A Q&A from author Elizabeth C. Haynes on the story behind her new book, Halfway There: Lessons at Midlife. (This Q&A was published on September 8, 2020)
When did you start writing the book? How did it come about?
I started writing it about five years ago, right around the time I got really sick. I'd tried several times to write a book in the last 15 years and this was my fifth attempt. I'd taken a long break from writing and one day I just sat down to write about my first experience with joy. Then I started writing about other random experiences, still not really thinking it would be anything. Eventually I came to understand that this was finally the book I was meant to share. I worked on it in spurts, in between health flares and around jobs. That piece about joy is still in the book.
What are you hoping to accomplish with it? What should readers expect?
I'm hoping to make a difference. As the book started taking shape, I purposely crafted it using short snippets of my life story and mostly in the context of the broader lessons I've learned that I think everyone can benefit from. I really wrote it for those of us who are growing older and still find ourselves a bit lost, unsure, unhappy, or struggling with hardship and adversity.
But I honestly hope it helps people of all ages, even if they aren't necessarily "older" yet still feel lost and unsure. I hope it helps people understand themselves, overcome adversity, make sense of the world, and find their life purpose. Early feedback is telling me that it's resonating deeply with people, and I'm so moved by those messages because not only is this the most terrifying thing I've ever done, but this is truly why I wrote it.
So this isn't just a memoir, for people who aren't really into that.
No. I mean it is and it isn't, and this is partly why it was hard to find a publisher! I'm a teacher at heart. While the book will definitely appeal to people who enjoy memoirs and stories, that's not the entirety of what this is. This book is about helping yourself and finding inspiration. I share my life stories to make it interesting and worth reading, but I also try to focus on what YOU can take out of my experiences. I want people to read my story in the context of figuring out their own lives.
You've been chided for looking fairly young. What are your thoughts about that?
Well, I've been blessed with some good genes as far as wrinkles go, and clearly all of my gray hair doesn't show up in my pictures! But midlife means different things to different people, and I think we need to be open to that idea. I turn 40 this year and I have a fairly serious chronic illness - with no cure and that is often progressive. I've also had a really hard first four decades. So to me, I'm already at midlife or I'm past it. Someone who is athletic or who hasn't had as much hardship may not feel like they're in midlife until their fifties. I think it's a personal thing. And anyway, who are we to judge one another? Some people die at 45. Their midlife was age 22.
How long have you been a writer?
All my life, but then sort of not really. I was a very early reader - like, full books at age three - more than a writer. I did keep journals in my teens and twenties but otherwise I don't recall writing much (aside from MANY college research papers) until I was in my late twenties. One childhood memory I have is trying to pen a story about my cat when I was about eight. I tapped it out on my green-screened word processor and I made it about three pages before telling myself I was no good.
I took a poetry class in college as my first attempt to revisit writing, but my professor hated everything I did. He would single me out to the class and I just shut down. It took me a really long time to start opening up that part of myself again. But I've written professionally for about 17 years now - business stuff, technical writing, marketing. Somehow that was less personal and scary, and I could do that.
Let's talk about the book cover. Is that your feet and your cat?
No, but people think it is! (Laughs) It certainly could be, because cats and cozy socks are two of my favorite things. The publisher did a really great job on the cover design. They really captured the essence of me, and the comfort and understanding I was trying to create for my readers.
What do you plan to do next?
I'm hopeful the book does well enough that I can continue on my path as an author and write more books like this one (I have a sort of follow-up book in mind). I do have another book that is almost done, and that I wrote before this one, and I'd like to work on it again. I also write quite a bit of poetry and I'd like to focus on that side of me more.
My faraway dreams are to write a fiction novel. I have an idea for one about an orphan that's been in my head for at least a decade, but I haven't been able to flesh it out. Maybe it'll come to me at some point, or maybe that's just not in the cards for me. Right now my health is really fragile and I'm finding myself in a sort of pause, where I'm waiting to see what unfolds next for me and trying to allow my body to stabilize.
Any last thoughts for your readers?
I'm just grateful that people are finding the book impactful. It truly means a lot to me because that's why I wrote it. I didn't write it for financial gain, and I think this is really important to say, because creating any type of impactful art is extremely difficult and is done with a pure heart. Any artist hopes some money comes eventually, of course, so we can pay our bills and continue on with what we're trying to do to make the world better. So thank you to everyone who has read the book, and told their friends, and left reviews, and sent me nice notes. It just makes my day.