My most recent book is called Hospice Tails. I was a hospice social worker from 6/2005 through 8/2011. During that time, I saw many beautiful, heart-wrenching, and sometimes downright funny moments between hospice patients and their pets. I started to record these moments in my journal. I think I always suspected I would write about them someday. In the end, I came up with the thirteen stories that had amazed and amused me the most and turned those stories into Hospice Tails.
Tell us something about yourself.
I was born and raised in Kansas, and I currently live in a suburb of Kansas City. I got my undergraduate major in psychology, took a few years off, and returned to school to get my MSW. I’ve been employed as an emergency room social worker, a social worker in a facility for people with dementia, and finally as a hospice social worker. During that whole time, though, I had been building a thriving freelance writing business on the side, and it got to the point where I was really holding down two fulltime jobs. I had to choose one of them and, although it was probably the hardest choice I’ve ever made, I chose writing.
What inspired you to write this book?
I was inspired by the love I saw between hospice patients and their pets. Pets can often reach out and comfort a patient when nothing else can. I’ve even seen times when the actions of a pet facilitated a long-needed conversation or brought comfort to the surviving family members.
How did you choose the title?
I think the best answer to that is not enough sleep, too much caffeine, and a writing buddy who loves puns. I was muddling around with ideas like “Hospice Pets,” “Hospice Patients and their Pets.” All of a sudden, she burst out laughing and said, “Hospice Tails.” The name stuck around while I was writing the different drafts, and in the end I had gotten so used to it that I didn’t want to change it.
What obstacles did you encounter in getting this book published? How did you overcome them?
The few agents and publishers I talked to said that they liked the book but didn’t know which genre to put it in. Humor? Pets? Caregiving? In the end, it was easier to publish Hospice Tails myself. I published through Booklocker and so far the results have been even better than I had hoped.
How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?
I was fortunate enough to grow into a family that was crazy for books. My parents and older sisters read to me while I was still too young to understand a word they were saying, but I came to associate books with comfort. When I was about six years old, and had just started to write real words and sentences, my mother read me a story I hated because the main character died. My mom suggested that if I didn’t like the ending provided in the book, I should write my own. I wrote my favorite character back to life—very clumsily—and I’ve loved writing ever since.
Do you have any writing rituals?
Yes. I burn candles or incense while I write. I write for a block of fifty minutes and then stop, stretch, and spend the next ten minutes working on non-writing related chores. Although I check email briefly throughout the day to make sure I’m not missing an important message, my times set aside for handling email are 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM. Finally, about a half hour before I’m ready to sop, I clean up my desk and write down my plans for the next day. Blowing out my candle symbolizes that my day is done.
How do you come up with the names for your characters?
Sometimes, a name will just pop into my head, and that’s what I’ll go with. More frequently, I’ll hop online to census sites that list the most common names for a child born in any given year.
Did you learn anything from writing and publishing this book? What?
I tend to be a skeptical Type A personality who always wants all the loose ends tied up neatly at the end. In real life, that doesn’t happen often, so I had to be content with ending some of the stories by admitting I didn’t know why something had happened and what happened afterwards.
If you were doing it all over again, what would you do differently?
You know, I’m not sure on this one whether there is anything that I would do differently. Everything during the writing of Hospice Tails seemed to come together for the best. For instance, I would look back over my journals and find a story I’d forgotten over the years, or I’d talk to a friend who would remind me of a silly incident I’d described to her. Hospice Tails was supposed to be a small chapbook I could distribute to friends. Instead, it grew wings, expanded to over a hundred pages, and is (I hope) reaching a much larger audience.
What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors? Why?
Um…how long do you have? Seriously, I’ve got three full bookshelves and a space-challenged Kindle, not to mention a shelf of library books that I’ve checked out. As for authors, I enjoy Stephen King, Andrew Vachss, J.K. Rowling, Jonathan Kellerman, (the late) Saki, (the late) Marion Zimmer Bradley, Mercedes Lackey, Leslea Newman, Elaine Marie Alphin…and those are just my favorites in the fiction section. I also read a lot of books about goal-setting, time management, and running a small business.
Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?
My next fiction book, “The Ghost of George Boleyn” will be the novel I work on in November during the National Novel Writing Month (nanowrimo.org). My next nonfiction book will be a ghost-written analysis of behavior in the workplace.
What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?
There are five pieces of advice that I’d like to share: 1. Make time to write every day, even if it’s only five or ten minutes. Don’t let yourself off the hook if you don’t “feel” like writing; 2) Beware of job ads that pay much too little, require you to join a paid site in order to be hired, or who don’t list the terms of compensation upfront. Another time to run is if a potential employer tries to get you to write free samples for him or her. 3) Balance different aspects of your life. Don’t let writing take over fun with family and friends and the care you need to give yourself. 4) Steer clear of content mills. Ironically, I broke into writing doing jobs for content mills, but things have changed, and the mills are downsizing, paying less than ever, and setting stricter requirements than ever before. It was never a rosy picture, and I’m afraid it’s growing worse.
Who is the perfect reader for your book?
I think there are several different types of perfect readers for hospice tails. In that it has an upbeat, feel good tone, I think that people who enjoy the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” books might want to give Hospice Tails a try. I also hope the book reaches anyone involved with hospice, whether as a professional caregiver, a patient, or a family member. Finally, this is a great book for people who simply love animals and like to read about the positive effects of having a pet.
Where can readers learn more about you and your book?
Readers wanting to learn more about Hospice Tails and read an excerpt can visit my website at http://www.debrastang.net. Hospice Tails may be purchased on Amazon as a print book or on Kindle. It is also available through Barnes and Noble and Booklocker.