An Interview with Sally Paradysz 

Sally W. Paradysz writes from the cabin she built in the woods in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Her memoir, From Scratch: Why I Walked Away From My Life and Built This Home, tells the story of building her house and rebuilding her life after the pains of rape and divorce. She works as a spiritual counselor, and won Honorable Mention for an inspirational story in the Writer’s Digest 78th Annual Writing Competition in 2009. She was a finalist in the Salem Literary Festival in 2010, and published a non-fiction story in 11:11 magazine. Her essay, "Tool-belt Spirituality" appears among those of such other authors as Gloria Steinem and Jimmy Carter in the collection 65 Things to Do When You Retire, and her essay "Just With Your Heart," appears in the anthology, 70 Things to Do When You Turn 70. Visit Sally's website and blog: Finding Paradysz in the Woods.

Interview by BWG member Jerry McFadden

Bethlehem Writers Group: When did you seriously start to write?

Sally W. Paradysz: I began writing at the age of eight. To me, all of my writing has been serious. I began with poems, and they turned into meditations, which in time went back to poetry. I wrote about what I knew best at that age, nature and family, horses and the life of a woodsman’s daughter. I thought my poetry was beautiful and important. Was it?

In the years to come I continued to write. No one took me seriously, so most of the time I hid my work. Lots of us do. But with time, I stopped being embarrassed because I felt deeply about it. I never once stopped to consider if it might ever be relevant.

BWG: Your major achievement has been your memoir on building your house while you were rebuilding your life. Did you know you were going to write this book when you started your housing project?

SP: No! The experience of building my home while living in a tiny tool shed on my land, gave me a spiritual experience with nature that I never believed possible. It wasn’t until the last nail was in place that I realized the gift I was given. The love that came to me during the process helped me take on my own personal challenges.

I loved that time, not only for building a home, but for rebuilding my life. For one of the first times ever, I felt a lift in the knowledge of

what was important. To me and my life. With that awareness I felt an enormous need to tell my story.

BWG: Did you keep a detailed diary while in the process of building your new home, or did you write from memory after the housing project was completed?

SP: I wrote almost entirely from memory. I have a fine one of those tools and put it to good use. Also, I did keep a house file with all my receipts in it. Kept track of the construction auctions and costs associated with that, along with the dates on the receipts. That gave me the knowledge of a nice time flow.

BWG: Tell us about your about your other stories that have appeared in wide variety of anthologies since 2009. Which was your favorite and which garnered you the most attention?

SP: I loved doing the Essay, "Tool-Belt Spirituality". When asked by Sellers Publishing to write a thousand-word essay for the book 65 Things To Do When You Retire, I felt challenged and excited. Not only because I would be published in the same book as Gloria Steinem and Jimmy Carter, but because it made me feel worthy of my writing. "From Scratch" stretched me as a writer. It not only helped me find my true voice, but expanded my vision for the expectations I had for the rest of the book.

BWG: Do you prefer memoir over fiction? If so, why?

SP: Actually, I’m not sure. I love both, but memoir has a life of its own. I think if I had to choose I’d do more memoir. I feel with memoir I’m given the chance to give from the heart. Give something of me to those who have chosen to live in fear or some other uncomfortable place. I may not be able to help, but I can listen.

BWG: Do you have any outstanding mentors that have aided in your growth as a writer?

SP: Susan Richards, Helen Papashvily, and my writing group. Great writers, good people.

BWG: Tell us about your relationship with the Bethlehem (PA.) Writers Group?

SP: I was one of the first to join this amazing group of writers. All of the BWG writers are outstanding in their own unique way. Each has his or her own voice. I love it. They are dedicated to their craft and the group. All of us who have the BWG in our back pockets feels fulfilled. We feel heard, as if the time spent was worth the effort, and feel privileged to be critiqued by everyone who is a member.

BWG: Do you participate in other critique groups or frequently attend some writing conferences or seminars?

SP: I have spent time participating in writing workshops, and have been to a conference or two. To be honest, I like to think that no one helps me make a story better but me. I listen, I work hard, and then I write honestly. The BWG is the only critique group I will listen to.

BWG: Are you planning another large writing project now that your 1st book is fully launched?

SP: Yes. I’d like to do a sequel on the next decade of "From Scratch" and how that unfolded. Many events have happened during this time and one is critical to my continuing story. I’d like to tell that story.

BWG: Do you have any strong advice for “older” writers, who may just beginning to write?

SP: Yes. Do not be put off! It’s your story, be proud of your work and tell it! There is always a beginning, but even better is knowing the accomplishment when you’re finished.