One of the sweetest joys of teaching is reveling in your students’ successes. So I was thrilled when I arrived home yesterday to find RAISING ABEL in my mailbox. I worked with its deeply talented author (who is publishing under the name Carolyn Nash for this project) last summer at the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference. She astounded us all with the power of her story about raising two adopted sons, one of whom had suffered extreme abuse in his previous family. Here is an interview she recently conducted about adoption, writing, and life.
Tell us about yourself.
I am the very lucky mother of two sons, 21 and 6. I say lucky because they are adopted and I swear I got the two best in the world. What are the chances? I mean one, sure, but two? Unfortunately, my older son didn’t come to me until he was almost 4, and much happened in his early years. My younger son came to me at 3 weeks and is deliciously obnoxious as 6-year-olds are supposed to be. I have never married, the reasons for which, along with the story of my older son’s life, are chronicled in Raising Abel.
When did you begin writing?
I began writing in earnest in high school. I remember getting all wrapped up in a story of two brothers on a coach in the 1800s going somewhere, always in constant danger. I wish I still had that story. It would be fun to see how my writing has changed. Through the years I’ve worked on numerous short stories, and have completed three novels in addition to Raising Abel. Besides stories published in a newspaper for which I worked many years ago, Raising Abel is the first story or book that I have published.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
That’s actually an important question for me. I am plagued by self-doubts, like many of us. Last summer I went to a writing conference on the northern coast of California. As part of the registration, I was required to submit a sample of my writing. I submitted a chapter from my unfinished memoir, Raising Abel, and thought no more about it. A few weeks later I was notified that my chapter won not only first prize in the conference writing contest, but also a fellowship that paid my entrance fee. I was blown away. These were professional writers and they were telling me my writing was good enough. Incredibly validating.
What inspired you to write your first book?
I wanted to make a living as a writer and silly me, I thought I could just write a formula romance and then crank them out month after month and year after year. I was naïve. Romance—good romance—is as difficult to write as anything else. The thing that really tripped up this plan was that, as I started, I realized I could make the story anything that I wanted it to be. I could create a world. I could make people fall in love. I could do anything! It was and is an exhilarating feeling. It became a passion instead of a means to a monetary end. And let me tell you, writing is not the way to make money.
How did you come up with the title for your book?
Raising Abel came out of the biblical story of Cain and Abel. My son was nearly killed by his birth family, but he didn’t die; he lived and is living beautifully. I used Abel as his name in the book in honor of this.
What do you want readers to take from it?
Child abuse is not something that simply is forgotten or goes away if ignored. It causes lasting changes both organically and emotionally. BUT, these effects can be mitigated and overcome by love. Cliché, but true. I also want people to realize child abuse is going on right now. If you think you see something that is just not right, report it. My son told me one time that the one person he would like to find and thank is the person who heard him as a three-year-old, outside crying at night, and called the police.
What was the hardest part of writing this book?
Being as honest as possible and trying to remember all the nuances of what happened over the last 18 years. Thankfully, I had taken notes at the time. The other hardest part was revisiting the horror that my son went through. Even though I lived through it all and wrote it all down, I still cry when I read sections of it.
What have you personally learned from this experience?
I learned that my son is an amazing human being and that I was a good enough mother. A wise therapist told me early on that no parent can be perfect. All we have to be is good enough. It’s something I kept in mind through the years.
Will you share an excerpt of Raising Abel with us?
Abel came into the kitchen while I was scrambling some eggs. “I’m going to kill you with a big knife,” he said slyly.
I turned from the stove and looked at him. He was no higher than my waist, his blond hair tousled, dressed in a blue t-shirt and shorts. He had Sesame Street shoes on. “No you’re not,” I said. “I’m going to keep you safe and me safe.” I turned back to the eggs.
He sidled around behind me. “I’m going to kill you with a big hammer.”
“No, you’re not,” I said firmly. “You wouldn’t do that because you’re a good, kind boy. Are you mad about something?”
“You made me come here,” he said.
“No, I didn’t.” I pushed the frying pan off the burner and turned to him. The expression on his face was one I was coming to know all too well: eyes narrowed, a grin without the smallest bit of happiness or joy. “We’ve talked about this before. Your birth mommy Justine and your daddy couldn’t take care of you so I’m taking care of you. Don’t you like being here?”
“Abel, why do you think you’re here?”
“’Cause My Justine choked my neck.” He put his hands around his neck and squeezed.
I reached and took his hands away from his neck. “Oh, honey, that was wrong. That should never have happened.” I knelt to hug him but he laughed and ran out of the kitchen.
“Sweet boy,” I whispered, my heart aching. Then I heard a crash as something fell in the back of the house.
“Oh, crap,” I said.