Lydia Sheaks
Lydia Sheaks
Lydia Sheaks, education reporter, writes about finding adventure in the everyday, her opinions of current events and trends and occasionally her two cats.

Other Stories by Lydia Sheaks
Reporter Lydia Sheaks writes about education and family issues for the Elkhart Truth.

Jeannette Walls talks about the writing of 'The Glass Castle'

Author Jeannette Walls shares how she cut her family some slack and discovered their redeeming qualities while writing her memoir, "The Glass Castle."

Posted on May 4, 2014 at 1:41 p.m.

I was supposed to call at 11 a.m.

It was 10:58 and I stared at the clock, waiting. At 11:01 (can't seem too eager) I punched in the number.

After a few rings a woman answered, sounding like she ran to grab the phone.

"Lydia?" she asked. "It's Jeannette Walls."


In case you missed it earlier this week, Jeannette Walls is coming to speak in Elkhart. She's one of my favorite authors and I was thrilled to interview her.

I used only part of what she said in this story about Oaklawn's Spring Spectacular fundraiser.

But the rest of my conversation with Jeannette was great and I'd like to share it with you here.

I asked mostly about her memoir, "The Glass Castle," where she describes her childhood growing up with parents who didn't care for her like parents should. Read it, if you haven't.

Lydia: Were you afraid to write such intimate details about your childhood and horrible things that happened to you, for the public to read?

Jeannette: Of course, of course! (laughing). But people have been so shockingly kind and smart about it. I thought people would hold me in contempt.

You know, it’s one thing to expose yourself to pain and humiliation; it’s another thing to do it to your family. I showed the book to my family, but no one wanted to see it except for my brother. 

And it's made me closer to him. It's helped me get back in touch with my kid sister Maureen. 

(Speaking about her mother, who's featured prominently in her book) 

Jeannette: Most of (the book) didn't really bother her. She doesn't like my description of her driving.

(About being honest in portraying her family members)

Jeannette: No one in the book comes across as a truly horrible person.

If someone comes across as really bad when you are writing about them, you’re just not cutting them enough slack. The only person I couldn't find one redeeming quality in was my father's mother. 

And I asked my mother about it and she said, "She was just so brilliant. She was a genius; a brilliant person. And she never had the chance to do anything with that."

You look into somebody’s life and the answers are always there. The issue of mental health is so misunderstood. Mental health plays a big part in homelessness and in addictions.

Lydia: When you were growing up, did you ever have any thought that maybe the way you lived wasn't quite normal?

Jeannette: I did know on some level we were different, people pointed at us a lot. But I thought that’s because we were special.

Your world is your reality. And especially as a child you can’t change it – you can’t do anything about it. This is the way that life is, and these are your parents. Sometimes they disappear all night, and then they reappear.

So many of us have these weird things in our past and as adults we try to wish it away.

You just pray the beejezus out of it. When you have a quirky, abnormal childhood, the way to deal with it is to take the blessing that comes out of it.

One of the things from my childhood is, I’m a survivor. And I’m not going to pass judgment on other people.


If you want to hear more from Jeannette, she's speaking at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, May 9 at Oaklawn's Spring Spectacular fundraiser at The Lerner Theater in downtown Elkhart.

Get tickets on Oaklawn's website

Follow reporter Lydia Sheaks on Twitter at @LydiaSheaks

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