Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed author Jason Fisher about how losing his wife unexpectedly inspired him to write his book, To Where You Are, and the work that went into it.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
I grew up in a small farming community Eastern Iowa, in the midwestern United States. I came from a family of modest means, with parents who divorced while I was just seven years old. I paid my way through college and graduate school by working multiple jobs and taking out a few student loans as needed.
I have an undergraduate bachelor’s degree in business and political science from Coe College, a master’s degree in public service from the Clinton School at the University of Arkansas, and a degree in geosciences and operational meteorology from Mississippi State University as a second bachelor’s degree. I have spent the bulk of my career working as a nonprofit executive in fields such as higher education fundraising, genetic research and advocacy, and consumer safety.
I met my late wife, Mandi, in 2002 and we were married in 2006. We have one child, Mackenzie, who has a rare genetic syndrome and accompanying intellectual disability. Mandi passed away unexpectedly in 2012 at age 30 when Mackenzie was just two years old.
When did you first WANT to write a book?
I first had the idea of writing this book in 2016.
When did you take a step to start writing?
I attempted to begin writing in 2016 but struggled a bit with the emotional nature of finding the right words to explain my grief journey. It wasn’t until 2019 that I had both the time and a peace in my heart to transfer all the stories and thoughts in my mind into written words.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
I wrote my first book, an industry publication for higher education fundraising, in 2008. From the starting point to the release of the book took six months.
How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?
A little less than six years. Four of those years were spent starting and stopping, outlining and reframing my strategy, and continuing to heal. The last two years I really put pen to paper and the words seemed to flow out quite naturally.
Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write To Where You Are?
I had several reasons for writing this book. First, I wanted to memorialize my wife and talk about the fantastic person she was in life. Second, I wanted to leave behind a lasting memory for my daughter, who was two years old when her mother passed. She has rare chromosomal abnormality that has left her intellectually disabled, so it may take time for her to fully comprehend who her mother was in life.
I also wrote it for those suffering from grief, helping to provide another viewpoint about how somebody in a somewhat similar position handled the challenges of loss over a long period of time. But I must say, I also wrote this book for me – to help heal from my emotional trauma.
What were your biggest challenges with writing To Where You Are?
I had a difficult time determining how I wanted to start the story. After many attempts to find the right words, I decided that if I could not write about the worst day of my life, I could not properly frame the contrast for the reader between where I started and how I progressed through the journey. Once I had that epiphany, the words seemed to naturally come to me and the narrative flowed easily onto the paper.
What was your research process for To Where You Are?
The events I experienced were seared into my memory, so it didn’t take much research to write the stories. However, I journaled extensively very early in the grief journey, and I relied on a tremendous amount of memorabilia I had collected when I began dating Mandi. The book is historically accurate, and I took no liberties with embellishing the story. It simply is written precisely how it occurred.
How did you plan the structure of To Where You Are?
I outlined each time period I wanted to include, recalled and wrote down as many details and stories as I could remember that were relevant, and continually refined my materials until well into the first draft of the book.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did To Where You Are need?
I edited the first two rounds by myself before submitting the proposal to various publishers, which took a considerable amount of time. I wanted as polished of a product as I could get before sending it for consideration. Ultimately, there were several more rounds of developmental and structural edits, revising and adding to the story until we captured the moments and my thoughts in the most dynamic, yet concise way as possible.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a book?
Be patient with yourself. Let your ideas percolate and be sure to find time to step away from the writing process occasionally and give your mind a chance to reframe how the story could be told. I had some of my best ideas when I was doing yard work or exercising. For me, activity seems to open my portal to creativity.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
I haven’t fully settled on the next project just yet, but there is certainly a story to be told about my daughter’s rare disability and why we as a society should be embracing our growing population of special needs kids and adults.
And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
I’m incredibly proud of this book. It is the single most challenging and important project I have ever undertaken, and I have participated in endurance athletic events and also ran for the United States Senate. That gives some perspective on how much effort went into telling this story. I put my heart and soul into every word I wrote.
Pop all your book, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:
Website – www.towhereyouare.org
Facebook – @JasonFisherToWhereYouAre
Instagram – @towhereyouarebook
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