Thursday, December 6, 2018

Interview with Inspirational Author Cheryl J. Heser

Walking at the Speed of Light:
Reflections for Following Jesus in Grief and Joy


1.        Cheryl, what inspired you to write your book?
I have written all my life, and writing is a natural reaction for me to any special situation or change. My reactions to my son Josh’s death needed expression. More important, after I went through such extreme grief and depression and emerged to a life actually enhanced by the situation, I wanted to share the experience and ideas about healing with other people. After I retired as a public library director, I returned to college at Lindenwood University to get my Masters Degree in Fine Arts in Writing. I assumed I would be focusing almost entirely on poetry as I always had, but instead I discovered classes on flash nonfiction and creative nonfiction which used my poetic skills in a new genre. Those studies opened the way to writing this book, approaching Josh’s story and ideas about grief and healing in nonfiction with a poetic touch.

2.        What advice do you have for those grieving the loss of a child?
First, people need to be kind to themselves, honor the feelings they have, and seek help and healing from sources around them rather than isolating themselves in their grief, which is the first inclination. Second, they need to understand that grief is not in any way “one size fits all.” In other words, everyone grieves in different ways for different lengths of time and each of us needs to be nonjudgmental of the feelings of others. Instead, we need to understand and be supportive. Although people heal in different ways, I know that everyone can find answers and comfort from Jesus’ words and comfort. They also can find solace in others’ stories; the importance of stories is the reason that I included so many with my ideas in the book.

3.        Tell us about your son. What type of person was he?
Josh was a bright light in our family from the time he was born, a wonderful son and his older brother’s best friend and his sister’s adored “little brother.” He was our “gentle giant” -- 6’8”, 245 pounds, strong and formidable and yet loving and kind. He had myriad friends including all of the farmers and ranchers he did mechanic work for and assisted on horseback at branding and gathering times. Also, there wasn’t a kid in Josh’s  “orbit” who didn’t adore him. Often, we adults would be indoors at a family gathering and look out the window to see Josh entertaining all the nephews and nieces on the huge tire swing, on the horses, or wherever. Add to all that a sense of mischief and a raucous sense of humor, and you have an idea of who Josh was.

4.        I understand your son was an organ donor. How many people did he help?
Six people received major organs, but over 100 people benefited from body parts. For example, two people didn’t have to have amputations because of his veins being implanted. People wrote of their appreciation of such things as vertebrae that stopped their back pain. I don’t think the public understands enough about what can happen when everything from eye corneas to skin to bone and muscle from a healthy person are used to people’s benefit. Most parts can go to anyone, but the heart, lungs and liver are size specific, which means that very large men often wait interminably for transplants of those organs. We have met the man who has his heart and correspond with the man who has his lungs, and in both cases they are effusively grateful.

5.         What role does faith play in your life today?
When I titled my book “Walking at the Speed of Light,” I seriously meant that I focus on walking with Jesus, the Light of the World, every day. I was raised attending church and Sunday School and encouraged by my parents to develop a strong faith which was augmented by being part of Campus Ministry and Christian Ministry in the National Parks. But my experience after Josh’s death increased my faith even more once I understood so clearly that the only solution to darkness is light and the only totally reliable Light comes from Jesus. I live a varied and busy life, but I make it a point to spend some time in prayer and reflection every day. I see faith and growth in faith as essential to coping with all parts of life.

6.        How was your faith challenged at the time of his death?
When my high school students faced setbacks academically or socially, I always told them it wasn’t “set in stone.” The day I paid for my son’s tombstone, I realized that this time it actually was set in stone, and the darkness took over because of the finality of death. Even though I believed that Josh was in Heaven, I felt so distanced from my faith, as though it belonged to another time, another phase in my life as a mother. I honestly feel that during my time of deepest depression, I had decided that my faith would not provide answers or real comfort, and I certainly could not provide it for myself. The despair was beyond description. I even stopped responding to “mentors” like Norman Vincent Peale and Mother Teresa until I was ready to let some light back in.

7.        What were the biggest challenges in putting your book together and writing about something so close to your heart and soul?
First, I had to decide how much of Josh’s story to tell and how to approach it, an area helped by my study of flash nonfiction, which requires “parachuting” into the middle of the action. Then I realized that this could not be a memoir because my experience was neither unique nor earth-shaking and because the purpose had moved away from just telling the story. Second, I learned to pray before I started writing each day to achieve and maintain focus. A subject “close to heart and soul” can become an invitation to scattered thoughts, repetition, judgments, preachiness, and other manifestations of lack of focus, which plagued me for awhile. Finally, one of my greatest challenges came after my completed manuscript was considered by publishers’ representatives, who agreed that a book of “reflections” should be composed of short chapters of 750 words.
Rewriting, especially of something so personal, is not easy.

8.        Do you have any words of advice for those seeking to write a book, especially about a deeply personal experience?
The first advice is total honesty. That may be easy to say, but it is not easy to achieve. To be totally honest, people have to really understand themselves and their experiences, something which requires introspection, clarity, and patience. Second, a writer has to be certain of wanting to share something deeply personal because once it’s “out there,” no one can gather it back and hide it again. Finally, a book needs a purpose, and that purpose needs to be determined and adhered to by the author. Since the purpose of my book is to use parts of my journey to help others, sharing Josh’s death and my despair and healing was integral to the writing. An author needs to find that point and maintain focus, something not either easy or painless.

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Brian Feinblum’s insightful views, provocative opinions, and interesting ideas expressed in this terrific blog are his alone and not that of his employer or anyone else. You can – and should -- follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels much more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2018. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now resides in Westchester. His writings are often featured in The Writer and IBPA’s Independent.  This was named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby and recognized by Feedspot in 2018 as one of the top book marketing blogs. Also named by as a "best resource.” He recently hosted a panel on book publicity for Book Expo America.

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