Interviewer's Note: I had the privilege of interviewing Alaskan author Lizbeth Meredith recently. She has a harrowing personal story - her ex-husband kidnapped her young daughters and took them to Greece! Her memoir Pieces of Me: Rescuing My Kidnapped Daughters is about all she had to go through to get them back and was published this past fall.
In our conversation, we cover how Lizbeth's previous experience with publishing influenced her decision to work with a hybrid publisher for her memoir, the logistics of organizing a multi-state speaking tour, and whether or not the tour has been "worth it".
Lori Puma: Tell me about your book and who you hope will read it.
Lizbeth Meredith: Pieces of Me: Rescuing My Kidnapped Daughters was written for a target audience that I believed would be between about the ages of 25 to maybe 60 year old women who were interested in women’s stories and intimate partner violence. Dealing with family trauma, the adverse childhood experiences. When I wrote the book that was my target audience.
The youngest person I ever had show up at a book group was fourteen and she’d read the whole book. I didn’t know fourteen year olds joined book groups. And sometimes men have come to events. It’s resonated with them from the perspective of being parents or their own issues that they’ve worked through, whether it was a childhood trauma or something different. That’s been pretty exciting. I think universally, when we open ourselves up and share from the heart it gives other people the freedom to do the same.
LP: What motivated you to write and publish this book?
LM: When it was happening,...I’ve lived one of those lives that was unfortunate to work through, but people used to tell me it would be great on paper. When I first started writing the book I was young. I was like thirty-one and my kids had just returned home from Greece and we’d gone through so many years of just, trauma, even before they left. I kind of wanted to write a book to get even. Which was horrible, you know?
To some detectives that worked on the case. To certainly, my former husband. Anyone I felt wronged by, I wanted to even the score. And as I got older and I started trying to learn to write, I also started healing. Going to therapy. And growing up. And understanding as the years and decades went on that quite frankly we’d live through a miracle as much as anything else. That there were so many amazing things and universal truths that were worth sharing that I could really let go of some of the things that went wrong because for everything that went wrong, there were nine more that went right.
LP: Can you give an overview of how this book got started from inception to publication to where it is now?
LM: I first looked at journal entries from some of the worst spots of the traumatic events in Greece. My daughters were kidnapped and taken to Greece four years after I left a volatile marriage. And they were gone for two solid years. I really did a good amount of journaling through the worst of that. The news cameras and news articles in Alaska covered other aspects of it. Because back then (this was a long time ago-pre-internet for the common person) it was sort of extraordinary. We didn’t know what was going on in other states, but in Alaska, we knew that there were not a lot of international child abductions.
LP: Thankfully, thankfully!
LM: A lot of times people will say when a woman leaves her abusive partner, why did she stay so long? In my case, it was the opposite. Saying gosh, why did you leave? If you thought might even be a potential, why did you leave? Not to be insensitive, but it was just a natural question. So I was sort of the antithesis of what was going on in the battered women’s movement at the time.
So, I relied on some of my journaling, the newspaper coverage, but also, when I first came back with my daughters from Greece, my old psychology of women professor invited me to go to her house and record these events on cassette tape. That’s how long ago it was. She said, you may some day want to write this and you’re not going to remember it. And so that was super helpful. So the first couple of months I would go to her house to work and bring the girls. They would play in a different room and I would make some tapes, so it really helped to pull those things together. But I needed to learn to write. And then I had to figure out what the story was. I had the events down, but I needed to learn what the story was.
LP: And was that a slow and gradual process or was there a specific point in time where you were like, “Oh. This is what the story is.”?
LM: It was both. It was partly through taking classes and memoir writers retreats. Joining writing groups. Book groups. All of those things. I learned a lot more about the craft. But one day in my day job, I’m a probation officer, I was teaching a class about the Adverse Childhood Experience Study and my daughter texted me “Make sure that you get Spongebob Squarepants cake and stuff for my birthday party tonight.” She was twenty-five. She wasn’t being ironic. For her, that was really important. She is exceptionally bright and amazingly high-functioning in many ways but there is a piece of her that is still that six-year old girl. So I was teaching it and then I got that text and I thought. That was it. That was the beginning and the end of the story.
And I knew that it was something that people could learn about because the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study is just a continuation of the work I did for a long time in domestic violence. It kind of talks about all the kinds of toxic traumas and what they do to developing fetuses or either very young children who experience too many traumas and how that can influence their physical and mental health. It was perfect. And sad. But it was perfect as a beginning and end to the story.
LP: You’ve published another book When Push Comes to Shove: How to Help When Someone You Love is Being Abused which I’m guessing is a much more nonfiction, self-helpy kind of thing.
LP: And then you also contributed to a travel guide for women traveling alone, cause I’m guessing you did a lot of that trying to get your girls back. Was there anything that you picked up from those experiences of writing that affected how you approached publishing this current memoir?
LM: You know doing the anthology, I learned about how incredible it was to work with a group of women, and how we support one another as writers, as people. So that was something that stuck in my head. When Push Comes to Shove is really just a miniature guidebook because I so often get asked “What do I say to my daughter?”, “How can I get my friend out of this relationship?” All of that. I sort of became that person that people turn to. That was a good experience. I learned a lot about keywords. And how expensive it can be. And even if you’re going to self-publish, how hard it is. Because, I’m not smart with formatting and book covers and all of those things. So it did kind of inform my decision to work with a team of experts at She Writes Press and get my story out but not have to do it alone.
LP: Can you say more about how you found She Writes Press or how they found you?
LM: Absolutely. She Writes Press is fabulous and it is a curated, hybrid publisher. I’d heard about She Writes Press because I’d worked with a writing coach on a novel that I’ve written. And she is the editor at She Writes Press. I never told her about my memoir, I just didn’t bother. I just wanted to do something different. And she also didn’t plug She Writes Press constantly, which was great. And then, I started learning more about her and She Writes Press and shewrites.com and thought this could be the perfect way to have access to tell my story in a cooperative fashion with a whole bunch of other women that I respect, admire and that we can cross-promote one another.
LP: Why did you decided to travel the country to promote your memoir?
LM: What surprises me is how many writers say, “Don’t bother, that’s just a waste of money. You could have just as much access talking to people on podcasts.” And that may be true. And if I’d written something different, maybe I wouldn’t care as much. But I really wanted to meet my audience.
LP: What are the logistics of a multiple state speaking tour?
LM: I’m not rich. And so I’m funding all of this and thus, all of that experience with budget travel was super helpful! Because every time I go, and here I am, fifty-two now. I go and I stay in a youth hostel, unless I have arranged a dog-sitting gig somewhere else. A friend of mine let me dog sit for her so I had free housing when I was in Michigan. Stayed in a youth hostel in Seattle. Stayed in a hostel in Portland. I really learned to do this cheaply. Cause, I’m flying from Alaska. That’s like going overseas. The tickets can be really expensive.
LP: How did your speaking tour get started?
LM: I was fortunate in that the first place that I got to go out of state was the University of Washington. It’s very difficult to get somebody to take you, an unknown author from a different state, unless you can convince them why their audience would care. It’s just really hard. Even sometimes, with small bookstores. Independent bookstores will charge you money to consult with you about the possibility of you coming to their bookstore. So that was frustrating.
But University of Washington was the first. You had to go through this extensive application process and then they said Yeah...this sounds like something that is relevant today. That people want to hear about these things that you mention in your book, but also the incredible difference that a caring community can make. So University of Washington was my first big gig out of state. But between them and University of Toledo, which I loved. They vetted, vetted, vetted me very carefully. It was not exactly a conversation, they looked at the book and you’re done. There were committees that had to review. But the moment they opened their doors, it opened so many opportunities. And from there it’s been very much easier to reach out and get acceptance at another state.
And each one of those came with a news, a TV interview. And so, when I went to Kentucky recently, I reached out to the news there. The morning show there in Louisville. And because I was born in Louisville, they again, covered the story. And it’s a great way to reach an audience even if they don’t come to book signings. And I’ve not had an empty book signing at one of these events which is fabulous.
LP: Has the speaking tour been worth it?
LM: You know, when somebody bets on you, a bookstore, a university, even a gift shop, you wanna make it worth their while. And thankfully that’s been the case. I’ve had a responsive group at each of these out of state events. So, I know people say, it’s a lot of money. I find that there’s a halo effect that I’m feeling even now that I’ve gone to Louisville. Sales, there’s an uptick. But there’s people you reach. People that write and say, “Hey, this meant something” or “Do you know of any place that can help me?” That kind of thing. I love connecting with the audience. I learn a lot from them and I just am so gratified.
LP: Can I ask you a tactical question about what happens at your events? Are you mostly selling books, or handing out your email and then having conversations with people over email? Or are you getting people to subscribe to your email list?
LM: All of the above. At the universities, I will consign with them. If it’s Barnes & Noble, of course they covered all of that. And I talk about my email list. Of course, I have a website that captures it in Mailchimp. I don’t know how to use Mailchimp. So I have a collection of addresses, and I don’t know how to get into them yet. But I know that at any moment I’m gonna figure it out.
I’ve done a lot of book groups locally. A lot. And I have two Skype book groups in Ohio coming up, which I’m really excited about. But at each book group, I think I was more successful when I just handed around a notebook and people would just write their email address if they wanted to. If you’re interested in updates, I’m happy to give ‘em to you. If you’re not, I love that you came. That is a gift in itself. I’ve done that at book groups. And now the Mailchimp.
LP: Have you got anything else in the works?
LM: Yes, I’m working on revisions of a novel that I wrote. I started out with that writing coach that I adored. And now I’m just getting beta readers and making some adjustments. It’s a novel about a middle-aged Alaskan woman who goes on a quest to find the relationship of her dreams when her (almost) adult daughters have an intervention and say “Look, you’re kind of pathetic. You really oughtta meet someone. Cause we’re on our way out. But make sure it’s not a pedophile, because we’re very attractive.” That was a conversation my daughters had with me right before they left the nest.
LP: Where can people go to buy Pieces of Me: Rescuing My Kidnapped Daughters or find out more about you?
LM: You can buy the book in digital forms online or order it wherever books are sold Paperback ISBN: 978-1631528347
They can reach me at my website,
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.