Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Author Interview: Terry Wilson

Q&A: Confessions of a Failed Saint

Terry Wilson has written a book both funny and touching, in an engaging style with a flair for
humor. Her collection of essays is a kaleidoscope memoir revealing  her toughness and vulnerability, a combination that has served her well as a stand-up comic and actress. Her spiritual journey reveals a woman with solid core values enriched by experience. She has been published in The Santa Fe Reporter and Santa Fe Literary Review, and nationally in Artemis Literary Journal and Silverleaf Humor Anthology, among others. Her honesty is refreshing, her storytelling right on. The book is a quick and fun read. Below are her responses to questions about her work.

H. What is your background?
TW. I have been writing for many years, and I’m also a performer. I used to be an actress and have also presented two one-woman shows, the most recent being Confessions of a Failed Saint, a show I wrote and performed at El Museo Cultural in Santa Fe, N.M. I also did stand up comedy when I lived in Los Angeles. In addition, I have taught English and creative writing at Santa Fe Community College for the past 21 years. I think of myself as a writer and an entertainer.
H. Confessions of a Failed Saint is a memoir. Talk about the title.
TW. Confessions of a Failed Saint is a title I came up with because it seemed so impossible, growing up Catholic. As I say in my book, “I could never get Jesus off the cross, for one thing.” I always had this sense that I couldn’t do enough to be as holy as my mom wanted me to be. And this is why I originally decided to be a nun because if I gave up my whole life, maybe that would get me into heaven and get Mom to love me. Being a saint, though, was the main thing—they were the ones who had the ticket into being best friends with God. The only problem was, being a saint usually involved martyrdom, which was hard to achieve when I was only seven. Or even 47!  It’s a drag to not be perfect, but at least I’m a failed saint. And this might get me into Limbo. 
H. This appears to be a “work in progress” in that you wrote the essays over time. The book is a collection. Talk about the process and how you selected the topics?
TW. Selecting the essays for my book was tricky. I love the writing process, so I had many pieces to choose from. But structuring the book was more difficult. Each editor I consulted had a different idea of what should be included. Finally I decided the main thrust of the book would be how I tried to find spirituality in my own life, and the comical situations that ensued. Sean Murphy was the editor that helped me with line by line editing, and then Miriam Sagan helped me eliminate the essays that didn’t seem to fit with the arc of the story.
H. How has your family reacted to you writing in such a personal way about your life? 
TW. Only a small portion of my family knows about this book—so far! I plan to tell them slowly (and individually) since some of the essays are rather personal. The family members I have talked to so far, however, are supportive and glad I’m bringing up some old secrets that need to be discussed. Whether all of my family will embrace my book remains to be seen. But I had to write it anyway because it’s my truth. As Natalie Goldberg once said, “The writer is the bravest part of me.”
H.  The hardest thing is watching a parent decline. I love the tenderness with which you write about your mother. Why was it important for you to include these pieces of your mother’s life?
TW. It was important for me to include Mom’s dementia in this book because we have all lived with it for so long—the past 15 years or more. And also because in her dementia, I have seen a softening of the toughness with which she always approached life. It’s allowed me to get closer to her. When she was younger, I was never allowed to touch her face or massage her neck or even wash her hair—she got irritated if we got too close. Only in her later years has she let some of those defenses go. Now when I put my cheek against hers, even if she doesn’t remember who I am, we’re just two human beings loving each other. 
H. Much of what you write is funny, and yet there is an underlying message of hope and wisdom. Talk about the process of writing a memoir and turning difficult moments into humorous reflections.
TW. I think there is a part of me that is always an observer, so even in a painful situation, I can often see the humor in it—though sometimes it takes awhile to laugh about one of these experiences. And when I’m too self absorbed and serious about something that happened, for example with my family, I will share that incident with my husband or at an Alanon meeting, and in the sharing, (and when other people laugh), I find the comedy. Which is a relief!  
H. Were you a performer first or a writer?
TW. Good question! Considering the environment I grew up in, a large Irish Catholic working class family, (though the most important thing to my mom was to be saintly),  the most crucial thing to my dad was to be a comedian. We used to have to stand in front of the refrigerator when I was a kid and we were expected to perform something: we had to imitate Jimmy Durante, or John F. Kennedy, or James Cagney or Alfred Hitchcock and this was all to entertain my father. I was not good at any of these impersonations, especially since most of these people (except for JFK and Hitchcock) were from my parents’ generation, not mine. But if I could make my father laugh, I was successful. The writing for me came when I was a pre-teen—creating poems for my family’s birthdays, for Mother’s and Father’s Day, etc. Then once I read Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, no one could stop me! The writing just poured out.
 H. What other projects are you working on?
TW. My next project is another one woman show which I have a lot of material written for, already. It’s going to be weird and hopefully hilarious stories about living in Santa Fe with New Age practitioners, and it’s also going to be about aging. Working title now is “New Aging!”
H. What do you want readers to get out of your writing?
TW. I hope my writing makes my readers laugh. I want them to feel as I do, that we’re all human beings trying to make it in this crazy world. I also hope my writing helps readers to learn about themselves and not feel so alone. I think the best writing lets us find out who we are.
H. What do you find most challenging about writing?
TW. I suppose what I find most challenging about writing is getting my butt in the chair to write! The blank page is always a bear, but it helps to teach and use Natalie Goldberg’s ideas of, “Put your pen on the paper; then go for ten minutes and it doesn’t have to be perfect.” I seem to have a nun in my head who is very critical, so I have to shut her up in order to get myself going!
H. Getting personal or memoir essays published is no easy task. How did you get your work into such a variety of publications?
TW. I think persistence is the only answer for this—I wish I had a secretary who would deal with all the business aspects of writing, but I don’t (though my husband has often been very helpful!) Writers can’t ever give up on getting our work out there. I always tell my students that great truth I heard from Antonya Nelson, I believe it was—to think of your writing as birds flying in and out of a bird cage. When a piece gets rejected, you send it out again. You try not to get discouraged when something does not get published; you just assume it will find its home somewhere else. The other thing that I heard another author say once is to think of marketing your writing as selling dog biscuits. You don’t get personally offended if your dog biscuits are not bought by someone. This, of course, is easier said than done!
H. What do you most want people to know about you?
TW. That I’m not perfect but I try hard! That (as Timothy Leary once said) “We’re all bozos on this bus!” That there is hope because most people have a core of goodness in them. That we’re all doing our best in this crazy world and humor helps. And that we all have important stories inside of us. 
H. Where can readers find Confessions of a Failed Saint?
TW. The easiest place to purchase my book is on Amazon.com, though it’s also at several bookstores in Santa Fe like Garcia St. Books, The Ark bookstore, and Op Cit books. If anyone has questions about my book or comments you want to share, my e-mail address is tmwilson222@aol.com. I’m also doing readings in Santa Fe at Santa Fe Community College on May 8, 5:30 p.m. in the Planetarium, and at The Ark Bookstore on Sat., May 25, from 3-5 p.m. I plan to be at the Book Fiesta in Albuquerque too, on May 10 and 11. 
 I do have a website that will direct you to my page on Facebook which is my blog: confessionsofafailedsaint.com. Or you can get on FB and go directly to my blog by typing in Confessions of a Failed Saint. I would love to hear your impressions of my book!

This interview is featured in Happenstance, a digital magazine with original stories, articles, poetry and more written by talents writers.