Yesterday I had the wonderful opportunity to talk to a literature class at Weber State University that is using Room for Two as one of their books. I was very impressed with the students and their questions, comments, and insight they had. The following are some of their questions and my answers I thought others might find interesting.
Q: What audience did you have in mind when you wrote Room for Two?
A: I was trying to write for a very broad audience. I wanted to tell my story in such a way that even those who have never lost a spouse, child, or had a friend or loved one take their own life could enjoy it. It seems to have worked. Though I’ve received a lot of positive feedback from young widows, young widowers, and suicide survivors, most of the emails I receive have been from people who don’t fall into any of those categories. No matter what group the reader falls in, however, the vast majority of respondents tell me the book has touched their lives in very positive ways.
Q: Why did you write Room for Two?
A: The biggest reason was that I read or, rather, tired to read a lot of “memoirs” about losing a spouse soon after my late wife’s death. I found most of them to be completely worthless. Most of the time the writer would try to make him or herself out as a “wronged hero.” I felt authors were being less than honest about their experience and were hiding their own faults and imperfections. Because of this, I had a hard time relating on any level to the story they were trying to tell. I wanted to write a book that, in my opinion, showed the human side of the surviving spouse as well as the pain that that accompanies the death of a loved one.
In the case of books that dealt specifically with losing a spouse to suicide, I thought the authors were trying to make excuses or justify the actions of their loved ones that killed themselves. Some of the books went as far to romanticize suicide. I find that to be extremely dangerous. The reasons people take their own life is very complex and trying to rationalize or validate their actions is impossible without being able to talk with that person. And since they’re dead, that impossible. Instead of justifying the actions of my late wife, I tried to portray the devastating effect suicide has on those left behind.
Q: There’s a strong religious undercurrent in Room for Two. After reading the book, one can tell that you’re very religious but you don’t much in the way of specifics about what faith you belong to. Was that intentional?
A: Yes. Outside of the mountain west, most people don’t know much about the LDS (Mormon) Church. I didn’t want to alienate or distract readers who are unfamiliar with the church. Hence the reason I used very generic terms to describe my religious affiliation. Those who are familiar with the LDS church will, I think, know what faith I’m a member of rather quickly.
Q: If you were to rewrite Room for Two for a Mormon-only audience, what would you change?
Q: How did you come up with the title for your book?
A: The working title of the book was Running Forward. However, that never seemed to fit with the story I was telling. One day I was editing a part of the book where I was struggling with making room in my heart for another person. Though the exact phrase “room for two” doesn’t appear in the text, while reading that paragraph, those words formed in my mind as I read it. I immediately knew I had the perfect right title for my book.
Q: I really enjoyed reading your late wife’s poem “Ten Toed Children of Eve” that was in Room for Two. Have you considered about publishing the rest of your late wife’s poetry?
A: I’ve thought about putting a website up that contained her poetry and some of her other writings. Right now it’s more of a time issue. I have other writing projects are more pressing.
Q: Which writers have influenced you the most?
Q: How do you find the time to write?
A: I make time. Once my kids are in bed, I spend some time with my wife and then write until I can’t keep my eyes open. It’s easy to talk about being a writer but hard to actually put in the hours required to write something worth publishing. I went to school with a lot of “writers” that were more talented than me. However, I’m the only one with a book. Though talent has something to do with getting published, most of it has to do with dedicating the time to writing, editing, and rewriting your manuscript.
Q: Are you writing more books?
A: I’m currently writing a work of fiction. If I can hold to my self-imposed deadlines, I should have a publishable manuscript sometime this summer.
Q: Do you have any plans to write a follow-up to Room for Two?
A: Yes. After I complete this work of fiction, the plan is to write another book that picks up where Room for Two left off. The main focus will be on the early years my marriage to Julie. The working title is Seconds because the book is going to focus a lot on second chances, second marriages, second loves, etc.
I don’t have to show up for federal jury duty -- again. The case was either canceled or the defendant decided to take a plea. Whatever happened, my four months federal jury service is officially over – at least that’s what the recorded message stated. Sorry Jenn.
Though I think it would be interesting to serve on a jury, this service would have been very inconvenient had I been chosen. Room for Two is being used as a text for one of the classes at Weber State University and I'm scheduled to do a reading and take part in a discussion about it on Tuesday, April 22. Thankfully, there are no potential conflicts now.
By the way, if any of my readers are going to be in the Ogden area on Tuesday and want to attend, email me and I'll let you know the details of the event.
An article about Room for Two appeared in The Signpost, the paper of Weber State University, today. I've pasted the text of the article below. However, if you read it on the The Signpost website, you can see a photo of my late wife -- something I've never posted before. WSU alumnus writes about spouse's suicide in new novel, 'Room for Two'
by Seth Durfee
"Young pregnant wife commits suicide," that's a headline, which never ran - although it happened to author Abel Keogh's wife. Krista killed herself in November 2001.
"There's a taboo about suicide," said Keogh, who decided to help break that taboo by writing "Room for Two", a novel about his late wife's suicide.
Keogh, a Weber State University alumni, released his book August 2007. The book gives a straightforward look at his experience with his wife Krista, also a Weber State University graduate, who suffered from depression. She committed suicide at age 25 when she was seven months pregnant with their first child.
Keogh, who has since remarried and is the father of three children.
"After my late wife Krista's death," Keogh said, while holding two squirming sons on his lap in the living room of his Utah County home. "I tried to find on the Internet even one example of another pregnant woman committing suicide. I couldn't."
Keogh said a local newspaper ran an ongoing story about his wife's death for a day or two, but as soon as the paper realized was a suicide, all coverage stopped.
"You're not supposed to talk about it," he said.
The book relates the events following Krista's suicide. Keogh stressed the fact that he did not write the book to say, "I got through it and so can you." He wrote it to try and chip away at the taboo surrounding suicide. "People should know that it's OK to talk about," Keogh said.
He made almost daily entries on a blog after his wife's death.
"Ninety percent of what you find in the book is not in the blog and, in my opinion, the real meat of the story."
Keogh's motivation for writing the book is very personal.
"I didn't feel like there was a story out there that was really helpful to me." He said he wanted to write the book that he would have pulled off the shelf after his wife died.
"I've gotten a few e-mails from people who haven't necessarily had a suicide in their life, and they say how much it's helped them," Keogh said. At the time he recognized there was a problem but he didn't know what to do.
"Looking back I can see that there are things that weren't right. If she hadn't been pregnant I would have asked 'What's wrong with you,'" Keogh said.
For those who don't know what to do, Diane George, a licensed clinical social worker at the McKay-Dee Behavioral Health Institute in Ogden has some insights.
"Signs of depression can be Anhedonia, or a lack of interest from activities that normally provide pleasure, lack of appetite, weight gain or weight loss," George said. "People suffering from depression can also become isolated from friends and family or have a lack of concentration."
George said if an individual is experiencing these types of changes or feelings, talking to someone who will listen is a good course of action.
"Take a stress inventory," George said, "Reevaluate your status. Decide if the depression is situational or biological"
George said those who commit suicide often feel hopeless and alone.
Rebekah Clements, long-time friend of both Keogh and Krista, said she is still trying to cope with the guilt that came following the unexpected suicide.
"Krista's story was even more difficult to talk about because she was pregnant," Clements said. "There wasn't a support group for something like that. We really were alone." Clements said that it was very difficult when Keogh gave her one of the first copies of the manuscript. "There had been five years from the suicide to when I read it. It opened up a lot of memories that I've tried to forget," she said.
There isn't anything you can say about a situation like that, explained Clements, but maybe this is the only chance to bring a silver lining to the whole story. "I hope Krista would think two things about the book: that she would be proud of Abel for writing it and that the book will help people," Clements said.
"If I can help even one person feel like they aren't alone with something like what I went through," Keogh said, "then I did what I wanted to do."