Today I’m very lucky to be interviewing Marsha Marie, author of Bangles. My True Story of Escape, Adventure and Forgiveness.
Hi Marsha, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Tell me a little about yourself and your background?
Well, I was born in Ohio, and then moved to Arizona with my family at the age of two due to some of my health issues. I then grew up in the west side of Phoenix. I have had many different jobs throughout my life, but my absolute favourite thing to do is teach English to foreign students. I currently hold a CELTA certificate from University of Cambridge in UK.
I spent 22 years abroad, and I have three adorable children. I have been married more than once, but am currently single and working as an administrative assistant by day and a writer and publisher by night.
Please describe what your book is about in a few sentences.
My book tells the story of my escape from an abusive marriage and how I protected my abuser, which only enabled him to continue controlling my life for five years. I then made a desperate decision to flee America and exiled myself and my two small children to a small village in Pakistan. I soon became the subject of an international hunt based on felony charges of custodial interference.
Through the book I share intimate details of life and the many emotions that accompanied my transition from America to a Middle Eastern society. I share how it felt to be denied my passport and denied my ability to return to the States. I share my experiences of becoming an English teacher in order to survive, as well as the horror that led to me to become a human rights committee member (with the police department) who monitored jails around the capital of Pakistan. I also discuss my next two marriages and finally my decision and return to America and surrender to the authorities.
How would you most like readers to respond to your book?
Firstly, I would like for them to just sit back and enjoy the emotional waves of the story and experience the new country as I did. Then I would like for them to reflect on their own lives and think on whether they would have made the same decisions or not. And finally have them reach out to members of their family and allow and support victims to speak up about domestic violence in the home.
What are 2-3 key points they can learn/take away from reading your book?
First, domestic violence should never be hidden away. We need to stop protecting abusers. Second, I would like for them to see that the world is a big place, with many different ideas and tastes; so don’t be afraid to try new things. Be an adventurer. Enjoy life where you are and appreciate the beauty that is around you. And finally, I want them to know that it is almost never too late to go back home. Forgiveness and rebirth can be found. Sometimes we lose hope that we can never return to family or regain our happiness, but we can.
I inspire my readers to create more time and financial freedom in their businesses and to step into their powers as women. How does your book or your journey relate to this?
I once was very intimidated and fearful. Once I went out on my own I was able to find my inner strength because I knew that I had to take care of my children. I guess the urgency of survival is what helped me to step up and be what I needed to be.
Briefly, what led up to or what was the inspiration behind your book?
Many years I sat and pondered about why I felt I had to leave the States the way that I did. The bottom line was that I made bad choices. I was scared and hid the abuse in my home. I just wanted to see if there was any way that I could inspire any person who may be in an abusive relationship to reach out for help. Had I done that I would not have taken such drastic measures and my life would have been very different.
Which writers or other women in business (etc) inspire you to share your message?
There are so many writers that I adore, but I would have to say that Hellen Keller inspired me the most as a memoirist. I am amazed how she overcame her darkness and silence and was able connect with the world in such a powerful way. She wrote straight from the heart and I love being able to sit in her world for a few moments at a time. I would advise anyone who hasn’t read her autobiography to experience her writing and insight at least once in their lifetime.
When did you decide to become a writer and what impact has it had on your life?
I started writing at an early age and wrote my first song when I was only in the fourth grade. Then during my time abroad, I became an avid letter writer and poet to express my inner thoughts and struggles. But it wasn’t until I began teaching English that I truly fell in love with the English language. The desire to plan and execute ideas in print started taking over.
I noticed that teaching writing became my favourite part of my classes, but I wanted to do more. So, I approached a local magazine with a proposal to write a series of articles for students and their families about learning English. The articles were an amazing success. That is when I knew that I would eventually pen down my story of escape and share it with the whole world.
Subsequently, writing has changed my life in the sense that the more I write the more I learn about myself and why I made the decisions that I have. I also realize now that life is actually so short, and fortunately I have this gift of writing to share my inner soul with the rest of the world---just maybe someone will understand and benefit from my words.
Where do you write from and what is your writing style like, do you write every day, 5 days a week or as and when or do you aim for a set amount of words/pages per day?
Most of my writing is done at home in the evenings and at night. During the day, I usually plan out what I will work on that evening. Then after DDJ, when all of the shopping, cooking, cleaning and exercising is done, I put on soft writing music and YouTube fish tank videos and then dig into my to-do list (which is usually a mixture of marketing, publishing and writing). Once I focus on my writing time I lose all mental connections with the world around me. Actually, I don’t pay attention to word count at all; I usually write for as long as I can, and then call it a night.
My writing style is narrative and extremely colloquial, thus lots and lots of editing is needed. But I guess that is part of my charm. I love telling stories verbally, and in writing. Thus my catch phrase is: It’s a long story!
What was the time frame for writing your book? Tell us an interesting detail or two, if applicable. For example, did you finish first draft after one week? Or did you pick it up after 20 years and finally rewrite it?
I was planning my Bangles subconsciously for several years, but I never had the confidence to start writing. I just didn’t think I could do justice to my own story. I tried hiring a couple of different writers but the voice just didn’t seem right to me. So I finally, decided that if I wanted it done right, I would have to do it myself. And I did.
Once I started, it felt liberating to plan and lay out my ideas just like I had always dreamt. Yes, I missed several self-imposed deadlines, but it didn’t matter to me. I had to please myself first before releasing it to the world.
What was the hardest thing about writing your latest book?
The hardest thing about writing the book was having to revive a lot of very painful memories that I have learned to push down in my heart--especially the pain of losing my mother while I was abroad. I recorded an audio of this particular chapter, and one can clearly hear the emotion in my voice.
Do you ever get writers block and tips for getting past this?
Over the years, I have learned to be a planner, so I really do not have difficulty with writer’s block. Inspiration hits me at the oddest times. Once it does I begin scribbling my outlines out. So then, I usually know beforehand the direction that I want something to go in. So my biggest tip to writers would be to plan out your journey first, even if it is only a few steps at a time.
How are you publishing this book and why? (Did you find an agent if so how did you go about doing this) (*e.g. Indie, traditional or both)
I decided to self-publish my book for two reasons. First, I wanted to be in control of its production and distribution. Second, I do not have the luxury of being able to travel around the States to promote the book. I have a special-needs child at home and it would be too disturbing for her to travel with me. For these reasons, I felt more comfortable doing it all myself and at my own pace.
That being said, I have started to dabble with contacting agents to see if I can get a nibble on the line. I am using an amazing website QueryTracker.net. So far, I am pretty impressed by it. And yes, I have also received a couple of kind rejections already. (Now I feel like a true author!)
What were your 1-2 biggest learning experience(s) or surprise(s) throughout the publishing process?
Wow! I have had several surprises, but there are two that stand out the most. First, in order to prepare for my book launch, I worked really hard to get 44K followers on my Facebook author page just to find out that only a certain small percentage of them will ever see my daily posts. This was extremely disheartening to me.
The next thing that I found terribly frustrating and tedious was formatting the pictures in my book. The formatter and I had over 100 emails between us just getting things right on the Kindle version alone. I guess I thought the process was much simpler. Nonetheless, I will be much more savvy the next time around, that is for sure.
Did you have a “marketing/tribe” platform in place? On this topic, what are you doing to build a platform and gain readership? (Please add in your links)
I have several things in place to work on marketing. Like I mentioned earlier, I have a nice following on my Facebook author page (https://www.facebook.com/MarshaMarieBangles). My Twitter account (https://twitter.com/MeMarshaMarie ) is linked up with my Facebook, and it has a little over 800 followers. I also use LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/marshamarie ) to connect to some amazing professionals and have nearly 1600 connections. I also have an email list of about 500 emails. I am now going to put my energy more towards building that.
I usually connect daily with followers on Facebook, and check in regularly with LinkedIn. I am also working hard to set up some radio interviews; the first of which is just next week. I have been invited to be on with Marsha Casper Cook, a talk show host in Chicago (http://www.blogtalkradio.com/worldofinknetwork/2016/09/01/abuse-host-marsha-casper-cook--special-woi).
Do you think that the title, design and cover plays an important part in the buying process?
Oh absolutely! Whenever I am choosing a book for myself, I rely on my gut instincts most of the time. I have found that I am turned off by certain features, such as when the font is too childish.
When designing the cover for this book, I extensively tested several pictures on Facebook ads and chose the picture that got the most clicks from customers. I agree with the public; I think that the picture I chose for my cover art is a story all in itself.
Do you have any advice for other authors on how to market their books? And is there any marketing technique you have used that had an immediate impact on your sales/reach figures?
Unfortunately, I am still exploring and learning about self-publishing. I will however be releasing my next book as a permanent free download, so that I can use it as a catalyst to advertise my first book, Bangles: My True Story of Escape, Adventure and Forgiveness, and to develop my email list.
Best piece(s) of writing advice we haven’t discussed?
Write from the heart; then get a great editor. J
For a bit of fun - Something personal about you people may be surprised to know?
I am embarrassed to admit it, but I have a touch of obsessive-compulsive disorder. If I am walking to my car or into a building and I step on a painted line or crack in the cement or asphalt with one of my feet, I have to go back and step on the same spot with my other foot. I really try my best not to step on cracks and lines to avoid going through this ritual in front of people. (Sh-sh… Keep my secret. Okay?)
What’s next? What is your next project? What have you been working on recently?
My current project is called Bangles for Mom. It contains the collection of letters that I sent to my mother during my first two years in Pakistan. They explore my new life and experiences in an amazingly raw and detailed manner. They are a perfect accompaniment to the first book in the Bangles series.
I have also been working on a colouring book series that is intended for victims living in domestic violence shelters across America. The first book in the Sandi’s Sweets, Coloring Book Series has already been given to a shelter and is being tested by the art teacher to see how it is accepted with the children there. This is a direct result of a promise that I had made to my mother before she passed away; thus naming the project after her, Sandi Sweet.
I also have a few children’s books in the making, and I am helping my daughter organize and publish her own work. We are currently preparing for an upcoming book festival here in Arizona. She has autism and this project is a perfect opportunity to help her develop social and working skills.
Where can you see yourself in 5 years’ time?
In five years’ time, I see myself working closely with the domestic violence awareness movement as a speaker nationwide. I have recently joined the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, as well as, volunteered to join Voices, NCADV's National Speakers Bureau. I hope to reach as many women as possible with my story.
I also see Sandi’s Sweets being used throughout all the shelters across the nation, free of charge, to bring children and adults some peace and tranquillity. And of course I hope to be publishing more of my own work, as well as, my daughter’s colouring book series. (Boy, I have a lot of work to do!)
What is the most important message to women across the globe you’d like to share with them?
Never give up!
How can readers discover more about you and your work?
They can visit my website, www.marshamarie.com and feel free to sign up for monthly newsletters.
Marsha ‘Yasmine’ Marie has been a writer, human rights activist, English department head, English instructor, American accent trainer, communication lab designer, voice-over talent, blogger, administrative assistant and mom. Born in Ohio, raised in Arizona, and then lived and taught in Asia. She has now returned to Arizona and lives with her children. BANGLES is her self-publishing debut. We have conducted an interview with her.
Why did you decide to write 'Bangles' as a story of honesty and self-discovery?
There are several reasons for writing my memoir, Bangles. First of all, I wanted to share my experience of escaping a marriage filled with intimidation and violence. I fled to escape my abuser; my children and I went to Pakistan to start a new life---ultimately becoming the subject of an international hunt. While there, I was able to learn a new language and a new culture. But twenty years later, my daughter was diagnosed with a disability; it was then that I made the choice to return with her to the States and surrender myself to authorities. The book explores the decisions I made throughout my life, and how they affected the ones that I love. The most important and damaging of those decisions was when I chose to protect my abuser. For five years, I kept my dark secret hidden from friends and family (a secret that I now deeply regret). I want to help other women who might be doing the same and to teach our daughters to never keep violence a secret.
Overall, I survived my 22 years outside the country, and had an amazing experience discovering this world and all it has to offer, but most of all, discovering myself and my inner strengths. This is what I want women to get from Bangles. We can survive and we can overcome. And it’s never too late to go home.
When did you discover your love for writing?
It seems that I started writing at an early age. I wrote my first song when I was only in the fourth grade. Then during my time abroad, I became an avid letter writer and poet to express my inner thoughts and struggles. But it wasn’t until I began teaching English that I truly fell in love with the English language. The desire to plan and execute ideas in print started taking over.
I noticed that teaching writing became my favorite part of my classes, but I wanted to do more. So, I approached a local magazine with a proposal to write a series of articles for students and their families about learning English. The articles were an amazing success. That is when I knew that I would eventually pen down my story of escape and share it with the whole world.
How did it feel like to be teaching in the royal palaces while training sheikhs and princesses?
Frankly, it was such a great honor to be trusted and invited into some of the most beautiful palaces in the United Arab Emirates. The interior decorating was stunning and seemed to be right out of a magazine. I vividly remember one room with pictures of the royal family hanging throughout it. It was like taking a stroll through history. Folks in this area are traditionally hospitable people, so each visit for class, I was given the royal treatment with a table chock full of all kinds of goodies to eat. As for my students, they were simply delightful to work with. They were as eager to learn about my customs as I was to learn theirs. It was truly an exchange of ideas and cultures. At times, I nearly forgot the difference between teacher and student.
Why is Cleopatra your favourite historical figure?
I have always been obsessed with Egyptian history and Cleopatra. To me, Cleopatra was a perfect blend of determination and sensuality. Truth be told, she is my alter-ego--the type of woman that I had always wished I could be.
What advice would you give to people facing adversity in life?
Life is full of adversity; there is no way around it, but without it, how would we learn? My first piece of advice would be to have a reliable team of friends and family who you can turn to and ask for help and advice. This was a lesson I wish I had learnt much earlier on, particularly in my first marriage. Then I would say, seek out incredible and successful people and use them as a template for your own life. Learn from their mistakes and their triumphs. Then set your own goals and go for them! Make your life your own, and never let anyone tell you that anything is impossible. And lastly, the most important thing that I have learned it that it is never too late for change, so have faith in yourself. Whatever you may be facing, you will make it thru. Don’t ever give up!