Author interview with Heather Summerhayes Cariou
Heather Summerhayes Cariou is the author of “Sixtyfive Roses: A Sister’s Memoir,” recently optioned for film by Eva Longoria and UnbeliEVAble Productions. Born and raised in Brantford, Ontario, Canada, Heather immigrated to New York City in 1983. She is the eldest daughter of the founders of the Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. A former professional actress and dancer, she owes her emergence as a writer to the International Women’s Writing Guild, on whose Board she now sits as a director. Heather’s mentors include D.M. Thomas, Ted Conover, and Sally Bingham. An avid reader, she is also a gourmet cook, and an inveterate mother hen to both friends and strangers. When not traveling to locations with her husband, the actor Len Cariou, she shares a home with him on the Jersey side of the Hudson River, where they enjoy a heart-stopping view of Manhattan. Heather is currently at work on a novel.
Tell us about your latest book.
It’s my hope that readers are challenged, inspired and moved by “Sixtyfive Roses: A Sister’s Memoir,” a true story that was written to read like a novel. It’s for anyone on their own hero’s journey. Reviewers have called it “provocative”, “funny” and “deeply honest.” This book chronicles the journey of two sisters growing up in the shadow of a fatal illness, and a family fighting for a child’s life. Fans of “Tuesdays With Morrie” by Mitch Albom and “My Sister’s Keeper” by Jodi Picoult will really appreciate “Sixtyfive Roses.”
When I was six years old, I promised to die with my sister Pamela, who’d been diagnosed with what Pam called Sixtyfive Roses – Cystic Fibrosis. However, Pam defied the limits of a dire prognosis, and in doing so taught me how to live. Together we discovered where to find joy and meaning in an often painful and uncertain world.
“Sixtyfive Roses” is only about illness inasmuch as CF was the catalyst for what happened to me and my family. It’s a story about being a warrior on behalf of your own life and never giving up. It’s about loving fearlessly and the choices we make in the name of love. It’s about the kind of faith, fortitude and forgiveness we tell ourselves we don’t possess, but which is present in all of us. Ultimately, it’s about what we must all come to understand about love and loss.
How did you get started as a writer?
My mother says I was a very verbal child and spoke my first word at 9 months. I can’t remember not writing, words came to me so easily, but I was first conscious of wanting to be a writer at about age 10. However, all the women writers I studied in school (and there were precious few of them) suffered terribly and had either killed themselves or died alone in penury. This was not the future I envisioned for myself, so I became an actor. (ha! ha!) I didn’t realize I could be a writer until I joined the International Women’s Writing Guild at the age of 32. After that, I couldn’t do anything BUT write.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I’m married to an actor, and we travel frequently, so my days aren’t typical. However, when I’ve set up a good routine for myself, I take a walk in the morning as a precursor to writing, then work anywhere from four to six hours. I ring a chime to clear the chi in the room, perhaps read some poetry, and put on my ‘writing’ music, new age stuff that opens up the right side of my brain. I write both on the computer and on big yellow pads. Quite often the words connect better from my heart to my hand when I’m using a pen. I begin by lightly editing the previous day’s work (which I have printed out), then move on, always aware of the importance of what Anne Lamott calls “shitty first drafts.” I try not to get too caught up in self-editing unless I’m in an actual editing phase of my process. After writing, I do errands, catch up on email, make dinner and enjoy my husband’s company. We eat out with friends once or twice a week. We love throwing dinner parties when we’re home. And we have a few TV shows that are our guilty pleasures.
Describe your desk/workspace.
It’s a mess, but a sacred one. For me chaos equals creativity. I have a wonderful antique mahogany roll top desk in quite a large room that is piled with books – on shelves, on the floor, on the back of the couch. The shelves are all mismatched and I long for a matched set in pine. I work on a laptop. In front of me or beside me on the desk are my piles of yellow pads full of scribblings and notes, current books to which I’m referring, a collection of talismen, a small fountain, a statue of Kwan Yin, and a large bulletin board filled with quotes like “Live to the point of tears,” and “If you doubt anything, doubt your limits.” I’d actually like to thank my husband for my room; he GETS Virginia Woolf. When we’re on location, I create a corner in our hotel room or apartment that ends up in the same organized mess at my work space at home.
Favorite books (For Writers)
Inventing the Truth ~ by William Zinsser
The Situation and the Story ~ by Vivian Gornick
Unreliable Truth ~ by Maureen Murdock
Bird by Bird ~ by Anne Lamott
If You Want to Write ~ by Brenda Ueland
Twelve Months to a Writing Life ~ by Susan Tiberghien
The Courage to Write ~ by Ralph Keyes
Writing from the Body ~ by John Lee
Silences ~ by Tillie Olsen
Writing the Memoir: From Truth to Art ~ by Judith Barrington
Marry Your Muse: Making a Lasting Commitment to Your Creativity by Jan Phillips
Tell us 3 interesting/crazy things about you
I can usually prescribe the right self-help book to anyone I’ve known for more than 10 minutes.
I once cooked a full Thanksgiving dinner in a hotel suite in Baltimore for the entire cast of a Broadway musical. (Teddy and Alice)
When I’m home and do my morning walk along the Hudson River, I go to the far end of a narrow pier that juts way out into the river and belt a couple of Broadway show tunes at the top of my lungs. “Before the Parade Passes By” is a favorite.
What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
Best and worst part of being a writer
The best thing about being a writer, for me, is being able to use every part of me, my thoughts, feelings, experiences and knowledge, personality, imagination, observations, adventures, spirit, all of me, my whole inventory, in the service of telling a story that might heal, comfort, enlighten or entertain another human being. I eschew negatives, so I’m not going to give energy to any thought of a “worst part.”
Advice for other writers
I have a little badge on my desk that says “Trust Your Story.” That’s the best advice I can give.
Tell us a story about your writing experience.
When I was writing the final draft of “Sixtyfive Roses” I was painstakingly changing the tense from present to past, word by word. A friend told me about the ‘Replace’ button in Word on my computer. Thrilled, I merrily changed verbs for about half an hour before I realized that I should have checked off ‘Whole Word’ under the Replace tab. In changing ‘is’ to ‘was,’ Cystic Fibrosis had become Cystic Fibroswas, for instance. The entire manuscript was now not only half in past tense and half in present, but full of wordburgers. Wouldn’t you know, that’s exactly where I was with it when 3 agents asked to see the manuscript asap.
Where can people buy your book?
“Sixtyfive Roses: A Sister’s Memoir” can be purchased through the Amazon link on my website www.sixtyfiverosesthebook.com , Barnes and Noble online, and at select Barnes and Noble and independent book stores. Please visit my website to enjoy the video book short, read reviews, and find out What Readers Have to Say. You can also check out my new blog, Shoot From The Hips, at the same site.