Last week I reviewed Christine Grote’s memoir, Dancing in Heaven. Today I’m honored to have Christine stop by for an interview.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I dreamed of being a writer for a very long time. I can’t say whether that is always. I wrote small things when I was in grade school and high school that received recognition from teachers. And I did a lot of daydreaming, which I suppose is a form of writing. Even so, I’ve written little to no fiction, but would like to give it a go someday.
What writers have influenced you the most?
I do a lot of reading, but can’t say that I’ve patterned myself from particular authors. I love Jane Austen and other writers who relay history to us with a critical eye, and tell it to us in the palatable form of fiction. I’m a big fan of historical fiction, but any story that preserves for the reader a snapshot of time is interesting to me. I think in some ways, that was one thing I tried to achieve with Dancing in Heaven—a snapshot in time.
When did you decide to write this memoir?
I had written a short story while taking a fiction writing class at a local college in 2006. It was a memoir in collage form, which is something like a jumbled stream of conscious. Many of the chapters in Dancing in Heaven about Annie’s early life came directly from this short story. My teacher loved the story and told me it might be a book. I didn’t pursue it at the time. After Annie died, I pulled it back out, combined it with many of the journal writings and email postings I was doing while Annie was sick, and I started to envision the book. I decided to write it as a legacy to my sister, who had left so little behind
How difficult was it to write about your sister’s death?
When I got serious about writing the memoir, I collected all the medical records I could from Annie’s doctor, her hospital stay, and Hospice. I used the records to help me keep the events straight because while I might vividly remember something that had happened, like the night the Hospice nurse told me I should simply tell Annie it was okay to die, I couldn’t remember where that fit into the timeline leading up to Annie’s death. The notes were extremely helpful at piecing things back together.
It was difficult writing about Annie’s death and the events leading up to it, as you might imagine. If a scene causes a reader to tear up, I probably went through an entire box of tissues remembering and writing it. You have to revisit events closely to be able to “be there” with your writing. So I “went there” and it was difficult. I think it might also have been healing in a way, similar to rubbing salt in a wound.
I actually wrote quite a lot, up until the point in the story about Annie’s last week of life. And then I just stopped writing and put it away for a while, months really. But I wanted to finish it for Annie, and also for my parents, so I made a commitment to myself to write about Annie’s last days on the 1-year anniversary of each of those days. I got it done. At this point my mind basically went on autopilot and woke me up in the early hours of the morning with whole paragraphs composed, just waiting to be typed.
What did you learn about yourself and your family while working on this project?
I don’t know if I learned anything about myself while I worked on this project. I was goal directed and didn’t really spend a lot of time thinking about that. Also, I had already spent a lot of time throughout my life thinking about Annie, her influence on my character, and her impact on my life. So I really didn’t illuminate anything new there. That’s not the case for the project I am currently working on.
Was your family supportive or hesitant?
My parents, in particular my mother, were very supportive of the project. In truth, I have more siblings than I included in the final draft of the book. I included them in earlier drafts, but they requested that I take them out of the story. That’s a nice and simple explanation for the upheaval that actually occurred.
What advice do you have for those who want to write their own memoir?
So my advice to others who want to write their own memoir is to either keep the other people included in the book intimately involved in what you are writing from the beginning, or consider other options of excluding them or somehow disguising their identity. Memoirs can be very divisive. That’s difficult to imagine in this case, but true. I’ll never fully understand my siblings’ reactions.
Are you currently working on any projects?
The year before Annie got sick and before my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, he asked me when I was going to write his story. After delaying for a while, I finally started interviewing him. Then Annie got sick and the project got derailed for a while as I worked on Dancing in Heaven. When I got back to it, my father’s Alzheimer’s was advancing, confusion ensued, and eventually he quit talking altogether. I do have what I believe to be enough of his story. I am combining that with journal-type entries I kept, and posted on my blog, about his Alzheimer’s. I think there is a story in there. I just need to make sure I am telling the right story—the one Dad had asked me to write.
Like Dancing in Heaven, I’ve been working on Dad’s story in fits and starts. Both of my parents died in January. Dad from either a cardiac or neurological event, and Mom from late-diagnosed pancreatic cancer. Working on Dad’s story now makes the writing I did for Dancing in Heaven look easy. But I’ll get there. I told him I would.
About the Author:
Christine M Grote earned a bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Dayton, Ohio, in 1979. After working for three and a half years in product development at Procter and Gamble in Cincinnati, Ohio, she became a full-time homemaker as she raised three sons and a daughter. In 1999, she returned to school at the College of Mount St. Joseph, Cincinnati, Ohio, earning a bachelor’s degree in English in 2007. Christine lives in Cincinnati, Ohio with her husband Mark and their dog Arthur.
How to Find Christine:
Here’s a link to my blog page about Dancing in Heaven that includes a few excerpts and some reviews
And she’s on Twitter: @cmsmith57
You can purchase her book on Amazon.
I would like to thank Christine for stopping by. I wish her luck with her latest project. That can’t be an easy book to write and I admire her courage and love. She writes with such honesty and compassion and I’m looking forward to reading more by her.