SWW Interview Questions for Author Thelma Giomi by Kathy Wagner for the Southwest Writers website and Newsletter, Sage.
Shatter My Heart:
1. What is your elevator pitch for Shatter My Heart?
Shatter My Heart is a dynamic story that immediately immerses the reader in the lives of four friends. Individually and together they face and overcome some of life’s most devastating challenges—invisible illness, loss, infidelity and the demands of commitment to each other. They emerge from these challenges with poise and compassion to become the heroes of their own lives.
2. What theme(s) do you explore in the book?
One of the major themes pervasive in Shatter My Heart is that taking care of each other is the only thing that really matters in life. Nikki, Paul and Lauren all demonstrate this throughout the book in their care and being there for each other.
Another theme is that “reality cannot be fooled”. As Lauren’s symptoms like those of others with “invisible illnesses” are dismissed or trivialized by the medical profession and others, Paul reminds Lauren of the reality of what she is experiencing and urges her to not give up.
Throughout this novel Lauren and others must find in themselves what Camus calls “an invincible summer”. As challenges and crises occur in their lives the characters in this book find ways to live not only constructively with the challenges, but with an ability to continue to find pleasure, shared happiness, caring and compassion.
In this novel various alternative and questionable approaches to healing are being studied by Paul and Nikki. They raise the important question of who a healer is and how they heal.
As Ian discovers in this novel, running from fears and vulnerabilities does not in fact protect us, but leaves us with feelings of isolation, helplessness and wounded rather than shielded.
Another theme lifting the mood throughout the book is that regardless of what happens there are wonderful moments of celebration, intimacy, and friendship that can turn ordinary experiences into extraordinary joy and appreciation of the gifts of life.
3. Tell us a little about your main characters. (You could include the challenges they face or why readers will connect with them.)
Lauren loves working as a psychologist in a medical setting but is haunted by persistent and undiagnosed symptoms. Without a diagnosis the untreated disease leads to catastrophic loss. Lauren remains a steady force finding ways to live with her illness and its consequences while never losing her compassion for others or finding delight in life.
Surgeon Ian Blackburn, emotionally wounded by an abusive father and fearful of anything that exposes his vulnerabilities, is running from his own sense of compassion. He is tormented by his feelings of helplessness to cure his wife or care for his son. Often, he sees himself as an outsider unable to participate in the lives and events that others embrace. Ian and Lauren’s love story is a compelling drama filled with shifting moods and events as Ian spirals to near self-annihilation.
Lauren’s best friends, Paul and Nikki Fiori, provide a sanctuary for Lauren in her darkest moments. They live their lives with passion, humor and an acceptance of what life brings to them. Their openness allows them to find wisdom and a gentler perspective of life’s challenges. They find ways to refresh their love for each other, share the drama and joys of parenting two gifted children and stay grounded in reality while maintain a warmth and a celebration of the little moments as well as the grand.
4. What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
One of my challenges was to incorporate my own experiences and those of others living with invisible illnesses into the story while letting Lauren find her own voice and speak her own truth.
Another challenge was in researching different medical issues Lauren experienced through interviewing professionals and patients to provide authenticity to the scenes and events.
For me, as with anyone living with a chronic illness, writing this novel posed a constant need to balance writing times with the physical manifestations of Systemic Lupus.
5. What was the most rewarding aspect of writing Shatter My Heart?
The most rewarding aspect of writing Shatter My Heart is the emotional feedback I have received from readers. It affirms my vision and hope that this book offers the reader an engaging story with complex and compelling characters that reaches a wide and diverse audience. Hearing from a variety of readers with their different experiences and points of view has affirmed that this book did offer compassion to those living with chronic illness and new insights and understanding of the real-life consequences of chronic illness for those who have not experienced these life challenges.
Many reviewers have said that the story is “well told”. That is a goal we storyteller’s strive to achieve and perhaps one of the best evaluations one can receive.
6. Tell us more about the book: what sparked the story idea, how long it took to write, editing cycle, etc.
Writing this book included the very essence of what it is like to live with chronic illness and remain creative while experiencing its random and unpredictable episodes. The book grew in spite of the real physical limitations and never being able to write on a schedule.
The story emerged while I was listening to Total Eclipse of the Heart by Bonnie Tyler. I envisioned a couple, the man casting a shadow over the woman, and realized that this could embody a story of how the couple faced some devastating challenges in their lives and survived. My next thought was that this could be the way to tell the story of invisible illness and its impact on individuals, their families and friends. I began to see how writing a good story with engaging and passionate characters would reach a wider audience than the limited audience my writing and speaking in the nonfiction genre had.
7. Was there anything surprising or interesting you discovered while doing research for this book?
What surprised me most was the development of Fiori’s friendship with Lauren and how it grew despite her mounting health challenges. They became intimately involved in helping Lauren find answers to her symptoms and life challenges even including her as a beloved family member. Their compassion was very touching to me.
I was surprised by how little medical professionals know about Lupus and other invisible illnesses and how rarely they look for these diseases when presented with ambiguous symptoms. As I interviewed and met others with invisible illnesses I was surprised by how ubiquitous my experience was.
In researching this book, I came to have deeper respect for those medical professionals that never loose their compassionate connection with their patients.
Robert Frost said, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.” I can truly say as I wrote this novel and as I read it over there are still tears and surprises.
IF YOU’D LIKE, you can also pick a few questions to answer from the following list to help readers and fellow writers get to know you better:
9. How has your work as a poet influenced your fiction writing?
Through my poetry I have always hoped to connect with the unearned challenges life brings us and embrace new perspectives and constructive alternatives to coping. Writing Shatter My Heart has allowed me to do this in fiction as well.
In my poetry I use imagery and sensual experiences to bring the reader into an intimate connection with the words. I think I was able to carry this over to my novel. Writing poetry also has enhanced my fiction work with a sense of rhythm and pace that can be mesmerizing as it captures the reader’s attention and changes their breathing.
14. What is the best encouragement or advice you’ve received in your writing journey?
While my mother was in hospice she would ask me to read my poetry to her each day. One morning she said, “Your words fill the room with beauty. How beautiful life could be if your poems touched everyone. Please promise they will be published so that your words will find the ones who need them.”
15. What writing projects are you working on now?
Currently, I am writing a sequel to Shatter My Heart which will answer many of the enthusiastic questions I have received from readers who want to know more about the characters and their lives.
I have finished compiling a book of meditations written by my sister. Church of My Heart will be released next month.
I am in the process of preparing the Beagle Blues about the adventures of a little Beagle who gets into everything with an exuberant innocence. When completed I will offer this book to rescue groups, vets and others to mitigate some of the cost of caring for abused or abandoned dogs.
I am completing my new collection of poetry which I hope to have ready for publication later this year. Other projects include contributions to anthologies, my website and blog and public speaking and workshops on the two topics prominent in my life, writing and coping constructively with chronic illness.
16. Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
I love feedback from my readers and would appreciate their comments.
Yes, if you have read through this interview and have comments or questions, please share them and thank you. Thelma