Valerie Willman is the author of Smell the Blue Sky: young, pregnant, and widowed, winner of the B.R.A.G. Medallion for Top Indie-Published Books. She co-chairs the Mid-Valley Chapter of Willamette Writers and teaches various workshops on writing, and on grief, such as “Booze and Chocolate Aren’t the Only Ways to Cope: Turning negative emotions into art.” She’s a successful freelance editor through her company, Yellow Pen Editing, and is also a certified bereavement facilitator, and licensed massage therapist.
Valerie has served in the United States Army, owns land in Costa Rica, and lives with three big dogs, two kids, and one Turk. She’s walked the length of two marathons—on purpose—and loves olives, chai, and chocolate.
Stephanie: Hello, Valerie! Thank you for chatting with me today and congrats on the B.R.A.G. Medallion. How did you discover indieBRAG and how has self-publishing worked out for you so far?
Valerie: I don’t recall exactly how I discovered indieBRAG. I know it was through my extensive research on the internet—looking for how to market my book. You provide a great service to indie-published authors. Thanks!
Self (or indie) publishing is difficult because you do, or delegate, all the work yourself. And sometimes life gets in the way and you don’t think you have time to set up another literary event and promote it, but you just have to do it anyway. It can spike your sales when you do (and that’s a nice ego.) 😉
Stephanie: In your bio I read that you are a freelance editor. Has that helped you a great deal in your own writing?
Valerie: Yes. But it’s still no substitute for having an editor look over your manuscript before publishing. I had my critique group looking at my manuscript every week for about two years; I had four beta readers; I paid a line editor to go over the manuscript twice; and my interior layout designer and I went through it about five more times before I published. And there’s still a typo. I found it. (sigh)
Stephanie: Please tell me about your book, Smell the Blue Sky.
Valerie: The day I found out I was pregnant with my second child was the day my husband died. He’d fallen asleep driving. I didn’t know how to be a pregnant 26 year old widow. And I was terrified that I’d never regain any zest for life—that I’d grieve forever. It felt like I was holding my breath—waiting, waiting, waiting. Smell the Blue Sky is how I started breathing again. How I started inhaling life again. And how I fell in love again, without betraying my late husband.
Stephanie: When did you decide to write this book and what were the challenges?
Valerie: When Rob died I turned to books for help, as I always do. His death was pre-9/11, so there wasn’t much on the shelves for young widows. We were a completely different breed from the ones that first come to mind. Two books helped me at the time, and that wasn’t enough. Because I felt so isolated, I knew that others had to be feeling that way, too. I wanted a way to connect to those other grieving mamas. (Again, this was pre-blogging, and pre-Facebook. At least for me. Granted, I was late in coming to those internet connectivity channels.) So, I thought writing a book would be helpful. And I really wanted to do that. Be helpful.
Stephanie: Has writing this book change your life in any way?
Valerie: Yes. 🙂 I feel more confident about myself and that I can accomplish my dreams one step at a time. That sounds grievously cliché, but it does remind me to take smaller bites of my goals. Chewing thoroughly, of course, before taking the next bite. Only then can I finish any of them.
Stephanie: What is one of the examples in your book on how a woman can get through the grieving process of losing a husband?
Valerie: Gosh, that’s so personal to each woman. It depends on what kind of griever you are—if you like to talk out your feelings, or if you’d prefer to build a memorial garden with your hands down in the dirt. Because I’m a writer, I wrote. That’s how I grieved. I journaled. I wrote letters to him. I had conversations with him on the page. I think something shifted for me when I started listening to music that I’d liked before I met him. It started me on a path of remembering who I was before, so that I could learn who I was now. And the knowledge of that New Me gave me the strength to keep walking forward.
Stephanie: What is the message you would like readers to come away with your book?
Valerie: Hope. That days do get better. That you aren’t alone in your grief, or in your life.
Stephanie: Who designed your book cover?
Valerie My domestic partner, Ali Ozgenc. He’s a wonderfully talented technical writer and artist.
Stephanie: What is your next book project?
Valerie: I have three in the works! I’m working on the layout of a 30 page booklet called How to Grieve: Even when you don’t want to; I’m at the premise/concept/plotting stage of a new novel; and I’m writing the proposal for a non-fiction book about the grieving rituals of different cultures/countries around the world.
Stephanie: Where can readers buy your book?
Valerie: Pretty much anywhere online. It’s available in paperback or ebook formats. I also have it in a couple of local bookstores near where I live in Eugene, Oregon.
A message from BRAG:
We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Valerie Willman, who is the author of, Smell the Blue Sky, of our medallion honorees at indieBRAG . To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion TM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, Smell the Blue Sky, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.