Today in Seven Questions, we talk to Cameron Dezen Hammon, whose debut memoir This Is My Body: A Memoir of Romantic and Religious Obsession was recently released by Lookout Books. Kirkus calls it “a generous and unflinchingly brave memoir about faith, feminism, and freedom,” and the Millions adds, “Hammon explores motherhood, her relationship with her husband, her infidelity, and her growing sense of her own feminism. Her strikingly contemporary reflections about her treatment in conservative churches . . . make her story a salient one for this particular moment, in the wake of the #MeToo Movement.”
Hammon’s writing appears in The Kiss anthology from W. W. Norton, Catapult, Ecotone, the Houston Chronicle, the Literary Review, NYLON, and elsewhere; and her essay “Infirmary Music” was noted in The Best American Essays 2017. She earned an MFA in creative writing from Seattle Pacific University and is currently a writer-in-residence for Writers in the Schools in Houston.
Why was it important to publish this book now? How do you hope This Is My Body will enrich the conversation, especially around #metoo and #churchtoo?
I think women who have experienced sexual assault and harassment in a church context are hungry for stories that speak directly to their experience. There’s something particularly egregious about someone using spiritual authority to harm, and we need to talk about this.
What was the most difficult part of the book for you to write, and why?
Writing about spirituality is difficult because it poses a grammatical problem—what is the object? The noun? Belief is really about feelings, and feelings have to be rooted in the body to be written well. Learning that was a challenge, but I’m grateful for it.
What books inspired or instructed you as you wrote This Is My Body?
Love and Trouble: A Midlife Reckoning by Claire Dederer
Abandon Me: Memoirs by Melissa Febos
Bluets by Maggie Nelson
I Want to Show You More by Jamie Quatro
How do you approach the ethics of writing about people, both those close to you and in leadership roles?
Every memoirist is faced with this challenge, but for me, it was harder to negotiate how to write about my daughter, and my husband, than it was to figure out how to talk about the pastors I’ve worked with who have abused their authority. Throughout the writing, my husband and I were checking in with one another—how would you feel if I wrote about this experience? Or that one? We stayed close throughout the process and he was incredibly supportive. My daughter is a very minor character in the book—which was my preference.
Given your background in publicity, how did you approach the marketing and promotion strategies in concert with the Lookout team?
This is very much in the present tense because it’s still going! I’m a big believer in literary citizenship and have tried to give as much support to other authors as I possibly can over the last several years—through my podcast, as a reviewer, and online, in the hope that my community would support me when it was my turn, and they absolutely have. Publicity, like everything, in my opinion, is about relationships.
What have you learned in the process of publishing this book that you wish you could tell your early writer self?
Everything takes longer than you expect. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Breathe.
If you could spend a year writing anywhere in the world, where would it be?
An island in Puget Sound
If you could have your book translated into any language, what would it be?
Hungarian! It’s such a strange, beautiful language. We spent a summer in Budapest—an experience I write about in the book—and I fell in love with the language.
Highlight or underline? Underline.
Hardcover or paperback? Paperback (with French flaps).
Morning or night? Morning.
Text or call? Call.
Future or nostalgia? Nostalgia.
Coffee or tea? Coffee.
Train or plane? Train.
Typing or longhand? Typing.
Mountains or sea? Both.
Trick or treat? Treat.
Thank you to Lookout staffer Ireland Headrick for her contributions to this interview.