Lois Tschetter Hjelmstad – The Path We Share

How did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I didn’t. I had spent my life as a wife and mother, then as a music teacher. However, I had written poetry since I was a child, especially during intense emotional times.

How did you get started?

As I said, I did not plan to be a writer. I did not plan to be diagnosed with breast cancer, either. The night before my first mastectomy, I wept as I wrote “Goodbye, Beloved Breast.” Poems kept pouring out. When I had about twenty, I showed them to my oncologist and he said, “You must do something with these.” So I surprised myself and wrote my first book, Fine Black Lines: Reflections on Facing Cancer, Fear and Loneliness. Then I learned that getting a book published could take two or three years IF it was accepted. I had no idea how much time I had left on this earth, so I formed an independent publishing company and published the book. (It was a steep learning curve. Dan Poynter’s The Self-Publishing Manual guided me.)

Fine Black Lines opened many doors to speaking (another big surprise). Over the next ten or so years, my husband, Les, drove 400,000 miles as I talked about breast cancer topics more than 550 times in all 50 states, Canada, and England. (We flew to England, of course!) In October 2001, Rosie Magazine (previously McCall’s) featured me in their breast cancer issue; then I appeared on the Rosie O’Donnell Show in New York City three weeks after 9/11. I wrote articles for American Medical News, Administrative Radiology Journal, Health Progress, and PARENTGUIDE among others. Fine Black Lines won awards in Colorado and in London.

On Mother’s Day 1995, my mother died of lung cancer. My second book, The Last Violet: Mourning My Mother, Moving Beyond Regret tells of our relationship, her death, and my grief process. It is comprised of journal entries, reflections, poetry, and photos, as is Fine Black Lines.

What is your most recent book? Tell us a bit about it.

My third book, This Path We Share: Reflecting on 60 Years of Marriage, will give any marriage the courage to build, to continue, to find contentment, to keep physical intimacy alive. It has seven Parts: Crazy in Love, Here Comes the Circus, The Muddle in the Middle, Reinventing Our Lives, A Mission Emerges, Grow Old with Me, and Waiting for the Happy Ending. Each part has 5-6 chapters and each chapter ends with one or more poems. It is the story of our long marriage and deep love through illnesses, tragedies, and even talk of divorce. (And what happened to that deep love?!) This Path has won several awards also.

What inspired you to write this book?

I had written poems for Les since before we were married. On our 50th anniversary, he gave me two beautiful diamond anniversary bands. I gave him a packet of poems tied with a ribbon and promised to write a book about our marriage. Talk about an unfair exchange! Now eleven years later, he has his book.

What makes this book different from the 100s of marriage books?

Few couples make it to 60 years (only 5% even make it to 50); even fewer have the desire and/or ability to write; fewer still have the guts to put their marriage out there for all the world to see. Many people have asked me, “How could you be so honest?” or said, “What I loved was the openness.”

Tell us something about yourself.

I was born in South Dakota and Les in North Dakota. We met in Denver and have been married since September 12, 1948. We live in Englewood, CO, where we raised four children, and where I taught music, theory, and composition for almost 40 years. We have twelve grandchildren and eight greats. When I spoke at the Mayo Clinic, Les and I appeared in a documentary, Living with Cancer: A Message of Hope, produced by Silverman Communications, which plays on PBS from time to time.

How did you choose the title?

I have a terrible time choosing titles. My title is always the last person to the party. I have a file of several hundred possibilities for This Path. I checked amazon.com over and over. I ran titles by lulu.com. I queried my friends and writing groups. I made my final decision six or seven times. In the end, I picked This Path We Share one afternoon. It wasn’t even on the lists. It fit the cover.

What obstacles did you encounter in getting this book published?

Twenty-one years ago, I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome. To say I am tired is like saying the ocean is water. I live in fatigue. For twenty-one years I have never passed a bed without wishing I were lying in it. However, I had published before and knew the steps to take, which made it easier this time.

How did you overcome the fatigue?

I didn’t. I plowed through it.

How do you come up with the names for your characters?

We already had our names, of course. I toyed with changing them, but that would not have fit with my plan to be totally candid.

Did you learn anything from writing and publishing this book?

This Path helped me integrate my life. I’ve heard that is the psychological task I should be completing at my age. That wasn’t my intention, but it appears to have worked out that way. I can understand things now that did not make sense earlier. I see how it all fits together. I find it amazing to see our lives laid out in seven parts. Seven. Isn’t that number sort of Biblical?

What types of books do you like to read?

I read non-fiction writers mostly. I like Malcolm Gladwell, Anne Lamott, Henry Nouwen, Thomas Moore, and Palmer Parker.

What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?

Write your passion. Stay with it until you love the book. Work very hard. Edit, edit, edit, cut, cut, cut and then hire an editor. Work in a writing group if at all possible.

Who are the perfect readers for your books?

Fine Black Lines brings comfort and courage to breast cancer survivors, their caregivers, and healthcare professionals. The Last Violet consoles those who have lost their mother. This Path provides a vision for engaged and newly married couples. It offers audacity and skills to long-married couples who want to regain what they once had or hang onto what they have.

Where can readers learn more about you and your book?

Readers can go to www.mulberryhillpress.com, call 303.781.8974 (9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. MST), or email hjelmstd@csd.net. My books are also available at Amazon.com and other online bookstores. Our wholesaler is Ingram Book Company. This Path We Share is an eBook as well and will soon be available as an audio book from www.darkfireproductions.com.