Jody A. Forrester, a writer and former chiropractor, received a MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars (2010), and BA from Antioch LA (2008), in literature and creative writing. Her stories received an honorable mention in the 2009 Anderbo/Open City Competition, and featured in the 6th Annual Emerging Voices Group Show (2010) at the New Short Fiction series in Los Angeles. Jody’s work has also been published in Prime Number, Claudius Speaks, the Furious Gazelle, the Citron Review, Straylight, Two Hawks Quarterly, the WriteRoom, and the Missouri Review blog. Jody has just completed a memoir, Guns Under the Bed: Memories of a Young Revolutionary, published by Odyssey Books (yes, my favourite publisher!) this year.
Guns Under the Bed by Jody Forrester
Jody is that rare thing, a native Angeleno – for the benefit of non-US readers, that means a born and bred resident of Los Angeles. Jody was raised mostly in Hollywood during the fifties and sixties. She lives with her husband, musician John Schneider, in Venice just six blocks from the Pacific Ocean. They have two adult daughters, a son-in-law, and a mini-Australian shepherd dog named Charley.
Welcome, Jody, thank you for chatting with me today. You’ve had quite a writing career on top of your day job. Do you have a go-to routine for writing? Where do you write?
These two questions are intertwine so I’m answering both. I have a desk where I write in my older daughter’s childhood bedroom. Typically I wake and have a light breakfast, and go upstairs to my office with a strong cup of black tea. Before I sign off for the day, I try to leave my pages in such a way that I know where I’m going to begin the next time I sit down. Otherwise, I start typing randomly, hoping there will be threads to pull out to begin something anew.
That sounds like you go with the flow, but in a structured kind of way. Can you tell me about the time you decided you are a writer?
After twenty-five years in practice as a chiropractor, a wrist injury forced me into early retirement. Terrified of the days and years ahead without something to occupy me, I recalled that I’d always wanted to write. Three days after I sold my practice, I enrolled in the Baccalaureate program in writing and literature at Antioch College (LA), but the realization that I was a writer came several years later when my short stories began to be published.
Publication definitely helps with self-identification as a writer, I agree. How much research is involved in your writing?
My intent is verisimilitude, even for my fiction. As such, I research a lot, visiting websites of locations that may figure in the work, checking historical events that could be relevant, even looking up recipes and clothing in the era I’m writing in.
For my nonfiction essays and memoir, my research goes even deeper to assure myself that the facts are as I remember.
Yes, because memory is a fickle informant. Research is essential, and even then, I find that sometimes something slips through. How do you get feedback about your story, before it’s published?
I have a small network of writers, close friends, as well as my family, who give me feedback along the line. I depend on their responses to be sure I’m on the right track.
A reliable – and truthful – circle is so important. Can we get your book as an audio book?
My forthcoming memoir, Guns Under the Bed: Memories of a Young Revolutionary, will be released simultaneously as a paperback, e-book, and audiobook.
That’s excellent news. Your book is a memoir – what kind of reader would like your book?
People interested in the sixties and early seventies who either participated in or are curious about the anti-Vietnam War protest movement and the process of political radicalization.
Do you write in more than one genre?
I write creative nonfiction and short fiction.
And very successfully, too. Who helped you most when you were starting out?
I was fortunate to have several excellent teachers who served as mentors, both at Antioch and the Bennington Writing Seminars. They helped me identify the stories that needed to be written, and nurtured the earliest seeds.
I’m quite a fan of writing courses. Good to hear that yours was so great! Thanks for speaking with me today, Jody, and all the best for the success of Guns Under the Bed.
Veronica Strahan is magnificent at sharing words that mean a great deal to others. Whether writing non-fiction, children’s picture books or the fabulous high-fantasy-dystopian-hopepunk Opal Chronicles, Veronica ‘s books will affect how you see the world and yourself. Her memoir Breathing While Drowningis a message of courage and hope that speaks to grief and recovery.
Author Veronica Strachan/VE Patton
Welcome, Veronica. You have quite a catalogue of amazing works. Why is writing important to you?
VERONICA: Though my creative writing was delayed by a few decades (okay four or so), due to the frustrating and often challenging interruptions of life, I’ve always felt compelled to write and share my stories—even if it was only with myself. When I spent years mired in producing formal clinical and business writing, my creative outflow was journalling. I love the power words have to change your life, to draw you into other worlds, to make you think, feel, and believe differently. Journal writing kept me sane and functioning until I found my story writing voice again. Once I’d turned on the tap, it was impossible to turn off.
Those words just keep coming, I know. What advice would you give an aspiring author?
VERONICA: Write what you’d love to read, the book that contains everything you ever wanted in a story. This is the story that will speak to other people. Let the creative juices pour out first, and then spend time on your crafting, and finding your audience. Take some creative writing courses and follow people who are writing things that you enjoy, or who are successful in their writing business.
Give yourself time. It’s a bumpy ride, but so worth your effort. You will change someone’s life with your story.
Oooh, that’s quite a concept! What’s the best response you’ve ever had to your writing?
VERONICA: I’d given my daughter a draft of my first fantasy to read. She was reading it as a favour to her mum, but this was the text I received…
‘Noooooo!!!! That can’t be the end! I need more! What happens next?!?! Right are you finished writing book two yet? It is so freaking good!!! I literally got only a few hours sleep because I couldn’t stop reading and couldn’t wait to wake up and keep reading. Holy shit – you have written something truly fantastic! (In both senses of the word!)’
That made me very happy.
And since I’ve been writing children’s picture books… the videos and photos of kids tucked up with a copy of Chickabella are wonderful. They’re often accompanied by anecdotes from parents about how Chickabella is now a part of their family! One little boy wants his mum and dad to buy a rainbow house.
How fabulous! Great responses. How do you feel about reviews?
VERONICA: I find most reviews incredibly helpful. They tell you how readers are connecting with your stories and where improvements may be needed. A complimentary review can give you an incredible boost, especially when someone is moved by your words.
And reviews are vital to self-published authors like me. Without the machinery of a publishing company to assist and connect you to readers, it’s all up to you. Reviews from readers help put your story in front of more readers, spreading the word about your work. I like to tell readers that someone else who needs to read the book may find it by reading their review.
What do you think about covers, and what say do you have in yours?
VERONICA: Books are absolutely judged by their covers, particularly these days when so many people are scrolling rapidly on mobile devices. Covers needs to entice the reader into your world. I’m incredibly lucky that my daughter Cassi Strachan is a creative soul who creates beautiful covers to my very sketchy requests. She always exceeds my expectations. Cassi and I teamed up for The Adventures of Chickabella series (words by me and pictures by her) and that has been a lot of fun too. We get so excited when we hear that kids love the books and recognise Chickabella on the cover.
Do you have launch parties for your books?
VERONICA: I had a launch party for my memoir Breathing While Drowning, a few years back which reunited me with a bunch of wonderful people who had helped us over the years – and gave me excuse to have a book cake. But it was at a fabulous launch party in 2019 for my first fantasy novel, Ochre Dragon, Book 1 in The Opal Dreaming Chronicles (read Clare’s review here), that I felt I had really arrived as a writer – I had made the whole thing up after all. We had a delicious dragon cake (there must be cake), champagne and nibbles, book signing, and some reading from the story. Lots of friends, family, and other writers came to celebrate the book’s long-awaited birth. It was brilliant!
Launch party cake: The Ochre Dragon
Yes, I sigh for the good old days of book launches! One day we’ll have them again. Do you write in more than one genre?
VERONICA: One genre – never! I’m definitely a multi-genre writer, sometimes with a genre mashup in the same book! I like messing with the usual suspects and deepening the characters and worlds. My favourite reads are fantasy and scifi, so that’s my main focus in creative fiction under my pen name V. E. Patton. I’m also completing the final edits of a co-authored, contemporary, action adventure with a supernatural twist.
As Veronica Strachan, publishing my memoir was the door opener into writing. I just had to write the story of my long healing from grief following the death of my second daughter Jacqueline Bree. It was incredibly cathartic. And as well as being a writer, I’m a leadership coach, health management consultant, and facilitator. So, as requested by some of my readers and clients, I wrote and published a self-discovery workbook and journal as a companion to the memoir. It felt very much aligned to my work with women who want to find ways to live a more remarkable life.
Veronica is also a life coach and motivator
The first of my children’s picture books was originally written as a legacy for my sister Mary, who was a kindergarten teacher and told the best stories. I always nagged her to write a book, but she was our family’s oral storyteller. When she died in early 2019, I wanted to honour her love of children. My own children still remember their favourite read aloud stories, and I wanted to help make good memories for other children.
That’s wonderful. I’m sure Mary is glad that you are now putting stories onto the page. Thank you so much for talking with me today, and I look forward to the next book launch Opal Dreaming #2 is coming soon, I hope.
When Luce became incontinent at the age of 30, after the birth of her first son, she felt her life had ended. She also felt scared, upset, embarrassed and shocked. How the hell had she ended up there, the youngest woman in the waiting room at the incontinence clinic?
Over ten year period, Luce faced plenty of difficulties, a lot of hurt, and a world of pain as well as downright craziness. She also started the very useful blog When You Are That Woman.
In opening an honest discussion about the normally taboo world of being a leaky lady, Luce reassures us that just because a problem is difficult to talk about, it shouldn’t be swept under the carpet. Post natal care, birth trauma and incontinence tend to be overlooked in research and treatment, maybe regarded as something that shouldn’t be talked about or that only happens elsewhere. For centuries, women have been expected to suffer in silence, and not to scare others with their stories of embarrassing conditions.
As a long-time sufferer and I guess “survivor” of endometriosis and cystic hyperplasia, I know a little bit about invisible lady illness that nobody wants to discuss. It’s wonderful that Luce is able to combine her writing skills to address the important topic.
Author Luce Brett, photo credit Cannon Pictures
Welcome, Luce, great to speak with you. Why is writing this book important to you?
Luce: Writing PMSLwas incredibly important to me. I was sure there were leaky people out there who needed to hear they were not alone. I dedicated the book to them.
Incontinence is an everyday taboo, a commonplace story that never gets the attention it deserves and the ramifications of that aren’t just personal. Yes, women – and men – with these intimate problems don’t always get help or suffer in silence, but worse, that taboo trickles down and incontinence treatments aren’t researched well enough, there isn’t the innovation or focus there could be, it isn’t part of policy.
The picture is changing but it needs to be a new and open conversation.
I really hope PMSL helps get people talking about both the condition and how to help and cure it – which for many, many sufferers is totally possible, cheap and quick.
So do I! That sounds really important. I’m so glad What would readers never guess about you?
I am actually quite shy about my body, very squeamish and really embarrassed about all my parts. It is weird that my first book is about my most private parts, and is very frank and straightforward about exactly what eg birth was like, how my injuries and complications looked and felt. I went all-in because I felt I owed that to readers. If I was asking them to stick with me in such a strange and stigmatised world, I just couldn’t lie to them. That’s why I get pretty down and dirty with the details, even about the biggest taboos like poo incontinence, wetting myself in public, getting depressed, and the effect on my relationships.
That cultural imposition of embarrassment is so hard to overcome, even when we’re talking health conditions that are so important and not all that uncommon. Good on you for getting stuck in! Writing is hard enough without having to face your fears as well. What was your favourite book as a child?
I also adored Roald Dahl’s Boy and then Going Solo, which I read with my Grandpa. He shared my love of Dahl’s vicious humour and Blake’s illustrations. I can still remember the thrill of dead mice in sweetie jars, but also the melancholy of Going Solo: the expanse of Dahl’s airborne views, the strangeness of war stories from his POV.
In one story, Dahl’s eating olives and watching a ship burn on the horizon. I was entranced by what he captured in a simple scene with limited action. Until you asked, I’d never made the connection that Boy and Going Solo are memoirs.
All books about people and their connections, I see. What’s the best response you’ve ever had to your writing?
I’ve had extraordinary responses from people to my blogs and articles, telling me they’ve had a problem, sometimes for years and years, and never once told anyone, or that thanking me for being open. That includes from doctors, patients, other mums, men with incontinence issues, physiotherapists, journalists. Some are ashamed, some aren’t, many feel voiceless, like they have all these thoughts and feelings about it and nowhere to put them, no-one to speak to, no opportunity for anyone to provide the space to talk. It is so gratifying and if it doesn’t sound too weird, it’s a real honour to know that what I’ve written has allowed someone to do that, even if only briefly.
How do you feel about reviews?
Haha! I know that feeling! How much research is involved in your writing?
Lots. Alongside trawling my letters/emails/diaries/photos, I spoke to practitioners, campaigners, physios, nurses, surgeons, midwives and charities, including ones that help women in other countries with poor obstetric care who end up with terrible injuries. I did some historical research into the appalling, racist history of some gynaecological operations and procedures, surgical techniques, and medical and social research. I also took a deep dive into the cultural impact of incontinence – where it crops up in literature, pop culture, myths, poems, and why we have such a perfect storm of shame around it.
That’s a very good phrase for it – a perfect storm of shame. What five words would best describe your style?
Frank. Witty. Honest. Self-deprecating. Open (also, probably worth mentioning sweary).
Love it! Did you write for yourself or for a particular audience?
My writing is a combination of personal memoir and wider musings on a theme. I’m introducing a difficult topic that people really find hard to talk about, and telling the reader my experiences – some hilarious, some nice, some ghastly, some gory, some empowering, some sad – frankly and with no coyness, in the hope they feel less alone.
Obviously, one huge audience is leaky people (an often ignored group), especially anyone who felt they were the only one reacting in a certain way (finding it sad, funny, depressing, terrifying, shocking, disturbing or whatever). But I hope it is more than a patient memoir, and it definitely isn’t a blame game or a rant. It looks at social issues, medical history, misogyny but it’s about resilience, and how you react to, and grow from, trauma and all our attitudes to broken bodies.
I want it to be immediate and engaging, and very up close, as if we’re sitting in a pub having one of those oddly deep and meaningful conversations you sometimes have with relative strangers. The illustrations are designed to look like sketches on a napkin giving you an idea, rather than using complicated or intimidating medical diagrams.
Excellent concept. What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever done?
Read the audiobook for PMSL: three days straight talking about my broken fanny, and my darkest moments, knowing some other people might hear it. I cried a lot reading it back. Also, having a second child, though he’s beyond worth it. Surgeries and tests. And reading a eulogy. All of them felt exposing but important.
So we can get your book as an audio book?
Yes, read by me. Cursing myself for my long sentences and alliteration.
Perfect. What do you read yourself – what’s your favourite genre?
Memoir and murder mystery/crime.
If you could write a note to someone about to read your book, what would you say?
If you have similar problems I’m so sorry. It sucks. And though we (everybody) need to be more kind and open about embarrassing medical problems, and stop shaming leaky people, you don’t have to be pressured to shout about your problem. I’ve done that already. Just try and get help. It is available in so many different places. And you aren’t alone. I promise.
Fantastic words. Thank you so much for speaking with me today. I’ll be sprucing this book far and wide!
Camilla Downs is a writer, a poet, and nature lover on a journey full of new learning. Camilla has fresh eyes, an open heart, and a thirst for discovery , and she shares all this through her writing. A single mother of two amazing children, she and her kids are into their fourth year of living-in-a-tiny-home adventure. Camilla recently published her 4th book, Words of Alchemy. In speaking with Camilla, I sense that she finds writing both a gift to others and a source of peace for herself. What a great find in these days of uncertainty.
Welcome, Camilla, and thanks for speaking with me on Last Word of the Week. Why is writing important to you?
Writing has been a sanity saving bridge, in processing life experiences, in being a single parent, in being a parent to a special needs child, in making decisions. Writing has been my way of sharing what I’m experiencing, getting it out of my head, being comforted, assured, cheered on, and, at times, receiving direction.
Author Camilla Downs and family
It’s definitely a two-way street. What’s the best response you’ve ever had to your writing?
The best response is a compilation of the responses in which others share how my writings have inspired or helped them in some way. There’s nothing better than receiving a message or review that lets me know that my writing was useful to someone.
What five words would best describe your style?
Wild, unfiltered, from the heart.
Delightful! Do you write for yourself or for a particular audience?
To date, I have always written for myself. Writing is how I process and experience life. The feedback received when sharing what I write is what encouraged me to pursue publishing the content.
What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever done?
Making the decision fourteen years ago to leave my marriage, becoming a single parent to two children; 1 year old and 5 years old at the time. I had no idea how I would manage, how I would survive. They are 14 years old and 18 years old now. It is through sheer grit, determination, letting go of the fear of asking for help, and not feeling shame for accepting and receiving help, that we’ve made it successfully to this point.
What a huge moment that must have been. What’s your favourite genre to read?
I have made shifts throughout my reading years. As a child and teenager I was all about fiction and horror. As an adult I shifted to mysteries, reading every book Agatha Christie had written, ending with her autobiography. Then I shifted to only business books, autobiographies and biographies of successful people. Reading then shifted to non-fiction books in the self-help, mind, body, spirituality type books. With the latest shift being opening back up to the fiction genre, along with memoirs and books about writing.
That’s pretty comprehensive, indeed. Where do you get inspiration or ideas from?
My latest book, Words of Alchemy, was largely inspired by Nature, and the many walks I took during the time it was written.
Words of Alchemy by Camilla Downs
Is it easy for readers to find your book/s?
Yes, I believe so. My books can be found on my website or on Amazon.
If you could write a note to someone about to read your book, what would
This is such an interesting thought and question. When readers buy a book directly from me, I actually do include a personalized note when signing the book, in addition to a creative message hidden within the book. I have incredible fun doing this!
I would say, “May the perfect words within this book, touch your heart, at the perfect moment. Love, Camilla”
That’s lovely. Do you write in more than one genre?
My first book is a memoir of my journey to acceptance of myself, and acceptance of becoming a single parent to two children, one with special needs, one a genius (who is most likely on the spectrum).
The second book, for which I am simply a contributor, is my daughter’s book. I collected her writings, organized them, wrote the introduction, edited, proofed, and published the book. Her book was intentionally not professionally edited so as to share her unique view with the reading world. A photo I took of her was used for the cover of the book. It is in the fiction genre as it is a collection of her short stories and poetry from 5 years old to 15 years old.
The third book, I am also simply a contributor, as it is a photography book of photos my then 8 year old son took. I organized the book, wrote the introduction, and he and I chose quotes to pair with the sections of the book.
My latest book to publish is a poetry memoir of the last 6 years of my life.
What an amazing collection! Truly inspirational, Camilla.
Thank you once again, Clare, for having me be a part of your wonderful blog! All the best to you.
My pleasure! Here’s more about Camilla’s latest book of nature-inspired poems:
The poetry of nature, the poetry of healing, the poetry of appreciation, the poetry of love … in one beautiful book.
In Words of Alchemy, Camilla Downs invites you to walk with her to share her love of Nature and Life through a heartfelt free-verse poetry memoir.
During her daily strolls she is mindfully present as she delves into life in the raw and experiences her heart’s observations.
Camilla embraces what happens when she opens her heart and invites the written words to flow. The Alchemy of Love and Healing is what happens.
Praise for Words of Alchemy
“Words of Alchemy, a heartfelt new collection by Camilla Downs, lives up to its namesake in numerous ways. Downs spans the broad range of nature, healing, love, and parenting, while making sure we have a little fun along the way. And the bridge she creates from the mindfulness of how we see the world at large to the poetry of everyday life is certainly worth a stroll or two across its borders.” – Thomas Lloyd Qualls, Award-winning author of Painted Oxen
“This poetry collection offers contemplative words, soothing thoughts and peace to the reader.” – Sue Bentley, Bestselling author of Second Skin
“Camilla Downs shares truth, vulnerability and wisdom in her Words of Alchemy collection, inviting readers to be inspired, contemplate and dive into her world of self-awareness and growth.” – G. Brian Benson – Award-winning author, actor and spoken word artist
“These poems take you on a calm and loving walk through the verses of the author’s thoughts. Alchemy is a perfect word for the title as Camilla Downs understands nature; connecting with its magical, medicinal qualities and beauty which she conveys throughout her poetry.” – Ailsa Craig, Author of The Sand Between My Toes
“Words of Alchemy is a chronicle of hope. These poems are an encouragement, especially when we are feeling at our lowest, to keep seeking the light that is our way forward, and focus on the real. This collection is a walk through the positive nature of life. Camilla Downs is to be commended.” – Frank Prem, Author of free-verse memoir Small Town Kid
Camilla Downs is a bestselling author, indie publisher, mentor, and mom. Nature and life experiences are a constant source of inspiration for her writing. She enjoys living a minimalist lifestyle, practicing meditation and mindfulness, reading, going for walks, and capturing nature’s essence with photographs. Camilla is the founder of MeetingtheAuthors.com and lives in Northern Nevada with her two kids.