After a difficult childhood with parents involved in sexual cults, alcoholism and abuse, Angie Fenimore attempted to take her own life. But her near-death experience helped Fenimore find new meaning. In her novel Beyond the Darkness, Fenimore describes her experience and how it changed her views. She is currently working on A Sparrow's Lens, a book based on the Lafferty case, and will be holding a writing conference at the Salt Lake City Main Library (210 E. 400 South, Aug. 1-3, The-Writing-Whisperer.com) focusing on how to get published.
What made your upbringing unorthodox?
My father was 38, my mother was 17. She was very sensual and intelligent and beautiful, but she was a bit overwhelmed because she was 17, and she was also left by her mother when she was 11 years old. She just had everything going against her. So she had resorted to spanking me with a flyswatter as an infant, which evolved into the hairbrush and so on.
My mother took classes at UNLV where she met a psychologist. He was running this retreat deep in Bryce Canyon. She went for the summer. There was no power, everyone was in teepees. You could just kind of feel that things were not right. We came to visit her often, my sister and me. I met a girl there, Dana, and they had thrown a party for her because she had started her period, including all the adults, and it just made me uncomfortable. The next day, we were out playing with the kids and I saw her little brother Petey. He was not allowed to associate with the adults. He wore only his underwear and was given food and water once day. He was 9. He begged us kids to feed him, and I filled a plate of food and met him under the cook shack that night. The next day in group therapy, I was called to the "hot seat," surrounded by all the adults—and a lot of them had been naked around us. The psychologist sits me down and he says, "Angie broke one of our rules. She fed Petey, and we're not going to feed her." He looked at my mother and I look at my mother. I see all the shame and anguish on her face. She agreed. That changed everything for me.
How did that change your family?
I pretty much divorced my mother. My father went off the deep end. He was having an affair with a 19-year-old girl and her husband. Then my father started sexually abusing us, he'd be drunk at the time and he'd be saying my mother's name. I kind of exonerated him to a degree. I just tried to make sure I took the brunt of it instead of my sister. I wanted her to be safe. One year during Christmas break, Mormon missionaries knocked on our door. That year, my sister and I were baptized. The church really saved my life.
What led you to consider suicide?
I thought the hard part of my life would be over as soon as I turned 18. I married a man, Richard, in the temple. Within a week he had me off the ground by my hair, broke my teeth, broken bones, that kind of thing.
I left Richard and moved to Southern California. I started seeing a guy, Newt, who was cooking meth. So I started doing meth. I was either methed out or drunk most of the time, unfortunately for my son Rikki. Richard was calling me every day and begging me to come home. I spent three days with Newt saying goodbye and then I went back. And it was hell. I was thinking my happiness is not important to anybody, including God. That was when the ruminations of suicide began. It was January 1991 when I swallowed everything in the medicine cabinet and slit my wrists.
Why did you decide to turn this experience into a novel?
I had a very profound near-death experience. I was trying to figure out, "How do I stay dead and how do I watch?" I experienced my birth; I saw my mother and my father and I just felt this excitement to be alive. I was experiencing this like a dead human being. I experience my entire life that way. I came out of different stages of suicidal afterlife with this message, "You can't experience real happiness until you can slip into someone else's skin and see the world form their point of view." I was given the choice to live.
Why did you choose the Lafferty case as another project?
I met with Dan Lafferty. Rebecca Lafferty, his daughter, told Dan I want to meet and he put me on the prison visitation list. That first meeting was so unnerving. But I watch him interact with Rebecca. And I hear myself say these words that are completely shocking even to me. I say, "Well you're just completely lovable." It's been two years. We've developed this very unlikely friendship and that man is changing. I met with their grandmother, Claudine. She's an amazing strong-willed woman. As we were getting ready to leave her house one day, Rebecca says, "Grandma, Angie visits Dad in prison." She just looks at me intently and says, "That is so kind." And I say, "Everyone needs a friend." The truth is if I got every ounce of DNA from Dan Lafferty, if I got his teachings, if I got his parents, if I had his composite experience in this life, I would have done what he did. So would Brenda, so would you.
What makes you a "writing whisperer"?
I've combined all my training and development as a leadership guru, as a writing expert, as a conference junkie. There is something about words on a page that lasts and lasts and lasts. I'm encouraging people to bring that forth, make the biggest difference a person can make. It is three days that you will not walk away the same from. We become family. It's complete magic. People are rejected by publishers because they have conversations about themselves as failures. Inside, every one of us is dealing with the experience of being a failure. The minute you hear a no, you don't want to ask again. Eighty percent of my attendees are having their manuscripts requested. I love being around people who are just doing the best that they can. Everybody has a story. It's just a matter of putting it in a story structure that is interesting to other people. I feel so blessed for everything in my life. If I could go back and change something, I wouldn't. Except maybe that hair from 1979.