I wish I had been more of a “go-getter” like my kids are. THEY are all fearless and they just go after whatever they want. There’s not really a story there — I just think it would have helped me to start writing and putting my stuff out there much sooner. But I also think you do things when you do them for a reason.
As part of my series about “authors who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tina Hill.
Tina Hill is a published author with a variety of online articles and one out-of-print romance novel to her credit. Road Kill is her first venture into eBook publishing. She is currently writing a second eBook.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I am from a wonderful place called Wildwood Park in Winnipeg, Canada. I grew up playing sports and classical piano. I would write endlessly, on the riverbank of the Red River in summer and fall, and in our linen closet in winter and spring (because we would often have a lot of flooding in the spring). Wildwood Park was a truly magical place to grow up, and I used to love scaring my friends when we would walk home through the park late at night.
When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story about that?
My favorite book when I was young was actually Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, because I thought it was incredibly romantic. But when you speak of taking action or changing my life, I would not say that a book did that. I would say that understanding that there are things that can be made better for vast numbers of people if we could all do simple changes is what changed my life. A great example would be becoming an organ donor. How hard is it to check that box? I ask “What are you waiting for?” And while I want to be mindful of the fact that some peoples’ beliefs may warn against that, I want to quote the last line of a poem my daughter wrote: “All major religions say it’s totally in fashion — that organ donation is an act of compassion.”
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Yes! My biggest mistake was to stop writing for many years and my next biggest mistake was to stop believing that I could. I learned to stop wasting time. So I guess that’s not exactly a “funny” mistake — okay, I also thought that editing felt too much like school. So when I was working on my first book, as my wonderful, patient publisher waited for me to finish, I would avoid my editor. She would call me and text me: “Hey! Can we get this editing stuff going?” Because when I looked at the document she sent back to me, it was COVERED in red ink and suggested changes. I felt insulted and thought “Wow! I wrote 272 pages and now she wants me to re-do the whole thing!” But when I finally dove in, I realized I loved the process! I felt supported, not insulted. My editor is amazing. Her name is Danna Hyams. The best lessons here are never stop, never give up, write in those moments when you think you need to rest, because you WILL finish! And do things that make you uncomfortable. You mind find out that you like them.
Can you describe how you aim to make a significant social impact with your book?
My current book, Shark Heart, is a collection of interviews of people in the organ transplant community. We walk past these extraordinary people every day, never knowing who they are or what they have endured in their lives. Some of the people I interviewed seemed reluctant to tell their stories or answer my questions, but when they finally did, I found this common thread among them. It was a belief in humanity — and in believing this community creates miracles every single day. I, along with my friend who I wrote this book for, Ava Kaufman, who not only got a heart transplant, she started a foundation to help other people get listed for organ donation, want the whole world to become (altruistic) organ donors. Just check the box. Did you know that unless you have a mandatory 3 months of post-transplant housing near your transplant hospital, you can’t even get on the list? Or that only 1% of organ donors have a viable heart? These are things that can change — and in a world where we can feel very helpless about the plight of others, these problems are fixable. I want everyone in the world to want to help each other, and this is a very easy way to start. Let me give you an example of true change. One of the donor moms in my book, an extraordinary woman named Sarah Fisher, lost her son in a car accident. When she talked about Cameron, I felt like she was telling me stories about my own son. It was really hard not to cry with her. REALLY hard. Cameron saved so many lives when he became an organ and tissue donor — I believe it is over 150 people now who have received organs and tissue from him. And these are people, many of whom have suffered from one thing or another their ENTIRE lives. She has these painted rocks that say “donate life” on them, and she puts them in baggies with a picture of Cameron and his story, encouraging people to become organ donors. These painted rocks in baggies are everywhere. I put out maybe 20 of them all over Santa Barbara. And other people do this as well. There are hundreds if not thousands of them. Well one evening, she got a call from a young girl — I think she was about 17. The girl told her she had gone up the mountain with the intention of suicide, but she found one of Cameron’s rocks. She read the story, and instead of attempting suicide, she came back down the mountain and checked the box to become an organ donor. When she called Sarah, she said: “I just wanted you to know that Cameron saved one more life tonight.”
Can you share with us the most interesting story that you shared in your book?
I think that every story in Shark Heart is so compelling, including Ava’s, and I really want people to read all of them, because the collection leaves you with a feeling that we are all connected. BUT, one of the stories I often think about (other than the last one I shared with you), is that of Lilly and Felix Leon. Lilly is the sister of Felix, and Felix became an organ donor when he was only 21. She told me everything that happened to him, and quite honestly, it was so sad and felt confusing, because it was just a lot. But when I asked her about HIM, she told me about how he would ride his bike for miles and miles every day — and he would go visit his favorite priest and talk with him. He would buy pizzas to feed homeless people on the street and bring them clothes when he could. Lilly cried a lot when she told me the story. Felix had only been gone for a few months at the time. But when I asked her, “Do you feel like he is still with you?” — her eyes LIT up. She told me, “Yes!!” And she said that very shortly before Felix died, he asked their mother if she believed in reincarnation. She thought he was being silly, but he told her, “When I come back, I want to come back as a bird. I want to fly!” And after he died, The family found a large, bright green feather in the middle of their living room, and continued to find them everywhere — in Felix’s bedroom — at the factory where her father works — everywhere. They collect them in a jar. And you know one of Lilly’s children dreamed about Felix. She said they were playing together in an all-white playground and Felix told his niece that he is okay, and to tell his mother to stop crying.
What was the “aha moment” or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?
It wasn’t so much an “ah-ha” moment. When Ava was in the hospital, she had been in a coma for 2 months, during which time she had received her new heart. When she was being brought out of the coma, everyone was there. I was at the foot of her bed, because that was the only place left in the room. And when she opened her eyes, she saw a bright light and long white/blonde hair and a bright yellow dress. She thought I was an angel — but then when I started to speak to her, I saw her face change to confusion and then she was scared, and she realized she couldn’t move or speak. It was awful. I felt terrible for her. So some time later, I wrote my interpretation of how she felt that day and I gave it to her. She kept it for a few years, and then one day called me and asked me to write this book.
Without sharing specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
The people who Ava helps every day are impacted by her work. Her website is avasheart.org. She provides no-cost housing for people so they can get listed for an organ transplant — and she does it from her dining room — all by herself. She also gives small grants to donor families who often need assistance just to have their loved one cremated after saving so many lives. My hope with this book is that more people will read it and feel compelled to become organ donors, and maybe donate to Ava’s Heart as well. She lost a huge chunk of her funding recently and may have to close her doors. That would be a massive loss for so many people.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
Yes. The housing issue should not be there. Every hospital that does organ transplants should have housing for transplant patients and their families. And it should be free to them. One cardiologist told us the other day that if Ava figured out how many families she had helped since opening her doors, and then figured out how much money the hospitals made off of just those transplants, I think it would make more sense to the business side of those hospitals. Ava is one person. She is not wealthy by any means and in fact struggles to help these families. That is not right but it is very easily remedied.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership is keeping your head together when everything is falling apart. It is doing what’s right, even to the detriment of yourself. I think there are so many times that we look at things as “Oh, that’s a gray area” — but I think that when it comes to right and wrong, the answers are usually very clear. For example, it’s wrong to hurt someone else. It’s wrong to watch suffering when you have the power to end it. It’s wrong to think that one group of people is superior to another. You know — the big things. I feel like we can all agree on that. End the bad stuff. Be kind. It’s free. Leadership is holding firm on what is right.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
1. I wish I had listened to my teachers, who often told me I would be a writer. Although I don’t believe in regrets, I wish I had taken more time with some of those people. I recently looked up a couple of them and found out they had passed away. One teacher, whose name was Mr. Swain, gave me a 4/10 on a composition that I thought was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever written. He said, “Tina, these are all sentence fragments. I should have given you zero, but it IS beautiful. Your writing reminds me of Charles Dickens.” It was obviously a TREMENDOUS compliment, but all I could do was stare at the 40% grade. I think teachers are the most unfairly paid people in society. They shape our children, and although I have met a handful of my kids’ teachers who have no place teaching children, MOST of them have been phenomenal.
2. I wish someone had told me never to stop. I had to learn that one a bit on my own. I know that’s how you are supposed to learn things, but a little more confidence would have been great. I am one of seven kids and sometimes it was hard to find your place and your voice. I am the second youngest, so by the time I came along, I’m not really sure anyone even knew who or where I was! (That’s kind of a joke — although it WAS the 70’s.)
3. I wish someone had told me to ask more questions of my grandparents and my parents. I lost my mom just last year, and she was the end of the stories for their generations. When you only know, say your grandparents, as these little old people who sit around and chat and watch TV and bake for you and such, you maybe never imagined that they had amazing stories and they had loves and losses to which your own paled in comparison. My mom was visiting us in 2010 I think. We were talking about my Nana — her mother. Nana was always a bit edgy and annoyed a lot. So I asked my Mom, “Do you think maybe Nana was always a bit angry because Grandpa cheated on her with her best friend and left you both?” To which my Mom looked at me with raised eyebrows and said, “Daddy wasn’t the one who had the affair! Mother had the affair! Daddy was in jail and his cellmate was Lloyd Myers — and Lloyd Myers got out of jail first!” After my initial shock that my little, round, surly Nana was a wild child, I said, “Wait — Grandpa was in jail?”
4. I would say that I wish someone told me to be fearless, but my Mom actually did — and thought I was. My parents used to call me their “Viking princess”. So I should say that I wish I believed her.
5. I wish I had been more of a “go-getter” like my kids are. THEY are all fearless and they just go after whatever they want. There’s not really a story there — I just think it would have helped me to start writing and putting my stuff out there much sooner. But I also think you do things when you do them for a reason.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I have a few. Maya Angelou said, “If you don’t like something, change it.” That works for everything, but is very obviously more difficult for some things than others. It also goes to problems that are fixable. This book shares a very fixable problem, and I believe that if enough people read it and understand what the point of it is, change can happen. How do you change peoples’ minds? I don’t believe you do that by arguing or by yelling louder than they do. I believe you step outside and look at things from a different point of view — or through a different set of eyes.
I also love the line from a poem by Yesenia Montilla called “Naming the Baby”. It is a poem about Breonna Taylor. And I just love the last line: “Let her burn the house down –”
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I would love to have lunch with 2 different couples actually. Can I pick 4 people? I would like to have lunch with Barack and Michelle Obama, because as President and First Lady, I feel like they were true leaders. They made a difference in the world and paved the way for other people of color to achieve greatness — however they define that. And sometimes it’s hard to know how to affect world change, because that’s a really tall order, right? I know that one day at a time is the way — one person at a time — check one box at a time . . . But it can get hard to want such big change, and I could use a pep talk and some strategy from the Obamas.
Secondly, I would love to sit down with Harry and Meghan, because they live in my community, and we have to, unfortunately, deal with a lot of the same issues. I would like to talk to them about affecting change in my community so that my children are in a safer environment. It’s hard to fight schools and ideologies that have been in place for decades when I am the only one fighting — or at least that’s how it feels. And if I had an alliance with them, I believe we could make some necessary changes. Santa Barbara is the perfect place to affect change — it is small enough to make things happen and it’s big enough to show the rest of the world what can be achieved.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Well, believe it or not, I don’t have a website yet. But you can go to amazon.com and look for my book Shark Heart by K.B. Hill with Ava Kaufman. There is actually another book coming out in August called Shark Heart, which I find very annoying, so you have to search specifically for mine. You can also go to avasheart.com to learn more about what Ava does and to donate.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
Social Impact Authors: How & Why Tina Hill Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.