Thursday, February 27, 2014

Inspiring Interview with author Barb Franze

Barb Franzen can make a day smile. I don’t know how she does it, but just the thought of chatting with her or getting an email can lift my spirits. I met her when she joined the Nebraska Writer’s Guild. When I say met, I don’t mean face to face. I met her through an online message service the NWG uses. Her perceived demeanor with her photo gives me the image of a woman of peace and joy.
She had not yet told me much about her life outside our mutual love of writing. When I read her biography, I found an impressive professional history. She’s been a therapist, particularly for women, speaker and more.
However; with all that, exchanging emails, I know that Barb has overcome more than most of us and persevered to make life changing decisions that make her the wonderful person I’m getting to know.
Now, Barb is releasing her book The Rag Princess. I'm not able to upload the cover image of the book as it is still not released.  

Glenda: Barb, we all have things from our past that shape us. Most of us don’t like to talk about some of that and I respect that. Without revealing anything that makes you uncomfortable, can you give us an idea what changed in your life into a winning story?

Barb: Glenda, when you ask about turning my life into a winning story, I assume you are speaking of my mother's death by overdose when I was sixteen. I have sought help over time as this was a heavy tragedy leaving me with PTSD. I would never want to fool people by saying that it was easy for me, as I faced many symptoms such as anxiety and depression. That said, I will share the reasons I have had at least a moderately successful life as a college graduate, a wife, mother, child therapist, and writer who now battles multiple sclerosis.

 My early childhood was extremely disruptive as I never knew when or if Mother would take her life. I knew she might because she was one to verbalize her moods and depressions, I, the youngest of four, in an affluent family, was her caretaker. People on the outside had no idea how disruptive our world was inside the closed doors of our new ranch house. We were the good looking family who was anything but. Two things that I had going for me were my mother's love and her belief in my talents. As one who acknowledged her problems, I had some insight into her illness. Likewise, she spent time coaching me for acting and singing. At fifteen I delighted her by being chosen as a Nebraska All- State soloist. Unlike some of my siblings, my disposition made her able to show me love-She had a vicarious relationship with me. On the other hand, I lived two lives-her illness and my own disruption as a result. I failed in school and was always in trouble. As an eighth grader, I made a pact with myself.

 I spent a summer planning how I would turn me around. I went from C's and D's to being an honor roll student, Homecoming Queen, paper editor, etc. The most difficult part of that was knowing that if I succeeded, I would be abandoning my mother. At least I saw it that way. Incidentally, she was brilliant-class president, top graduated, etc. who came out of an orphan setting, having lost her mother to the 1919 flu epidemic and her father to another wife. (He was married to two women at once-Her parents moved about the country as Volunteers of America-street corner evangelists. Mom was adopted and lived in the house that I showed on Google. -My father was successful at everything he touched-be it ranching, flying his own plane, racing cars, golf, etc. He was both loving and frightening- a good temper. (I made my eighth grade transition successfully.)

This leads to a second component. I have been told that I have incredible resilience. I am ambivalent regarding that concept. Children drain themselves by reaching too deeply with-in to survive. My resource was elderly people. I had very poor friends who did chores for old women. I would go along, but while they went to the basement to scoop coal, I sat by the warm stoves of the old ladies and ate their cookies and visited. It was my respite. I knew everyone in my small town and was a bit of a parasite feeding off of their nurturing qualities. Also, I had a marvelous imagination living on the prairie. I spent hours in my playhouse up in the barn or hiking to the Platte or to the Sand-hills behind our home.. Mother called me her cock-eyed optimist— one who drove my family nutty with my "happy endings" attitude and insistence. My father told me that I was the only one of four whose will he couldn't break. . 

Though I didn't come from a religious family, I believed in God and he was my biggest source of strength. I had a prayer above my bed. I would give anything to have my innocent faith back. Mother told me to marry a man whose family went to church, a man who would be good to me, a man who took time out for coffee breaks, etc. I followed that advice and got more than I deserve. I am blessed with a wonderful and supportive husband. Our son has his temperament.  Finally, I told myself that I had a choice of either giving up or deciding to live life. I chose life with the same amount of energy that Mom put into death. If nothing else, I wanted to be a contribution for her-something good that she added to this world. Her grief and despair were real and she tried everything to get better.

Glenda: In The Rag Princess you drew from your experience counseling women. The girl Celeste is abused emotionally, physically and sexually by the people around her she should be able to trust. It must take a particular strength to counsel women of abuse, but writing about something, for me anyway, makes it even more real. You chose to turn Celeste’s life into a fantasy of sorts. Did that help you deal with the subject matter?

Barb: Glenda, you mentioned working with those who have been abused. As a therapist I saw some horrible, unbelievable things happen to children.  Unlike Celeste, who has a chance to heal, these children had no outs. Some were from high class affluent families, while others lived with poverty.  I've met people who have a hard time believing that someone like Sylvie, a wealthy socialite, and the antagonist in my book, would be capable of heinous acts of abuse. We delude ourselves by believing this. Unfortunately, these kids are less apt to be protected or reported.

   In working with abused victims, the pain was there, but distanced. If therapists felt everything, the job would be impossible. One morning while working, I woke up from a dream where I had tears running down my face and was telling the supervisor that I couldn't take the agony of these kids any longer. I honestly didn't know that all of this was being bottled inside. As a child myself, I had to learn to dissociate and remove myself from the unbearable. As a caretaker of crisis, I learned my role very well. I got an award from Lincoln General while doing volunteer work with emergencies.

Until I wrote The Rag Princes I would start a book about a child and stop just when the plot thickened. Writing doesn't allow me to distance from a character's emotions or struggles. To write well, is to delve into our characters. We must walk in their bodies and listen to them. In the scene when the pastor grooms Celeste as his victim, I wrote that over and over, trying to figure out what would happen. I was never satisfied as it sounded too planned, too unnatural. One night I opened up a file on my computer and began reading. It was a grooming /molestation scene I'd written!  It fit perfectly. A friend of mine had to put the book down before reading that part. In writing that scene, I had to enter it and then forget about it.

   Celeste's imagination helped me make it through writing this book. Her imagination is wonderful and helps her to cope. For example, she makes up an imaginary friend, an older woman who bakes with her and does other sweet activities with Celeste.  Writing those scenes, gave me a break. Her imagination gave both of us hope about what would happen to her. I also used humor, the best medicine there is.Whoever reads The Rag Princess will be soothed with laughter. They must read about the gum popping waitress and her black hairnet.
I could say more, but I think and hope this answers your question.

Glenda: I think it’s interesting that you chose to help Celeste change her view of life through romance. Many women never heal to the point of trusting anyone with that kind of love again. How do you see The Rag Princess as a way to help women to find that hope again.

Barb: Glenda, you asked about Celeste and my use of romance as related to her healing and being able to trust men.

First, I want to say a word about abused women-those who were abused by a man. The women I worked with almost always had a man. As children they learned to succumb to men. It wasn't that they trusted them. Instead the abuser lowered their self-esteem and made them think they were incompetent. In a very dysfunctional manner, Abusers teach the child not to rely on themselves, and to allow another to control their life. Imagine being beaten and told "You deserve this." The woman grows up and finds a man who beats her, giving her what she "deserves" or "asked for." They lean towards the familiar. It offers them what they know and it also fits the image they have of themselves...but it isn't a form of healthy trust.

Celeste's childhood sets her apart. She had her father, a trustworthy, caring man. A firm foundation had been established by the time she was taken from the farm. Those with solid beginnings do better under adversarial conditions, although she suffered a great deal. Another factor that worked this story into a romance-was that she knew Will from the past. In fact, her childhood was spent on his father's farm with his sister being her best friend. Will was always with her during the years she suffered while living with her aunt. I don't want to give the story away, so I won't reveal any more-except to say that the love story is delightful. Anyone who has read about Will adores him. He's has a great sense of humor and prior to Celeste, he was a ladies man. As children he was her nemesis...a "cocky tease."I am going to say that other than Will, she fears relationships. In my own life, my husband was the only man I felt comfortable with and trusted. Trust is an interesting topic. For me, it's easy to trust too quickly, before carefully looking beyond the surface of others.

I want to add that the church in the country remains significant to Celeste. It's the church her parents attended. She compares her God, to Pastor's awful God, and believes they aren't the same entity.

Glenda: Barb I have one last question. Can you compare the Barb of today to the Barb who suffered so much in her youth? What makes you Barb that to me and others can make a day smile?

Barb: About making a day sunny for others, I am not so sure I do! 

Let me start by saying that when I was a child, I played the role of comedian. In troubled families, each child plays a different role-each role having a purpose. Mine was to be funny and dumb-I would purposely mispronounce a word for a laugh. I called Hazel Bishop-Hazel Bishop. I entertained people by crossing my eyes! On the other hand I did and still do see a great deal of humor in daily living. If you read my book, you will pick up on this when you read the humorous vignettes.

I would be a comedian if given the chance.
It is my writing that makes a day smile...Not me. A friend who read my writing, in the beginning, felt it was a little like reading Bess Streeter Aldrich. I got one of her books and saw that she also had a character named Will. Later on, I placed in the Bess Streeter Aldrich contest. In the story that I entered, a woman loses the urn with her husband’s ashes and thinks she sold them at her garage sale. Four women frantically search for them only to discover they are still on the mantle. Their friend is getting Alzheimer.

The biggest difference between the child me and the adult CHILD me, is that I don't carry the worries I once did. Those are over. My biggest worry is on game days when I want things to go my son’s way. He's a head football coach, endearing and caring, while I am still the "worry wart mother." Like all of us, I have my own arena of issues.  I brood, lecture my husband, tire of his lectures, wish something’s life were different, obsess over my clothes. Tire of my wrinkles...but overall, I love this world and life. My joy is expressed in my blogs. Thank you for this opportunity, Glenda. Your interviews are fun and fascinating-both doing on and reading those of others. I have enjoyed working with you.

I told Barb, she must accept the compliment that she can make a day smile. Of course, it’s up to her if she owns it or not. I believe for me she does. Barb is a unique story in herself, and I’m excited to read The Rag Princess. I think women of any background should read this interview and think about Barb’s ability to heal to a point. She confided in me that she was diagnosed with PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. We hear that diagnosis a lot these days about soldiers returning home with either apparent injuries or non-apparent mental distress. However; many people suffer and it can return if triggered.

Barb, in this interview, has given a brief look into the path she used to heal herself to a point of loving and living life. I hope you enjoyed this interview and do get her book which is due to come out soon. It’s called The Rag Princess.