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La Jolla author contributes to ‘Chicken Soup’ anthology

Chicken soup has long been soothing to body and soul, and in recent years, the “Chicken Soup” books have also become known for having a healing touch.

La Jollan Robert Williams has added his special touch to the recipe with an essay in the series’ most current release.

“Chicken Soup for the Soul: Divorce and Recovery” (Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, 2008) is a compilation of 101 stories penned by a range of individuals affected by divorce: marital partners, children, siblings, parents, friends and relatives.

"(The Chicken Soup) mission is to create a place through the printed word so people can reach out and touch each other,” said Patty Hansen, co-author and ex-wife of Mark Victor Hansen, co-creator of the series. “This was a book that we had planned for several years. Like all of our books, the message is you’re not alone in what you’re going through.”

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The stories for each “Chicken Soup” book are collected from a variety of sources. Hansen said she sent out the announcement for her project to online writing groups and to writers’ publications. The company also maintains a distribution database. Some entries also came in via a contest.

After screening hundreds of submissions, the top 200 or so choices are presented to a 45-member reader panel. The top-ranked stories are then edited and organized into thematic groups.

“What touched me about Rob’s story and why I chose it to be included ... (was) it showed me that there is hope after a divorce, that someone can reach inside themselves and pull out their secret self they’ve been hiding,” Hansen said.

Williams’ essay, “Million Dollar Mermaid,” began as a few notes, journal entries and memories. The story captures the day Williams, his two sisters and his mother moved from Clairemont to Santee. In the midst of unpacking boxes, he heard splashing and discovered his mother enjoying their new swimming pool. That act represented her newfound sense of freedom.

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Calling his parents’ marital relationship volatile and tense, Williams said, for his mother, the divorce was kind of like a rebirth.

“The divorce was also a way to start over and a way to break free from the fighting and the frustration and the bad feelings,” he said. “It made me look at relationships differently. I really came to understand how relationships work and how relationships are work.”

Williams, who teaches English and creative writing at Grossmont College, said creating the essay was a deeply personal experience, allowing him to reflect on and examine how the divorce impacted him and his mother, who passed away a number of years ago.

“It was a way for me to write about her and a way to give her credit for being strong at a time when … divorce wasn’t as prevalent,” he said. “It really reinforced my memories of my mother and how independent she was. It was inspiring for me to see her be so strong.”