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Beryl Singleton Bissell | One Writer’s View

August 13, 2007

Beryl Singleton BissellHave you ever written to tell an author how much you’ve loved their book and then waited, hoping for an answer, in vain? I’m not one of those unresponsive authors. I love getting fan mail and make a point of answering every letter I receive. I even invite readers to stop by should they be traveling through this area, and I get quite a few such visitors, all of whom are stunned by the view of Lake Superior my writing desk provides.

“How do you ever get any writing done with a view like this?” they ask. Yesterday I had several such visitors — a reader from Wisconsin who brought her daughter and her husband, another reader from the Twin Cities who arrived with her hubby and four ears of freshly grown corn, a young man and his two small children who wanted to see the small shed where I write.

This view is actually one of the reasons I became a writer. Moving to this pristine and fairly remote area nine years ago changed me from a writing hopeful into an actual author. Prior to moving here, I’d worked for a literary publisher in Minneapolis where, surrounded by great writing, I’d wondered what I had to say that others hadn’t said already — until I overheard my son proclaim that he thought he was damned because his mother had been a nun and his father a priest.

THE SCENT OF GOD by Beryl Singleton BissellDaily, I’d walk the lakeshore pondering how best to construct this story for my children. Writing memoir forces the writer to examine the beliefs, events, and choices that have shaped a particular portion of their lives. Mine demanded confronting doubt and darkness as well. The lake’s unbridled power showed me how ruthlessly I’d need to plumb the depths of my heart to summon the truth. Six years and eight drafts later an agent grabbed the manuscript and sold it within days. Within the year, my memoir, THE SCENT OF GOD, hit the bookshelves and the letters started flooding in.

I am now working on the sequel to that memoir and two weeks from now, on Friday, August 24 at 10:45 a.m., will speak about it on Minnesota Public Radio (MPR). The host of MPRs Midmorning Show, Kerri Miller interviewed me last summer when THE SCENT OF GOD was released and wants to know how the sequel, which deals with the sudden violent death of my beautiful, tormented 24-year-old daughter, is progressing.

Like all mothers who have lost children to murder or suicide, I wrestle with overwhelming grief and a sense of failure that my love could not protect or save my daughter. As I gather hundreds of pages of notes from my journals and medical and psychiatric records, I find myself — not trying to resolve the mystery of my daughter’s death (which remains unsolved in the files of the homicide division of Minneapolis police department) — but in trying to uncover the child that lay beneath the façade she presented to others. I realize that I really did not know or understand my daughter and so I think of this book as a “looking for” rather than a “losing of” Francesca. And daily, as I did with my first book, I walk Lake Superior’s shoreline to ponder how best to tell this story. And then I return to my writing shed to summon the words I need.

I wonder how the places you’ve lived have affected or changed your lives. I am offering a free signed copy of THE SCENT OF GOD to one of you who shares your experience in a comment to this blog. Wishing you peace and every good.

Beryl is the author of THE SCENT OF GOD and was named “Best of 2006 Minnesota Authors” by the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Her book was a Book Sense notable for April 2006.

You can visit Beryl at her website:, or, at Gather, or her blog/

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