Today I have the privilege of interviewing Stacey Danson about her forthcoming biography ‘Empty Chairs,’ an intense account of an extremely horrific childhood. The book will be published soon by Night Publishing.
The ‘Empty Chairs’ blog is: http://staceydansonemptychairs.blogspot.com
Buy here on Amazon: http://amzn.to/1h2r129
Please tell us more about your novel.
More? Your sentence, “an intense account of an extremely horrific childhood.” I guess covers a tiny amount of ground. You see I don’t want people reading this book thinking that is all it is. I hope to hell it’s more than that.
Yes … it was in anybody’s language … horrific.
It was also a journey that opened my eyes to so many other things. Living on the streets as I did from age eleven…I learned so much. I learned how to be invisible by being obvious.
I learned about betrayal…and what can cause a human to do that to another human.
I came to understand the demons that drive us…and the strengths we either develop or don’t. It became an obsession with me to watch people…it was my ‘early warning system’.
Observing the way a person smoked a cigarette for instance…short furious pulls told me step back…this one is either very angry…or very sad. The way they stubbed it out defined which of those it was. Watching body language saved my ass in quite a few situations.
I wrote about the disgust I felt with myself. I witnessed a gang murder..and had to remain hidden..because my own life would have been worthless if I’d gone to the police.
I wrote about the constant fear of the woman who gave birth to me finding where I was. She was capable of having me disappear permanently. I couldn’t seek help, medical or otherwise…because I had that fear of reprisal sitting on my shoulder screaming be aware.
I wrote about street people, and an amazing, crazy, fucked-up group of kids, that clung together right or wrong. I wrote of how some of us survived.
Obviously, it is based on your life. What gave you the courage to write about it in such detail?
Funny, that word keeps surfacing…’courage’! Okay…granted, it took courage to live it.
I’m not all that certain that courage is what it took to finally write it. The main propellant in me writing it at all…was the suicide death of a lady. A true lady in every sense of the word. Jenny was eight-almost-nine when we intercepted each others lives. I was eleven.
She and I remained friends for 40 years. I promised her I would write it…all of it. I’m keeping that promise. Too late for Jenny to know I have written it. She took a gun and ended her life one year ago today.
She didn’t believe in an afterlife. So I can only feel guilty that I had somehow let her down. And angry at myself for waiting so damned long.
Why is it called ‘Empty Chairs’?
Couple of reasons, a song plays itself in my head like an anthem; Don McLean wrote and sang a song about “Empty Chairs” it’s more about lovers leaving your life and draping their clothes on chairs they will never sit on again.
Yet ultimately it’s about people in our lives that we lose.
We lose them because we didn’t listen to the warnings they tried to give us.
Everyone has an ‘empty chair’ or two in their lives. Sometimes the removalist is death. Most times the removalist is indifference.
How did you actually write it? Did you make a detailed plan, or just sit down and let it all pour out?
Plan? No plan. I came home from Jenny’s funeral and stayed drunk for a week. Then I sat down and tried to do this thing chronologically. Didn’t happen. So I played some music; the above song included, and just let the words come. I stopped hours later…exhausted. I read what I had written. Threw up…and wrote some more.
Did you write ‘Empty Chairs’ in a specific room or place? If so, was it hard to keep going into that room or place?
I have a room in my condo, a bright sunlit room, I have a view out over the lake on one side and a view of the ocean in the near distance on the other. I wrote ‘Empty chairs” and everything else I write there.
I couldn’t and wouldn’t seek someplace special to write this book. That would have given it too much significance. I had to try and put this cancerous thing in some sort of perspective. Not the smartest thing I’ve ever done…but it was the only measure of control I had. My emotions were like a runaway train. I at the very least had to be able to determine the station the train started out from. Does that make sense?
Did you ‘de-stress’ between writing sessions? How?
I don’t cry. It takes a monumental event for me to allow myself the luxury of tears. So I de-stressed by going outside night or day…couple of glasses of JD, cigarettes till I couldn’t smoke anymore, then I would sit and write my off the wall comedy stuff, or some horror stuff for a bit of light relief.
What would you say to people who say ‘I don’t read books like that, they’re too gruesome’? Or those who say: ‘oh, just another person trying to get a few minutes of fame’?
For people who say ”I don’t read books like that, they’re too gruesome”? I say fine by me…and don’t listen to the news, play the radio, or log on to the internet. If you need to hide from the harsh realities, then yes…that I understand. Some people simply can’t deal. That simple.
For the person that says, “Oh just another person trying to get a few minutes of fame.” I would say “Fuck you!”
And then I would offer to show them the scars of cigarette burns on my vagina.
What advice would you give to people who think a child is being abused?
This is so very important. Witch hunt, is not what this is about. Something would have alerted the person a nd raised their suspicions.
Bruises on a childs face or torso than can’t be easily explained away. A child losing their appetite, suddenly wetting the bed. Having nightmares. Not talking to anyone…or showing inappropriate levels of touch and affection to an adult of either sex. Inexplicable and sudden spurts of violence. So many possible signs. These can also be signs of other things of course. Dare you take the chance?
If you think a child is being abused…act. Contact the child abuse prevention unit at your local hospital. Contact the police…most stations have interactive child welfare agencies attached or on call. Phone the nearest Hotline in your telephone book.
Before you do any of these things and this is so very critical…try to ensure that the child is in a location away from the suspected perpetrator.
This is not always possible.
You have to trust that these people you call are trained. It’s not necessary to have gung-ho raids on peoples homes…unless the suspected abuse extends to children that haven’t been seen or heard for some time.
Be aware…that there are going to be times when people are wrongly accused. That is a tragedy.
The greater tragedy is not doing anything at all. I know first hand what it’s like to stop screaming.. because I knew no one would help me. People were too afraid of becoming involved to respond.
Do you think abuse is more openly talked about these days? Are people more aware and there are more places to turn for help?
More openly talked about? Yes most definitely.
Are people more aware? Not nearly aware enough. It’s a big thing to take on the knowledge that this horror exists.
Many folks have said “Well, yes it happens, of course. But not in my street/church/school/town…news Flash folks. My abuse took place in one of the wealthiest suburbs, and well thought of environments in that suburb.
Child abuse has no social boundaries.
How have you kept faith in humanity?
Have I? Kept my faith in humanity I mean. No…Catherine, I’m afraid that disappeared around 1960.
What I do have faith in is the resilience of the human spirit. Bouncing back again and again despite the odds.
That’s not faith in humanity per se. But I have a never ending belief in the ability to overcome boundaries imposed by others.
What has kept you going where other abused souls have been too damaged to continue?
I always wanted more. I needed to explore all the places I had never been, and then find more to explore.
I simply didn’t have time in my life to give in to the damage.
I don’t support the death penalty, but its hard not to in the case of child abusers. What is your position on punishment of child abusers?
(Rule 303 is the defence used by Lieutenant Harry ‘Breaker’ Morant in the Boer War, which is also a film ‘Breaker Morant’.)
Thinking of the future. What will you do when you become a celebrated author and expert witness on how to recognise if a child is being abused? Because you know recognition will happen, and well deserved…
If by some quirk of fate, I am permitted to speak to a large audience about the signs and symptoms of child abuse, then that is what I will do.
Mind you…If anyone around me starts singing a song of “ poor, poor pitiful me!” I will kick them up the ass so hard it’ll pop their teeth out. Those of us that have lived beyond child abuse simply do NOT have time for the people that use the fact that they were abused as an excuse to achieve nothing. That is total bull shit. If you lived beyond abuse…you can achieve any damned thing.
Thank you very much for allowing me to interview you. You are a very brave and inspirational lady, and best of luck with the book and your life.
Catherine, can we lose the brave and inspirational thing, I wrote a book. It happens to be on a tough subject. That doesn’t make me brave, and I don’t aspire to inspirational. I wrote a book. End of story.
I meant brave and inspirational to have got through your experiences alive. We’ll have to disagree on that, Stacey.