Out from the Underworld
By Heather Siegel
Heather Siegel was six years old when her mother disappeared, sending her father into a tailspin that took Heather and her siblings down with him— from a comfortable suburban home to a barely habitable basement apartment, a dark world they soon found themselves fighting to return to from the exile of foster care, then fighting even harder to escape.
Forty years later, Heather Siegel tells the remarkable story of how she and her siblings, Jaz and Greg, banded together to find out what happened to their mother and fight their way Out from the Underworld with nothing but their wits, determination, unbreakable bonds and gifts for humor and compassion to sustain them. A wrenching, inspiring story filled with heartbreak, hope and love, Out from The Underworld will move you to laughter and tears.
It is my pleasure to welcome Heather Siegel, author of Out from the Underworld, to Room With Books.
Heather, how long have you been writing?
I caught the writing bug in high school when we were asked to keep a journal. We were to tackle a topic, write in our journal, and the next day read the entry aloud. Knowing that I would have to read in front of the class—to perform– I gave those entries everything I had… and in some ways, I am still doing that; this is why I like to stay connected to other writers and writing communities. If I don’t have an audience, I can get pretty lazy about “entries.”
How did you come to write in the non-fiction genre?
A long time ago I decided I had a story to tell. I also decided that in order to tell it, I wanted to learn how to write better. These two concepts eventually came together for me as I studied the craft of creative non-fiction. I have come to love the genre, and I have come to love creating myself as a character on the page. That said, I would eventually like to try my hand at fiction and to feel what it’s like to embody someone else’s character.
There are a lot of memoirs out there about dysfunctional upbringing. What makes yours different?
I don’t know that mine is different. I’ve heard somewhere that there are only nine plots in literature—maybe that’s true in non-fiction, too—and in life. On the other hand, I guess that’s sort of like saying, there are a lot of people in the world, what makes you different? The answer is everything, down to my unique DNA. I have heard a lot of feedback about some ideas in my book– breaking the generational cycle of victim mentality, learning to accept people for who they are and not who you want them to be—so maybe some of these ideas set the book apart from other stories of survival and struggle.
In the book, your father withholds “information” from you and your siblings. Do you think that sometimes adults should shield children from the harsh realities of a tragedy?
I think it is a case by case scenario. I could understand my father’s decision to initially withhold information from us, but there came a point in time when he needed to sit us down and give it to us straight. I personally don’t sugarcoat things for my daughter. When she was five her babysitter died tragically; I looked my daughter in the eye and told her matter-of-factly what had happened. Hopefully she will be better off and not worse as a result of hearing that information. I can tell you that she never asked me about the babysitter again and has seemed to accept the facts.
How do you balance your time as a mother and writer?
I sneak and beg and steal and borrow time when I can. I write in the morning for a bit—after the school bus has come, and before I need to head off to work. I only work part time, so that helps. Sometimes I write at work. Sometimes I abandon my house and my family and spend all Saturday in my pajamas with the bedroom door closed and my laptop clacking away. Sometimes I give up and just live life, knowing that writing will be there for me when I come back to it.
What is your other job besides writing?
I’ve been a small business entrepreneur for the last twenty years. I’ve opened a few coffeehouses, a spa/beauty bar and a juice bar. They have been modestly successful, some less than others, but, like writing, they have given me a chance to create and to express myself in different forms. The place where I currently work part time is the spa/beauty bar. Though I would like it to be more successful than it is, when there are no customers, it makes for a great writing studio.
It is my pleasure to read and review Out from the Underworld by Heather Siegel. I received an ARC from the author in return for an honest review.
I always feel awkward when looking at a memoir and offering my review, after all this is about people, about family . . . about children and the effects of certain events on their lives.
This is a dark memoir yet Ms. Siegel manages to fill it with light. It is a pleasure to say that Heather Siegel took a deep look into the abyss of a dysfunctional family, foster care and the years that came after. It takes a great measure of personal insight to write this honestly. It is a very touching tale that contains silliness, seriousness and a woman’s determination to make her own future.
I highly recommend Out from the Underworld by Heather Siegel and give this memoir five steaming hot cups of Room With Books coffee!
© May 28, 2015
Heather Siegel holds an MFA in nonfiction writing from The New School. Her work has appeared on Salon.com and in The Mother Magazine and Author Magazine, as well as in various trade publications. She was a finalist for the 2010 Pacific Northwest Writers Association Literary Award in Nonfiction Writing, the 2011 San Francisco Writers Conference Nonfiction Writing Award, the Carolina Wren Press 2012 Doris Bakwin Award and the 2012 Kore Press First Book Award. A multi-creative person with interests in the arts, nutrition, health and beauty, she has founded several independent businesses, including a coffeehouse, a café, an organic juice bar and a natural beauty bar. She currently lives with her husband, Jon, and daughter, Julia, in the woods of Long Island in a house filled with light.
Win one of five print copies of Out from the Underworld and a music CD from Greg Fine
(Open to USA & Canada)