Interview with Shirley Melis, author of the recently published memoir, “BANGED-UP HEART”

Shirley Melis      Banged-up-heart

About Shirley
Shirley Melis is a longtime business writer, travel writer, and newspaper columnist who traveled the world interviewing everyone from busboys to heads of international organizations before launching a career in public relations in Washington, D.C. With Banged-Up Heart, she now takes her writing in a new direction, delving deeply into her own personal story of finding love late, losing it early, and discovering the strength to choose to love again. It is a fascinating odyssey, a journey both creative and erotic, as Shirley and John work lovingly together to blend their dreams—until a mysterious bump on his forehead starts them on a tragic struggle against the dark hand of fate.

A graduate of Vassar, Shirley Melis has created an intimate memoir bearing eloquent witness to the kind of wild trust that can grow in the heart of an ordinary woman thrust into circumstances that few others must face. Now retired, she lives in Galisteo, New Mexico.

I’m delighted to welcome you to my blog site, Shirley. Writing reviews and interviewing authors for W.O.W. (Women on Writing Blog Tours) is always such a pleasure.

In a recent interview you said that as you were about to retire you had planned  to write a book documenting the lives of those who were in their  60’s, 70s, and 80s and thriving emotionally, mentally and physically.  Your goal was to create a book that would offer readers new role models for older people. Yet, life interrupted that plan.

After mourning the unexpected deaths of your first husband and father, and then your second husband, you wrote this memoir, Banged Up Heart. I find it fascinating that your personal story does exactly what you originally set out to do, only it’s you who are the role model. In the end, you are able to dance after experiencing great loves, perhaps even greater losses, but still finding the strength to be resilient, moving on to yet another marriage and new experiences. Do you see yourself as one of the role models you would have enjoyed interviewing?

Linda, I’m somewhat taken aback by your question, largely because it never occurred to me that I might be such a role model. But now, as I read and ponder your analysis of me and my story, I’m persuaded that I just might pass muster as someone I would have enjoyed interviewing.

As we learn about your first marriage to Joe, you write…. “I grew up, becoming someone better than I had been–more accomplished, more self-confident and kinder. Joe had always been there for me. . .he shaped me in many ways.” You conclude that with his death and the death shortly afterwards of your father, you “lost your cheering section.” Then, too, when we get to know John, you admit that, “he showed me how to live life with more courage than fear, to tame adversity with one’s mind and heart. More than anything, he showed me that I could open my heart to love again.” I suppose what I’m saying is that I got to know you best through how you perceived the roles that each of these men played in your life. I’m curious to know if you could tell us what role you feel you played in each of their lives?

This is a tough question for me to answer quickly.  I think my first husband, Joe, who was much older than I, relished my ability and inclination to learn from him the workings of PR and public affairs in Washington, D.C. He himself was a PR ace. He enjoyed my professional successes and hurt as much, if not more than I did, when things didn’t go smoothly. He liked my energy, curiosity and perseverance. I think I helped him feel younger than his years. We were teammates from the get-go. With John, my second husband, I think I was someone with whom he felt he could share aspects of life that perhaps he had never shared with anyone else before.

On the one hand, we see you as an independent woman with a career. Yet, when you refer (briefly) to your early years, you say that, “often to save myself physically and emotionally, I had fled.” But with only alluding to your mother who suffered from schizophrenia, we don’t really know much about your formative years or why you were fearful, since you seem so assertive and courageous throughout most of the book. Was your mother’s illness one of the reasons why you were fearful and why you chose not to write much about your early life?

During my first meeting with editor Morgan Farley, after she’d read my manuscript, she announced, “For starters, you have three books in one. I’ve noted how many pages you’ve devoted to each and I would advise you to go with the one that has the most pages because that appears to be where your strongest energy is.”  More of my early life was in one of the other two “books.”  Once my focus narrowed, my early life didn’t seem that relevant to my story. The moment you refer to–when I’m reminded of my mother–bore on my fear in that instance. However, her illness had no bearing on my omitting more of my early life.

When writing a memoir or a novel, there are always choices the author has to make about what to omit and what to include. Can you tell us what propelled you to include very intimate details of your life with John? I ask because at first I found it to be a distraction. I later appreciated your honesty and applauded you for having the courage to share it all.

I must admit that initially I had qualms about revealing the intimate details. In fact, it was my editor’s questioning that led to my revelations.  That said, memoir by definition (in my mind, at least) is unvarnished truth. As long as I wasn’t hurting anyone, I couldn’t justify not telling my truth.

Although both husbands were terrible losses in your life, how would you describe the difference in the way you mourned for Joe and the way you mourned for John. . . . and do you have any advice for others who are in the process of mourning the loss of a loved one?

Allow yourself to grieve. Whether unexpected or anticipated, the loss is real. The absence of that person can be almost palpable, as though a part of you has been cut away and you’re left bleeding. Your ability to think clearly may be distorted by the pain of loss. If you have a good friend who offers to help you–drive you to appointments, take you to dinner–accept.

If you’re working when your partner dies, take some time off to do what needs to be done, but go back to work if you can. The structure of a job will give you something other than your loss on which to focus. You may find yourself tearing up at unexpected moments, but that’s understandable.

If you can, join a grief group, and see a therapist. In a grief group, you learn empathy; hearing other people’s stories is affecting, and you realize you’re not alone. With a therapist, you can explore the roots of your anguish, something you might not be able to do alone, and perhaps shouldn’t try to do with good friends since the burden of grief can be overwhelming for others.

Rumor has it that you’re planning to write another memoir. If that is true, can you give us a hint as to what it’s about so that we can look forward to it?

It will have something to do with that early life you alluded to earlier.

I was hoping you’d say that! Thanks so much for stopping by. . . and I hope that writing continues to allow you–in your own words–“to find joy in just being alive.”


BANGED UP HEART: Dancing with Love and Loss
: Memoir/Non-Fiction
Publisher: Terra Nova Books (February 14, 2017)
ISBN-10: 193828870X, ISBAN-13:978-1938288708

Where to buy:

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