Do I have a treat for you! I was finally able to catch up with Betty Tucker to talk to her about her memoir, Don’t Worry About the Mule Going Blind: Hazel’s Daughter, which also happens to be the RBBC selection for February. If you haven’t already, you can read my book review here. Without further ado, here’s Betty.
Lynette: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Betty: I’m an author, poet and inspirational speaker originally from Troy, Alabama. I hold a degree in Behavioral Science from the University of San Francisco. My career includes twenty years with the United States Postal Service and twenty years of service with the San Francisco Unified School District as a teacher. I’m a mother of five and a grandmother of four. Currently, I write and live in both Richmond, California and Montgomery, Alabama.
L: How old were you when you started writing?
B: I first started writing when I was twelve years old. I begin by writing poetry, then songs, and I also added a character to the school play in my senior year of high school, so more students could be in the play.
L: What is your favorite genre to read?
B: My favorite genre is memoir, autobiography and biography.
L: Who are some of your favorite authors?
B: My favorite authors are Maya Angelou and Zora Neale Hurston. My favorite memoirs are Ghostbread by Sonja Livingston, The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, Barefoot Heart: Stories of a Migrant Child by Elva Treviño Hart, and Eat Pray and Love by Elizabeth Gilbert.
L: What was your inspiration for writing Don’t Worry About the Mule Going Blind: Hazel’s Daughter?
B: After searching for my twins for over twenty years, I was weary and close to giving up days before the internet search company that I hired found my daughters. This made me realize that when you’re trying to reach a goal or a destination to NEVER EVER GIVE UP because you never know how close you are to accomplishing your goal. You may be only one step away.
L: How long did it take you to write Don’t Worry About the Mule Going Blind: Hazel’s Daughter? And what was your writing process like?
B: It took me four years to write Don’t Worry. Before I started writing, I took writing courses and attended writing groups. The journey was long and difficult because I had to recall a lot of painful memories that I have tried to bury. So I may write a chapter and not pick it up for three months. Other times, I may write up to ten hours but then not continue for another month. Then I hired a developmental editor. When I finished a chapter, I sent it to my developmental editor for editing and feedback. She returned it with questions and clarification. Even the developmental editor had to take a break from editing my work because it was painful for her to read at times.
L: How did your family feel about you writing Don’t Worry About the Mule Going Blind? Did you have any concerns about revealing things that might upset some family members?
B: Initially, the manuscript was 350 pages. We decided to not include everything because it’s a memoir, instead of an autobiography. We decided not include a chapter titled “Crazy-Making” about me and siblings. My sister Bush and some of my other family members would have been so angry with me that they would have stopped talking to me. Bush did reprimand me for writing about myself. She said I should not have talked about personal stuff that happened to me, especially the rape.
L: What was the most interesting or surprising thing you learned about yourself while you were writing Don’t Worry About the Mule Going Blind?
B: The most interesting or surprising thing I learned about myself while and after writing my book is how much more I know who I am and why I made the decisions I made and am making about my life. I learned who I am and I’m learning how to combine Betty Tucker and Betty Owens as one person. In other words, I find myself being secure in the person I’ve become. I’m complete. I don’t have to hide behind that naïve, insecure vulnerable person, that little alone child that I use to be.
L: You stated in your book that adoption in the African American community was almost unheard because family members usually did the adopting. Describe the social pressure of having a baby out of wedlock during the 60s.
B: Boy! It was horrible! You didn’t want anyone to know you had a child without being married. It was like announcing to the world that you have done something really really bad, like murdered someone. Unwed mothers were looked upon as being dirty and filthy–not human. Not only had you put your business in the street, but you had brought shame on your entire family.
L: You were closer to your father than you mother. How do you think this affected how you parented your children?
B: I felt that as long as I provided a place to live, food to eat, and clothing to wear that I was taking care of them, that they would make common sense choices to guide their life and growth. Not understanding that it takes so much more to be a good parent. I considered myself a good parent because I took care of them by working and providing for their physical needs. Even today, my ways are like my dad’s. All my dad did was work. I’m just like him. All I want to do is work. I don’t like to cook or clean. I like working outside of the home.
L: How did you come up with the title for your memoir?
B: The book title came from Ms. Johnnie Mae. When I first reconnected with her, whenever I was sad, she’d say, “Don’t worry about the mule going blind, just keep going. It’s going to be alright.”
L: What is the one thing that you want readers to take away from your book?
B: That you’re unique and Father–God created you for greatest; You’re engineered to succeed and to believe in yourself; but, the main thing I want people to take away from my book is that your circumstance do not define who you are. You can take what you were given and create an awesome life for yourself. Don’t ever give up on your dream!
L: Can we look forward to another book from you in the near future?
B: Yes! Currently, I’m working on a stage play titled Four Women and a Hustler. It’s partially based on Fred and the four women he had a relationship with and how our encounters with him changed our lives.
Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule for this interview. I’m sure readers and memoirist alike can relate to much of what you’ve said. I know I can, especially about how our circumstances don’t define us and how we can take what was given to us and make something awesome out of it. I truly believe this. Take care.