Our conversation today is with Elizabeth (Betsy) A. Churchill, who is a relative newcomer to the world of writing. Originally from Massachusetts, Betsy moved to Arizona in 2005. She is the proud mother of a transgender son and well-qualified to write about the heartache and joy of raising a transsexual teen. She is a member of PFLAG and the East Valley Meet-Up Writing Group. My Daughter, My Son is her first published work.
Writers-Editors Network: Betsy, what inspired you to write this book?
Betsy Churchill: About four years ago, my son became extremely upset when he overheard someone say, “Gays, lesbians and transgender people are an abomination on this earth.” I was heartbroken that he had to hear such vile words and told him to write his story with me. “Yell, scream, or holler, but get your words out,” I told him. “Make people understand you’re just like everyone else.” That evening we decided to write our story together so the reader understands what Luca was going through as a young transsexual, and what I was going through as his parent, always searching for answers.
Writers-Editors Network: Who are your intended readers?
Betsy Churchill: We began writing our book for the LGBTQ community; but honestly, My Daughter, My Son is for anyone who enjoys a unique human interest story.
At the age of just four years old, Marie whispers, “You know Mom, life is not worth living if I can’t be a boy” — forever altering Betsie’s and Luca’s world as they knew it. Join this mother/son duo as they struggle with childhood depression, bullying, rape, suicide attempts, drug addiction, multiple arrests, and much more. You will cheer them on as Luca begins the treacherous transition from female-to-male, while Betsie mourns the loss of her fifteen-year-old daughter and embraces the love of her re-born son.
Writers-Editors Network: What makes your book different from other books on the subject of transsexualism?
Betsy Churchill: From the beginning, we felt it was important for readers to hear both sides of our story. Every step of the way, you will not only get a first-hand understanding of what it was like for Luca to suffer years of self hatred, but my frustration in not knowing why my daughter acted the way she did. Also, because Luca was only thirteen when he began his transition in 1996, and had a double mastectomy at the age of fifteen, we believe he was one of the youngest in the country at that time.
Writers-Editors Network: Did you outline this book first? Or just start writing?
Betsy Churchill: I had written a 26-page outline years ago, because I knew I had something to tell other parents going through the same thing. However, at the time, my son didn’t feel comfortable with me telling the world my story, so I had put the outline aside. When we decided to write this together, we used a lot of the outline and then added quite a bit more. Because we had to be in step with one another on our journey, we found making a time-line and list of characters very helpful.
Writers-Editors Network: What was the most difficult chapter to write?
Betsy Churchill: Chapter Four – An Unmarked Grave – was the most difficult to write and read. My daughter was just nine years old when she was raped by a friend’s stepson. Not only was it difficult for me as it brought back the feeling of helplessness I had felt at the time, but my son came clean and told me (through his writing) the truth of what really happened in that bathroom. As I read his email, I was pulled back in time, crying for days.
Writers-Editors Network: What was the biggest challenge in bringing this book to publication?
Betsy Churchill: Not giving up. It took two and a half years to write. We had to make the two voices sound different while writing about the same subject. My son lives in Oregon; I live in Arizona. He would send me his writing in an email and I would have to insert it into our chapter.
Writers-Editors Network: What is your biggest fear about publishing your book?
Betsy Churchill: I’m not afraid for myself, but for my son. We felt the need to use pen names to help keep him from being “outed” and possibly losing his job. At the time, my daughter-in-law was home alone at night. We didn’t want anyone throwing a rock through their window.
Writers-Editors Network: What was your favorite chapter to write?
Betsy Churchill: My favorite chapter is the last. It ends with me dancing with him at his wedding.
Writers-Editors Network: Do you have plans for your “leftover” material related to this book or the topic?
Betsy Churchill: We are trying to write a short story from one of the chapters we had to take out of the book. “Starry, Starry Night” was one of our favorites. When Luca was about eight years old, I woke him up in the middle of the night to see a meteor shower. We experienced something so breathtaking it gave him a love of astronomy and space, something he still feels passionate about to this day.
Writers-Editors Network: Where can readers find more information on My Daughter, My Son?
How she writes . . .
Writers-Editors Network: Where was your favorite place to work on this book?
Betsy Churchill: I carried a small notebook and would write wherever I was at the time of the inspiration. Just short sentences or one word ideas I needed to find a place for. At the time, I was able to write outlines at work. When my job changed, the kitchen table became my place of writing.
Writers-Editors Network: Do you have any writing rituals?
Betsy Churchill: When writing My Daughter, My Son, for two-and-a-half years I got up at 4:30 every morning to have the house quiet. Now that I am alone, I do most of my writing at night. Because I like the feeling of pen to paper, I go through a lot of notebooks. Many times the words crossed out would end up someplace else.
About the author . . .
Writers-Editors Network: When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
Betsy Churchill: When my son got married. I wanted other parents to realize having a transgender child was not the end of the world. In fact, it was the beginning of something wonderful. If parents can come to a place of acceptance, they will have the happy, healthy child they dreamed of.
Writers-Editors Network: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Betsy Churchill: Photography. I love trying to get that perfect shot. Many of my photos have been on display at the Arizona State Fair. Never a first place winner, but always trying. When the weather in Arizona is nice, you’ll find me out taking photos of this beautiful state.
Her advice to writers . . .
Join a writer’s group. Having extra sets of eyes helps to detect things you may not have noticed in your writing, even if you read your work out loud. My group was wonderful in letting me know when something didn’t work. Sometimes I would completely change the direction of a chapter with suggestions from other writers.