Monday, 23 May 2016

The Gold Mailbox by Beth Schulman

Beth Schulman’s life could be compared to Dr. Seuss’ book, Are you my mother? Like the little bird in Seuss’ classic story, Beth spent most of her childhood searching for surrogate mothers, since her own mother was emotionally unavailable and often abusive. She found her first substitute mother in her older sister, and then in her best friend’s mom, in her camp counselors and finally in her paternal aunt, the woman who graciously opened up her home to Beth when she was 12 years old.

In her adolescence and early twenties, Beth continued to develop strong relationships with maternal figures. These connections helped Beth triumph over tragedy and led her to her career in elementary education, where she has devoted the past twenty years in creating supportive, creative and literacy rich learning environments for young children. She has also worked with professional teachers at The University of Pennsylvania through The Penn Literacy Network (PLN) as an instructor and literacy coach since 1997. Her greatest role is being the proud and adoring mother to James and Ian, her two teenage sons.

Connect with the Author

About the Book

Beth and her older sister try desperately to maintain normalcy and order, in the face of uncertainty and confusion. Their young lives are filled with deception and despair at the hands of a narcissistic mother and her abusive boyfriend. Told from Beth’s point of view, the story unfolds with innocence and honesty. The Gold Mailbox captures moments of despair and hope, sadness and humor, sister rivalry and sister love, death and emotional rebirth, abuse and unconditional love. In the end, the story leaves the reader marveling over the healing power of compassion and forgiveness.

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Keep reading for an interview with the author:

Why did you decide to be a writer?

I'd spent much of my life trying to keep busy, always moving forward at warp speed, avoiding thoughts of my early years of abuse and neglect. It wasn't until I became a mother, that the voices from my past came back to haunt me. I was struggling in ways I couldn't explain or understand. As a form of therapy I started recording memories from my childhood. My writing was confined to a journal I took out mostly in the summertime when I had a reprieve from my job as a kindergarten teacher. Over many years the journal entries developed into scenes and the scenes into a story.

Fast forward fifteen years – I was divorced and busy teaching kindergarten children during the day and graduate students at night. The story I’d written about my childhood had been packed away in a box alongside the scrapbooks I'd started making when my babies were still babies. My two sons were almost fully grown, living their own busy lives as high school students and athletes. I felt a new resolve to get my story finished. I dusted off my old journal and started taking wriitng courses and going on writer's retreats. I became completely immersed in getting my story out. I was determined to finish it. As I started sharing it with other writers and close friends, their enthusiasm and encouragement helped me gain the confidence to get it published. 

Do you have a "day job"? If so, what do you do?

I am a Kindergarten Teacher. I also work facilitate workshops and graduate courses for teachers through The Penn Literacy Netwok at the University of Pennsylvania. The workshops and coursework focus on integrating reading and writing across the curriculum. 

What genres do you write?

Memoir, blog about the trials and tribulations of raising teenage sons, hope in the face of adversity and humor pieces related to women in mid life

What authors/books have most influenced you?

Blackbird by Jennifer Lauck
After This by Claire Bidwell Smith
Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes
The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene' Brown

What is the best compliment you've ever received as an author?

That my story gave them strength and hope. 

What is the best writing advice you've ever received?

The best writing advice I got when writing my memoir was constantly asking yourself, does this scene move the story forward. Also the power of sensory details when developing scenes.

What do you enjoy doing aside from writing?

I love to travel. I try to live my life collecting experiences, not things. It's my goal to see all the states in the US. I am about halfway there!

What book or series do you enjoy reading over and over again?

Anything by Brene' Brown

Do you write about real life experiences, or does everything come from your imagination?

I'd like to try writing fiction, but at this point I've only written a memoir.

How has writing about your own personal experiences affected you?

I've found the process of writing about my childhood trauma overwhelming and painful at times, but ultimately a cathartic and empowering experience. I would encourage anyone who has experienced abuse, either as a child or adult, to write about it. Even if you don't intend to publish your work, writing can be therapeutic and healing. 

Do you have any advice for other authors?

Don't give up. If you're stuck, leave it alone for a few days. When you come back to it, you will see it in a whole new way.

Also, I found it really helpful to be part of a writer's group. Reading and responding to other people's writing, helped me become a better writer. Also, reading my work aloud to others became a powerful tool in figuring out what to keep, what to cut and what to rewrite. 

Do you have anything specific you'd like to say to your readers?

I hope my story inspires readers to understand and "own" their stories. I lived so much of my life hiding from my past and feeling deeply ashamed about it. Once I was able to unpack and understand where my shame was coming from, I was able to feel "whole" and live a much healthier happier life. Our stories matter. 

I love the quote by Brene Brown, "When we deny the story it defines us. When we own the story, we can write a brand new ending."

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