Chase Von: Hello Gretchen, on behalf of the Student Operated Press and myself, I want to thank you for fitting this into your hectic schedule and finding some time to share yourself with our readers. I know you`re really busy concentrating on your new release called Back Again To Me and how important this book, of the seven books you`ve written or collaborated on, is to you.
I also truly admire the choice you`re making with this book and the cause you wish to support with some of the proceeds from it, but before we discuss your latest work, can you tell our readers what your younger years were like growing up? Was that in the Midwest? And when did you know that writing was going to be such a major part of your life?
Gretchen: I started writing in the third grade. I adored my teacher, Miss Martha Unkel, and in one of my report cards she mentioned to my parents that she wished she could get me to write because I loved to read so much. That`s all I needed to hear. Starting that day, I wrote a book, fourteen chapters, I believe, that had something to do with a girl and a horse. If you put me under hypnosis, I might be able to recall it, but otherwise, it`s a blank. Anyway, whenever I finished a chapter, Miss Unkel let me read it to the class, which was pretty heady stuff for an eight-year-old. After that, though, I didn`t write again, except for school and college papers, until I was in my thirties. I had other exceptional teachers, too, who taught me the mechanics of how sentences and paragraphs go together. So while writing is never easy (I`ve always said it`s like digging a trench with a teaspoon) at least I don`t struggle with the basic elements.
I`d characterize my early childhood as idyllic. We lived on a street with lots of kids of all ages and both sexes, and we all did things together, especially in the summer. We ran the neighborhood streets from morning until night, perfectly safely. Our parents weren`t worried about where we were because we were on our street, in and out of everyone`s houses all day long. We spent hours playing kick the can and softball, riding our bikes (without helmets), and going to a place we called "the Hole," which really was just a big ravine, to explore. Reading, swimming pretty much all day every hot summer day, dance lessons (I thought I`d be a dancer for a while, and then I realized the sacrifices that would require and also realized I wasn`t willing to make them). Lots of time in our little library, which is still there, even though the town now has one of the top library systems in the state. And when I go into that tiny library today, it still smells exactly the same as it did when I was five. As I grew up, of course, there was all the angst that accompanies middle school and the ups and downs of high school, but it was a great place and time to be a young person. There was a tremendous amount of cooperation between home, school, church, and even the police department, and almost all my friends grew up well and have lived productive lives.
Chase Von: You`ve written or co-written seven books! I`ve interviewed my share of authors and I don`t think any of them has accomplished that yet! (Smile.) I know my co-author Betty Dravis wants to write at least six because she`s also had six children and like many authors, she feels like her books are children as well, and I`ve often told others when I write a poem, song lyrics, quotes or a story, or a book they do feel like my children, because they are creations that came from me.
But what I want to ask is, you`ve written WOMANHOURS: A 21-Day Time Management Plan That Works; Talking Your Way To The Top, alone; Helping Gifted Children Soar, A Practical Guide For Parents and Teachers with co-author PH.D Carol Ann Strip, which is also available in Spanish (and Korean); A Love for Learning: Motivation and the Gifted Child with her as the co-author, as well (although she must have gotten married since her last name changed to Whitney); Bud Wilkinson: An Intimate Portrait of an American Legend with co-author Jay Wilkinson; The Complete Idiot`s Guide to Difficult Conversations and your latest, Back Again To Me, both solely by yourself.
But what was it like for you to hold your very first book in your hands? And do they feel like children to you also?
Gretchen: Goodness, it was a long time ago, and it was such a freakish thing. I had developed a course in time management for women and someone said I should write a book about it. So I did. And then I sent it "the complete manuscript, not a proposal "to an old friend from high school who was working in publishing in New York. And I sent it to her house! Talk about doing everything wrong. After three months, she took it off her coffee table; gave it to a reader, who liked it, and then forwarded it to an agent friend. It took the agent eleven tries, but she got the job done "and WOMANHOURS was published by St. Martin`s Press. I remember how much I loved my editor and going to New York to meet her and my agent (who I`d known only from the phone), seeing the cover design and loving it, touring a little, doing some speaking. It was a great experience.
I don`t think of my books as my children. They are my work and I love creating them and, yes, there is a long labor period, but holding a book, at least for me, is not like holding a child. (And that comes through very clearly in Back Again to Me.)
Chase Von: I couldn`t agree with you more, Gretch, and considering your work for gifted children, it seems natural that your latest book is to help all children. Now back to Back Again To Me " Karen Joan, your niece who introduced us, told me she had read the manuscript draft for this roughly fifteen years ago and loved it then. But in order for it to be more with our current times, did you have to go in and modernize quite a bit of it? I`m thinking fifteen years ago people didn`t have computers, and family entertainment was everyone gathering around the radio in the living room. Heh-heh " But seriously, a lot has changed in this world of ours from now to then, so did you have to alter it to be more receptive for today`s world?
Gretchen: This book was long in its gestation, that`s for sure. The book Karen saw was not the book I have now. What she read all those years ago I now would characterize as a really, really long outline. In the intervening years, I`ve expanded and refined it as I had time, because in those years I also was writing all the nonfiction; working in hospital marketing; getting my own kids launched; welcoming all my grandchildren; going through some really horrendous times during my parents` illnesses and deaths (and without my sister, those days would pretty much have done me in); watching my husband survive a health crisis, and then having a period of illness of my own that took a couple of years to diagnose and a couple more to cure.
Actually, I didn`t have to change much of the manuscript at all because the action takes place in 1985, and events that happened then were set in stone. Interestingly, there have been some very large changes in the last two-three months about issues the book touches on, but they aren`t retroactive, so I didn`t have to rip the book off the press to address them.
Chase Von: Who are some the writers you truly admire and look up to? And for that matter, people in general that you feel have been mentors and positive influences in your life?
Gretchen: Well, I`ve mentioned Miss Unkel, but there was also a high school teacher who had a big influence and who tried to get me to widen my literary horizons. My parents, who were the smartest and most loving people I`ve ever known, were hugely influential in every aspect of my life. As I said, they`re both gone now, but I still feel their presence every day of my life.
I loved Shakespeare in high school and college, and still do, but I haven`t read everything. A pivotal moment in literature for me was sitting down in college one afternoon to read "The Wasteland," with the references spread out all around me. It was eye-opening, mind-blowing, and all the other clichés. I loved it, but my favorite poem is "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." It`s the first poem I ever read that moved me to tears. So I`d say Eliot was an influence. My tastes are eclectic, from Ann Patchett to Pat Conroy to Sidney Sheldon. I like fiction and nonfiction; I`m currently reading Wally Lamb`s The Hour I First Believed. It`s harrowing, but very good. I`ve always liked Susan Isaacs` writing. I love David Sedaris, especially Me Talk Pretty One Day. I just finished his When You Are Engulfed in Flames. Humor writing is a mystery to me, and I`m entranced by someone who can do it well.
Chase Von: Without giving too much away, can you share with our readers the general premise? And why this book, unlike many books, incorporates so much more than just an unwed young mother, baby and adoption? Why is it of interest to all women and men, for that matter, and the variety of ways it touches on just about every aspect of all our lives?
Gretchen: In essence, this book is about women and the ways we relate to each other as mothers and daughters, sisters, and friends, and also to the men in our lives. The story is simple: The narrator, Corrin, is a widowed working mom with a sixteen-year-old daughter, Shelley. Shelley is clearly a highly gifted child, but she becomes pregnant. The rest of the book is about the decision the family must make about keeping the child or surrendering him for adoption. It`s about hard choices and growing up. Shelley grows up but Corrin does also. It`s not a saga, but it covers a fairly wide sweep of time, from the Forties through the Sixties, into the Eighties to 2008. It is most definitely not my own story, but it`s informed by what we talked about "what it was like to grow up in the suburban Midwest, then and now.
Chase Von: Just from my own life, I know " I have a son (Jamel) from my wife`s previous marriage, and two between us and still, he`s, in my opinion, my son. He`s also an honor-roll student and he`s been invited to be in The United States Achievement Academy of Who`s Who`s In Foreign Language. But what I`m getting at is that most the families you meet nowadays are pieces of families, in a sense. Rarely do you meet someone who is with his or her actual biological mother and father.
Do you think our society`s current system is largely to blame for this? I mean, there used to be a time when the man brought home the bacon, so to speak, and the woman maintained the home. Nowadays both have to work, the children are often raised by schools and babysitters, and in reality, if you really think about it, both parents often spend more time with co-workers of the opposite sex than they do with their own spouses. Or at least awake, quality times Usually when someone gets home from a long, hard day, the last thing they want is to be sociable. What are your thoughts on that?
Gretchen: I`m not sure anything is to blame. Families are not necessarily "worse," but you`re right, families are different. By the time my husband and I had been married ten years, half the couples we knew who were married around the same time were divorced. Most of them went on to successful second marriages. I know many, many intact families who are very happy and into their second and third generation. I know intact families who are miserable. I know single moms and children who are doing fine and single moms and children who don`t get along at all. I know kids who have managed divorce well and kids who have been damaged. Were all the marriages that adhered to the role division you mention successful? I`m sure they weren`t, but it wasn`t discussed so freely. I do feel we have lost a sense of commitment to relationships, and I worry a little about the coming generation who do so well with cyberspace relationships, but often have difficulty navigating the world of real-time give-and-take with real people. Life is hard and commitment is hard, but many people today seem to want everything to be easy. I think the recession has in some ways pointed out that what really matters is not the stuff we acquire, but the quality of our relationships. It`s been a kick in the pants for a lot of people. Hard times can destroy, but they can also result in stronger families if people make a commitment to one another.
Chase Von: I think you will find this despicable, but I learned of this by listening to the Alex Jones Radio show. DYFS or the Division of Youth and Family Services along with CPS have been accused of some horrendous things, which is why I think your book and the goal you have for helping children is so admirable. But what are your thoughts on this Gretchen?
And this??? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nub5R4LCio8&feature=related The reason I share this is because it pertains to children with their parents, but I also know that many of the children that are in CPS are given many of these drugs as well.
This is a more direct story:
And this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ekKSrJxYfNk
This too is horrible: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hcgwHa1GPF0&feature=related
Gretchen: I appreciate your sense of outrage about many of these issues. I share it. However, I number among my friends some foster parents who are wonderful, dedicated people, and I believe we can`t tar an entire group of people with the same brush, which is what is happening to American discourse today. We demonize and insult without regard for the exceptions. It`s dangerous and frightening.
On the other hand, I`m always astonished when I read horror stories and find that those charged with the day-to-day management of child placements can be so oblivious to conditions. I wonder if they are even making the home visits. Yet, on the third hand, I recently spoke with a young woman in a social service agency not related to foster care who now, because of budget cuts, has an enormous caseload scattered over a huge geographic area. So the problems are systemic as well as specific, and this country needs to figure out what its priorities are.
Chase Von: I don`t believe your book delves this deeply into the issues of adoption as listed above in some of the videos, but the flip side of that is your book and your contributions to the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, which was founded by Dave Thomas, who founded the famous Wendy`s Restaurants is also going to be helping others so that they don`t have to endure the things some of these people above have had to endure. (One of the few fast food places I really like, mind you, and love the chili) (Smile.)
A best friend of mine from high school who is, unfortunately, no longer with us had a little brother that was picked up and taken by the Division of Youth and Family Services. He turned out okay and is now not only a school teacher but also a talented Christian rapper going by the stage name of The Tcha. Well, he has absolutely nothing good to say about his experiences there. This is a link to his MySpace page where our readers can find his song Thankful "... http://www.myspace.com/thetcha He speaks candidly in one of his songs regarding it.
But the reason I share this is the subject of your book truly does touch on so many things and just from learning of it, it has rekindled memories of things that need to be changed. Have you always been someone who is unafraid to do something to make lives better for those whom you don`t even know, Gretchen?
Gretchen: I`m afraid I`m not as brave as you make me out to be. Back Again to Me is about one child in one family "and there was no particular risk to me in writing it. It`s a novel that I hope people will enjoy reading; I hope it might make them think about the consequences of teen pregnancy, which is on the rise again after years of decline. Of all the developed nations, the U.S. has the highest rate of teen pregnancy, and statistics tell us that more than eighty percent of teen pregnancies are unintended. If a teen chooses not to terminate the pregnancy, different families make different decisions about what to do: raise the child in his or her family of origin, with help from the grandparents; open adoption; closed adoption; and some options in between. Back Again to Me is about one choice. Recently, there has been an MTV show called 16 and Pregnant that provides a graphic glimpse about what happens when a baby has a baby. Some people say it glamorizes teen pregnancy, while others feel it`s a cautionary tale, but whatever the differing opinions, it`s pretty powerful stuff, as to-be moms and dads find out what this decision is all about.
Chase Von: Where can our readers learn more about you? You`re various links to your websites and do you have any future projects you are working on that you can share with our readers?
Gretchen: I do. In addition to my day job in university communications, I`m also a book doctor, working with other authors to make their books as strong as possible for submission to agents or editors or even for self-publishing. I have one of those projects now and am hoping for another one or two soon. In addition, I`m outlining a new book called The Prayer Chain, which is a novel about some women who belong to such a group. And that`s all I can say, except that it`s set in the same town and some of the same characters will be part of the story. They won`t be the focus, but they`ll be around. I thought it would be only two, but another let me know yesterday that she expects to be in this book. Characters do that, and you generally have to let them have their way.
My website and blog are at www.gretchenhirsch.com, and my business website is www.midwestbookdocs.com.
Chase Von: What are some of your favorite meals? And I know you mentioned the Midwest in your book trailer and how most people aren`t aware of its beauty and just see it as something to fly over to get from one place of importance to another. But are there some meals that are common there as well to the natives? Heh-heh " Sounds like I`m making the Midwest akin to the Wastelands in Australia, huh? But seriously, I know I think of my grandmother and Virginia when I think of batter bread or as she used to call it, "spoon bread" and salted fish I really miss her cooking.
Gretchen: There is nothing better in the world than Ohio sweet corn and tomatoes, so I try to find as many uses for those as I can, in season. Heaven is a grilled cheese, fresh tomato, fresh basil, and bacon sandwich. Or rustic soup, made with bread and tomatoes. Sweet corn picked fresh in the morning and in the pot as soon as possible. Or cut off the cob and creamed or sautéed very simply. And in the winter, lovely, hearty beef stew with caramelized vegetables. Or a great meatloaf with baked or roasted potatoes and green beans. Or a whole chicken in the rotisserie. Not too much tofu in our lives, although we`d probably be healthier if there were.
My daughter and son-in-law and their son lived with us for a while. My son-in-law is a culinary-school-trained chef, although that`s not what he does for a living, and he taught me a lot about eating first with the eyes (and the nose) and how taking the time makes even the simplest food a feast. I make a mean from-scratch brownie and my grandson`s favorite mac and cheese, which does not come from a blue box.
My son recently has gone into the dipping sauce/wing sauce/marinade business (www.mrstew.com), and though I, generally, am not crazy about spicy food, this stuff is terrific! Flavor first and heat back instead of the other way around. I`m very impressed with his recipes and his resolve, so I`m learning how to incorporate the sauces.
Chase Von: What are some of the other causes you feel very strongly about and support? I know you are very involved with educating the public and parents on gifted children, and your recent book and proceeds from it going to the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption is truly admirable. But are there any other causes that you plan to aid in the future?
Gretchen: Not all the proceeds are going to the Foundation, just part of them from the opening week. I intend to share proceeds with organizations or charities for every live or online event I do. Sometime those charities will be chosen by those who invite me to speak, and sometimes I`ll select them. I`m partial to charities that do the hands-on work "food pantries, for example.
I am very concerned about gifted kids. We have a lot of them in our family, and much of the educational emphasis today is concerned with bringing underachieving kids to proficiency. But children who already are past proficiency when they enter a grade level sometimes get very short shrift. Some educators believe that gifted kids will "get it on their own." Sometimes they do, but sometimes they lose their motivation to learn in school if they aren`t adequately challenged. They can end up as classic underachievers and sometimes even in the justice system. That`s a terrible loss. So I hope the books I`ve written with Carol Strip Whitney raise some awareness of those issues.
Chase Von: How important is family to you, and what is your take on the state of our current world?
Gretchen: My family is everything to me. I have been lucky enough to live in the same city, Columbus, Ohio, all my life, and my family here goes backward and forward for six generations. For my entire life, I was surrounded by my parents, grandparents, even my great-grandmother, my sister and brother-in-law and their children, and then my kids and grandchildren. My husband`s family also goes back the same number of generations here. In fact, both families have been in Columbus since the 1850s. My son and daughter and their spouses and children all lived here for a time, but my son and his wife and kids moved south a few years ago. I`m happy to say they are back in Ohio, less than two hours away, so it`s almost as good as having them in the same city. I was really missing out on knowing my only granddaughter, and I`m thrilled to be able to see her and her brothers much more frequently. I used to take care of the boys a great deal, but my granddaughter was born in the South, and I knew her far less well. Now we`re making up for lost time. My daughter and her husband and son are ten minutes away. My sister and brother-in-law are even closer. At one time, we actually lived across the street from one another and still managed to give each other privacy. My grandson attends the same school system that housed his mother and me and my mother. I`ve always said I`m Ohio born, Ohio bred, and when I`m gone, Ohio dead. Deep roots here.
My take on the world? Today is a frightening time. It`s also exhilarating. We have it within our power right now to cure diseases, promote justice, and save the planet. If we`re not stupid "
Chase Von: What would you say if you were standing before a microphone that could be heard by every child on the planet, and regardless of what language they spoke, they would understand you? What positive advice would you give the children, if that were possible?
Gretchen: Education opens every door and is the key to a productive life. Respect the worth and dignity of every human being. We all have different talents, and we need to appreciate the gifts we see in others. Don`t be too concerned with material goods. They ebb and flow. Concentrate on what`s timeless "and beyond time.
Chase Von: I`ve slowed down on interviewing for personal reasons and to promote my latest book with my talented co-author Betty Dravis. Guess you could call it ME TIME but to be more specific, it`s a joint effort, so it`s more like WE TIME. I don`t think it would be fair of me to have her doing all the marketing alone, and marketing a book as you certainly know, is where the work part comes into play for us writers.
But when your niece Karen Joan, who is a friend to both me and Betty, contacted me and told me about your book and what you were doing, I felt I had to make an exception and do my little part in this. I do hope it helps spread the word because I can think of nothing more important in our world than our children.
Gretch, which you gave me permission to call you the first day we met, on behalf of the Student Operated Press and myself, thanks for sharing yourself and your truly worthy mission with our readers. I wish you all the success the world can provide in this worthy endeavor you have taken on, and I hope many children benefit from your immense talent and truly charitable heart.
Gretchen: Thank you, too. This has been a real pleasure. And I have some catching up to do on your work. I`ll look forward to it.