Interview by Lara Lillibridge
Light in Bandaged Places: Healing in the Wake of Young Betrayal shows us the harm done when an older man in a position of power convinces a child that sex with him is alright because he loves her. This poignant story takes us through the long-term wounding of such abuse—and the multifaceted path of healing.
As a lonely girl coming of age in the 1970s, Liz has every reason to believe her 8th-grade teacher is in love with her. Because the sex isn’t physically violent and is wrapped in a message of love, she learns to exchange sex for attention. It feels like love, after all. But years later, as an adult, emotional closeness eludes Liz. Even after marrying a sensitive, caring man, she is walled off. Struggling through confusing years, she believes something is deeply wrong with her.
Healing begins when an unexpected event takes Liz back to those formative years, and she sees for the first time that what happened to her was not love but trauma. As she begins to understand how her relationship with her former teacher destroyed her innocence and self-worth, she begins a spiritual and psychological journey that sets her free.
Liz Kinchen is is a writer, meditation teacher, and Buddhist practitioner. With graduate degrees in computer science and counseling psychology, Kinchen worked in software development management for 21 years before moving into the nonprofit sector for seventeen years as the executive director of a small organization working with underserved children and families in Honduras. Her passions are her family, meditation, teaching mindfulness, spirituality, writing, talking with close friends, and walking in nature. She is a contributing author to the anthology Art in the Time of Unbearable Crisis, published by She Writes Press in 2022. She lives in the greater Boston area with her husband of over 30 years.
Lara Lillibridge: I loved your book and related so much, particularly about how parenting can heal our childhood wounds, and surviving emotional neglect, so I’m excited to talk about your writing and publishing journey.
In some places, like the line, “I didn’t know it was okay to be angry or that I could have said something to him or anyone else.” it feels like a love song to your younger self from the older, wiser narrator. Was that tenderness compounded with the writing of the book, or was that more of the motivation to write, if that makes any sense?
Liz Kinchen: Thank you for reading and loving my book, and especially for seeing that line as a love song to my younger self – that’s beautiful! The tenderness developed over the years; I didn’t have it when I started writing. Here’s why: It took me a long time to connect the dots between my experiences with my teacher during my teen years and my struggles in adult relationships. For many years I felt that something was deeply wrong with me. I did not understand what my husband meant when he said he wanted more of me to participate in our relationship. My emotions were blocked, and I was frightened of emotional and physical intimacy.
Fear ran my life, and I didn’t know why. My therapist encouraged me to write to help retrieve memories of my abuse which I had stuffed down. This writing began almost twenty years ago and was never intended to be a book; it was more of a tool to open up channels of memory within me. The tenderness you hear in the quote above does come from my older, wiser self. It was a combination of my therapist’s loving work with me and the clarity I gained through the writing that brought much of that wisdom. It was years and many, many pages later that I first seriously thought all those words might take shape as a book.
LL: You have a line,
“In the next decades of my life, I thought I had normal relationships with people (especially men), made appropriate life decisions, and had healthy access to my emotions. But I was wrong.”
I wonder if you had all these insights before you started writing (and that was why you wrote the book) or if some of it became clearer in the writing?
Perhaps what I am asking is how has the writing of this book changed you?
LK: When I started writing, I had more confusion than insight. At first, my writing was strictly a tool to help dislodge memories. After a decade or so of accumulating these written accounts of the past, I began to see a narrative arc in my writing: trauma – struggle – healing. I spent several years editing and reworking it with that arc in mind. This was when the insights I had gained from years of therapy and from studying Buddhist teachings made their way into the writing. I incorporated the ‘voice of experience’ – that narrator’s wisdom – into what was becoming a book. Having those written pages waiting, in a way, to receive that wisdom brought more clarity to my healing process and made for a more interesting book, I believe. So, wisdom flowed in both directions; my insight entered the existing page, and that creative process offered me perspective as I saw it take form on the page.
LL: I was so completely sucked in to your story from the beginning. How did you decide where to start your narrative?
LK: I initially focused my therapeutic writing on the relationship with my teacher that began when I was fourteen. I soon discovered I had to back up a bit and look closely at my childhood years. My experience growing up in a family of kind but distant and inattentive parents made me vulnerable to the attention of that teacher; he made me feel special for the first time. At the time, I didn’t think that it might harm me; I thought he loved me. So, I knew it was essential to start my story by depicting those childhood conditions of loneliness and isolation. It sets the stage for everything that follows.
“I knew it was essential to start my story by depicting those childhood conditions of loneliness and isolation. It sets the stage for everything that follows.”—Liz Kinchen
LL: I know some people can feel like the publishing industry is geared toward younger writers, but I think your book is a shining example of the value of writing memoir as an older person. (and I’m not much behind you in age!) Can you speak at all about writing in the later stages of life?
LK: Many younger writers have great insight into themselves and the world, which is shown in their writing. It took me years to gain the insight and wisdom I now have. I suffered and was so confused for many years as an adult, not understanding its root causes, and I worked hard to find wisdom and peace. I’m grateful I have been granted these years to grow and learn. Honestly, I’m grateful to be in the phase of life now where I can devote a great deal of time to this journey—including writing and publishing a memoir, which asks a lot of us!
LL: When did you start writing this book, and how long did it take you?
LK: I started writing about my life almost twenty years ago, not intending that it become a book. But the more I wrote, simultaneously with being in therapy for over ten years, the more I stuck with it. I was enjoying the process and continued writing when therapy ended. Once I felt it could become a book, I focused on learning what it would take to shape it into a coherent story and try to publish it. That phase took about five years, bringing me to the September 5, 2023, publication date.
LL: Did you work with anyone on the book itself, in terms of a writing group or editor?
LK: Yes! When I got serious about thinking I wanted to publish my story, I joined writing groups, took many writing classes, and did much editing based on feedback I received. My smartest move was to hire a developmental editor with whom I really clicked. I worked with her for over a year to chisel many, many pages into the story that wanted to be told. Seeing pages I loved on the cutting room floor was difficult, but I knew it was essential. The manuscript underwent many rounds of editing by me and professional copyeditors. I had a small group of beta readers review multiple drafts, which gave me invaluable feedback and much-appreciated moral support.
“My smartest move was to hire a developmental editor with whom I really clicked.”—Liz Kinchen
LL: What advice do you have for developing or sticking to a writing practice?
LK: Experienced and wise authors suggest having a regular and consistent writing schedule, which I agree with, even though I didn’t always follow that advice. My commitment to writing this book came from within me.
I felt almost like I was pregnant with something that wanted to be born, and in a way, I midwifed this book as though it were a child of mine. So for me, it wasn’t difficult at all to stick with it. I also enjoy writing. I am a meditator, and I found meditation to greatly facilitate the creative writing process. Meditation can reduce mental noise and anxiety and help create a spaciousness into which creativity can emerge. Meditation may not be for everyone, but for me, and for many, it is a vital part of the writing process.
LL: How did you wind up at She Writes Press?
LK: I researched the different publishing models: traditional, hybrid, and self-publishing. I knew a debut memoirist would likely have a tough time breaking into the traditional publishing world, so I ruled it out. I didn’t want to take the many years it takes to pursue that route, often not with success in the end. I didn’t want to self-publish, so I looked into the hybrid model, particularly those presses which include traditional distribution, which She Write Press does. I submitted to and had interviews with several hybrid presses but landed with She Writes.
LL: I love the books they produce. What has your experience with them been like?
LK: My experience has been quite positive. My only disappointment was one of timing; from the time my manuscript was accepted to when She Writes began working with it, a year had gone by. I just had to wait my turn in the queue. But once work began, it was terrific. We had great teamwork finalizing the title, the cover design, the interior design, and with editing and proofreading. Brooke Warner is amazing; I don’t know how she does everything she does at the helm of that press. For me, she was accessible, direct, helpful, and collaborative. I also really value the community of writers that She Writes Press fosters; I didn’t feel I was doing this alone!
LL: You mentioned the book Running on Empty by psychologist Jonice Webb, which I have to read now. What other books were helpful to you in life or in writing the book?
LK: I also recommend her second book: Running on Empty No More. She is an excellent resource for anyone who struggles with the impact of benign emotional neglect in childhood. I read incessantly, and for decades now, I’ve focused quite a bit on memoirs. Reading other memoirs introduced me to a wide range of style, story, and impact that laid a strong foundation for me as a memoirist. Of course, a huge body of work is available on mindfulness, meditation, and Buddhist teaching, which I also read and study regularly. These teachings have been a key source of my healing and cultivation of peace and freedom in my life. For anyone interested in learning meditation about Buddhist teaching, particularly as it is applied here in the West, an excellent place to start is anything written by Tara Brach or Jack Kornfield.
LL: Finally, is there any advice you’d give to emerging writers struggling to finish their first book?
LK: I’d encourage such a writer to look inside themselves to find or reconnect with their true intention for writing their book. Can they find the story that wants to be told and give it the time and loving attention it’s asking for? Rather than view their writing as an effort or a task to complete, hold it as a spark of creativity, a spark of yourself that wants to be seen and known, and facilitate that process.