I want to thank Armen for answering my questions! If you want to know more about Armen’s book Griefland, co-authored with Nancy Miller, you can read my review at JMWW. Also, you can follow Armen on Twitter @ArmenBacon
Why did you start writing?
I first began writing years ago while living in France during my senior year of college. I made the trip solo, desperate to discover my inner gypsy and a voice residing deep within. I wrote elaborate letters home describing my travel adventures. Later on in life, when my son died and the world turned upside down, words became my oxygen. I was now writing about a very different kind of journey. Writing helped me sort through the chaos, sift through memories, and retrace my life’s story. During the darkest hours, putting words onto paper was living proof I was still breathing.
What kind of writing do you do?
Right now my genre of preference is creative non-fiction/memoir, although I’m dabbling with poetic prose and flash fiction, which I really enjoy. I use language to capture (or resuscitate) lost and often times forgotten moments. I’m passionate about passing stories down to my children and grandchildren. Stories save our lives. They are the invisible thread that binds each of us to the other.
Could you talk a bit about your co-authored book Griefland and Sandy Hook? Is it true hundreds of copies were sent to the town?
An anonymous fan who had read and loved Griefland decided to donate several copies (hundreds of dollars worth) to the grief-stricken families of Sandy Hook. When our publisher (Globe Pequot Press, located coincidentally, in Connecticut) found out, they refused his money and donated the books. The donor still wanted to do something special, so he made a sizable donation to the “Books Heal Hearts” fund established by the Newtown Public Library. He later wrote me a letter saying, “I needed to do more than just send a teddy bear to help soothe the grief.” His words still resonate. On a personal note, watching our book sprout wings and travel cross country to help others was something I’ll never forget.
What would you like readers to know about your new book, My Name is Armen?
While Griefland was written from a place of profound sadness, my new book covers all aspects of the human condition. I’m an op ed columnist, so the book contains a decade’s worth of favorite essays and published columns. Oh, by the way, the title is reminiscent of My Name is Aram, written by William Saroyan, one of my favorite authors, who was also Armenian and from Fresno. Reading his stories as a child made me feel comfortable in my own skin. His famous words, “In the time of your life, live…” are an overarching theme of my book. One of my favorite chapters is titled, “I dare you to live your life,” and offers sacred advice given to me by an eighty-something year-old woman I met in Spain.
Many times writers find a creative niche and community. What do you think is yours?
We’re living in a time when everything and everyone is on speed-dial. I write about life’s precious moments, the ones that deserve to be savored and celebrated. My audience is anyone wanting to press the pause button and explore outside the margins of the glossy 5 x 7’s where everyone is posed, all pretty and smiling. Life is beautiful, but it’s also messy and complicated. My stories share more than “just the shiny parts.”
Because my readers know I’ve been to hell and back, they know I’m a survivor. When I decided to write Griefland and ultimately shake hands with grief, the end result was that I think I became more human. If you’re going to be a good writer and connect with readers, you have to be vulnerable and willing to stand naked with all the flaws and imperfections exposed. Doing this is liberating – not only for me, but also for readers. Let’s face it, not every story has a happy ending.
Do you think either of your books would be a good choice for a book club pick? Why/why not?
Griefland has been read by several clubs because the topic is extremely relevant in these times. We’re living in an era of loss – people are losing aging parents, their youth, friends, colleagues. Jobs and homes. Breasts. Some, like us, have lost children. The book gets people talking about a topic that remains rather taboo in our culture. And the reality is, no one is immune. Loss is a very real part of life.
With My Name if Armen, book clubs will experience a roller coaster of emotions and life experiences. My hope with this book was that its words would leap off the page and make a direct B-line for the soul. The book came out in early November and is already in its second printing, so something tells me it’s touching a sweet spot in the hearts of readers. So my answer is “both!”