A Virtual Interview with Jeanne B. Guy

Background

Book Launch: You’ll Never Find Us by Jeanne B. Guy

Wednesday, August 25, 2021 at 7:00 p.m.

Register to attend via Zoom: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/book-launch-youll-never-find-us-a-memoir-by-jeanne-guy-tickets-164798790619

Jeanne B. Guy will read from her riveting new memoir, You’ll Never Find Us: The Story of How My Children Were Stolen From Me and How I Stole Them Back (She Writes Press, 2021).

The Interview

CH: I’m curious about your background as a writer. When did you first begin to be intrigued by the art of storytelling? Growing up, did you imagine yourself becoming a published author? If not, what ignited your interest in pursuing writing?

JBG: Ha! Published author? Nope. I do remember (as a young reader) thinking how fantastic Nancy Drew was and inhaled all those mysteries. And though I was the president of the “Inkpots” writers’ club in high school, I remember nothing (I mean nothing) about the group. There was one teacher, probably in my junior year, who said, “You should keep writing,” but I have no recollection of what I’d written. My loves in high school were drama and music, so I suppose that’s the storytelling link. I went off to college and majored in English Lit, minored in Drama, married, graduated and, what do I do? I went to work as a service rep at the phone company. Makes sense, right?

The world of writing took hold when a mentor encouraged me to consider teaching. So, in the ’90s, about the time Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way was published. I started facilitating journal-writing workshops based on Cameron’s book, and later established Jeanne Guy Gatherings. The workshops and gatherings were very successful, some say because of my irreverent humor; I like to think it was my creative teaching style. I created a website and began blogging. The blogs, based on my own faux pas, were to help people rethink their lives. In 2015 I co-authored a book with photographer David Rackley, Seeing Me: A Guide for Reframing the Way You See Yourself Through Reflective Writing.

CH: Tell us a little about your journey to writing You’ll Never Find Us. When did you first begin thinking of writing it? What prompted you to begin that journey?

JBG: I love writing blogs; I did NOT want to write a memoir. After my ex-husband died in 2001, the idea to write the 1977 story of how my children were stolen from me began to percolate, but I wasn’t ready. In 2005, I attended a writers’ retreat conducted by author/teacher Christina Baldwin on Whidbey Island. It was there I wrote a fourteen-page synopsis and was roundly encouraged by Christina and classmates to write the book.

CH: Memoir’s promise to the reader is to elucidate the human condition on a very personal level. What risks did you feel as you began to work on the book? How did those perceived risks influence you as you moved forward?

JBG: Like many other writers, I didn’t feel capable or talented enough (aka imposter syndrome), and the risk of exposing myself as a mediocre writer set in. I also knew by penning the story I risked reliving the pain of the kidnapping and the guilt of my mistakes and decisions.

It also felt way too risky to expose myself and my weaknesses, not to mention exposing others’ shortcomings and weaknesses, even though I changed the names and identifying characteristics of certain individuals. Would I be sued? Speaking my truth about the patriarchy of the times and exposing patriarchal individuals, e.g., psychologist Dr. Bob, was also necessary but extremely risky.

CH: What was your process in writing You’ll Never Find Us? Once you had an initial full-length draft, how long did it take to arrive at its final, publishable form?

JBG: When I write a blog, I’m a start-and-stopper. I throw ideas/words down on the page, then set it aside for a day or two. Write, leave it, re-write, leave it, re-write. Works great for blogs but for the memoir, leaving it for too long had its drawbacks. I therefore do not recommend my backburner writing process for a book of this length, though it proved to be a two-edged sword. On the one hand, by starting and stopping, I lost momentum, and “lost my place” so to speak. Oftentimes it felt like having to start all over again. I remember doing extensive research, only to repeat the process further on down the road, not realizing I’d already done the necessary investigative work during earlier drafts.

On the other hand, the book needed to grow and so did I. The scope broadened over the years as I studied writing at a deeper level and researched the historical elements crucial to the story. It became a creative challenge that required years of workshops, critique groups, mentors, and some therapy. In that sense, it needed a fifteen-year process. Besides, you wouldn’t have liked the first draft. It was about a perfect woman and her evil husband. Those, I am told, are a dime a dozen. I am grateful to my mentors for not allowing me to publish the earlier versions of the book. The book and I needed time to grow.

The first synopsis was written in December, 2005. Fifteen years later it was in the hands of She Writes Press in publishable form. I am glad the book is coming out now as it seems particularly relevant given its major themes, which are timelier than ever: dealing intimately with white supremacy, patriarchy, feminism, and women’s empowerment. But most importantly, parental child stealing.

It also helped that certain characters passed on, increasing my comfort level to speak the truth I needed to speak. And now, let’s face it, I’m not getting any younger, and I’d like to get cracking on the next memoir.

CH: You’ve long been involved in the Story Circle Network. How would you describe the influence of a writing community on the development of You’ll Never Find Us?

JBG: I’m a big believer in education, support, encouragement, and handholding. Story Circle Network (SCN) offered all that to me and more. For anyone unfamiliar with Story Circle, it is a non-profit organization, started by award-winning author Susan Albert, supporting women writing and sharing their stories. SCN will celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2022. I know the heart and soul of this organization, and they live their mission.

If I have any advice for a writer, it would be to find such a group – don’t go it alone.

CH: We spent time together in 2019 at The Writer’s Hotel conference, where you were working on this book. How did the experience help shape You’ll Never Find Us?

JBG: The Writer’s Hotel (TWH) NYC “Mini MFA,” a unique and comprehensive writing program, was truly a one-of-a-kind conference. Two NY editors read and consulted on my entire manuscript pre-conference. With you as my knowledgeable guide, I was able to navigate the conference, lectures, craft labs, and professor Richard Hoffman’s major daily workshop. TWH was absolutely instrumental in my advancement as a writer. I spent another year rewriting and editing my memoir based on what I learned, and produced a much better book, one that Richard Hoffman agreed to endorse.

CH: It’s often said that we learn to be writers as we write. What did you learn about yourself as you wrote You’ll Never Find Us?

JBG: It’s been fifteen years in the making, so my desire to share the story has evolved over time. Originally, I didn’t care if I had an audience. It was strictly cathartic and I realized I needed to heal. Poet and author Mark Nepo said in The Book of Awakening, “Tragedy stays alive by feeling what’s been done to us, while peace comes alive by living with the result.” As long as I let the story fester inside me, there would be no end to the pain. It would win. But by writing and shedding light on the story, by learning about writing—and myself—over the years, I found peace.

One of the things I learned about myself was the courage I needed was within me. I didn’t consciously summon the courage. It was my job to protect the well-being of my children. My love for them was infinite; the images of their faces in my mind and the ache in my heart became my fuel. How could I not search for them? I had chosen not to be a victim in an abusive relationship; how could I allow them to become victims? I didn’t go searching for courage. The drive came from within me. It wasn’t a choice. You don’t go looking for it—you’re not missing equipment—you have it in you. All of the above applies to me as a person and as a writer as well.

CH: I understand your children have read You’ll Never Find Us. How did they respond on first reading it? Were there any surprises for you in the response?

JBG: I gave them both an advance reader copy several months back and politely suggested they read it before the publication date. My son, Tyger, six at the time of the story, now fifty, called three days later and said, “Sh*t, Mom. I had no idea. No idea of what you’d been through.” I think that was followed with some tears on my part, and loving words from him (probably about what a great mom I am). Megan and now sixteen-year-old granddaughter, Hudson, started reading the book together. We met at a local coffee shop about a week later. Megan wanted to speak but a flood of tears interrupted her mid-sentence. She, too, appreciated the gravity of my life with Klaus, and was glad Haywood had been so supportive. She expressed surprise to have learned much about herself, based on my expressed vulnerabilities.

CH: The story at the core of You’ll Never Find Us took place many years ago. What was at the core of your persistence in getting this story out?

JBG: Once I started, I had to finish. I remember when I received word that my ex-husband had died (2001). I knew I’d find the courage to one day write the story, but at that moment, I was still so filled with suppressed anger, I didn’t start writing until Christina Baldwin urged me to get the story onto the page. She gave me permission to tell my story before I even knew it’s what I needed to do. It was as if writing the memoir birthed my voice.

I don’t remember the timeframe, but I met with a therapist/conference facilitator who realized I had stuffed my anger and needed to acknowledge it. “He f**king stole your kids…let’s be angry before we move on to forgiveness, shall we?” She was fierce for me. Talk about having an angel dropped in your lap.

And then came more support. Critique group members that wouldn’t let me quit, even though there were many days when I wanted to stop; I wanted my life back. It was re-traumatizing going back over and over to write the book. But I was able to rest in the love and support of others, and I grew more accountable to the book day by day.

CH: If you could give advice to the person you were when you started writing You’ll Never Find Us, what would it be?

JBG: The journey you’ll been on, difficult though it may be, will be the foundation for your own personal growth: to learn self-compassion, and to know more gratitude than you can imagine for your community: family, friends, writers, mentors, and Robert, your husband. Don’t shy away from it, keep on keeping on. It’ll be worth the ride and you’re the only one who can tell your story. This is a story of moving from a misguided mindset of subservience and powerlessness to finding that power.

Other women will be inspired to tell their stories for whatever reason—whether it be cathartic or to share it with others in some capacity. Those who have experienced the emotional abuse and gaslighting that you did, will realize they are not crazy; they will discover the importance of taking care of themselves and tap into their own internal courage to handle whatever situation they are in.

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