REGINA CALCATERRA: ETCHED IN SAND IS A STORY OF TRAGEDY TURNED INTO ONE OF HOPE AND OPTIMISM
Posted by Ognian Georgiev
Regina Calcaterra is best known as a top professional attorney and official in the state of New York. She decided to share her incredible child story in the memoir Etched in Sand. The book became New York Times bestseller when released two years ago. The story continues to be attractive read and is standing with impressive average 4.7 Amazon stars from almost 1800 reviews. It’s a great honor to welcome Regina Calcaterra at Land of Books.
– Regina, your Etched in Sand became a huge hit two years ago. Would you describe with your own words what the readers will find inside the memoir?
– Readers will join my siblings and I along our journey as five kids living on the fringe of society. I was one of five siblings, we all had the same mother but five different fathers. Our fathers did not stick around after we were born for too long, if at all. Our mother was mentally ill and drug and alcohol-addicted – a toxic combination for children to be exposed to. She would find us places to live, sometimes in a house or apartment and other times in cars, behind supermarkets, on the streets, in homeless shelters and when the authorities found out how we were living, we were placed in foster homes.
When our mother found us places to live, she would abandon us there for weeks or months at a time. So as young children we had to figure out how to survive by stealing food to eat and through other drastic measures. However, dark as our existence was, the older siblings would do what we could to provide a “home” to our younger siblings in an effort to isolate them for our true circumstances. At a young age, we learned that however challenging our situation was we were better off staying with our abusive and neglectful mother, than being separated in different foster homes. Unfortunately, we had some foster care experiences that exposed us to horrible abuse, so we realized it was better to stay together than get separated. I share my story in a first person narrative, so the readers can better experience our journey while also absorbing the level of optimism, resilience and tenacity we had as young children. It is a story of survival, sibling bonds, and most importantly how acts of kindness towards children in need can forever impact their lives.
– How did you decide to write the story?
– When I was fourteen years old I was placed in my final foster home. After being placed there I was told by my caseworker that I would never be adopted by anyone because I am an older foster child. So at fourteen, I had to plan on never having a parent for the rest of my life – a daunting experience for any child. As a result of this experience I joined the board of an organization called You Gotta Believe that works to get older foster children adopted. While with YGB I have learned that there are over 400,000 children in the US foster care system and 26,000 will get pushed out of foster care at 18 or 21 and be on their own at such a vulnerable age. Regardless of the work we do at YGB to get older foster kids adopted, we will not be able to reach the large numbers out there who will not be adopted before they get pushed out of the system. So one of the reasons I wrote Etched in Sand was for them and all the other children in the US who are neglected, abandoned and abused and constantly questioning why it is that they were dealt the hand that they were dealt. I wanted to show them that there is enough resources in the US to pull themselves up and out of poverty, if they believe in themselves. It may take longer than for them compared to a child who has a parent, but they can still do it. The second reason why I wrote Etched in Sand was to remind readers of the power that they have for that moment in time when a child in need is before them. Their kind act, however fleeting, can have a forever impact on a child in need.
– What was the biggest challenge during the write up process?
– The biggest challenge was determining what to share with readers and what to keep amongst my siblings and I. The rule of “less is more” was a rule I struggled with during the writing process.
– How tough was it to describe yourself and your four siblings as main characters?
– By the time I began writing Etched in Sand I had emotionally processed my experiences. So I was easily able to share my journey with readers. My challenge was how much of siblings experiences should I share, with their approval of course. My goal was to ensure that I submitted a manuscript that kept our dignity in tact, while also not depriving the reader of the story of our hardships and adventures.
– Was it difficult to find time for writing such a story when you were so busy with your daily job tasks?
– I signed the book contract with HarperCollins Publishing in March of 2011, with just four chapters written. The remainder of the manuscript was handed in nine months later. So while working full time, I juggled writing on the weekends and in the evenings. However, no successful task is done alone, I was guided and assisted by a talented team provided by my publisher.
– Who are you?
– My childhood experiences have greatly centered me, so I would say that I am someone who has perspective. I am constantly reminding myself what is important and what is not. I am very appreciative of the kind and thoughtful people who were put in my path that helped propel me forward, even if they were only there for a moment in time. Most of all, I am someone who cares deeply about foster children, how they are treated and how every child, regardless of age, deserves a forever parent. I have been able to use the platform that Etched in Sand has provided me to raise awareness of the plight of older foster children, and for this I am truly the most grateful.
– What are your writing habits?
– My writing habits vary usually based on where I spend my weekends. I live on the North Fork of Long Island among vineyards, farmland and beaches. Sometimes I find a corner at a vineyard and write for hours, other times I will bring an umbrella to the beach to create shade and write while placing my laptop on a cooler while looking at the bay. Then when I am in New York City for the weekend I go to the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue and situate myself in its historic map room and write there for a stretch of six or seven hours. I guess my habit is to find a place of beauty and tranquility and to clear my mind of any static so I can just be where I need to be for those moments, with my words.
– Are you surprised by the sales of your books?
– Absolutely. The funniest story is how my sisters kept telling each other that it is probably not going to sell well, because no one would be interested in our story. Of course, they only admitted that to me after the book became a best seller. We literally took a story of tragedy and turned it into one of hope and optimism, and it is those themes that enticed readers, which resulted in respectable sales.
– What was the feeling when you saw your name at NY Times Bestselling list?
– Euphoric. As a first time author I never expected my book to rise to the NY Times Bestselling list, let alone a story about my childhood. The staying power of Etched in Sand and its many messages was actually reinforced well after the book first went on the list for two weeks. Eight months later, with no media attention, it just quietly crept back on and remained there for 14 weeks all because of word of mouth. To me that meant that readers really enjoyed our journey.
– What are you doing to promote your book by the best possible way?
– I use multiple platforms to promote Etched in Sand. First I am an avid user of social media. Through the use of social media I find opportunities to post milestones or events that readers would be interested in. One of favorite postings occurred recently, when I learned that after I spoke at a public library in Massachusetts that a man in attendance went home and told his wife he wants to adopt an older foster child. They went through the certification and training process and are now forever parents to a 16-year-old foster child and a 16 year old foster child now has forever parents. These are the stories that help me promote the messages of Etched in Sand and are worthy of sharing.
I also speak at not-for-profits, libraries, bookstores, colleges, universities, high schools, and when I cannot attend an event such as a book club meeting I offer to Skype in, so at least I am still present with the readers and benefit from their continued enthusiasm.
– When we will see your next book and would you unveil something more about it?
– My publisher and I anticipate release of my next book in August 2016. I am now writing the story of my youngest sister Rosie. In Etched in Sand, readers learned that my mother improperly took my youngest siblings from their foster home and brought them cross-country. In Etched in Sand I provided some insight into what Rosie experienced during her journey, but truly felt that it was not my place to tell her story. So now, alongside her, we are telling it together.
– What is the story of how you received the beautiful Latin name Regina?
– As readers have learned, I never did find out why I was named Regina. My oldest sister Cherie was named after a hit record called “Sherry Baby,” my sister Camille was named after my mother, also Camille, my brother Norman was named after his biological father and Rosie after my Polish maternal grandmother Rosalia Kunagunda Maskewiez. But, my naming still remains a mystery.
– If you may ask yourself one question in the interview what it will be?
– If you had a option to never have experienced as a child what you did, would you take it?
First, in just one generation my siblings and I have broken the cycles of abuse, addiction, poverty homelessness and incarceration. We have proven that breaking cycles of destructive behavior is a choice. We are using our experiences of how we broke these destructive cycles to get others to consider doing the same.
Second, my experiences have provided me with strength, compassion and perspective that I may not have had if I lived differently. But the most important thing that I gained from my childhood experiences was an everlasting unwavering bond with my siblings. We got through this together and it has only made our relationships stronger. And for this I am actually grateful for the journey we walked together.
Take a look at her book
Etched in Sand