Monday, June 1, 2015

Guest Post with Heather Siegel


Heather Siegel was six years old when her mother disappeared, sending her father into a tailspin that took Heather and her siblings down with him — from a comfortable suburban home to a barely habitable basement apartment, a dark world they soon found themselves fighting to return to from the exile of foster care, then fighting even harder to escape.

Forty years later, Heather Siegel tells the remarkable story of how she and her siblings, Jaz and Greg, banded together to find out what happened to their mother and fight their way Out from the Underworld with nothing but their wits, determination, unbreakable bonds and gifts for humor and compassion to sustain them. A wrenching, inspiring story filled with heartbreak, hope and love, Out from The Underworld will move you to laughter and tears.

Category:  Adult Non-fiction, 220 pages
Genre: Memoir
Publisher: Greenpoint Press
Release date: April 30, 2015
Content Rating: PG-13


Heather, what’s the story behind the title of your book?

The original story behind the title of the book, is of course, the myth of Persephone. She was the daughter of Zues and Demeter who was abducted into the underworld by King Hades. It’s a myth that considers collusion by parents to send their daughter into the underworld, and seeing that my father — who I liken in a somewhat humorous way to King Hades - did consent to us kids not only living in foster care but also living in a basement apartment, a literal underworld in the book. I played on that idea of a parent in collusion with darkness. My dad is a funeral director, and so this title also seemed to go well with his occupation, which plays prominently in the story.

Originally, I had toyed with many titles having to do with light and darkness and even sunshine, but everything sounded a bit too biblical. I had also considered The Shoebox as a title, both because of the mysterious photographs my siblings and I find inside of a shoebox and because of the teensy basement apartment which I state was “no bigger than a shoebox.” But I think the Persephone myth is much more layered.

Where’s home for you?

Home for me is New York — a suburb in the woods of Long Island. I love California, which is where I am originally from — I was born up north in Shasta County — and the suburb that I live in somewhat reminds me of the landscape there. We have a lot of tall, mature trees here and it’s kind of like horse country, with the added perk of being a 45 minute train ride to Manhattan. The weather isn’t as fabulous as California though. That’s my only down side to being here. I’m more of a spring/fall person. Not into snow at all. But I do love being in New York. There really is no place like it. 

If you had an extra $100 a week to spend on yourself, what would you buy?
Ten large green juices with pear and turmeric from my local health food store that my husband swears is 20 percent higher priced than anywhere else on the planet. He’s right, but I do love their juices. 

What’s the dumbest purchase you’ve ever made?
Oh, that’s a hard one. I make those purchases on a weekly basis. Most recent? Hmmm, besides the gluten-free pizza crust that tasted like old cheese? I know, a t-shirt for the Broadway show Wicked that my eight-year-old begged me for. Not only did she not understand a word of the show that I promised her would be excellent (it was, but I had remembered it more fondly fifteen years ago), she will likely never wear it, despite her promise and my belief in that promise. It would have been more honest of the both of us to drop the money straight into the trashcan during intermission.

What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned?

I think the most valuable thing I’ve learned is that you can study spirituality until the cows come home, but if you don’t use it in your daily life — silently and egolessly — then you’re not really being a spiritual person. I read a great article the other day, I think it was in the Huff Post, about creating a Moral Bucket List. I like that idea.  

What makes you nervous?
Going to a party makes me nervous which might surprise some of my friends to hear considering that I am very sociable and enjoy meeting people. I even enjoy the spotlight. But sometimes when I am getting ready, I aggrandize the event, or the people who will be there, or what is expected of me. Maybe I worked as a party planner to a royal family in a past life and my livelihood was a stake if the seating arrangements or centerpieces were a flop.  

What makes you happy?
Sunshine. Warm weather. My family. Delicious food. My Goldendoodle. Visiting an animal sanctuary and seeing a three legged donkey finally basking in the good life, his goat and pig and horse friends roaming free and happy beside him, of course. 

Would you rather be a lonely genius, or a sociable idiot?
Hard to choose! If I were a lonely genius I would know my plight and that would not be fun. But if I were a sociable idiot I would be unencumbered by the knowledge that I was a dope, which would make me happy but others miserable. I’ll take the genius. Maybe I can go live on the animal sanctuary and make friends there. 

What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received about your writing?
That someone couldn’t put my book down.

How did you find your publisher, and how long did your query process take?
I initially found a literary agent who shopped the book to the big presses. She loved it and believed it would be the next The Glass Castle . . . (I’m still hoping it will be!) The feedback we received was really positive about my writing and the story, but there was a general consensus that a non-celebrity memoir was a hard sell. I was told that a first time novel was way easier to get published than a memoir. Because with memoir, your persona, your personality, and your platform is huge. Well, I have two of those things going for me, I hope. Working on the platform thing . . . though, aren’t we all?

I guess it does make sense. Selling a memoir, you are selling a person and that person’s story as much as you are selling a book. Personally, I wouldn’t have survived my story without hearing from the independent voices out there. I am a big believer in indie stories — so long as they are told well.

What are you working on now? 

Right now I am working on developing a thick enough skin to promote myself shamelessly. “I don’t want to annoy people,” I told my publicist. She told me I have to annoy them. So I send out my emails about readings and post pictures of me hanging out with book clubs and friends — and of my brother playing music. I roped him into going on a tour with me. He’s an indie acoustic artist and also a main character in the book. His name is Greg Fine. 

After this month, I need to get back to a more balanced place and get back to writing. I have two unfinished projects that taunt me every day. They are like sad turtles in a cage. Will you ever let me out? Will you ever set me free? I’m working on their release. But they need to be ready, of course.


Heather Siegel holds an MFA in nonfiction writing from The New School. Her work has appeared on and in The Mother Magazine and Author Magazine, as well as in various trade publications. She was a finalist for the 2010 Pacific Northwest Writers Association Literary Award in Nonfiction Writing, the 2011 San Francisco Writers Conference Nonfiction Writing Award, the Carolina Wren Press 2012 Doris Bakwin Award and the 2012 Kore Press First Book Award. A multi-creative person with interests in the arts, nutrition, health and beauty, she has founded several independent businesses, including a coffeehouse, a café, an organic juice bar and a natural beauty bar. She currently lives with her husband, Jon, and daughter, Julia, in the woods of Long Island in a house filled with light.

Connect with Heather: 
Website  |  Facebook  |  Twitter

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