Friday, June 4, 2021

Kirsten Mickelwait Interview - The Ghost Marriage: A Memoir

Photo Content from Kirsten Mickelwait

Kirsten Mickelwait is a professional copywriter and editor by day and a writer of fiction and creative nonfiction by night. She's an alumna of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, the Napa Valley Writers' Conference, the Paris Writers' Conference, and the San Francisco Writers' Conference. Her short story, "Parting with Nina," won first prize in The Ledge's 2004 Fiction Awards competition. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she's at work on a new novel. The Ghost Marriage is Kirsten's first memoir. The book tells her story of spiritual connection and surviving divorce after 50.

Why is storytelling so important for all of us?
Storytelling is how humans make sense of the world. Back in the ancient days, it was both education and entertainment, as well as a way to preserve and share history. Think of the classic myths, Homer’s epic poems, the Bible. Stories are what unite us in the human experience. They’re also a great escape!

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
As I write this my memoir, THE GHOST MARRIAGE, won’t be officially launched for another two weeks. But there are advance reader copies out there and I’ve already received a few five-star reviews by readers. Several have told me that my story inspired them to re-examine their own marriages and divorces and to see them in a new light. It doesn’t get any better than that!

If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in any of your books?
Again, it hasn’t been long enough for me to gain that perspective. I will say that my next book will be a historical novel rather than a memoir and it’s a refreshing change to write about someone else’s life!

Can you tell us when you started THE GHOST MARRIAGE, how that came about?
In 2012 I had just undergone a horrible divorce, my ex-husband died rather suddenly, and I was faced with $1.5 million of his debts that were still attached to my name. I was angry and afraid and completely exhausted. The last thing I wanted to do was relive the experience, let alone spend years writing about it. But the “spiritual life coach” I was working with kept telling me he saw me writing a book about the experience, and several friends agreed. When my late father appeared in a session I had with a medium, he was holding a copy of Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir EAT, PRAY, LOVE and said, “Write a book like this.” Okay, I finally said, I’ll try.

What do you hope for readers to be thinking when they read your novel?
I would love for readers to embrace—or at least consider—the idea that our lives and relationships extend beyond this earthly plane. That we can keep communicating with our loved ones after their deaths. And that our adversaries can often be our greatest teachers. Working with a psychic totally changed the way I look at my life.

Did you learn anything from writing THE GHOST MARRIAGE and what was it?
When I started writing the memoir, I was still really confused about what had happened in my marriage, why my husband had changed so much, and why things turned out the way they did. The writing forced me to re-examine so much about my relationship and my own reactions to my ex. It allowed me to see things from a more distant perspective and make sense of things that previously had made no sense.

What is the best piece of advice you ever received from another author?
I absolutely loved Elizabeth Gilbert’s book BIG MAGIC, about the creative process. How we’re merely vessels for inspiration and creativity to inhabit, and we need to create a hospitable place for them to visit. Her TED talk on this subject is a great introduction to that concept. (I realize that’s my second plug for Elizabeth Gilbert, but I do love her work!)

What is something you think everyone should do at least once in their lives?
Go someplace as exotic as possible and stay as long as possible. Traveling to a foreign country as more than a tourist in a group is a great way to radically change your perception of yourself and your place in the world. It forces you to see yourself with fresh eyes.

Best/Worst date you've ever had?
There are too many “worst dates” to mention (many of them are described in THE GHOST MARRIAGE)! As for the best date, it would be hard to match the time my future husband took me to Mendocino for my birthday weekend. At every turn he’d planned some delicious surprise, from caviar and Stolichnaya to massages. He was always good at the grand gesture.

What was the first job you have had?
Two weeks after graduating as an English major, I started as an editorial assistant at the technical magazine Aviation Week & Space Technology. Let’s just say it was a rude awakening to my verbose academic writing style! But I learned the fundamentals of journalism that have since served me throughout my career.

Which incident in your life that totally changed the way you think today?
The psychic/spiritual experiences I describe in THE GHOST MARRIAGE. They completely altered the way I see the world, for the better.

If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would it be?
I’ve traveled extensively all over in Europe, Central America, and a bit in Asia. Still on my short list are Morocco, Spain, Croatia, and India.

What was the craziest thing you have ever done?
When I was about to turn 30, I quit my good job, gave up my wonderful rent-controlled apartment, sold my car, and put everything I owned into storage. I bought a one-way ticket to Europe, traveled first-class until my money ran out, and then found a way to stay in Rome for another year. It wasn’t easy, but that bohemian year has been a touchstone for me ever since, especially once I became a stay-at-home wife and mother living a very different life.

First heartbreak?
I had a lot of failed relationships in my twenties but, to be honest, I don’t think I really experienced heartbreak until my 22-year marriage failed.

Which would you choose, true love with a guarantee of a heart break or have never loved before?
Oh, absolutely true love with guaranteed heart break. It’s always better to have “all the feels”!

  • 1. You’re divorced and you’re still struggling with anger, fear, resentment, etc. toward your ex.
  • 2. You miss a loved one who has died and wish you could speak to them.
  • 3. You want to leave your marriage but are afraid of what that future holds.
  • 4. You’re happily married but fear losing your spouse from illness or injury.
  • 5. You tend to ask “Is this all there is?” when you think about your life.
  • 6. You wonder what really happens when someone dies.
  • 7. You’re unable to forgive someone in your life.
  • 8. You ponder whether there’s life after death.
  • 9. You want to feel schadenfreude at a marriage that’s surely worse than your own.
  • 10. You love a story of debt, divorce, and death that ends with deliverance.
Your Favorite Quotes/Scenes from THE GHOST MARRIAGE
This scene occurs soon after our divorce when Steve, my ex, has become engaged to my former close friend, Mitzi Meuhling. It’s an example of how differently we each approached parenting our kids, Bronte and Amory, and how Steve frequently, gleefully, got under my skin.

Steve called again in February to tell me he wanted to take the kids to the mountains for a few days during spring break. They’d stay in Reno at Circus Circus, play video games and laser tag, and visit Steve’s favorite destination, the massive Cabela’s retail store. I’d already made plans to take Amory skiing later that week, so we coordinated a rendezvous in downtown Truckee where I would take Amory and Steve would return home with Bronte.

About a week before they were scheduled to leave, Amory let it slip that Mitzi and her two kids would also be going on the Reno trip.

“Wow,” I said. “That’s a lot of people in Daddy’s truck. Or are they driving separately from Costa Mesa?”

“Mitzi and Easton are coming with us, but Bronte and Brooke are driving in her truck,” he said, before he realized he’d revealed too much. I was on the phone before he could try to take it back.

“She’s not even seventeen! She hasn’t had ‘her year’ yet!” I wailed.

“She’s a great driver,” Steve countered.

“They have this law for a reason, Steve. Teens talk and text, and their accident rates go way up.” I held the phone with one hand and madly scrubbed kitchen grout with another. “Plus Bronte’s never even driven in the snow. And there’s a huge storm headed in next week!”

“That’s why we’re leaving early,” he said, calm and smug.

“Why would you deliberately put your own child in harm’s way?” I was near tears.

“You need to mind your own business, Kirsten. Again. You just can’t stand the idea of us going away with the Muehlings.”

I tried reasoning with Bronte, but she insisted that it was between me and her father. I wondered if I could alert the Highway Patrol to pull them over on Highway 80. I harangued Steve by phone every other day. Finally, just before they were set to leave, he called.

“Mitzi’s going to ride with the girls,” he said. “Are you happy now?”

I was. Not that there was much that Mitzi could do if Bronte went into a spin on an icy mountain pass. But at least there would be a legal adult present. A few weeks later, when we met in a Truckee parking lot at the appointed day and hour, I watched Amory climb out of Steve’s car and Mitzi get out of Bronte’s truck to stretch her legs.

Years later, when she wasn’t so angry at me, Bronte revealed that Mitzi had actually ridden in Steve’s truck after all. They’d merely stopped a few miles up the road for her to get into Bronte’s truck to keep up the appearance of Steve’s lie. How they must have laughed over that one.

At thirty-one, Kirsten has just returned to San Francisco from a bohemian year in Rome, ready to pursue a serious career as a writer and eventually, she hopes, marriage and family. When she meets Steve Beckwith, a handsome and successful attorney, she begins to see that future materialize more quickly than she'd dared to expect.

Twenty-two years later, Steve has turned into someone quite different. Unemployed and addicted to opioids, he uses money and their two children to emotionally blackmail Kirsten. What's more, he's been having an affair with their real estate agent, who is also her close friend. So she divorces him--but after their divorce is finalized, Steve is diagnosed with colon cancer and dies within a year, leaving Kirsten with $1.5 million in debts she knew nothing about. It's then that she finally understands: The man she'd married was a needy, addictive person who came wrapped in a shiny package.

As she fights toward recovery, Kirsten begins to receive communications from Steve in the afterlife--which lead her on an unexpected path to forgiveness. The Ghost Marriage is her story of discovery -- that life isn't limited to the tangible reality we experience on this earth, and that our worst adversaries can become our greatest teachers.

You can purchase The Ghost Marriage: A Memoir at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you KIRSTEN MICKELWAIT for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of The Ghost Marriage: A Memoir by Kirsten Mickelwait.