View Gallery

Available in

Flunk. Start.

Reclaiming My Decade Lost in Scientology

List Price: $26.00

March 13, 2018 | Hardcover | 6.0 x 9.0, 416 pages | ISBN 9781619021785
Order Now From Indiebound

“I could not put down this book—it is a triumph, a work of great honesty and insight. It is a necessary book for our time.” —Karen E. Bender, author of Refund

In Flunk. Start., Sands Hall chronicles her slow yet willing absorption into the Church of Scientology. Her time in the Church, the 1980s, includes the secretive illness and death of its founder, L. Ron Hubbard, and the ascension of David Miscavige. Hall compellingly reveals what drew her into the religion—what she found intriguing and useful—and how she came to confront its darker sides.

As a young woman from a literary family striving to forge her own way as an artist, Hall ricochets between the worlds of Shakespeare, avant-garde theater, and soap opera, until her brilliant elder brother, playwright Oakley Hall III, falls from a bridge and suffers permanent brain damage. In the secluded canyons of Hollywood, she finds herself increasingly drawn toward the certainty that Scientology appears to offer.

In this candid and nuanced memoir, Hall recounts her spiritual and artistic journey with a visceral affection for language, delighting in the way words can create a shared world. However, as Hall begins to grasp how purposefully Hubbard has created the unique language of Scientology—in the process isolating and indoctrinating its practitioners—she confronts how language can also be used as a tool of authoritarianism.

Hall is a captivating guide, and Flunk. Start. explores how she has found meaning and purpose within that decade that for so long she thought of as lost; how she has faced the “flunk” represented by those years, and has embraced a way to “start” anew.

SANDS HALL is the author of the novel Catching Heaven, a Willa Award Finalist for Best Contemporary Fiction, and a Random House Reader’s Circle selection; and of a book of writing essays and exercises, Tools of the Writer’s Craft. She teaches at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival, the Community of Writers, Squaw Valley, and is an associate teaching professor at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, PA.


Praise for Flunk. Start.

1 of 10 Top Books in Religion and Spirituality in Spring 2018 (Publishers Weekly)
1 of 15 Books You Should Read This March (Literary Hub)

“With its keen attention to the language and tactics of the church, Hall’s memoir is unique among the assortment of Scientology reports and exposés, offering insight into the certainties that its subjects gain . . . Hall’s focus on this ‘cobweb’ of intimate entanglement is what makes Flunk. Start. compelling—and different from other, more extraordinary accounts of abuse in Scientology’s upper echelons . . . Flunk. Start. is most revealing in its depiction of Scientology as just one of many expressions that the American search for selfhood can manifest.” —The Nation

“It is no surprise when, after a few encounters with Scientology . . . Hall begins to feel its pull. And if it is Scientology’s offer of a life with meaning that hauls her in, alongside pressure from her new Scientologist husband, it is its approach to meaning that keeps her . . . Those sections of the memoir with ‘Study Tech’ as their focus are some of the most interesting: a misunderstood word can be ‘cleared’ using a dictionary, often with focus on etymology, and Hall’s fascination with this is palpable . . . Etymology lights a path deep into history, into the twists and turns of language, for both Sands Hall and the reader.” —Camille Ralphs, The Times Literary Supplement

“An intriguing, beautifully written memoir . . . She toggles between her family and the church, digging deeply into the dynamics of power and control, love and compassion, before coming to a surprising resolution.” —Literary Hub, 1 of 15 Books You Should Read This March

“[Hall] uses her impressive writing skills to convey her experiences during what she had once shamefully viewed as a squandered decade in her life . . . What makes her memoir most enjoyable and understandable is her decision to be honest about all the personal doubts she had during this time.” —Winnipeg Free Press

“A wonderful memoir . . . As a memoir and a thoughtful exploration of faith and belief, Flunk. Start. has enormous objective power. I heartily recommend it.” —MorningNewsBeat

“Sands Hall is an experienced literary talent and writing teacher whose seven years in Scientology . . . provide some of the most penetrating, illuminating prose about how an educated and skeptical person could get so deeply into, and then struggle to escape, what everyone around her warned was a dangerous cult . . . Hall does a brilliant job.” —The Underground Bunker

“Novelist and actress Hall (Catching Heaven) probes her descent into Scientology in this impassioned, wonderfully constructed memoir . . . Hall reflects with brutal honesty on her decisions throughout this meticulously crafted book, which explores her negative experiences with Scientology and how her desire to please led her to believe in the unbelievable.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Serves as a significant behind-the-scenes look at this cultlike religion. Frank and edifying . . . A good complement to Lawrence Wright’s Going Clear.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Like many former Scientologists, Hall is honest about the insidious ways it can capture and isolate its adherents. It’s a memoir of a life filled with joy and tragedy, and readers will appreciate the author’s candor.” —Booklist

“Sands Hall’s transcendent memoir, Flunk. Start., describes, with precise and utterly absorbing detail, her experience in the world of Scientology. But this is also a story that explores so many issues—how language is used to both illuminate and obscure, how we long for connection and meaning; it’s also a vivid portrait of how we find a place in our family and find a path through chaos. I could not put down this book—it is a triumph, a work of great honesty and insight. It is a necessary book for our time.” —Karen E. Bender, author of Refund

“It is a great strength of Sands Hall’s clear-eyed and compelling memoir that she shows what she found authentic and rewarding in the Church of Scientology, not merely its corruption and imprisoning dogma. There is regret in her account but little anger or blame. Her triumph is not that she got out, but that she winnowed what nourishment the church could provide and took it forward in her spiritual journey.” —John Daniel, author of Gifted and Rogue River Journal

“Sands Hall has brought her remarkable talents to bear on this memoir. By turns endearing and alarming, this story describes the hazards involved in having to choose between a strong, loving family and a demanding, seductive church—between one sort of belonging and another. I consider it Sands’s best book.” —Lynn Freed, author of The Romance of Elsewhere and The Last Laugh

“In this unflinching and nuanced self-portrait, Sands Hall examines a decade of entanglement with the cult of Scientology and her circuitous process of liberation. Interweaving the backstory of a tragic accident that left a hole in her legendary family, Hall takes readers on a profound journey of loss, longing, and recovery.” —Elizabeth Rosner, author of Survivor Café

“Sands Hall displays her fine literary talent in Flunk. Start., a raw and moving account of her personal journey through the Church of Scientology. Sands shares her uniquely Californian coming-of-age tale with grace and courage.” —Julia Flynn Siler, author of The House of Mondavi and Lost Kingdom

“Sands Hall, daughter of a novelist whose writing workshop launched the careers of dozens of famous authors, was born into intellectual splendor, but worried about living up to her family’s reputation and expectations. How Scientology used those youthful fears to rope her into one of the greatest mind-control hustles of all time is a cautionary tale not only for our religious life, but especially now, for our political one.” —Jordan Fisher Smith, author of Engineering Eden and Nature Noir

“Highly recommended. Author Sands Hall grew up in a literary family where intellect was valued, and language the currency. Her brother, Oakley Hall III, was a brilliant playwright until a tragic fall from a bridge left him brain-dead. The accident left her family shattered, with Sands feeling unmoored and craving stability. Rules and stability are the hallmark of Scientology, so it isn’t difficult to imagine her being pulled into the organization. Scientology gave Sands certainty in an uncertain world, until, of course, it didn’t. An enlightening look into why people join cults and stay in them, even after they become aware that they are, indeed, cults.” —Marika Zemke, Commerce Township Community Library (Commerce Charter Township, MI)

Praise for Catching Heaven

Random House Reader’s Circle Selection 2001
WILLA Award Finalist for Best Contemporary Fiction

“Vibrant… Deftly reveals the push and pull between two sisters who love each other dearly, but who face new tensions when their lives collide in mid course… A realistic story of two women trying to let go of old hurts and find love that will last.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Flashes of heart and soul…There is something achingly sad about these sisters’ realization that some things in life have simply passed them by. And it’s that simple truth that makes Catching Heaven a nice catch.” —New York Post

“[A] polished, accomplished debut… Endlessly intriguing… The prose is richly layered with metaphor and symbolism. For the discerning reader, nothing in this finely crafted work is extraneous.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“With fluid, elegant prose and a watchful eye for detail, Hall has crafted a compelling novel about love, loss, and hope.” —The Sacramento Bee

“Rich, warm, and utterly satisfying… [A] wonderful debut from a first-rate storyteller.” —Amy Tan, author of The Valley of Amazement

“Sands Hall is a wonderful writer, full of soul and feeling.” —Anne Lamott

“In the small western town of Marengo one person arrives, one person returns, one person stays put. Each inhabits a private world of possibility, passion, and regret. Bring them together and you have Sands Hall’s Catching Heaven, a book that contains some of the realest fictional people you’ll ever meet. Elegantly constructed, vividly conveyed, with heart enough for three.” —Karen Joy Fowler, bestselling author of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

“Ms. Hall writes with a genuine gift for how we (humans) sound, and for sensing how we feel and think in our everyday lives. But she also seems to intuit what happens between these two realms—between the said and the thought and the felt. As Octavio Paz wrote, what’s ‘in between’ is where the poetry lies. And so it does in Catching Heaven.” —Richard Ford, Pulitzer-Prize winning author of the Bascombe novels

Praise for Tools of the Writer’s Craft

“Superbly practical, filled with terrific exercises, anecdotes and examples. Sands Hall is a beautiful writer and a brilliant teacher.” —Max Byrd, author of Grant

“Sands Hall’s love of the written word has inspired hundreds of her students, including many grateful published authors.” —Steve Susoyev, author of People Farm

“Reading this book is like learning how a juggler juggles. It will be invaluable for writers new and old, and for anyone giving or taking a writing workshop.” —Lynn Freed, author of The Romance of Elsewhere and The Last Laugh

Related Products