Saturday, July 4, 2015

Interview With Iowa Author Mary Potter Kenyon

Hi, Mary. Thank you so much for joining us today. Can you tell us the story behind your book Refined By Fire: A Journey of Grief and Grace?

I took the “refined by fire” from the Bible because God’s word became so important to me after the unexpected death of my husband. Not only that, but I became a different person. I was truly “refined” through the multiple losses of a mother, husband and then a grandson- all in the space of three years. I could let grief break me, or break me open, and I chose to become broken open, to reach out to others. I’m a different person now, and I like myself so much better. The “grace” part of the sub-title is because it was through the darkness of extreme loss, I finally saw the light.
Question: What started you on your writing journey?
I began writing for publication when my fourth child was an infant. It was a way I could utilize my natural creativity as a mom at home. Sometimes, during those years I was raising what would ultimately be eight children, I think writing kept me sane. It was the single creative outlet that I could work in as a busy homeschooling mother. There were times, when I worked for newspapers or sold essays to anthologies, when it was a much-needed second income, as well. I always loved writing, but it was the $50 check for my first published piece in 1988 that “hooked” me.

Question: What distracts you from writing the easiest?
You’d think it would be children. Ironically, in all those years raising a family, it was the children who were the inspiration for my writing. I wrote about saving money, raising a family, and homeschooling. I “found” time to write. When toddlers were in the bathtub playing, I’d be sitting on the lid of the toilet, frantically scribbling away on a pad of paper. I kept paper in my purse, and if an infant fell asleep in the carseat in back, I’d pull to the curb and start writing. I wrote by the dim glow of a night light as I sat by a child’s bed. At some point (and he wasn’t always), my husband became very supportive of my writing, and he encouraged me to go out to breakfast alone and write. My Mother’s Day gifts used to be a certificate for a local restaurant.
There were various times when I worked for a newspaper or had deadlines to meet, and then we don’t have the luxury of “finding time” to write. We have to “make” the time. And so that is what I did. Money is a great incentive.
Now, as a widow with three children at home, I have a part-time job as Director of the Winthrop Public Library. I struggle to balance everything because there is no other parent, and I still homeschool. I was very blessed to find a job at a workplace that allows me to bring my children with me. (the youngest is almost twelve) I’ve signed four book contracts in the three years since my husband’s death, and so that means I’ve completed four book manuscripts in that time. Again, I don’t have the luxury of becoming distracted from writing. I have deadlines to meet. I know there are many times when my children might wish they had a “normal” mother who didn’t “live inside her head” half the time, but they have also been blessed in that they have watched me follow my dream of being an author. Let’s face it, even when we aren’t writing, writers are thinking about writing, or planning a plot inside our head. I sometimes wonder what it is like to be the spouse or child of a writer, or any artist, for that matter. I have an inkling. My own mother was a consummate artist; painting, quilting, carving beautiful wooden statues. I am grateful for the creative example. One of my most vivid memories is sitting on the back porch with her. I was a teenager, writing angst-filled poetry, as she worked on some masterpiece. My Dad spotted us out there and posted a funny sign on the door: “Caution! Artists at Work! No peons allowed.” I still have that sign. My mother gave it to me many years later. My hope is that I have managed to instill a sense of creativity in my own children, and that they will have memories of a mother who strived to utilize her God-given talents.

Question: If you could paint or sculpt like a famous artist who would it be and why?
The artist would not be a famous one. No, it would be my mother. She had tremendous talent, and I would be lucky to be able to paint or sculpt (wood) like her.

Question: What makes you smile and/or laugh out loud?
Imagined scenarios. It is a family trait, which makes me wonder that those same family members who most closely share this trait are not writers (yet). There are times when I “imagine” what it would be like if I said out loud what I was thinking, or I have “imagined” scenarios in certain situations that would have been quite funny, but never actually happened. I share one of those imaginary scenarios in “Refined By Fire.” At the first family gathering after David died, I found myself surrounded by couples. I hadn’t realized how painful it was going to be to see all my siblings with their spouses at an annual Christmas gathering that David had attended with me just the year before. I couldn’t bear it- it was too painful. I bolted out the door in tears, and didn’t come back in until I’d composed myself. I would have driven home by myself if only I hadn’t forgotten my purse. I realized how ridiculous my fleeing might have looked to someone who didn’t understand grief, and so, all alone in the car, I imagined another scenario; one in which I bolted out the door and landed in the snow, curled up in the fetal position. One of my sisters, oblivious to my internal struggle, would glance out the window and see me in the snow. “Look,” she’d say to the others, pointing out the window. “Mary is making snow angels. Let’s go out and join her.” They’d troop out the door and stand over my body, still curled up.
“That’s not a very good snow angel,” one would comment.
My imaginary scenario can have me laughing out loud, because it is so much more humorous than the reality.  “Imaginary scenarios” can get you into trouble, however, especially when two people share them in a public place, or somewhere (like a funeral!) where it is improper to start laughing uncontrollably.

Question: Are there things you put off doing because you dread them?
There are a lot of things I just don’t do anymore because they were things I did with David or for David. I don’t hang laundry out much anymore because he and I did that together. I don’t bake much, because I always baked for him. I hate grocery shopping because many of our “dates” consisted of doing coupon shopping sprees together. Christmas isn’t the same without David, and I used to be the “Queen of Christmas.” I struggle with “mom guilt” all the time because I know I can’t be the Dad my children need. My youngest was eight years old when her dad died. I have daughters who will face wedding days without a father to give them away, sons who won’t have a father to talk cars and guy stuff with. What do I dread, besides clogged toilets and leaky bathtubs that I have no clue how to fix? I dread those days when the absence of a husband and father will be most evident: the graduations, weddings, births of grandchildren.
Question: Where do you escape for some quiet time to reflect, pray, read, etc?
I love my mornings alone in the house, before anyone else is awake. This is my “sacred” time, when I have a cup of coffee (or two, or three), read from my Bible study, and write. I also love my lone bike rides, when some of my best ideas come to me. We all need quiet, contemplative times, but as a mother of young children, I rarely got that. I only learned to “listen” to God during those quiet moments after my husband died. Now I need them. When I get to busy for those “still” times, my life starts to fall apart. I have to make a conscious effort to allow for still, quiet moments.
That quiet allows us time to think, however, and I understand why someone might want to keep very busy and not allow for that after they have lost someone, because it is in those very still, quiet moments, when grief can hit really hard. But the grief is there, and we need to deal with it. I have seen too many people run away from it; immerse themselves in travel, or in new relationships, or work. But it WILL catch up with you. I have learned to allow myself to wallow in pain once in a while, and then pick myself up, dust myself off, and do something outside of myself, for someone else. Helping others is a very healing activity.
 Question: Share a verse or Scripture passage with us that is special to you. (and why it's special)
1Thessalonians 5:18 (NIV) Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 
The very first Bible verse that came to me after David died was a modified “Give thanks in all things.” It came to me the morning after David died, and I wrote it down in my journal. You have to understand that I was not a person that read the Bible. I had never owned a study Bible. I was not familiar with Bible verses, and yet, this one immediately came to mind, and the day after I’d lost my partner in life. What? Give thanks in all things? When my husband had just died? And yet, I filled two pages of that journal with thanksgiving and blessings: my husband had survived his 2006 cancer. Our marriage was the best it had ever been. I knew what it was to truly love someone. I’d been loved in a way that many people would not experience in their lifetime. David had begun his own faith journey by reading books by authors like Cecil Murphey and Todd Burpo. He’d begun watching Joyce Meyer on television every day. I had eight healthy children who loved me. I had sisters who surrounded me in my time of need. There were many things to be thankful for, and I wrote them all down. That verse began my own spiritual journey, one that was fueled by grief. I craved answers, and I somehow knew I could find all of them in the Bible. My young daughter gave me a study Bible she’d gotten from a friend. That same friend sent me notebook pages full of Bible verses she’d copied down. (as a side note, that young woman is now my daughter-in-law) A year after my husband died, I stood in front of my church congregation and explained why I wanted to begin a Bible study. Fifty people signed up for that first Bible study, and I’ve been facilitating them ever since. I now have a “Bible study family” that I love. When I faced the loss of my eight-year-old grandson just seventeen months after the death of my husband, I had something to hang onto; I had God’s word, his promise that both David and Jacob were Home, and I would see them again. So, “Refined By Fire” is just as much a story of my faith journey as it is one about facing grief.
 When is your next book due out and can you tell us about it?
“Mary & Me: A Lasting Link Through Ink” will be released by Familius in September 2015. It is a story of two women, one (me) who never knew what it was to have female friends outside of sisters and a single friend, and the other-my co-writer, Mary Jedlicka Humston, who had always had to many friends to count. Mary and I met in 1986 and wrote letters, thousands of letters (we estimate more than 8000) in the ensuing years after I moved from her Iowa City neighborhood. That friendship, linked mostly through handwritten letters, changed dramatically after my husband died. Mary visited me at least once a month for a good eighteen months after David died, taking me out to lunch and listening to me. She asked the hard questions that no one else was asking, most notably, “How can you stand it?”
Our book details that letter-writing relationship, as well as delving into topics that all women face in their friendships; envy, trust, money, and faith. We include essays from women throughout the country on their unique friendships, as well as a discussion section at the back for women’s groups and book clubs

Readers, you may purchase the book at:
Barnes& Noble: 
Or have your local library order it in for you!

Mary Potter Kenyon is giving away a copy of Refined By Fire: A Journey of Grief and Grace. The giveaway is only available to U.S. addresses.
To be entered in the book giveaway, leave a comment along with your email address. You may enter the book giveaway twice--once on each spotlight post. (It's not too late to go back and leave a comment on yesterday's post)


Martha Sturm said...

Only through the strength that God gives us through prayer and reading His words, can we go on.

sm said...

I read your interview and would like to agree with you on things I dread doing without my husband. Today our family is going to the airport to pickup and love on our newest granddaughter. She is coming in from India after an 8 year process. My husband carried her picture in his wallet and showed it to everyone he met. "This is our granddaughter. Would you pray for her to come home soon?" Even the cashiers at the car wash know about her and I plan to take her there and show her some who prayed for her to come. We are going to get her today without my husband-the one who loved her so dearly for 8 years. I would love to read your book. sm wileygreen1(at)yahoo(dot)com

Anonymous said...

Please put my name in for a chance to win Mary's book for a friend who just lost her husband recently. I would love to win it. Maxie > mac262(at)me(dot)com <

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