Q&A With Gina DeMillo Wagner

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Q&A With Gina DeMillo Wagner 

Publicist Julia Borcherts was kind enough to connect me with award winning journalist & author Gina DeMillo Wagner. Gina’s memoir Forces of Nature: A Memoir of Family, Loss, and Finding Home will be published on May 14th. Gina’s work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Memoir Magazine, Modern Loss, Self, Outside, CRAFT Literary & other publications. 

Q: Gina, for those who haven’t read Forces of Nature, would you please give a brief description about the book?

A:  My older brother Alan had a rare, genetic developmental disability that caused violent mood swings. He would be really loving one minute and terrifying the next. When he died suddenly at age 43, I was left with some questions. The most obvious one was, what happened? What went wrong? But given his intellectual disabilities, I also wondered things like, did he know that I loved him? Could he feel that love? Did he understand that people could fear him and also love him? Some of my questions had answers and some did not, and this memoir is me writing toward those questions. In the process of writing, I realized that the question of what happened to Alan is also a question of what happened to me as his sister and caregiver… and what happens to people in general when they sacrifice too much of themselves for family members they love.  

Q: What made you decide that now was the right time to write & release Forces of Nature?

A: Very little has been written from the perspective of siblings to people with disabilities or chronic medical conditions. And yet, there are millions of us out there, statistically speaking. Readers crave stories that validate their experiences, and the sibling experience is unique and nuanced. There’s often a mix of love and tension, joy and heartache, protectiveness and anger, humor and guilt. 

I wanted to write a memoir that would honor Alan and our relationship, but also shine a spotlight for anyone who grew up in a complex family where someone else always needed more. I wanted to show that it’s ok to name your experience and embrace the full spectrum of emotions, that it’s ok to have needs of your own, and that you can find your voice and place in the world. 

Q: How long did it take for you to write Forces of Nature? Were there any scenes that were painful to revisit and write down? 

A: I wrote the first draft over the course of a year while I was also working full-time. So, I was grabbing any little chunk of time I could find: Writing on a legal pad during my lunch breaks. Talking walks and speaking into the Notes app on my phone. Writing for an hour before work. I eventually used vacation days and checked into a rustic cabin without TV or Wi-Fi so that I could write uninterrupted. After that, it was another year of revising with the help of my agent, and then the pandemic slowed everything down in publishing. From first draft to book launch, the process took about five years. 

Many scenes were painful to write, so I had to practice self-care. I’d usually take some time to decompress and move my body after writing those scenes, either by swimming laps or walking in nature. Sometimes I’d play loud music and dance with my kids. Or I’d drink some tea and take a quick nap. Anything that calmed my nervous system and moved the story out of my body was helpful. 

Q: What I learned from Forces of Nature is that grief is complicated & that the feelings we have even if we don’t want to admit them are normal & I want to thank you for conveying that in the book. What lessons do you hope readers learn after reading Forces of Nature? 

A: I’m so glad those themes resonate with you! Generally speaking, our culture is not great at grieving or supporting grieving people. We don’t know what to say, or we say the wrong thing, or we use toxic positivity to try to force people out of their grief too quickly. We fight so hard against the pain and discomfort of grief, when in reality, if you lean into the messiness of grief and admit that it’s complicated and nonlinear, I think you’ll find a little more peace and self-compassion. For me, it was also helpful to realize that if your relationship with the person is complicated while they’re alive, it will continue to feel complicated after they die. That’s ok too. In the end, there’s no right or wrong way to feel.

Q: If you are currently writing your next book now, what will be the topic if it’s nonfiction again? Or are you going to try your hand at fiction this time? 

A: I am working on a series of nature essays that I hope to publish as a collection. So, more nonfiction for now. But I’d love to write fiction one day. I have an idea for a novel that is loosely autobiographical with elements of magical realism. 

Q: What’s it like having your work featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Memoir Magazine, Modern Loss, Self Outside, CRAFT Literary? What’s your advice for anyone wanting to submit their work to those famous publications?

A: Even after 20 years of writing professionally for magazines and newspapers, I’m still surprised and honored every time I see my byline out there. It’s a gift to work with talented editors and an even bigger gift to hear from readers who found my work helpful. 

There’s plenty of great advice out there about how to submit to high-profile publications. But I’ll offer two tips: 

1. Tailor your writing to the publication you want to submit to. For my New York Times essay, I pretended I already had the assignment and drafted the essay specifically for them, all the way down to the working headline I used as the subject line of my email pitch. When they accepted the piece, they didn’t have to edit very much (and they kept my headline!) 

2. Persist. Persist. Persist. So much of successful writing is about getting comfortable with rejection and trying again. Keep going. 


Gina DeMillo Wagner is the author of FORCES OF NATURE, (May 14, 2024; Running Wild Press).Her writing has been featured in The New York TimesThe Washington PostMemoir Magazine, Modern Loss, SelfOutside, CRAFT Literary, and other publications. She has been honored with a 2024 Yaddo residency and is a winner of the CRAFT Creative Nonfiction Award, and her memoir was longlisted for the 2022 SFWP Literary prize. Gina has a master’s degree in journalism and is cofounder of Watershed creative writing and art workshops. She lives and works near Boulder, Colorado. You can visit her online at


Here is a link to a sample from the book

Gina De Millo Wagner’s brother Alan had a rare genetic disorder that caused him to veer from loving to violent. When Alan died suddenly, Gina was pulled away from the safety of her adult life and thrust back into a family she had been estranged from for nearly ten years. FORCES OF NATURE follows this rewinding of the past, exploring Gina’s caregiving journey and reckoning with complicated grief, plus Alan’s Christmas-themed funeral, and an investigation into his cause of death. It’s a personal story that asks universal questions: How much of ourselves should we sacrifice to those we love? And, what forces shape our sense of family and home?