Monday, February 20, 2012

Q&A With Amy Welborn, author of Wish You Were Here: Travels Through Loss and Hope

I am delighted to have the chance to share this Q&A with Wish You Were Here author Amy Welborn.  Thank you, Amy, for being willing to answer all my questions about your work and your life.  What a gift for readers here, and your book is to readers everywhere.

Q.  Tell Catholic Post readers a little more about you and your work.

A.  I've meandered around the Catholic world professionally in various capacities for a while.  I have a BA in history from the University of Tennessee and an MA in Church History from Vanderbilt.  I have taught religion in Catholic high schools and served as a parish Director of Religious Education.  I have been writing for the Catholic press and Catholic audiences for about twenty-five years now, beginning back in the 80's when I lived in Florida and wrote a column for the Florida Catholic.  In the years since, I have written regular columns of faith and life for Catholic News Service and Our Sunday Visitor.  I've written books on apologetics, spirituality and such for various publishers, including Loyola Press and Our Sunday Visitor.  I do a lot of smaller editing and writing projects as well: writing study guides and pamphlets, editing and evaluating manuscripts for publishers and so on.  And of course, I write online on my various blogs.  When it comes to writing for the Catholic audience, I'm primarily interested in continuing what I started: teaching.  I really enjoy taking a complicated or dense subject and trying to make it understandable for a specific audience. I also enjoy, on a more basic level, experiencing interesting things and writing about them. 

Q.  Wish You Were Here was such a moving memoir of a tough year for you.  You wrote a little on your blog about the death of your husband, and your subsequent trip to Sicily and Barcelona.  When did you realize you should, or that you wanted to, write a book about that time in your life?

Oh, a few months after Mike died, I started hearing questions and hints from various readers about turning this into a book.  I resisted for a lot of reasons, until my friend David Scott - who was my editor at  the OSV newspaper for a bit and was a friend of Mike's - said, "You're writing about it anyway on your blog.  What difference does it make if you put the same words on paper, between covers?"  As I made the plans for Sicily, it seemed to take on a helpful framework and evolve into a book in my head, so at that point, I contacted Trace Murphy at what was then Doubleday Religion, and he was open to the idea.  It was a long slog from that point to this, mostly because the task was a lot more challenging than I had anticipated, and writing this way is different that tossing out blog posts. But I'm grateful to my editor, Gary Jansen, and pleased with the result. 

Q.  As I wrote in my review, “If you’ve been through the loss of someone dear, Wish You Were Here will just make sense….Your’re fine, and then you’re not.  You’re overwhelmed with sadness, and then you have hope.  You cling to your faith, but you have doubts and questions and what-ifs.”  Did you realize how much you were writing for so many other people when you wrote about your own experience of grief?

A.  I didn't realize, but I hoped I was. That was the only reason to write it: to help other people.  I don't mean that to be pretentious. It's just true. I was helped by other people's writing about their own experiences - everyone from the well-known like C.S. Lewis (A Grief Observed) and Kathleen Norris (Acedie) to simply bloggers sharing their own experiences of grief - that I hoped I could contribute a helpful voice to that never-ending conversation. 

Q.  I wrote down so many quotes from the book it slowed me down!  Your writing is so “quotable” and looks effortless.  Do you find writing easy, or is it a hard process for you? 

A. Thank you.  It's both.  Journaling is effortless, but shaping it is far more difficult. But I actually enjoy the editing process quite a bit.  That is when the real writing actually happens. 

Q.  Very recently, you lost your father as well.  Do you mind if I ask if this grieving is different, or if it is hard to be discussing this book when going through another loss?  

A.  It's a different experience, to be sure.  My father was older and quite ill - and had beaten a lot of odds to even get to the point that he was.  But the other thing - and this is quite important - is that Mike's death really changed me and my own stance toward death.  I have really committed myself to living what I profess in the Creed every Sunday about life, death and resurrection. 

Q. It’s clear from the book that (despite inevitable travel-related ups & downs), that your teenager and younger ones, benefitted and even thrived with the trip.  Do you plan any more far-away excursions with your kids? 

A.  Oh, yes...but I like to keep my travel plans under wraps until I'm practically there!

Q.  Any books or writing projects in your near future you would like to share with Catholic Post readers?

A.  I am working on smaller projects and just really trying to see if fiction is something that I can actually do, or if my identity as "fiction writer" is something that only exists in my imagination. 

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