Our first 10 Questions interview posted on August 8, 2016. This week we reach a milestone with the posting of our 75th interview. To celebrate this achievement, we stepped outside our normal format and invited two literary artists from our region, Tricia Booker and Darlyn Finch Kuhn, to interview one another. Below you will find the interview that Finch Kuhn conducted with Booker. In a separate post you can read the interview that Booker conducted with Finch Kuhn. Both Booker and Finch Kuhn are featured readers in this year's JaxbyJax Literary Arts Festival, scheduled for Saturday, November 11, 2017.
The first quality you notice in Tricia Booker is authenticity. Her photo should appear front and center on the Wikipedia listing for the phrase “what you see is what you get.” The second thing you notice is that she is a peaceful vortex of energy, a contradiction in keeping with her thoughtful, beatific smile as she explains that she is a part-time journalism professor at the University of North Florida (UNF), a boxing instructor, a wife to a “hot firefighter husband,” and a mom to two girls, one boy, and several dogs. Yet she swears she makes eating right, working out, and getting enough sleep a priority. Her healthy frame and glowing-sans-makeup complexion speak to the efficacy of her regimen.
And then you notice how smart she is. She has taught creative writing to both middle-schoolers and inmates, and has written for publications as diverse as Notre Dame and Southern Living magazines, Folio Weekly, Minnesota’s Law & Politics, and the Vero Beach Press-Journal. Her latest work is a full-length journey through infertility, in-vitro, and international adoption that evokes belly laughs, gasps of disbelief, and copious tears – often in the same chapter.
Booker’s memoir, The Place of Peace and Crickets: How adoption, heartache, and love built a family, was published in 2017 by Twisted Road Publications in Tallahassee, Florida. In a writer’s dream scenario, the publisher actually sought her out to write a book after reading her blog, My Left Hook. Author Laura van den Berg says Peace and Crickets is “a blisteringly honest, very funny, and totally unforgettable memoir,” while author Katrina Anne Willis calls Booker “a brilliantly talented new voice with a story that is as much ours as it is hers: the story of searching, of finding, of accepting.”
Booker has been selected as a showcased writer at the upcoming JaxbyJax Literary Arts Festival on November 11, 2017. You can hear her read from her memoir on the topic “When You Need a Dog to Raise Your Kid,” at 3:30 and 5 p.m. at True-blue: A Hair Studio, 2663 Park Street, Jacksonville, Florida 32204.
On November 8th, Booker will travel to her hometown of New Orleans, Louisiana for National Adoption Month, where she will speak to adoption agencies, social workers, attorneys, adoptive families, and book lovers at Octavia Books.
10 Questions with Tricia Booker
Author Kerry Temple wrote, about The Place of Peace and Crickets, that it “bluntly conveys the raw emotions, vulnerabilities, and complexities of individuals living in a family.” What did it take, personally and as a writer, to allow yourself to become so vulnerable in such a public way?
Here’s something that’s very un-Southern about me: what you see is what you get. I long ago figured out that keeping things inside translated into shame, at least for me, and shame is exhausting. I did worry about forcing my kids to be so vulnerable, but in the end decided that teaching them to be open and honest about themselves was an equally valuable goal.
You’ve written, for many years, for a series of magazines. How is writing a book-length memoir different, and how is it the same?
Hitting that send button with a final version is euphoric, and the shorter the piece you’re writing, the more often you get to hit send, which is great. But there’s something mesmerizing about writing a book-length manuscript - being immersed in a project like that gave me a daily, dependable purpose, and I couldn’t wait to sit down at the computer each day. Even when I wasn’t writing, I was still immersed. I thought about paragraphs while cooking dinner and figured out scenes while driving to the grocery store. With shorter pieces, I mentally move on to the next priority as soon as I’m done.
What is the key to writing a successful memoir?
Well, first you have to define success. I feel certain my memoir is so much better than Paris Hilton’s Confessions of an Heiress, yet I’m also certain she sold more copies. Who is more successful? To me, a successful memoir tells an honest story using spare, compelling, unadorned prose. And if you are writing a memoir, it must be your story, not your mother’s or your sister’s or your horrible ex-boyfriend’s. It’s also written by a writer, or at least someone who reads enough to know how to write.
Among many other topics, your book discusses the international adoption process and how grueling and expensive it can be, financially and emotionally. What would you like to see changed about international adoptions?
So much. The process differs from country to country, but the corruption is nearly ubiquitous. I’d like to get the money taken out of the equation, first of all, or else have a transparent method of making sure any fees are used to support the orphans left behind. Secondly, I’d love to see the waiting times shortened. Investigations need to happen, but it’s excruciating to realize that every day spent in an orphanage exacerbates the risk to a child. In Haiti, for example, prospective parents can wait over two years for a child to come home. That’s not because there aren’t orphans in need - it’s all bureaucratic paperwork. It’s heartbreaking.
It is clear from the reviews that your story will resonate with readers. What do you want most for readers to remember about the book?
What are some common mistakes that you see in memoirs that prevent them from capturing the attention of the reading public? How did you avoid those mistakes?
It drives me crazy when memoirs start with the premise of, “this is what happened to me.” It takes the power away from the writer, and usually forces the reader to trust a second-hand recounting of someone else’s actions. A memoir should be the story of what the writer experienced, and how the writer reacted.
I also feel a little bitter that good writing is so under-appreciated. People often say things to me like, “Everyone says I should write a book!” and I’m like, “Really? Are you a writer?” Having a good story to tell is just not enough.
One of the characters in your book is a service dog named Buddy, bought and trained to be a companion for your son, who has Anxious-Attachment Disorder. How did you and your son handle the chaos that ensued when Buddy bonded with you, instead?
Oh, gosh. Buddy the Wonder Dog. Well, in the beginning, Nico was young enough that just having the dog was enough. As Buddy became better trained, I was able to direct him to lay with Nico, or hang out in his room. As Nico aged, I was able to explain that Buddy wants to be with the person who feeds, walks, and cares for him, and he understands that. We have three dogs now, and Nico uses every one of them for comfort and reassurance. They are definitely part of the treatment plan designed to keep Nico calm and safe.
There are moments in the book that are hysterically funny, and those that are absolutely harrowing. How did you manage the balance between the two?
That’s how I manage life, to be honest. I still have harrowing moments, and the only way I can make sense of them is to recount them to people I trust, and usually, by speaking the words out loud, I can see the humor. When you are feeling the full array of emotions, you die a little inside. I recently attended a memorial service for my best friend’s sister, who died of cancer at age 50. It’s a horrible, senseless tragedy that this vibrant, beautiful woman no longer walks the earth, but her humor and joy were everywhere all weekend. We’re walking a tightrope all the time.
You are a college professor, a fitness instructor, a wife, and mother of three, including a special-needs child. How do you manage it all, and do you ever sleep?
Sleep is one thing I do consistently well. I go to bed early, get up early, and nap. Listen, I prioritize. My dining room table should more appropriately be called a laundry receptacle. I turn down a lot of social engagements I’d actually like to attend. Sometimes I’m a great college professor, and sometimes I’m just pretty good. Our newest foster puppy is gradually eating the couch.
But, my kids get all the love they need, plus some. I’m there when they get home from school. They eat (mostly) healthy meals. My writing is clean and good and worthwhile. My husband and I communicate openly every single day. And - this is key - I take care of myself. I suffer from depression, and in order to stay in the game, I have to get enough sleep, exercise, write, and take my meds. If any of that falls out of balance, I implode, and believe me, when Mama implodes, the household isn’t far behind.
What are you working on next, and when can the reading public expect to see it?
Right now I’m just working on my blog, and the reading public can access it for free 24 hours a day at my website. I haven’t yet figured out what my next project will be, but I’m thinking about it obsessively. Like my page on Facebook - Tricia Booker’s My Left Hook - and you’ll be the first to know.
We'd like to thank Tricia Booker and Darlyn Finch Kuhn and for their participation in this interview. We'd also like to thank you for taking the time to read this week's 10 Questions interview. If you enjoyed what you read or you found it engaging, please consider making a donation to the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville. Your donation supports the advancement of the arts and culture in Northeast Florida.
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Please email Jihan@CulturalCouncil.org