Interview with Anne Serling: Radical Revisiting, author of As I Knew Him, My Dad, Rod Serling
Anne, welcome to my website, and thank you for taking time in your busy life to share about this lovely tribute to your father, and open up about the grief involved in losing him. For those of you who don’t know, or are under the age of 40 (!), Rod Serling was the writer and creator of the 1970s science fiction show called The Twilight Zone. He was not only a brilliant author, but a loving, compassionate person, who, clearly, always made time for his true treasure: his daughter.
I understand, Anne, from our prior conversation, that you started this memoir about your father ten years after he died, at the young age of fifty. Can you talk about why it wasn’t the right time then:
Yes, I originally started another book: IN HIS ABSENCE. I couldn’t finish it. Even a decade after my father’s death, I was still raw. The memoir finally emerged-in part because, like my dad, I find writing cathartic and also because there had been things said about my dad that were absolutely untrue and described a man that wasn’t remotely familiar to me. I felt it was time to set the record straight who he was as a man and as a father.
The relationship between father and daughter can be so special and sacred. Can you talk about your relationship, and highlight what made yours and your father’s so unique:
It would not be an overstatement to say I adored my dad. Even as a teenager when that father/daughter relationship can become so strained, mine didn’t with my father. In part because my father and I shared a similar sense of humor–he always ALWAYS made me laugh. My mother used to say to me, “Stop laughing, you’re only encouraging him.” My father could make anyone feel comfortable and important. My friends adored him too. He was like having another friend along. He was fun.
Just as I wrote my first novel, Out of Breath, to reach out to others in their grief, did you also envision this as a novel to touch others. Can you discuss this?
It was very difficult at first to be so open about my grief. For so long I was embarrassed by it. I saw it as a weakness– that I couldn’t “get better”, I couldn’t move on. While writing the book, my editor told me after the first draft: “Your grief is so central to this book. You need to be more open.” She was right and so I just let it flow. I did a reading before the memoir was complete and a woman came up to me and told me her dad was dying and after hearing me read she knew she would be ok. That meant so much to me–that my words had touched her, had helped her. Since publication I have heard from so many people how it has helped them in some way navigate their own losses. Hearing that has been an unexpected gift for which I am deeply humbled and extremely grateful.
Did you rely on your own memories, or did you call upon others to help complete the picture of your childhood and relationship with your father?
I relied on my own memories. Otherwise they would not truly have been “mine.” I also had saved so many of my dad’s letters so our relationship was still “right there” in many ways.
Clearly, there is real value in opening up the vulnerable and painful places in our life, reflecting, and then making meaning out of this. What were the major obstacles in writing such a meaningful memoir?
Again, being so open about my grief and revisiting all of those unbearable–still even at this distance–dark days after my father died. That said, it was also a cathartic journey and a great release to go back there and write my way through and ultimately out.
How has this experience changed you as a woman, mother, wife, etc?
To quote my dad: “… somebody has given you money for words that you’ve written, and that’s terribly important. It’s a tremendous boon to the ego, to your sense of self-reliance, to your feeling about your own talent.”
To have a published book with wonderful endorsements has meant the world to me. To hear people say my dad would have been proud–and to know my words are helping other people–what greater gift is there? My husband has been extremely supportive of me and he’s a great ear to bounce things off of. In a sense it brought us closer and although my kids don’t live at home anymore I think they’re proud of their mom!
What else would you like to share?
That writing is tough–every writer knows that. It can frequently be a heart-wrenching process–putting yourself out there to a tough, subjective audience and rejection can eat away at you. Don’t give up! As the saying goes–”It takes only one ‘yes!’”
Thank you Susan for all you do!
Thank you, Anne, for this lovely opportunity to get to know you, the personal look inside your special relationship with your father, and I wish you best of luck and success with your memoir and in your future writings!