We had the good fortune of connecting with Valerie Foster and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Valerie, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
Everything worthwhile in my life has come with a risk. Risking failure, rejection, exposure is scary! And a certain level of terror is reserved for writers. Especially those who dare to write their own memoirs. Taking the risk of having my writing scrutinized and life judged was the boldest thing I’ve ever done. I am far from a dare devil, but I have a strange pattern of running in the very direction of my fears. I guess that defines “risk.” And so, when I had the opportunity to write not one, but two very personal books, I jumped into the deep end. Risk has been the essential call in my life’s adventure; it even found its way into my first book title, The Risk of Sorrow: Conversations with Holocaust Survivor, Helen Handler. When Auschwitz survivor, Helen, asked me to write her story, I took a risk in handling a subject I was afraid of. My second memoir, Dancing with a Demon, laid open my family’s experience with an eating disorder. With the success of both books, I am now a public speaker, and I welcome risk-taking in sharing their important themes. We all take risks in starting a new job, having children, marrying, divorcing, moving to a new town, trying anything new. But I think that we take a greater risk if we do not!
All right, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
While teaching literature and writing for many years, I harbored the dream to write a book myself. Each of my books took five years to write. I’d get up before the family and steal hours before the day started. One of my greatest challenges, like many writers, was to believe in myself. But I knew I had a vitally important story to tell and that kept me going. I learned to take risks and to persevere; I suspect nothing worthwhile has been accomplished without these. My memoirs about strong women who have survived great challenges in life enlighten and can help so many people. What I value most in good literature is a writer’s willingness to speak the truth, no matter how uncomfortable that may be. As a reader, I have been most moved and influenced by authors like Isabelle Allende or Dave Eggers or Maya Angelou or Virginia Woolfe, who were willing to bare their souls in order to connect with our common humanity. In writing on very personal and serious subjects, I was determined to embrace truth. I had to be willing to look inward and outward in order to share the valuable lessons I had learned from my Holocaust survivor friend or nearly losing my daughter to anorexia. No matter what I revealed about myself, readers everywhere reached out to me with their own stories. Becoming a writer and public speaker now enables me to use my experiences to inspire and help others. Still teaching, I guess.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I live in the heart of downtown Phoenix, a city that has come into its own for offering culture, entertainment, sports and great food. We might take in a MLB Diamondbacks or NBA Phoenix Suns game, stroll through the Desert Botanical Garden or the Japanese Friendship Garden, visit the Heard Museum or world-renowned Musical Instrument Museum, finally catch some live jazz at The Nash. One of my favorite areas of the city is our own Melrose district, offering a plethora of vintage stores. We might drive out to explore the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesen West, and a day trip would have to be to the stunning red-rock area of Sedona. We are never at a loss for things to do in the greater Phoenix area.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My daughter/co-author/editor-extraordinaire, Jenna-Marie Warnecke, A superb writer and brutally excellent editor, she inspired my second book, and courageously contributed immensely to it.
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/valerie.s.foster https://www.facebook.com/riskofsorrow/
All photos by Tom Foster.