What’s the story that led to Conversations with Chloe?
Conversations with Chloe is a book that started very organically. It was actually a 5-month long conversation that I had with my daughter Chloe. And what is sometimes difficult for me to express, and sometimes difficult for people to accept, is that this conversation actually began about 6 weeks after Chloe passed away.
After Chloe’s passing, I rented a small cottage on the water and was intending to stay there for a few months. I had spent Chloe’s last year caring for her 24/7 and we had lived in my parent’s cottage in the country because I had sold my home and car and had been travelling when Chloe fell ill. Then, in February 2016, after a month in palliative care, she passed away. By the end of March (a month later), I said “Okay, time to give my parents back their home and install myself somewhere close to family, friends and the water.” I found the perfect spot – a small 400 sf cottage just feet away from a lovely lake.
About two days after arriving there, I had stoked up my wood stove and was writing Chloe a letter. It was just the kind of letter a mother would write to her child, just to say, “Clo, you would love this place.” Chloe and I were so much alike. When she was well, we had done so many things together. We had snowshoed, hiked, skied and traveled together. We were like two peas in a pod.
So there I am writing this letter, and I’m just about to burn it when I feel this sensation of something digging into my shoulder. This is a movement of endearment that Chloe used to do. And then she spoke to me, saying “Mom, you are so easy to find that it’s a joke.” I couldn’t really understand what she meant by that, so I asked for an explanation and as clear as day, I heard her say, “You have a light that goes out into the universe, and I can pick it up. Not only you but anybody who prays a lot has a certain light, believe it or not, that you actually exude. And we can see it.”
“Keep writing,” she continued. “We’re going to do this project together now.” And I did. I just kept writing. I would wake up about 4:00-4:30 in the morning and she would be there. And I never tried to make her be there. She just was there. It was easy, effortless actually, because her voice sounded exactly the same and I could hear her perfectly. She was the same bratty Chloe. She had the same attitude, the same bad language. It was the same Chloe.
So it took five months to write the book?
Yes, it took 5 months. It was 5 months to the day! It started April 1st, and ended September 1st. And when she said, “Mom, we’re done”—we were done. That was it. It was clear. It was really her agenda. On a daily basis, when I wrote sometimes she’d only be there for a minute, and then, that was it for the day. I couldn’t force her to speak to me. Sometimes she would speak and speak and speak. Those days were extremely exhausting for me.
On those days, I found myself eating all the time. I was ravenous. I try to always eat fresh and green, but now I wanted salt. Tostitos. And chocolate. And more junk food. I just kept eating to somehow take in these calories, so that I had the energy to be able to sustain a longer conversation with her. And then it was over. Five months to the day and when it was done, it was done.
Many authors explain how important it is to write every day, to get up and do the work. In your case, your writing seems to have required this kind of constancy but also a quality of presence, without which you wouldn’t have been able to listen and receive Chloe’s words.
It had to be authentic. Otherwise there was no way I could do this. I’m this respected entrepreneur, and here I am telling people… I just asked Chloe to be really clear so that I wouldn’t have to wonder if she was talking. Then, I just let go of all doubt. I think the key to writing this book was that I didn’t write it to tell anybody anything. I wrote it for me. I wrote it because it was this conversation that we were having and it was the most beautiful, healing, amazing thing.
After I finished the book, Chloe said, “You can do whatever you want with your words, but you can’t touch my words.” And you know what? I didn’t. I didn’t have to. Her words just came out right.
You mention that you’re an entrepreneur. As I understand you started your own business?
It was 1997 and I basically started a business out of necessity. I was working for my ex-husband, thinking that his business was going to be the future for our three children. Then he declared bankruptcy and overnight I lost my job and all child support. I didn’t want to work for someone else because I felt that I needed flexibility. The joke is that when you start your own business, the last thing you have is flexibility. All you do is work. You just focus, you live it, you breathe it 24/7, and that’s what I did. I started a granola business. I called it Grandma Emily’s Granola.
I was never able to secure financing, so my business was, as it’s called ‘bootstrapped’. That means you pick yourself up by the boots and take action. It also means that you only spend money you have. Therefore, the business had no choice but to grow slowly. Every oven, every spoon, everything had to be bought with cash. Can you imagine how much granola I had to sell to buy a 30,000$ flow wrapping machine to wrap granola bars? That was a lot of oats.
As a result, the business grew slowly, incurring no debt. I started at home in my own kitchen, moving to my first tiny commercial space – a 300-square foot room with no air conditioning – after a few months. It was so small that my oven couldn’t even fit in the door.
As I look back now, I realize it was an exercise in building resilience by not allowing one thing after another to plow me under. Sometimes, it threatened to.
We slowly grew, built a dedicated team and together we created a gem of a company that was shipping organic cereals, bars and snacks across the country. Then, in March 2015, I sold the business. I was finally free! I sold my house, my car, everything. For the first time in my life, I was going to put a knapsack on my back and just travel. I had been away one month when I got a call that Chloe was ill. So, home I came. I rented a car, took Chloe up to my parents’ cottage on the lake and, along with my son Daniel, cared for her during the last year of her life.
Your book deals with a subject that can be sensitive for some people. How have you navigated this challenge in your talks and presentations?
I realize now when I talk to people about this book that there are many more skeptics in the room than there are believers. And I respect that. We all have different life experiences and different belief systems. But I know what I know. And I know this is my mission. And so even if, in a room of fifty, there are five people who nod their heads and forty-five who look at me like, “Hmm, I don’t know if this lady is really normal”—it doesn’t matter. I just try to present the material in a way that is humble and simple and genuine.
What made you decide to publish your conversations with Chloe?
I didn’t even want to turn it into a book, actually. I remember asking her, “Clo, why do I have to make this a book? Why can’t we just keep talking? This is the most incredible, extraordinary thing that has ever happened to me. Why should I make it public and put myself out there for judgment and criticism?” And, boy oh boy, did she get upset with me. She was adamant.
“We didn’t do all this, and we didn’t come this far, and I didn’t go through everything I went through, and you too with all this preparation that you don’t even realize you’ve been doing for the last 20 years, for you to now say ‘No, I want to keep this to myself.’ You have to take this out there,” she said.
I didn’t understand at the time that it would be one planted seed at a time. I had this romantic fantasy that if I went to a large publisher who deals in this kind of subject, maybe they would read the book and all of a sudden I would be on a speaking tour worldwide or some such thing. That’s not how it happened. I went to Balboa press, which is a self-publishing arm of Hay house, and I spent far too much money. It was an error on my part because as a Canadian I should never have used an American publishing house. I had to pay everything in US dollars, so everything is 30% more off the bat. I admit—and I’m the entrepreneur who’s used to shopping around and negotiating fiercely with suppliers to get the cheapest price—that I did the exact opposite here. I did not follow my own advice. I went to Balboa, I looked at the six packages that were available and I said, I want the best that I can have for Chloe. I chose the most expensive package. An emotional decision. Dumb. I like to say that when you lose a little money, you learn a little lesson, and when you lose a lot of money, you learn a big lesson. I learned a big lesson.
After I published the book in English, I was told by my francophone friends “But Andrea, we can’t read your book! You have to publish it in French.” That’s when I decided to not make the same mistake twice. That’s the gift of error, isn’t it? You make it, and you learn. And so I searched for a local publisher and within days, through lovely, serendipitous circumstances, I heard about CanamBooks. They were having a 5@7 to introduce people to the art of self-publishing and I attended.
The difference was glaringly evident. Business is always about relationships and this was one of the biggest pieces missing for me at Balboa Press. There was no relationship with anybody there who was accompanying me and taking my book from A to Z. There was a person for marketing, a different one for customer service, different for editing, different for the cover, different for finances… and so I never knew who I needed to speak to. I never knew who was going to be the go-to person to solve an issue. As a result there were issues that I could never get solved. I was always being pushed off to another person.
At the CanamBooks 5 @ 7 I met Jordan, their customer service person, who said, “I’m going to read your book, and then we’ll talk”. That made the hugest different to me because I could not work with somebody who had not read my book. How would they know how to treat it? How would they know if the cover that I was proposing was adequate? How would they know what I wanted to do with it afterwards? Every author has their own agenda. Some want to sell books, some want to be speakers, some want just to put it in a local bookstore. Everybody has their own plan. And so the beauty of CanamBooks was: one person.
And that’s only the relationship part! The finished product tells its own story too. I now have an English and a French version. The difference in the quality of the publishing is self-evident as well. The reproduction of the photographs, layout of the pages, quality of the impression – there’s no comparison. I was able to work directly with the graphic designer as we went through the whole book. Jordan was my go to person the whole way through and the end result is proof that this is the way to self-publish a book.