A little over two years ago I discovered a blog called An Inch of Gray through some tweets cryptically recalling a horrific accident. A little boy, a storm, a river.
As I read the raw, gripping words written by a mother consumed with grief after losing her 12-year-old son Jack just days prior, I wept and prayed for a family I had never met. Anna’s writing made me feel as if I was there with her and that I had known her forever. She was me, she was my friend, she was every mother who has ever loved a child. The immeasurable pain she recounted touched my heart so much that I reached out to her via comments, emails, blog posts and even through a video about Justin Beiber.
Over time and over the Internet, Anna and I became friends. We have never met in real life, but we connect in a very real and emotional way. Grief brought us together, but a commonality of searching for light and meaning has kept us connected.
On the two-year anniversary of the death of her precious Jack, she released her first book, Rare Bird–a memoir of the first year of life after Jack died. As she states in the book, it was not the first book she thought she’d write, but because of reasons we’ll never understand, it was.
I read the book over this past summer, with a box of Kleenex at the ready and a pencil in hand so I could underline all the passages that spoke to me. I put those tissues and that pencil to work, let me tell you. I could relate so well to not only her messages about grief and loss, but also I connected with her thoughts on being a woman, wife and mom. One of the things I love most about Anna is her open and honest approach to her writing. She tells it like it is, holding back nothing.
Here is a quick Q & A with Anna so you can get to know her better, and gain insight into what it’s like to write a book about such a paralyzing, painful experiencing.
Interview with Rare Bird author, Anna Whiston-Donaldson:
Q: What has been the most rewarding part about writing Rare Bird?
A: (for Anna and for Answer): It has been amazing to hear that it somehow makes a difference in people’s lives. From the young mom who feels like she’s in the weeds with her kids, to the bereaved mom who finally feels LESS ALONE when she reads it, this book is touching people. That makes me grateful.
Q: What was the most difficult aspect of writing Rare Bird?
A: Knowing what to put in and leave out was tough. I mean, what if this is my only chance to write a book? I had to resist the urge to put every thought that had ever been in my head, or every single life experience in it. When I finally slowed down and listened to what bubbled up in me, I knew what should go in the book.
Q: What surprised you about the book writing experience if anything?
A: I think I was surprised that I didn’t need to find some way to be eloquent or deep; I could just be myself.
Q: Did you find it difficult transitioning from a blog writer to a book writer?
A: It was harder in my head than in reality. My publishers were very supportive. When I decided to follow my instincts and just be myself, they supported me fully. For instances, I used short chapters because that was what I was comfortable with.
Q: You and I had the same feeling after our books were published, “that’s great, my books out, now where’s Jack? (and in my case, my dad).” Was that a difficult feeling to reconcile? If so, what did you do with those feelings?
A: For sure, it was tough. I remember seeing the box of books in my foyer, and beautiful as they were, there was an emptiness because I just wanted Jack back. I just tell myself that he would be proud and that by answering the call to write this book I was getting an important story out there. It helps to know that by sharing my story I am putting words to real emotions and circumstances that might not be pretty, but they are real.
Q: Was working on Rare Bird a cathartic experience? Was it healing?
A: Well, I wrote it when I was still newly grieving. It gave me a sense of purpose and a job to do, which really helped keep me going. However, I think writing the blog was more cathartic than writing the book. I’ve been blogging for over 8 years, and to be able to write about grief and loss in real-time, exploring those issues with my amazing online community, has been cathartic. Blogging is very interactive, and those interactions have been sustaining for me.
Q: One of the things I love about your writing is your candor. Did you find it difficult being fully honest with yourself (knowing that others would be reading it) when you began writing about various situations like the way your loss was affecting your marriage and your friendships?
A: Well, sometimes I think I may have tried a little too hard to be open and honest about my own flaws! My editor said to me: “Well, you sure aren’t afraid to be unlikeable in your writing.” Yikes. I just try to be honest and authentic, and I’m happy to say that people who meet me generally find me to be pretty darn likable.
If you were a character on Orange is the New Black which one would you be?
Well, I may look a little like Piper, but I think I’m more like Poussey. I’m family oriented, extremely loyal, and I love to read!
Fitz or Jake?
Jake. Fitz is weak and annoying.
Skiing or hiking or sleeping?
Coffee or tea?
A Prayer for Owen Meany, Pride and Prejudice
Hardest part of being a mom to a tween girl?
Feeling like she doesn’t really want me, but she still needs me
Favorite cast of a TV show that you want to be friend’s with?
Hmmm. Probably none, because I don’t like drama in my life, and all good shows have drama! I do think wish sometimes that the Bravermans would adopt me.
Favorite curse word?
I want to thank Anna for taking the time to do this Q & A, and also for sharing her heart and soul with us through her writing. I hope you’ll visit her blog and buy her book. She is a source of inspiration to me and to countless others in the world who have had to endure a great loss.
Love and light to you, dear Anna. xoxoxo