Having the Mark Twain House in our own community is invaluable if you want to write a book.
– Kara Sundlun, News Anchor, WFSB- Channel 3
Kara Sundlun (photo: Robert Zinkerman)
Writing Programs volunteer Alexis Zinkerman recently sat down with Kara Sundlun, WFSB news anchor, a Mark Twain House & Museum ambassador, and author of Finding Dad, a memoir about Kara’s healing journey to establish a relationship with her father, former Rhode Island governor Bruce Sundlun. Sundlun began her writing journey through the Mark Twain House Writing Programs in a Wednesday night memoir-writing class taught by journalist and author Susan Campbell.
AZ: What was it like to be vulnerable and write this?
KS: I think revealing everything about yourself is a scary thing to do, but I also knew my father used to have a saying, “Give ‘em the facts — don’t sugar coat it.” As I wrote the book, not only did I feel my father was guiding me when I was writing, but I had a duty to be honest about all the amazing things and all the difficult things or it wouldn’t be a true story. So you kind of have to put yourself out there and hope that the message you are going to create is going to be received. For me, I wanted to share the way you can empower yourself through forgiveness. The good thing is after I revealed every single thing about myself it seems that message was received.
AZ: How did your family react to your need to write your story?
KS: They were all very supportive. When I was writing the book, it was twenty years after all the media attention my dad and I received. I spoke about wanting to write a book and why I wanted to write it. My dad and I had something to share. Our story would help a lot of people. My mom was okay with it. And so were my brothers. And certainly my family got to read it before the world did. They all were really proud of it. My brothers actually gave me for Christmas a signed copy of my own book. They all signed it and said how meaningful it was that I had entered the family and what a journey we’ve all been on.
AZ: How did Susan Campbell’s class help you shape your story? What advice did she give you?
KS: Susan Campbell’s class was everything for a lot of reasons. Not only for the wisdom she shared, but for her teaching me that if you want to write a book, you have to have a plan. You’ve got to stay committed to it. Writing is also a matter of discipline, so showing up for class every Wednesday night with something to write with Susan Campbell critiquing it and advising you was irreplaceable. It was the whole reason I was able to write my book and then take it to an agent and later to a publisher.
Not only that, I met a great friend in that class. Her name is Megan. She was a member of the class and also was writing a memoir. She and I vowed we would continue meeting every Wednesday night even after the class was over, and that was key for anyone who really has a book in them they want to birth. Susan was wonderful, before, during, and after. If I have a writing question, I still write to Susan today. Having that expert to bounce something off of is great. Even though I write as a journalist most every single day, I don’t write books. And this was my first book. Being able to bounce my writing insecurities off of Susan and other members of the class was invaluable.
AZ: What is one gem Susan gave you?
KS: She made the point that you really need to write from your own voice and your own heart. She was great in class, where people would read their different styles and she didn’t say this is right or wrong. She guided us gently to be authentic with writing prompts. And she even admitted that as a professional writer herself that there are days where it is not so easy for her. But she does it. I think that inspiration is reminding yourself that the best writing is your writing. It’s just being authentic.
AZ: Whom do you hope to help with your story? What do you hope people take from your book?
KS: When I’m writing about the book on social media, I use the hashtag #chooseforgiveness because I do believe forgiveness is a choice. And, the happy ending my father and I got of having a meaningful father-daughter relationship is all because of that choice. We’re going to forget all the hurt and heartache that led up to it. I knew I could not spend the next 18 years beating him up for the first 18 once he offered to accept me and said come move in my house and we will get to know each other. The message of the story is that forgiveness is really a tunnel to love. And, I think that is a universal lesson we all need to remember. I still remind myself of that for lesser things we need to forgive on a daily basis.
As far as who I hope for it to help, they say as many as one out of every four kids now was growing up with little to no connection with their father, living in a separate home, or maybe they know them but they don’t have a good relationship. And even our own fatherless president said fatherlessness is a hole no government can fix. I hope that Finding Dad does two things: For the fathers who read it, it shows them how important they are and how important they stay in their children’s lives, and for the kids out there who are separated from their fathers or anyone in their life, it’s a template to forgive, to heal, and move on in a healthy way.
AZ: Do you write personally every day? Do you think you will write another memoir or creative nonfiction book?
KS: I have not been writing every day for a book. I think someday another book is in me, but I don’t know when that will be or what that will be.
AZ: What have you taken from Susan’s workshop that you use in the rest of your life?
KS: I used to have my notepad of all the little things she said exactly. I’ve just internalized it now. Susan really stressed that you can make any story exciting if you have good writing. Good writing for any book is so important. And what is good is going to be different for each person. A great place to start is going to the Mark Twain House, and you can find your voice. And that’s what she did. She helps you find your own voice and polish it so that you make good writing. She also taught us that there are many, many stories worth telling. A lot of people are afraid to write a book because they say it has already been done, someone has already told that story. I think what Susan does nicely is she gives you that faith that your story is worth telling because it has never been told by you before.
AZ: What does The Mark Twain House & Museum mean to you?
KS: I think we are so lucky that we have the Mark Twain House here. A funny story of how I ended up there: Diane Smith and Mika Brzezinski, former news anchor at Channel 3, told me that you have to write this book, and they led me in the right direction. But I still wasn’t sure what to do or how to get it out to the world. And it was Diane Smith who said make sure you check out Susan Campbell’s class at the Mark Twain House. It’s memoir writing. It will be a first step. And it really was a good step.
Here I was a busy mom, wife, journalist, but by going to the Mark Twain House right here in my own community for two hours a week, it was manageable. Had I not taken that class we wouldn’t have Finding Dad. Because it all started there. Having that resource right here in our own community is invaluable. If you want to know how to write a book or have other related questions, you’ve got this wonderful resource right in our community that I recommend people take advantage of.
Kara’s Web site is www.karasundlun.com