Author and poet Camilla explains the background to her writing journey and how it changed her life…
Thinking back to when you started writing, what was it that prompted you to explore your life and experiences through words?
I wrote as a young girl in the form of a diary, writing daily about current events in my life, and my feelings. I had some traumatic experiences and perhaps I sensed this would help in a way. I discontinued that practice in my high school years, through to my adult years, picking it up again when I divorced in 2007.
When I began writing again, it was in the form of daily journaling, which led to writing life narratives on my blog. I needed an outlet for processing life events, for getting thoughts out of my head, for reassurance, for encouragement, and for feedback. I find writing to be deeply therapeutic, which was incredibly helpful during unexpected life events and the deep healing that occurred from 2007 through to current.
Expanded versions of many of the blog posts written through 2012 were included in my first book published in 2012, D iz for Different – One Woman’s Journey to Acceptance. It was the year 2015, when free-verse poetry began to flow during the morning journal writing. I had never written poetry before, minus a few in school, and a few Haiku written to give as gifts.
I think I know the answer to this one, but do you write to please your readers or to please yourself?
I began writing for myself, so it follows that the books I’ve published contained writings that were for my own benefit. I have openly shared most of my writings since about 2008 and the feedback received is what encouraged me to pursue publishing.
Although I have stepped back and am taking time off from writing, up until the end of 2019, my writings have been from my heart, an intuitive knowing that I could not possibly stop from flowing. I would sit to write and the words would simply flow, at times flowing so fast I could hardly “catch” all of them before they disappeared. I am still sporadically journaling in the mornings, yet, I’ve allowed myself to step back to focus on family issues, market my latest book, and to spend time on rejuvenating myself. Over the past 6 years, I have gone through deep healing by connecting with buried emotions and events from my past. It was completely worth it, yet deeply exhausting.
Tell us about your first book, ‘D iz for Different: One Woman’s Journey to Acceptance’ and how it came about.
This was my first book to publish and I learned much from the entire process. My personality is such that if I feel strongly that I am supposed to do something, I do it, not letting any obstacle deter me. I had no idea what I was doing, figuring out each step as I went along.
How the book came to be is quite a wild story! I knew I was to write a book, yet, was stumped on how to organize it and what direction to take the book.
Around July 1, 2011, I had a strong feeling to purge packed boxes in my garage. I tried to ignore the urge, telling myself I was too busy working on other matters. I could not get the thought to vacate my mind, so I gave in to it, thinking that if I went through a few boxes, I could get back to other tasks.
In the first few boxes I unpacked, I came across a book that I had completely forgotten about and had never read. That book is titled, ‘E is for Entrepreneur’ by Barbara Hranivolich. I opened the book and inscribed on the first page was a message to me from Barb. The message …. “This never would have happened without you.”
I had completely forgotten that in 2007 I connected with Barb online and asked her if she would like to be a contributor on a blog I had at the time for women entrepreneurs. She began an alphabet series to tie in with being an entrepreneur. I read the book that night and discovered that Barb mentioned me in the C is for Collaboration chapter of the book also. She wrote, “There’s the woman I’ve never met in person, but who asked me to write these essays for her blog. What a gift!” Lastly, Barb included my name on her Gratitude List in the book. What a powerful gift for me to receive!
After finishing the book I had an intuitive knowing, the solution to how I was to organize my book. It was to be fashioned similar to Barb’s, with each letter of the alphabet being a chapter of the book. I began to write the book the next morning. I started to get up earlier than I had been and wrote a section every morning. I wrote the book in 3 months, with it publishing in February 2012.
The book is a memoir about how I came to acceptance of myself, acceptance of being a parent to a special needs child, and acceptance of becoming a single mom to both kids when the youngest was 1 year old. Each chapter is a letter of the alphabet, ‘A is for Acceptance’, ‘G is for Gift’, ‘K is for Knowing’; with a ’Tip for the Journey’ at the conclusion of each chapter.
The cover art is from a young man who has autism. His artwork was born from an imaginary world he created in which to escape from the unkindness of others. He’s doing quite well with his creations, speaking at many events having to do with autism.
In terms of your writing, how is your latest book, ‘Words of Alchemy’, different?
Absolute huge difference! The two aspects that are the same is that both books are nonfiction and a memoir. They part ways at this point. Both are not your typical book as I tend to lean towards doing things differently. Words of Alchemy is a free-verse poetry memoir.
When I divorced in 2007, not knowing how I would manage, I became more committed to a loosely held walking practice. Walking, being in nature, became a mediation of sorts, guiding me in processing life events. I found these walks and nature to be deeply calming and healing.
During these walks, I increasingly became moved to photograph nature. Listening to the intuitive nudges of when to stop walking, which direction to look, whether to kneel on the ground, and at which angle to take a photo became a colorful ingredient to the practice of walking.
What happened next surprised and delighted me in ways I find difficult to describe. Following a walk, I would scroll through the nature photographs, choosing one to post on social media. As I began to type a comment to accompany the photo, poetic words spilled from my heart and mind, through my fingers, landing on the screen. This began to happen more and more with the poems becoming more and more meaningful. Eventually the poems began to flow simply from events I was in the midst of experiencing. During morning journal writing, I would write about what was happening in my life. Magically, a poem would flow forth.
It was 2018 when I began to feel that it was time for my next book. I thought I would be writing another memoir. Yet, the pull to gather and publish the poems written between 2012 and 2019 was powerfully insistent. I listened, went with it, and Words of Alchemy was published in December 2019. The cover photo is a photo I took on one of my 2018 walks.
Tell us about your daughter Lillian’s book, ‘Where Would You Fly and Other Magical Stories’.
Lillian is unique in that she is missing the short arm of her 18th chromosome, technically called a chromosome deletion, more specifically 18p-, or 18p deletion. This happens once in every 56,000 births. The main way this manifests for her is that she has speech articulation difficulties due to the physiology of her mouth. Lillian also has depth perception difficulties, an unstable proprioceptive system, anxiety, unrealistic fears, gross and fine motor skill challenges, and tremendous difficulty with handling strong emotions.
I sensed when she was about 4 or 5 years old that she needed an outlet to “get out” all of the words and things she wanted to say, but could not due to others inability to understand her. She’s always been a voracious reader, sleeping with books in her crib rather than stuffed animals. (She has a fear of ALL animals, including stuffed toy animals.) My dad bought her first computer, a tiny pink Asus laptop, for her when she was 5 or 6 years old. We began writing stories together at about 5 years old.
I describe Lillian’s book as a fictional anthology of her life and experiences. It is a collection of short stories, poems, songs, with one section about emotional connection using animals as examples. The collection spans from the time she was about 5 years old through to 16 years old when I began to organize everything for the book’s publication. Lillian is 18 years old now and proud that she has a published book!
Tell us about your son Thomas’s book, ‘Biggest Little Photographer’.
When Thomas was 8 years old, a friend sent a news article to me about a professional photographer who was taking nature photographs of a minifigure camera man taking a photo. The photographer had taken one photo a day for 365 days. I showed it to Thomas, to which he enthusiastically asked if he could do the same. I told him absolutely! He already had a minifigure and purchased a LEGO camera to go along with it. I explained to Thomas that if he stuck with it the full year, we would make it into a published book that he could sell.
We created an instagram account so that he could post the daily photo and he excitedly began the project. About 3 months into it, he shared with me how difficult it was to keep going and he really wanted to stop. I gave him that option, sharing with him to really think about what it would feel like if he stopped the project and what it would feel like if he kept going and finished. After a few days of thought, he decided to stick with it.
Thomas’s book is a collection of half of the photographs he took during the 365 photo a day project, along with quotes that Thomas selected, that I then paired with a matching section of the book. The minifigure camera man went absolutely everywhere with us for a full year. For about the first 2 weeks, I gave Thomas hints about what to photograph and tips for how to photograph. After that, he took over and snapped the photos through his own inspiration.
Given that you are a single mother, how do you schedule time for writing?
I am an early riser, using that time for journal writing, and for tasks that need my undivided and focused attention. I also homeschool Thomas and Lillian, giving us more freedom with our schedules, allowing me more time to write, network, and market our books. Lillian graduated this past June 2019. In addition, I do not work a traditional job. Although I have a college degree and was a paralegal for 10 years before Lillian was born, I stuck with the decision that was made before having kids, of not having a traditional job.
What are you most proud of?
I am deeply proud of having raised Thomas and Lillian, on my own terms, in the way I felt it was best to raise them (and still am). Thomas was 1 year old and Lillian 5 years old when I became a single parent. They are 14 years old and 18 years old now. I have solely raised them, making all decisions, with no weekends or holidays off with the other parent. I am deeply pleased that in 2009, I listened to my intuition that I needed to do something to bring our little family together as a team. That’s when Team TLC was born. T for Thomas, L for Lillian, C for Camilla. The term lodged in our hearts, helping us to work together as a team, and stuck with our friends and family. We still receive mail addressed to Team TLC and are still using the term for ourselves.
I am equally proud of the healing I have done for myself over the past 6 years. Walking into and allowing myself to feel traumatic events from childhood, so that I could free myself. It has been intense, overwhelming, and exhausting. Yet, absolutely worth it.
What can we expect from Camilla Downs in the future?
2020 is the year of rejuvenation for me. The past 13 years have been intense. I will continue to market all of our books, nurture myself, and will focus on family issues, taking time to do some of the things we’ve all wanted to experience and have not been able to experience, due to financial constraints.
I need to take this year to press the reset button, for my physical health and for the emotional health of Thomas and Lillian. We’ve drifted from the Team in our Team TLC; which I know will happen as they get older. Yet, I’ve let vital areas slip by the wayside over the past 4 or 5 years, especially this last year.
One major struggle is about to end for us. Once that gift is showered upon us, the rebuilding of Team TLC begins. Of course it will look and feel different than when Thomas and Lillian were younger, and that’s the beauty of it, tempered with the longing of the way it used to be.
And, yes, there will be more books. I get the feeling the next book will be authored by all three of us. We shall see. I never really know until I become focused on the book’s creation.
Thank you, Colin for having me and thank you for putting so much thought into these questions. I have immensely enjoyed answering them!