Posted in Creekside Cafe, interview

A Memoir with a Purpose

A Creekside Cafe Author Interview with S.C. McIntyre

A Creekside Cafe

Author Interview with S. C. McIntyre

Today I am so excited to welcome Sue McIntyre to my Creekside Cafe. Sue is a member of the Pamlico Writers’ Group. She has shared pieces of her story during our critique group meetings but even with those insights I had no idea of all she experienced.

Her memoir, Outside Heaven: An Afghanistan Experience is a book everyone should read. It should be added to our school curriculum. This is a story women of all ages should be discussing. I had to keep reminding myself that Sue was a grandmother when she went to Afghanistan, she wasn’t a twenty-something fresh out of college. She was a mother, wife and she was dealing with her own mental and emotional exhaustion.

Home sweet camper, outside Heaven. The codename for the embassy.

Home sweet camper, outside Heaven. The codename for the embassy.

Welcome Sue to my virtual Cafe. Thank you for sharing your story with the world. Why did you decide to write this memoir?

Sue: My first inclination on writing my memoir was to share my work with family and friends, especially my grandchildren who had no idea why I was gone so much of the time.  But, as I began writing, I realized that I had much to share with the general public about the special events and times that brought me to Afghanistan and the existing conditions on my arrival at the very beginning of the U.S. invasion in January 2002.                                    

Sherri: Why not your whole life? Why this vignette?

Sue: I thought this experience could capture the nature of my work for those interested family and friends.  I decided to concentrate on this historical time as the primary focus of the book rather than on my entire life because of the enormity of what had happened in America with the 9/11 attacks and America’s response.  Hence, the time frame is limited to my working in Afghanistan.  I could have many other interesting and exciting experiences to share in other countries but decided to give this book’s full attention to Afghanistan. 

Sherri: Why do you think this story and others like it are important?

Sue: I believe that it is important for the general public to get as many “views” as possible on any critical international situation and how our government works in its humanitarian  response.  My views presented in the book are not political or military, but come from the perspective of a woman and a humanitarian.   

Sherri: What do you hope to accomplish with your story?

Sue: I hope my story brings the Afghan people to light in a more personal and human way.  I hope it takes the reader into some of the everyday life of these far-away people. If the book opens up the eyes and minds and hearts of Americans, or others, toward the Afghan people, I will be happy with the results.

Sherri: What do you hope readers come away with after reading Outside Heaven?

Sue: My hope is that the reader will expand their understanding of the complexity of international humanitarian work as offered by the US Government but also, and more importantly have more empathy for the Afghan people who have suffered for generations of war on their homeland.  I hope the book increases their tolerance towards all foreigners who come to America bringing their own unique lifestyles, different religions and new languages.  I hope the reader will see the beauty in new lands and cultures.  

Sherri: I was a little disappointed you didn’t send photos of the fishnet dress. For those of you who are asking questions, you’ll just have to read the book. The photos you sent are awesome and so historical. While many may never be published anywhere but here, they mark the time invested and I’m sure they bring back a lot of memories both good and bad.

How difficult was this memoir to write?

Sue: I think with any memoir there are challenging parts of the book. It is always difficult to revisit old wounds and fears but I thought it was necessary to share some of my childhood and past experiences to allow the reader to get inside my mind as I went to Afghanistan.  As can be seen from the book, I had some very difficult times personally and professionally while in Afghanistan.  Revisiting some of the horror of any of my work always brings a risk of reentering the sadness and pain of that time.  But I thought I needed to be open and honest to give the reader the full picture.  

Sherri: Did you experience any flashbacks or PTSD after your experience or while writing this memoir?

 Sue: On days when I was writing about the difficult times or sad events, I found myself wallowing in those moments.  It was hard to walk away from the computer and put them back in time especially when I saw the ongoing fear and suffering of the Afghans every day on TV.  With the events of today in Afghanistan being a prominent news story and the ending of our 20 years in that country I did a lot of reflection on what I had written and what I thought had been accomplished in our time as a country in Afghanistan.

Sherri: How did you handle the emotions, memories and reliving the drama of this time in order to retell it? Was it therapeutic to put it on paper? 

Sue: Writing about me does not come easy.  I am very private so it was hard to open up.  My editors and husband both kept telling me I had to put more of myself in the book.  Many of the emotions and memories are ones I have dealt with over the years either through group team briefings or through personal therapy.  Still, I was surprised to find it very therapeutic to write things down and to share with others.  

Sherri: I remember my first book and it was just a simple fiction. I cannot imagine how you must be feeling about your first published book?

Sue: I’m terribly excited to see my book in actual print and to be able to go to Amazon or Barnes and Noble websites and find me there.  I am also very relieved to complete the book.  It really has been 10 years in the making.  I was constantly interrupted in my writing when sent out on new assignments where my time, energy and focus was on whatever new country and crisis I was working in.  But my commitment to completing the book was firm.  So over the past two years, since my retirement, I have worked more consistently on the book.  It’s a thrill to have it finished and see it in print. 

Sherri: Will you do anything different with your next book?

What are you working on now? How different is this from your memoir?

Sue: My next book is in progress and is set in Yemen.  I am writing a fictional story about the common practice of child marriages for girls there.  I am enjoying the freedom to create a fictional story. Still, I am writing about some very disturbing events that are common in many rural and undeveloped communities.  I am also hoping this book does not take me 10 years to finish.  Since I am retired, I am writing more consistently so hopefully I can finish this book in the next year. 

Of course writing fiction opens up the possibilities of characters and events in the way a memoir does not.  Also, I am not having to consider how my words might affect others in my life.  I love the control of making people do what I want them to do and making events as public and creative as I want.  It is amazing to me as I begin this fictional book to find the characters taking on lives of their own and surprising me with choices they make.  

Check out her wonderful memoir, Outside Heaven: An Afghanistan Experience

 My book is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble websites and can be ordered through any book store.  I will also have some copies in our local bookstore, Pamlico Books, in Washington, NC. Please ask for it if it is not available.  It is also available as an e-book through all websites providing e-books.