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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.

Author Update: Larada Horner-Miller

After spending nearly 30 years as a middle school teacher, author and poet Larada Horner-Miller now teaches workshops based on her experience writing two memoirs. Her first memoir, This Tumbleweed Landed (2014), celebrates her Colorado upbringing in the 1950s and 60s. A Time to Grow Up: A Daughter’s Grief Memoir (2017) is her newest book. You’ll find Larada on LaradaBlog, Larada.wix, and her SouthWest Writers’ author page. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

How would you describe A Time to Grow Up: A Daughter’s Grief Memoir?
Through a series of poignant poems and reflections, I celebrate my parents’ legacies, mourn their deaths, and offer words of comfort and inspiration for others who are grieving.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
I tried to put this book together the year after my mom died, but the grief was too fresh. I had to wait three years before I could tackle it again. I also added a section about the loss of my dad, and I was surprised how I handled his death with very little writing. But I was my mom’s primary caregiver, so I focused on her.

During the process of writing A Time to Grow Up, were you afraid of revealing too much of yourself in the work?
Yes, I was concerned about revealing too much, and I had to choose not to include some things and to include others. I had to include my recovery story because it is the foundation of who I am today.

Tell us how the book came together.
I worked on this book for over a year. I added parts and then took a break. It was so intense that it took my breath away if I worked on it for too long a stretch. I put it together in Scrivener, printed it, and then went through it line by line. I also had it professionally edited. I found a great editor who loved the book and felt it was a sacred trust to edit.

The cover was an experience. I knew it had to reflect the inner message of the book—I grew up to be the woman I always wanted to be. At first, I was going to use a stock photo, but my Facebook supporters who knew my other work said I had to have a picture from where I grew up. So a girlfriend took a picture of me with Saddle Rock in the background. She also inspired the idea to put a drawing of my mom and dad as angels on the cover. I worked with someone from who didn’t understand that I wanted the drawing to be more opaque (more like it was in the clouds), but we were running out of time, so I took it as it was. I plan to fix the drawing in the future, but right now I like the cover. It’s the first one I didn’t do myself!

TumbleweedLanded150How did you choose the poems and prose to include? Were all the pieces written specifically for this book?
All of the poems were written specifically to heal—they poured out of me about six weeks after Mom died. I had no idea when I was writing them that they would end up in a book. The prose section came from journals I write daily. I used a combination of poetry and prose in my first memoir, This Tumbleweed Landed, and I loved how it turned out. Originally this grief memoir was only going to be a poetry book, but as I typed the poems, I saw the holes in information between the poems about my mom’s three-month struggle and death. I knew I had to flesh out the gaps. I did that by consulting my journals, and then the prose became an integral part of the book.

Do you remember what inspired you to write your first poem?
I didn’t write poetry as a child—it felt so foreign to this country girl—and didn’t understand it in high school. I was an English teacher in my late 20s before I wrote one line of poetry. I do remember the feeling that came with that first poem—complete freedom of expression.

What does being creative mean to you?
Being creative means that I tap into the authentic Larada and make something that expresses a part of me. It can be my writing, graphic designs I do on the computer, a floral arrangement, a dance with my husband—creativity has lots of avenues of expression for me.

How does a poem begin for you, with an idea, a form, or an image?
Poems begin with a line or an image. I just wrote one this last week inspired by an exercise session. I have lost some weight and looked down, and my belly is shrinking. Also I applied for Medicare and am turning 65, and the poem then became about all the changes that are going on in my body and spirit in growing older—so I embraced my elderly Larada. It was quite a process!

Looking back to the beginning of your writing/publishing career, what do you know now that you wish you’d known then?
I wish I had pursued it wholeheartedly instead of as a hobby. I wrote two of my books more than thirty years ago and put them away and did little with them. I wish I had jumped on the publishing wagon and really believed I was a writer. Today I know I am a writer!

What writing project are you working on now?
I am working on a delightful project—writing the authorized biography of Marshall Flippo, the world-famous square dance caller who turned 90 years old last September. We have weekly phone interviews, and I have over 37,000 words already towards the book. We hope to release it in June of 2019. His life was one of absolute joy and laughter—I’d love to say that about my life at 90!

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about you or your writing?
Today writing feeds my soul and spirit. I am retired and have the luxury of choosing what I do now, and I wouldn’t want to do anything else with my time. Also, I have been presenting memoir workshops at local libraries. I provide informative handouts, time for participants to write, and lots of resources. I used to think watching my middle school students write was the pinnacle, but I can tell you now that watching adults write is even better!

Find out more about Larada and her writing in her 2017 interview for SouthWest Writers.

KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. She has a new speculative fiction blog at and writes about memoir at

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