A fresh start: Former Scientology member shares her memoir with Yuba Lit | TheUnion.com

A fresh start: Former Scientology member shares her memoir with Yuba Lit

Jennifer Nobles
Special to Prospector

For better or worse, the Church of Scientology has become somewhat of a household name. The controversial church — which counts stars like Tom Cruise, John Travolta, and Kirstie Alley among its devout followers — has been making headlines since its formation in 1954, reportedly for its cult-like atmosphere and allegedly manipulative commercial practices.

The religious organization has been profiled numerous times by the media, but the church remains an enigma to many standing on the outside.

Sands Hall knows a lot about the often contentious religion after spending a decade of her life as a member of the Church of Scientology. When the church encouraged her to cut ties with some of her loved ones, Hall made the decision to leave the organization, and is now releasing a memoir titled "Flunk. Start.: Reclaiming My Decade Lost in Scientology."

"The title of the book — 'Flunk. Start.' — is a term that is used in Scientology training drills," Hall said. "It's said without anger or irritation; it just means, 'That wasn't quite right; do it again; do it better.' And that's the idea that is central to the book: that we can fail (flunk) pretty miserably, and in all kinds of ways — sticking too long in a bad marriage, addiction to opioids, our reaction to a personal tragedy — but that one can inspect those years, and that 'failure' and find a way to 'start' again. In no way is that a new idea, but I hope the way I offer my own story might inspire others."

Those in Nevada County will have a special opportunity to celebrate the release of "Flunk. Start." with the author herself, as Yuba Lit presents The Art of Memoir with Sands Hall, March 15 at the Stone House in Nevada City.

A writing collective

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As for Yuba Lit, the reading series was started by Rachel Howard after she relocated to Nevada County from San Francisco three years ago. Citing the need for a welcoming space for readers and writers to socialize and share their works, Howard formed the group to offer the same type of peer support she was used to receiving as a member of the San Francisco Writers Grotto and other workspace collectives.

"I thought, 'Why don't I just try to make it? Just start a reading series and see what happens?'" Howard said. "I put a poster out there — I didn't know if two people would show up or 20. We had 65. There are a lot of people that are interested in writing."

Hall and Howard became friends and, according to Hall, "[Rachel] got in touch with me and we had coffee. We shared our writing and found we had much to offer each other. I have read several times for Yuba Lit, which I think is just a terrific reading series."

When the time came for "Flunk. Start." to be published, the memoir seemed like a perfect selection for the Yuba Lit series.

"[Hall's] book is very special because the books out there [about Scientology] have either focused on the exposés, or they're focused on scandal and that wasn't her intent," said Howard. "Hers is much more nuanced. It's a spiritual investigation."

Howard continued, "She's been working on it for five years, but I knew from the moment I saw the first pages that she would sell it and it would be a beautiful book, and when it did come out it should be part of Yuba Lit."

Hall herself is a Gold Country resident — she spends her autumns at Franklin & Marshall College, in Lancaster, Pa., as a professor of creative writing, but has considered Nevada County home for 25 years.

Hall said that writing her memoir has given her a chance to reflect on her time in Scientology and perhaps educate readers on some of the long-held beliefs many have regarding the church.

"It was just great to finally take a good hard look at those years. I think that there has been so much publicity — thank goodness! — about the weirdness and scandals attached to Scientology, that many people are now interested in what might actually attract people to it," Hall said. "Of course it's scary to open up about one's speckled history, but I hope that the book is a good read and that revealing my own experience helps others to examine their own in a positive way."

In addition to her Yuba Lit reading on March 15, Hall will also be giving a reading of "Flunk. Start." on May 2 at the Book Seller in Grass Valley.

Jennifer Nobles is a freelance writer for The Union and can be contacted at jenkrisnobles@gmail.com.


WHAT: Yuba Lit presents The Art of Memoir with Sands Hall

WHERE: The Stone House, 107 Sacramento Street, Nevada City

WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursday, March 15

TICKETS: $10 at the door

INFO: For more information visit yubalit.org