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Sunday, 18 March 2012

Sylvia L. Ramsey, Interviewed.

Regular visitors will know that I ran a series of interviews on this blog, mostly with indie authors, and that, after 110 of these, I decided to give the series a rest. I haven't changed my mind, yet. But Sylvia's book is an exception because all proceeds are to go to charity and I support such generosity. So, here goes:

Hi Sylvia. I last interviewed you in January 2011, and you'd already published a number of books and had numerous short stories and poems appear in various literary journals. I gather you've a new book coming out. Would you tell us something about it, please?

Hello Stuart.  Yes, I have a new book, Traveling a Rocky Road with Love, Faith and Guts. It is my fourth book,  and it was just released a couple of weeks ago. My newest book is a memoir, Traveling a Rocky Road with Love, Faith and Guts, was inspired by a young man that has some very serious heart problems, and all the people I have met over the years as a teacher, mentor and a bladder cancer survivor. I have tried my best to encourage them, and to give them hope. To not give up on themselves or life. As I have traveled along life’s highway, I keep running into people who have let the rocks that have been thrown in their life’s road giving up on themselves, or life in general. The truth is that life is harsh, and it is not like the movies that give a false impression that it is smooth sailing. Being the hero that toughs it out and keeps on regardless of the situation is difficult, but with faith, it can be accomplished. It often takes a backbone, humor and a wishbone to survive it all.

Because of this, I decided to write a book to share my life’s experiences so that it may inspire someone to come back fighting when life knocks them down. The book is a journey though time from childhood to mature adulthood. The stories and poems in this book reflect the lows and highs of life. The loving memories, the hardships and the things we learn as we travel the road of life. It covers an abusive mother who had mental problems because of being abused as a child, childhood polio, a rocky marriage with a husband who was often abusive, the role of caregiving, death and grief, coping with bladder cancer, asthma, losing a home and more. Therefore, to not to scare you off with gloom and doom, there are funny stories along the way and an ending that I never dreamed would happen. My hope is that the book will bring about understanding to others, and be inspiring to even more. Our journey in life has a purpose, finding it is often the most difficult task of all.

You've had a number of serious problems to cope with in life; one of your supports through all this has been something you call 'faith'. As you know, I have a deep personal distrust of religious faith. Would you describe what you mean by 'faith'?

Regardless of what you believe or do not believe as far as "religious" faith is concerned, you must have faith in yourself that you can somehow overcome the various things that happen in life. Some call it perseverance and determination to not allow these things to conquer your spirit. I try never to use the word can't. I prefer to use the words: I may not know how, but I can learn. I will try, I may not be the absolute best at whatever it is...but I will try to do and be the best that is possible for me. Who knows what your best is unless you keep on trying. Giving up always equals failure. 

We've had similar responses, in one regard, to health issues that have come our way. In your case, research into bladder cancer has benefitted by your active support. I've done what I can for ME/CFS research in my quiet way. What drives you to continue with this support?

I know how important support is from others who have traveled the same road. Bladder cancer is one that has little in spite of the fact that it ranked 5th in prevalence. I have made it a personal goal for the past fifteen years to do my best to change this. When I speak with people who have just been diagnosed, I can hear the fear in their voices. They need someone to talk to that has experienced the same thing. They need someone to be able to talk to about their situation who understands. That was not available when I was diagnosed, or when I had my radical cystcectomy. Therefore, I decided to do what I had been taught as a child by my father: "I may not be able to do everything, but I can do something."

There are many ways in which individuals respond to adversity. Some fight, becoming aggressive and loud, some give up and succumb to whatever ails them, others take up the challenge in a more thoughtful and positive way. What do you think makes you respond so positively to the hardships that life's thrown your way?

I had two of the best role models, one was my father and the other was my grandmother. Another thing was my experience with polio at the age of four, and the time I spent in the hospital in a large ward with about sixteen other children. My bed was across from a little girl who had been in a fire, and her body was burned so badly. She never spoke the entire time I was there. There were only occasional moans. There were so many children there that were much worse off than me, that I could not feel sorry for myself. I wanted to get well and help others even at that time. I heard about the Red Cross and their drive to make people aware of polio. I started by helping to collect money for this cause as soon as I was able. I was one of the poster children. I talk about all this in my book.

So far, we've talked about you as the person. I'd like to know a little more about you as a writer. What made you decide to write, as opposed to any other creative activity?

Actually, writing isn't the only creative activity I indulge in, I also paint and sculpt. I love all the arts, and have participated in them. I directed a theatre program for sixteen years. I taught art and theatre courses. As far as my writing goes, that began when I was nine-years-old. I began writing news and feature articles for a small town newspaper in Southeast Missouri at the age of nine. Because of the nurturing and encouragement by the news editor, I developed a love and a need to write.
By the time I was working on my graduate degree, several of my poems, short stories and feature articles had been published. Since that time, over one hundred of my short stories and poems have found their way into literary magazines. I have been a featured poet in several literary journals over the years.

Do you have a favourite author? If so, who is it and what attracts you to their work?

That is a difficult question to answer because I have favorites in a variety of genre. In poetry, there are three, Frost, Millay, and a poem by Brecht, "To Posterity". Shakespeare's,  "King Lear" is one of my favorite plays. I read a lot of different types of books, and, it is an answer I do not have.

Do you have any advice for beginners in the field?

Keep writing, get as much feedback as you can get. Write enough to find your own voice. Listen to the feedback you get, but do not lose your voice. It is sometimes like painting, you may paint 60 or even a 100 before you get a good one. 

So many would-be writers have taken advantage of the ready availability of digital self-publishing, without first learning how to actually write. Have you anything to say about the proliferation of badly-written indie books?

I think this is something that comes with the territory of the new era. It can be unfortunate for the readers, and the good authors. Here again, I feel that before one publishes any work one needs some good critiques and to polish their work. 

When writing this particular book, how did you go about the actual process?

I was inspired to write this book because of seeing others give up on themselves, rather than do what was necessary to succeed. I began to write a rough draft lay-out of what I wanted to say, or put in the book. Then I wrote a draft of the book that was fairly brief. Before I continued, I asked a friend who is a professional writer to read it and tell me if I were wasting my time. He knows I respect his opinion, and I know he would be honest in his responses. I had my doubts because writing a memoir is so personal, and I really did not know if it would be something others would want to read. He liked where I was going with the book and encouraged me to continue. He, also, made suggestions that were a great help in how I developed the book. I began writing it once more. He read it again, and offered more suggestions. I did a re-write and added more. At that point, I was ready to get it proofed, and the next step what to make the required corrections. I was ready to make a decision on what to do with it. I weighed my options, and decided that since the proceeds from the book sales were going to the American Bladder Cancer Society plus I would have to market the book anyway to self-publish it.

You can find out more about me and or purchase the book at:
Purchase the book:
In the United States:
In the UK:

The American Bladder Cancer Society

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