Constance Hanstedt – Author – Poet – Leader
Welcome – What book would you like to tell our readers about?
Don’t Leave Yet, How My Mother’s Alzheimer’s Opened My Heart (She Writes Press, 2015) recounts my journey toward understanding our complicated mother-daughter relationship as she struggles through the early stage of dementia-type Alzheimer’s, and my ultimate discovery of compassion and love that goes beyond familial duty.
Do you write in more than one genre? I enjoy the challenge of poetry, creating, and recreating experiences to connect with readers. Finding a precise image or metaphor and using concise and descriptive language engages my mind in sometimes unexpected ways. The discovery can be exhilarating.
What brought you to writing? I was an English major at the University of Wisconsin -Milwaukee. I admired twentieth-century novelists and poets and wondered if I had it in me to create my own work. It wasn’t until after my father died that I began to explore poetry as a way to express grief. A decade later, when my mother was diagnosed with dementia-type Alzheimer’s, my teacher, the terrific poet Ellen Bass, suggested I might explore my experiences further if I went beyond the parameters of poetry. It was then that I turned to prose. It allowed an expansiveness I needed to convey all that I wanted to say. I started by writing vignettes, followed by full scenes with characters, dialogue, and description. Soon I had pages of material with a sense of connectedness.
Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? I write in my home office, where morning light provides a calm atmosphere and from where I can observe a yellow rose tree and a bevy of finches on the thistle feeder. I don’t tolerate distractions. But I don’t mind my Shih Tsu, Cody, who snores ever so slightly on his bed directly behind me.
Tell us about your writing process: I usually begin writing with a black ballpoint and a Mead notebook. I wrote most of my memoir in notebooks. When I had enough material, I transcribed it into a document on my laptop. I labeled each draft so as not to lose anything interesting or significant. Now I use the same process when writing poetry.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? Revision is the most challenging. Yet, it’s the part of writing that I enjoy most. I revisit each image and metaphor. When a metaphor doesn’t do its job, I make a list of ten others and then choose the one I think works the best. I also read a poem out loud to gauge the effectiveness of line endings and stanzas. I admit I’m a perfectionist.
What are you currently working on? I’ve recently discovered some old poems that go back several years. I’m trying to revise them but often find myself starting over. I hope to also return to blogging in the near future.
Has an association membership helped you or your writing? The poetry critique group of California Writers Club Tri-Valley Branch, which I lead two times a month, has offered much-needed support as I labor with some of my poems. The members are careful listeners, and they offer critique with enthusiasm. I’ve found the structure and discipline necessary to keep on writing.
Who’s your favorite author? It’s hard to choose just one. I always look forward to reading Jack Kerouac, John Irving, and Jennifer Lauck. My favorite author of all time is John Steinbeck.
What is the best book you ever read? The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. I’ve read it at least three times. I admire its structure, honesty, and intense feeling.
How long did it take you to write your first book? It took five years to write Don’t Leave Yet. I belonged to a writing class in 2004 with Ellen Bass, reading pages each week from my notebook for critique. My mother passed away in 2008, and I was uncertain as to whether or not I could continue to write our story. Ellen, and my fellow writers, were instrumental in my effort to bring the manuscript to its completion a year later.
How long to get it published? Don’t Leave Yet was a finalist in the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Conference writing competition in the memoir category in 2011. One agent from San Francisco who attended the Conference found the book interesting, but that was it. I pursued other agents with no luck. Then I heard about Brooke Warner, the publisher of She Writes Press. I worked with an editor she recommended. She Writes published my memoir in 2015.
What authors did you dislike at first but grew to enjoy? When I read Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, I thought I might cross her off my list. But when I discovered Truth and Beauty, I was hooked.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I began writing Don’t Leave Yet without an outline. By the time I completed the third chapter, I had decided an outline was necessary since I wove together scenes of the present with those of the past. It was a way of keeping characters and events clear in my mind.
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? I plan to continue placing my poems in literary journals if I’m lucky. I will also enter my chapbook, Treading Water, in more literary competitions with the goal of publication. It was recently named a finalist in Blue Lights Press writing contest.
Do you have any advice for new writers? First and foremost, be true to yourself. Write what’s meaningful and what you love. Observe the world. Read widely. And don’t ever let others tell you that you can’t write.
How do our readers contact you?
Great interview, Connie. I wish you continued success with your writing.
A fascinating author. I can relate to so much of her experience. Great blog post.
Nice interview. I am sure journaling and writing about your experience with your mother during her dementia-type Alzheimers helped you through what must have been a difficult time.
Enjoyed reading your interview, Connie!
Good interview. You gave some excellent advise on writing. Poetry is an excellent way to develop a keen ear for metaphor and succinctness. One of my college mentors was a big Steinbeck fan and did his master’s thesis on contrasting the series of newspaper articles Steinbeck wrote while traveling with the dust bowl families to his subsequent novelization of the experience in The Grapes of Wrath. Good luck with your writing.
Thank you, Michael. I appreciate your comments and recollection of one of your college mentors. John Steinbeck’s novels showed me how an author can connect with readers on so many levels.