Author Interview with Angie Ricketts

Today we welcome Angie Ricketts.

Book ‘Em:  Tell us about you and your life outside of writing.

Angie Ricketts:  I consider myself a serial memoirist, even though I’ve only written one memoir so far. To that end, I write a little bit everyday as a way of documenting and processing events outside of my writing life. So I guess that means that my writing life and real life are not mutually exclusive. However…I’ve been on a bit of a professional writing hiatus for a little over a year. I continue to journal daily, but those journals are a mess and a reflection of my mind and personal life. We had an ill child and taking care of him sort of upended my world and pushed everything else to the side. Additionally, my husband works in another state and is gone 90% of the time, so I’m usually on my own parenting our three active teenagers. Between momming and recently working on the rehab of our newly purchased historic home, I consider myself lucky if I can squeeze in a yoga class or sit down with a good book. I’ve always been a homebody and appreciate a reason to stay home to recharge my battery.

Book ‘Em:  Which books have you written? What are they about and why did you choose to write them? Do your books have a message? Are they fiction or nonfiction?

Angie Ricketts:  I have written and had one book published. A memoir which on the surface is about the tribal, gritty reality of life inside the family warrior class bubble during wartime; titled No Man’s War: Irreverent Confessions of an Infantry Wife. My book has an underlying message of feminism and how women in that culture struggle to find their own identity when they marry a career soldier. Somehow it ended up being marketed mostly as military history– a class I ironically failed as an undergrad at Indiana University. Funny, huh? I’ve never seen my book as military history genre at all. To me, NMW is an ode to the good, the bad and the ugly of sisterhood, marriage and motherhood. It just happens to be set against the backdrop of war, which heightens experiences and relationships. It is a story about coping, survival and identity.

Book ‘Em:  Do you have a work in progress?

Angie Ricketts:  I’ve toyed with the idea of trying to write fiction, but to me, truth is far more intriguing and juicy than fiction. Maybe I’m just not all that creative! Writing memoir is a wonderful form of therapy in the sense that it forced me to look hard in the mirror at my own flaws how trauma has shaped me as a person. That is the essence of memoir. If it ends up helping someone else see themselves in what I write, then that’s a beautiful gift. Ultimately I write for myself though. I mentioned above that we’ve had an ill child. Our 19 year old son was diagnosed with a one in a million brain tumor just two months before his high school graduation in March 2016. His entire life was planned; he was driven to become a fourth generation army warrior. From the time he could walk and talk all he wanted was to be a soldier. From his perspective, the loss of that dream was as heavy as the potential loss of his life. One of the first things we did after his diagnosis was to buy him his first MacBook so he could journal his personal war against his physical condition. He has amassed many beautiful, poignant pages about his ordeal but wants me to write his story. I wrestle with whether or not I feel okay writing about Jack, even though he asks me often when I’m going to start writing. Other members of my family aren’t so keen about me writing about them, but Jack loves it. That makes me smile because it tells me that he trusts me with his story.
At heart, I am a sociologist. People watching and human behavior in groups is infinitely fascinating to me. My next project will certainly be some form of another memoir, this time with a backdrop other than war.

Book ‘Em:  What was the most difficult section/piece you ever wrote? What made it difficult?

Angie Ricketts:  As I’m sure many memoirists will tell you, the most difficult piece I ever wrote was also the most fulfilling and vindicating. 25 years ago I was attacked by a stranger while walking home at night. When I began NMW, I had zero intention of writing about that attack that I’d kept private for so many years. Ultimately though, I could not figure out a way to be authentic without writing about the one thing I could never talk about. Writing around that horrific event that shaped the person I became, for the better and worse, was impossible. So the internal decision to write about it was the difficult part. When I sat down to actively write that chapter the words came easily and quickly. For the first time in years I felt like I’d turned the tables and transformed something infinitely awful into a source of power.

Book ‘Em:  What sort of research do you do for your work?

Angie Ricketts:  My journals, letters, datebooks, interviews of friends and family, and personal notes are my only research. Again, that’s the benefit of “writing what you know.”

Book ‘Em:  Which books and authors do you read for pleasure? Is there an author that inspires you?

Angie Ricketts:  My older cousin was a librarian and began bringing me books when I was five years old. Judy Blume was the first woman outside of my family that I idolized as a child.. I read and reread every single word she wrote, and I think that’s what led to my own journaling at the age of about 9 or 10 years. Poetry (John O’Donohue is my favorite poet) and music lyrics are tremendous inspiration. Even though I write nonfiction, I still enjoy reading fiction. Gillian Flynn is a recent favorite. That woman can write complex character driven stories like no one else. I love every Augusten Burroughs and Mary Karr memoir. They are masters at taking a crap sandwich life event and turning it into a triumph.

Book ‘Em:  Was there a person who encouraged you to write?

Angie Ricketts:  My mother recognized my love of writing from when I was in elementary school. She was always a little disappointed that I didn’t major in journalism and instead studied sociology and psychology.
Honestly though, no one encouraged me to actively write. That was something I was just naturally inclined to do. The idea of writing a book was always in the back of my mind but I didn’t discuss it with anyone. My journals were always kept private. When I finally decided to query literary agents with my memoir idea, I still had not told a soul! It was only after I had signed with an agent that I told my family and close friends. I’m not exactly sure how it happened that way, but it did. The people closest to me were totally blindsided and proud.

Book ‘Em:  What would you say are your strengths as an author?

Angie Ricketts:  I’d hope that my greatest strength is my ability to not rewrite or put a glossy spin on history in a way that paints me as a flawless character or victim-y in any way. Also I think I have slightly sick sense of humor that keeps a sense of lightness and even redemption. If I ever lose my sense of humor, then I’ve lost the game of life and writing altogether.

Book ‘Em:  How often do you write, and do you write using a strict routine?

Angie Ricketts:  I am a procrastinator and binge writer. I admire writers who write on schedule, especially those who get up at 4:00 in the morning to get in their 1000 words for the day or whatever their goal is. I’d love to be that sort of writer, but I’m way to angsty about the process and have learned to embrace my own style– which is binge writing. Once I finally get my butt in the chair, I’m not easily distracted.

Book ‘Em:  Five years from now, where do you see yourself as a writer?

Angie Ricketts:  Hopefully with at least one more memoir on bookshelves. What I love almost as much as writing is talking about what I’ve written. I was lucky to have a small mountain of press, interviews and opportunities to talk about No Man’s War. I hope my future projects have that same level of exposure and discourse.

Book ‘Em:  If you could offer one piece of advice to a novice writer, what would it be?

Angie Ricketts:  Read, people watch, and then read some more. Your voice at as a writer is shaped by what you read, so choose quality writing and writing that you most identify with. Also, for me, writing what I know comes the most naturally. I have a great friend, nonfiction author Helen Thorpe, who is able to submerge herself in completely foreign subcultures and then write as if she were native to that topic. Her writing blows me away in that regard. I know myself well enough to know that I couldn’t do that. So, get to know yourself and your strengths and weaknesses. Exploit and embrace your strengths anywhere you can find them!

Book ‘Em:  What would you consider the best compliment a reader could give your book?

Angie Ricketts:  That they laughed through tears or that they felt like I spoke their own truth and experience, when they’d thought they were the only one who thought or felt that way. I didn’t intend to speak for anyone but myself. Having readers identify so personally is a gift.

Book ‘Em:  Provide an excerpt of your writing that you would like to share with our members.

Angie Ricketts:  This is an excerpt from a chapter from the middle of No Man’s War; written about the day I sent my husband to his seventh combat deployment, this one a fifteen month deployment to Iraq in 2007-8:

Deployment Day Flavored KoolAid (chapter excerpt)

So here I sit in his Jeep that smells of Army gear. Smells of him. With shaky hands and a body that feels drained of blood, I drive three miles, the ugly sob guiding me home. I walk into the side door and see his jacket hanging in its place, and his cup from this morning; rinsed and in the drying rack. It’s time. I glance around the room at his magazines stacked next to his chair; that ugly cheap leather recliner; an eye sore. So very little in this home is a direct reflection of him, except that chair. everything else I’ve chosen and placed. He is little more than a guest in his own home.

I walk into the bathroom and stare at his sink with his few ‘personal hygiene’ things neatly lined up. I feel limp. everything is gray. I decide to lie down before I start my ritual. The bed smells like him and it does not comfort me. I want that smell gone. It’s going to be fifteen months and I won’t be one of those women sleeping with some old t-shirt, clinging his long faded scent. No. I’m a fresh start girl. Today is Day one. Today we start counting down the days, 455 to go. So I get up and turn on my iPod. Loud. “Under Pressure.” A poignant and perfect choice. I rip the sheets from the bed and throw them into the laundry basket, pausing to stare at the empty mattress, a prophetic blank slate. I’m on my own now.

Part of my deployment ritual is to remove all his daily things. It’s easier for me. I compartmentalize his crap, and I compartmentalize my emotions. It’s my coping style, and we each have our own. If I had to look at that tube of deodorant for ten months, pick it up to dust under it, wipe it down for ten months, I would surely lose my mind. No. My way is better. Fresh.

That ugly chair. I want all of this done before the kids return, so I drag it out to the garage. It does not come willingly; it fights me the whole way. It slams one of my toes, bringing a new round of tears and anger to my face. The chair does not want to go, but I won’t let it stop me. Eventually it ends in the garage, pissed at me and defeated, but satisfied at having the last word by leaving a huge gouge in the new hardwood floors. That will be my one constant reminder of this day for the next fifteen months.

Reason #67 that deployments don’t suck: I don’t have to endure the torture of enduring American Idol or Fox News or any kind of loud sports show.

Jack is a list man. I am too, to an extent. But he takes it to an extreme and makes matrices of what belongs in pantries, daily chores for the kids, packing lists, shopping lists, SOPs (standard operating procedures) for everything under the sun. It exhausts me. The lists and spreadsheets neatly taped inside all of the cabinet doors and on the wall make me feel claustrophobic. I whisk from room to room and tear them down. They rip, they leave tape behind, it’s messy. I don’t give a shit for now. I will go back and remove the remaining edges of paper and tape later. This is my ritual and I catch myself cackling as I wad the lists and shove them into the trash. I don’t think too hard about the cackling, it’s way too early in the ballgame for the cheese to slide off my cracker. But this moment of embraced crazy feels good. A rebirth. The euphoric sense of getting the hell on with it, at last.

I miss my girlfriends and neighbors. In the week or so leading up to a deployment we disappear from the radar, an unspoken rule of Army wives. Allowing us to cocoon in our families and trudge through those last days alone with our husband and children. I heard them outside a couple nights ago, gathered around a fire pit in Mira’s driveway next door. I heard Gwen and Mira’s raucous laughs and wished I could run over for just a quick glass of wine and the familiarity of my friends. As I lay in bed listening to the hushed voices and laughter I wondered what I was missing.

No one will call today though, and if they do I won’t answer. Gwen waved to me from her driveway as I pulled into the neighborhood sobbing. I need this time to breathe and get my game face on. Right now I feel covered in bruises. But this is it. Day one. Tomorrow I will see colors again. What hung before us for the entire past year, heckling us, is here at last.

I splash some water on my face and go to pick Greta up from her preschool class. It’s early, but I miss her. is morning Darrin wasn’t able to take her into her classroom like we planned. We parked the car and he got out to unbuckle her from her car seat, stopped, then looked at me with eyes full of tears and his lip quivering and shook his head. On autopilot, I took her from him and carried her away, checked her in, hung her little backpack filled with diapers and a change of clothes. Greta seemed to take it in stride, but for weeks after he leaves she will cry and throw a tantrum, refusing to go beyond the parking lot at preschool drop off. I want to go get her now; maybe we can snuggle and watch Caillou before the bus brings the big kids home. And I need a stiff drink. I can have that after I pick her up. Life in the Army fishbowl, similar to life in the real world, makes us hyper aware of certain faux pas, and smelling of booze at a 3:00 preschool pick up clearly makes that list. Getting behind the wheel of a car after even one drink is unfathomable in our world. Schlepping to the commissary in pink pajama pants would practically make the news. Even on the day of deployment. On our community stage we maintain at least an outward appearance of strength, control, and resilience; the ugly, snotty breakdowns were for behind closed doors.

Tomorrow I will place a huge catalog order with Hanna Andersson for the kids and a few tasty things for myself from J. Crew. Ease into our first days. Then before bed we will at last hear the huge plane full of battle ready soldiers y over. Ben will call to confirm “wheels up” and that will be it. The finality that he is gone will be undeniable.

Tomorrow is day 454. Then I will stop counting. Tomorrow brings meetings and our new normal, establishing a battle rhythm. Tomorrow I can’t hide and lick my wounds. But tonight I can.

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