An interview with Leigh Byrne

Interview by Nadia Brown

Where are you from?

I was born in Columbia, Tennessee, a small town about 35 miles south of Nashville. I now live in southern Indiana with my husband in a house owned by a diva Jack Russell Terrier, named Lucky.

Tell us about your book and why you wrote it?

Call Me Tuesday is a story based on the true events of my abusive childhood at the hands of my disturbed mother. More specifically, it tells of my experience with the “scapegoat child” phenomenon, a sub-type of domestic dysfunction occurring when only one child is singled out from a sibling group and targeted for abuse.

CMT is a fictionalized memoir, meaning the names, locations, and certain identifying details have been altered out of respect for the privacy of the people involved. I decided to do this because, although I believed it was a story that should be told, I didn’t feel it was necessary to risk the possibility of embarrassing or implicating anyone in the process.

Something most people don’t know is when the book was first released, although I felt it was an important, compelling story, I was so embarrassed by some of the contents, I refrained from telling anyone who didn’t already know that it was actually about my own life. But the early readers were smart; they could tell it was a personal story because of the intensity of the suffering portrayed in the writing. I knew this because I noticed when they wrote to me about the book, or posted a review, they addressed it as such. When I found out people were not going to judge me, I rewrote my book’s description to reveal that I am, in fact, Tuesday. I now see it’s important for abuse survivors to do this to encourage everyone to talk about it. If we were to continue to keep it hidden, what kind of message would we be sending? The one message we don’t want to send—the message of secrecy, a key reason child abuse is able to thrive.

The reason I fictionalized my own name was because of the initial shame I felt, and also because of the title. One of the most painful ways in which my mother abused me was that she stopped calling me by my name. I wanted the title of the book to reflect this, but my real name is boring and just didn’t sound right. By using the name, Tuesday, which is much more interesting and memorable, I was able to achieve the desired effect in the title, and it also allowed me to step out the skin of the abused child I once was, making my story a little less painful to write.

I wrote the book for two specific reasons, the first being a selfish one. For so many years, I was a helpless, silent victim. Then, I was a troubled young adult, too embarrassed and humiliated by my past to talk about it. Now, after decades of soul-searching, I am finally strong enough to be the voice for that child who I feel suffered a great injustice. CMT is my tiny attempt to balance the scale for her, if only in my own mind and heart.

The second and most important reason I wrote the book was to bring light to the plight of the “scapegoat child.” It’s hard to believe that only one kid in a family can be mistreated while the others have a nurturing upbringing. It’s even harder to believe that after a while, because the family grows accustomed to the abusive behavior, it often becomes an accepted part of the family dynamics. That doesn’t even make sense; right? But it’s true, it can happen; it happened to me. And I’d be willing to bet that it’s happening to other children right now.

Was it difficult to write your book?

Extremely. The pain and loneliness, the sense of hopelessness, the tastes, sounds and smells of my abuse—I had to relive it all in order to convey the true essence of the suffering I experienced as a child. Sometimes it felt like I was writing with my own blood, like it was flowing from my body, through my fingertips into my computer. Each day I became more drained, anemic.

What has contributed to your book success?

Success? Is my book successful? Wow, no one told me! Seriously, I’m not sure exactly what has attributed to the small-scale success of Call Me Tuesday. Maybe we are all allotted a portion of luck at birth, and since I didn’t use mine as a kid I’m just now cashing in on it. Or, a more likely reason is that if a book has a professional eye-catching cover and a finely-tuned intriguing description, readers are fair, they’ll give it a look—even if it was written by an unknown. The real trick is helping them find it in the millions of published material available. The internet offers excellent opportunities for new authors—especially Amazon. If you’re a writer, you gotta love Amazon. But unless you were allotted more than your fair share of luck, or you have already established a name for yourself, you can’t just download a book to the internet and expect it to become an instant bestseller. That’s where promotion comes in. Promotion is essential. And I have to give a shout-out to word of mouth. We authors should never overlook or underestimate the power and value of people being moved by a book enough to tell a friend, especially in this age of social media.

Do you know how many copies your book has sold?

I wish I were cool and artsy enough to say that I have no idea how many books I’ve sold because I’m so immersed in my craft that I don’t have time to keep up with it. Or that I’ve sold too many copies to count. But I can’t say any of that, because I’m not cool—or artsy. In fact, I’m so uncool I keep a stick tally of how many books I’ve sold to date on the wall of the tiny office of my home.

Not really. But I do know the approximate number. It’s wonderful that Amazon, B&N and other publishing platforms make this possible. Each time one of my books is sold, I am truly amazed and thankful from my core. I do a mental happy dance and think another person will be made aware. And I don’t see my gratefulness ever diminishing, no matter how many copies are sold in the future. When you’ve had a rough way to go in your life you appreciate every bone that’s thrown your way. You pick it up, gnaw the meat off and savor the juices.

What are your current projects?

Currently I am working on a follow-up memoir to Call Me Tuesday, in which I detail the bizarre ways my childhood abuse manifested itself in my adult life. Initially I didn’t feel like this second memoir would be necessary. I thought I could simply tell what I believed to be the most compelling part of my life, and then move on to trying my hand at novel-length fiction. I ended the book where I did because I was afraid if I brought my voice as an adult survivor into the story it might muffle my voice as an abused child, a voice I wanted to be heard loud and clear. I even ended the book at the happiest place I possibly could, thinking it would satisfy the reader’s need for closure. With a memoir, unless it covers your entire life from birth to present, you can do that, because no matter how tragic your story, there’s always at least one happy place—one moment when you truly believe everything’s going to be okay, that you are going to be okay. It was an ending I felt readers had earned after I’d dragged them through 300+ pages of horrific abuse. Now I realize, thanks to their feedback, I was wrong. They want to know more. And as I said before, there are some smart and savvy readers out there. They sensed that my story of struggle did not end where I decided to abort it. People have hearts—after I’ve brought them into my world and told them about the hell I went through, made them care, I can’t just drop them in a place of sunshine and dandelion necklaces and expect them to accept it as “the end.” They’ve become emotionally involved; they need to know if I’m okay or not okay, they need to know about my relationship with my family, how the abuse affected my adult life, how I coped with my scars. They need to know these things and they deserve to know.

Can you share a little of your current work with us?

I’d love to, but it’s too early. I don’t want to tease anyone and not be able to deliver the rest of the goods for a few more months. I plan to post the first couple of chapters on my blog this summer, when I get a bit closer to publication. I can, however, tell you the title of the forthcoming memoir is Call Me Cockroach. To help explain the unusual title, I will share a rough draft portion of the prologue:

My daddy once compared me to a cockroach. I guess because when I was kid I had no problem digging around in the trash for food and drinking from the dog’s water to survive. He said he meant it as a compliment. Said cockroaches are adaptable and resilient creatures just like me. According to him, when everyone else is gone, cockroaches will be all that’s left to inherit the world. When he told me this I was just a kid and I didn’t like the idea of being compared to a filthy bug. But now, looking back over the years that followed, years of dragging myself through more of the same toxic sludge I’d been forced to crawl through as a child, I realize he was right. If a cockroach is a symbol of the ultimate survivor, then I guess you could call me a cockroach.

Do you have to travel much concerning your book?

I probably should, and plan to in the near future, but I don’t as of now. Most of my promotion has been done over the internet.

What was the hardest part of writing your book?

Aside from the opening of old wounds, I’d have to say editing. After I finished the first draft of the book, I performed a cursory edit. Then I hired a professional editor to go over it. Then I edited it again and found some mistakes, and possible ways to improve the clarity of the story, so I did another edit. And another. And another. Now, countless edits later, I’m still (pardon the pun) “at it.”

Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?

During the writing of the CMT I learned that some of the wounds from my childhood were still raw and tender. After it was published, I found out most people are more kind and compassionate than I had previously thought. I learned that if you are going to write a memoir make it complete. Answer any questions a reader could possibly have or you could end up needing to write another one. I learned promoting a book is hard work and it might cost you a buck or two. And I learned to embrace criticism as my friend.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

My advice to indie authors and publishers is to give careful consideration to your book’s title, cover and description. Present the most excellent product possible to your readers. If you can afford it, enlist the help of professionals. Publishing a quality book is not easy. If it’s easy, you probably didn’t do it right. Promote your book. I invest 80% of my work time on writing and editing, 20% on promotion.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

Thank you. Thank you for reading my book and reviewing it, and for taking the time to write to me with you feelings. I am continually humbled by your insight, kindness and empathy. I want to also say I am sorry for any unanswered questions you may have concerning my story. I’m working on fixing that.

Where can readers learn more about your book?

My blog: http://callme2sday.blogspot.com/

Kirkus reviews: http://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/leigh-byrne/call-me-tuesday/#review

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13512420-call-me-tuesday

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Call-Me-Tuesday-ebook/dp/B007I5PYJ2

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