Author Anne Marie Bennett survived two cancer journeys. After undergoing a mastectomy and several more rounds of chemo, she accepted this second journey as the wake-up call that she believes her ‘spirit’ meant it to be. At the age of 55, she found herself face to face once again with her mortality, and this time she took it more seriously and wrote a book about it that hopefully will be meaningful for others on similar journeys.
You are an author, but is it your day job? Alas, it is not my day job! I am a SoulCollage® Facilitator with my own online business, KaleidoSoul.com. SoulCollage is an intuitive collage process for self-discovery, created by Seena Frost. I facilitate online workshops and classes as well as in-person getaway retreats. We have an online membership of over 900 round-the-world SoulCollagers, so all of that keeps me very busy.
Did you always want to be an author? Pretty much! In sixth grade, my English teacher assigned the class to write a short story, and I produced a forty-page handwritten, illustrated (by my dad) novel about a beautiful fantasy world where cats could talk.
He was so impressed that he sent it off to a publisher, and even though we never heard any more from that publisher, I tucked that whole experience away in my heart like a tender secret. I had written a book, a whole book, and my teacher had thought it worthy of publishing! Never underestimate the power of a teacher to make a difference.
Over the years, other things took precedence over my passion for Writing with a Capital W (schoolwork, college, my first teaching job, boyfriends…etc.), but I always kept journals, and now and then I returned to fiction as an outlet for expression, completing one middle grade novel (My Other Dad) and almost-completing one young adult novel (Come As You Are), along with many other beginnings of stories.
What is your most recent book and what inspired you to write it? Feathers in the Sand is about a mother and daughter who are finding their way back to each other after an unexpected move to a small town in coastal Maine. Forty-year-old Tess badly wants a “Gilmore Girls” type of relationship with Eva, but it’s not happening. Eleven-year-old Eva is not happy about the move, but when she starts finding mysterious bright-colored feathers in strange places, she begins to wonder where they are coming from. (Hint: they are not from Tess!)
Here’s what inspired me to write this book: In between chemotherapy treatments for cancer in 2011, I would take short walks in our neighborhood to keep up my energy. That summer, I kept picking up feathers from the sidewalks and nearby lawns. They were ordinary bird feathers, but there seemed to be more than I would ordinarily find on my walks. My imagination took over and I found myself wondering what would happen if a young girl started finding feathers like this, and what if she was dealing with a loss . . . maybe she would think they were angel feathers! Maybe she would think the angels were sending her a message.
For years, I had this idea in the back of my mind, and I thought of it as “Angel Feathers.” It had to sit on that metaphorical back burner of my imagination and simmer until I decided to give it shape and form and characters and a storyline. Eva is dealing with a huge loss, and she does think that the feathers (definitely not bird feathers) are angel feathers. This comforts her greatly, but she keeps the feathers from her mother.
Also, I have to admit that I am a big fan of the TV show Gilmore Girls, and when I was trying on last names for Tess and Eva (the first names for my characters always come first), I went through many before I landed on Gilmore—Tess and Eva Gilmore . . . perfect. And that’s when I decided to include references to Lorelai and Rory as a parallel to Tess and Eva’s relationship.
How do you hope your book uplifts those who read it? I hope that people will be uplifted by spending a heartwarming summer with Tess, Eva, Kit, Jasper, Glory, Luca, and all the other Seahaven characters. I also hope that they’ll be warmed by the renewed relationship between Tess and Eva. Eva has a close relationship with her big brother, which I find uplifting (I have two older brothers, so I know what a good little sister/big brother relationship feels like).
I also hope that people feel heartened, uplifted, and inspired by Tess’s journey toward a belief that she is someone who deserves happiness. I’ve given her the beginning of a love story that I’m sure will make others smile and breathe sighs of relief right along with Tess.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to succeed as a writer? It’s really very simple—if you want to be a writer and give your stories to the world, you have to sit down and actually write! Success is such a difficult word to define, isn’t it? In my younger days, I defined “writing success” as selling millions of copies and being on the NY Times Bestseller List, like Jodi Picoult perhaps. But I’ve come to change my definition of Writing Success. After all, there is only one Jodi Picoult, and her stories are not my stories. Nowadays, I feel successful because I’ve done the work, I’ve sat at my desk and written the stories. Then I’ve spent many hours revising and editing, sending them out to Beta readers, then revising and editing again and again, and yet again.
I’ve also done the work of putting my books out there into the world, which is no small feat in the world of self-publishing which I have come to love. So now, I feel successful when hundreds (dare I say thousands) of people I’ve never met before buy my book and leave reviews and sign up for my newsletter list and send me emails telling me how my stories uplifted them!
How do you handle setbacks and criticism? I experienced about a month of setback with Feathers in the Sand after receiving feedback from my 12 Beta readers. None of the feedback was negative, per se, but the critiques and suggestions were conflicting. Some readers liked a section, but others did not. Some readers thought I should change that part, but others liked that part as it was. A few wanted more information about a particular character, but others didn’t see the need for that.
It was way too many opinions, I realized after stewing with all the suggestions for several weeks. It was a setback in that I didn’t do any revising or editing at all because I was so confused. Then, in conversation with a more experienced writer, she reminded me that I didn’t have to follow everyone’s suggestions! She urged me to look at each suggestion individually and decide whether I wanted to act on it. It was a good reminder to me to trust my intuition, and that propelled me forward out of my Slump of Negativity. She also suggested that the next time I need Beta readers, perhaps I could choose only three or four instead of 12!
Being an author today is like running a business. How do you manage all your publicity, social media, and keep your engagement up with readers? I have to say, this was one of the most difficult things to get used to back in 2020 when I put Dragonflies at Night: More Than a Love Story out into the world. I already had an active personal Facebook page and following from my work with SoulCollage®. But I added a Facebook author page and an Instagram account and spent many hours learning about and figuring out these new avenues of social media. I use the app Tailwind to schedule posts ahead of time, so that is a timesaver! Also, the Repost app is helpful for sharing others’ posts on Instagram and for recreating posts as stories.
How do you hold yourself accountable and achieve the goals that you set forth? I took Jessica Brody’s online Fast Drafting course last year before I began drafting Feathers in the Sand, and she inspired me to set a realistic goal, based on my own schedule (I’m not a full-time writer), for getting the first draft done. I decided that I would start on March 1 and end on June 1, and that I would write 1-2 hours, 3-4 times a week. Of course, some of those writing times were 3-4 hours, when that was possible, and one week in that time period I didn’t write at all because a beloved feline had died suddenly and I was grieving…but I have to say, it’s amazing what you can get done in small “bites” like that.
Also, I kept a small desk calendar in my writing space, and I kept track of my time by writing how many hours I spent in each little daily block. It really helped to see those numbers adding up over the month.
How do you structure your day and make time for writing? When I’m writing a first draft, I find the best time for me to do the writing is from 10 or 11 a.m. to about 1 p.m. For me, that is optimal brain time for “making stuff up.” That leaves me time in the morning to take care of my self-care (meditation, journaling, reading, and KaleidoSoul emails, etc.) and time in the afternoon to work on other KaleidoSoul/SoulCollage® projects.
What do you find most fulfilling in the career that you’ve chosen? Well, I guess you could say I have two chosen careers right now. What’s most fulfilling about being a published author is the joy that I feel when I give my imagination free rein to put down in words all the stories that have been floating around inside of me for years. That, and making connections with people who are reading my books and responding so positively. What’s most fulfilling about being a SoulCollage® Facilitator is knowing that I am making a difference in peoples’ lives.
What book uplifts you? Oh, there are so many! First, anything at all by Elizabeth Berg and Catherine Ryan Hyde. When I started reading their novels, I realized that they were writing the kinds of books that I wanted to write; these authors tell stories that entertain, but are also meaningful.
Images Courtesy of Anne Marie Bennett