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First of all, we'd love to know to hear an update on your son Kai. How is he?
Kai is the funniest person I know. He is 4 years old, and is obsessed with Legos and Star Wars. He goes to preschool three days a week and every day he comes home with new, exciting facts like, "Mom! Did you know whales have blubber?" And we have a wonderful, supportive family so he constantly asks me, "Mom, who's coming over today?"
When did you decide you wanted to publish your story? You kept a journal throughout the year after your husband's death, but the decision to go public about that time in your life came later.
My older brother Adam saw a little bit of what I had written and told me to keep writing. He planted this seed that someone might want to read what I had written. At first, the idea that I could be a published author was the only thing that got me thinking about my own future, like a kid who shoots hoops in his driveway and dreams of the NBA. It isn't about whether or not we actually make it, but it allows us to escape who we are and where we for the moment. Working on the book gave me a project, something to focus on that forced me to believe that my life would not always be where it was.
How was journaling therapeutic for you?
I was compelled to journal in a way that is hard to describe. It was almost primal. This is the only comparison I can think of: When you have to throw up, you run to a toilet. I felt like my brain would fill up, and I had to find a place to put everything. I couldn't exactly call my mom 16 times a day, so I opened my computer and spilled my guts.
I really enjoyed how you chose to write Signs of Life not as a reflection on your life, but in "real-time," with each chapter capturing exactly what you were thinking at that specific moment in time. Why was this important to you?
Grief is this really intense emotion. It makes you angry toward the people you should love, and it draws you to the strangest of characters. I wanted the book to be stories from the front line, when the experiences were immediate and real. In the end, I realized that nothing I was feeling was crazy. I'm not proud of everything I thought or did, but I'm certainly not ashamed.
Editing the book was like talking to my former self, and I was able to see how far I'd come. People would always tell that time would help me heal, but like most people close to a tragedy, I absolutely did not believe that anything, even time, could heal me. But the editing process helped me see that I really was healing. It was hard to mark my own growth -- it wasn't like a physical injury; I couldn't constantly assess how much I'd healed. So rereading journal entries and realizing how I'd changed over time was huge. It was proof that I was actually moving forward.
One of my favorite aspects of the book was the connection you made to the literature you were teaching in your high-school English classes.
People ask me, "Did you really have to force that part?" But from the bottom of my heart, I think about these books all the time. It was really natural for me to compare myself to these really tragic literary figures. I just felt like we had so much in common.
I've always loved books, but after my husband passed away, I felt like I was reading some of these stories for the first time. Take The Great Gatsby, for instance. I used to think, "Gatsby is nuts! He doesn't understand the laws of physics -- he can't turn back time!" But after reading it again, after having lost someone, I felt more like we were in the same boat.
Why do you think people should read?
Sharing stories is really important. I even think it's how we can achieve world peace. Take The Grapes of Wrath. I think every American citizen should read this book just to get perspective on what it's like to be poor and struggling to find work. Reading is the best way to learn about people from all walks of life. It helps develop a sense of human empathy and compassion.
What do you hope Kai takes awake from your book when he reads it one day?
I hope Kai knows how many people worked so hard to make this a beautiful world for him. How many people rallied to make sure that he's taken care of. People from all over the world did everything they could to give Kai the best place we could create without his dad. He's spoiled rotten.
And what do you want women who read the book today to take away from it?
We all deal with dark places in our lives at some point or another, but as long as we use our resources, we can get out. I would have disagreed with that four years ago. I thought my life was over. But now I know that it never has to be over if you don't want it to be. I want people to know there's hope in really bad situations.
Also, though the premise of the book is sad, I don't think it's a sad story. I never know how to explain that the book is funny. There are a lot of terrific people to meet in the book, and there's a lot of humor in this dark situation. People always say, "I don't want to tell you that I laughed and I cried at the same time, but I did!" And that's a wonderful thing to hear.