An Interview with Marilea C. Rabasa, Author of the Memoir ‘Stepping Stones’

Marilea C. Rabasa is a retired high school teacher who moved west from Virginia eleven years ago. Before that, she traveled around the world with her former husband in the Foreign Service. She has been published in a variety of publications. Writing as Maggie C. Romero, Rabasa won the International Book Award, was named a finalist in both the New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards and the USA Best Book Awards, and earned an honorable mention in The Great Southwest Book Festival, for her 2014 release, A Mother’s Story: Angie Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.  She lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico, for a number of years and now resides in Camano Island, Washington. Visit her online at:

Author HeadshotQ: Congratulations on the release of your book, Stepping Stones: A Memoir of Addiction, Loss, and Transformation. What was your inspiration for it?

A: My desire to heal from substance use disorder and gift my children and grandchildren with the salient lessons I have learned on how to live well and happily. I want to pay it forward for the next generation and make a difference where it most matters to me. In the beginning of my memoir, I wrote a letter to my grandchildren. They and all who come after them were my inspiration.

Q: Why was the writing of Stepping Stones important to you?

A: Often, just writing down our thoughts, pouring our hearts out onto the page, is a cathartic and healing experience. My first memoir was an attempt to heal from losing my daughter to substance use disorder. I shined a bright and candid light on her illness, for the most part, but I wasn’t entirely forthcoming about my own. At that point I was very much in denial about my drinking, and it was clear that I needed to turn the focus back on myself.  This increasingly conspicuous and unhealthy behavior was starting to get in my way, and I knew that much more recovery work awaited me. So, I determined to wrestle with the illness that had clouded my childhood, my young adulthood, the mothering of my children, and was threatening to end my life prematurely as it had my father’s. History doesn’t have to repeat itself. Writing this book became a necessary exercise for me to put my demons to rest once and for all and strive to live with more kindness and integrity, towards myself most of all. The lessons found on the pages of this second book are incorporated into my life every day so that my friends and family members, who are most important to me, will be the direct beneficiaries of my recovery.

Q: How was your creative process like during the writing of this book and how long did it take you to complete it? Did you face any bumps along the way?

Stepping Stones - Cover Art-1

A: It took about five years to finish. The biggest hurdle was in crafting a whole new structure for the unfolding events in my life. I had to distill seventy years into a reasonable book length and make it readable. So, instead of using the traditional chapter format, my life story is comprised of 132 vignettes. By shortening the pieces, the writing now relies on the power of the images among the vignettes resonating and deepening the emotional impact on the reader.

Q: Could you talk a little about your publishing process?

A: Very enjoyable and simple. She Writes Press vets all of their potential authors and we are put on one of three tracks: ready to be published; no need for editing; in need of line editing, which costs money on an hourly basis; and in need of developmental editing, also costing extraa lot extra because of all the time added. I was accepted on track two, which was a godsend for me. I thought I had submitted a flawless copy, but it needed a great deal of work! I don’t know how authors can manage without good editors. All I can say is that I’m deeply indebted to the professionals who made my book so much better.

Q: What discoveries or surprises did you experience while writing this work?

Some friends and family, though supportive on the surface, were quiet on the subject. It’s 2020, and the topic of  substance use disorder is still a loathsome one in contemporary American culture. We live in a surprisingly puritanical society, and it’s heartening to see how some foreign countries—Portugal comes to mind—handle the same issues with more kindness and common sense. Keeping quiet only perpetuates the problem and doesn’t offer practical solutions. The “psychache” that fuels many forms of substance use disorder is a deep and prevailing force in our American culture and one which could be addressed differently. In many ways our society today is rudderless. The breakdown of the family system isn’t helping. Between that and the violent drug wars that make these drugs available to the population, it’s easy to see why substance use disorder has reached epidemic proportions in our country. It’s become an easy solution to a much more complicated and fundamental problem. And no, I’m not an expert social psychologist. I don’t have an answer!

Q: What is the one thing you hope readers will take away from Stepping Stones?

A: I hope they pick up some tools for facing life as it comes, all the good and all the bad, without resorting to substance use disorder—without emotional eating, or popping pills, or taking one too many drinks. Substance use disorder is not about the substances themselves anyway, but rather the emotional and/or physical pain that fuel them. There are better ways to endure what life throws at us without destroying our health. I hope my readers will come away with the assurance that, if they are determined to live well, there are a myriad of ways to cope with life on life’s terms. There are also millions of men and women out there who share their isolation and loneliness, and together they are finding healthier solutions every day. There is enormous strength and beauty in the 12-Step fellowship that has given me my life back and the lives of so many others.

Q: How do you define success as an author?

A: I’m carrying my message to others, shining a light on how I’m recovering from substance use disorder. If I’m making a difference in the lives of any others, then I feel that my journey in self-discovery and healing has been successful.

Q: What advice would you give to aspiring nonfiction writers? Could you offer some tips or resources that have been helpful to you?

Be fearless.

Be honest.

Dig deep.

Dig deep.

Dig deep.

Stop when you reach China.

Q:  Anything else you’d like to tell my readers?

A: Enjoy the writing, but be open-minded: you might have thought you knew what you wanted to write about and ended up in a different place. Do you always want to know where you’re going? Be flexible. And most of all, BE TEACHABLE. There’s so much in life that we don’t know. Writing your memoir, really listening to that voice inside of you, might be the most powerful guide you have to let go and surrender to the process.

Thank you, Marilea, and best of luck with this meaningful work!

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