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Interview: Kay Marshall Strom, Author of The Second-Half Adventure: Don’t Just Retire

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Kay Marshall Strom is a woman with a vast range of writing and speaking experience.  She has written 36 books, including her newest release The Second-Half Adventure: Don't Just Retire – Use Your Time, Skills and Resources to Change the World, as well as many magazine articles, prize-winning screenplays and short stories.  When Kay is not writing, she is a very popular and in-demand speaker throughout the country.  When not working, Kay and her husband love to travel, which fits in rather nicely for speaking assignments and requests.

Recently, Kay took the time to answer a few questions for me to share with readers.  I greatly enjoyed her answers and getting to know her a bit better.  I hope you do so as well!

First of all, could you tell us a bit about The Second-Half Adventure? What is the story about, who are the characters, etc.

The subtitle, which I originally argued was awfully unwieldy, really is a pretty accurate description: "Don’t Just Retire — Use Your Time, Skills and Resources to Change the World". This book is a call to the baby boomer generation to use the second half of their lives to make a difference in the world.

What do you want readers to take away from reading The Second-Half Adventure?

Everyone who has navigated the first half of life has something of value to offer in their second half.

What was the most fun about writing The Second-Half Adventure?

Talking to people who were finding ways to make a difference. The imaginative approaches… the willingness to try new things… the flexibility modeled… the unbelievable reservoir of potential. I was moved beyond words.

What was the hardest part about writing The Second-Half Adventure?

Finding an angle that I felt was worth another book on retirement. That angle came when I connected with the Finishers Project. This great organization had already done cutting-edge research on the baby boomer generation, on their specific needs, and their second-half potential. Even better, they had put together a base of mission opportunities, and developed a user-friendly way for people to search out service openings online.

Do you have a favorite excerpt from The Second-Half Adventure? Could you share that with us, please?

For years I taught writing classes to older people living in senior residences. I always gave them this assignment: Write the significance of your life in 100 words or less. It was amazing to me to see what people considered worthy of their one hundred words. Most of the men described what they had done for a living, and many women used their words to talk about their children. When I handed the papers back with the comment, “Yes, but tell me about you!” people seemed genuinely stymied. But I remember a certain man by the name of William who began his micro-biography this way: “I escaped life at the age of sixty when I retired from my job and went to work doing good. That was when I became me.”
Significance isn’t about success; it’s about meaning. It’s not what pads your checkbook; it’s what gives value to your life….

In their determination to give back, mature baby boomers are realizing that significance truly is found beyond themselves and their own lives. If we live into our eighties or nineties—even if we blow out a hundred candles—our days are numbered. And no one can reclaim days from the past. It’s the way we leave this earth that shows the truth of where our treasure is.

Now is the time to rethink goals and values with eternal significance in mind.“Do your little bit of good where you are,” said Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa. “It’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world."
(pp. 105-106)

 What kind of research did you do for The Second-Half Adventure?

Although I read and read and read some more, my most important research came from interviews. I talked with almost fifty people who were already involved with a second-half adventure somewhere in the world. In addition, I talked with representatives from a large number of organizations that actively look for such people.

Could you please tell us about your writing process?

I’m actually a pretty organized writer. I believe in outlining thoroughly — giving myself a good map of where I’m going. My first draft — the composing draft — takes me the most time. (I’m euphoric while I do this draft. My writing seems so wonderful!) The second draft is where I do the nuts and bolts. All my wonderful words suddenly sound like mush and I’m faced with having to make a work of art out it. (I’m always discouraged here. I feel like everyone will discover I’m a fraud with no clue what I’m doing!) Then I do a final edit, where I read everything out loud and put on the final touches. Although I’m never back to euphoric, I feel a lot better with this finished product.

Do you ever put yourself within your characters?

Always! In every work, fiction or non-fiction, I’m in there. Otherwise, I’d have no real vested interest, would I?

Do you have any particular habits that you take part in while writing? By that I mean certain music you like to listen to, foods you like to eat, environment that helps you write better, etc.

Chocolate. Deep, dark, rich chocolate. My husband makes cocoa for me from scratch every morning, just the way I like it — not too sweet. Yum!

Where do you get your ideas and inspirations?

That is never a problem. I read magazines and newspapers voraciously, and I tear out any article that stirs an idea in me. I only wish I could live long enough to use up all the ideas in my bulging idea file.

How did you decide you wanted to be a writer? Were there any authors or books that made you think "Wow, that's what I want to do – craft stories of my own for others to read"?

I’ve wanted to write since I was very young. When I was in 8th grade I read Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. It astounded me to see the tremendous power of words, that they could move my heart and also change a nation. I wanted to do that!

What make you take that leap from "wanting" to be a writer, as opposed to "becoming" a writer? Many talk of being a writer and dip their toes in, but it seems there is often a sort of "push" to bring one over that wall.

Writing is an all-consuming passion. People ask me how I have the self-discipline to sit at my desk hours on end, days on end, weeks on end. The answer is, I love it. I want to do it. There are tons of people who want to be writers. But unless a person wants to actually write, that person will never be a writer.

How do you come up with the names of your characters? It almost seems as though, as an author, you have the continuous fun of naming children!

I have a 1,200-page baby name book that is dog-eared and well-worn. It tells the derivatives of names and their meanings. That’s important. Also, I want to find a good balance to the ear. Much of my writing is set in other countries — Africa and India, for instance — so specific baby naming sites on the internet are a big help, too.

Were you an avid reader as a child? If so, what were some of your favorite books?

I was an avid reader. I read everything I could get my hands on, from Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tales to anything by O. Henry. I read through the Collier’s encyclopedia, and when I was thirteen, I read through the Bible — King James Version!

If you had to summarize your life and give it a book title, what would that title be?

Kay Marshall Strom’s Believe It Or Not!

What are you working on right now? Could you give us a taste/teaser (aka excerpt) from your current WIP?

I am just finishing Book 3 of the Grace in Africa fiction series. This is a sweeping three-part historical saga of slavery and freedom, complicity and entanglement, guilt and salvation. Book 1 (The Call of Zulina) is set on the coast of West Africa (Abingdon Press, August 2009). Book 2, set in London (The Voyage of Promise), will be released August 2010. Book 3 takes the reader to the plantations of the American South (The Triumph of Grace) and is due out Spring 2011.

What are you reading right now?

A Passage to India, by E.M. Forester. My next fiction trilogy will be set in India, so I’m getting ready.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

An eclectic group, I’m afraid: Agatha Christie, C.S.Lewis, Charles Dickens, John Irving, Fyodor Dostoyevsky

If you could have lunch and chat with any author, dead or alive, who would it be and why?

John Grisham. I read his book The Testament just before I went to India and contracted malaria. In the midst of my midnight delirium, I diagnosed my problem and worked out a plan of attack based on what I imagined Grisham’s character Nate was advising me to do. I’d like to thank John Grisham for doing such careful and accurate research!

What do you hope to accomplish within the next five years?

I think Christians in America get a bad rap because too often the spurious words and deeds of a few are magnified and the principles by which so many truly live and conduct their lives are missed. Practicing our faith means doing something positive. I would like my writing to encourage a practice and understanding of these words from the book of Micah: “What does the Lord require of you, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”

Is there anything that you would like to add? That you would like readers to know about you or your writing?

You covered it quite well!

Where can readers get in touch with you? Twitter, Blog, Facebook, etc?

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