Tag Archives: on hearing of my mother’s death

My Interview with Dorit Sasson on Giving Voice to Your Story!

Well, here it is – my first live interview and my first radio show!

As those of you who saw my post last week already know, last Thursday I had an interview with Dorit Sasson on her BlogTalkRadio program “Giving Voice to Your Story.” Dorit is a freelance writer, coach, and memoirist whose memoir Accidental Soldier: What My Service in the Israel Defense Forces Taught Me about Faith, Courage and Love will be published by She Writes Press in 2016.

I considered myself lucky to have such a good host, and I thought Dorit did a great job of making our talk sound more like a conversation than an interview. I also felt fortunate in being somewhat familiar with the BlogTalkRadio setup, which made me considerably less apprehensive. I knew, for example, that I needed to keep quiet once I heard the “Blog Talk Radio” intro, and also that the program would cut off promptly at the thirty-minute mark, so I was prepared for that. And although I tend to worry about technical issues, it went quite smoothly (on my end, anyway!) as all I had to do was call in at the appointed time and hang up when it was over.

As for the interview itself, I think it went pretty well. It was interesting discussing my memoir with someone who had her own distinct perspective on it. Dorit’s focus tended to be more on the mother-daughter relationship than on the illness, which is something that few people have emphasized, although it is, of course, a vital part of the story, and also a vital part of Dorit’s own forthcoming memoir. I really felt as though I learned something about my own book in the process, and I hope you will, too.

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/givingvoicetoyourstory/2015/06/04/giving-voice-to-your-story-with-lori-schafer

Dorit Sasson, host of Giving Voice to Your Story and author of Accidental Soldier: What My Service in the Israel Defense Forces Taught Me About Faith, Courage, and Love

Dorit Sasson, host of Giving Voice to Your Story and author of Accidental Soldier: What My Service in the Israel Defense Forces Taught Me About Faith, Courage, and Love

New Goodreads Review of On Hearing of My Mother’s Death!

Byron Edgington (http://www.byronedgington.com/), author of The Sky Behind Me: A Memoir of Flying and Life, has posted his review of On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened on Goodreads. I read it yesterday, and his remarks about the book are so kind that I’m still blushing – in fact, his only complaint is that the book is too short (see my comments following the review):

“Here we have an extended essay/memoir on surviving a parent’s psychosis, inventing a life and then learning of the death of the long-forgotten parent many years after her passing. It’s much too easy to compare such works as Ms Schafer’s to other neglected childhood fare: Jeannette Walls ‘Glass Castle,’ Christina Crawford’s ‘Mommy Dearest’ etc. Too easy, because the parents in those memoirs cannot be easily forgiven; they can only be easily explained. Their cruelty stems from ambition, neglect, the depredations of poor parenting skills. Ms Schafer’s mother, on the other hand, offers a much more subtle, we might say inexplicable source of her wanton neglect and cruel treatment: mental illness and its untreated ravages.

Lori Schafer is an accomplished writer at the apex of her craft. Her images and reflections shimmer on the page: “grilled cheese and tomato…butter-brown bread…’ including good alliteration and excellent use of sentence length variation, she keeps readers moving forward. “The sidewalks were empty. I was empty.” Beautiful stuff.

Transitions are well done, despite many flashbacks and oblique references. Only one time, at an end chapter, and a reference to ‘Lila’ did this reviewer lose the thread, but then it picked up again.

Schafer’s use of a fictional device inside her memoir is very well done. She writes as ‘Gloria,’ to explain the horrors of a childhood in crisis, while giving herself a bit of remove as the writer. It’s an excellent device, and it works very well. It’s also entirely understandable. Much like any child will have an invisible friend, or a security blanket, Schafer has Gloria.

The writer’s voice stays consistent throughout, shifting with subtlety between the teenage, angst-ridden Lori and the determined older Lori living in a car in Berkeley and making her own way. “I was learning,” she writes, scraping for bottles and cans in Berkeley “…like the poor man’s Santa Claus.”

There are a few loose threads: We’re never told what happened to ‘Sandra Johnson.’ Indeed, none of the siblings’ lives are explained. There’s a reference to Schafer’s own concern about being poisoned, a thinly-veiled worry that she might have acquired her mother’s mental illness, but this is not addressed or enlarged. We don’t hear about mom’s own family history, or what may have contributed to her instability, only that ‘Judy Green-Hair’ is a serial marrier. Just open a vein, as they say; readers want more details.

Indeed, one critique of this memoir may be that it’s too darned short, that readers want to know much more about who this writer is: how did that young woman survive all she did? What resources did she uncover in herself? How’s she doing now? Has she finally found ‘a safe place?’

Wordsworth wrote, ‘…the child is father to the man,’ and we must assume he meant mother to the woman as well. If so, at the end of her fine memoir, Lori Schafer pays tribute to that young mother of herself. This is a good, fulfilling memoir. I just wish it was longer, darn it. Four stars, only because it’s too short.”

Byron Edgington, author of The Sky Behind Me: A Memoir of Flying & Life

Although it’s not an unqualified five star review, I’m really very pleased with it because Byron’s feedback actually gave me a great idea. It’s true that there are certain parts of the story into which I do not delve, in particular, regarding my mother’s family history, or what ever happened to my sister. I can’t provide answers to those questions simply because I myself don’t know the answers. My mother’s parents died when I was too young to know them; I don’t remember her sister and was merely acquainted with my uncle. I know very little about my mother’s life before me, and virtually nothing about the rest of her family. Likewise, my sister and I fell out of touch even before I left home, and as to Sandra Johnson, she’s a mystery that will forever remain unsolved.

But at no point do I ever make any of this clear to the reader. Most people, I think, see “family” as constituting a group of people; a set of relations with whom one shares varying levels of affection or bonding. For me, “family” meant Mom. She was it; there really wasn’t anyone else to fall under that heading. So it frankly never occurred to me that I might need to explain why I wasn’t talking about those larger family issues. But, of course, Byron is absolutely right; readers will be curious about those aspects of the story, and even if I have no real answers to give them, I like the idea of explaining why.

And this, of course, is one of the beauties of independent publishing. I’m not bound to someone else’s contract, or to a print run of thousands of copies that are already stacked and waiting in warehouses. So why not add another chapter? Even with my current crazy schedule, I can probably even get that done before the release date, and start fresh with an improved version of the story. A good idea is a good idea – even if it wasn’t my idea!

So thank you, Byron, for taking the time to detail what you thought was missing from my book. Your feedback is greatly appreciated, and I hope you’ll be glad to know that someone is listening.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

On Hearing of My Mother's Death Six Years After It Happened by Lori Schafer

On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened

by Lori Schafer

Giveaway ends November 23, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

The First Review Is In – and It’s Five Stars!

The first review is in – and it’s five stars!

Yes, I am very excited to report that my very first reviewer (and new favorite person), fellow Goodreads author L. F. Falconer (http://www.lffalconer.com/) has rated On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened five stars! Here’s a link to her very thoughtful review on Goodreads; I am also reproducing it below.

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1071102909

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX A503

Oct 06, 2014 L.F. Falconer rated it 5 of 5 stars

I received a free copy of this in exchange for an honest review, and when I initially opened it up to quickly peruse a few pages, before I knew it I had reached the end of the first chapter as I sat back with a “Wow!”

Lori Schafer delivers a poignant tale in this memoir of life endured with a woman deep in the grip of mental illness. A tight, eloquent writing style paints each scene with tints of disquietude which enable the reader easy access into the trauma of the moments revealed. A seemingly erratic mix of memories subtly uncovers the sense of paralyzing helplessness inflicted by the parent/child relationship. Schafer managed to fully capture her past without turning it into a “pity party” or a spiteful tirade.

This story touches the heart with its haunting, straight-forward intimacy. While easily read in a couple of hours, its echo will linger much longer in the mind. Excellent read!

 * * *

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have happy dancing to do!

Good Morning Twitter

My Short-Short “Poisoned” in The Journal of Microliterature – Thanks to an Editor’s Wonderful Feedback

My flash fiction story “Poisoned” has been published in The Journal of Microliterature:

http://www.microliterature.org/poisoned-by-lori-Schafer

This was a very tricky piece to put together. It was actually inspired by an incident that occurred in the course of my mother’s psychosis. One day she took me to the hospital, complaining of chest and abdominal pains. I was naturally concerned, but I also recall being hopeful that having a doctor examine her would lead to the (I thought) inevitable revelation that she’d lost her marbles. No such luck. But anyway, they took her complaints seriously, because although she was in fairly good health, at forty-one she wasn’t exactly young anymore, and was a smoker besides, so there was legitimate reason to believe there could be a problem with her heart. They gave her the requisite battery of tests, but couldn’t find anything wrong. Now, as an adult, I can pretty easily guess what they must have told her – that she’d had an anxiety attack, which she probably had – but at the time I had no idea such a thing even existed. In fact, I wondered more if perhaps it was all in her head; she was imagining a lot of strange things in those days. Then the doctor left the room and the interrogation began. And that’s when I began to be afraid that she’d somehow manage to pin the blame for her mysterious illness on me.

The first version I wrote of this piece was mostly reflective of that – my terror over being falsely accused and probably convicted of poisoning my own mother with some substance of which no one could prove or disprove the existence. I sent my story off to Microliterature, and a few weeks later I received a response from the editor that basically said (politely) that I had ruined an otherwise good piece by changing the tone halfway through. He was absolutely right. The story ended in hysterics, with the husband being dragged away by the police, which, while it carried the plot in an interesting direction, utterly wrecked the dreadful calm of the first half of the story. He did, however, say that if I ever did a rewrite, I should feel free to resubmit.

So I rewrote it. I changed the second half of the piece entirely, including the ending, making it more about the relationship between the husband and wife than about the consequences of the wife’s accusation. And I was careful to maintain the tone of the first half of the piece throughout, which worked worlds better than the original version. And here you see the results. How grateful I am to that editor! With one brief sentence he nailed what was wrong with that piece and clued me in as to how to change it from a so-so story into a well-done one. I realize, of course, that few editors have the time to address the defects in the submissions they receive. But I hope that those who do make the effort are aware of how much we writers truly appreciate their feedback, and of what an impact a few choice words can make on the quality of a writer’s work.

Addendum: After this story was published, I also composed an alternate version, a nonfiction piece also entitled Poisoned, which is written in the first person and is featured in my memoir On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened. It received an Honorable Mention in The Avalon Literary Review‘s Spring 2014 Quarterly Contest and may be downloaded as a FREE eBook at your favorite  eBook retailer; I have also posted it here for those who are curious to compare the two versions.  Needless to say, I was very careful to maintain a consistent tone throughout!

“Found Money” in Burningword Literary Journal

My short-short “Found Money” has been published in Burningword Literary Journal:

http://burningword.com/2013/10/found-money/

Like many of my flash fiction pieces, Found Money is based on events from my own life; it’s even featured in my memoir On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened. And, like some of my other autobiographical pieces, at first I wasn’t sure if it really worked well as a fictional story. It actually started out as a considerably longer piece, seven hundred words or so, but somehow I just couldn’t get the middle section right. It sketched out the background of what had happened in the weeks before I found the money, which was itself a story worth telling – in fact, I eventually expanded it and turned it into a separate section of my memoir without fictionalizing it. But to someone who didn’t know the original story was taken from true events, I think the longer version came across as overly dramatic, or at least overdone. After it was rejected by a couple of journals, I took another look at it and decided to cut out the middle altogether. This shorter version I think works much better.

What’s conspicuously and intentionally absent from this piece is any kind of emotion. I don’t think you can afford to have feelings when you’re quite literally starving, and during most of this period in my life, it’s safe to say that the emotional part of my mind was effectively switched off. But I cried when I found that money. Oh, how I cried.

I will never forget the people in that restaurant, either. They only spoke to one another in Chinese, so I have no idea what they said about me, if anything at all. But they went out of their way to be kind to someone who was obviously homeless, and probably very dirty and smelly, and that touched me deeply.

That day marked a turning point in my young life. Not because I found five dollars; a loaf of bread and a small jar of peanut butter later, it was gone. The more important thing I found on the sidewalk that day was something I hadn’t even realized I’d lost. Hope.

* * *

“Found Money” is one of the stories featured in my autobiographical short story and essay collection Stories from My Memory-Shelf: Fiction and Essays from My Past (only $0.99 Kindle, $5.99 paperback). To learn more about it, please visit the book’s webpage or subscribe to my newsletter.

Found Money