Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Interview with memoirist Ruth W. Crocker

Today’s guest is non-fiction writer Ruth W. Crocker to share some tidbits with us about her memoir, Those Who Remain: Remembrance and Reunion after War.

Ruth W. Crocker, PhD, is a 2013 Pushcart Prize-nominated author, writing consultant, and expert on recovery from trauma and personal tragedy. Her memoir Those Who Remain: Remembrance and Reunion After War describes her experience following her husbands death in Vietnam and how she found resources for healing.

Crockers essays have been recognized in Best American Essays and her articles have been featured in the Gettysburg Review, Grace Magazine, The Saturday Evening Post, O-Dark-Thirty, and T.A.P.S. Magazine.

She received an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Bennington College, a PhD in Nutrition and Human Development from the University of Connecticut and a Master of Education from Tufts University. Along the way she also became a Registered Dietitian.

Crocker worked in health care administration and clinical nutrition before becoming a full-time writer. Currently, she is the Writer-In-Residence at Riverlight Wellness Center in Stonington, Connecticut, where she teaches the art of writing memoirs and personal essays to aspiring writers who want to express their own stories. She lives, cooks, and writes in Mystic, Connecticut and is available for workshops, readings, and public speaking.

Welcome Ruth. Please tell us about your current release.
Those Who Remain: Remembrance and Reunion After War is a memoir about my husband’s death in the Vietnam War in 1969 and what I chose to do immediately following his death as a way of surviving grief. The decision to bury our letters and significant memorabilia in the coffin in which he returned, and to have him cremated and take his ashes to the Swiss Alps, seemed, at the time, to be the only way to cope with the tragedy. In the book I also look back on my earlier experiences of growing up in a family against war to reflect on what might have influenced my dramatic decision and also helped me to survive. The story then moves ahead thirty-five years to the experience of meeting, by chance, the men who were with him when he was killed. This meeting, and hearing their stories of his great leadership and compassion, created the ultimate healing and eventually convinced me that I should dig up the letters and revisit his words written during his last six months in Vietnam.

What inspired you to write this book?
Back in the 1990s my son started urging me to tell my story but I wasn’t ready, so I started by writing a fictionalized version (a one-act play). I also started writing personal essays about my early experiences. Eventually, in 2006, after meeting the guys who served with my husband in Vietnam, I realized that I needed and wanted to write my story, and also to include some of their stories. Today, after the long silence that followed the Vietnam War, more and more people are sharing their experience of that tumultuous and confusing time.

Here is a link to the book trailer that was created by my son, actor and director, Noah Bean. 

What exciting story are you working on next?
I’m collaborating with photographer Steve Horan to create a unique portrait of Yellowstone National Park through the pictures and stories of people who live and work there, including: back country rangers, wildlife preservationists, search and rescue team members, troubadours, artists, hikers, animal tracking experts, oral historians and many more. Some of these people have been drawn to Yellowstone after traumatic experiences in war. They all have great stories.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
The experience that confirmed that I was writer was when I received my first acceptance for a personal essay from a literary journal. In this case it was an essay about growing up with my younger brother who eventually died of AIDS. I was paid for the essay! And, eventually it was listed as a notable essay in Best American Essays 2013. That was a huge confidence booster, but I remind myself everyday that I can’t continue to call myself a writer unless I keep writing!

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I balance my writing life between teaching, editing other people’s manuscripts, reading and trying to keep my house from falling down. I also participate in community service activities and serve on two boards, The Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut and the National Board of Gold Star Wives of America. Some weeks are busier than others. I don’t have a regular writing schedule. Usually it helps me to give myself a deadline on a daily basis – like, just write one page. That gets me started. I make notes continually in a journal. Some of it is useful and some not. Sometimes my journals are a mixture of writing ideas and recipes I want to try. I don’t use outlines unless it’s a writing project where I know I have to cover particular areas. I prefer to write in the afternoon into the evening. I also try to keep up with some social media activities everyday and answer letters and e-mail.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I usually don’t know where I’m going when I start to write. I just follow my thoughts as they come to me, get them down on the page, and then go back and figure out what I’m trying to say later. I revise a lot.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Until the age of ten or twelve, I wanted to be a nurse like my mother. Then I began to draw and paint every day and was sure that I would be an artist.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
If you’re trying to find a way to start your story, try starting with, “I remember…”

It’s amazing how those two words can free the mind and the imagination.

Thanks, Ruth!

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