Interview with Rebecca Long Howard – Author of “The Day After the End of the World”

A very moving & insightful interview with Rebecca Long Howard about her book “The Day After the End of the World”. Mother Nature had a temper tantrum… Within a three-day period, over three hundred tornados hit the South. On April 27th, 2011, seven monster-storms touched down in Cleveland, Tennessee. One EF4 tornado annihilated the little haven that Rebecca called home, devastated life, as she knew it, and threatened her sanity. The phenomenon was termed an “outbreak”. For Rebecca’s family, a natural disaster was no longer something that happened to other people. It was personal, and after the wind died, their real battle against “Mister Twister” began. Volunteers arrived to help Rebecca pick up the pieces of her sanctuary. But, could she put those pieces back together again?

 

What inspired you to write your book?

The inspiration was writer’s block, courtesy of the natural disaster that The Day After the End of the World is about. I did not include Mister Twister in the acknowledgments, however, because I’m still holding a grudge.

 How long did it take you to write your book?

Almost three years to write the hard parts. About six months to finish it up.

What is one thing you would love someone to take away after reading your book?

My story begins with A Damn Bad Thing and chronicles the incredible journey of a very ordinary woman. For those who are dealing with an aftermath of their own, I say this: I have been on a similar road, but I have not been on your road. I can’t draw you a roadmap through the pain you are walking through. I can’t tell you exactly what monsters are hiding in the bushes, where the pavement changes into broken glass, or when you need to watch for falling rocks. This story is my way of telling you about a road sign that you may not be able to believe in, yet.  It says “Off Ramp Ahead.” It’s there. Walk until you see it.

Describe your book in three words.

The three adjectives I have heard most from readers: Unvarnished, Heartbreaking, and Funny.

Who will enjoy your book the most?

Those who enjoy emotion, reality, and untidiness. Those who are capable of accepting that bad things happen for no good reason and that hope doesn’t arrive in a neat little package, though it does arrive right on time.  One of my favorite reader responses has been “I cried my eyes out and laughed my *** off!” All I can say to that is, “Welcome to my world.”

What is your favorite book?

Les Miserables.

Is there anything you edited out of your book that you would have liked to have seen stay, in retrospect?

Not in retrospect. I edited out some good stuff out when I decided to publish, memories that still make me laugh or cry, or both. But, the thing is, those particular stories belong to other people, and I tried not to speak for anyone else, not even my own son.  It seemed disrespectful… it would have been disrespectful to make presumptions about how a tragedy affects another person. Enough people did that to me at the time. If I’m not wearing your skin, then I don’t know exactly how you feel. I’m not going to claim to.

Does writing energise you, exhaust you, or a bit of both?

It depends on how the writing is going, or how early I wake up to write before work.

What did you enjoy most- and least- about the process of creating your book?

I’m an information junkie so I loved learning about the process of self-publishing, from formatting to cover design. I’m also very private and the thought of actually publishing such a personal story was scary. From The Decision to The Launch, I kept reminding myself that I could still back out, even as I took every step to finish the job. One step at a time, one thing at a time. I skipped the excited phase, went straight from terror to relief that it was done. I’m very happy that I never have to do it again, for the first time, anyway.

Did you often suffer from writer’s block whilst writing? Any tips to overcome it?

The writing of The Day After the End of the World was actually my battle against trauma-induced writer’s block. When Mister Twister wrecked my home and my life, my ability to tell stories was also destroyed. It was not that I did not have ideas, or the words, or the desire. I had panic attacks whenever I tried to creatively write for over two years. As I was physically incapable of writing the stories I wanted to write, I started writing about the tornado. Because I was really angry over losing that part of myself. I wrote. When the act of opening my laptop set off a panicked conviction that I would immediately die, I decided that I would die trying to write. I wrote when the subject matter and the memories literally took my breath away. And, sometimes, the panic beat me. I had to check the weather before I worked on the book. Let’s just say that if a thunderstorm surprised me while I was in that zone, it ended badly for me. When I had to, I would step away from the book. I would draw, or paint. Quite badly, I might add, but who cares? Art is calming, and the act of creation is beautiful, no matter the medium.

What I wrote, for the first several drafts, was pure garbage. By the third or fourth draft, I was no longer trying to reclaim or improve my skill.  I was immersed in trying to tell the truth to myself, to comprehend my own story. I had written the hard parts through until the writing was right when I decided to publish. After that, my blocks involved the perceptions of readers, you know, all twelve of the people I expected to read it. In editing, I wanted to make myself look better than I actually am. I wanted to write myself as stronger, polish up a few of my flaws, remove some of the grit, and be the hero of my own story. The point to telling people my story was to tell the truth. If I added sugarcoating to any of it, there’s no story to tell.  So, I finished up by writing it to someone I trust.

I suppose a tip would be write garbage until you break through that block. Take breaks if you need to but it won’t magically go away without work. Remember the point of your story. After the first draft is finished, think about your readers, but if that thinking stops your writing, then change your mindset. If your imaginary reader terrifies you to that extent, write it to a different audience, if not friendly, at least one that isn’t made up entirely of monsters.

What common traps do you think first time writers fall into & how can new writers avoid them?

I’ve written for most of my life, but I still consider myself a new writer. I’m always learning. The Day After the World was the first book I ever actually finished. I think that if newer writers are like I am, then the biggest roadblock is trying to write a perfect first, or second, or third draft. Write the stinking story. The first draft is just telling the tale to yourself, anyway. Rewrite it until it’s beautiful, or terrifying, or honest, or magical, or whateve
r it needs to be. But first, you write it.

Who are both of your favorite authors?

 All time favorites? That’s tough to narrow down to only two. The voices of Harper Lee and Kurt Vonnegut have echoed the longest in my heart. There have been many others.

 

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