An Interview with Author Evelyn Neil

Evelyn Neil writes short stories inspired by “everyday events and the decisions made by ordinary people that are so important to all of us.” In March 2022, she released her memoir Dancing to the End of Our Rainbow which has been called “a loving and brave book…a love story about life, and yet courageously takes on death.” You’ll find Evelyn on her SWW Author Page and on Look for Dancing to the End of Our Rainbow on Amazon.

When did you know you wanted to write a memoir about life with your husband Don?
This memoir began as a group of short stories in 2013 when Don’s health issues started to limit the social and travel events we’d enjoyed in the past. I wanted to leave a part of us for our children and grandchildren. But then after Don passed in 2015, writing our story helped me to cope with my profound grief.

What makes this book unique in the memoir market?
It’s a love story about life that takes on the conversation of death and the choices people make. It is a true depiction of a full life that bravely takes on these difficult choices that others consider unmentionable.

If you ever felt you were revealing too much about you or your family while writing Dancing to the End of Our Rainbow, how did you move forward?
The first few drafts were pretty tight-lipped about some of the more raw family happenings. With the help of my critique partners, I was able to sort out what revelations were integral to this story and write about those touchy events without hurting anyone’s feelings.

What was the most challenging part of putting this book together?
Getting into and ferreting out my true feelings and emotions so as to not have the story come off as a piece of journalistic reporting. I didn’t want Dancing to the End of Our Rainbow to be perceived as a “How To” for coping with grief. I hoped this very personal story would be a window into how one woman gained strength and wisdom from the process of sharing her story.

What are the essential elements of a well-written memoir?
A good memoir must have a message or a theme, even though the author is telling of a moment in time of their life. Because an author cannot write of each happening or detail of a certain period, they must relay only those events that are pertinent to the intended theme. A well-written memoir also incorporates the use of silence. What is left unsaid is as important as what is said.

Tell us how you chose the title.
Choosing the title was one of my most difficult decisions. My working title was Hanging On. But following several reiterations, this story evolved into something beyond what that title suggested. I needed a title that would give readers the desire to look into this couple’s golden years and to learn that the pot of gold is not necessarily at the end of the rainbow but in the journey.

What was the most rewarding aspect of writing the book?
My most rewarding aspect was getting in touch with my feelings about what had occurred. In mere moments, my life had irretrievably changed. First, I had to reconcile myself to the fact that certain events were beyond my control. Writing helped me to cope with the grieving process by turning my thoughts away from the horror of what had happened. I discovered that when I committed my thoughts to paper, I no longer had to carry the full burden of those terrible events.

When readers turn the last page of Dancing to the End of Our Rainbow, what do you hope they’ll take away from it?
To live each day to its fullest. To love and take care of one another. To never have regrets about a life well lived or judge a person’s decision to choose their time to depart. By holding the memories of that departed person close to your heart, they will be with you forever.

What inspired you to become a writer?
I’d always wanted to write, but for many years life got in the way—raising children and helping to operate a successful family business. I was finally able to start writing at age 75 following my retirement from Kachina Petroleum Equipment Company. I considered myself an author three years later in 2016 when my short story “Comrades: A Wife Recollects Her Late Husband’s Letters from Korea” was published in From the Front Lines to the Homefront.

What is the first piece of writing you can remember completing?
My first short story was written in response to a prompt in a UNM Continuing Ed creative writing class. It was entitled “Side of the Road” and was about the wonder of witnessing a prong-horn antelope give birth to twins in the tall Wyoming prairie grass. This story was later incorporated into the Wyoming reunion event depicted in Dancing to the End of Our Rainbow.

When you start a writing project, do you usually have a theme or message in mind or is that something that becomes obvious as you write?
When I begin a story, I don’t usually have an overt theme or message. The theme, like a big fish swimming in dark murky waters, will surface as the story gains momentum and moves forward. I’m a pantser and use neither outlines nor note cards. I start with a basic story idea, knowing both the beginning and the ending and work from there. I do write notes on scrapes of paper whenever and wherever an idea pops into my mind.

Do you have writing rituals or something you absolutely need in order to write?
I have a special writing area set up in a guest room in my home. This is where I hang out many afternoons and most evenings to spend a few hours writing. I have no special ritual, just my ticking Grandfather clock to remind me that I have so many stories to share and so little time left.

What genre do you enjoy reading the most, and who are your favorite authors?
I enjoy reading many genres. I admire Marie Benedict for her extensive research and writing style in historical fiction. She doesn’t just tell the story, she uses realistic dialogue and narrative to draw the reader into the events as they unfold. I also like the psychological mysteries of Ian McEwan and Ruth Ward. They pull me in by the throat and take me on a wondrous wild ride.

What writing projects are you working on now?
I am in the process of putting together two short-story anthologies for publication. The first, working title Bits and Pieces, is a collection of random short stories and poems based on true happenings but written as fiction. The second, Once Upon a Prairie, is a memoir of my growing-up years as a free-range kid on the Wyoming prairie. It will include stories of my high school-years and also my short courtship and early marriage to Don.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
Don’t spend all your time taking classes and listening to others talk about writing. There is no better way to learn than to put your pants in the chair and start by writing as little as 50 words each day about whatever comes to mind. By writing about what you see around you, your experiences and even your wildest ideas and dreams, you will find yourself opening up to a wondrous world of storytelling.

Su Lierz writes dark fiction, short story fiction, and personal essays. Her short story “Twelve Days in April,” written under the pen name Laney Payne, appeared in the 2018 SouthWest Writers Sage Anthology. Su was a finalist in the 2017 and 2018 Albuquerque Museum Authors Festival Writing Contest. She lives in Corrales, New Mexico, with her husband Dennis.

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