way?
SB: [Chuckling.] It took me twenty-three years. Because of that cruel teacher, I had no confidence. Robert Hill Long, my professor at the University of Oregon, suggested I go to graduate school. I’d never considered that idea, but I did apply, and was accepted at Antioch University, where I earned an MFA in Creative Writing — a dual concentration in both fiction and memoir. All to build confidence in myself.
My husband has been a wonderful support and read the manuscript many times. My critique groups have provided kind and helpful feedback. This manuscript went through three different critique groups.
AS: How did and does your son feel about you revealing such intimate details of your lives?
SB: I couldn’t publish the memoir until my son was ready for his life to be exposed. That didn’t occur until he turned forty-one. He forbade me to put any pictures on the book or bookmark that show him as an adult — he didn’t want to be recognized. The oldest picture I used, with his permission, is when he was sixteen. He asked for six copies of the book to give away though! He also writes, and is clearly proud of me.
AS: What about reactions from other family members?
SB: By 2015, both my parents were gone. My father died in 1978, long before I returned to writing. Mom died in 2008 and had dementia, so was in no shape to read the manuscript. I’ve had nothing but support from all my other family members, although my brother did say he doesn’t remember our mother the way that I do. They were very close in a beautiful way. My sister also writes and publishes — we support each other.
AS: Who are your biggest literary influences?
SB: Literary influences. Hmmm. Kim Stafford. I took a week workshop with him, and he has an amazing way of encouraging and supporting students. I also love his writing. Check out The Muses Among Us. I’ve reread it many times. He also taught me to make commonplace books, tiny booklets that live in my back pocket to record what touches me as I move throughout my days. Dani Shapiro. Ann Patchett. Donald Maass. Other influences: all the animal books I read as a child. Actually, every book I’ve ever read.
AS: What advice would you give to someone who is considering writing their memoir?
- Find your writing rhythm. I have to write every day, but many people don’t.
- Schedule writing; put it on the calendar — otherwise, life always interferes.
- When writing about painful material, I’m of the school of little nibbles, many times. Dip in and out, again and again.
- Be very, very kind to yourself. If you discover you are being critical, lower your standards. (Someone else said that, but it’s great advice.) As Anne Lamott says, every first draft is a shitty first draft.
- Beautiful writing emerges from rewriting. Again and again. Again. Again.
- If someone has been cruel or abusive to you, and you’re writing about it, show their behavior, but never name it. That’s the reader’s job. (It will also help you avoid libel.)
AS: Tell us about your publishing process — did you self-publish, go directly to the publisher, or . . .?
SB: Bound to Love was my first book. I knew, for my own well-being, I needed to publish it before I turned seventy. The traditional publishing route seemed improbable for me: find an agent, one to two years; sell the book, at least a year; publish it, another year. Because I have layout skills and preferred designing my own book, that’s what I did. I made sure that it is carried by both Amazon and IngramSpark so bookstores can purchase it.
AS: I note that after you wrote your memoir, you wrote a novel — Unleashed. What was that transition like? Was it difficult to shift to a different type of storytelling?
SB: Moving from memoir to fiction was a difficult shift! I’m not a native storyteller; I’m a wordsmith. I love listening for rhythm, watching out for unnecessary repetition, finding the word that feels just right in my mouth. But come up with a storyline? How was I going to do that? I did have characters in mind, and a theme or two that are important to me. I am categorically unable to plot — not sure why. So I began wandering in the fog, only able to see two or three feet ahead. I’d write those feet, and feel around for the next two or three feet. In my first novel, Unleashed, I knew where the book ended up, so I could at least write toward that. But this second novel of the trilogy that I’m working on now, Must Like Dogs — I have no idea where it ends. And yet! If I listen carefully, twists and turns do present themselves.
AS: What’s on your desk now — any book projects (fiction or nonfiction), writing, speaking, etc.)?
SB: I don’t see myself writing another memoir—perhaps short pieces, but not a full-length manuscript. I was molested as a child. I might write about that.
AS: Describe your writing routine and process.
SB: I write about 360 days a year. Occasionally illness or traveling interrupt my rhythm. I show up at my desk between 9:30 and 10:00 p.m. and work until close to midnight. First, I reread what I wrote the day before and make edits. Then I forge ahead into new territory. If I get stuck and can’t find anything in the fog, I go to the family room and read. I used to feel guilty about this, but no longer. This writer needs to read.
Inevitably, new ideas, or turns, or additions to flesh out the story show up when I’m prone — right after I go to bed. It’s rather maddening. My husband is a very light sleeper, so I can’t turn on a lamp. I’ve even tried a lighted pen, but I wake him. So if something terrific shows up, I have to get out of bed and go to my office. If I don’t, I’ll lose it — it won’t be there in the morning. Aging brain? Perhaps.
My sweet husband encouraged me to retire from real estate and focus wholly on writing and teaching. I finally said yes and retired in June. So now, my days are filled with words. I’ve joined a poetry critique group too, and just added the word “poetry” to my business card in addition to “fiction, memoir, and blogs.”
What’s wonderful about teaching memoir and fiction is that any work I do to prepare for my older adult students expands my breadth of experience. Writing is my passion. I love bringing that to others.
I do now present at various local conferences, and look forward to more of that in the future.
AS: Is there anything else you’d like to share about yourself or Bound to Love?
SB: Writing a memoir is intense work. I was driven to write it to better grok my strengths and weaknesses, and to parse that period of my life so I could put it to rest. I would recommend this work to anyone, no matter how painful his or her life has been. Research, by the way, has proven that if people write about difficult times, and really feel the feelings surrounding that period of time, it is healing to the body. However, if someone simply doesn’t want to face what happened to them, then this work is not for them, and that’s fine, too.
The process of writing memoir takes persistence, patience, and generous dollops of self-kindness.
Skye Blaine writes short essays, memoir, fiction, and poetry, developing themes of aging, coming of age, disability, and most of all, the process of unlearning–the heart of the matter. In 2003, she received an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University. Her personal essays and fiction have been published in six anthologies, and in national magazines: In Context (now known as Yes! magazine) and Catalyst. Skye also presented radio essays on KRML 1410 AM in Carmel, CA. Her memoir, Bound to Love: A Memoir of Grit and Gratitude came out in November, 2015.