Interview With Author Susan Davis, About Her Heartbreakingly Hopeful Memoir: Where There is Breath, There is Life
For what it’s worth, I think you write about difficult things with an enormous amount of sensitivity. Is there anything you learned from the process of writing this book?
I learned a lot from writing my memoir. I learned how you must edit and rewrite and edit again and each time you do this, you are re-living the original nightmare over and over again. I know I was not expecting these emotions to be ingested over and over again.
What compelled you to write a memoir?
I was writing a novel then my wife had a brain aneurysm. I vacillated on what to write. Finally, I knew I had to write this memoir. I wanted to help other families who one day would deal with something of this magnitude.
I know it can sometimes be hard to know what to include and what to leave out. What parts of your life did you omit from the book and why? And on the contrary, what did you include that surprised you?
I omitted all of my relationships that I had been through. I chose not to add these because it would take away from the original story I was trying to tell.
I included my OCD. It did surprise me because it took me so long to tell anyone I had OCD. I never went this in-depth to anyone but my therapist about my compulsions and rituals.
What was it like for you to delve into this book for the first time? Was your experience writing a memoir vastly different than say writing fiction?
Yes, it was very hard to write my memoir at first. I was writing a novel for 5 years. In fiction I was making up my characters. However, I had kept an online journal for my wife while she was in the hospital and sub acute rehab and writing the memoir became easier.
Being surprised by beauty is one of the things I love the most about writing about painful experiences. Almost always what you find when you dig down into that sorrow is that there is also beauty there. It struck me that seeking and finding love became one of your greatest survival skills. Would you agree with that?
Yes, surviving love through so many women (8) in total, was always a means to survival for me.
What sentence or passage in the book means the most to you and why?
“I only had her clothes, shoes, and one bath towel to hold onto. Will the scent on her towel last forever? What if it begins to fade? Is she going to fade too?” This line means so much to be because it was exactly how I felt at that moment.
Was writing the book healing for you or did it exacerbate your suffering?
I think writing the book was very healing for me. As my therapist told me, once you get the story out of your head you will not have to have it ruminate in your head over and over again.
The book’s structure was interesting to me as well. It’s sort of what you might call a collage—we get stories from all parts of your life, vivid portraits of a single moment, and experience. Why did you choose this structure?
I’m not sure I chose the structure so much but my editor liked this structure. She felt the book needed many parts and so this is what I came up with.
How has your family reacted to the publication of your memoir?
My family hasn’t said much. My wife read the entire book and loved it! She said it was like reading a novel where she was the main character!!!!
What has been the overall response to your book?
Overall I have had a good response to my book. However, it is so hard to get people to leave reviews. I don’t understand that. People have said my book is, serious, funny, filled with love and commitment to name a few. But I’m happy with the responses so far.
What are you working on now?
I’m now writing a novel and also a second memoir. I also write essays and now poetry.
Susan M. Davis graduated from California State University Fullerton with a degree in English. She has been an 8th grade English teacher for 27 years. She is a former Teacher of the Year. Susan also has a Masters of Science in Educational Counseling. She just completed her MFA in Creative Writing Nonfiction from Fairfield University in Connecticut. Susan resides in Southern California with her wife, Karen Kozawa and their 3 Cocker Spaniels. Her favorite color is purple. If you know her, you will know this.