Alyssa Waugh

Alyssa Waugh

I first met professor, publisher, editor, writer, and activist Alyssa Waugh earlier this year, when she approached me about writing a possible review of her powerful new anthology, I AM STRENGTH. I was deeply moved by the inspiring stories of courage, resilience, strength and survival that are featured in the collection and was happy to interview Alyssa about the book, the contributors, the power of story, and more.

CM: Congratulations on your new anthology, I AM STRENGTH. You brought together some incredibly talented contributors for the collection.

AW: Thank you! We did. Our contributors just blew me away. We couldn’t have asked for better content.

CM: To start, I’d like to ask what the word “strength” means to you personally, and also, what you wanted the concept of strength to mean for this book?

AW: Strength is something we’re born with, that we all have inside us. We tend to think of women as weak or strong, like you have “strong female characters” in books and movies as opposed to weak ones. But I don’t really think there are any weak women. Maybe there are some who haven’t fully found or learned how to use their strength yet, but it’s there. We’re born with it. Women have had a rough go of it throughout the entirety of human existence. We’re still here, enduring. We’re built to bear the physical toll and pain of childbirth. We’re the ones meant to hold families together in times of grief or crisis. We’re the ones (disproportionately to men) dealing with crippling negative body image, and working twice as hard as men for everything we have, and doing it in heels, with underwire cutting into our ribs, and with cramps and headaches, and while bleeding. Women just seem to be imbued with physical and emotional strength right down to our bones. I’ll never, never understand how or why women started being known as the “weaker” sex. It makes absolutely no sense. We are so strong. So that’s the concept—that we ARE strength. We are made of it. Being a woman means being strong.

CM: Who are some of the strong women and men you admire and how have they influenced your writing, passions, and worldview?

AW: My mom is a strong woman and always has been, and a proud feminist. The woman on the book cover looks like my mom. She was always strong, always kind, always encouraging and supportive. She always stressed the importance of education, using your brain, using your talents, and really nurtured my writing skills and knew that I was meant to use that, and now I am. I’m using my writing ability to help people and to try to make the world a better place, which probably wouldn’t have happened if my mom hadn’t instilled the importance of feminism in me, or told me to be an accountant or something because writers make no money.

Her mom, my grandma, is one of the strongest women I know. She’s 96 years old and has had a pretty hard life. Her family was poor. Her mom, whom she loved, died when she was 10. Her stepmother kicked her out of the house when she was 14 so she moved to New York City and got a job cleaning houses. She lived through the Depression. She knows what it was like to really be hungry. She watched her brothers work themselves to death in the coal mines, or not come home from the war. Her husband died of cancer when my mom was in her twenties, so I never knew my grandfather. That was another tragedy she had to have strength through. And despite dropping out of school to work when she was so young, she is one of the smartest women I know. She can do a crossword puzzle in record time, and she knows the answers on Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy. She loved reading books when her eyesight was better. She was a great driver, loved to drive, and I remember her stressing to me how that was such an important skill to have, to be able to drive yourself places and have freedom and independence. I also have this vivid memory now, after the election, where she was really sad and said “I thought I was going to live to see the first woman president.” That would have been so profound for her, I think, because she was born right when women had just finally gotten the right to vote—to then see a woman president. She still might. She might outlive us all. She’s so strong.

Then there’s her mother, Bronislawa, who died when my grandma was 10, and my grandma was born in 1922, so by the time the little she remembers of her mother passes from my mother to me (I was born in 1987) there’s unfortunately not much left. The one thing that everyone always remembers about her, and that I do keep hearing, was that she was a very kind woman. That’s a quality we might take for granted, but there’s almost none more important. It was so impactful that despite my grandma’s hard life she still grew into an unfailingly kind woman who’s just so happy and appreciative of the little things in life, and just loves to see all her children and grandchildren and great grandchildren flourish and find happiness and celebrate milestones, knowing it all started with her. And my mom is so kind and caring to everyone, and I’m kind. And we all try to go out of our way to spread kindness and just be nice to others. Which, again, might seem trivial, but think about how many people you run into on a daily basis who are just miserable and mean. Then there’s a whole other level of unkindness: racism, misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia…Hillary Clinton was right—this country could use more kindness. It really does make a difference. I like to think that kindness comes from my great grandmother, and probably her mother before her and before and before and before. That’s a way she’s still with me, and a way I know her even though I never met her. And my mom and my grandma will always still be with me that way, through the way I live my life. That’s a powerful thing. There’s a poem in the book by Sabrina Nelson, “Honeysuckle Medicine,” about feeling this profound connection we have with our female ancestors. Check it out.

And I’m glad you mentioned men, because my dad actually is also a proud feminist and I have these memories of walking into a room and the news is on and I’d say “What’s going on?” And my dad, so angry, would say “These men are just sitting around making decisions about what you’re allowed to do with your body!” I feel really fortunate to have grown up with my parents’ influences because I know some women now are proudly teaching their daughters NOT to be feminists—that being a feminist is whiny and weak somehow, that you’re playing the victim instead of just sucking it up. And it makes me profoundly sad because my parents were all about the idea that women’s rights are human rights, and if you teach your daughter that feminism is a bad thing, I feel like you’re just telling her that her rights don’t matter. That she has it good enough and she should just be quiet if she dares think she deserves any more…just be happy with what you have and if you speak up about injustice and inequality you’re a “feminazi” or “libtard”…something to be ridiculed.

I also love Hillary Clinton, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Amy Poehler (and Leslie Knope, her character on Parks and Rec.), Carrie Fisher (and Princess Leia), Gillian Anderson (and Dana Scully). I could go on forever, but I won’t.

I AM STRENGTH by Alyssa Waugh

CM: For this collection, you wanted to highlight the strength and resilience of women whom we might not necessarily get to read about in the history books (at least not yet). What inspired that decision and why was that important for you?

AW: Yeah, so, not all strength is about becoming the first US woman presidential nominee, and having to endure being a lightning rod for millions of peoples’ hatred and deep-seated misogyny because you were “too loud” during a speech or wore the wrong jacket. You don’t have be one of these high-powered women in the public eye. You don’t have to be one of these trailblazers like Alice Paul. That’s awesome if you are, and we owe those women so much who paved the way—who hacked their way through a briar patch of sexism to make an easier path for the woman coming next. But most women won’t be that. We’re teachers and firefighters and police officers and we work in stores and at restaurants and we’re mothers and sisters, but we’re also activists.  And no matter what you do, you can be an inspiration to other women and girls out there. You can do that just by speaking up and sharing your story so someone out there knows they’re not alone. If you’ve been through something difficult like negative body image, or domestic violence, or sexual harassment or assault, you can inspire someone to get through their own situation, because you came out the other side, so they’ll know it’s possible, and you can inspire them to speak up about their own experience even though it’s hard.

So that’s where “Everyday Superwomen” comes from. The stuff 99.9% of us struggle with on a daily basis, and celebrating our triumphs in overcoming it.

CM: As a professor of writing, you understand the power of story. What are your thoughts on how the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves shape our self-beliefs and our lives? How can stories help us to develop empathy for those whose experiences we might not readily understand? 

AW: In the introduction of the book I talk about how as a teacher I get these personal narratives sometimes about someone escaping from an abusive marriage, or a girl having to tell her parents she’s pregnant at 16. And I’m just always thinking, how many great stories of strength are there out there that need to be told—that deserve to be told—and that someone needs to hear? There’s someone on the other side of the world who needs to hear your story to understand they’re not alone. That’s the magic of writing. Of story. You can read something from 100 years ago and relate to it. You can write something today that someone will read in 100 years and relate to it. And I always discuss with my college students, one of the most significant problems we have trying to identify with other people’s plight, whether it’s refugees, immigrants, girls being prevented from getting an education, a woman dealing with an unwanted pregnancy, whatever—there’s no teacher like experience. And if we haven’t experienced these things ourselves, it can be difficult for us to understand. And if we don’t understand, we can’t help—we may not want to help or think it’s even necessary. But we can’t all magically wake up in Malala Yousafzai’s body and realize what it’s like to be a target of the Taliban. So what can we do? Read. Read her book, understand what she went through—that’s how we learn to empathize with our fellow humans. That’s how we live lives and experience things we otherwise would never be able to. Tell stories and read stories. It’s that simple. You don’t need any money or fame to write. You just need something to write with and something to write on. You don’t need to be a powerful person to write, but writing can give you power. That’s all I’m trying to do. Give women a platform who might otherwise not have one, and make sure their stories reach a wide audience.

Also, in the foreword of I AM STRENGTH, written by contributor Marinda K. Dennis, she discusses how everyone wears chains. We all have something, some bad experience bogging us down. And when we write about it, we free ourselves from those chains. Sometimes that’s the last thing in the world we want to do—talk about what happened—because it means reliving those painful memories, or those terrifying experiences. And I had those conversations with a lot of contributors, how writing their pieces was taking an emotional toll. But once they were done, everyone said it was like a huge weight lifted, or this was the story I needed to tell, and now I feel accomplished and lighter. I feel better. I feel empowered now. So not only is it important to share with readers, writing ourselves can really be like a therapy. An intimate conversation with ourselves that can help us work through something, understand something, and finally come to terms with it. Like Marinda says, writing these pieces gives a piece of mind and peace of mind.

I’d also add what Barack Obama said when asked about the importance of reading during his presidency, that it helped him be “better able to imagine what’s going on in the lives of people throughout his presidency.” But that’s important for us all to do. Read books about people who are not like you. Who are going through things that you are not. Listen to their stories. So when the time comes, you can empathize and actually help, or vote to help them, instead of just turning a blind eye, ignorantly thinking it’s not that bad or not having a clue as to what someone is really going through because you haven’t bothered to take the time to really find out.

CM: What are some examples of stories that have had a meaningful impact on your own life and why? What books or stories have helped to challenge, shift, or expand your perspective on a particular subject?

AW: This is a great question! Well I mentioned Malala’s story. That’s a big one. Imagine someone wanting to kill you because you’re just trying to go to school, just because you’re a girl! How dare you, girl? Don’t you know your place in life? And my absolute favorite of the contributors’ stories in I AM STRENGTH is “Northeastern University” by Anjell Bejanian because it deals with her growing up in Iran and education not being a priority for girls—rather they would go to university to find a husband, if they were allowed to or encouraged to go at all.  You have to read it, seriously, Anjell is so strong and it’s an awesome story. And stories like that help keep me grateful—like instead of “Ugh, I have to teach today.” I think, “I’m so lucky I get to be an educator, and that I got to go to grad school and get my degrees.” And that’s something I try to pass on to my students when there’s a girl who’s like “Ugh, I don’t want to go to Bio.” I’m like “Hey, you’re so lucky you get to go to Bio today.”

There’s a lot of other ones I could mention, but just the fact that stories are out there in general is so important. There’s a lot of bad that came along with the rise of the internet, but one of the great things is you can go on your phone and find feminist blogs and stuff and easily access news organizations. The internet is full of stories that can help young girls understand “Oh, maybe it’s not a sin that I’m attracted to girls. Maybe there is nothing wrong with me. Look at all these other women just like me.” Kelsey James has a story in I AM STRENGTH about the internet being the first place she ever saw videos on how to do biracial hair and the profundity of that and finally seeing that biracial could be beautiful—finally women who weren’t all white with sleek, straight hair. I just read as many stories from as many different perspectives as I can possibly get my hands on.

CM: October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM). I know that you, too, are a survivor of domestic violence. How important was it for you to include the voices of women who have experienced various forms of abuse in I AM STRENGTH? What, if anything, did you learn about your own experience from the submissions you received and the other writers you met?

AW: Domestic violence was always an issue I cared about. And I was sadly aware of how many women suffer through this, and how many die because of it. But not being able to escape those statistics, and having been in a relationship with someone who was controlling and abusive, I certainly have a more personal understanding and appreciation for women in those situations now. I started talking a bit before about the myth of the weak woman. This is a situation where you really start hearing that a lot: “Only weak women end up in abusive relationships. Fools. A strong woman would hit back. A strong woman would leave. She would get herself out.” It’s not that simple. And people often associate getting out of these situations as the moment where a woman goes from weak to strong. But like I said, we’re already strong. Plenty of women are strong and smart at the start of the relationship. As you’ll see in the book, abusers are absolute masters of deception. They seem like sweet, charming, gentlemen, and everyone in their lives will be fooled into that and would never believe a bad word about them. It’s insidious and ingenious. And they wait until your life is pretty well entwined with theirs until they start revealing their true nature. And then, it’s harder to get out, and that’s when they try to control you. A strong woman will say, “Well, I’m not having any of that.” But when she tries to stand up to him, now he physically attacks her. Threatens to kill her even. Now what? In a hypothetical situation, it might seem obvious to try to leave him anyway. But when your actual life is on the line, it’s scary, and not that simple. You feel trapped into staying with them until you can think of a way to safely extract yourself. That’s what a lot of stories in I AM STRENGTH are about. And I talked to another contributor about this, about the extreme stress of waiting and strategizing and trying to think of a way to save yourself and your kids. And to go on enduring and just keep getting up and going to work, and cleaning the house, and taking care of the kids, and the million and one other responsibilities life requires, all while you’re terrified that this person who’s supposed to be your partner and best friend in life is going to hurt or kill you. If enduring all that isn’t strength, I don’t know what is. If you haven’t been there, you can’t imagine the incredible amount of strength it requires to navigate that and get out. Or just to go on living while you’re still in it. Those woman are so strong. And it takes so much courage to talk about it. You have to read their stories in this book; they are so strong and so brave.

Unfortunately too many women never do get out. Nearly 3 women are killed every day by domestic partners, and the chances of that greatly increase when the abuser is a gun owner. These women are killed by the patriarchy. When we say the patriarchy kills, and people think we’re just exaggerating, this is what we mean. This idea that as the man, he has a right to control you, who you see, talk to, what you wear, how you cut your hair, that you somehow owe him your body because you are his girlfriend or wife (his property), that if he can’t control you (because you won’t allow yourself to be controlled), he’ll just kill you in a final act of control over you—and this happens to women all the time. That’s how the patriarchy kills. Women live in fear of their lives just doing normal, daily activities. Going for a walk could kill you. Going on a date could kill you. Having a drink could kill you.

It’s scary, and women deal with the notion of that all the time, while we’re still just trying to work our million jobs so we can live financially independent of male support, or just trying to go for a run to stay in shape, or go out for a drink with some friends, there’s always that nagging voice: “Oh yeah, and be careful not to get raped or killed.”

So the book covers a wide range of this topic of domestic abuse. There’s stories of the very early warning signs on a first date—how can you tell this guy might become controlling and abusive later, to being in a toxic, unhealthy relationship, to being in an abusive marriage for years. It’s disgustingly common. It’s an epidemic and it needs to end. We can do better by our boys so they don’t grow up to harm women.

CM: What can you tell us about the other writers featured in the collection?

AW: They are all doing great things. Find them on Facebook using #MeetTheContributors. Lakshmi Iyer who wrote, “Motherhood, Cleaved,” and her family are the subjects of a documentary currently being filmed chronicling her motherhood of her biological and adopted daughters. She’s also working on a book of personal essays about that. Amber Hyder who has five poems in I AM STRENGTH is working on a full book of poetry. Rehanna Almestica is working on a children’s book dealing with the importance of consent and bodily autonomy. Martha Frankel’s radio show Woodstock Booktalk is awesome. Roya Hamadani does standup comedy in the NEPA area (and her essay also finds humor in a bad situation. It’s another one of my favorites in the collection). Dawn Leas supervises writing retreats, D Ferrara and Patricia Florio also have a small press called San Fedele. Lauren J. Sharkey has a book coming out called Inconvenient Daughter—definitely check that out. She’s such a great person, and such a talented writer. She’s one of the contributors I’m happiest to have met through this project. It turns out we have a ton in common, and new girlfriends are awesome. Every single one of them is doing amazing things outside of this collection. Their work is always appearing other places. And everywhere the contributors are, they’re setting up readings and signings in their regions and getting their local bookstores to stock the book. They’re amazing. They blow me away with their talent and drive.

CM: What are you hoping that readers will come to feel or understand about the stories and experiences shared in I AM STRENGTH?

AW: My biggest hope was that the book would reach the one woman or girl who needed it most. That someone struggling with insecurity or someone in a toxic or abusive relationship would pick it up and realize that 1. They’re not alone. That there’s nothing wrong with them. These feelings are common. These are things that all women struggle with. And 2. It’s possible to overcome whatever it is you’re going through. The women in these stories lived through what they’re discussing, and are stronger for it. There’s hope. And I hope people who think we’re living in a post-feminist society and that there’s nothing left for women to fight for will read this and change their minds. This book shows how far we’ve come, but also shows how far we still have to go, and the hard work we still have yet to do. I hope people will listen to and believe women when they tell stories like the ones in I AM STRENGTH and say “I believe you. This issue is important. What can I do to help?”

As far as the book finding the one girl who needs it the most, Kelsey James’ dad took the book to work and let his coworker read Kelsey’s essay “A Little Self-Love Goes a Long Way,” and she started crying and said “This is what my daughter is going through. I’m going to order this book for my daughter.” If that was all the book did, that would be enough. It would have done its job. But I’m proud to say we’re helping way more people than that. As of September 14th, we had raised over $500 for each of the charities the book supports: No Means No Worldwide and Girls Inc., and we’re nowhere near done selling yet. We just sold out of books at our last event, and have plenty more lined up.

CM: You mentioned that a portion of the proceeds from the sales of I AM STRENGTH will go to charities that support women and girls. What can you tell us about those charities?

AW: Yes, one of them is No Means No Worldwide, whose goal is to create a rape-free world. What I really like about this organization is that they don’t place all the responsibility on women, as you hear so often: why didn’t she try to fight back? What was she wearing? Was she asking for it? Maybe she shouldn’t go to parties, or drink, or go out alone, etc. ad infitium.” It’s so disgusting. Yeah, it’s great to teach women self defense and to strongly and clearly say no. That’s smart, to want to be able to defend yourself. But it is not a woman’s responsibility to prevent rape. So this organization teaches boys to respect women and to respect consent. They believe the key to ending the global rape epidemic is to empower both girls and boys to create a culture of mutual respect. And teaching these skills, they have seen a 51% decrease in the incidence of rape, 50% of girls stopped a rapist the year after training. They have a 73% success rate of boys who intervened to stop an assault. And as their name suggests, their goal is to expand this program worldwide. Sexual assault and rape are so disgustingly common (look at the #MeToo stories, look at all the cases coming from college campuses, etc. and these are just the ones we know about, who are speaking publicly). So any program that’s going to help curtail this epidemic is vital.

The other is Girls Inc., which inspires all girls to be strong, smart, and bold. They focus on the development of the whole girl. She learns to value herself, take risks, and discover and develop her inherent strengths. The combination of long-lasting mentoring relationships, a pro-girl environment, and research-based programming equips girls to navigate gender, economic, and social barriers, and grow up healthy, educated, and independent. They also advocate for legislation and policies to increase opportunities and rights for all girls.

Alyssa Waugh of Blind Faith Books

CM: I Am Strength was recently released by your own independent press, Blind Faith Books. Please tell us about your company and the kinds of projects you are looking to publish moving forward.

AW: We’re already thinking about our next anthology. It will be similar to I AM STRENGTH but with people contributing essays on their experiences with addiction. Like rape, and women being hurt and killed by domestic violence, addiction is another epidemic that’s destroying so many lives and we’ve been really slow here in America, to really do anything significant about it. We seem to still be spinning our wheels on What about bringing back “just say no” (cause that worked so well) or we just need to fight harder in the war on drugs: catch more dealers and lock them up. Or if only there were family values we could all just keep our kids off drugs. Well everything thus far has failed, and it’s a wider reaching problem than ever before. We need to talk about it. We need to talk about the underlying causes of addiction: depression, mental illness, abuse, etc. And we need to humanize the addicted so people stop so callously shrugging them off as “junkies” like, oh well, if they die they made their choice. I can’t believe this needs saying but, these are human beings. And half of all Americans know a loved one dealing with addiction or have lost someone to it. These are children, sisters, brothers, wives, husbands, boyfriends, girlfriends, mothers, fathers, teachers, doctors…not just rock stars, not just “the bad kids,” but kids from “good families.” So I want a book where you can’t ignore the human being suffering from addiction. Stop thinking of it in these vague abstracts and statistics. It’s people who are suffering. And they are so much more than their addiction, yet, that’s what’s going to have such a significant negative impact on their lives, and what might kill them. We need to turn from criminalizing to accepting it for the disease it is, and treating it, like you would get someone treatment for any other illness, and we need to have some empathy and compassion for those struggling through it, and try to stop this epidemic to save so many lives from being shattered. So again, a portion of the proceeds will go to an organization or organizations that help the addicted and their families. If you have an essay or poem that would fit this theme, follow the Blind Faith Books Facebook page, and look for our submissions call soon!

We’re also in the early stages of publishing some individual projects by I AM STRENGTH contributors as well. So if you liked Amber Hyder’s poems, and Lakshmi Iyer’s and Rehanna Almestica’s essays, there’s more to come from them.

CM: I know that you also write fiction in the sci-fi, horror, and fantasy genres. Who and what were some of your early inspirations and influences? What themes do you enjoy exploring in your fiction writing today?

AW: I read a lot of R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books as a kid, and then grew into Stephen King and Neil Gaiman—two of my absolute favorite writers. I also love J.K. Rowling. No one can tell a story like she can. Ray Bradbury is another big one. And I loved watching The X-Files and Stargate SG-1. And my mom is a huge Trekkie so we’d watch the original series together and also the Wonder Woman with Lynda Carter. And I still really enjoy all that same stuff: Game of Thrones, and superhero movies—it’s just great fun. It’s escapist, but that’s often where genre fiction gets written off—as just fun and escapist. It’s also full of allegory and metaphor and strong, smart, interesting characters and moral dilemmas. You can get just as much out of a good scifi or fantasy story as you can Charles Dickens or Shakespeare (both of whom I also love). One of my favorite quotes to sum up the importance of scifi comes from Isaac Asimov who said “Science fiction is an existential metaphor, that allows us to tell stories about the human condition….Individual science fiction stories may seem as trivial as ever to the blinder critics and philosophers of today — but the core of science fiction, its essence has become crucial to our salvation, if we are to be saved at all.”

The fact that I write a lot of science fiction, fantasy, and horror, might seem like a leap from this nonfiction book about women’s issues, but if you read my Hell’s Laughter collection almost every story in it is an allegory for a real-world issue. That’s what good scifi does. That’s why we’re so drawn to it. The scariest scifi stories are the ones that just aren’t far fetched enough…that are not out of the realm of possibility of actually happening like The Handmaid’s Tale or The Hunger Games.

Hell's Laughter by Alyssa Waugh

CM: What are some of the most important lessons that you have learned from your students?

AW: Teaching is a constant reminder that writing is a process. Students often come in with this anxiety about writing and this irrational need for it to be perfect as soon as they put it down on the page. And a lot of them have trouble starting an assignment. So when I teach, I emphasize the long process from prewriting to drafting to revision, and the idea that writing is never perfect; it just gets good enough to hand in or to publish. The only difference between students who do well in my class and students who do poorly is whether they put the effort into all the steps in the writing process. Those who do well participate in all the prewriting, drafting, and peer review activities, hand their essays in, and then revise them to improve their grades. Likewise, the only difference between a successful writer and an unsuccessful one is that a successful writer finishes projects and revises them until they’re publishable.

CM: What advice would you give to a young girl or boy who might be dreaming of becoming a writer one day? Or who might be dreaming of someday using their voice to make a positive difference in the world? What would you say to the adult who carries that same dream in their heart?

AW: Well, I’ll be honest, it is not all rainbows and butterflies. It’s going to be a hard life, so you really have to want it. Almost no one becomes Stephen King or J.K. Rowling. That’s certainly possible, but every writer I know also has a day job to pay the bills. I don’t really know anyone who is only writing books and making a living that way. It’s supplemental income. And you’re always doing a ton of things at once—always looking for freelance writing work, always adjunct teaching and looking for workshops to supervise for $200 a piece or copy editing work, or being a manuscript reader, you’re always submitting poems and essays and short stories, and not always to publications that pay you for them. It’s a lot of just trying to get exposure so when you do have something to sell people will know about it. But if to you writing is like breathing, you need to do it. The world still needs writers. I’ll borrow a quote from Frank Turner the musician: “I still believe in the need for guitars and drums and desperate poetry.” But I just wish society seemed to value art more. More and more it seems like you’re expected to produce art for free or very little money. People will pay $5 for a coffee it takes 2 minutes to make, but think that same price for a book an author spent years and pieces of their soul on is too expensive. And in my college classes I see not many young people like to read anymore at all. And society kind of scolds you for being an English major saying you made a stupid choice and you deserve to be poor. But you can defy all of that by just writing one thing that really matters and makes a difference. Even if you don’t intend to make a career out of it, it’s easier than ever to get your voice out there. There are free blog websites and Facebook and Twitter. And you know the people full of hate will always be loud about it, so get your kind, intelligent voice out there too.

And if you’re thinking of starting your own small press, and you think it’s going to be a lot of hard work, multiply whatever you’re thinking by 100. It is HARD WORK. But if it’s your dream, like it’s mine, then you’ll never be happy until you do it. So take a leap of blind faith, roll up your sleeves, and start doing the hard work.

CM: How has the experience of working on this particular project changed you, as a writer and as a woman?

AW: Any time you take on a project of this caliber, you’re going to learn so much. I learned so much about the process of doing this kind of anthology and taking it through the stages of publication, but I also really had to embody that mantra I set forth: “I am strength!” I had to remember that when I was overworking myself to get it done on time, and up to my eyeballs in stress. You can handle it, you can do anything. If anything, it just solidified beliefs and feelings that I already knew—confirmed that these issues really are common, unfortunately. But I also made a lot of good friends, and have gotten to know so many incredible, strong, amazing women on those pages, and now in real life. I’m so glad for that sisterhood of strength. Women really are unstoppable when we band together.

CM: Where can people purchase I AM STRENGTH and how can they learn more about you and Blind Faith Books?

AW: I AM STRENGTH is available for purchase on and in a few independent bookstores around the whole country.

You can learn more about me, the contributors, and the book, by checking out these links:

Interview with editor Alyssa Waugh:

Reading & Signing at Wilkes University:

Public Reading at KGB Bar in NYC:

Houston Event:

Book info:

Blind Faith Books Facebook page:[0]=68.ARAG2PwNIKgkoljiow4nCBOfsIBbrPkuVbRXhMuUt4pX70uNdhNOYH-PgBl5-_n3LwKeqeujl8ZXMY2fp-wL9C25AWoIYu-jIpcWEZ2-CimTTUoNq_IVyc9y8__c-tIQms2HJOct6WRE3wPqP1zgH-b5laaUOG-YxJxndmNRsJ65PHADO2bG&__tn__=kC-R

I AM STRENGTH Amazon page:

CM: Is there anything else you’d like to share?

AW: This will be too late for the Houston reading and signing and the launch party at Wilkes University, but if you’re in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area, we also have a reading and signing at Game Chateau on November 3rd at 8pm. Come meet some of the contributors. It’s going to be a great time!

We had a reading in August in New York City at the KGB Bar and will have another one in December. We have upcoming events at Misericordia University, Bloomsburg University, Library Express at the Steamtown Mall, and more! Follow us on Facebook where we’ll announce more details about those events.

I’ve also been invited to be on Martha Frankel’s radio show on a date TBD so make sure you follow us on Facebook for updates and more cool interviews and stuff. You can see the contributors’ interviews about their individual pieces by using #MeetTheContributors.

Thank you so much Chloé, and thank you dear readers. We hope to see you at an upcoming event!


You deserve to get help if you need it. If you are in crisis or experiencing emotional distress, call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or SAMHSA’s National Helpline, which offers free information for individuals facing mental health and/or substance abuse issues, at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

The National Domestic Violence Hotline provides lifesaving tools and immediate support to empower victims and survivors of domestic violence/partner abuse. The Hotline also provides support to friends and family members. Their highly trained expert advocates are available 24/7 at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) in more than 200 languages and all calls are free and confidential. 

Alyssa Waugh is a professor of writing at King’s College in northeast PA, holding an M.A. and M.F.A. in creative writing with a concentration in fiction. She is also a copy editor for Etruscan Press, a manuscript reader for the James Jones Novel Fellowship, and instructs fiction writing workshops at Wilkes University. Alyssa has had short stories published in Beyond Science Fiction Literary Magazine and won first place in Inkitt’s Running Scared horror story competition. In October 2017 she published Hell’s Laughter, an allegorical collection of horror and fantasy stories about women’s issues. A proud feminist, Waugh engineered Positive Reflections at King’s College to celebrate healthy body image and works with the Women’s Studies department on other projects including revamping the way the college approaches help for sexual assault victims. Professor, editor, publisher, writer, and activist—her attention is currently focused on bringing light to the daily struggles of women and the inherent strength required to navigate us through an often unwelcoming world.


To learn more about Alyssa Waugh, please visit her website.

To purchase a copy of I AM STRENGTH, please check it out on

To learn more about Still, But Not Silent, my coloring book journal for survivors of domestic violence, please click here.

To learn more about You Look a Lot Like Me, my documentary film about intimate partner violence, please visit

DVAM discounts are available on all orders of You Look a Lot Like Me and all bulk orders of Still, But Not Silent now through November 19th. For more information, please contact us.


What stories have had a meaningful impact on your own life and why? What books or stories have helped to challenge, shift, or expand your perspective on a particular subject? Please share in the comments below.

PLEASE NOTE: The opinions, representations, and statements made in response to questions asked as part of this interview are strictly those of the interviewee and not of Chloé McFeters or Tortoise and Finch Productions, LLC as a whole. 


One thought on “Alyssa Waugh

  1. I LOVED the sentence where Alyssa responded , “You don’t need to be a powerful person to write, but writing can give you power.” This has always been my own experience and it is so true. Of course.reading about strong women, even fictional characters offer us all much to aspire. I also enjoyed the list of role models Alyssa listed, i.e. Hilary Clinton, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, etc. I have been fortunate to have strong female teachers from my third grade teacher to a few college professors and I hope I have provided that spirit for many of my own female students that I taught during one of my careers.

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