Linda Daly is a graduate of American University with a BA in Literature (’90). She was a contributing editor at the now defunct Los Angeles Times Magazine where she maintained the popular “Pretty In Green” blog for the magazine’s website, and she also writes for various websites about philanthropy and about green issues. The Last Pilgrimage: My Mother’s Life and Our Journey to Saying Goodbye, a memoir about her mother’s last days, is her first book.
Daly will visit AU as part of both the Visiting Writers Series and the Bishop C. McCabe Lecture Series. She will speak at 8 pm on September 19th in Battelle Atrium.
CA: You’ve said that you began writing about your mother as a sort of record for your family. At what point in the writing process did you decide to share this story with a larger audience? What changes did you have to make in order to make this family account into something you could publish?
LD: I was blogging for the Los Angeles Times Magazine and the editor-in-chief, Nancie Clare, who remains one of my close friends, knew the whole story [because] I was living it while I was working there. I told her I was writing it down for my children and she was the one who encouraged me to make it a public story. We had lunch one day with another author and contributing editor to the magazine, Annie Jacobsen. When Annie told me my story was worth sharing, I got up enough courage to turn it into something I wanted to sell.
But I had a feeling, even before I spoke with Nancie and Annie, [that] it may be a story worth sharing. I was hoping it would be a launch point for discussion about our parents dying. I didn’t have to make any changes to the story in order to share it with the public, but I did have to do extensive editing and rewriting to the point where the end product is so different from the first that one would hardly recognize it.
CA: Reviewers seem to be categorizing The Last Pilgrimage as either a guide to dealing with the deaths of loved ones or as a look at a celebrity’s last days. The phrase “Hollywood insider” seems to show up frequently. What are your feelings about these labels? Do they reflect your intentions in writing this book? Are they helping you reach a wider audience, or are they oversimplifying your work?
LD: Honestly, whatever words [were] used to sell more books were just fine with me, as long as they were not offensive or [didn’t make] my story come off like some “tell all” piece of trash. I really have no ill feelings about labels, because each one may draw in another reader.
CA: Was your spiritual struggle always a part of the book? What made you choose to blend your story and your mother’s rather than one or the other?
LD: Every aspect of the book was intertwined. I don’t think I could have separated my spiritual struggle from our stories since my spirituality, or lack thereof, was intertwined with my upbringing. And yes, my struggle was always part of the story since my mom and I were both looking for a miracle from John of God [a faith healer who Daly and her mother traveled to meet].
CA: This book was inspired by major change in your life and wasn’t originally intended for publication. Do you see yourself writing another full-length book in the future, or was this a one-time venture due to these specific circumstances?
LD: Hopefully this is the first of many books. I have a few more ideas!
CA: What’s next in your writing life? Do you have plans to return to writing columns as you did for the Los Angeles Times Magazine?
LD: I am formulating book two, but don’t want to discuss it until I have a deal! I would be very happy to write more, so we will see what happens.
CA: Did you take any writing courses as an AU student? Is there anything from your years here that has particularly helped you in your writing?
LD: I only took one writing course first semester freshman year, but it was first thing in the morning so I had a very hard time making it to class! I had a hard time when I was younger, putting feelings and words onto paper. It felt too risky, exposing myself like that. So I was not really interested in taking any more writing classes.
The lessons from some of the literature professors I had [at American] resonated deeply. I think about how those professors were able to dissect what authors were thinking or [how they] were interested in discussions about poetry. Those lessons have stuck with me. If anything, having my BA in literature was the foundation for my writing. I learned so much about how to write, how to channel certain authors, or remember words [that they] used or feelings that were conveyed.
Sarah Sansolo is the Editor-in-Chief of Café Américain and a student in American University’s Creative Writing MFA program.
Photo by Carolyn Hampton