Author Donna Mebane has written a novel called Tomorrow Comes, prompted by the death of her daughter. Tomorrow Comes is a beautiful book that will appeal to anyone struggling with grief.
1. Can you speak to the inspiration for writing the book? The inspiration, of course, was the unexpected death of my daughter, but the motivation was to try to imagine a place where Emma could “live on” both for her sake and for mine. I have always loved writing and when Emma died, friends urged me to write to try to find a way to manage my grief. At first, it was awful – dark and morbid. But over time, the idea for a book started to take shape. I actually started the book on a trip with my daughter, Sarah, to Turkey, where we thought we’d find some solace in the beauty of spending time near the sea. For more about how the pieces came together see Author Noteshttp://starshinegalaxy.com/authors/donna-mebane/author-notes/ on www.starshinegalaxy.com
- Tell readers a little bit about grief and anything she might be able to share that is helpful to others going through loss? Probably the best advice I can give is that grief has no timetable, no step by step guide. Everyone grieves differently. Even if you are grieving the same loss, you bring your own personality, your own spiritual foundation, your own coping mechanisms. When Emma died, both my husband and I had lost a child, the same child and at the same time. Yet we reacted to it completely differently. I had trouble getting out of bed – didn’t sleep, but couldn’t find the energy to do anything but stare at a wall and cry. When I did have energy, I watched the pictures of her we set to song for her funeral. But Rod got very busy with all things Emma. He cataloged all of her computer information, organized all her school projects, published a book (A Book About Chaps) which she had written as a first grade school project. Initially I found his busyness somewhat insensitive and he found my constant walking into darkness disconcerting. Writing Tomorrow Comes helped my whole family understand that we were doing the very best we could, both in wrestling with our own grief and in our (initial) inability to support each other’s grief. I wrote a blog for the Huffington Post readers might find useful. Although it’s about making it through the holidays, the tips I shared seemed to resonate with a lot of people who were dealing with loss at any time during the year.http://www.huffingtonpost.com/donna-mebane/6-steps-to-survive-the-holiday-season-after-loss_b_6269858.html You never get over grief. But you can still find a way to balance mourning with living.
- Where do you find the time to write? Initially I wrote every minute that I wasn’t working. I didn’t sleep much and I wrote the first several chapters of Tomorrow Comes as an e-mail to myself. Once I determined what I wanted to say, the book just poured out of me. I had long stretches when I didn’t have the energy to write anything, but when I wrote, I was a maniac, sometimes starting on a Friday night and writing for 24 hours straight. I finished Tomorrow Comes in about 6 months and we had a published version to give to friends and relatives on the first anniversary of Emma’s death. I decided I wanted to keep writing about Emma and have now finished a second book, Tomorrow Matters, which is in final editing. That one was a little harder, because I wrote it about an Emma that was evolving and growing and becoming more at home in what I call “After.” It follows the same format – back and forth between real events in our lives and imagined ones in Emma’s – but in the same manner that children continue to grow after they leave home, I am not as intimate with the path her “life” is taking in the second book. I find as I write the third book that I need quiet, dedicated time to write as it is the most fictionalized of the three. I have been fortunate in that both my husband and my manager are so encouraging. Together we decided that I would cut back on my “real” work so that I could write more. I now have Friday’s off and I dedicate it to writing. I still write some evenings, but usually evenings I am working on things like this request for an interview!!
- What is your writing process like? As I mentioned above, it has changed over time. One thing that has been really helpful to me is to write out a synopsis for every chapter of my books before I write even the first word. Although I stray a little from this outline, overall it is a very useful anchor that guides me back if I get too far astray. I then keep a blank document into which I cut and paste everything that seems extraneous to the current chapter. Perhaps because I am writing about my daughter, I don’t want to lose any thought I had, even if it doesn’t advance the current book. I am an extrovert and tend to get energized by other people. My daughter Sarah has been a saint in listening to my writing and giving feedback whenever I am stuck. While I was writing Tomorrow Comes, she lived in Washington, DC. I would call her every night and read what I had written. We’d both cry and cry and then she would manage to say, “it’s really good, Mom” and that would encourage me to keep writing. The second book has been a little lonelier, even though Sarah now lives with us in Geneva, a Chicago suburb. Sarah has read parts of it, but, though she still grieves every day for the loss of her sister, she also is very practical about ways to stay focused on the here and now. The book throws her off sometimes because it forces her to spend intense time with Emma and she chooses her time to do that very carefully. It’s her way to cope and I honor that. For the first book, I shared every few chapters with close friends and family. I haven’t done that with Tomorrow Matters, intending instead to give those closest to me a final, printed version. I also start my writing, whether it’s a book, an article, or even the non-fiction writing I do for work, with a title. For some reason that helps me. I am a little stuck on the outline for the third book because a title hasn’t hit me yet so if any of you readers want to suggest something, I would be eternally grateful and will cite you in the book. My vision is that it will be the last book in this particularly set of Emma stories. In it, all of the characteristics that make her so lovable will evolve to the point that she is having a tremendous impact on the world of After. I, of course, have always thought of her as near perfect (though she alone is responsible for my gray hairs – she was by far the toughest of my four children, perhaps because she was so much like I was when I was her age!!) But in book 3, she will become her very best self. It is what any mother would wish for their child and I am determined to help make it happen for her. Any ideas for a title that sums that up? Extra points if it contains the word “Tomorrow!”
- What gets you out of bed every day? The human being has a remarkable capacity to keep standing, no matter what happens. I would always say knowingly when I heard of such a tragedy that I would never ever be able to survive the loss of one of my children. I believed that I would just curl up in a ball and die too. Of course, I didn’t, though I still wonder why sometimes. I miss her so much it’s a physical ache in my heart that won’t go away. I feel heavy – my limbs weighed down by not being able to hug her, my ears ringing because I can’t quite hear her laugh, my eyes cloudy because I will never again see her beautiful face. But I have come to find joy again. This Christmas, though we all are still saddened by the empty spot in every corner of our home, we laughed until tears came at funny presents we had picked out for each other and silly notes we all write on each package. We saw cardinals and stars (both things we have come to associate with Emma) everywhere we looked, and though we are not particularly religious, we couldn’t help but feel that her spirit was entwined with the spirit so many in the world celebrate on Christmas day. What gets me out of bed every day? The opportunity to live each day as the gift that it is. Emma only had 19 years to live and oh how she used each and every one of those days to get everything she could out of life. I am 62. I have no idea how many days I have left, but one thing I learned from her death is that each one of them is special. The first thing she bought for her new apartment (a place she had signed the lease for, but in which she never got to live) was a sign that reads “Live life to the fullest and embrace it with no regrets.” She did! I try to.