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An Interview with Christina Consolino, author of The Weight We Carry

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A graduate of the University of Michigan (Go Blue!) with a BA in French and PhD in physiology, Christina taught college-level anatomy and physiology for close to twenty years before concentrating her passion on writing and editing. She’s the author of Rewrite the Stars and The Weight We Carry, and she’s co-author of Historic Photos of University of Michigan. She lives in Ohio with her husband, four children, and a rotating cast of pets.

You can buy The Weight We Carry here!

Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?

I don’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be the author of something, I just didn’t know what. My mother, both a reader and a writer (though never published) most likely influenced me greatly. Soon after she taught me to read, I realized that so many stories resided in my head, and at some point, they needed to come out. I wrote as a child, as a teenager, and as an adult, and once my children were born, I knew I didn’t want to put off the dream anymore because I wanted to be a good role model for them.

Fiction has always been my interest, and though I’ve written a few short stories, it’s easier for me to write a novel. So many authors have influenced my work—it would take up too much space to list them all.

What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?

I pursued a PhD in physiology with the intent of becoming a researcher, mainly in musculoskeletal physiology. However, a few years into my training, I taught a lab course at the local community college, and I was hooked. I never intended to solely teach, but when we moved to Ohio due to my husband’s job, finding an adjunct position at the community college made sense. So for the most part, I’ve been a teacher. I no longer teach at that level; instead, I do home instruction for our local school district, helping students who have medical conditions or behavior issues that keep them out of the standard classroom. I also teach students who just need some extra help. I never envisioned myself as a teacher, but I can’t stay away from it!

One thing not everyone knows is that I took two years off between undergraduate and graduate school. I had plans to work in the hospital and then go to medical school. I found a job with pathologist Dr. Kirk Wojno, who I still consider the best boss ever. His specialty was prostate cancer. I learned so much from those two years, and people I worked with often referred to me as the Prostate Princess. What a nickname! Every time I think about it now, I smile.

Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?

From the moment of the book’s inception, I referred to it as “The Chocolate Garden.” That title referenced the candy that one of the characters makes (she’s a confectioner by trade). However, the book deals with multiple health crises, including dementia, as well as parent and sibling dynamics. It’s a story of love, loss, and grief. That title did not serve the story well.

At some point before I queried my publisher I looked toward one of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver. Her poetry always speaks to me, and I knew that one of her poems would inspire me. The one I chose—”Heavy”—deals with grief and how one carries it. Since the book is told from three points of view, all burdened with something, I decided to go with the plural “we.” Finding the most suitable title took a while, but it’s perfect for the book.

How did it feel when you first saw your book cover? Or when you first held your book in your hands?

I worked with trusted cover designer Kim Wilson of Kiwi Cover Design Co. for the cover. I’m no designer, but I had to provide a few details for a starting point. The color red was important to the narrative, as was the butterfly. I also knew I wanted some sort of fade effect because the book deals with dementia—the fading of memories. Kim did a fabulous job, and I think her cover really captured the essence of the book.

If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?

There’s heart, hope, and humor in this book along with the heaviness, and one of the characters, Nico, tends to inject song lyrics into his dialogue. So this list would be quite varied and include:

“Dream Weaver” – Gary Wright

“Basket Case” – Green Day

“Renegades” – X Ambassadors

“Begin Again” – Taylor Swift

“Daydream Believer” – The Monkees

“Here Comes the Sun” – The Beatles

“Veronica” – Elvis Costello

“Unforgettable” – Nat King Cole

“We Are Family” – Sister Sledge

What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?

I honestly hope that readers take away more than one thing from my novel, but at the very least, I want them to know that they are not alone in dealing with a family crisis, medical or otherwise. Often, we try to manage life’s messes all by ourselves, but the weight carried can be minimized if we seek help from others. It’s like trying to move a queen mattress by yourself. The more helpers, the easier it is to accomplish the task. It can be so difficult to ask for help, but it can also be crucial for your own health and happiness.

The Weight We Carry focuses on medical crises that occur before a dementia diagnosis. The book gives an inside look at what adult children who are part of the sandwich generation grapple with in terms of balancing responsibilities for their parents with responsibilities for their own families. It also serves to paint a portrait of what one family’s caregiving journey looked like. My perfect reader is anyone who has been or will be impacted by aging parents or family members, which is a whole lot of people. My perfect reader likes family oriented books with both humor and sadness.

What was the most rewarding/meaningful part of publishing your book?

The Weight We Carry is based on my experiences with my family during the summer of 2015, when my parents faced multiple major health crises. Though the crises mainly involved my father, a series of events eventually led to a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s for my mother. Though my mother never saw the published product—she passed away almost a year before the book released—I have no doubt she knew, in some capacity, that our story would be shared.

Despite how difficult it was, at times, to imagine sharing that story, I’m glad I did. Readers have mentioned how much they relate to the characters or how heartbreaking the story is. That they’ve been through something similar or can see the same things happening in their families. It means a lot to me that my work can help someone else.

What new writing projects are you currently working on? Or, other projects that are not writing?

I’m working on my third book of contemporary fiction, which is titled The Marriage Debt. I usually take on some mental or physical health issue, and this time, it’s menopause and all it encompasses. I also write romance under a pen name (Keely Stephens), and I’m revising the third book in my first series.

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