Our conversation today is with MJ Plaster, who spent more than two decades traveling throughout Europe and North Africa. During her long and varied career, she has been a technical writer, instructional designer, instructor, speaker, and freelance writer — with newspaper, magazine, anthology, corporate, online, and agency writing among her credits. In addition to writing, she has served as managing editor for several association and special publications, including the Florida Turf Digest since 2006. Today we’ll talk with MJ at her home in Nashville about her latest book, which she co-authored with Pamala Hernandez-Kaufman LMFT and Dr. Melissa Riley —
In the early morning hours of May 2, 2010, Tennessee experienced the worst and most costly non-coastal disaster in the history of the United States, dubbed the Thousand-Year Flood.
Waves of Change portrays the struggles and triumphs of a flood survivor, a rescue and recovery professional, and a family grief counselor as their lives intersected during the aftermath of the flood.
You’ll laugh at their tales, weep at their frustrations, and leave with a sense of empowerment, secure in the knowledge that natural disasters, in all their fury, are just a milestone along the path of life.
Writers-Editors Network: MJ, what inspired you to write this book?
MJ Plaster: After losing a condo, a car and a cat during Tennessee’s Thousand-Year Flood, I needed to immerse myself in some kind of therapy. I had lost both parents within the prior 16 months, and the flood was the final straw. I was stunned and angry, so I began writing so I wouldn’t go over the edge – long before my co-authors and I decided to write a book.
When Pam and Melissa suggested we write a book together about our individual roles, experiences and feelings in the aftermath of the flood and how our lives intersected, I remember saying, “My part’s almost done.” It wasn’t. I did two complete rewrites as my recovery evolved and my bitterness dissipated.
The writing helped me put everything into perspective and I really became grateful that I was spared my life, instead of just paying lip service to that fact. Unfortunately, some of our neighbors did not make it – one just a few doors down from me.
Writers-Editors Network: What about your book-writing process – Did you outline this book first?
MJ Plaster: Oh, heavens no. I wrote from the heart, not from an outline. Of course, that made it harder because I had parts of the timeline wrong at first and had to move and/or rewrite many passages.
Writers-Editors Network: What was your favorite chapter to write?
MJ Plaster: My favorite part of the book is “Part V, Lessons Learned,” where the three of us come back together to share what we learned from our experiences.
Writers-Editors Network: What was the biggest challenge in bringing this book to publication?
MJ Plaster: Coordinating our three schedules was like herding cats.
Writers-Editors Network: Do you plan on writing more books on the flood?
MJ Plaster: We are scheduled to release a five-year anniversary edition next year, which will include interviews with other survivors, rescue and recovery professionals, and grief counselors.
Everyone thinks, “This will never happen to me. Natural disasters happen to other people” That’s what I thought, too. It’s important to prepare for a natural disaster, but it’s equally important to prepare mentally for life’s ebbs and flows.
Writers-Editors Network: What would you do differently next time you thought a flood was approaching?
MJ Plaster: I’d get out early. I’d like to share a way to keep a real-time eye on the water level of your rivers: www.waves-of-change.net/1/post/2013/06/advanced-warning-system-for-floods.html
I didn’t know about this site before the flood; now I no longer wait on the meteorologists or anyone else to tell me when to evacuate. I know where I’m going, and it takes about five minutes to get there IF I get out before it’s too late. I will be the first one out of here next time — instead of hoping and praying that a rescue crew will come along.
Writers-Editors Network: We’ve had several natural disasters recently – is there any chance a disaster survivor —or anyone else — can get a free Kindle copy of Waves of Change?
MJ Plaster: We plan to run another “free days” Kindle promotion in early fall, so be sure to watch for that. In addition, if you have Amazon Prime, you can borrow it from the lending library at no charge any time you like. Also, the new Kindle Unlimited program allows free access to it. The program costs $9.99 a month, but they do offer a 30-day free trial.
How she writes . . .
Writers-Editors Network: When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
MJ Plaster: In high school I received Honorable Mention for an essay, and I was hooked. I tweaked those words for hours on end to get that mention. That’s the part I like best about editing. I don’t edit people’s words just because I can. I try to improve on their writing without losing their voice.
Writers-Editors Network: Where is your favorite place to write ?
MJ Plaster: I love my home office. It’s full of light, and one or more of my cats ride shotgun while I’m working.
Writers-Editors Network: Do you have any writing rituals?
MJ Plaster: Just one. Get a cup of strong coffee or a glass of decaf green tea (depending on time of day) and get to it. Unlike most people, I use writing as an excuse to put off mundane things like running errands and emptying the dishwasher.
Writers-Editors Network: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
MJ Plaster: Most anything outdoors or in the kitchen.
Her advice to writers . . .
I have the same advice for writers that I have for everyone – you can do anything you set your mind to as long as you want it badly enough.