Margaret Ann Spence Coming Home

A Psychologist Brings Insight to Fiction

This week I’m sitting with psychologist, Dr. Kixx Goldman. Her book, Speak from Your Heart and be Heard will launch at Changing Hands bookstore, Phoenix, on February 27 at 7pm.

I asked some questions about her writing practice.

Q. When did you know you wanted to write a book?

A. I knew I wanted to write when I was around ten and I sat at the kitchen table with my mom while she sewed frumpy jumpers for me. I hated sewing but I liked making up characters, like my favorite super glam, career woman, “Karen Taylor.” After that I got caught up in school, marriage, kids and developing a professional career, instead of characters. My profession required lots of technical reading and writing and creative pursuits suffered. About ten years ago, with fewer work responsibilities I got back to fiction and was in awe reading Alice Munro. I began to wonder if I could ever write like that. To me, it was the ultimate challenge. I took some classes, where I was encouraged to “just write.” After that I hired a writing coach and started crafting my stories. The key to it all was finding a good developmental editor.

Q. Your book is unique in that you use your knowledge as a psychologist to create fiction out of your experiences as a therapist. What portion of your stories are based on fact and what are created out of whole cloth, i.e. entirely fictional?

A. I like your description, Margaret. It seems apt for what I wrote, even though I didn’t start out with that intention. It’s interesting to me now to realize that there isn’t one story that isn’t based in some way on my experience. But, out of the eight stories, only four are based on my experience as a therapist. The other four are based on my life experiences. And only one, “Caught in the Crossfire,” is entirely fictional. But, the main character in that story is reminiscent of a client. Another story, “The Promise” is largely fictional but was inspired by an event in the life of a young dancer I worked with many years ago. I remember thinking, if I were to tell this simply based on what really happened, it wouldn’t be as engaging for readers. I guess that’s true for all the stories.

Q. That’s what writers, do, isn’t it? We take our experience and transmute it in some way, ideally breaking down the essence of what we want to say into a story that engages. A beginning, a middle, and an end. Of course, life is often messier than that. Your book cover, with its “blue heart” signals life’s challenges. In your stories, you talk about following your intuition to speak openly about your feelings, despite the risk. As a psychologist, do you have any tips on how to
take that leap?

A. One way of taking the leap is start more gently with a less direct approach, I learned from Communications expert, Marshall Rosenberg. In a one to one conversation, before you express your thoughts, start with indirectly empathic question or statement to the other. For example, in my story, the Replacement Child, Rachel wants to express her concerns about her friend Betty’s treatment of her daughter, Lucy. She could say to her, “I know you want the best for your
daughter.” This gives Betty a chance to express her feelings first and allows her to “hear” Rachel’s suggestions better.

Speak from Your Heart and Be Heard Book launch at Changing Hands, 300 W Camelback Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85013, Thursday, February 27, 7 pm.

A Fundraiser for the Australian Fires

My publisher, The Wild Rose Press, has authors from all over the world. Perhaps unique among publishers, it encourages friendship between its authors through an email loop.

One of the writers is Stephen B. King of Western Australia. He has been keeping us apprised of the bushfire situation in Australia. As we know from daily television and news reports, the bushfires have raged up and down the East Coast, and the West Coast as well, taking human lives, killing millions if not billions of insects, birds and animals, and causing choking smoke to pollute the major cities.

About three weeks ago, Steve floated an idea: What if the authors of The Wild Rose Press were to put together an anthology of short stories and to donate all profits? Within 24 hours, he had offers for short stories from 40 authors, and by a few days later there were 48 of us with stories ready. There were so many stories offered that the press decided to create three volumes.

The publisher acted swiftly. Contracts were sent out in record time, the editors volunteered to copy edit and proof read, a brilliant cover was created, and a release date of February 14 was anticipated.

It all went so well to plan, with such enthusiasm all around, that Volume One was released this week. Australia Burns – Show Australia Some Love is advertised on Amazon for $13.99.

However, in order to avoid any profit being made on this book by third parties, could you kindly purchase this book through the publisher at HERE.

My story, The Ring, is in Volume One.

Volumes Two and Three will be forthcoming. The entire project is a voluntary one and all profits will be donated.

As far as I know, The Wild Rose Press is the only publisher to make such a contribution. Rhonda Penders and R.J. Morris, owners of the press, deserve accolades for this superb feat of organization and quick turn-around, and gratitude for their generosity. And to all the authors as well, a huge thank you from this Australian. Their outpouring of support has been incredible.

To everyone who has wondered how they can help, this is a wonderful way. And you’ll enjoy the read!

Why Little Women Endures: How A Woman Who Hated Sex Keeps Us Reading

The new movie, Little Women, is on my to-see list. It reminded me of an article I wrote in 2018 about how that book influenced me to become a writer. Here it is: How Childhood Reading Shapes Identity. That article has been retweeted continuously since publication – a testament to Alcott’s evocation of family life and the psychological complexities of the thinking of girls on the cusp of womanhood.

I am not alone in wondering if Alcott’s enduring hold on the imagination of girls and women is her very complicated, not to say confusing, attitude to sex. Jo, the future writer, rejects the handsome boy next door, Laurie, because she wants to be an author. We understand from the subtext that she thinks she can only write without being a wife and mother. Then Alcott has her marry a much older man. At first, Jo thinks Professor Bhaer is an intellectual companion, but then he belittles her literary aspirations, and they go on to run a school together, a school for boys. Jo’s writerly aspirations are set aside.

Historians say that Alcott’s publisher pushed her into making Jo marry. Alcott seems to be putting up a little rebellion by creating a character in Bhaer that is quite unattractive. This conflict is at the heart of the story.

Alcott’s own childhood of genteel poverty led her to a dim view of a man’s ability to support his family. Her own father was an idealist who could not, and the household was held together by her mother, and later, Louisa herself. She seemed unable to imagine a true partnership of a man and a woman where respect and passion comingle. That aspiration, so dearly held by girls today as a real possibility, drives the book’s popularity. It is an aspiration still very far from reality for
many women.

I read Little Women first at the age of eleven. That is a magic age for girls, or was for me. It is a time when I felt I could do anything, aspire to anything. That was before puberty, when girls feel the pressure to attract the opposite sex. When advertising suggests that they are not worthy unless they spend time, energy and money on their appearance. Alcott seems to be saying that that a career should trump those concerns. But sacrificing one for the other is not what girls want, in my experience. The psychological battle continues for woman’s lifetime. That’s why Little Women has us flocking to the movie theatres.