Sharon L. Hicks is a retired executive living in Honolulu, Hawaii. She is the daughter of businessman and community leader Harold E. Hicks, whose company, Hicks Homes, built over 20,000 affordable pre-designed homes in Hawaii. This is her first book, inspired by her mother.
TCJWW: Your book is raw and personal; the memories so alive and vibrant. Is there a particular passage you were at all reluctant to include?
Hicks: My mother’s stories were raw and personal and I knew my memoir had to be as she lived: Out Loud. Some passages caused me to pace and gasp and cry, but I knew the memoir had to be honest. I can’t single out a particular passage that I was reluctant to include. When the book was published it was a terrifying moment. No retraction. It was now public. All of it.
TCJWW: In the Epilogue, you mention that you spent 70 years running away from your mother. Did writing this memoir help you let go?
Hicks: I didn’t “let go” of Mother but I “let go” of trying not to be like her. My entire life was “not being like my mother.” I denied in total. Then I realized during my writing that my best parts were her best parts: love of philosophy, the Socratic questioning, being present, content with oneself, loving sex, music, healthy food. I now relish being her daughter. I regret not having this revelation while she lived so I could tell her how proud I am of being her daughter.
TCJWW: The way in which you spoke about your divorce is truly admirable and especially important in giving us a window to see inside relationships and emotions. In hindsight, what would you offer to someone in the same situation?
Hicks: This does not apply to an amicable divorce, but especially to abusive relationships. Safety first, always.
1. Have an escape plan. Protect your children and yourself. Never confront a bastard. You cannot reason with the unreasonable. There are shelters and help with just a phone call away.
2. Never underestimate his actions. When your heart says, “he would never do that” and your gut says, “he could and would.” Follow your gut. Be overly cautious.
3. Get support from your family, friends, counselors and support groups.
4. See a divorce attorney without his knowledge. Do not tell anyone on slight chance he could find out.
5. Transfer assets in your name only, if possible. If you have a joint account, withdraw what you can and put it in a new account under your name only. You will need the money.
6. Tell him about the divorce in front of your attorney, counselor, or someone your spouse would feel intimidated by. Have that person tell him the plan for separation until the divorce is final.
7. Don’t feel guilty or worry. Useless emotions. Feel empowered that this is the right thing for your children and you. There is no excuse for abuse. You deserve better. You can live without him and will.
TCJWW: Did you feel you had to tiptoe around people’s feelings while writing your memoir? How did your family react to your writing?
Hicks: No, I involved my family in my writing. My brother, my children, cousins, and friends were supportive and helpful. It was a learning experience for all of us. My brother said, “Sharon, it’s awesome. I’m amazed at your accuracy in telling the stories and I now know why I do certain things.” One daughter had trouble reading it because she started crying, “I never pictured you as a little girl, Mom. I wish I was there to help.”
My son said he was thankful I wrote How Do You Grab a Naked Lady? because so many of the stories have been bantered around the family for years, and now I documented them. If his boys ask questions, his response will be, “Read the book.”
If my mother were alive, she would love the memoir. She probably would say, “Sharon, you forgot such and such a story.” After publication, people contacted me with their special stories about Mother.
TCJWW: Writing as a mother yourself, did you find it difficult to write about your own mother and childhood? Did you feel like you gained perspective from both roles?
Hicks: It was a difficult. And I did gain a perspective. How could my mother take a sweet innocent child (me) and lock me in a closet. I was cute, with darling little arms that she grabbed forcefully. I behaved. Why did she treat me that way? I was fearful. I treaded lightly. Not to cause any problems. I was a good girl. An invisible girl.
Today, as I hold my innocent 18-month great-grandson, I think of all the hugs I missed. When I hold him, my love flows into him like a gushing river. I want him to feel safe and loved. I want him to know he has the power to be the best he can be. These feelings are paramount for a healthy growing child.
But with Mother, she was incapable. She was a young, intelligent, sexy, provocative, narcissistic, bi-polar, schizophrenic Mother. She was mentally ill. She did the best she could. I forgive her for not being a mom.
TCJWW: What would you advise someone who is writing about their personal experiences and drafting a memoir?
Hicks: 1. Read, read, read. Read memoirs. Read Stephen King’s On Writing. In college, I read Albert Camus’ The Stranger and knew I was going to write a book in similar style.
2. Write down stories as they happen. Keep any documents, records, newspaper clippings, etc. Audio or video-tape incidents of people in your family. For over 50 years, I kept records. Thirty years ago, I audio-taped my mother for several hours. She told her stories with minor interruptions from me. I taped my brother, grandma, aunts, close friends of the family. I always knew I was going to write her story, which was so fanatical and crazy. When I turned 69, I decided I better do it now. I told my family and friends, tai chi, ukulele and hula classes, and my volunteer work that I needed space to write. For over two years, I wrote and rewrote.
3. Attend writing workshops and conferences.
4. Be honest. Every protagonist has some faults. Give the reader someone to champion.
5. Write your memoir as a novel: an opening (the problem), a middle (the climax), and an ending (a resolution).
6. Hire a professional editor. A must!
TCJWW: Do you see any challenges and/or rewards in memoir compared to other literary genres?
Hicks: When I meet my readers, we meet on a deeper level. They read about my life, and want to meet me, give me a big hug and say, “Thank you for being so honest, your memoir helped me!” My life has a new beginning at age 73. I awake with purpose and perseverance to help others reveal their stories and erase stigmas attached to mental illness. Miracles happen when you share your life.