Today, SDP author, Sahar Abdulaziz, is speaking with Carol Sveilich—an award-winning author and blogger featured in many newspaper articles and television reports. Carol, a recipient of the 1994 ABC News Leadership Award, has also been a counselor for over 20 years, conducting large community seminars and support services for people living with persistent health challenges and chronic pain.
Sahar: First off, Carol Sveilich—major congratulations and blessings on your newest publication, Reflections From A Glass House: A Memoir of Mid-Century Modern Mayhem! I recently listened to your memoir on Audible, and what fun! The narrator’s execution of your story was brilliant, and I loved how she brought your account and experiences to life. And that cover—I don’t mean to gush, but what a piece of art. Tell us a little about that.
Carol: I’m so glad you enjoyed the audiobook. It was just released, and I couldn’t be more pleased with the final product. Now the memoir is not only in soft cover edition and e-book format but in audiobook through Audible for those who prefer to listen rather than read. The narrator is Laura Patinkin, cousin of actor-singer Mandy Patinkin. I think she did a stellar job and really captured my voice and the absurdity infused in my life. All three of my books are available through Amazon.
The book cover for Reflections From a Glass House was a complete surprise. A long-time magazine publisher and PBS executive from Northern CA, Dennis Spear, thought he could capture my family and the vibe of the 1960s in an appropriate graphic design, and he surely did. The figures look like my family of four and the house we lived in during that era. It was a unique house and neighborhood called The Eichler. He also threw in a spaceship because the 1960s was a decade infused with excitement about space exploration. And naturally, he included our house cat and furry family member, Pushka. My dad’s red Sprite sports car is also included in the design, which truly captures the era’s style. I couldn’t be happier with it.
Sahar: As a community leader, counselor, and author of three books, what inspired you to write this book?
Carol: Believe it or not, this memoir came from the little recollections and journal-like entries I posted on my personal Facebook page. I have nearly 1.5K followers, and every time I posted descriptive memory-snapshots, people kept asking for more. At some point, I thought to myself…Is there a book here? So I started knitting the various periods and stories together, not knowing if they would actually grow up and be a book someday. I had no idea how or where to end it, so I focused the memoir on the years 1959–1972, with 1959 being the year we moved from New York to the Bay Area in California and 1972 when I moved away from home.
Sahar: When writing a memoir, many writers grapple with how much to share about their personal history, no less the intimate details of the people in their life, past, and present. How did you make peace with this process?
Carol: This certainly was the most challenging part of writing an honest account of my life experiences, emotions, and some grueling, as well as kooky events. It’s almost as if I crawled into a confessional booth whenever I worked on this manuscript. I had to be 100 percent honest but also allow it to be humorous, entertaining, and informative for the reader. Of the three books I’ve written, this was the most difficult and took the longest to complete. Five years.
I have this strange savant-like ability to catapult myself back to a particular moment in time and feel what I was feeling, smell the air, sense the place. It’s easy-as-pie, even though baking pies is not easy at all, to leap back and re-experience any given moment in time.
Writing the memoir was brutal at times, cathartic at others, but overall, very satisfying. Here I am, folks. Warts and all! As Joni Mitchell once sang, “Will you take me as I am?” I found out the readers would, which was the nicest revelation of all.
Sahar: Any surprises?
Carol: The greatest surprise was finding out these tales I experienced were entertaining and relatable. I didn’t expect that. Having so many people report, “I felt the same way,” or “I went through something similar, and you nailed it!” was so gratifying, so heartwarming.
Although much of the book is about my parents and their uniqueness, I didn’t want to tell a one-sided tale. Everyone, particularly if they are a parent, is made up of good and bad choices. I wanted each person I highlighted in this memoir to be seen as I saw them—flawed and imperfect but with extraordinary gifts, humor, and wisdom. That I succeeded in that goal is gratifying, and gives me great peace about my chaotic and offbeat childhood.
Sahar: Did you ever consider writing this book under a pseudonym?
Carol: Never. My goal in life, especially in my 60s, is to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but… It’s always been vital to me, but even more so now. Using a pseudonym wouldn’t have felt right.
Sahar: Your story has many musical references, which I enjoyed, but it got me wondering. Without asking for details, did you hide any secrets in your memoir that only a few people will find or understand?
Carol: There are always some hidden gems and hints to uncover and a few names and incidences left on the cutting room floor, especially about musicians or celebrities. Music was a big part of my young life and continues to be an enormous piece of who I am. It was vital to include references to the types of music and songs that impacted me in my youth.
Sahar: When we first met, you were writing your book, Just Fine: Unmasking Concealed Chronic Illness and Pain, non-fiction. With so many genres to pick from, what made you decide to take on such a heavy topic as easily concealed illnesses?
Carol: I write what I know. I was living with two easily concealed illnesses myself. I knew my subject, but I didn’t know how many other people were impacted by the same issues I was, so I went out to explore the topic. I interviewed 150 people with different sorts of easily concealed conditions and chronic pain—the types of illnesses and challenges that are not visible to others. In other words, these people look “just fine” on the outside. Coworkers, friends, and even family members rarely believe or take their symptoms or pain seriously because they cannot see them. I learned much from the people I interviewed, profiled, and photographed. It was a gift and a joy to write that book and the subsequent book—But You LOOK Just Fine, which focused only on mood disorders such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, and OCD.
Sahar; How did your experiences and expertise as a community leader and counselor influence your decision to write these books? And long did you spend researching this topic before beginning the book project?
Carol: When I was diagnosed with an inflammatory illness called Crohn’s disease, I couldn’t find support or information in my community. It was a disease I had never heard of! I worked as a college counselor at this time, but in my spare moments I put out an ad advertising a support group to be held in my small living room. I didn’t think anyone would respond, but I had a huge response! I began holding monthly support group meetings, and we quickly had to move to a larger meeting space and room in the community. The group grew to 150 active members. We used to say, “We’re the healthiest-looking bunch of sick people,” and it was true. If anyone had poked their head into our meeting room, they would have seen a group of energetic people of all ages and all nationalities with no clue we were struggling with pain or serious health challenges. That was the germ of an idea for both of my books. We may LOOK one way—healthy, vibrant, high functioning—even while dealing with many unseen and significant challenges. Most people are. I just decided to interview people and write about it.
Sahar: How long did you facilitate the group?
Carol: I facilitated this group for nine years. When I stopped the group because my own symptoms and illnesses become too profound and challenging. I began interviewing people to profile and writing the first manuscript, which was an extension of the support group, but in book form. I hoped it would reach more people, not only nationwide but worldwide, and the book met that goal.
Sahar—Did you experience any pros and cons of writing this kind of material?
Carol: I learned so much from the people I interviewed, many young people dealing with overwhelming and complex challenges. I gained so much strength after hearing their stories. My empathy and my heart grew. And on a personal note, I didn’t feel as alone in my own struggles. That’s the power of sharing our story.
Sahar: In 2009 you asked me to co-author, But You LOOK Just Fine: Unmasking Depression, Anxiety, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Panic Disorder, and Seasonal Affective Disorder [What an honor!]. I had just entered the writing world, but you were already an accomplished writer—thank goodness one of us knew what we were doing!
I’ll never forget how daunting the research and the compilation of material had felt, including reading through the hundreds of interviews we accumulated over the years from brave individuals facing depression, anxiety, and other debilitating mood disorders. What did you find was the most challenging aspect of writing this book?
Carol: Thank goodness I asked you to join me on this book project, as it was daunting. You knew so much about PTSD in the military, as well as other challenging mood disorders. We combined research and forces to tell the story of how depression and anxiety can leave one looking perfectly “normal” and serene, even while the inner world and psyche is mighty stormy.
Sahar: We aimed to write, But You Look Just Fine as a reader-friendly, self-help guidebook, much like you did with Just Fine. Why did you initially pick this approach?
Carol: I write the sorts of books that I need for myself! I could have used such books during my trials, so I figured others would also welcome a self-help book. In my first book talk at Barnes and Noble, a woman stood up and said, “I read your book already and loved it. It was like having a support group in a book!” It was only then that I realized I had extended the support group I had facilitated in person for nine years and put it in book form, but with a broader representation of conditions and illnesses and the potential to reach a wider audience. “A support group in a book” was the idea behind both self-help books.
Sahar: Above all else, writers understand and honor the power of words. Was there any early experience for you when you realized the power of language? And if so, how did it impact your writing?
Carol: Putting words to paper was and remains my first language and the most effortless way for me to communicate. I’ve kept journals since my teen years, and it’s always been my comfortable mode of communication. I didn’t realize the power of my experiences or words until these books hit the shelves. It’s a humbling and satisfying experience to tell your stories and have them so well received. There is no greater feeling. Sharing our fears and joys connects us in so many profound ways.
Sahar: Before I let you go, tell us more about your love for monarch butterflies and the various publications you have contributed to so we can read more about them. Also, where can readers find your books?
Carol: Shortly after I retired, I watched an iMax film about monarch butterflies and became completely intrigued with their lifecycle. I ran home, planted some milkweed, the only plant monarch butterflies lay eggs on, egg, and thrive on, and began watching the various stages—from the laying of eggs to colorful caterpillars to chrysalis to the beautiful birth of the butterflies. My backyard became a place of butterfly joy. I’ve been watching this lifecycle “up close and personal” for nearly a decade now, and I recommend it to everyone. Plant milkweed and watch the greatest show on earth. I have been called everything from The Monarch Mama to Madame Butterfly. I love that!
I was asked to write a couple of articles about the monarch butterfly lifecycle for a magazine. You can only imagine how thrilling that was, as it, along with helping others cope with their own circumstances and challenges, is one of my passions in life.
Carol Sveilich Bio:
As a counselor and author of three books, Carol Sveilich has an incredible memory for details of the past and enjoys weaving them into entertaining word puzzles. She was a community leader and counselor for several decades, lecturing physicians, nurses, and laypeople on coping techniques and facilitating large community support groups. Various non-profit health agencies have recognized Carol for her work highlighting those living with chronic health challenges.
Although her previous books have been like “self-help” vehicles, her new memoir reflects an era and time like no other–the 1960s, in a quirky mid-century house and neighborhood in the rock ‘n’ roll Bay Area. The book delves into The Eichlers and this mid-century modern period with many references and discussions on music and pop culture.
You can find Carol’s magazine articles and blogs in such publications as CA Modern Magazine, The Eichler Network, and N Magazine. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Suspense writer Sahar Abdulaziz is the author of twelve books––including, But You LOOK Just Fine, The Broken Half, Tight Rope, The Gatekeeper’s Notebook, Unlikely Friends, Devoted Friends, Unexpected Friends, and her latest 2022 release, Forever Friends. Most of her work is in realistic fiction: psychological thrillers, suspense, and satire. She writes about characters facing complicated life challenges and is determined to tell their stories, eager to put pen to paper to share their compelling accounts. Honors include Women Under Scrutiny Anthology, Speak Up Talk Radio Firebird Book Award, The Daybreak Press Award, Fofky’s Reader’s Choice Award, and Monroe County Community Media Expression Award.