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Sharon Sala: Balancing Caregiving with Writing

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Bestselling Author Sharon Sala

 

Bestselling Author Sharon Sala

Bestselling Author Sharon Sala

I am delighted to welcome bestselling author Sharon Sala as my guest today. I “met” Sharon online several years ago, but have been reading her fabulous books far longer than that. When my novel, Angel Falls, came out, she graciously read and endorsed it. We finally met in person at the ACRA conference in October and I’m honored to call her friend.

In case you don’t know Sharon, here’s a bit about her background.

Sharon Sala is a long-time member of RWA, as well as a member of OKRWA. She has 90 plus books in print, published in five different genres – Romance, Young Adult, Western, Fiction, and Women’s Fiction. First published in 1991, she’s an eight-time RITA finalist, winner of the Janet Dailey Award, four-time Career Achievement winner from RT Magazine, five-time winner of the National Reader’s Choice Award, and five-time winner of the Colorado Romance Writer’s Award of Excellence, winner of the Heart of Excellence Award, as well as winner of the Booksellers Best Award. In 2011 she was named RWA’s recipient of the Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award. Her books are New York Times, USA Today, and Publisher’s Weekly best-sellers. Writing changed her life, her world, and her fate.

*We are giving away a copy of Sharon’s new book, The Curl Up & Dye, today, so be sure to follow the instructions below for your chance to win.SS_Book cover

Like many of us, Sharon juggles various responsibilities along with her writing. Her mother, whom she calls Little Mama, lives with her.

Can you tell us a bit about what life is like with Little Mama?

Life with my Little Mama is a bit like Forest Gump’s box of chocolates. I never know what I’m going to get from one day to the next. She is 94 years old, has no short-term memory and has dementia. It is, at the least, daily chaotic. At its worst, very sad to watch someone you love coming apart one memory at a time.

She loves to read her newspapers, even though she doesn’t remember what she just read. She loves chocolate and she likes to still do her laundry, even though some days a load of clothes may consist of a change of underwear, a pair of socks and a towel. I let her do what she can because as long as she feels useful and needed, she is satisfied. When she’s having a bad day with dementia, she can imagine all kinds of things and she’s either afraid of the people she sees (who aren’t there) or she thinks someone is taking her things. It’s hard, but at the same time I’m grateful I can keep her with me.

I can’t imagine what that roller coaster is like. In the midst of that, how do you balance caregiving with writing? Or do you?

Balancing my writing with taking care of Little Mama is like juggling ten things at once. Usually I write when she finally goes to bed, which may be anywhere from 9:00 p.m. to all hours of the morning. I am continually sleep-deprived, but fortunately I write rather quickly and have been able to keep up.

What’s the hardest part of all this for you?

The hardest part of this whole journey is watching my mother come undone. In fact, the person she is now is no longer the woman who raised me. She’s more like my child.

You are someone who always looks for the positive, so what’s the easiest/most rewarding part?

Seeing joy on her face and baking cookies to make her happy. And knowing she feels safe.

What led you to write The Curl Up & Dye? How did you come up with the town and LilyAnn?

I am a child of the country and grew up near a very small town, so that life was familiar to me. I had seen the name CURL UP AND DYE on more than one beauty shop over the years and always wanted to write a series of books that revolved around the comings and goings on at a local beauty shop. As for coming up with the town, I knew it had to be southern, and there is no state more southern that Georgia and old southern charm. There is a LilyAnn in everyone’s high school. The smartest, prettiest girl who made everything look easy and garnered all the awards, then never quite figured out how to transition that success into adulthood. I wanted to write about a woman like that who found a way to put the past aside and step into her own.

(Connie: don’t let the pink cover fool you into thinking this is just sweet southern fiction. The story includes some very strong language and several very intense scenes.)

What’s your best advice for women trying to balance dream-chasing with their other responsibilities?

You can not WAIT for everything to be perfect before you go after your dream, because life is never going to be perfect. So you have to figure out how to step out of your comfort zone and go after what you want, while not letting down the people who depend on you. It’s a juggling act, too, but it you want it bad enough, you’ll find a way to make it happen.

Any other advice you’d like to share?

The only advice I have for anyone is to remember that everything in life eventually comes full circle, so be aware that what you give out; bad or good, you will eventually get back.

Thanks so much, Sharon! We appreciate your wisdom and your example.

Readers, leave a comment about how you juggle your responsibilities with dream-chasing (along with your email) and you’ll be entered in a drawing for The Curl Up & Dye. (Print copy, US only.)

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    The Conversation

  1. Susana Ellis says:

    I read your Facebook posts every day, Sharon. My father’s dementia gets worse and worse (he has Parkinson’s too), but it’s Mom who has to deal with it 24/7. I live in the same retirement community so I try to support her (she has problems too), and I know she gets worried about the future and what will happen when she can’t take care of him anymore. I try to tell her to take each day as it comes, but she’s the one who’s there seeing him deteriorate, so I can understand why she worries.

    In your situation, living in the same house with your mother, I can’t imagine getting any writing done at all! You are my hero!

    • Connie Mann says:

      Hi Susana,
      I don’t know how Sharon does it, either! But I so appreciate her sharing her journey with all of us. I’m sure your mother so appreciates how you help her carry the caregiving load for your father, too. Having support close by means so very much. Hope Sharon’s post encouraged you!

    • Sharon Sala says:

      Connie and Susana,

      Thank you both for your comments. Taking care of my Little Mama has become the norm, and each day that she loses a bit more cognitive skill, we both somehow find a way to adjust. Mostly, it’s the love that gets us through.

  2. Sue W says:

    I am fortunate in that I have been able to retire and that leaves tilme to pursue my interests — my blog Thoughts from Mill Street, reading, quilting/sewing, gardening, and spending time at out cabin. In the midsts of Wisconsin winter, a warm Southern novel sounds appealing.

  3. Calisa Rhose says:

    I’m blessed to know you, Sharon, and honored to call you friend. Meeting you when I became a member of OKRWA was one of the highlights of my life. Yes, I’m still a tad starstruck by you. lol I’ve been a fan since early on. I hope I win so I can read this book. It sounds as fabulous as anything you’ve written!

    Have safe travels to Dallas this weekend.

    ps. And I can save you postage since I’m in ‘town’ all the time. *wink*

    • Sharon Sala says:

      Hi Calisa…. always good to save the postage, right? Thank you for the travel blessings. I’m looking forward to the Adventures In Fiction event.

    • I just finished reading A Rainbow above us. This is the first book of Sharon Salva’s that i have read and i really and truly enjoyed it. I look forward to reading the rest of her books. I’m 77 yrs old and spend a lot of time reading. I am from Locust Grove, Oklahoma and can relate to small towns and love them.

  4. Calisa Rhose says:

    Oh- to answer the question: Being new at elderly caregiving, it’s still a bit of a struggle for me to balance that with writing, but I’m learning to take the time I’m allowed to write and run. Your sound advice on FB and in person has been inspirational to me.

    • Connie Mann says:

      Sounds like you’re learning the balancing act very well, Calisa–a day at a time. Good for you!

      • Debra Smith says:

        I just picked up one of your books at the library this morning.
        It’s a thriller called The Missing Piece. I can’t wait to read it!!
        This is the first time I have read any of your books.
        It’s a blessing your looking after your little moma. It sure takes alot💓

  5. Jan Jackson says:

    Every time I hear Sharon speak, whether on her facebook page, at a writing event, or now on this blog, I glean a gem of wisdom. Thanks so much Sharon and Connie. You both inspire me.

  6. This is a very thought-provoking article. It serves as a reminder as to how precious each moment of our lives are, and to live each day to the fullest–even if the day comes when our memory fades. Thanks Connie for hosting Sharon. She is an inspiration.

    • Connie Mann says:

      I agree, Loretta. Sometimes, in the midst of caregiving and living life, we lost sight of just how precious each moment is. I’m so glad you enjoyed Sharon’s post. Oh, yes, she is an inspiration!

  7. Mary Cool says:

    Several years ago I watched my dad lose himself to Alzheimer’s. While it was difficult, it was a trip to see is innocence and joy at the simple things that were no longer in his memory. One afternoon we took Dad to his favorite seafood restaurant and I’ll never forget how thrilled he was to taste ketchup! It was like it was the first time. 🙂 It brought such a smile on his face and made me so happy to see that he did enjoy his life although in a much different way. Thanks, Sharon for sharing your story.

    • Connie Mann says:

      Hi Mary, I can’t imagine just how hard that journey must have been. But I love that you have fun, cherished memories, too. Thanks for sharing a special one with us!

    • Sharon Sala says:

      Mary,

      The same thing happened to my Little Mama just yesterday. She got so excited over how good her bowl of vegetable soup was and wanted to know what was in it, then of course, couldn’t remember the names of the vegetables. But like your father’s joy of tasting ketchup, her delight in such a small thing made me happy.

  8. Dee Gatrell says:

    Hi Sharon and Connie,

    I met you Sharon years ago at RWA and sat with you in a meeting. I liked you right off the bat.

    My mom had dementia and it isn’t a fun thing to watch.

    Now I’m retired, but still juggling life, having to watch the grandkids in the afternoons to help out their parents. I also have a grown son that lives at home, and has medical problems. However, he does work as a bagger at Publix. I have a husband with major medical problems. And now, of all the stupid things I could’ve done, I ran the rocker into my leg a few weeks before Christmas and bled like a stuffed pig. It was 10:30 at night. Hubby has a hard time sleeping and I didn’t want to wake him. Instead of getting better, it got infected and I’m still dealing with it.

    Did I say we have three dogs, too? One is a recent rescue who ate one of the kids coloring books yesterday, along with chewing the plastic off the container I have files in.

    I volunteer on Wednesday at the 5 year old’s K class. Noah is sweet, but he has a hard time focusing. The principal said the other morning he turned around and walked out of where he was supposed to be. When they went out to see where he was going, he said he was going to play in the dirt. And last week the school nurse called to tell me Hurricane Emma had a headache and stomachache and told her not to call her parents because they work, to call Gammy because she could come get her. And I did.

    Dee

    • Sharon Sala says:

      Dee, just reading a day in your life exhausted me. I know people always quote that old saying about God doesn’t give you more than you can handle. I the return quote about wishing God didn’t trust me so much is just as trite. The truth is, when it involves people we love, we find a way, don’t we? I love that your little Emma calls you Gammy. My grandson calls me Grammy. Bottom line, you and I are on a journey. We don’t know when or how it’s going to end, but if you’re like me, you’re going to ride it all the way down the hill with a smile on your face. Might as well. We’ll go downhill regardless of whether we’re happy or not. I think we should enjoy it.

    • Connie Mann says:

      Hi Dee, wish I could give you a quick hug. So sorry you’ve been having such a hard time. Here’s hoping the leg will heal quickly! The way you juggle all your family responsibilities is an inspiration!

  9. Anna-Marie says:

    I, too, follow Sharon’s posts every day. Even when I went dark on Facebook, I still snuck in to check on her. 😉 My husband and I care for my 33 year old autistic son, who comes with his own set of challenges. Dealing with pervasive development disorders (PDD’s) is a lot like navigating OCD on steroids. Both breakfast and dinner at six o’clock strait up, and he goes through phases there he will only eat certain things, such as oatmeal for breakfast and ravioli for dinner. Remember the commercial where the little girl says, “But I love The Chef?” That could have been Patrick if he talked. He’s not mute, but he gave up talking when his voice changed. Now he just blasts the tv when he is not happy, even at 4 am. Fortunately, my husband does the lions share of caring for him. He’s not a child of his loins but a child of his heart. I often say that I get to go to work because I know he is safe. Biggest challenges? Getting enough sleep and arving out family time. I wonder if Sharon realizes just how many lives she has touched. Watching her, I have realized that humor can be found in even the most unlikely situations. I also know that there are times that all you can do is cry. Sharon is a true hero on my eyes.

    • Connie Mann says:

      My heart goes out to you, Anna-Marie. Such a hard illness to deal with. But how wonderful that you have the fabulous husband you do. Having someone share the load is such a blessing.

      I agree–Sharon is truly an inspiration!

    • Sharon Sala says:

      Anna-Marie, I am in awe of you and your husband. Caring for your son with those issues is a whole other kettle of fish that what I do. And yet we both do it out of love, regardless of the stress and strife. God bless you.

      Sharon

  10. Km Cornwell says:

    I am a big fan of Sharon’s and keep up with her and LM on face book! I had the pleasure to
    Meet her at the RWA in Atlanta! She is wonderful! I myself watched my grandfather struggle with Alzheimer’s and dementia. He raised me most of my life and it hurt so much when he didn’t know who I was or called me julie( my mom). It helped to just remember him as he was. I juggle with my life daily. I raise horses, drive a school bus and have a husband who is been disabled 20 years of the 32 we have been together. I had to give up showing horses because he can’t help like he use to and he has became extremely clingy in the past few years. Sometimes I feel like I should just add a belt clip to my pants and hang him on it! I love him with all my heart but sometimes I just need me time. So I either put on my headphones and jam to my music or read till my hearts content! Authors like Sharon have kept me sane! Thanks for having her here an for her fabulous writing!

    • Connie Mann says:

      So glad Sharon’s post encouraged you! And I’m so glad you’ve found a way to carve out a bit of time for you. That’s so important. Your long-term care of your husband inspires me, as well, and shows by example what true love looks like.

    • Sharon Sala says:

      Km…. we all have our path in the world, don’t we? And so many of those paths are very rocky. Head up, honey and I’ll do what I can to help YOU by putting out my books.

      Sharon

  11. Sharon I read your posts everyday. I have commented about my own journey with my mother who had confirmed Alzheimer’s. It is so difficult to watch any person disintegrate slowly. It is frustrating when they no longer know you. And it is downright unfair that this happens at a time we are facing health challenges of our own. You are in my prayers and in my heart. Many people have told you how lucky LM is to have you. As you already know, you are the lucky one to spend this time with her. there isn’t one minute I regret taking care of my mother. I can laugh now at some of the days we spent engaged in a no win argument about something that really means nothing now. Baking cookies, Watching her excitement when she received a gift. And just having her there to hugs and tell goodnight. that is what I remember now.

    Best wishes, Kathi Robb Harris

  12. Gayle Trent says:

    Sharon, you’re an inspiration to us all!

  13. Freda Serres says:

    i lost my father 2 1/2 years ago , before he passed he told stories to everyone he talked to ,looking back i wonder if it was for sympathy or IF he was starting to get alzheimers he was an alcoholic for many years suffered with cancer for 12 years before it finally killed him , i uprooted my husband and myself from Ohio to take care of him for his last 10 years and i am still in a mess with his family over property, But i wouldn’t change what i did ,he was my Dad and he needed me, i was the only one willing to do the deed, so now i just want to get back to enjoying my Grandkids and no more worries over who wants what and be free to do what i want!

  14. Felicia Ciaudelli says:

    Hey there Sharon and Connie – I was introduced to Sharon’s books back in the mid 90s and was hooked immediately – I, too, am one of Sharon’s Facebook friends and feel so much a part of her family through her sharing her experiences and adventures with Little Mama with all of us. My son Joseph (who recently turned 30) and I live with my mom Julia who will be 87 next week – thank God she still has her mind intact although she has other health issues that come with being 87 years young – she always says that she never has time to stop and think about her age! LOL – we are caregivers of each other and I thank Sharon SO much for teaching what we all need to know – patience, putting family first, selflessness – you name it!

  15. Deidre says:

    I read Sharons posts on Facebook daily. And everyday I stand in awe of someone who is willing to take care of a family member even though it is hard on her. When I ‘like’ her posts it is not because I ‘like’ what she is going through but so that she knows her ‘friends’ are there and she can bend our ears at any time she needs to.
    I took care of my mother the last few years that she lived, while we did not have the best relationship I don’t regret a day that spent with her. I know she didn’t either.

  16. Marsha Sample says:

    I adore Sharon’s books! I read her Facebook posts each day and I can relate, both of my parents have passed away, but I was their primary caretaker and they both suffered with dementia and Alzheimer’s. It was a rocky ten years, but although I came out with a few scars, I came out a better person!

  17. Ginger Robertson says:

    Hi Sharon,

    You are so right, if any of us wait for the “perfect” fill in the blank, we could wait forever. We all need to stop waiting, expecting or doing what is perfect, it’s just not realistic.

    I look forward everyday to keeping up with LM and Sharon’s adventures on Facebook. Sharon is gracious enough to allow us to peek into their everyday lives. I’ve shared some of what Sharon has goes through with LM with a coworker who has had the same issues with her mom. I love when LM is having a good day such as going out to have a hamburger just thrills her, or when she is sneaking cookies or chocolate and Sharon isn’t suppose to know about it. I want to be Sharon should this happen with my mom, gracious and patient.

    Love ya Sharon and LM. Continued blessings to both you wonderful ladies.

    Connie, thank you for having Sharon here today.
    Ginger

    • Connie Mann says:

      Ginger, I love that piece of advice, too! It’s easy to say we’ll wait for things to be perfect before we follow our dreams. I’ve thought the same thing you have: I want to be like Sharon if something like this happens to my parents. Thanks so much for stopping by. Glad you enjoyed your visit! Hope you’ll come again…

  18. Shirley Akins says:

    Sharon, I always keep up with your posts and I really don’t know how you stay sane!! But, I know that you have an angel on your shoulder!! Could be that with all you go thru, it makes you the wonderful writer that you are. Just hang in there and don’t ever stop writing. You give us so much pleasure with your books. I am a long time fan and try to collect your books. Am waiting on your new one from the library though. May God bless you and LM.

  19. Jamie Janosz says:

    I can certainly relate! My 86-year-old mom-in-law has lived with my husband and I for almost 18 years – most of our marriage. It has its sweet moments, and its challenges. Just today, I was trying to write, and she asked me how I could sit there that long. She also gives us what we call the “Polish-news” – yelling only the negative news bits to me from the living room. I am sure it is so much harder when you struggle with dementia and with it being your own mom. Thank you for sharing! I love southern fiction – so I’ll be sure to check this out!

    • Connie Mann says:

      Hi Jamie, the mental picture of your m-I-l shouting news bits from the living room made me laugh! Though I’m sure sometimes, it gets very hard. Glad you have sweet moments to balance the challenging ones!

  20. Debbie Rice says:

    I try to find a balance and prioritize what I need to do first .Most important you HAVE to take care of yourself to.I have read just about all of Sharon’s books and I love this author she can tell a story like no other.

  21. Caro Carson says:

    This is a lovely blog from two classy women I admire! It’s also timely for me. I’ve got a son with a mystery medical issue that involves endless rounds of testing and specialists, and it’s easy to be too busy to write. Sharon’s comment about juggling is a nice little kick in the pants this morning!

    • Connie Mann says:

      Thanks, Caro! So glad Sharon’s post encouraged you today! It’s often easy to let ourselves get sidetracked by life, where the urgent wants to edge out the important, and we’re trying to juggle all kinds of things!

  22. Annie says:

    I LOVE Sharon’s books but even more than that I think she is one of the most awesome daughters anyone could have. I follow her daily and see the strength that most of us could only hope for. Her mother is very blessed to have her caring for her. Her strength and her devotion to her mother and to her Bobby even after all of these years is inspiring to the rest of us.

  23. […] By the way, congrats to Marsha Sample who won the copy of Sharon Sala’s new book, The Curl Up & Dye. If you missed Sharon’s fabulous interview last week, you can read it here: Sharon Sala: Balancing Caregiving with Writing. […]

  24. Lorna Dishman says:

    I know I’m late for this. I finally got to read this interview. Sharon is a special lady. I’m so glad you shared her story Connie.