On one of the first warm nights of spring, Associate Professor of English Sands Hall delivered a joyful reading at Franklin & Marshall College from her recently released memoir, “Flunk. Start.: Reclaiming My Decade Lost in Scientology.”
That April 12 evening, the crowd of Hall’s students, colleagues, friends and other community members in the reading room of the Philadelphia Alumni Writers House overflowed to the patio as Hall, who is also founding editor of the Alumni Arts Review, spoke of her time as a Scientologist.
“For years, I’d pretended those 10 years never happened,” said Hall.
In an interview with Lancaster Newspapers, she said, “It’s not a damning book. It’s not an effort to besmirch the church or say it’s nothing but bad. What I wanted to do is take the reader with me into why an intelligent person from a very nice, loving family would find their way to and stay so long in what is essentially a cult.”
Before Hall joined Scientology, her brother suffered a serious injury that left her in a depression. That realization led her to write the book. “My parents were pretty disapproving of my involvement, as parents should be — now I’m heartsick at how it would have felt for them,” she said.
Hall is the author of the novel, “Catching Heaven,” of a book of writing essays and exercises, “Tools of the Writer’s Craft,” and of numerous stories and essays. She is also a playwright and singer-songwriter who performs from time to time in Lancaster.
Earlier in the day, Hall gave a craft talk at the Writers House and discussed how she used fiction techniques to write memoir, noting the shifts in genres and the continued importance of conflict, plot and characterization.
“How do you depict yourself?” she asked, describing the epiphanies about herself that she would make through the writing and editing process. “With each subsequent draft, I asked myself, ‘Who am I this time?’”
A fan of etymology, Hall said how the root of the word “fiction” means “to form.”
“We must tell a story — truthful or invented — through scene,” Hall said.
“A memoir takes a section of a life and carves it out — but it’s not enough just to tell the anecdotes, you have to tell the reader how you’re going on the adventure,” Hall said. “In the specific lies the universal.”