For the next few weeks, as we approach the April 8th release of A Family by Any Other Name, I’d like to introduce you to some of the book’s contributors.
Betty Jane Hegerat
Betty Jane Hegerat is the Calgary-based author of The Boy, Delivery, A Crack in the Wall and Running Toward Home. Her essay is called “Finding My Grace.”
How did you find out about this project?
Bruce’s call for submissions on Facebook snagged my attention because of the editor. I have read two previous anthologies that he co-edited with Lynne van Luven: Nobody’s Father and Somebody’s Child, as well as Lynne’s Nobody’s Mother. I felt sure that this new anthology would be as fine a book in both content and design.
Why did you decide to contribute?
I knew I had a story to tell, and in fact, I had been writing it in my head for several years. Our daughter is a lesbian, and her “coming out” affected both me and her father profoundly. I wanted to write a parent’s experience, and it had be a mother’s experience because I would not, could not write from my husband’s point of view. In fact, I think Robert was able to come to terms with this shift in dynamics in our family far more quickly than I was.
I had believed through most of my adult life that sexual orientation is not a choice, nor is it a “correctable” condition. Intellectually, I had no doubt about where I stood; this was my child and nothing could shake my unconditional love for her. But the visceral, emotional, and spiritual turmoil I experienced, I could never have predicted.
People told me repeatedly that they admired the ease with which Robert and I had dealt with Elisabeth’s disclosure. And each time, I merely shrugged or nodded, but in my mind I was telling them, “If only you knew.”
Tell us a bit about yourself, both your life and your writing experience.
I am a social worker by profession, but since childhood had believed that I was meant to be a storyteller. After narrating scenes in my mind for years, I finally decided that if I was going to put my feet in the water it was time.
Almost 20 years ago, I took my first creative writing class. A few years later, I took an early retirement from social work, and plunged into writing, determined to make something of this desire to write. If it came to nothing, it would at least be a fanciful adventure. I have published two novels, a collection of short stories and most recently a book that is a hybrid of fiction, non-fiction and memoir. During that time I also completed UBC’s optional residency MFA Creative Writing. I took great pleasure in walking across the convocation stage just a week after my 60th birthday.
Did writing about your own experiences prove challenging in any way?
I am primarily an author of fiction and have steered away from writing about my personal life and that of my family because of privacy issues, so this was a risky venture, but one to which Elisabeth and Barb gave their approval and encouragement.
Writing non-fiction, memoir, personal essay, will always be a challenge for me, because I remain a writer of fiction and love to embellish, to play with real life stories. But there is no room for smoke and mirrors in non-fiction. One of the important lessons I learned at UBC in working with Terry Glavin on my last book, The Boy, is that “truth matters” and this should be uppermost in my mind during my writing. In writing this essay, truth meant stripping down to bare-naked honesty about how I felt and how I was not dealing with this issue with grace, particularly where my faith and my church were concerned.
What did you get out of writing an essay for this collection?
Putting this experience into words finally convinced me that I have indeed made peace with my worries, in my heart as well as my head.
Do you have any upcoming projects you’d like readers to know about?
I have a novel for teens which I hope will be published in fall 2014. This is a new audience for me, and I’ve had fun writing the book, so I’m anxious to see it out into the world. The working title is Odd One Out, but that may change, and it will be published by the wonderful people at Oolichan Books who have so beautifully produced my last three books.