North Carolina, USA – While we’re all familiar with the term “overnight sensation,” it would be quite challenging to point out a successful, well-loved author who had not labored at her story and craft for many years before, supposedly, becoming one. Having her first novel published in her 60’s, author, poet, and coach Hope Andersen’s writing life story is truly a testament to this. Although Andersen began writing at an early age, she needed to abandon the development of that writing as she became and toiled some forty years as school teacher, spouse, and mother.
Andersen never stopped writing, but she only finally began active pursuit of publication of her works upon entering her 60’s. Her debut novel The Book Sisters was launched in 2017, her poetry chapbook Taking In Air debuted in 2018, and then her wonderful novel about a woman re-inventing herself, When the Moon Winks, was picked up in 2019. This period of focused publication only began after a very difficult series of life events and transitions for both Andersen and her husband. Andersen shares about these- and other, formative- events in her new memoir How to Remodel a Life: A Guide to Living Well with Alcoholism and Bipolar Disorder.
“In about 2013, my husband got sick,” Andersen told media. “I left my teaching career and took on the role of care taker for him.” Andersen’s husband of more than thirty years, Thom, had succumbed to liver cancer, and he needed a liver transplant. He was told he had only three months to live. “It was a real downer,” Andersen said in an interview, “but then we had this miracle of a transplant.” After years of struggling, they “just went on” as she described it: her husband went on to re-career himself and, after pondering what she really wanted to do with the rest of her life, Andersen returned to her first love of writing. In her instructional memoir How to Remodel a Life, Andersen shares very openly both about her alcoholism recovery and successful late-in-life treatment for bipolar disorder.
“There is nothing like being told you or your loved one is going to die to make you take a serious look at your life,” Andersen writes in the book’s opening. When they received what she calls the “sentence from Mayo,” and then there was a healing, she decided not only to press on with her works already in progress, but to also write her own life story in the hope of helping others.
“I have done my best to show you how I changed from a self-loathing, fear-driven woman who suffered from alcoholism and bipolar disorder,” Andersen writes, “to a woman whose life is filled with abundance, success, love, and joy.”
How to Remodel a Life is arranged neatly in chapters that address both life-repairing and life-enhancing topics, all with themes of how one might go about remodeling a home: “Clear the Dust,” “Set a Firm Foundation,” Let Light In,” “Updating the Hard-wired Mind, “Fixing Faulty Plumbing,” “Raise the Roof,” “The Master Suite,” “The Guest Room,” “Establishing Curb Appeal,” “Color My World,” “The Swing in the Backyard,” and “The New House.” Some topics addressed include allowing joy, stopping negative thinking, and the importance of good nutrition, self-love, and attraction not promotion. Andersen offers a set of “tools” in each chapter which eventually fills a “life remodeling” toolbox.
“This book illustrates how I remodeled my life to get to my true self,” Andersen adds in her Introduction, “the self that is authentically me… Using my experience, strength, and hope, I will take you on a journey that has the potential to lead you to a healthier, happier version of yourself.”
Andersen’s web site describes her as “a firm believer in the possible” who “also presents a realistic approach to dealing with ‘life on life’s terms.’ ” We think there’s lots more goodness to this deep, “old” soul than that description details, and that’s more than borne out in How to Remodel a Life. Andersen pulls no punches in detailing negative experiences that derailed her, and she invites readers to this same kind of openness as they journey through her work in the book’s dedication: “This book is dedicated to anyone who has the courage to change their life for the Good.”
Andersen offers many approaches to healing and life-remodeling, ranging from doing chakra meditation work to reading scripture. She quotes scripture, sharing with special fondness Psalm 139:7-12, as well as snippets of poetry, some of well-known poets, some of her own. We’re given a wonderful walk through various tools, the most important of which she mentions in her Acknowledgments: “Finally, but certainly not least, I thank my Higher Power for gracing my life and placing me on this journey. Thy will, not mine, be done.”
Months after completing How to Remodel a Life, Andersen would see those words played out in a way far beyond what she ever might have imagined: her years of treatment with lithium for her bipolar disorder had brought about third-stage kidney disease. She’s using the tools in this very book to help herself get through what she describes as the limited options of “transplant, dialysis, or death.”
Sharing her reflections on this new life challenge, Anderson offers her poem, The Conversation:
If I came face to face with God,
sitting this very minute
at our old wooden table
scarred and burned by casseroles and knives,
I might be inclined to be forward,
and tell Him not to be gentle with me—
there is no need.
But underneath my worn silk blouse
my heart would flutter
and I would plead,
Be kind, be kind.
I say I am not afraid
It’s losing Life that scares me.
Black void of no feeling,
no being, ceasing to exist.
Like the space in my mind
when I can’t remember something.
I would miss blackberry cobbler hot from the oven;
hugs from my children
spring birds early in February,
breaking winter’s shell;
purple violets embroidering the newly-green lawn.
This isn’t over yet,
the conversation between us.
Andersen can truly be described as a writer’s writer. Quoting crime thriller novelist Lawrence Block in her most recent blog post who suggests “If you want to write fiction, the best thing you can do is take two aspirins, lie down in a dark room, and wait for the feeling to pass…” she combats doubt as “just the excuse most people need not to pursue their dream of writing.” Her brilliant pep talk takes off from there and is well worth a read- as is her latest How to Remodel a Life.
“Over time,” Andersen shares in her book, “my broken soul has been refurbished by a kind Universe. No longer chasing after attention and affection, I stand secure in the Divine Love that enfolds me.” This seems the overarching gift this book extends to those who are open to it.
Andersen is currently hard at work adapting two books for feature-length screenplays. We have faith that the same God who brought this amazing author through so much already will yet again bring her through this latest challenge, and we eagerly await the results
Text ©2020 Michele Caprario Photos courtesy of Warren Publishing, used with permission
How to Remodel a Life: A Guide to Living Well with Alcoholism and Bipolar Disorder.
Paperback: 270 pages,
Publisher: Pipevine Press (April 28, 2020)