Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Ellen Feld is talking with Diana Howard, author of Winter Solstice.
FQ: Tell our readers a little about yourself. Your background, your interests, and how this led to writing a book?
HOWARD: I grew up in a family that was obsessed with words. My parents were both avid readers and did not hesitate to correct when a word was used inappropriately. I will never forget my mother critiquing the letters that I would mail home from college and then sending them back to me with corrections. I majored in English and Education in college but didn’t begin writing in earnest until my late 30s. Besides writing and revising I also love to play Bridge. I teach a class each week on how to play bridge effectively and for fun. I also write children’s stories, having published two books in the past 10 years (Applesauce and Boo Boo La Roo with a sequel to Boo Boo coming out in early 2022).
FQ: Tell us a little about your book – a brief synopsis and what makes your book unique.
HOWARD: Winter Solstice is a memoir in poetry chronicling the last 15 years of my mother’s life. She was diagnosed with middle stage dementia in 2007 but showed symptoms for it at least 5 years prior to her diagnosis. As a writer and her daughter, I wanted to document her disease but also document my journey with her. Thousands of families are affected in one way or another by dementia. It is my hope that those who read this modest book, will come away feeling supported and validated.
FQ: Please give our readers a little insight into your writing process. Do you set aside a certain time each day to write, only write when the desire to write surfaces, or ...?
HOWARD: I usually write early morning for an hour or two each day. I am not rigid about it because I know what I miss one day, I will make up for the next. The challenge of revision is one of the favorite parts of writing for me. It requires walking away, coming back later, rereading then walking away again. Sometimes that process takes days and sometimes it takes months.
FQ: Is there a genre you have not yet delved into that you would like to attempt in the future?
HOWARD: Yes, actually - short stories. Years ago, I took a correspondence course from the University of Iowa - taught by someone from the Writers Workshop (I attend their writing festival in the summer as often as I can). During that course, I wrote poems but also a couple of short stories. The instructor thought I should focus more on the short stories than my poetry. Well - that didn’t happen but I do have 3-4 pages of several different stories waiting to be attended to.
FQ: Who are your favorite authors?
HOWARD: I think my favorite poet is Mary Oliver. My writing seems to emulate her at times - so I’ve been told. I also love traditional poets like Robert Frost, Wendell Berry – gosh, I could go on and on. I love that they bring nature into their writing.
FQ: Where do you think you’ve improved the most in your writing process and ability and how do you think you have evolved?
HOWARD: When I began writing poetry 30 some years ago, I wrote mostly prose style with no form at all. I wanted to tell stories with my writing but didn’t know how to do it as efficiently and “correctly” as a poet. People would tell me that I had a way with words but I wanted to learn more and obtain a bit more credibility with my writing - so I began attending workshops at the Iowa Writing Festival. Because of Covid, the classes right now are virtual but just last year I took two 5-week courses. I love the courses and always come away having learned something new but also feeling validated for what I have already created.
FQ: Did your family & friends encourage you to write your book?
HOWARD: Yes, my siblings have been incredibly supportive. They could write their own story about this topic, I am sure.
FQ: Tell us a little about your qualifications in your field.
HOWARD: My qualifications are limited officially but I sort of come by it naturally. It is not hard for me to put scenes, feelings, experiences into poems. What I needed to learn was technique - the kinds of things I learn when I go to workshops.
FQ: What was the most difficult part of writing this book?
HOWARD: Knowing when to stop. I had over 100 pages of poems and vignettes that I had written during the last 15 years of my mother’s life. It is an emotional topic that i already know can move one to tears. That is why I kept it short. I also think I struggled a bit with a feeling of shame that I am talking about my mother in this way. What I want everyone to know is that having dementia is nothing to be ashamed of. The more things are out in the open, the more support families will have as they struggle with its many symptoms and constant challenges.
FQ: Did you have “Beta Readers” review your manuscript and if so, what sort of feedback did you receive? Was it nerve-wracking waiting for their responses?
HOWARD: No, I did not. But yes, it probably would have been:)
For more information on Winter Solstice, please visit the website: thecottonwoodtree.com