“Book ‘Em” Book Club Interview (November 2017)
1) Tell us about you and your life outside of writing.
BETH FEHLBAUM: First, let me say thank you so much for this opportunity for my coauthor, Matt Jaremko, and I to talk about our forthcoming book, Trauma Recovery: Sessions With Dr. Matt- Narratives of Hope and Resilience for Victims with PTSD. (Ayni Books, 2018). We’re excited about the possibilities for this book to do a lot of good for traumatized people.
Outside of writing, I’m a teacher—this is my 20th year as an educator. I currently teach high school English in a tiny East Texas school district. I live on the edge of the East Texas Piney Woods, in a house my family built. When I’m not writing, thinking about writing, or teaching writing, I like working in my gardens. My husband and I have three grown daughters.
MATT JAREMKO: I am a retired clinical psychologist. I operated an independent therapy practice for 35 years helping folks solve the full gamut of problems people can have. I also taught at the university level for almost 20 years. Since retiring, I am grateful to have found the time to work with Beth on this important book about recovering from trauma. If not writing, I volunteer at Habitat for Humanity, play golf, and spend time with my four grandkids.
2) Which books have you written? What are they about and why did you choose to write them? Do your books have a message? Are they fiction or nonfiction?
BETH: I write contemporary fiction for teens (“problem” novels). I’m the author of The Patience Trilogy (Courage in Patience, Hope in Patience, and Truth in Patience– Steady On Books) and Big Fat Disaster (Merit Press/Simon Pulse).
Funny you should ask why I chose to write my books, because my first book came about as a result of a therapeutic suggestion from Matt. Close to 10 years ago, I was in therapy to recover from Childhood Sexual Abuse, and Matt was the clinical psychologist I worked with. I was trying to process my rage and grief the way I have always processed my life—through writing—and after sharing poetry and short pieces with Matt, he suggested that I try writing a novel. The character who eventually came about because of that “homework” assignment was a 15 year old girl named Ashley who shared many of my traumatic experiences and was in her first tenuous steps on her journey to becoming whole again after being sexually abused by her stepfather throughout her childhood. I ended up writing the rest of The Patience Trilogy as I continued my journey through recovery, although Ashley’s story and mine are not the same. She does, however, have a therapist named Scott “Dr. Matt” Matthews, and I patterned him after Dr. Matt Jaremko. These characters were “transplanted” into our book, Trauma Recovery: Sessions With Dr. Matt. Ashley is aged up to 19 and about to go off to college, but the same dynamic that my readers love—the bond that she and Dr. Matt have—is still just as strong as in The Patience books. My most recent book for teens is Big Fat Disaster, which is about Colby, a teen girl whose life has imploded. She has Binge Eating Disorder—something I also have—and Dr. Matt is also in that book.
With respect to messages in my books, I like to describe my work this way: I do not always provide my characters with perfectly tidy, “They-Lived-Happily-Ever-After”-endings, but I always give them HOPEFUL endings. I believe it’s crucial for teens (and adults) to see people like themselves who are coping the best they can; who discover the power of resilience within themselves; and who recognize that HOPE is always possible if we work hard enough to overcome what hurts.
MATT: Early in my career as a psychologist I published a couple of academic books, but Trauma Recovery: Sessions With Dr. Matt is creative non-fiction where we weave a fictional storyline through scientific information about overcoming trauma and coping with PTSD. The book is a unique blend of self help for trauma recovery with fictional narratives of the treatment of victims with PTSD. Readers learn how to visualize and build the hope and resilience needed to come back after trauma, hopefully even stronger than before it.
3) Do you have a work in progress?
BETH: I have a few ideas working right now, but we finished copyedits on our book so recently that I have not buckled down and started another novel yet.
MATT: I have come to learn that “marketing” a book requires as much writing on blogs and articles as did the writing of the book.
4) What was the most difficult section/piece you ever wrote? What made it difficult?
BETH: When I was writing my first book, Courage in Patience (the one that was Matt’s therapeutic suggestion), I was knee-deep in PTSD symptoms and having some pretty horrific flashbacks. As stated earlier, I gave the main character, Ashley, many of the same experiences that I had, and, although I was not unnecessarily graphic, there is a scene that was very frightening for me to write. I actually felt physically ill when I pushed myself to write it out—but I found that by being able to do it, I was eventually able to step out of the scene and be more of an observer than someone who was on the receiving end of being attacked. Over time, that ability to observe and describe what it felt like to be the character instead of staying stuck in my own head was invaluable for getting past what was holding me down. When I began to be able to look at the scenes I’d written from an artistic point of view rather than as someone who had shared some of the same scary stuff, I could feel myself getting stronger.
MATT: Some of the poetry pieces I write are reflective of rough patches in life. But I would add they are not difficult to write. On the contrary, pieces based on strong feeling flow easily. In addition, writing with Beth has been very easy. She is a very talented writer, both technically and creatively. When I sent to her first drafts of scenes for this book, she would send back versions many times better than mine were while saying the same thing(s) I wanted to say.
5) What sort of research do you do for your work?
BETH: I draw on resources in my life for assistance where needed; i.e. when I wrote Big Fat Disaster, I contacted Matt for his expertise on what a therapist might say to a teen who, for example, felt powerless in her life, such as Colby did. When I wrote court scenes in Hope in Patience, I turned to my brother, who is a law enforcement officer and has appeared in court numerous times to testify in cases. I combine my professions of teacher and author to craft actual lesson plans that a fictional character’s teacher might use, particularly when I weave the study unit into part of the plot. Finally, my family calls me “The Googler” because of my curious mind and propensity for “googling” any question that pops into my head.
MATT: I’ve been studying and publishing in the field of psychology since 1973. The most influential books and research I’ve read have been by B.F. Skinner, a noted behavioral psychologist. The science part of our forthcoming book is unique in that it is based on a behavioral analysis of why people do what they do, including their private activity which we call “internal dialogue.”
6) Which books and authors do you read for pleasure? Is there an author that inspires you?
BETH: Honestly, I rarely read for pleasure. During the school year, most of the reading I get to do is student writing or for lesson prep. During the summer, I’m writing, so most of my reading at that time is for research. I will tell you, however, that any time Chris Crutcher has a book come out, I make a point to carve out time. His book, Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, made me realize that there could be an audience for books like the one I wrote at Matt’s suggestion: that hurting people (like I was at the time) could see themselves and find hope in stories. Chris Crutcher is a god, as far as I’m concerned.
MATT: I read all the time, dozens new books a year, along with articles, the Dallas Morning News every day and all the internet news. My favorite reading genre is historical fiction: Ken Follett, David Nevin, Michener, Lucia St. Clair Robson. Oh, yes, Chris Crutcher is excellent.
7) Was there a person who encouraged you to write?
BETH: Yes: Matt.
MATT: Since the late 1960’s I have been inspired by B.F. Skinner who wrote the deepest, most efficient works about the nature of human behavior ever written. In his works, I learned all I needed to help the thousands of people with whom I have worked.
8) What would you say are your strengths as an author?
BETH: Jennifer Brown, one of my favorite authors who wrote the amazing book, Hate List, has described me as “writing without looking over my shoulder.” To me, that says that I am authentic in my writing, and being authentic is my #1 goal in my life.
MATT: My understanding of human behavior.
9) How often do you write, and do you write using a strict routine?
BETH: During the school year, I work very hard during the week to have all day Sunday to write. I wish I could say I am one of those who writes an hour or two per day, but when I get home from teaching all day, I don’t have much left in terms of creativity. I’m drained.
MATT: Being retired allows me to write daily. So I set a daily goal of 200-500 words 3 or 4 times a week.
10) Five years from now, where do you see yourself as a writer?
BETH: I see myself writing full time, because I plan to retire from teaching in 2022.
MATT: At my age, I don’t look ahead anymore.
11) If you could offer one piece of advice to a novice writer, what would it be?
BETH: Write without worrying about selling the book. A lot of new writers who ask me for advice have not even finished writing the book—some have not even started it—and they are already worried about finding an agent and a publisher, or they are trying to mold what they are writing to what is currently selling. I tell them to tell their story, and tell the truth.
MATT: No one has ever asked me that question.
12) What would you consider the best compliment a reader could give your book?
BETH: “I saw myself in your book, and I sought counseling, and now I believe I can make it. I can survive.”
MATT: I consider it a great compliment that a colleague said this about our book: “This book is remarkable. You have, more effectively than anyone I’ve read before, brought the patients’ experiences to life at the same time you’re teaching about the conditions and ways to cope. I’m not just moved by the patient profiles and stories, but I can feel them; that’s something the manuals completely lack—not just clinical pearls but the experience of the patient on all levels. Most important, this is a book about hope. The entire book is about hope. You and Beth make a great team.” Anne Marie Albano, Ph,D. ABPP, Professor of Medical Psychology, Columbia University Medical School, Past President of Association of Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, USA, Author of You and Your Anxious Child, 2013.
13) Provide an excerpt of your writing that you would like to share with our members.
“Throughout the recovery process, trauma victims almost incessantly desire feedback about whether things are getting better. They constantly check on how they are feeling.
Remember: PTSD is essentially a disorder of being stuck in fear, shame, anger, and avoidance (you’ll hear more analysis of this disorder in the pages to come). It’s natural to want relief. Sadly, too many accept (settle for, really) the relief brought by disguised forms of avoidance, such as alcohol use, excessive partying, instant intimacy, social avoidance, or workaholism.
By far, the biggest form of avoidance is lying to oneself and others by not looking at the truth clearly enough. Progress is being made when facing the truth causes some pain and discomfort, rather than another method of avoidance causing that pain and discomfort. This is not to say that one has to immerse oneself in misery at all times for recovery to work. Pick your spots to do battle with the truth. The coming stories show that at the right time, in the right place, one tiny step toward being bravely authentic jacks up confidence and stimulates hope.
And that is how you will know you are getting better: you will be proud of yourself for having faced part of your fear and/or shame. Moreover, most times, the amount of the truth faced does not have to be very extensive in order to progress in therapy. A titch will usually do if it is done at the right time and leads to other small successes. “
Beth Fehlbaum, YA Author
Facebook Author Page:
http://facebook.com/sessionswithdrmatt (Matt E. Jaremko)