BlogHer Talks to Claire Bidwell Smith
BlogHer: You've been blogging for a really long time. When did you decide you wanted to move from just blogging about your life to writing a memoir?
Claire Bidwell Smith: It's actually the other way around! I've wanted to be a writer and to write books since I was a little girl. Becoming a blogger was a way to keep myself writing regularly and to ensure that I had an audience I was accountable to. When I graduated college in 2003 with a degree in creative writing, less than a year passed before I realized how much I missed having regular writing assignments and other people to bounce my words off of. That's when I started my blog. I always intended to publish a book though, and I'm so grateful for the outlet my blog has provided. I feel that it's made me a better writer and kept me going all these years.
BlogHer: You chose to structure your memoir around the five stages of grief, and your story was not told chronologically. I really liked that format, and I thought it worked really well for your story. How did you decide to tell your story this way, and were there any particular challenges in writing it in a non-linear way?
Claire Bidwell Smith: I wrote two other versions of this book that were quite terrible. Both were written in a linear structure and both were written in past tense. The results were boring and drab and detached. This version, the published version, is one that was born out of my time as a grief counselor. I really wanted to take what I had learned and craft my experience into something I could share with others in a useful way.
When I came up with the idea of the five stages, it all kind of came together and only served to enhance my theory that the five stages are really quite fluid, as opposed to rigidly structured. When I broke down my own experience of grief into the five stages, I was really struck by how they moved back and forth in time.
I was nervous about how readers would react, but not one person has seemed to have a problem with the structure so far! I think it actually served to make for a much more interesting read. Even though you pick up the book already knowing that it's about a girl who loses her parents to cancer, the structure works to keep things engaging to the reader.
BlogHer: I felt like you let us into some dark moments in your past. As anyone who reads your blog can see, you are in a pretty different place now than you were for most of the book. Why did you choose to include so little of your current life with your husband and daughter in your memoir?
Claire Bidwell Smith: Well, memoirs have to end somewhere, and this particular story was one of grief and loss and how I made my way out of that part of my life. The chapter of my life that includes the loss of parents and my grief over that kind of ended when I got married and became a mother. At that point, I moved into a very different phase of existence. One of the reasons I didn't write Rules earlier was because I wasn't done living the story. The chapter of my life where I am a mother and a wife and a balanced person is just beginning! I wouldn't know how to write much more about it than the small amount I've experienced. Maybe that will be the next book. (Actually, my next book is about the afterlife and I'm working away on it.)
BlogHer: You still write a letter to your mother on the anniversary of the day she died. Does it get any easier?
Claire Bidwell Smith: You know, it doesn't! Well, some years are really different than others. This year was a hard one. I just really missed my mother more than I have in a long time. I would have really liked to have her in my life right now, as I publish my first book and go through my second pregnancy, so writing to her about those things made me incredibly sad. However, there have been some years in which it hasn't felt as difficult. I imagine it will continue to ebb and flow.
BlogHer: While The Rules of Inheritance isn't just about grief, grief had a really big impact on your life at a young age. You now work as a grief counselor. Is there anything you think people get wrong about grief? What do you hope that people take away from your story?
Claire Bidwell Smith: I think the biggest thing that people get hung up on when it comes to grief is that there is some magic formula somewhere, that there is some perfect way to grieve and that if they follow all the right steps, they'll fly through it. It just doesn't work that way though. Grief is different for everyone, and there is no right way to grieve. That was my whole goal with this book, and what I most wanted people to get out of it. I really hope that by sharing my personal experience and by showing how fluid the five stages of grief are, people will feel a little less confused about how they should go about their own journey of loss.
Join us in BlogHer Book Club to discuss Claire's memoir, The Rules of Inheritance!