Today I’m chatting with my friend Madlyn Harwell about her new book, It's Who I Am: One Hippie's Life Story. Madlyn and I share the background of being Baby Boomers and children of the 60s, so although I’ve not read her book yet, I have a feeling I will resonate to a lot of it. So let’s dig in.
MJB: Madlyn, give us an overview of what your book covers. Where does it take us?
MH: The book begins at the beginning of my life and goes right through to the present day. It is mostly a compilation of the many adventures and travels of my life as I lived it as a Hippie, counter-culture child of the 60's.
MJB: A woman after my own heart. When did you first decide to write your story down? Was it something you considered when you were experiencing all that you did, or did the notion only come to you later on?
MH: Oh, no, I never thought about writing a book about my life as I was too busy living it! But often when I would tell a story from my life to someone, I would often hear "you should write a book". And so a few years ago I began to think that might not be a bad idea, and then it gradually became something I intended to do one day. As I have friends from many different times of my life, and I don't really talk all that much about my past, I thought that people would like to know the whole of it, not just the pieces they have experienced with me.
MJB: Was it easy or difficult to write? Or perhaps did that change from episode to episode?
MH: It was really quite easy to write this book. I was an English major in college, and write a lot of emails, so I am used to writing on the computer, and I am a fast typist. I had made a pretty complete outline of the book some time ago, so I followed that pretty closely. I wrote it all in about three weeks, while I was recuperating from my gall bladder surgery, and got to spend a lot of time at home. It would flow really smoothly.
MJB: Nothing like writing your life story to get through the boring healing time when you're not allowed to do anything active. Which reminds me, I’ve found writing to very often be therapeutic. Did you find that? Did writing your story change the way you view your life?
MH: I just felt so good recalling all those fond memories of my past. So often we are all so busy with our present lives, we don't have time to reflect backwards. I found I was reliving those memories as I wrote of them, even the difficult ones, and I just renewed my understanding that truly I have been protected and blessed in my life.
MJB: Okay, I have to ask—did you change any names to protect the innocent (or guilty)? Did you “soften” any of the incidents, or just tell the pure, unvarnished truth?
MH: I only used first names in my book, but they are the real first names of the people I wrote about. I pretty much told it as it was, and I divulged things in this book that most of my close friends and relatives have never heard from me before. I told the truth, but didn't embellish some things, just stated them if they were pretty sensitive.
MJB: Do you think the 60s were a formative time for you? Did they influence far past the end of the decade? If so, in what way?
MH: I pretty much just lived it as I did, as the times called for. I did what I wanted, and the culture was such that it allowed for that. My ideas and beliefs from that time lasted far beyond the 60's, though I did modify my behavior as I got older and wiser, and times changed. Inside, though, I don't really feel all that much different now than I did back then. I'm still open to new experiences, am as curious about things as I ever was, and feel nothing can stand in my way if there's something I really want to do.
MJB: Looking back on your life, what person or event influenced you the most?
MH: Certainly my Aunt Fran, who I wrote about in the book, was the most influential person in my life. I feel she saved me in so many ways, and taught me all the really important lessons we need to learn in life. She was an inspiration. And then hooking up with my husband John, who as an equal in every way, was always just as willing as I was to have a new experience, and was daring, I was really able to live a lot of incredible adventures. And it was he who taught me how to be a survivor, and made me strong.
MJB: Did you learn anything about yourself in writing this book?
MH: I always knew I was the kind of person who did what I said I was going to do. When I said a few years ago that I was going to write a book about my life, it seemed a monumental task that I wasn't sure I was really up to. In actually writing and finishing this book, I discovered that I could tackle even the biggest challenges and be successful in accomplishing them. Now that I've done this, have crossed off all the items on my Bucket List, I feel I can now really take it a day at a time, and just relish the remaining moments of my life better without a big to-do list hanging over my head.
MJB: Wow, how many people can say they've crossed off all the items on their Bucket List? Not many, I'm sure. What might readers find interesting in your story? What might surprise them?
MH: I think readers will find the stories of my travels the most interesting and entertaining. They will be surprised at the way I went about those travels, not as a tourist, but more as an adventurer. I think the darker times of my life, and some of the things outside the law I did will certainly surprise many of them.
MJB: Ooh, sounds intriguing! If anyone reading this interview today was thinking of writing their own memoir, what words of wisdom would you share with them?
MH: Mostly, be organized! Spend a good deal of time thinking back over your life before you ever begin to write about it. Taking some writing and journaling classes will help tremendously too. And when you are ready, make yourself a detailed outline, so you can stay on track and remember all the things you want to write about. And taking Melissa's Self-Publishing class is a MUST!
MJB: LOL, thanks for the plug. I know a memoir is a very personal thing, often times a magnum opus. Do you have any plans to write any more? Add to the story, or try your hand at fiction?
MH: No, I think this is it as far as writing any books is concerned. I may take some more writing classes just because I enjoy the inspiration that a class environment encourages, and I just like to write. I just do not have the imagination required to write fiction, so that is out of the question.
MJB: If not writing, what’s next for you? What adventures do you have planned?
MH: I still have the travel bug, and still like to take a couple trips a year. In March next year I'm going to Ireland with my cousin, in the Fall going to the Oregon coast with a travel group, and also my husband and I plan to go to Pagosa Springs in Colorado to enjoy the hot springs. I like to take day trips too, just hiking to new places with my best Arizona friend, or going with Camp Verde's Parks & Recreation dept. on their day van trips. I have a new 6-month old puppy, in addition to our other two dogs, and I am devoting quite a bit of time to training him, as he is pretty irrepressible. I still enjoy experiencing anything new, even if its just trying out a new recipe or going to a new restaurant, or taking a class on something new at OLLI. Life itself still seems to me to be an adventure in all its aspects.
MJB: So, in other words, there's no sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch for you! Thanks so much for sharing this with us, Madlyn. If readers want to know more about you or contact you, how could they do that?
MH: You can email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org