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Clients Crushin’ It: Emily English Medley

 

Madison Utley interviews Emily English Medley, MSN, APRN, FNP-C, debut author (read: a woman of many talents) about her inaugural novel, From the Moon I Watched Her.

Published by Greenleaf Book Group in January 2021, Medley presents a rich and layered coming-of-age tale about “the skeletons that lurk under church pews and the little girl who goes looking for and finds them”.

 

Q: I hear this book was originally written as a memoir. What did the move to fiction allow you to do? 

A: In anybody’s life, there are things that don’t make sense and questions they will always have. When I was approaching this as a memoir, there were scenarios where these gaps were so wide, the only way I could fill them was to effectively play God. This was a story that was begging to be out of me, and turning it into fiction allowed me a better way to do that. I answered a lot of my own questions, and made the things that didn’t make sense make sense. Also, I never wanted to expose my family or hurt them in any way. This is not a revenge book, so switching to fiction catered to my strong urge to protect.

Q: When you reached out to Stuart after seeing him speak at the San Francisco Writers Conference, what were you hoping he could help you with? 

A: I had a really clear vision for what I wanted this book to be, and I had already gone through two edits before I realized it just wasn’t working as a memoir. My book is as dark as humanly possible; the content matter is heavy, and it is personal to me. We’re talking about pedophilia, sexual abuse, death, mental illness. I needed somebody who could meet me there, at that depth, and I sensed that from Stuart.  When I listened to his panel discussions, I knew right away: this guy is going to be serious with me. I also needed someone who could meet my high expectations. I’m a perfectionist and I needed someone who could go there with me. 

Q: Talk to me about the process of working with Stuart; was it what you expected? 

A: The Book Architecture process met me where I needed it to, and was absolutely what I was hoping for. It was long and arduous, and worth every damn penny. We worked on my book together for nearly a year and a half. It was incredibly helpful, because it allowed me to really understand what I was trying to say in this book and what I was aiming for. Like I knew my characters have this top level of something they want, but that there was another level beneath that. I wanted to write about that second level and get deep into their motivations. The Book Architecture method helped me to do that. I don’t feel like the story would have been able to emerge like it did without going through that process. 

Q: What would you say to an author searching for the right editor for their project? 

A: Be picky. Be picky. Be picky. I was so glad to have found Stuart because I met some bad guys along the way. When it’s your story, your baby, your art, you can’t let just anybody into your space. When I partnered with Stuart, I said, “This is a chandelier. We’re going to polish every single solitary crystal of it. It’s heavy, it’s dirty, but we got to get it right.” I needed somebody who was going to be honest with me, and I got that vibe from Stuart; throughout the process, I never felt like he was telling me what I wanted to hear, but that he was telling me what was going to make the book better. From go, I liked the way Stuart communicated and I liked that he was somebody I wanted to be around. It’s so important to have good rapport. 

Q: I heard you queried around 120 agents before you got one. What did you tell yourself during that process? 

A: In the first round of querying, those who received my book had a very visceral reaction to the darkness of the material. Then, when Trump won the presidency, it became, “We do not care about white southerners and their moral dilemmas right now.” I decided I was going to put the book away for four full years, and that’s what I did. 

Before, I had gone to publishers in New York and San Francisco, but I had never gone through any Texan presses. This year, I decided to keep it in the family. The book is about Texas, so why not do that? I sent it off to Greenleaf and a couple days later got a call, “This is a very easy yes for us.” My takeaway is that every story has a time. I had to wait until the climate was right and the book became more timely. I had to trust in the story, and trust in the timing. When it was meant to be, I didn’t even have to try. 

Q: Tell me about some of the buzz your book has gotten since being published. 

A: It’s appeared on a few Buzzfeed lists of the most anticipated books of 2021 and it’s been mentioned in Publisher’s Weekly, NPR, some podcasts, and 500 Barnes and Nobles stores bought it for their shelves. That specifically felt like a big deal to me as a debut author! But I don’t know much about the buzz, really. What I do know are the impactful moments I’ve had with readers who grew up in an environment where mental illness or abuse or any of the things in my book went on, readers who have reached out to me to say I touched their lives or made them feel something they hadn’t felt before, to say that my book was healing, that it changed them. That is so meaningful. That is every author’s dream. 

Q: What would you say to someone considering recruiting help to finish their project?

A: If you have a story you’re burning to tell, don’t give up on it. But also don’t force it. You have to let the story come and you have to trust the journey of that story so it can emerge in its best version. Trust it’s going to find its way into the right hands at the right time. 

 

This interview had been edited for length and clarity.

Let My People Vote… (and You Should, Too)

When we first started working with Desmond Meade, he told us, “I might be the only homeless crack addict who ever ended up on the cover of TIME magazine.” He is, of course, so much more than that, and his memoir, Let My People Vote: My Battle to Restore the Civil Rights of Returning Citizens, went on sale last week, to huge acclaim.

 

 

Let My People Vote tells the story of Desmond’s life, from his tough childhood to ending up in homeless shelters with a felony conviction on his record. Finding the strength to pull his life together, he graduated summa cum laude from college, graduated from law school, and married. But because of his conviction, he was not even allowed to sit for the bar exam in Florida. And when his wife ran for state office, he was filled with pride—but not permitted to vote for her because there are still four states where one felony conviction means you can never vote again. “You may think the right to vote is a small matter,” he told us, “and if you do, I would bet you have never had it taken away from you.”

Desmond became politically active and spearheaded a movement to restore voting rights to 1.4 million “returning citizens,” a term of dignity he accords to ex-felons who have served their sentence and should be granted full rights to rejoin society. Explaining the core rationale of his ballot initiative to voters up and down the state of Florida, he asked them one simple question: “Has anyone you love ever made a mistake?”

Let My People Vote ends on the exhilarating, joyful night in November 2018 when Desmond’s initiative, Amendment 4, passes with 65 percent of the vote, an event that enfranchised the most people at any single time since women’s suffrage. Publishers Weekly says, “This poignant account soars.” And it’s just in time for the election. . . .

Doris Buffett: 1928-2020

 

Doris Buffett, sister of Warren, and megaphilanthropist in her own right, passed away peacefully last month at her home in Rockport, Maine.

I never met Doris. But if it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t have been commissioned by one of her foundations to write Letters to Doris: One Woman’s Quest to Help Those with Nowhere Else to Turn.

I wouldn’t have been blessed by the creative synergy with my co-writer, Anita Mumm, and our photographer, Stephanie Craig. I would never have met Amy Kingman, the boss you want to have on a project that involves traveling across 19 states for the better part of a year.

If it weren’t for Doris, I would never experienced such heart-breaking, in the sense of heart-opening, interviews with her grant recipients. I would never have met Ken Prather in Fort Wayne, Indiana, who asked for funding so he could take terminally ill children to the zoo in a reliable vehicle. A man who was getting by himself on a tiny monthly disability check had started his own foundation.

I would never have known there were English Labs capable of detecting when a human’s blood sugar level dropped to dangerous levels, until I met one in Rockwell City, Iowa, along with her new owner, Kalie Buenting, a 12-year-old brittle diabetic. Bringing the two of them together was another of Doris’s good deeds.

I never met Doris, but I met her spirit in each of the two dozen individuals we interviewed for the book—and there were hundreds and hundreds more we could have spoken to. This is what great people do. It isn’t about meeting them; it’s about getting to know each other, about getting together to help each other through this life. That is why, when a great person dies their essence remains here more than anything is gone.

You can read Doris’s obituary in the New York Times here. And if you were lucky enough to meet Doris, you can leave a story, memory, or message on this site, which will eventually become part of a virtual celebration of Doris’s life.

Lotus Flower Living: Journaling with Julie

There are people who rush their books to market. They might have other things they want to write, or they might just be trying to say something and not care that much about the delivery. (They might also be lazy, but we would never say that here.) Julie Matheson’s gorgeous book, Lotus Flower Living: A Journaling Practice for Deep Discovery and Lasting Peace, on the other hand, has been almost a decade in the making. And the care and clarity it radiates show every single one of those years.

 

 

Simply put, Julie’s work helps us clear patterns. (If you want to hear about it in her own words, watch this brief introduction.) She first helps us identify a specific pattern of thought, behavior, and belief, some of which can be delicate and quite painful. We all have sensitive spots that we protect, compensate for, and cope with. When we endeavor to identify an ongoing issue, however, and put a little time into discovering exactly what we are protecting, a miracle happens.

About Book Architecture, Julie says, “Thank you for appreciating the purpose of this book, for holding my vision while you so gently and expertly coached this material out of me. . . . And, bravely, you were the first to ‘test’ the writing prompts. Without your amazingly intuitive writing methods, this book would not exist.”

We did try out the prompts. And it didn’t take too much more coaxing once we saw how well they worked. We caught fire instead. Come on, you know you have at least half a dozen blank journals that people have given you because you’re a writer. Grab Julie’s book, and you’ll be guaranteed to have something real to fill them with.