Lorraine Ash, MA, is an author, journalist, and essayist as well as a writing teacher. Self and Soul: On Creating a Meaningful Life is her second book. Her first memoir, Life Touches Life: A Mother’s Story of Stillbirth and Healing, was published by NewSage Press and has circulated throughout the United States as well as in the Middle East, Australia, Europe, China, Canada, and Mexico. Lorraine also is a veteran journalist whose feature articles and series have won seventeen national, state, and regional awards and have appeared in daily newspapers across the country. Lorraine belongs to the Association of Writers and Writing Programs and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, Bill.
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Q&A with Lorraine Ash
Writing and Reading:
Do you draw from personal experiences and/or current events?
As a memoir writer, I draw from personal experience. Like all our lives, though, mine is touched by issues and trends of the day.
Do you start with the conclusion and plot in reverse or start from the beginning and see where the story line brings you?
A memoirist has lived her story line. Though the story may have ended, in terms of what happened, it probably is still alive and kicking in the psyche of the writer. Indeed many people turn to memoir not only to witness and chronicle some important corner of life but to come to peace with what happened.
A well-constructed memoir poses a master question. It’s fair to say the writer does not, at the outset, fully know where that question may bring her. She usually knows, though, that it’s imperative for her to take the journey.
In a memoir, the journey follows the writer through what she experienced but also traces the shifts in her consciousness until she comes upon some master insight—a holy grail, if you will—that allows her to answer the question the best she can. Tracing those consciousness shifts while inching toward the insight makes for good storytelling, but it also can be therapeutic for the writer.
Everyone’s life, no matter how ordinary, can open into life’s big questions and grand themes. That statement is a revelation to some people. By virtue of having a mind and a heart, though, we’re hardwired to engage the big questions. Every life is important.
In my latest book, Self and Soul: On Creating a Meaningful Life, a spiritual memoir, I ask a question from deep in midlife, after I’ve had many disparate experiences, including the stillbirth of my only child and, less than a decade later, the parallel declines of my father, my industry, and the American economy. It seemed a good time to ask: What does it all add up to?
The question echoes one my father used to ask in his prime. He’d come home from his office, put down his two hefty legal briefcases, rifle through the mail, and mutter, “Where does it all take us in the end?” It’s a fair question.
Self and Soul takes readers to some interesting places in the world, including the hospital room where I lost my daughter, a caving expedition, an ashram, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, and Sedona, Arizona. Yet it’s very much about interior landscapes. The book shows that some of the experiences that happen to a person—a “self,” if you will— can seem futile or hollow or random and become meaningful only when we take them inside us to the “soul” level. That’s where the magic happens.
Your routine when writing? Any idiosyncrasies?
When a project, whether it be an article, series, or book, starts to build in my mind, I’m always writing it, whether my hands are on the keyboard or not. I’m forever jotting down ideas, assimilating information, and turning over scenes in my mind. Also, my ear is always to the ground for any news or ambient story regarding the issue or theme.
As a full-time journalist, I write in the newsroom whenever I’m on duty. As a part-time author, I write on weekends and, better yet, on vacation days. Both of the latter instances have the advantage of offering a run of days in which to keep a flow going.
I don’t find it useful to write in small snatches of time and my most productive hours are definitely in the afternoon and night—sometimes into the wee hours of the morning.
Is writing your full time job? If not, may I ask what you do by day?
I write full time as a journalist and part time as an author, which is a wonderful balance. I’m enchanted by long-form journalism and narrative writing.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
In the world of memoir, I find myself resonating with the voices and writing styles of Cheryl Strayed (Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail), Caroline Knapp (Drinking: A Love Story), and May Sarton, whose journals are sublime.
What are you reading now?
In the moment, I’m re-reading I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by the great Maya Angelou. I’m wistful, I suppose, about her recent passing.
Are you working on your next novel? Can you tell us a little about it?
In my case, it would be the next memoir. I have conceptualized and mulled it, having resolved to start next year. I can say that it centers around my late father’s dementia. I can say with certainty that dementia is a huge issue in the United States.
Your novel will be a movie. Who would you cast?
If the memoir Self and Soul were a movie, the dream lead would be Michelle Pfeiffer, hands down. Maybe we could get Kevin Bacon to lead the caving expedition, Ben Kingsley to play the swami, and Sela Ward to play the therapist. Perfection!
Manuscript/Notes: handwritten or keyboard?
I take notes many ways, depending on where I am when my mind illuminates with an idea—on my smart phone, PC, or a paper pad. From time to time, I’ll reach for my digital sound recorder, too.
Favorite leisure activity/hobby?
Spending time with my husband and friends, cooking, getting a massage, exploring the state of Maine.
There are so many and so much from which to choose, even for a gluten-free person like me—cavatelli and broccoli (with bacon and in a butter sauce), pineapple chicken, orange barbecue chicken over rice, filet mignon, saffron risotto with butternut squash, Cornish game hen, and a good old-fashioned meatloaf.
On my mother’s side of the family, there are a lot of great cooks. Indeed, my Great Uncle Primo was a chef at Asti’s, an Italian restaurant in New York City where the waiters were also professional singers who’d break into song for the patrons.
I consider the legacy of beautiful, healthful food to be one of my most joyful family legacies.
ABOUT Self and Soul: On Creating a Meaningful Life
Are you living a life of quiet desperation? Questioning what it means to succeed? Wondering if your efforts matter? In this uplifting memoir, Lorraine Ash uses her own life experiences to explore inner landscapes where the seeds of divine healing and insight reside. These are the landscapes on which we create our own meaning and find the resiliency to thrive in a changing and challenging world.
Self and Soul: On Creating a Meaningful Life is available as a digital audiobook. Find it at Audible.com and Amazon.com as well as in the iTunes store.
Number of Pages: 176 pages
Publisher: Cape House Books
Publication Date: October 1st 2012
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