1.What interests you in telling the story of the DeSoto family?
The first time I heard Pete speak at church, I didn’t know anything about him, but I kept wondering what was wrong with his voice. It was so raspy and quiet and I thought, Maybe he’s sick? Maybe he’s a chain smoker or an ex-lung cancer patient? The writer in me started crafting all these narratives, and then when he gave his first sermon and told his story, I was so humbled and floored by what he and his family must have gone through. The mere idea that he had a bullet lodged in his throat and lived to tell about it -- that he was here today, smiling, and still loving the Lord -- it impacted me in a major way.
2.Why tell this story now?
Last November I was teaching college writing full time at two different campuses and I was required to grade an average of 70-100 essays every single week. Between commuting in traffic, planning for classes, attending staff meetings, responding to student emails, and keeping on top of all that grading, I felt so burned out that I just started crying in a coffee shop. My poor husband was sitting across from me at the time and didn’t know what to do.
We agreed I should take the rest of the night off, so I went home and did a little praying and soul searching and eventually found myself reading through a book that had a quote by Anais Nin. It said, “And the time came when the pain it took to remain tightly in a bud was greater than the pain it took to blossom.” That’s when I realized I had been running from my desire to write because it scared me too much. An actual career in writing seemed frightening and risky. But not writing, not even trying? That was more painful.
So, I made a decision then and there it was time to make some changes. Six months later, I had cut my work load down to one class and gone back to the job I had in grad school as a server at a restaurant. That was when Pete approached me to see if I would be interested in writing their story, and it just felt right. I immediately related to the way his family gave up so much to go to El Salvador and pursue something they were passionate about because I had just done the same thing. I had given up a lot, too.
3.Which books have had the biggest impact on your life and your writing?
The memoir, Wild, by Cheryl Strayed is a big one because of her fearlessness and honesty. She didn’t hide behind her heroine usage or white wash her sex addiction in order to make herself seem more noble than she actually was. Instead, she put everything out there for the sake of the story and showed a level of vulnerability and humility that has really challenged me in my own writing to stop playing it safe and to get raw and real.
Another is the novel, Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. The main character/narrator is a hermaphrodite who was brought into this world through incest. Right away, it addresses some of the most taboo subjects, but does so with grace and through the vehicle of a confused and lovable narrator who is on a quest to find self-acceptance, identity, and love. In other words, readers quickly realize this narrator, who represents a group of people that are generally misunderstood and condemned by society, is actually just like the rest of us. That recognition alone has the power to open up a dialogue and give voice to a group that is normally not allowed to speak.
Lastly, I love any and everything written by Shauna Niequist. I’ve been reading her essay collections for years now, and tend to think of her as like an older and wiser sister who totally gets me and who always encourages me to grow deeper with God, to remember what’s most important in life, and to be the best possible version of myself.