Sue HannibalName: Sue Hannibal

Book Title: Spiritual Compass: Practical Strategies for When You Feel Lost, Alone and God Seems Far Away

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What is your book about?

Spiritual Compass is part memoir and part spiritual guidebook for navigating “life 101.” It opens with a classic “Dark Night of the Soul” depression triggered by divorce and the fear of abandonment, followed by a startling spiritual awakening that commonly signals a call to spiritual service. Thirty-eight channeled essays followed by practical wisdom and practical strategies on topics from “Finding Your Life Path” to “When Lovers Part” provide use-it-now guidance for when we feel hurt and confused.  Part II is a collection of very unusual true case histories from my medical intuitive and trauma treatment practice, i.e., eight years of panic attacks in an Army officer that released in one session. (Hidden cause: a traumatic birth!)

Spiritual CompassWhat inspired you to write your book?

The spiritual depression and subsequent awakening yielded unmistakable proof that God/Spirit had my back, which led me to trust the guidance and move forward with increasing confidence. It also triggered a desire to write about the signs of a spiritual calling/life mission disguised as a life or health crisis and share the spiritual wisdom and useful strategies that illuminated that path as I walked it.

Can you describe your writing process?

My process is guided by intuition, which we all have. Sometimes I start writing by hand, which seems to facilitate a flow of thoughts, concepts, and connecting dots. An important point in any nonfiction writing, whether it’s a memoir or a technical manual is: what’s the point? I put a sticky note with those words on my computer screen in order to drag myself back on track when the urge to pontificate strikes. To begin, I write a draft paragraph of the main points that will hook and hold my reader.  Once the flow is going by hand, which apparently accesses a different part of the brain than typing, I go back and put in short subheads to prioritize important concepts, connections to research, etc. In other words, as the old writer’s saying goes, I simply sit down and open a vein. 

How did you come to do what you’re doing today?

“Write what you know” is still very good advice. I started about 30 years ago with a 500-word piece for a national hobby newsletter about my hobby. Next was an op-ed in the San Diego Union-Tribune titled “Inside the Jury Room,” about my stint as the forewoman of a California jury.  “Making the Last Days Count,” for the Buffalo (NY) News, was a first-person account of watching my father die of cancer and how Hospice Buffalo helped our family. The vulnerability required to write personal accounts of raw emotion isn’t easy, but it produces riveting copy for editors as well as readers who write reviews.

It’s important to note that the Buffalo News editor rejected my first attempt, which was a factual, emotionless timeline about the history of hospice, some case histories, etc., with the shortest rejection letter I ever got—“this is a good book report, but tell me what happened.” With a sigh, I reached for a tissue and wrote the first sentence:  “Cancer.”  The article landed on the cover of their Sunday magazine and went on to win awards.

A word about rejection: if your writing is strong, keep in mind that editors have preferences just like we do when we look at a lunch menu—some dishes appeal; others don’t, and if you’re a salad person you’re not going to be impressed by a juicy steak. A rejection of good writing frequently means it landed on the wrong desk or was submitted to the wrong market. Resubmit and don’t take rejection personally.

Can you describe a typical day in your life?

Self-care is a priority for anyone in the business of supporting others, whether it’s parenting, personal caregiving, or teaching, which is how I view nonfiction writing. Early in my career, I found that taking a class in the work of Julia Cameron, (The Artist’s Way) to be very grounding and helped me reconnect to my own needs first.  She advocates starting your day with “morning pages” journaling. So I try to give myself the first hour to exercise, eat a healthy breakfast, and then write for a few hours or in short bursts between clients. When dealing with a heavy emotional load—your own or others’—downtime, rest, fun with friends, and being in nature are effective stress antidotes that fuel creativity. My two cats provide “stressful entertainment.” My neighbor thought I had children… “Get down! No fighting! Do you HAVE to do that right now? Stop it!”

What do you most enjoy about what you do?

Creativity provides different outlets for each of us. Writing holistic health related nonfiction informs readers that they have alternatives to the conventional Western medical and mental health models. In terms of writing about healing trauma and PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), my focus on the holistic approach empowers people to know that in most cases they really can heal, whether their physical issues are rooted in unhealed trauma, or they have emotional scar tissue from PTSD on the battlefield or growing up in a war zone at home.

Are there any people and/or books that have inspired you along your journey?

Writers are, or should be, avid readers and I’ve been one since my dad introduced me to the library when I was 5. There are dozens of authors whose work has enriched my life and my writing. On both a personal and professional level, Anatomy of the Spirit by medical intuitive Caroline Myss had the biggest impact on me as I was just beginning my work as an intuitive behaviorist, and which inspired me to write Spiritual Compass.

Can you share something that people may be surprised to learn about you?

I used to co-own a California automotive smog check and repair shop and held a state-issued license to run smog tests on vehicles. That led to writing and self-publishing (the old-fashioned way in 1992) my first book: How to Pass Your California Smog Check and What to Do If You Don’t. That book, now out of print, was sold to HarperCollins West, and that led to becoming the first female columnist for Motor Magazine, a Hearst business journal. Trying to make technical writing for about 200,000 male readers interesting is a whole other topic, but I occasionally succeeded by writing things like, “while my technician was attempting to explain vacuum leaks to an irate customer, I was in the waiting room attempting to extract a toddler’s arm from the snack machine.” Editors and readers love humor.

What’s next for you?

I specialize in treating and writing about emotional trauma and PTSD. I’m not sure that writing two books at the same time is a good idea for everyone, but so far it’s working for me. The next book outside the Compass series is in progress and is backed by extensive clinical research. The title is Out of the Kill Zone: PTSD, Big Pharma’s Deadly Drugs and Suicide; True Stories of Healing from Troops, Cops and Civilians Caught in the Crossfire, which I’m hoping to finish before Veteran’s Day 2017. To preview the cover and synopsis, click here: