My Letter to Fear
by Patricia Steffy
Over the course of two years, Steffy conducted interviews with the fabulous women around her and their equally fantastic friends. She put no restrictions on age, or ethnicity. They just needed to be willing to answer some questions. The questions covered a variety of topics, including aging, body image, abuse, rape, addiction, confidence, loss, beauty myths, and fear. Steffy asked them about the expectations they had for their lives when they were very young versus their current realities as adults. She asked them to tell her the best things about themselves (a question which was surprisingly difficult for people to answer) and the worst things. Those answers—the funny, the heartbreaking, and the hysterical—and her own experiences became the basis for these essays.
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About the Author:
Patricia Steffy attended Kenyon College and American University. She is a recent refugee from the corporate world where she worked as an analyst for a law firm for more than 16 years. An escape plan started to develop as she pursued her interests as a writer and producer through Circe’s World Films. She has been involved in co- and exec-producing a number of feature and short films ranging from broad comedy to psychological drama, including the award-winning short Touch. She is currently developing Dating in LA and Other Urban Myths as a web series. The series is based on her long-running blog of the same name.
Pieces from My Letter to Fear were featured in a one-night only special showcase event. The showcase was directed by Danielle Turchiano and featured readings from Nikki DeLoach (Awkward.), Lesley Fera (Pretty Little Liars), Stevie Lynn Jones (Crisis), Jen Lilley (Days of Our Lives), Roma Maffia (Pretty Little Liars), Dennisha Pratt (The Sunny Side Up Show), and Carla Renata (Hart of Dixie). You can see excerpts from the readings here: http://www.patriciasteffy.com/showcase/
- How have the women you interviewed reacted to your book?
- The reaction of the women I interviewed for “My Letter to Fear” has been very positive! I'm grateful for that because as a writer, I always want to honor the stories and the lives they reflect. Some even had the experience of seeing one of the staged readings. It allowed them to see how other people reacted to their stories, too. For some, that was emotionally cathartic, and for others, it was just plain fun.
- What did you find most useful in learning to write? What was least useful or most destructive?
- The most useful thing I learned when writing “My Letter to Fear” was to allow the emotions to come through when I was writing. Rather than trying to be just an impartial recorder or observer of the situations described, I allowed myself to feel what I was writing. I think that's one of the reasons people find the collection so relatable. The most destructive thing when writing, for me, is the “second guessing” phase. I questioned everything: the process, the language, the style, the number of pieces in the collection, the order – everything. I'm sure I'm not the only one who goes through it, but it can be enervating. There was no magic bullet in fixing it; I just had to keep pushing forward. I had to have faith in the work.
- What was the hardest part of writing your book?
- While many of the essays in the book are quite funny, there are some that are heartbreaking. Writing those pieces was challenging. You want people to relate to them, but you also want readers to see the person beneath it all. I also struggled with how many pieces should reflect similar subject matters. For instance, there are a number of essays that deal with starting over again – either in the romantic sense or in terms of quitting a job, entering a new stage of life, etc. I agonized over which one of those pieces made it into the final book. In the end, I think it's a subject everyone (women and men) can relate to, so all but one of those essays made it into the final collection.
- If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything?
- I would definitely include a Forward in the book if I did it again. When I pick a new book to read, I read the back cover and the selling blurb (if I'm buying online). I didn't really think about the fact that other people wouldn't do that, or wouldn't remember what they had read by the time they sat down with the book. Because of that, there are some people who have started reading the book thinking that every experience described in the book is mine. That's not the case. I unified the voices and included my perspective, but these experiences are not all mine. I would also have been far more aware of the publishing and promotion process when I started. I didn't have much of a platform. I didn't realize that promotion should really start about six months before the book's release. I didn't know that accent marks or unique characters would be challenging when moving from Microsoft Word into a digital selling platform. Now, I do! Lessons learned!
- What inspired My Letter to Fear or sparked the idea to interview the women around you?
- It started with a conversation. I had a number of the early pieces on a blog I was writing at the time, and I was looking for something to do with them. By coincidence, I started talking to a friend of mine, who is a therapist, about a procedure where people write to the issues they are struggling with. For instance, they would write a letter to anxiety, addiction, depression or fear. That's when the idea for the collection really took off. Interviewing women, and sending questions out to friends of friends of friends, became the next logical step. I wanted to know what women were thinking, feeling and experiencing. And they told me!
- Do you have a favorite anecdote or answer from your interviewees?
- One of the most interesting things that happened came from talking to people after the staged readings. I had people come up to me and say “how did you know?” about the pieces they had to read. But those pieces were just picked at random. I had people I had interviewed about one particular topic think they were the subject of other pieces. They weren't, they were just that relatable. It was the first time I realized that these stories could touch a lot of people. I'm not sure I can pick my favorite story from the essays. The vajazzling piece (Not All That Glitters Is Gold) always makes me laugh, but the reaction has often been “That would only happen in LA.” This puts a smile on my face because that story actually came from an ER doctor in Chicago.
- What books have most influenced your life most?
- “All the King's Men” by Robert Penn Warren continues to impact my writing, and I think it had a profound impact on the kind of stories that I enjoy watching/experiencing – complex tales of flawed people.
- Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
- I'm not sure I can pick just one. I could choose Robert Penn Warren because of “All the King's Men,” but I've also been drawn to Jane Austen, Laura Hillenbrand (her “Unbroken” just riveted me), Helen Fielding and many others. I love diving into complex characters. I love being surprised by characters who seem one way, but actually have hidden depths. I love writers who mix tragedy and humor.
- Dragons or unicorns?
- Dragons!! Although, I wouldn't mind seeing a badass, fire-breathing unicorn.
- Favorite TV show?
- This is so difficult. In recent years, I have loved “Breaking Bad.” I think “Rectify” has been challenging and wonderfully developed. I think “Better Call Saul” is accomplishing the rare feat of being its own property rather than being stuck in spin-off land. I'm finding “Speechless” to be very funny and subversive. I think “Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries” is so much fun (and major kudos for having a fascinating lead character who is not an ingenue). I'm mid-way through “The Crown,” and I am mesmerized by the storytelling. Amazon's “The Man in the High Castle” has been incredible. LOL!! Okay, clearly, I cannot pick a favorite.
- Favorite movie?
- CI went through a serious classic movie phase in my 20s that has stayed with me. Films like “Casablanca,” “North by Northwest” and “Rear Window” remain among my favorites. As for modern films, I really lean toward quieter pieces like “Arrival,” “Room,” “Spotlight” and “Carol” (although I also secretly love disaster films – go figure).
- Superpower of choice?
- Is being creative on demand a superpower? That would really be amazingly useful. I'd also like to always know what the winning lottery numbers are (and have the ability to play them), but I promise not to be greedy.
- One thing left on your bucket list:
- I want to see one of my film scripts on the big screen. I have one right now that I'm about to take out for reads, and I'm keeping everything possible crossed that it sees the light of day (or the dark of theater, as it were).
- What’s one thing you want potential readers to know?
- “My Letter to Fear” is not just heartbreaking, or just hilarious, or just ridiculous, etc. It's all of those things that make up a life (or in this case, many lives). I'm so excited for the chance to reach new readers and to hear about their experiences with these essays.
What projects are you working on at the present? Or do you have any plans for future projects?
- The film script I mentioned earlier is about to make the rounds. It used Legacy in “My Letter to Fear” as its basis. It's a drama, but I do try to infuse it with small touches of levity. And I think that's all I can say about it. I worked on filming a sizzle reel and pilot presentation for a 10-episode web series I wrote called “Dating in LA and Other Urban Myths.” It's a comedy about a woman (of a certain age) starting over again in Los Angeles, a city that values youth, beauty and success above all else. I loved our cast: Lesley Fera (“Pretty Little Liars”), Jen Lilley (“Days of Our Lives”), Tamara Taylor (“Bones”) and Kris Polaha (“Life Unexpected”). You can see the sizzle reel for it here if you are curious: https://vimeo.com/77469627
- Soda, coffee, tea or water?
- I am starting a new book! This one is fiction, although it jumps off from Lost Folk Hero in “My Letter to Fear.” It's largely a comedy dealing with what happens when you make a big leap in life and hit a few more obstacles than anticipated before landing. Thank you for letting me talk to you and your readers!
I LOVE Steffy's answers! And writing letters to issues sounds like a fantastic idea. I think that's a great start to a collection in my bullet journal. :D
What did ya'll think?
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