Today we are pleased to welcome Molly Best Tinsley, author of Entering the Blue Stone, to our blog. Her book is a beautifully written memoir offering a unique perspective on the challenges she faced during last years of her parents’ lives. Molly’s father, a retired General in the Air Force, and her creative mother had always been larger-than-life figures, but now they were under the influence of disease, dementia and a medical care system. It was up to Molly and her siblings to make the decisions that affected their parents and to give them the support they needed to protect their dignity.
Molly has been a professor of writing at the U.S. Naval Academy and is now their first professor emerita. The author of fiction, nonfiction and plays, she has won prizes, awards and fellowships for her work.
Her Mentor Center: Molly, when did the idea of writing a book about this experience occur to you?
Molly: I’ve always dealt with difficult experiences by writing about them. In the process of translating the experience into words, I get the feeling, illusory or not, that I’ve mastered it, or at least understand it better. Add the fact that I’m often motivated to write out of a sense of injustice—to expose a wrong—and crafting Entering the Blue Stone became inevitable.
Her Mentor Center: How long did it take to write Entering the Blue Stone?
Molly: The first draft was the work of about a year—for me relatively fast writing. I can’t count how many drafts followed, though, to shape and focus the story, to figure out what it all meant.
Her Mentor Center: What would you hope readers would think or feel in reading your memoir?
Molly: I’d love readers to feel the special value of the Evergreen residents whom my siblings and I hung out with along with our parents—their unmistakable, distinctive spirits, despite loss of cognitive function. If they are facing similar chaos in their families, I would hope my story would offer emotional support, the sense that they aren’t alone.
Whether for their parents or themselves, I’d like readers to think about end-of-life decisions and realize the importance of addressing them in advance. Also in checking out continuing care facilities, to be skeptical of plush surfaces—question policies, treatment methods, physicians on-site, staff experience with gerontology, etc.
Her Mentor Center: What was the most difficult part of writing this book?
Molly: Memoir is defined by a single focus; it’s not inclusive autobiography, but more like one chapter in that autobiography, expanded and explored in detail. So how do you choose what needs to be shown in depth in that one chapter, in order to bring the characters and their situation to life? Which details can be mentioned in passing and which omitted altogether? These decisions challenge the author of memoir. For me, the hardest part of writing Entering the Blue Stone was sorting through the wealth of the past and the full complexity of the present to select only those threads relevant to my life during my parents’ final years.
Her Mentor Center: What was the most rewarding part of writing this book? Did it change how you viewed your parent’s decline/death?
Molly: In writing about the loss of my parents, I felt as if I saved something from oblivion. The writing process itself also helped me appreciate the comic side to the very human situation my siblings and I found ourselves in. I was able to see how foolish many of my assumptions were—well-meaning, maybe, but just not particularly relevant to the end of life.
Her Mentor Center: Now readers you have a chance to ask Molly some of your own questions. Are you an aspiring author? Or concerned about an aging parent? Or a caregiver to a loved one with Alzheimer’s? Or someone who would love a good read about the complexity of relationships? Use the comment section below to ask Molly about the writing process, her experiences, or more about Entering The Blue Stone itself.