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December 5, 2019
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Vanya Erickson
Writing the Hard Stuff: Learning to Care for Yourself While Writing about the Past
Book: Boot Language, A Memoir 

In order to survive my childhood, I was forced to become fluent in two languages: my Christian Scientist mother’s honeyed versions of the truth and my rancher father’s hard-as-the-scrape-of-his-bootheels words, which stung like the back of his hand.

From the outside, my life growing up looked idyllic: riding horses with my father in the solitude of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and attending flamboyant operas with my mother in the city. Set in postwar California, this is my story of trying to gauge my parents’ unpredictable actions – from being left to lie in my own blood-soaked diaper while my Christian Scientist mother prayed, refusing to get medical help –  to watching my father writhe on his bed in the detox ward, his hands, and feet tethered with leather straps.  I coped the only way I knew how: by immersing myself in the beauty and solitude of the wilderness around me.

Why I wrote this book:
Throughout my life, memories arrived like stray bullets.  I kept thinking, Shouldn’t I be over this by now? But as I typed, Dad’s words filled my head. I heard the impatient pacing of his cowboy boots scraping the linoleum, and my fingers kept stabbing at the keyboard. Eventually, I had a truckload of stories – tight, tense scenes that brought relief when I read them aloud. Listeners wanted more. They said they found themselves in my words. They found relief from their own pasts.  I stopped avoiding my life and turned around, staring that dragon down. I kept writing as if it could save my life…and theirs. I discovered that when I leaned into the past when I told the truth, magic happened.

I chose the title Boot Language because that was the secret language of my father’s heel pressure and gait. By the listening, to the sound of his footsteps, I could tell his mood and what to expect.


The Takeaway:

  • Learning to accept and embrace your life
  • Coping when writing about family
  • How writing about your past can change your worldview
  • The importance of writing about your dark moments
  • How to find beauty in the face of harsh realities
  • Self-care techniques to ease your journey


Vanya Erickson is the award-winning author of Boot Language, A Memoir. Long ago, she used to photograph and haul horses for a living. But for the last 25 years, she has been mentoring teachers while teaching writing and public speaking in the oldest, continuously used schoolhouse in California.  She’s passionate about hiking the High Sierras as well as dramatically reading aloud to children. Vanya holds a BA in Comparative Literature as well as a Teaching Credential, both from the University of California at Santa Cruz. Her essays have appeared in a dozen literary journals and anthologies, including The Magic of Memoir, edited by Linda Joy Myers, Ph.D. and Brooke Warner.

2019 WINNER Next Generation Indie Book Award (Overcoming Adversity/Tragedy)
2019 SILVER Award Benjamin Franklin Award (for Best New Voice)
2019 SILVER Award Readers’ Favorite (Memoir)
2019 FINALIST Indie Excellence Awards (Memoir as well as Regional Nonfiction: The West)

My Website
Boot Language Book Trailer



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