Article by Kelly DuMar, IWWG instructor
Susan Tiberghien, internationally successful writer, teacher and IWWG luminary, is celebrating the simultaneous publication of two non-fiction books about love this April. Footsteps: In Love with A Frenchman, shares her personal story of falling in love with her husband of fifty-seven years, Pierre, while Side by Side: Writing Your Love Story shows us how writing our own love story can show us the secret to a lasting and satisfying relationship.
As Susan enters her eighties, and her fourth decade of being a writer, she seems to be speeding up her output, rather than slowing down. And her age-defying energy, enthusiastic risk-taking and receptivity to change are leading her confidently into new and rapidly evolving publishing models.
Despite her previous success with more traditional publishing routes, Susan is helping launch a new publishing imprint, Red Lotus Studio Press, founded by Melissa Rosati, based in New York City. They met initially in the IWWG and then Susan asked Melissa to present on a publishing and marketing panel at one of the Geneva Writer’s Conferences (which Susan founded in Switzerland with a group of other ex-pat writers). “To have someone so passionately interested in bringing out my books is a dream for me,” Susan says.
And dream is not a word she uses lightly.
The significance of dreams illuminates the spiritual core of Susan’s process of becoming a writer. Originally invited to attend the IWWG summer conference at Skidmore in1990 by founder Hannelore Hahn, this was, as Susan describes it, “A life-changing experience, and I haven’t missed one conference since. . . which is amazing because I still had kids at home, and it wasn’t exactly right next door.” Indeed, home was abroad, in Geneva, Switzerland, where she was raising six kids in a foreign language – French. “IWWG built a bridge for me between my homes in Switzerland and U.S.,” she says.
As it turned out, the vitality and camaraderie of IWWG attendees gathering in the inspirational setting of the Skidmore campus, was the ideal setting for dreaming the dream that would launch her career as a published author. In the middle of the night, Susan found herself dreaming the chapters and title of what became her first published book at age sixty, Looking for Gold: A Year in Jungian Analysis. She had been enthusiastically telling her friends about her analysis - how life enriching it was, having finished one year, and how analysis was taking her writing to a deeper level. This “soul work,” she says, opened the door to decades of writing, publishing and teaching workshops after raising her children.
After interviewing Susan, it occurs to me how fascinating it would be for an IWWG faculty member to propose a course for next year’s conference: How I met Susan Tiberghien and Her Influence on Me as a Woman - Writing. Undoubtedly, the class would be oversubscribed. Because, whether you’re a long-time member or a newer one, it’s highly likely you’ve met Susan, been mentored by Susan, or had your writing encouragingly critiqued by Susan. You’ve read at least one, if not all of her four non-fiction books. You’ve probably attended the workshop she originated in 1991, Writing the Personal Essay, which she has been teaching every summer since.
Susan has guided many of us, literally and figuratively, to find an exceptional community of women writers and literary friendships we’ve been seeking, consciously or unconsciously, to take our writing and personal development to a new level.
My own experience of being inspired to join the faculty of IWWG, was the direct result of a literal, and figurative, tap on my shoulder by a stranger in a crowded book market during Grub Street’s Muse and the Marketplace in Boston. Hundreds of books and noisy writers swarmed the tables I browsed. Instinctively, I picked up a title that seized my attention - Looking for Gold: A Year in Jungian Analysis. I was a writer, a mother home full time raising children, who also happened to be seeing a Jungian analyst at the time. A moment later, I felt the tap on my shoulder – the smiling author greeting me, in the flesh, introducing herself. I eagerly accepted Susan’s, and IWWG’s, contact information. Magic? You might call it that. Jung would call it synchronicity, which he said is:
“The coming together of inner and outer events in a way that cannot be explained by cause and effect and that is meaningful to the observer.”
In Looking for Gold, Susan calls synchronicity, “A common chord that vibrates.” For women writers in IWWG, Susan is the common chord who vibrates for us.
Indeed, Susan’s course, Writing the Personal Essay, endures so successfully because, for aspiring women writers, experiencing her as a role model is a eureka moment - the sudden, unexpected realization that Susan, starting from scratch at age fifty, solved the problem of learning to be a writer, seeing herself as a writer, and living a satisfying and authentic life as a published author. After having devoted thirty years to marriage and raising six children in a foreign country, her workshop students can’t help but admire her courage to adapt; her willingness to take risks to build the support circle she needed to develop as a writer. She models the necessity of vulnerability, asking for help, being open to growth and change. Above all, the tenacity to mine the gold in her dreams.
Students and readers of her books identify with her candid struggle to believe in herself as a writer. In Looking for Gold, she recounts this dialogue with her analyst, which demonstrates the daunting – and familiar to many of us - process of changing role identities - defining and stepping into a new role:
“Am I a wife and a mother and a writer?”
“Yes,” he answered.
“Or a woman writer?”
“Also,” he said.
“Or could I be just a writer?”
“Why not?” . . . .
Like many IWWG members who long to write and be published after playing other-focused, dominant roles, it wasn’t until age fifty that Susan challenged herself, in a trip from French speaking Geneva to New York City, to participate in her first writing workshop at Hofstra. There she discovered that writing for the first time in years in her native language, English, her stories poured out. Her struggle to see herself as a writer, of course, didn’t end there. I fact, it was just beginning. She needed to make a leap out of her habitual comfort zones, acquired during years of domesticity. In Looking for Gold, she recounts her insight about her need to regain her psychic independence:
“I thought back to when I was a child, often I went off on my own, into the fields, the woods, alone, liking the feeling of danger. I’d stay home alone and explore the house in the dark. I went off to school alone, choosing to leave home at thirteen years old. I went to college alone, and to Europe alone.
“I went to Grenoble and met Pierre. I fell in love, for the first time fully in love, with someone not speaking my language, someone as different from the blond, crew-cut brazen American boys, as night from day.
“Then I had children. I was a mother. I was no longer my free self. I stopped doing things alone. I stopped stepping into the darkness. . .”
Leading the Geneva Writer’s Group
So, at fifty, she joined, in Geneva, a writer’s group – which she soon led for ten years. She began sending out short stories and getting them published in the London Financial Times, then republished most of them as personal essays in the Christian Science Monitor. This gave her a lot of experience that she could share in her teaching and a backlog of stories to develop as a book, (which became her third book, Footsteps). Soon, so may others wanted to join her writer’s group there was no room, so she started the Geneva Writer’s Group with seventeen friends, in 1993, which has since grown to two hundred and thirty members.
Her Second, Third and Fourth Published Books
After the publication of Looking for Gold, by Einsiedeln, a Jungian publisher near Zurich, Susan hoped that by teaching writing in Jungian Society workshops she could encourage people to write their stories. But she discovered they first had to go within and deepen what they wanted to say, which led to her decision about writing about prayer – her second book, Circling to the Center, published by Paulist Press.
Susan decided to publish her third book, Footsteps, a collection of the personal stories previously published in the London Times & Christian Science Monitor, herself with Ex Libris, selling them at workshops and using stories from them as examples in her workshop. She ordered 1,000. They have all been sold, and she could have sold more.
One Year to a Writing Life, her fourth book, was sold through her New York City agent, Susan Schulman, whom she met at in 1998 at the Geneva Writers Conference. Schulman asked her if she had a book about writing after she saw her teaching and leading a conference. She did, and it sold very quickly, in 2007, to Marlowe & Company, U.S. It has sold over 20,000 copies.
Her Fifth and Sixth Books Published with Red Lotus Studio Press
Now, in 2015, Susan is excited about Melissa Rosati’s publishing venture, and her decision to move from a traditional publishing paradigm into indie publishing. “It has just been a delight and a learning experience to work with her,” she says about bringing out her new books with Melissa.
Footsteps: In Love with A Frenchman, is about her first thirty years of marriage in Europe (now fifty seven years) and the hardships of living in another culture and changing countries every two years for the first ten years; learning to love this person, Pierre, with opposite ideas about raising children. “The book starts,” she says, “with a kiss in Bellagio – one of those moments that if we’re fortunate enough to live it, it illuminates your life.”
Side by Side, Writing Your Love Story is a writing book focused on how writing about the highlights of your love story becomes a tool for happiness in a long-lasting relationship. “When you make writing a habit,” Susan writes, “you change your life story.” She teaches readers how to transform their personal story as a couple into a marriage memoir, a kind love letter written in answer to the question: what is your secret of lasting love?
Susan’s Enthusiasm About Indie Publishing
Susan appreciates many aspects that independent publishing with Melissa offers. Her books will be in electronic & trade (paper) formats, using Create Space to produce them for digital and print. Melissa has an entire publishing team working for her, including a designer, an editor, a computer person and graphic designer. Copies will be distributed through Amazon, and her books will be readily available for sale in her workshops and readings.
But what matters most to Susan that’s different from previous publishing experiences is their communication and collaboration. “Being in touch regularly; being able to bounce our ideas off each other; enthusiasm and complete trust. . . [Melissa’s] taking a risk also, perhaps. We’re taking a risk together; which is interesting at my age.”
Why She Recommends Melissa Rosati’s IWWG Spring Big Apple Workshop
In addition to presenting a daylong workshop in April at the IWWG Big Apple conference in NYC, Susan is delighted that Melissa Rosati will also be presenting an excellent workshop on Sunday. Because, as a resource in publishing and marketing, Melissa, “meets people where they are; she’s not overpowering. And she loves her work, like I do; she’s passionate about it.”
Susan’s Words of Wisdom From Decades of Writing, Publishing and Teaching Writing
- · “We have to sit down and write; it’s not easy. . . It’s practice that involves circling to the center, going within.”
- · “A writer has to discover who she is, and this takes time.”
- · “I feel very fortunate. It took me a long time to say I was a writer.”
- · “It took me so long because I glorified what a writer was. And then I learned we’re all writers and it became less frightening, and I became more encouraging. And I don’t separate myself from the people who come to my workshops. I’m always learning. I love to go to other people’s workshops.”
- · “Writing has given meaning to my life, and that’s why I’m so passionate about sharing it.”
Another Tap on the Shoulder
In anticipation of her pub date in April, Susan asked me a few weeks ago if I would be interested in interviewing her about the publishing process of her new books. It was a figurative tap on the shoulder this time. Of course, I immediately agreed. And, once again, struck gold. Particularly because Susan ended our interview by announcing, “I still have another book I want to write,” And, as a writer and writing workshop facilitator, and a woman in her fifties, whose youngest is preparing to leave home for college, Susan embodies a powerful, hopeful vision for my future - supporting my dream of decades of my own writing and publishing and teaching still to come.
About Kelly DuMar: Kelly DuMar is a poet, playwright and workshop facilitator from the Boston area who joined the faculty of the IWWG Summer Conference three years ago. Kelly is honored to serve as a member of the IWWG Advisory Circle, and she’s looking forward to teaching a workshop on Memoir as Monologue at the 2015 IWWG Summer Conference. You can reach her at KellyDumar.com.