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Taking Flight: An Interview with Deborah Harkin, author of Shared Crossing

Deborah Harkin

Deborah Harkin holds a PhD in Clinical Psychology and is licensed as a Marriage and Family Therapist in California. Dr. Harkin has worked and studied with William Peters, a leader in the field of end-of-life studies, founder of the Shared Crossing Project, and author of AT HEAVEN’S DOOR: What Shared Journeys to the Afterlife Teach about Dying Well and Living Better.

You can buy Shared Crossing here.

Are you a writer, too? Submit your manuscript to Atmosphere Press.


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

I always knew that “shared crossing” would be part of my title. Shared crossing has become a term that describes extraordinary experiences that can be shared between the living and the dying towards the end of life.

Starting to write my memoir was, in part, a response to the book AT HEAVEN’S DOOR that my colleague William Peters, founder of the Shared Crossing Project, was writing. I wanted to situate my book within the field of end-of-life studies, and I also wanted to expand the conversation…to place the beautiful and awe-inspiring experiences that are possible, within the challenges of care-giving and the difficult choices we must make.

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

My book cover is very special. It is a picture of my mother as a young child around age six. She looks so angelic and maybe a little bit mischievous.

My memoir is about my journey with my mother that focuses on a three-year period during which I became her primary caregiver. In a sense, I became the mother. You could say that my book is our baby as it takes flight into the world.

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

I was compelled to write this book. Back when I was considering topics for my doctoral dissertation, at one point, it was as if a finger tapped me on my right forearm and said, “this is it.” I knew the subjects I needed to take on, even though one person I approached for my dissertation committee told me that I couldn’t do it. I would never finish. I did write it, and I did finish it. In some ways, this book is the same. I simply knew that it was a book I needed to write.

Over the last twenty years, most of my reading and writing had been academic, or somehow related to my profession as a psychotherapist. When I began writing SHARED CROSSING, I started reading memoirs including those by Patti Smith, Brandi Carlile, and Jeannette Walls, among many others.

I love history and entering into different cultures, places, and times, so Amy Chan and Lisa See are also great inspirations. It’s interesting that both began their work by delving into their own family histories—then bridged into cultural and historical fiction. I have the greatest respect for the kind of research that requires. My book is neither historical nor fiction, but their themes around family speak to me.

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

I worked in the entertainment industry before I left to pursue a doctorate in clinical psychology. I’d worked as a writer’s assistant, and later in project/story development. I read all the books you were supposed to read about television and movie scripts back in the day. It might seem like a strange leap from show business to becoming a psychotherapist—they are such different cultures—but both are about people’s stories. Any good story—whether on the screen or in the therapy room—is about how people change.

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

I am deeply moved by how others have responded to my book and learning about what it brings up for them in their own lives.

The most important thing to me in publishing my memoir was to maintain my own voice. I had something to say, and the way I wanted to say it. I believe Atmosphere’s mission is to support writers in doing just that.

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

When my mother was in the dying process, I played classical music for her. “The Lark Ascending” by Ralph Vaughan Williams was literally on my playlist. It is simply so beautiful that it can bring tears to my eyes.

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

My perfect reader is curious. I think staying curious about life (and death comes with the territory) is the key to navigating it all.

I hope that my story will help caregivers to feel less alone in their struggles, and perhaps gain new perspectives from mine. Ultimately, my purpose is to open others to their own experiences—both the ordinary and extraordinary.

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

I have several ideas, but I don’t yet know what I might write next. I am waiting for that tap on the arm that says, “Go this way…”

I love photography. It’s another way of tapping into creativity, honing the powers of observation, and finding beauty in unlikely places. By visiting my author’s website https://deborahharkin.com people can link to my Facebook page where I share news about my book and my photography.

How was working with Atmosphere Press? What would you tell other writers who want to publish?

Atmosphere is a great place to start for people who are thinking about writing a book, or have already written a book and don’t want to run the gauntlet of agents and major publishing companies.

Atmosphere Press is very systematic. On their website and YouTube posts there is a wealth of free information available—a diagram of the publishing process, interviews, and readings by Atmosphere authors, as well as all sorts of advice for writers.

The writing and editorial process is very different from the business side. Educate yourself on both so that you can ask intelligent questions and choose the people and services that are right for you.

Know what you are willing and able to invest in your book. Writing and publishing are big undertakings. Ultimately it is a commitment to yourself.


You can buy Shared Crossing here.

Are you a writer, too? Submit your manuscript to Atmosphere Press.

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