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Interview: Jane Rowan, Author of The River of Forgetting

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A New England poet and writer, Jane Rowan taught science for three decades in a private college.  Ms. Rowan later retired to pursue the creative life stemming from a love of expressing herself through words.

Jane Rowan has published numerous articles, as well as a self-help booklet titled Caring for the Child Within — A Manual for Grownups, which is available through her website as well as through Amazon (Kindle). An excerpt from The River of Forgetting appeared in Women Reinvented: True Stories of Empowerment and Change. 

Readers can learn more about Jane Rowan and her work by visiting her website as well as the website for her memoir, The River of Forgetting.

Please tell us a bit about yourself and your book, The River of Forgetting.

I’d spent my life being a scientist and teacher, but all my scientific training did not help when an old secret surfaced in my life. Although the memory hinted at abuse, it took me a long time to believe that my own family, who did love me, could also have supported sexual abuse. I would never find court-admissible evidence, so I needed to learn to trust my own body-memories as well as the scraps and hints of family strangeness.

The River of Forgetting describes five years of my life after the first memory came back: the tension between my old image of family as a good place and my dizzying flashbacks, the struggle to care for my aging mother while grappling with increasing anger at her role. My intense relationship with a gifted, unconventional therapist was key to healing, and I also learned to use the creative outlets of writing and art.

What do you hope readers will take away from reading The River of Forgetting?

I hope readers will see that change is possible, even when the hurts are old, deep, and murky. Humans have an amazing capacity to heal, when we are willing to confront and explore the painful past. I hope readers will be inspired to undertake their own journeys.

Do you have a favorite line or excerpt from your book?

“The memory emerged from a dim corner of my mind, jolting me awake. It was a humid morning in August. The air flowed softly through the bedroom window, bringing in a catbird’s song from the cherry tree just outside. I sat up in bed and propped a pillow behind me, grabbed my spiral-bound journal from its place on the bedside table, and began scribbling…”

Why did you choose your particular genre?

When I was working on The River of Forgetting, some of my friends advised me to fictionalize my story. They saw how I was sweating blood over getting the truth onto paper, and they thought it might be easier if I distanced myself and put the story “out there” away from me, as fiction.

But I knew it had to be memoir. When I read a good memoir, I find there’s a certain thrill in knowing the story is real. If I feel the truth of it, I develop a certain trust in the author. There’s the sense of getting to know a real human being, with their vulnerability and their defenses. In writing The River of Forgetting, I needed to put forth that truthfulness and earn the reader’s trust, no matter how difficult it felt.

If your current release were to be turned into a movie, who would you love to see play what characters and why?

I’m afraid that a younger Jack Nicholson would do a great job of being my father, because he’s so good at being both charismatic and creepy. His performance in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was so reminiscent of my dad that it was hard for me to watch.

Sally Field might be able to play my mother. She would need to bring out a strange combination of stubbornness and passivity, along with an ability to lie to herself, that Sally could convey brilliantly.

Meryl Streep could be my therapist, any day. Why not? She can easily show compassion and intelligence along with a strong sense of purpose and integrity, and she does it with very subtle changes in her face and body.

What are your favorite aspects of writing?

I love how absorbing it is to dive right into the flow of writing. There’s always a buzz of tension as I go to the edge of what is possible. I also like editing and rewriting, the craft of finding the right structure and the right word. As Mark Twain wrote, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” I love getting zapped.

Do you ever experience self-doubts with your work?

Writing always involves doubt for me. To do good writing I must take risks and venture into the unknown. In this memoir in particular, I encountered several kinds of doubt. First I wondered if I’d have the nerve to write the truth about the degree of pain I endured as I uncovered fragments of abuse that shattered my notions about my family. Then I didn’t know how to find a form and tone that felt correct: dead honest, intimate, and yet crafted solidly to hold the story. I had to experiment for months to find the form, which now is a linear story, but with pieces from my journals and with poems as well.

What kind of research did you have to do during the writing process?

How does one do research for a memoir? As part of my personal detecting, I had already dug through family photos and asked a certain number of questions from family members. Since I wanted to focus on the events of the five years after the first memory roiled my waters, I relied mainly on my journals, which were extremely detailed. I was in the habit of writing careful notes directly after each therapy session, so I had my immediate impressions and often actual words from those dialogues. I really wanted to be scrupulously accurate about this five-year stretch of time, even when my actions and reactions were uncomfortable and seemed crazy. Each chapter required immersing myself back into the emotions and sensations of the time in order to get the feelings right. Then I needed to pull back and focus through a lens that would serve the reader. I gained a lot of perspective by writing the memoir.

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