Today’s interview guest is Michelle Brovitz (pen name Alanna Christine), who has just published her first book, the memoir, How I Got a Horse Out of a Toilet and now resides in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Michelle and I met over five years ago and she’s the one who convinced me to go to my 20th high school reunion! Mine wasn’t as fun as hers, but I captured some great stories nonetheless. Michelle has lived and is living an extraordinary life and right now could use your help. She has MS and is working on raising $5000 to pay for a drug her neurologist recommended—and any amount can help! If you’d like to contribute, please hang out HERE
Alice: Where did the idea come from for your book, How I Got a Horse Out of a Toilet:
Michelle: Very shortly after the episode where I recognized that I did fulfill a dream of getting a horse, and it was directly related to a plumbing problem which I had, it occurred to me that I “got a horse out of a toilet.” I liked how that title sounded for a memoir, then pieces started falling into place:
I loved the last gym I regularly attended, relatively; I felt like I fit right in. Unlike many gyms, most of the people there had some limitations and I wasn’t embarrassed to walk in with the assistance of my walker. There was a large respiratory/pulmonary population, most of who are on oxygen, wearing nasal cannulae, pushing their own walkers and hauling at least one oxygen tank behind them. I made several friends there, both male and female. In fact, I wouldn’t have written my book if I hadn’t been a member of the gym. One of the women I became friendly with, Pamela, came up to me one afternoon. Responding to my, “Hi! How are you? What’s new?”
She replied, “I just came back from a class I’m taking about writing a memoir.”
What??? I thought, as my brain started firing at the speed of an assault rifle. “Really? Where?” I asked. “I’ve been wanting to write my memoir for several years, now. I even already have a title.”
Pamela told me about the class, where it was held and how to get in contact with the instructor, Alice, and I soon signed up and started with the very next class. And then I took another. And another. I really liked Alice and we became friends. I’ve even done some professional writing for her.
After that first class, several other students and I continued to meet weekly to keep our writing practices alive. Six of us continued to meet weekly for a couple years, reading our work to each other and critiquing it. One of us (not me) published the book she was working on a year or so ago. I am the second of our group to publish a book. Most of us are still in contact, albeit not regularly.
A: What sets you apart from other authors writing in your genre?
M: By design, every author in my genre, memoir, is different. No two lives go through the same experiences and no two people even handle the same experiences in the same way.
A: What’s your secret to making the characters in your books come to life?
M: All I can say is they ARE alive. Not one character (real person) in my book, other than my parents, has passed away.
A: How long did it take you to write the first draft of (your book)?
M: I suppose four to five years. But that CERTAINLY is not writing full-time. I wrote when the muse appeared and I didn’t stress over time passing. It worked out for me since a great, awful ending presented itself last year. Now I’ve been asked if I’ll write another book. I can’t say either way!
A: What’s the hardest part about writing for your audience? First, it’s difficult to narrow down WHO your audience is. Especially in memoir. I thought my audience was fairly broad, initially. Anyone who enjoys a good memoir would like it. Now, I can narrow the audience down to several subsets: women, adopted people, MENSA members, people with MS or chronic disease…
My best review came from a man who experienced similar woes in marriage/love.
A: What are a few pieces of advice you would give a new writer?
M: To quote Nike, “Just do it!” Getting started is the hardest part (for me, anyway). Defining a good stopping point was the second hardest.
A: Besides writing, what other talents or hobbies do you have?
M: I have always been an avid reader and I believe wholeheartedly that the best writers are spawned from prolific readers.
As my MS has progressed, everything has gotten more difficult and my hobbies have dwindled. I used to enjoy horseback riding, doing home improvements and exploring new restaurants. The effort involved or the ability required to do such things far outweighs my enjoyment of them, I am sorry to say.
A: Why did you choose to go with a pen name?
M: My publisher recommended, as an added layer of privacy (all the characters names in the book are fictitious), that I use a pen name.
I am an adopted, multiple sclerosis-suffering, card-carrying Mensa member with the perspective that life is a roller coaster ride and miracles can and do happen. And I have a huge sweet tooth.
Mine is a melding of a Cinderella story with The Little Engine That Could. It is a tale of how, despite everything, I always emerge smelling like a rose—or at least, I resculpt the pile of shit I’m in to look like a rose. I like to think of myself as a phoenix, constantly burning up then rising from the ashes… In my story, I conquer all of the obstacles I face with grace and humor (eventually) and using the inevitable wisdom I gain, forge ahead regardless of the stumbling blocks thrown in my path. On my journey I learn a lot about myself, as well as the human condition. Like my own personal Behind the Music episode, How I Got a Horse Out of a Toilet is a collection of true stories from my life, both the good and the not-so-good. It is a collection of my personal trials and tribulations, victories and defeats, and miracles I’ve witnessed on the way.
To contribute to Michelle’s MS fund, please hang out HERE